Water Security Along the Nile

The Nile has been a source of civilisation for millennia and today hundreds of millions of people still rely on it to survive. For Egypt, 90% of its water needs depend on the Nile, however it is struggling, if not failing, to meet the needs of the population. Unsurprisingly this is having adverse effects on its economy. 12% of Egypt’s GDP comes from agriculture dependant on the Nile and the fishing industry has had to resort to water intensive fish farming as numbers of wild catches are falling. Many of Egypt’s tourist attractions are no longer accessible by boat and costing the industry dearly.  There are numerous factors to blame for this; population increases, climate change and poor water management are all impacting the flow.

The GERD:

When Ethiopia announced its hydroelectric Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) a decade ago, tensions between the two nations rose significantly. There are claims that it could reduce the flow of the Nile in Egypt by 20-30 percent. These tensions have been bubbling away steadily for the past decade and numerous negotiation attempts have been unsuccessful, most recently collapsing in late 2020. Many worry this could escalate into a conflict.

Egypt has historically been given primary control over the Nile due to its support from imperial Britain. Both the 1929 and 1959 Nile water agreements gave Egypt veto power over any decisions to dam the river upstream. Ethiopia ignored this and started construction of the GERD without permission from Egypt. They have also started filling the dam without an agreement and in response, Egypt has been launching cyber-attacks. Egypt sets a worrying precedent; its actions could be misinterpreted and lead to escalation.

The GERD is vital for the growth of Ethiopia and its regional power ambitions. It is proposed to bring electricity to 86 million people, with some left for export. Sudan, previously against the dam has come out in favour of it as this may reduce seasonal flooding which hampers its agricultural industry. Egypt is isolated in the region and its dominance over the Nile may be coming to an end.   

The role of external Actors:

Intra-gulf tensions have come into frame with Qatar supporting Sudan and Saudi Arabia an ally of Egypt. Despite Saudi Arabia ending its blockade on Qatar, tensions remain high. The UAE has not picked a side as such and has just agreed an aid deal with Ethiopia. This has resulted in Egypt Today accusing Qatar of ‘funding and inciting’ the GERD. The claims have been denied and are not independently verified. External actors potentially playing politics in the region does little to reduce fears of escalation.

Peaceful solutions:

With the GERD well on its way to being finished, and its reservoir being filled, Egypt must act to secure water for its own population. Egypt could invest in dams, canals and desalination plants to reduce its dependence on the Nile. These water security concerns could become futile with proper investment in water-saving technologies.

With Egypt’s worsening human rights record, it will struggle to gain investment from western countries. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are likely to fund many of the projects. China is unlikely to miss the opportunity either. Egypt is of strategic relevance due to its proximity to the Suez Canal and its importance to the Belt and Road Initiative.

Will Conflict Arise?

Military intervention has not been ruled out, especially if Ethiopia rapidly fills the dam. If Egypt does not invest into water saving projects effectively, a conflict could arise in the long term. Ethiopia is gaining power and a continued worsening of the domestic situation in Egypt fuelled by nationalist sentiment to regain regional power may result in military action.

However, this is an unlikely outcome in the short term. There are alternative solutions, Egypt lacks firepower and international support. Ethiopia is struggling internally with a conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, so it is unlikely they will be willing to fight a foreign power. They will both be conscious of destabilising the region too.

There is an increase in water security concerns across the globe, but if adequate action is taken then conflict will be avoided, and tensions eased in the region. Israel being one case where innovation and investment have been successful in eradicating its water security concerns.

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Explained

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted at the United Nations back in 2017 and has come into force on 22nd January 2021. This is the first legally binding multilateral treaty ensuring the process of eliminating nuclear weapons. It completes the ban of weapons that are considered unacceptable due to their inhumane and indiscriminate effects. Nuclear weapons now join landmines, cluster munitions, biological and chemical weapons on the banned list.

The TPNW prohibits signatories from developing, testing, producing, acquiring or threatening to use nuclear weapons. States must irreversibly destroy weapons, clean the environments where they have been tested and perhaps most significantly, aid those who have been exposed to the weapons.  

Those bound by the treaty cannot ‘assist, encourage or induce’ any activity prohibited under the agreement. Essentially signatories cannot engage with states regarding nuclear activities. This would forbid allowing nuclear weapons of ally to be station on a signatory’s soil.

As of 22nd January, 86 states have signed the treaty and 51 have ratified. Unsurprisingly none of the 9 official nuclear powers have signed, along with many countries who rely on the protection of nuclear powers, including the 27 NATO states. While the treaty is of significance itself, it would seem futile if those possessing what it is trying to be banned are not bound by its authority.  

This is not the failure one might think it is. The treaty creates a new international legal standard which all nuclear policies will now be judged by if the country is not a signatory and bound by if they are. It is hoped that the treaty will create a stigma surrounding nuclear weapons, much like the treaties banning landmines and biological/chemical weapons have done. The resulting international pressure in theory should pressure nuclear states to disarm.

Another important result of the treaty is that money will start to move away from the sector. Banks, pension funds and insurance companies are divesting from companies involved in the nuclear arms industry. It is not a good look for business to be supporting industries illegal under international law. If investment dries up, many companies may not see it as a viable industry to be a part of.  

The treaty is being realistically viewed as a moral statement rather than an enforceable one for the moment. However there needs to be a starting point and it is no secret that this is probably the beginning of the end for nuclear weapons. Despite many believing this will not work, ban treaties have got a good reputation. They have worked with biological and chemical weapons, landmines and cluster bombs so the precedent is there for it to work with nuclear weapons too. Delegitimisation will have a genuine impact on policy making, but it is not something that will be fixed overnight, the process will take years, realistically decades.

Notably we have seen New Zealand and Kazakhstan both ratify the treaty whilst still committing to full military cooperation to their nuclear allies (US and Russia). A small start but we should expect to see more states doing this as delegitimization and stigma starts to change opinion.  A slow process but one that has strong potential to work.

What is Grey Zone Warfare?

In the West security is something we take for granted. Domestically we believe we live in peace, but this is said to be far from the truth. Our security is constantly under threat, economically, politically and socially. This is taking place within what is being called the ‘grey zone’ of conflict. A form of conflict that sits in between what is traditionally viewed as either war or peace. Tactics are not traditional forms of conflict and so the lines of international law are blurred, actions and attribution are ambiguous, and the activities are often not recognised as formal acts of aggressions so do not warrant a response.

The information we see, the politicians we elect and the technology we use are all targets. The use of disinformation, economic manipulation, cyber-attacks and proxies are all tools used to disrupt to civil society. Imagine the power one would have if you controlled what information people saw, who they voted for and what technology they used. With this power you could make people think a certain way, vote a certain way or even control their cars and mobile phones. You could control a nation without a single boot on the ground. The division in the US over the past 4-5 years is no coincidence and has been spurred on by the examples above.

Cyber tools, disinformation, financial corruption and organised crime are used to divide and weaken a nation from within. The risk of not acting is that opponents could find a way to unravel democracies from within. Democratic freedoms and way of life will be undermined without anyone knowing. This is not limited to state actors; big businesses, criminal gangs and terrorist networks are all using these methods for their gains, big or small. Regardless, everyone is a target of the carefully crafted lies or political influence.

As well as the slow burning societal effects, grey zone warfare has many physical dimensions. At the sharp end are assassinations and proxy military forces. The poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury is a perfect example of Russia flexing its muscles within the grey zone. The use of proxy forces is another textbook tactic. Again, Russia leading from the front with their use of the Wagner Group in Ukraine and across Africa.

Energy is a factor being used as a weapon in the grey zone. Resource rich countries can use this to pressure and influence those who rely on their exports. Water politics in the Jordan river basin is an example. Damming along the river has resulted in a shortage of water for Israel. The reduced flow in the Jordan river basin is realistically a happy ‘accident’ and politically advantageous result for Israel’s enemies.

The corporate world can also be utilised. Huawei and its proposed stake in the UK’s 5G network is potentially one such example. If relations were to turn sour between the two nations, China could sabotage the operations of the firm or incorporate spyware into its services.

There is of course the risk that miscalculations could lead to full scale military conflict. Actions within the grey zone could be misunderstood or escalated. It is a fine line that must not be crossed, the tactics mentioned above are not going unnoticed by governments and an escalation is not unforeseeable. Those moments of miscalculation are not hard to find in history and have had disastrous effects. However, it is worth noting that the ever-widening list of actions viewed as belligerent only increases the likelihood of escalation. Many argue that the grey zone is within the bracket of peace, not war.

But how would this dismantle a democracy? It is a slow burning effect that creates a distrust within the political system and the establishment, undoing confidence in the economy and causing discontent among the population. The events in the United States are perhaps a perfect example of all these factors coming together to divide a nation. The whole point is to cause harm without those being targeted realising, divide from within and conquer.

AfCFTA – African Continental Free Trade Area

1st January 2021 will go down as a historic day for free trade agreements. As one economic bloc is shaken, another is created. The UK left the European Union, but African nations started operating under their new free trade agreement. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) finally came into force in the new year having been years in the making and delayed by the pandemic.

AfCFTA has created the largest free trade area in the world by number of member countries. All bar Eritrea having signed the agreement. It will connect 1.3 billion people with a combined GDP of $3.4 trillion dollars, and the capacity to bring 30 million people out of extreme poverty. Currently, it eliminates 90% of import tariffs on goods traded within the continent and aims to increase that figure to 97%.  Removing non-tariff barriers to trade is also an important part of the agreement, streamlining the export/import procedures. It also guarantees the free movement of people across the continent.

Intra-African trade has been historically low, in 2019 12% of imports came from within the continent. The free trade area should go along way in changing this figure by reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Generally speaking, the continent has been trapped at the lower end of the global economy, selling low value raw materials and buying high value manufactured goods. This problem has been accentuated by what many call an exploitation by developed nations on Africa’s abundance of natural resources. The UN Economic Commission for Africa predicts the Free Trade Area (FTA) could increase intra-African trade by over 50%.

Non-tariff barriers such as customs delays and administrative bottlenecks at border posts emphasize the challenges facing African traders. The World Bank has claimed it takes about three and a half weeks for a container of car parts to be cleared by Congolese customs. Eliminating non-tariff barriers is said to boost the income of African countries by $292 billion.

AfCFTA’s plans are simple in theory, but harder in practice. There are several challenges that stand in the way. An increase in intra-continental exports will need robust and cheap transport options, which currently do not exist in much of the continent. The high price of transportation jeopardises the competitiveness of intra-African exports. There are calls for individual states to invest heavily in infrastructure to help facilitate increasing movement of goods.

Education on AfCFTA is a factor that could slow progress in the short term. Meron Dagnew, a coffee and cocoa trader based in Accra went to the customs services in Ghana and explained that she did not need to pay tariffs because of the FTA, but they did not know what she was talking about. This could be an isolated case but nonetheless, a worrying sign.

This is not the first-time countries in Africa have tried to cooperate in this fashion, both regionally and nationally. Legitimacy and enforcement challenges, along with insufficient political will from national governments has blighted previous attempts at economic cooperation and coordination. For AfCFTA to work there needs to be continental wide cooperation. Nations cannot focus on the same markets and goods otherwise they will be limited to domestic markets. Specialisation facilitates economies of scale.

AfCFTA benefits the international community too with the UN suggesting it could result in an extra $76 billion in income for the global markets. It also increases the appeal of investment into the continent. Growth opportunities have been identified by the major powers for many years now, this is only set to increase.

Could AfCFTA become beacon of multilateral cooperation in an increasingly divided world? Time will tell. This is an exciting new chapter for Africa but it does come with its difficulties.

Boiling Down The Brexit Deal

Brexit signals new era for the UK, one of prosperity and greater control according to its advocates, but one of uncertainty and hardship according to its opponents. The deal agreed on Christmas eve is complex and spans over 1200 pages. This article attempts to boil down some of the key points.

The UK achieves “zero tariff, zero quota” goods trade and the EU keeps its cherished single market and Customs Union. Compromise can be achieved after all. Despite the lack of tariffs levied or restrictive quotas imposed, there will be a whole series of new customs and regulatory checks on exported goods. This will increase costs and cause headaches for many.

Fishing

The big issue everyone has been talking about. Under the deal EU boats are still allowed to fish in UK waters but they will give up 25% of their fishing rights over the next 5 years. In 2026 when this transition period runs out, the UK has the right to exclude EU fishing vessels from its waters. This is unlikely to happen and talks will continue as to how much of a right to UK waters EU fishermen will get. Unsurprisingly this has angered the UK fishing industry and was considerably less than the government had originally asked for.

Car Manufacturing:

The manufacturing industry will be hit hard by customs and regulatory checks. It will mean extra manpower and costs due to added administration. The rules of origin mean that a percentage of each product (car) must be made of a given percentage of parts from the exporting country. Parts from the EU are included in this for the UK but will cause problems with many parts coming from Japan and Turkey, resulting in more red tape and paperwork.

The electric car industry has been given concessions and the rules of origin will subject to a 6-year phase in. Important as most batteries currently come from Asia and manufactures need time to build capacity in the UK if the industry is to thrive in the country.

Farming:

It is a similar tale for the agriculture industry with export prices set to rise with increasing paperwork and administration costs. Animal products entering the EU must be inspected to ensure strict sanitary rules are being adhered to. It is being said that there are currently not enough vets to sign off on certificates that ensure each shipment complies with regulations. The British Meat Processors’ association says it will cost an added £300 per load for certification. In the short to medium term this will prove burdensome to exporters.

Financial Services:

The UKs biggest industry is getting ready for effectively a no-deal outcome. The deal currently means they lose the right to trade in EU markets and rather than following one set of rules for the whole of the UK, they must face rules for each nation. The industry has been preparing for this outcome for some time so they will be well prepared. The EU and UK are set to draw up plans for closer access to EU markets for the sector, but no time frame has been set.

Security and Global Cooperation:

There is little change here, the UK and EU will continue to cooperate closely on security issues. Exchanging of intelligence on cyber threats, counter-terrorism and hybrid threats will continue with no change. There is scope for cooperation on the European Defence Fund and the European Defence Agency programmes. The UK will also continue to participate in EU operations on a case-by-case basis within Europe and around the world, sharing information and best practices. One stipulation is that the UK does not have access to the EU criminal database. Despite the continuing cooperation, this still may restrict the UKs capacity in countering terrorism and international fugitives.

The relationship regarding global cooperation will not change either, with a mutual understanding that on these issues that they are stronger together. Cooperation on climate change, global development and aid, along with the G7 and G20 will continue to grow.

Many of these new measures sound negative with increasing administration but across almost all sectors there is room for streamlining. The rules and regulations currently in place will be regularly reviewed to ensure best practice. There is also still a lot to be decided and the deal is fluid in that changes can be made if better solutions are agreed upon. There will be a breaking in period in the short term at least.

What Is Going On In Ethiopia and What Impact Is It Having On The Region?

The roots of the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia can be traced back to the conception of the current political system. Since 1994, different ethnic groups have controlled the affairs of the country’s 10 regions in a federal government system. The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) was instrumental in setting the system up and its leaders, until recently, have held the leading positions in the central government.

Despite growing prosperity in the country, discontent surrounding human rights and the level of democracy led to a new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, being appointed in 2018. This came as a result of considerable civil unrest. Abiy Ahmed set up a new political party, the Prosperity Party and removed key Tigrayan leaders accusing them of corruption. This ended around three decades of Tigrayan power.

The situation between the two dramatically worsened in September when the Tigrayan government went against the central government and held its own regional elections despite them being officially postponed due to the pandemic. The central government subsequently suspended funding and cut ties with Tigray. This was seen as a declaration of war by the region’s government and the conflict ensued.

The fighting began on the 4th November with the TPLF forces attacking a government military base to reportedly steals weapons, however the TPLF said it was pre-emptive strike in self-defence. The PM subsequently declared a state emergency and ordered a military offensive against the region to restore rule of law. Information, or perhaps more importantly, reliable information about the conflict has been hard to come by. Electricity, telephone, and internet services were shut down making it hard for the international community to respond and gather accurate information on events. Many foreign nationals found it hard to leave as a result. The fighting intensified for the rest of November, with government forces making steady progress against the Tigray army.

On the 28th November, Mekele, Tigray’s capital was ‘liberated’ by government forces, putting them back in control of the majority of the region. However, despite it seemly looking like a victory for Abiy Ahmed, stability domestically and internationally is far from guaranteed.

The effects of the conflict are what is proving to be a cause of concern for the international community. Despite the UN coming to an agreement with Ethiopia to allow for unimpeded access for emergency relief, on a visit to the region at the time, the EU’s Crisis Management Commissioner criticized the access as severely lacking. As a result, the EU has delayed 90 million Euros worth of financial aid. They have ramped up emergency aid however.

The conflict poses a real risk to the stability of the region. Ethiopia is a close ally of the US and was seen as an essential part of maintaining peace in the fragile horn of Africa. This could force the hand of the US to intervene diplomatically. The conflict has started to spill into Eritrea with Tigrayan forces firing missiles at the Eritrean capital. A conflict with Eritrea comes with the risk of the 100,000 Eritrean refugees currently living in Tigray being displaced again.

Sudan is another area of concern, a fragile state with over 1 million refugees and an increasing economic crisis, it is a country that cannot afford conflict. Refugees from Tigray are pouring into Sudan, figures suggest 50,000 but numbers vary from source to source, realistically they will be higher than reported as many are not registered in UN camps. Tensions have increased significantly with skirmishes taking place across the Sudanese/Ethiopian boarder. Many soldiers are also making the trip with refugees and could pose as a further factor in the destabilisation of Sudan.

The conflict within Ethiopia is a worrying sign for the region and with conflict slowly spilling outside of Ethiopia’s borders, the international community will be putting pressure on the government to stabilise domestically and internationally. It is very much a guessing game at the moment as to what could happen in the region, but current signs are far from promising.

What Will US-Russian Relations Look Like Under The Biden Administration

Are US-Russian relations set to get worse with Joe Biden as president? It is no secret that President-Elect Biden is likely to take a tougher stance on Russian aggression than his predecessor. In all likelihood we will see policies and rhetoric very similar to that of the Obama administration. There is scope for Biden to go further, calling Russia the ‘biggest threat’ to US security. In his campaign he had already set out to implement a series of measures to restrict Russian efforts to manipulate US and western politics. Stronger ties with traditional US allies such as the EU and NATO are high on Biden’s priorities, another blow for Russia. Yet, there is still hope for cooperation between the two countries, a stable and more conventional administration could bolster productive dialogue.

With leaders all around the world having congratulated Biden on his election victory, the Kremlin is yet to comment. In contrast, they rushed to congratulate Trump on his victory in 2016. Perhaps this a bit of a power-play by the Russian president, who has already commented on Biden’s ‘sharp anti-Russia rhetoric’. There have been suggestions from commentators that a lack of a response is the Kremlins way of saying ‘Russia does not care what happens in the US’. If that is the case, it may well fall on deaf-ears after their clear agenda in 2016.

It is no secret Biden is a staunch Europhile and will be looking to increase US relations with the EU and NATO. There is talk of a NATO summit early on in his presidency, a stark difference to the approach of Trump who reduced cooperation. It is worth noting that Biden, like Trump, will continue to pressure members to spend that precious 2% of GDP on their defence budget. A reinvigorated and cohesive NATO alliance puts significantly more pressure on Russia and its borders. That coupled with European cooperation will amount to a strong and united front to face China and Russia.

On the campaign trail, Biden has pledged to impose real costs on Russia due to its continuing violation of international norms. A worrying sign for Moscow as their cooperation with Belarus’ leader Lukashenko could lead to tense relations as Biden will likely assume a strong stance on this issue.

Russia has significantly benefited from Trumps antagonism towards US allies and Biden aims to reverse this. He wants America to be more globally visible and aims to close the gap on Russia’s ability to manoeuvre that they were afforded under Trump. Anti-Russian rhetoric from US presidential candidates is nothing new, but with previous experience in the Obama administration Russia may be concerned about the action Biden is willing to take. The planned support for democratic movements around Russia will be one of these such worries for the Kremlin.

There will no doubt be a tougher stance on Russia under Biden compared to Trump, but this does not mean there will be a lack of cooperation and dialogue. Putin is said to be encouraged by Biden’s commitment to the New START Nuclear Arms Treaty. They both are seasoned politicians and recognise the importance of a stable relationship and cooperation on matters such as nuclear weapons.

Russia may well see the president-elect as a positive step for relations in the sense that he offers greater predictability compared to Trump. This was seen during the depths of the cold war; the USSR was able to negotiate with the ruthlessly anti-Soviet Reagan administration because they knew where they stood. Biden is a known entity for Russia, he made his first visit there over forty years ago and will have built relationships with officials in Moscow.

The administration plans to balance confrontation with engagement, a clear and robust approach that should allow for discussion and cooperation. This offers Russia stability and predictability, allowing them to relax in a sense as they can be confident that proper diplomatic procedures will be adhered to. Now is a chance to cooperate on climate change, the Iranian nuclear deal, pandemic recovery and counter-terrorism. There are bigger issues to tackle globally and it seems that both Biden and Putin are well aware of this. Cooperation has mutual benefits.

Relations between Russia and the US are expected to chill somewhat, but the chance of the two finding pragmatic ways to do mutually beneficial business is set to increase.

Green Finance: The Way Forward?

Green finance is very simple in practice; a financial activity (product or service) that ensures a better environmental outcome. It is proving to be an effective way to meet the growing needs of both environmentalism and capitalism. It can take many forms, but broadly its divided into banking, investment and insurance products which ensure sustainable development.

Why is it important?

Climate change is an ever more pressing issue and gaining consensus in how to solve it is proving challenging. Commentators have high hopes for green finance in helping to facilitate meaningful change. The UN is working to align international financial systems to its own sustainable development agenda, believing it plays a vital role in delivering its goals.

Green finance can incentivise sustainable innovation, green projects such as carbon capture technology have had considerable backing which has only bolstered is growing success, bringing more people and more money into the industry. This approach aims to have a trickle-down effect, and we could expect to see changes for the better across all areas of our lives, from high tech energy solutions to how we get to work each day.

The effectiveness of focusing on an industry in such a fashion is ironically displayed perfectly by fossil fuels. Subsidies for fossil fuel production have been used to facilitate cheap energy with the aim to stimulate economic growth. The US is a particular expert in this field, having been written into their tax code. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that in 2017 fossil fuels received over $5.2 trillion in subsidies. Perhaps here lies the problem, it is no secret that where the money goes, people go. Proper and effective incentives drive production exponentially and focusing this on sustainability could prove invaluable.

What steps are the UK taking?

As a global financial hub, it is important for the UK to be a leader in this field, they need a post-Brexit approach, or they risk falling behind. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak recently announced a series of new measures aimed at making the UK a world leader in the green finance sector. The UK will be the first country have a task force on climate related disclosures (TCFD). The task force provides a means for companies to better provide information to investors, insurers, stakeholders etc. on climate-related financial risks. It also aims to help investors understand their exposure to climate risks. The task force will enforce these measures and they will be fully mandatory by 2025.

A ‘green taxonomy’ has also been proposed as a framework to determine which activities are environmentally sustainable. It provides an understanding of the impact a firms’ activities and investments have on the environment and aims to drive a sustainable economy by highlighting climate risks.

Growing international interest

Despite the UK aiming to be a world leader, the US, China and France are the largest holders of Green bonds. The European central Bank hold around 20% of the Euro-dominant green debt. Both signals that this is an area set for increasing growth. Whether this is being done for the good of the world or for economic gains is neither here nor there. This is where green finance comes into its own, it satisfies those who are only concerned about the economy and making money and those with real interest in sustainability and tackling climate change. The City of London Corporation is hosting the Green Horizon Summit, looking at the role green finance can play in the economic recovery after Covid-19. The main goal is to find a way for public and private finance to aid a sustainable future. With the election of Joe Biden as US president, we can expect to see the US re-join the Paris Agreement and a greater commitment to green finance. Having the world’s largest economy back on board is major coup for a sustainable future.

It is important to remain realistic, the International Energy Agency predicts that coal will still hold a 30% share of global energy consumption in 2040 despite any efforts to halt its consumption. Positive steps but fossil fuels are not going away.  

A Threat Beyond Extremist Networks? Recent Attacks in France Raise Concerns

So far in 2020, France has had an increasing number of lone wolf terror attacks. This increase sets a worrying precedent for not only the French intelligence services but that of the international community too.

None of the individuals carrying out the attacks that have taken place since September were known to the intelligence services. They were not linked to a terror group, no group claimed them, and they had no stated political agenda. The only signs of radicalisation were on social media, and they were tenuous at best. When more sophisticated weapons are used, the knowledge and materials are hard to come by and their research often leaves a trail that intelligence services pick up. However, what these attacks have in common is that kitchen knives were used, generally an innocuous purchase.  

Within France, tough questions are being asked of the government and intelligence services on how to combat the threat. These recent attacks are a far-cry from the highly organised and sophisticated attacks of 2015. The Former head of the French intelligence services, Bernard Squarcini, has commented that France is confronted with ‘a new generation’ of extremists. 7 of the 9 attacks this year have been carried out by individuals unknown to intelligence services.

The trigger for the most recent attacks was the republication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by the magazine Charlie Hebdo. The result was huge protest overseas, most notably in Pakistan where videos surfaced of protesters wielding knives. Zaher Hassan Mahmood, repeatedly watched videos of the protests before buying a butcher’s knife and stabbing two outside the former offices of the magazine in September. The beheading of a schoolteacher followed a similar timeline, Anzorov was triggered by hearing the teacher, Samuel Paty, showed the caricatures to school children. On the same day of the attack he was looking for individuals on twitter who had offended Islam. The most recent attack came from Brahim Aouissaoui, who killed 3 with a knife in Nice. His family and friends said he showed no signs of radicalization and was seeming a normal young adult. Experts in the field are calling these individuals fanatics rather than jihadists, in essence ‘lone wolf’ attackers without a political agenda.

It may be easy for some to say the French intelligence services could be doing a better job; however this new threat challenges many of the previously effective surveillance tactics used to combat extremism. There are very few signs these individuals were radicalised, and the signs often came on the day of the attack.

The response of the French government has come under fire for being ‘inappropriate’ and ‘counterproductive’. The government have given the attacks a political dimension that experts don’t believe they warrant. Islamic separatism is what the state says is the main threat, as a result there has been a crackdown on Muslim individuals and organisations deemed to be Islamist. Policies and comments like these from the French government have angered many countries, including Turkey, who have called for a boycott of French goods. Commentators also criticised the policies saying these attacks are not a result of religious indoctrination. All the individuals in recent attacks were described by all as normal young adults looking for better opportunities in France. They were spurred on by a trigger event, the republication of caricatures of Muhammad, not a long process of radicalisation.

It is important to note the importance of the global pandemic in this too. Some sources have indicated such a rise in attacks was only a matter of time. National lockdowns and lacking opportunities for younger generations as a result of the pandemic are a melting pot for radicalisation. Social isolation, more time online and strains on mental health only serve to exacerbate disillusionment with society, making people vulnerable. Extremists and radicalisers know this and will aim to exploit these vulnerabilities. These most recent attacks may not be a result of direct contact with radicalisers, but it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic had an impact on these individuals. Without the support points normally available, like friends, social activities, school and the wider community, isolation can very quickly have a disastrous impact. According to the national coordinator for Prevent (part of the UKs counter-terrorism strategy), referrals from the community were down by 50% during the first lockdown in the UK. This is not a case of fewer people needing help, but that fewer people are getting access to it. A very worrying sign for the UK and coupled with the events in France, the terrorism threat level in the UK has been raised to ‘Severe’.

Russia’s strategy in Africa: Why it want’s to increase it’s presence

Vladimir Putin has stated that Africa is one of Russia’s main foreign policy priorities. There are a number of triggers for this, increasing involvement of Western powers on the continent is one but the immense economic and strategic opportunity the continent offers may be more important. In 2018, the US ramped up its involvement in Africa to counter the influence of China and Russia, signifying Russia’s potential to benefit.

The Kremlin’s aim to build new alliances on the continent is proving to be successful. Back in 2014 they persuaded more than half of African states to oppose or abstain from the UN General Assembly’s resolution condemning the annexation of Crimea. Whilst these nations are not global players like EU states are, it is still of major significance that Russia has this support.

The recent coup in Mali is a huge blow to French diplomacy in West Africa but a triumph for the Russian Government, who were reportedly involved in the coup. Strategically this is very important, the French were heavily invested in the previous regime. This now opens opportunity for Russia to supplant French influence in the region.

Russia is a favourable ally for many African nations compared to Western powers as an alliance comes with increased abilities to manoeuvre around international rules. A tool used by many developing nations is to play the US and Russia against one another. When Washington pushes for improvements on democracy and human rights, governments threaten to increase their relationship with Russia, prompting an easing of diplomatic pressure.

It’s main export to Africa is a problematic one, its security expertise. The over reliance on private military companies, such as the Wagner Group, risks upsetting stability across the continent. Toppling reluctant governments to advance their own agenda is a fear many western states have. The Malian coup d’état is thought to be a case of just this. There have been several reports that high ranking members of the Malian army had not long got back from two months of training in Russia before the Coup. Local media outlet ‘aBamako.com’, reported that they had in fact been in Russia for more than a year. Although not confirmed, the Wagner Group were thought to be involved militarily in the coup. Having said this, the US is training the militaries of more than 20 African nations. It is hardly surprising that Russia are doing something similar.

Russia’s alleged use of mercenaries across Africa is proving an effective tool to exert influence within the region and internationally. The Wagner Group is reported to be operating alongside Russian troops in the CAR and independently in Sudan. If used in the Malian coup it provides perfect evidence of their effectiveness. The Russian state can claim innocence while benefiting diplomatically. The Kremlin has bolstered Russian presence in the region at the expense of the French because of its alleged involvement. These companies are a comparatively low cost and low risk military option increasingly used in modern conflicts.

There are clear economic incentives for involvement in Africa. Natural resources are a key part of the Russian economy and Africa is a resource rich continent. Russian companies are aggressively pursuing lucrative deals. They have a agreement to mine Bauxite in Guinea confirmed, in the process of securing a diamond mining contract in Angola and offshore gas rights in Mozambique to name just a few. The damage done to French diplomacy in West Africa also gives an advantage to Russian owned Nuclear power company, Rosatom, to invest in the region over its French counterpart, Avenda.

Russia’s push for increased ties in Africa could be in part down to the Crimea-related sanctions imposed in 2014. Traditionally they have been an arms supplier to the continent, but as has been mentioned, they are going far beyond that. It has tripled its trade from $6.6 billion in 2010 to $18.9 billion towards the end of the decade. The most important trade deals in the Sub-Saharan region are still with the US, China and India. The same trend is seen with development aid with the EU, US, China and Japan outspending Russia. It is true that Russia is increasing its influence, but currently is only tied to a handful of states that offer limited strategic importance.