(NYT) Jihadists Deepen Collaboration in North Africa


France has deployed hundreds of troops in northern Niger to create a buffer against jihadist advances from Libya. Credit: Carlotta Gall/The New York Times

France has deployed hundreds of troops in northern Niger to create a buffer against jihadist advances from Libya.
Credit: Carlotta Gall/The New York Times

By CARLOTTA GALL     JAN. 1, 2016

SAHARA DESERT, Niger — A group of light armored vehicles skated over the moonscape of the Sahara, part of one of the largest detachments the French military has deployed here since colonial times. Its mission is growing ever more urgent: to cut smuggling routes used by jihadists who have turned this inhospitable terrain into a sprawling security challenge for African and international forces alike.

Many of the extremist groups are affiliates of Al Qaeda, which has had roots in North Africa since the 1990s. With the recent introduction of Islamic State franchises, the jihadist push has been marked by increasing, sometimes heated, competition.

But, analysts and military officials say, there is also deepening collaboration among groups using modern communications and a sophisticated system of roving trainers to share military tactics, media strategies and ways of transferring money.

Their threat has grown as Libya — with its ungoverned spaces, oil, ports, and proximity to Europe and the Middle East — becomes a budding hub of operations for both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State to reach deeper into Africa.

And as Africa’s jihadists come under the wing of distant and more powerful patrons, officials fear that they are extending their reach and stitching together their ambitions, turning once-local actors into pan-national threats.

The Nov. 20 assault on the Radisson Blu hotel that killed at least 19 people in Bamako, Mali’s capital, was just one of the more spectacular recent examples of the ability of these groups to sow deadly mayhem. Across the region, hundreds of people have been killed in terrorist attacks in the past year.

Gen. David M. Rodriguez, who heads the United States Africa Command, warned in a congressional statement in March of an “increasingly cohesive network of Al Qaeda affiliates and adherents” that “continues to exploit Africa’s undergoverned regions and porous borders to train and conduct attacks.”

“Terrorists with allegiances to multiple groups are expanding their collaboration in recruitment, financing, training and operations, both within Africa and transregionally,” General Rodriguez warned months before the Mali attack.

Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Islamic State and their respective affiliates, along with other jihadist groups, were active across large parts of North Africa in 2015. The map shows incidents of political violence, which include battles for territory, attacks on civilians and riots or protests.

The transfer of expertise can be witnessed in the spread of suicide bombings in Libya, Tunisia and Chad and in the growing use of improvised explosive devices in Mali, analysts and officials pointed out.

Such exchanges have been enhanced as groups shift shape, sometimes merge, and come under the wing of more powerful and distant patrons.

In one instance, two of the longest-standing North African groups, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al Mourabitoun, after a long publicized split, announced that they had reunited and that the Bamako hotel attack was their first joint venture.

The leaders of the two groups — Abdelmalek Droukdel and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, both Algerians — have loyalties that reach far beyond Africa, however.

As does Seifallah Ben Hassine, leader of Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia, the organization believed to be behind three deadly attacks in Tunisia last year, including a massacre of 38 people at a beach resort in June and an attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March that left 22 dead.

All three men are veterans of fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s, swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden and now profess loyalty to Al Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, based in Pakistan.

Mr. Droukdel, routed by French forces in Mali in 2013, is reportedly holed up in the mountains in southern Algeria. Mr. Belmokhtar and Mr. Ben Hassine have made rear bases in Libya, where they have been targeted by American airstrikes.

Today, despite French and American efforts to disrupt their networks, they still stretch across the continent.

To keep the pressure on the jihadists and help resist the threat, France has installed 3,500 troops across 10 bases and outposts in five vulnerable countries — Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad. The recent French patrol, tiny dots in the Sahara’s expanse of dunes and blackened rock, included 30-ton supply trucks carrying food and fuel, armored vehicles mounted with 80-millimeter cannons and a medical truck.

Similarly, American Special Operations Forces are working in Niger, and last year President Obama ordered 300 United States troops to Cameroon to help defend against the Nigerian Islamist movement Boko Haram, which has spread across borders.

French troops have led repeated operations to break communication and supply lines from Libya that have fortified such groups. The November operation was part of coordinated maneuvers in eastern Mali and northern Niger to try to disrupt jihadist links between the two nations.

The smuggling route patrolled by the French is one of the main arteries for jihadists, arms and drugs. French troops call it the “autoroute” to southern Libya, which they describe as a “big supermarket” for weapons.

The route crosses one of the most remote places on earth. Devoid of human habitation or water for hundreds of miles, it is a treacherous terrain of unbearable heat in the summer and nearly impossible navigation. Yet small convoys of smugglers attempt the crossing several times a week.

For the French, it is like looking for a tiny craft in an ocean, said Lt. Col. Étienne du Peyroux, the commanding officer leading the Niger operation.

“It is like a naval battle,” he said, sketching out the hunt on maps on the hood of his desert jeep. “The zone of operations is 40,000 square kilometers, an area the size of Holland, for 300 men.”

“We try to find them, to block, to constrain, to work out how they will be channeled by a particular piece of terrain,” he said.

The French rarely catch anyone — the last capture was of a drug haul in June. But, they say, their operations are at least disrupting the jihadists’ movements, evidenced by a drop in traffic and tracks in the sand showing smugglers’ vehicles having turned back.

“We want them to abandon the fight, until they cannot do it anymore or until the effort is too great,” the colonel said.

That, however, seems unlikely. “Weak government and chaos are always conducive to terrorism,” said Hans-Jakob Schindler, coordinator of a United Nations Security Council committee that monitors the Qaeda sanctions list. “These groups do take advantage of that.”

The development of jihadist training camps in Libya over the past four years represents a regional and international threat, with particular significance for Africa, he warned in a recent report.

Especially worrying, he said, was “the growing numbers of foreign terrorist fighters and the presence of a globalized group of terrorists from different Al Qaeda backgrounds.”

North Africa and the Sahel — a vast area the breadth of the United States — with its difficult geography, impoverished populations and weak states, is acutely vulnerable, military and civilian analysts said.

Poverty, corruption, poor government and unfair elections are all making populations susceptible to Islamist propaganda, said Adam Thiam, a columnist for the Malian daily newspaper Le Républicain.

“Elections are corrupt; services are corrupt,” he said, and young people have lost confidence in government, “so they will go and listen to the religious leaders rather than the political leaders.”

Others blame foreign interventions in Libya and Mali, and repressive counterrevolutions like Egypt’s, for fueling support for the jihadists.

Certainly, despite the interventions and improved security efforts, new groups and recruits continue to appear. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its affiliates remain active in Mali, and they have sponsored a new group, the Massina Liberation Front, which has emerged in the past few months.

“They do not need much; they just need to be determined,” said Col. Louis Pena, a commander of French troops in N’Djamena, Chad.

The deepening reach of Al Qaeda and the arrival of the Islamic State are raising fresh alarm.

While the two groups are rivals, that competition can pose a significant challenge from a broader security standpoint — as extremists seek to prove their potency and relevance, inspire and attract recruits, and play on a bigger stage.

The effect can be witnessed prominently in Boko Haram’s six-year insurgency in Nigeria, which has killed 17,000 people and displaced more than a million.

Boko Haram has been around for two decades. But money and training from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb gave its leader, Abubakar Shekau, a substantial boost when he assumed control in 2010.

Last year, Boko Haram switched allegiance to the Islamic State, which claimed its West Africa division had killed more than 1,000 people since November, according to the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites.

Despite setbacks in Nigeria, Boko Haram has become a regional scourge by exploiting contacts in the wider jihadist network, and it has now spilled into Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

At Madama, an oasis about 50 miles south of Libya, a mud-brick fort built by the French in 1931 guards Niger’s northern desert approaches.

In the past two years, the French have built a sprawling base dwarfing the old fort still manned by Nigerian troops, and posted 300 French troops to create a buffer against jihadist advances from Libya.

Nigerian soldiers accompany the French on their missions, hurtling in battered pickups across the desert terrain, much like their jihadist opponents do. Many of the local soldiers have been through six-month training programs run by American forces. Farther east, Chadian troops guard their part of the border.

In this lonely spot, French soldiers watch from their guard post out across the empty sand toward Libya. French commanders agree that the root of the problem is there, and that until it is addressed the entire region is threatened.

“They are still fragile countries,” Colonel Pena said. “They are countries that need stability to grow and develop. That is the real danger.”

The article was published in the New York Times.


(VOA) CPJ Report Highlights Journalists’ Struggles in Africa

The Committee to Protect Journalists has released its annual report on the killing of reporters around the world. The report looks at the state of media freedom in Africa. Forty-six-year-old Waweru Mugo has been a journalist in Kenya for the last 15 years and now runs his own media consulting firm.

It is not always easy. Last October, Kenyan lawmakers considered a bill that would ban the press from reporting on parliamentary matters. The controversial clauses were eventually removed amid protest from civil society and media organizations.

Intimidation, censorship

According to Mugo, journalists in Kenya and all of Africa face challenges, especially attempts by governments to intimidate and censor them. This, he says, has limited the growth of a free press.

“When you try to highlight some of these issues, the government tries to crack the whip,” he said. “The government demands that you do ABCD, that you’re not supposed to be unpatriotic, they label you as unpatriotic, they say that you’ve been bought off by foreign interests, you are working for the opposition. So the journalists also kind of bend to the whims of the government through self-censorship.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists says 69 journalists around the world were killed while on duty this year. Many died at the hands of Islamist militant groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State.

The biggest number came from Syria, but 11 were killed in Africa, including five in war-torn South Sudan.

Careful reporting

Felix Odimmasi, of the School of Law and Diplomacy at the University of Nairobi, says the lack of government support makes journalists cautious about reporting from conflict areas like South Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria.

“… Because one, they would not go out there and report, and two, those who dare to go out and report still know they are at risk, so they have to be very careful about what they report about and where they go. It’s the general lack, weakness of the rule of law,” he said. “The laws that exist are not necessarily being followed and there’s no strong legislation in some of these weak states to protect the media.”

Members of Africa’s Fourth Estate have come under fire across the continent from multiple regimes. Amnesty International says the South African government and ruling African National Congress party are pushing for a tribunal to regulate the media under the guise of “transformation.”

Amnesty notes that in Ethiopia, many journalists and media workers are currently in prison or have been convicted in absentia because of their work.

Benji Ndolo, a civil rights activist from the Kenya-based Organization of National Empowerment, says a concerted effort from non-state actors is the only way to halt the intimidation.

“International processes, civil rights movements, non-governmental organizations and even church organizations as well as the media will push these countries into a corner where they will be held to account for loss of lives. They will not have impunity forever and so change will absolutely come to these countries, accountability will be there,” said Ndolo.

Besides South Sudan, other African countries where journalists were killed in 2015 included Somalia, Kenya, Libya and Ghana. Another five were killed in Somalia’s neighbor, Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden.

This article was published on Voice of America.

(Deutsche Welle) Will Africa have its own ‘Arab Spring?’

The Arab Spring happened five years ago but this is not an anniversary to celebrate as Tunisia remains the one success story. But that hope for freedom has inspired some African countries.

On December 17, 2010, a young vegetable seller set himself on fire in the small city of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. This act sparked massive protests against the then president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, which eventually forced him from power. The movement, utilizing social media to organize mass protests, spread to neighboring countries and led to the overthrow of Muammar al-Gaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the events of the Arab Spring were observed with skepticism and uncertainty but also a lot of admiration. However little changed. But then in 2014 mass protests of young people drove Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaore, from power.

After 27 years in power, Compaore was seeking a constitutional amendment to allow him to run for another term. He was forced to flee to neighboring Ivory Coast. Now after the November 2015 elections, the people of Burkina Faso are also hoping for a long period of democratic and peaceful rule.

“African Spring?“

The upheaval in Burkina Faso was the first peaceful revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa. But was it the hesitant start of an “African Spring?”

“Civil society organizations were very involved in looking into how one could get people to rise up in a country with little democracy,” said the political scientist Robert Kappel from the GIGA Institute in Hamburg.

Protests in Burkina Faso Mass protests in Burkina Faso forced the sitting president to flee

According to Kappel, social media also played a big role and these tools were used to organize small gatherings. These small actions eventually came together to bring young people on to the streets. As protestors from all over the world knew, censorship of social media can always be circumvented.

In 2011, the Arab Spring “let loose a euphoria for activists all over the continent,” said Na’eem Jeena, the director of the South African research institute Afro-Middle East Center. This was especially evident in Zimbabwe where President Robert Mugabe has ruled with an iron fist since independence. And while little has changed, Jeena thinks that it at least gave the opposition and activists in the southern African country the feeling that mass protests can achieve something.

Protests also broke out in Sudan in 2012 with massive demonstrations against poverty and lack of opportunity. The crowds resembled those in neighboring Egypt. President Omar al-Bashir ordered a tough crackdown sending in police with batons and teargas and arresting opposition leaders. The protests soon stopped.

A local Arab Spring

Jeena thinks that the emotions of the Arab Spring are also felt in South Africa, though most citizens are not looking for a revolution. The spirit of the protests against apartheid in the 1980s is still present, especially in the townships. There residents have been protesting for better housing, more access to electricity and for more jobs for decades.

“We speak often here of a South African spring,” said Jeena.

Recently tens of thousands of students hit the streets to protest higher university tuition under the hashtag #FeesMustFall. Protestors later joined together under #ZumaMustFall calling for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma.

“I think the feelings of confidence and protest that grew out of the protest in North Africa have spread to other parts of the African continent over the past five years,” said Jeena.

(The Conversation) African stories to get and keep kids reading during school holidays

Holidays are a great occasion for reading, whether kids are doing so alone or a family is sitting down together with a book. But what do you do if the bookstore doesn’t have books in your language, or they’re just too expensive? This is often sadly the case in Africa, a continent that’s home to more than 2000 languages.

A project that started in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and Lesotho – and has spread to Niger, Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Mozambique – may hold some solutions for families who want to read African stories with their children.

The African Storybook has collected more than 2300 stories in 62 African languages. They are all free for download or printing, and offer fascinating insights into how people on the continent tell stories that explore sometimes tough themes and ideas.

Here are some stories from the project’s website that children of all ages can enjoy during the long school holiday – and once they’re back in class.

1. Leaving one home for another

Children’s books can tackle big themes in the simplest ways. African Storybook: Catherine Groenewald (CC-BY)

Holidays with grandmother is a story many children and adults can identify with: leaving home in the city to visit one’s grandparents and the countryside.

In rapidly urbanising Africa this is a familiar theme for many, as the older generation often stays behind while the younger generation looks for work in towns and cities. But family ties are strong, and visits to the ancestral village are cherished. In Holidays with grandmother, Odongo and Apiyo enjoy taking care of animals and playing in the bush, and of course their grandmother’s lovely cooking and chai.

It is available in English, Kiswahili, Lunyole, Ng’aturkana, Oluwanga and Sepedi.

2. The moral of the story

Traditional African stories often convey a moral lesson or caution against greed and other vices, such as the Ghanaian story Anansi and turtle. Anansi the spider greedily eats all the food before his dinner guest Turtle gets a chance. But what can Anansi do when Turtle invites him over to her place for dinner – under water?

African Storybook: Ingrid Schechter (CC-BY)

Other stories are far more serious, like Tingi and the cows. It is based on real events and is about soldiers entering a village as seen from the perspective of a young boy.

On the surface there is little drama beyond soldiers stealing cows and a boy hiding. But as we all know soldiers plundering villages is often far more serious than the theft of cows. Tingi and the cows invites the reader to think – and talk – about what happens when soldiers march into a village.

It is an excellent starting point for a conversation about fear and brutality that has affected people across the continent, including many children. It’s a reminder that not all children are lucky enough to fully enjoy the holidays.

3. Reading can be silly and fun

Adults may be concerned with teaching moral lessons and warning against dangers and transgressions, but children often prefer stories that are just funny, even silly or nonsensical. In Mr Fly and Mr Bighead the two characters want to cross a river. But Mr Bighead’s head is so big that he sinks. Mr Fly, on the other hand:

… laughed so much that his mouth tore in two from one side to the other!

Children love stories that are silly and nonsensical. African Storybook: Joshua Waswa (CC-BY)

Similarly, in The adventures of Supercow, a cow lives an ordinary life by day – well, not that ordinary for a cow, since she spends her days flying a kite and kicking a ball. But by night she is a supercow, saving lives and fighting crime.

This story has been translated into 21 languages, matched by only one other story on the African Storybook. This is A very tall man, and it’s another funny story that children will love. Although the number of translations is a weak proxy for demand, it hints at which stories are more popular.

Going global

The African Storybook caters, as the name indicates, to African languages. But sharing traditional and contemporary African stories is also important, not least for children from elsewhere to partake in the rich oral tradition and experience a positive picture of the continent.

The creation of the Global African Storybook Project has made this possible. Stories have been translated into Cantonese, Danish, Esperanto, German, Hindi, Jamaican Creole, Japanese, Mandarin, Nepali, Norwegian (bokmål and nynorsk), Persian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Tagalog – 16 languages in total, and growing.

This gives children from all over the world the chance to read stories from and about Africa.

Telling your own stories

The best stories are the ones you make yourself. This is not only possible with the African Storybook, it’s encouraged. Many of the stories on the website are adaptations of stories that others have written. The picture database has thousands of pictures that can be used to make a new story, or added to an existing story.

My favourite picture-based story is the brilliantly simple The hungry crocodile. In merely six concise sentences, which have been translated into six languages, the author Christian G. tells a story:

Pictures can tell a thousand words. African Storybook: Wiehan de Jager (CC-BY)

The hungry crocodile
Once there was a very hungry crocodile.
He searched for food slowly and quietly.
And then…
POW!!! The crocodile strikes!
After that he is no longer hungry, and he is happy.
Until he gets hungry again.

Adapting a story is an easy way for children or adults to start making their own stories. Holiday time, an adaptation of Holidays with grandmother by three Ugandan teachers, is one example of this.

Stories can serve many purposes, and with the African Storybook and Global African Storybook Project, African children stories are more accessible than ever before – in African and non-African languages alike. Happy holidays and happy reading!

This article was published on The Conversation.


(Reuters) For U.N.’s Ban, climate deal is personal victory after setbacks

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was among the most jubilant – and most relieved – of the leaders raising their arms on a stage on Saturday to celebrate a historic agreement on climate change.

For almost a decade, Ban, 71, has traveled the world from the glaciers of Antarctica to corporate boardrooms in New York in search of photo opportunities and allies to secure an elusive global deal to curb global warming.

Saturday night marked a personal victory after a long, often thankless road, in stark contrast to a failed 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen when he sat glumly on the podium at a fractious all-night session as the meeting unraveled.

“This is the apex of multilateralism,” he told Reuters of the deal reached in Paris among 195 countries that aims to end the fossil fuel era by phasing out greenhouse gases this century to rein in the rise in temperatures.

“(It is) a decisive turning point in our common efforts to make the lives of peoples sustainable and prosperous as well as a healthy planet,” Ban said.

“We have to make sure that all these agreements should be implemented. I will spare no efforts until the last day of my term as secretary-general,” he said.

Ban, now widely praised by governments for his tireless focus on climate change, will host a signing ceremony for the deal on April 22, 2016, and follow that with a meeting in May to encourage actions by governments, businesses and civil society.

The road to that signing has had more downs than ups.

Ban said some of his key staff advised him when he took office in 2007 that his plan to focus on climate change – among challenges such as wars, economic upheaval and pandemics – would be risky with no guarantee of success.

He ignored that advice.

Among unexpected bright spots, he once won encouragement from former U.S. president George W. Bush, whose Republican administration often raised doubts about the science underpinning global warming.


At a U.N. climate conference in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007, when Bush was in office, the United States was the last nation to drop opposition to a plan to launch two years of talks that led to the ill-starred Copenhagen summit. The U.S. delegation was even booed by other delegates for opposing the plan.

Ban said Bush confided to him at a private farewell lunch towards the end of the president’s term in 2009 that the U.S. delegation leader had phoned him from Bali for advice.

Bush told her, “‘I would appreciate if you do it as the Secretary-General of the United Nations wants’,” Ban said. “Then the U.S. agreed to this Bali roadmap. That was the most memorable and touching moment for me.”

But Bali led nowhere, because the 2009 Copenhagen summit two years later collapsed. Left-wing Latin American nations and Sudan blocked a deal in a riotous final overnight session. Ban calls Copenhagen among the “frustrating moments”.

Still, he said “I never was deterred” even though many other world leaders gave up on climate change to focus on other issues such as fixing the financial crisis.

And in Copenhagen, a simple problem was that world leaders at the time did not appreciate the risks of global warming, from droughts and heat waves to more powerful storms and rising seas.

“They were not even fully educated,” Ban said.

But the rubble of Copenhagen did provide a basis for success in Paris, he said. Ban has hosted three summits of his own on climate change since 2007, and joined a march of what he said was 400,000 people in New York last year.

The U.N. leader grew up in a home in South Korea with no electricity and reading by a kerosene lamp.

That made him aware of the dilemma for many developing nations, where governments are trying to widen public access to electricity – usually from cheap, dirty coal-fired power plants – even as they try to cut emissions.

“I myself know all of these climate problems,” he said.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

The article was published on Reuters. 

(Global Risk Insights) Africa seeks more equitable deal at UN Climate Summit


Despite contributing only a fraction of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, Africa is being hit hardest by the effects of climate change. Now armed with a common approach, African leaders are pushing for a more equitable and prosperous deal in Paris.

Photo Credit: Global Risk Insights

As the UN Climate Summit in Paris enters its final week and negotiations are ramped up, leaders from developing nations will continue to push for a more equitable deal. Already officials at the conference have cleared a major hurdle, producing a draft accord on Saturday 5 December. That leaves a week for ministers to clinch a historic agreement, with many optimistic that the Paris Summit can erase the disappointment of past talks, including Copenhagen in 2009, which ended in failure and frustration.   

Yet even with a blueprint being reached, major sticking points, not least between developed and developing states, must be overcome if a positive and more equitable outcome is to be reached. That will not be easy. 

Africa, small island developing nations (SIDS), and other least developed countries (LDC’s), have all argued that their contribution to climate change has been minimal. Unsurprisingly, they demand favourable concessions when it comes to the prickly issues of climate finance, new targets for countries based on carbon dioxide stock taking, and the overall responsibilities of developed versus developing countries. These issues are referred to in the draft agreement but remain unresolved.

For its part, Africa has laid out a number of proposals that will be keenly debated this week. Now armed with a common position and an expert team of around 200 climate negotiators, both of which were sorely missing in past multilateral talks, including in Montreal in 2005, Africa has submitted three main requests. 

First, it asks for $11bn a year from the international community to help it adapt to climate change in the future; having contributed little to the problem, its leaders are loath to pick up the bill.

Second, as it aims to bring electricity to 600 million people across the continent, it is seeking an additional $55bn a year in investments until 2030 in order to help it transform its energy sector, much of which will be powered by renewables.

Finally, it urges countries to reconsider the demands they make of one another; limiting the global temperature rise to 2C by the end of the century may appear more achievable, but African leaders argue a revised target of 1.5 degrees is needed in order to avert climate disaster.

These are tall orders, to be sure. But those in Africa point to the fact that they have too often drawn the short straw when it comes to climate change.

Despite accounting for roughly 15% of the world’s population, the continent contributes less than 2.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions, says James Wan at the Royal African Society. And more often than not, it is Africa that bears the brunt of global warming, with flash flooding and crippling droughts occurring with unfailing frequency. 

Until now, the West appeared relatively unmoved by Africa’s desperate plight and moral posturing. But recent forecasts by the World Health Organization paint a devastating picture, not just for Africa.

With a likely drop in country GDP’s across Africa, widespread crop eradication amid falling rainfall, the prospect of millions being pushed back into poverty, deepening security concerns in the region, and the possible spread of disease and climate refugees, African leaders are right that the West can ill-afford to view climate change as a problem of the Global South. Whether they like it or not, the fates of Africa and the rest of the world are indelibly linked. 

Beyond such gloom, however, African officials are quick to point out the potential benefits of implementing greener alternatives now. Not only have the majority of African states committed to bigger cuts than other higher-emitting nations, but they have also proposed the prospect of a nascent energy revolution – one that would benefit both Africa and the rest of the world.

As well as possessing much of the world’s most prized natural resources, Africa is home to some of the world’s most promising renewable energy reserves. ‘The potential,’ writes Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank, ‘is breathtaking.’ He says the continent can source an additional 10 terawatts of solar energy, 1,3000 gigawatts of wind power, and 15GW of geothermal power. Taken together, that ‘would not just solve Africa’s own energy problems but also those of other countries near and far.’ Energy investment and further cooperation between Africa and the West will be pivotal in turning such dreams into reality.

But add to that the fact that the forests in central Africa, which account for roughly a fifth of the world’s stock, act as one of the greatest carbon sinks in the world, and it is easy to see that Africa, more than ever, can play a crucial role in helping the world reduce its greenhouse emissions. 

What does this mean for the Paris Climate Summit and Africa? Despite these lofty ideals and more consensus and cooperation than ever before, a binding resolution calling for a rise of 2C or less seems doubtful.

The past few years have seen countries favour Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), voluntary pledges. These bottom-up pledges will remain the dominant commitment by states this time around, too, not least because of the freedom they confer to those who invoke them.

Without the burden of legal obligations, states can implement initiatives and targets that suit their needs best; the downside, of course, is that there is no one at the end of the line to ensure that they make good on such promises. That means Africa’s pleas to keep any temperature rise below 1.5C will not be heeded.

Climate funding, meanwhile, will remain a thorny issue and it is doubtful Africa will receive the full $11bn per year it wants. A fairer deal for Africa thus seems somewhat out of reach, at least this time around. 

Still, some positive signs are emerging: last week, France committed over 2bn euros to renewable energy projects across its former colonies over the next five years. Other projects will no doubt follow, even if they do not meet Africa’s starry-eyed expectations. That is no reason to celebrate, of course.

But for Africa – and all those at Paris – these gradual steps must feel somewhat encouraging after the bitter disappointment of Copenhagen five years ago. 

This article was published on Global Risk Insights.