Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged free grain to six African nations. The announcement comes one week after Russia withdrew from the Black Sea grain deal, triggering a spike in global prices. Opening the Africa-Russian summit in St. Petersburg on July 27, Putin promised to send 25,000 to 50,000 tons of free grain to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic, and Eritrea. The countries are among Moscow's closest allies on the continent, but they are not all the most food-import dependent. UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that a "handful of donations" would not correct the market impact of Russia's termination of the year-long deal, which had cut cereal prices by more than one third. The African Union echoed Guterres' criticism.
Rwandan and Mozambican troops retook the port city of Mocímboa da Praia on Aug. 9 from Islamist militants—their last stronghold in Mozambique's northern Cabo Delgado province. The 1,000 Rwandan troops, who arrived in the country last month to help the government battle a four-year insurgency, have proved their effectiveness in a series of skirmishes. They are also being joined by units from regional neighbors Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. But analysts are warning that the insurgents—known colloquially as al-Shabab (see list of alternative names)—are choosing not to stand their ground, preferring to retreat into the countryside. Military force doesn't address the drivers of the conflict, nor does it prevent ill-disciplined Mozambican troops—who often struggle to distinguish between insurgent and civilian—from stoking further tensions through abuses of the populace. More than 3,000 people have been killed and 820,000 displaced by the conflict.
Jihadist insurgents variously calling themselves "al-Shabaab" or the "Islamic State Central Africa Province" (ISCAP) are fast escalating brutal attacks in Mozambique's oil-rich Cabo Delgado province, in the north of the country. In twin attacks Nov. 9, more than 50 residents were beheaded in Muatide village, where militants turned a football field into an "execution ground," while several more were beheaded and houses put to the torch in Nanjaba village.
In Episode 31 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg documents the ugly far-right politics of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and how the 2010 document dump risked the lives of dissidents under authoritarian regimes in places like Zimbabwe—and may have constituted outright collaboration with the repressive dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. An objective reading of the circumstances around the 2016 Wikileaks dump of Democratic Party e-mails reveals Assange as a Kremlin asset and Trump collaborator, an active agent in a Russian-lubricated effort to throw the US elections—part of Putin's grander design to impose a fascist world order. Weinberg also notes that the ACLU and Committee to Protect Journalists have issued statements warning that the charges against Assange may pose a threat to press freedom. But he argues that even if we must protest his prosecution, we should do so while refraining from glorifying Assange—and, indeed, while forthrightly repudiating him as a dangerous political enemy of all progressive values. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, as the full scale of devastation from Cyclone Idai becomes clear. The World Meteorological Organization says Idai, which made landfall March 14, could become the worst tropical cyclone on record in the Southern Hemisphere. Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi fears that 1,000 people may have lost their lives in his country alone. The UN World Food Program calls the aftermath of the storm "a major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour." And, as after similar "mega-storms" of recent years, the link to global climate destabilization is evident. "Cyclone Idai is a clear demonstration of the exposure and vulnerability of many low-lying cities and towns to sea-level rise as the impact of climate change continues to influence and disrupt normal weather patterns," said Mami Mizutori, the UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction. (Grist)
World oil prices remain depressed, now hovering at around $60 per barrel, although they did experience an uptick this month, probably driven by the escalating crisis in Venezuela and fears of a US-China trade war. (Xinhua, Jan. 27; OilPrice, Jan. 18) Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. A three-day nationwide strike was declared by the trade unions, and the government responded with bullets and a total Internet shut-down. At least 12 were killed and hundreds arbitrarily arrested. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled fuel prices, making gasoline sold in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and "rampant" illegal trading. (FT, Jan. 18; Amnesty International, Jan. 15; BBC News, OilPrice, Jan. 14)
The swearing in of Zimbabwe's new President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa is being hailed as opening a new era for the country that had been ruled by Robert Mugabe from independence in 1980 until his dramatic downfall this week. But Mnangagwa had long been Mugabe's right-hand man, and in his inaugural speech paid tribute to him as a "mentor" and Zimbabwe's "founding father." Mnangagwa is known by the nickname "Ngwena" (Crocodile)—apparently a reference to his days as a commando in the Crocodile Group, an elite Chinese-trained guerilla unit that carried out acts of sabotage in the struggle against colonial and white supremacist rule in the 1960s. (BBC News, CNN, VOA) But some are pointing to Mnangagwa's reputation for ruthlessness even after the country's liberation from white rule, and are demanding accountability over his role in ethnic massacres in the 1980s.