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Rwanda goes nuclear, Nigeria-UAE visas, Chinese saviors, football TV rights row, floating power ship͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
sunny Kampala
snowstorm Niamey
sunny Kigali
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September 14, 2023


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Yinka Adegoke
Yinka Adegoke

Hi! Welcome to Semafor Africa where we dig into some of the biggest stories around the continent three times a week.

I spent part of my Thursday morning moderating a discussion with some very impressive panelists about how authoritarian regimes manage access to internet connectivity. It was both eye-opening — and troubling — to hear how countries like Iran, Russia, and of course China are adopting more advanced methods to cut off the open web to their citizens.

It was notable that no individual African country came up in the discussion, but that isn’t because African countries aren’t also trying to disrupt the internet or social media services. As you will see in our stories and elsewhere, almost every political upheaval and coup story starts with a report about locals noticing the internet slowing down or just being cut off altogether. Access Now, the digital rights non-profit, notes that popular protest and active conflict were the most frequent reasons for internet shutdowns in 2022, accounting for over half of the nearly 200 shutdowns documented. Google’s Jigsaw unit, which hosted our panel, is concerned that as the world moves into what it sees as a “new era of geopolitical instability” this will become even more common.

Listening to what these other countries are doing, and understanding that some of these technical solutions can be bought off the shelf, my concern is that some authoritarians on the continent will have access to more advanced and targeted disruptive technologies than the crude methods used today. It might end up affecting fewer people, but the impact might have even more damaging consequences.

Need to Know
Reuters/Abubaker Lubowa

🇺🇬 Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said he remains unfazed after U.S. companies that buy textiles from his country canceled orders, citing the enactment of anti-gay legislation in May. The purchases were to be made under the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), a duty-free pact which gives eligible African countries favorable access to the U.S. market. Museveni said the move would promote local textile industries. Ellen Masi, the public affairs counselor at the US Mission in Kampala, said Washington had clarified that enacting the anti-gay law would affect Uganda’s economic prospects.

🇷🇼 The Rwandan government has signed an agreement with Canadian-German company Dual Fluid Energy to develop a nuclear energy project. The chief executive of Rwanda Atomic Energy Board said the move aimed to meet increasing energy demands and promote industrialization efforts in the country, whose energy capacity is 332.6 MW. The deal is expected to contribute up to 300 MW to the grid. A demonstration Dual Fluid nuclear reactor is expected to be operational by 2026.

🇳🇪 Niger’s ruling junta said it has severed its military ties with neighboring Benin after the latter authorized the deployment of troops and military equipment “as part of preparations for an intervention” by West Africa’s regional bloc Ecowas. A spokesman for the junta, in a televised address on Tuesday, said a diplomatic notice would also be sent to Benin. Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who currently chairs Ecowas, has suggested a nine-month transition back to civilian rule could satisfy regional powers, whereas Niger’s junta proposed a three-year timeline. Benin has yet to respond.

🇱🇾 Rescue efforts are ongoing in Libya’s coastal city of Derna after flash floods killed more than 5,000 people. At least 30,000 people have been displaced by the disaster which followed torrential rain on Sunday. The United Nations has pledged $10 million in support and a number of countries are providing aid. Germany said it was sending mattresses, tents, and blankets. Meanwhile, France, Italy and Turkey are sending medical supplies. The flood was the second major disaster to hit North Africa in days after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake last Friday killed nearly 3,000 people in Morocco.


The sum owed to the Confederation of African Football (Caf) by Qatari media group beIN Sports, according to the BBC. Caf reportedly ended a 12-year contract worth $415 million earlier this month over the debt. It accused the Qatari broadcaster of breaching its contract, which was signed in 2017 and gave beIn Sports the right to broadcast CAF’s international and club games. The broadcaster has said it will “take all necessary legal steps to challenge and overturn” the cancellation. In 2019, CAF ended a $1 billion billion deal with French media company Lagardere, which was originally set to run from 2017-2028. The football federation later had to pay Lagardere — now Sport5 — $50 million in compensation

Yinka Adegoke

Congo Basin poses the highest risk for Africa’s next coup


Three countries in Central Africa’s Congo Basin are being closely watched for the possibility of a future political upheaval or coups after the fall of the Bongo dynasty in neighboring Gabon.

Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, and Equatorial Guinea are seen by analysts and long-time Africa watchers as having similar conditions of decades-long rulers, multigenerational economic mismanagement, and an agitated, resentful populace.

There have been eight coups in West and Central Africa since 2020 and there are concerns in the international community that there is a high risk of contagion in these regions.


The Congo Basin, best known for rainforests that absorb more carbon than the Amazon, spans six countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. It is home to some of the world’s longest-running authoritarian regimes but also hosts some very unstable political systems.

The vast majority of people born in Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, and Congo Brazzaville have only ever known one leader. The political systems of the Central African Republic is undergoing upheaval while the uncertainty around DR Congo’s December elections weighs heavy on the country and its neighbors.

Like with the most recent West African coups in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Niger, five of the six Congo Basin countries are Francophone. One of the common themes in West Africa has been strong anti-French populist rhetoric by the coup leaders.


Predicting where a coup will happen can be a fool’s errand at the best of times because there are too many variables to consider. But noting the conditions that encourage and enable them is a useful exercise because many of those factors apply equally in representative democracies.

The basic question citizens are asking is “what has my government done for me lately?” Survey after survey shows Africans broadly prefer democracy over military rule but if you’d seen the images of celebration of the coup out of Libreville, Gabon last month, you might think the opposite.

Georgetown University political scientist Ken Opalo said there’s a real risk of contagion in the region, especially with long-serving ineffective leaders. “The elevated coup risk in many countries is not necessarily about civilian tolerance of coups — big majorities abhor military rule — but about the failure of civilian rule over the last three decades,” he told me.

It’s worth noting that while surveys often show a preference for democracy in Africa, surveys by polling company Afrobarometer have also shown a high institutional trust in the military in many countries, sometimes higher than local judiciaries. “The military are seeing those numbers too,” noted W. Gyude Moore, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. ”So in countries where you have used the security services to keep yourself in power then they (the military) soon understand that they are in fact the ones with the power.”

Reuters/Scott Ngokila

A case in point was in Gabon where the deposed Ali Bongo, in a widely circulated video, called for the international community and Gabonese people to “make noise” on his behalf. “All of the democratic institutions, political parties, civil society, or media that would defend the constitutional order, had all been systematically undermined by the use of force,” said Moore, who was previously a government minister in Liberia. “The military knows that in all of these cases there is going to be no resistance.”

Well, there is some resistance but most of that has come from France as the loudest critic of the recent trend of coups all of which have happened in its former colonies. There is even an ongoing behind-the-scenes dispute over the aftermath of the Niger coup with the United States, which appears to have taken a more pragmatic approach in response. The French influence interests here run deep, said several of the analysts we spoke with.

“The two countries to watch are Congo Brazzaville and Cameroon,” said Mvemba Dizolele, director of the Africa program at the Washington based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “These are two countries where the French currently have a strong grip, they both have aged leaders who have mismanaged their countries.”

But there’s also a possibility that the French may turn a blind eye to future coup plotters if the governments are unpopular and there are assurances France’s interests will be protected. The Gabon coup is already being framed that way.

That might explain why Cameroon’s President Paul Biya recently reshuffled his top military brass. In Brazzaville, President Denis Sassou Nguesso had a reshuffle back in January but some say family disputes around the 79-year old could provide an opportunity for someone to make a move, including his nephew and intelligence chief Jean-Dominique Okemba. “There are a lot of people there with their own ambitions and their own relationships to France,” explained CSIS’s Dizolele.


Floating power stations make waves

Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images

💰 What does it do? Karpowership operates a fleet of floating power stations. The Turkish company generates electricity on its ships which then supply the client’s power grid. The company, part of the Karadeniz Energy Group, says its 36 power ships operate in more than 20 countries around the world.

Karpowership has signed deals to supply power to a number of African countries including Sierra Leone, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique.

💰 Why is it in the news? Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, has been hit by power cuts this month which the country’s energy minister said was due to the electricity supply being cut off by Karpowership due to an unpaid bill of about $40 million.

Kanja Sesay, the energy minister, told Reuters the sum was “accrued over time because the government subsidizes more than half the cost the ship charges per kilowatt hour.” Sesay added that the government had to increase spending on the subsidy because consumers are charged in leone, the country’s increasingly weak currency, but pays the Karpowership in dollars.

💰 Any expansion plans? South Africa, which has been grappling with an energy crisis stemming from problems in state power utility Eskom, in May granted Karpowership access to three of its ports for a 20-year period. President Cyril Ramaphosa told lawmakers the ships would help to ease the country’s power shortages. However, the plan has been criticized by opposition parties and environmental activists.

Amid growing opposition to the proposals, the company has offered to cut the 20-year contract to five years, but at a higher price, it was reported last month. The exact cost of the deal has not been disclosed.

💰What do critics say? South African environmental activist group Green Connection, which has warned that the ships could adversely affect fishing communities, said the situation in Sierra Leone “should be a warning” if South Africa turns to the company to resolve its power crisis. It said the deal would be “too expensive” for Africa’s most advanced economy.

Alexis Akwagyiram

Presidency of Nigeria / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

LAGOS — The timeline for the resumption of commercial flights between the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria remains unclear, despite Nigerian government officials announcing that an 11-month visa ban by the Gulf state had been lifted.

Last October, the UAE stopped processing visa applications for passport holders from 19 African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, and Senegal. Nigeria and the UAE had been embroiled in various rows since 2021, from disagreements over COVID-19 testing requirements for passengers to retaliatory cuts to flight operations and intermittent suspensions of carriers from both countries — the UAE’s Emirates, and private Nigerian operator Air Peace. Emirates repeatedly said over the past year that it was unable to repatriate millions of dollars in revenue from Nigeria due to the country’s dollar scarcity.

A spokesman for Nigerian President Bola Tinubu on Monday said an “immediate cessation” of the visa ban had been negotiated in a meeting this week between Tinubu and UAE’s President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Etihad Airlines and Emirates Airlines, the UAE-owned international majors, would “immediately resume flight schedules into and out of Nigeria without any further delay,” said the spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale.

The announcement was widely cheered by Nigerian business owners and leisure travelers for whom Dubai is a popular destination. However, the UAE said Al Nahyan and Tinubu discussed the need to reinforce collaboration for mutual economic growth, and Al Nahyan expressed Nigeria’s “particular importance” for his country’s relations with Africa. It did not refer to lifting the visa ban in its description of the meeting which prompted concern among some in Nigeria.

Another Tinubu media aide said the agreement to lift the ban would be finalized by government officials from both countries but did not specify who or provide a timeframe.

Tinubu has implemented several economic reforms — including an overhaul of Nigeria’s foreign exchange market — since taking office in May in an attempt to increase investor confidence in Africa’s largest consumer market. His reconciliatory outreach to Abu Dhabi follows a similar approach to India this month.

Alexander Onukwue in Lagos

Youku screenshot

A new Chinese drama series titled “Welcome to Miele Village” portraying the imagined role Chinese medics play in Africa, was released this week on Chinese platforms including Youku. The drama series with 32 episodes set in a fictitious African country, is described by some observers as the latest in a growing genre of “Chinese savior complex” fiction where Chinese heroes save suffering or distressed Africans. China Global South Project editor Eric Olander points out that it’s an addition to Chinese pop culture that increasingly seems to portray Chinese as saviors.The new series emphasizes the motif in other Chinese drama including the 2021 Tencent drama Ebola Fighters and the movie Wolf Warrior 2, which pioneered the genre in 2017.

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— Yinka, Alexis, Alexander Onukwue, and Muchira Gachenge

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