Civil War in the Central African Republic and Russia’s Role in the Conflict

Civil war erupted in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2012 when rebel groups in the northeast formed a coalition (Seleka) to topple the then President François Bozizé. The cited reason for the uprising was the protection of marginalised populations. Realistically however, it boiled down to long standing issues of identity and a lack of economic progress. The catalyst was likely presidents attempt to take control of the lucrative mining business. With a vacuum of US power, gaining influence in Central Africa is an important part of Putin’s foreign policy strategy. As such, Russia has become heavily involved both militarily and diplomatically.

The route to the capital for the Seleka was a quick one, the CAR’s army was weak and had little interest in defending its autocratic leader. In March 2013 they held a coup and took control of the country. The Seleka represent the minority Muslim population and in response to their brutality, a countering coalition of Christian fighters called ‘anti-balaka’ formed. They started carrying out equally brutal attacks against Muslim populations. In an attempt to relax tensions, the government disbanded the Seleka forces. This just lead to ex-Seleka members forming splinter groups and fighting back against the anti-balaka forces. It is this that plunged the CAR into the complex civil war and the ever-growing humanitarian crisis we see today.

As the conflict took on an ethnic and religious face, as is so often the case, reports of atrocities started to mount. In the past year alone, the Russian backed government has been linked to almost as many war crimes as the rebels have. Reports of rape, abduction, torture and executions are commonplace on all sides. As rebel groups began to take control of territories, landmines and IEDs became a powerful tool to project them. Minefields and IEDs are making it hard for peacekeepers and aid workers to reach villages in desperate need of support. Most of these weapons are believed to have come from Libya and some harvested from active minefields in Chad and Sudan. The procurement of such weapons is fuelling the black market, a worrying sign in a region so fragile.

Part of a wider strategy to expand influence across Africa, Russia began to back the struggling government. Although formally denied by the Russian government, the Wagner Group is thought to be heavily integrated into Russia’s military efforts in the CAR. Russia played an important role in the 2019 peace deal between the government and rebel groups. Although this has largely fallen apart, cooperation with the UN and the African Union has added legitimacy to Russia’s role as a diplomatic arbiter.

Commentators see three main objectives for Russia’s involvement in the CAR. Firstly, to expand its diplomatic leverage. Russia has forged a robust military partnership with the regime, as well as with rebel groups dominating northern regions. This hedging strategy is not unfamiliar on the international stage. This would ensure leverage in the country no matter the outcome of the conflict.

Secondly, Russia wishes to challenge the UN backed sanctions on the CAR. The country is resource rich, and the hope is that with providing support, Russia can benefit from the country’s mining industry and growing economy. There is also an arms embargo on the country, something Russia is working to lift. Exclusive arms contracts with a developing nation, in a strategic location would be a major economic and foreign policy win for Putin.

Thirdly, Russia see this as a springboard for expanded influence in Africa. There is a vacuum of US leadership in Central Africa. With France losing its colonial influence across the region, the economic and diplomatic opportunities are there for the taking. China and Russia are taking full advantage of this, often leaving little opportunity for the West. Russia have already strengthened their relationship with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and wishes to spearhead large scale infrastructure projects. Current CAR President Touadéra has requested a Russian military base to be built in the country. Further cementing Russia’s influence, or at least scope for influence in the region.

Regrettably true peace is still someway off. Rebel forces are far from defeated and the recent government advance has merely pushed them back into peripheral areas and forced an adaptation to guerrilla warfare. Most commentators do not see a military solution being found. As is so often the case, civil war is founded on deep rooted grievances. For much of the population, identity is at the heart of the issue. The CAR is overall a very xenophobic society, analysts put this down to the decades of violence involving differing religions and ethnicities. Many see differing ethnic groups as foreigners and responsible for the bloodshed and humanitarian crises. On a more basic level, public services are non-existent. The state has never attempted to develop the peripheries and citizens want the country to develop and prosper. This is a population that has access to information about developing and developed nations, economic prosperity is the goal for many now.

Revoking Citizenship – Is It An Effective Tool In Countering Terrorism?

It is estimated that around 40,000 citizens from western nations have gone to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The majority are fighters, of which most have been killed. But it is thought that around a quarter of that figure are women and children. As the caliphate collapses the remaining fighters and their families, along with many ‘ISIS widows’ look to return to the West. Dealing with these returning citizens is proving to be a headache for many Western governments.

The fear is that those returning will bring new knowledge, networks and expertise on how to carry out terror attacks. The answer to the problem is increasingly becoming citizenship revocation. The out of sight, out of mind policy. However, there is little evidence to suggest this works as a counter-terrorism measure, arguments suggest it is counter-productive. 

Passing the Buck

Removing citizenship simply pushes potentially dangerous and vulnerable individuals on to nations that do not have the capacity to deal with them. Once stateless, these foreign fighters end up in refugee camps or fragile nations. It is no surprise that deradicalization and integration programs, along with robust aftercare do not exist there. Pushing such individuals into poverty and unstable living conditions seems a counterproductive measure that only goes to perpetuate the issue of extremism.

Physical Presence

In a world so connected, communication and physical presence are two things that are quickly becoming disconnected. Radicalisation does not happen in person, those who left to join ISIS were not recruited face to face. It happened online; vulnerable youths are targeted by terrorist recruiters on social media. Those newly expelled can just as easily radicalise from abroad. They will have a rejuvenated animosity towards their home country and its government which may spur on radicalisation efforts. Being stuck stateless, with no opportunities, they have little choice but to carry along the same path.

Illegal Access

Illegal entry is still an option. A lack of citizenship risks pushing them further underground. Migrant smuggling from France to the UK is a prime example. This is big business for criminal groups, some of which are linked to terrorist organisations. Moving in these circles only goes to perpetuate the disenfranchisement with society. To add to this, women and children could be vulnerable in illegal entry. Rather than dealing with the issue head on, pushing the problem out of sight only goes to create different and arguably bigger problems.

Are they actually a risk?

Fighting for and living under ISIS does not necessarily translate into a desire to carry out terror attacks on home soil. For some it was a matter religious identity, community or even naivety as a teenager, rather than a wish for violence against the West. The stark realities of war and life under ISIS rule have acted as a deradicalized tool. Many want to return to a normal life in the West. This seems a missed opportunity for western governments to deradicalize and reintegrate its citizens, testing and proving the efficacy of their counter-terrorism policies.  

Focus on those at home:

Concentrating on returning foreign fighters is a strategy to win favour in the polls. It does little to combat the threat from within our boarders. Individuals currently radicalised, or vulnerable to it, are the real risks

A seemingly bigger threat to those returning, are the individuals who have been prevented from going to Iraq and Syria. They are mentally committed, frustrated with society and have a glorified view of ISIS. A potent mix that those returning from Iraq and Syria do not necessarily have. The fact one of the Charlie Hebdo attackers was stopped from going to Syria serves as a painful lesson.

Those currently living in the West, seeing members of their community having their citizenship stripped and left stranded abroad only intensifies their beliefs and perpetuates the narrative that Muslims are under attack from the West. Political Scientist, David Malet, states ‘recruiters capitalize on a sense of commitment to the transnational Muslim community under threat’. This points towards the policy potentially intensifying the domestic risk of terrorism.

Why Governments use the Policy:

While there is little evidence for the policy being effective in a counter-terrorism sense, it is not hard to see why the policy is so widely used by Western governments. It is a popular policy, keeping potential terrorists out of the country is a winning strategy. A quick fix that wins favour with the majority. In theory, if they are not physically in the country, they are not a domestic security threat. Of course this isn’t necessarily the case, but the thought process is not hard to see.

There is a lot of talk about rehabilitation. To go through a rehabilitation scheme, foreign fighters need to be prosecuted with a terrorism offence. However, it is hard for governments to prosecute those returning for their crimes in Iraq and Syria. In this case, it would leave them free to live in society and without proper attention, the risk is high. It is therefore somewhat understandable when governments decide to stop them entering. If they do not have the legal powers to ensure these foreign fighters are, or at least can be, safe members of society, it is in theory safer to revoke citizenship.

Children of ISIS:

Children are major talking point in this debate. They are the innocent product of the caliphate dream. Many ISIS widows wish to return to the West with their children. The case of Shamima Begum is a clear example of the ramifications of revoking citizenship. Denied re-entry to the UK and stripped of her citizenship, resulted in her living in a refugee camp. With poor sanitation and a lack of medical care, her three children died. Those children were innocent and should not have been subject to punishment because of their parent’s actions. The children that do survive are still incredibly vulnerable in refugee camps. They are at a high risk of indoctrination and there are reports of children as young as 6 in terrorism training camps.

Alternative strategies:

Upon return, the research points towards a three pillared approach; rehabilitation, reintegration and aftercare. I have touched upon this in a previous article. The premise is that governments can ensure returning citizens are full and safe members of society. Removing their radical beliefs and eliminating the factors that can lead to radicalisation.

To conclude

If the aim of the policy is to deter and secure, it is highly unlikely to do either. The arguments in favour of the policy were all very much in theory and symbolic. The short-term gain does not justify the potential long-term implications. Abandoning citizens and putting them at further risk could well come back to haunt Western governments. There is of course a genuine risk, and that cannot be denied. All it takes is one; and that one is too many.

The UK Carrier Strike Group: What is it’s Purpose?

The largest fleet of Royal Navy warships to deploy internationally since the 1982 Falklands War is setting sail to the Indo-pacific this month. The government is hailing the fleet as a symbol of ‘Global Britain’. Its mission is to demonstrate Britain’s intention to tilt its military, trade and diplomatic efforts to the far east.

Escorting the Queen Elizabeth will be two Type 45 destroyers and two Type 23 frigates, along with several Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) support ships. An Astute-class nuclear submarine will also be part of the force. Together forming the UK Carrier Strike Group (UKCSG).

Onboard Queen Elizabeth will be eight of the RAF’s new F-35B jets. A variety of multipurpose helicopters will be on board from the UK Navy, Marine’s and US Marine Corp. This will be managed by a force of around 3700 personnel and a small Marine Commando force.

The 26,000 nautical mile trip will take the UKCSG on a carefully calculated tour of the world. The first stop of the tour will be Gibraltar before carrying on its journey to the Mediterranean. From there the UKCSG will travel through the Suez Canal, stopping in Oman where there are facilities specifically designed for the Carrier. From Oman the Strike Group tours the Indian Ocean, visiting India and carrying out joint exercised with their Navy. Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are also on the itinerary. Following this, the strike group will journey through the South China Sea. This is seen as the most assertive and calculated leg of the journey.

UK Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, says the deployment demonstrates that Britain is ‘not stepping back but sailing forth to play an active role in shaping the international system’. Closely aligning with the Prime Minister’s desire to see an end to what he describes as an ‘era of retreat’. The UKCSG and all it represents is believed to send a clear message that the UK is a global player in every sense. 

Russia was identified as Britain’s ‘most acute direct threat’ in the latest defence review ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age’. China was labelled a ‘systemic competitor’, with the aggressive modernisation of its military and assertiveness globally posing a continuing risk to UK interests. Both countries and their threats have been targeted in this trip.

As well as the supporting Navy and RFA ships, a US Navy Destroyer and Dutch Navy ship will accompany the fleet. They will also be sailing alongside the French carrier, the Charles De Gaulle in an exercise in the Mediterranean. These are efforts to bolster interoperability and signal a multilateral approach to issues of maritime security. Russia will be watching closely.

Their time in the Mediterranean will also allow the carrier to launch attacks against IS targets in Iraq. These are usually carried out from a base in Cyprus, however launching from the carrier will be a further demonstration on Britain’s new capabilities.

The most controversial leg of the trip will be their time sailing in the South China Sea. Some fear it to be too antagonistic, others say it is predictable. For a government targeting greater trade with China, this move may not be the best way to win favour with Beijing. Perhaps this leg is more a piece of diplomatic theatre to win favour with the US, than military strategy.

There are credible fears that trading relationships will be affected by the trip. Companies trading with Russia and China must be prepared for some form of backlash. This will likely be a short-term inconvenience with increased red tape or slowing delivery/order times. Nevertheless, troubles British companies could do without.

The deployment has as much to do with a show of strength and diplomacy as it does with trade. Head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Tony Radakin said, “Navies follow trade and trade follows navies’. Whether or not that is taken as a slightly imperialistic statement, it does have some credibility. The Middle East has strong economic ties with Britain already. Showing off the very latest in British military hardware is hoped to secure lucrative defence contracts for the British defence industry in the region.

The UKCSG deployment is deliberately global in nature and will transit almost every major trade artery in the world, culminating into 70 engagements with 40 countries. All of which are aimed at bolstering British military, diplomatic and economic influence.

Is Money Driving Violence in Iraq and Syria?

The growing power of militias threaten any meaningful peace in Iraq and Syria, senior US official warn. British Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Copsey also sees militia groups as the most important threat facing Iraq and Syria in the coming years. With little state authority in both countries, paramilitary groups provide security services, in some cases hold political power, and are effectively free to act as they wish.

The mainly young men who make up their ranks have little opportunities elsewhere. The state income they get for security services goes some way, but the real money comes from a growing shadow economy. Illicit economic activity has become a reliable source of income for militias, far more so than conventional jobs or state security. The high rates of unemployment and the increasing militarisation of the economy has meant that forming militias has become big business. The fear is that these groups will try to maintain instability in order to justify their existence and allow for continued economic gains.


In Iraq, the need for these militia groups came after the fall of Mosul in 2014. State security forces were overwhelmed, and additional forces were needed. Despite groups being branded as hero’s for helping defeat ISIS, more recently they are seen as criminal organisations as they turn to more illicit forms of income. A further complexity in Iraq is that some influential militants hold seats in parliament. Current and former fighters from groups now being defined as terrorist organisations are MPs. There are fears that their influence could help to sustain the militia’s existence and hamper peace processes.


There is a similar story in Syria, Assad relies on numerous groups to maintain his authority. Where some groups in Iraq were well established after years of insurgency. In Syria mafia-style gangs and religious militias have been transformed into paramilitary groups. A large number of which sit outside the control of Assad’s regime. A dangerous balancing act in a country so fragile.

Iranian Influence:

Iran has an increasing influence on a groups in both Iraq and Syria. They fund, train and supply various groups, taking some pressure off limited Iraqi and Syrian resources. A calculated measure as this support and apparent power over groups cannot go unnoticed. Iranian interests will have to be considered by Iraq and Syria. A frustrating reality for US policy makers. There are however concerns Iranian backed groups are launching attacks on US troops. It is hard to know which attacks have been ordered by Teran as many groups operate with Iranian support, but not Iranian orders. An antagonistic measure, nonetheless, that has had consequences.  

How is money driving violence?

Government contracts are only a small part of militia financing, these groups utilise numerous illegal methods like smuggling and extortion to increase profits. Oil smuggling is perhaps the most lucrative, with around 10% of the oil from Basra thought to be smuggled by militias. With groups competing for land, checkpoints and smuggling routes, increased inter-militia rivalries threatens to disrupt stability. External actors play their part, Iran in particular and there was western support for some of the more trusted militias as they fought ISIS. Militias have the ability to form powerful alliances.

For these groups, money is the key and instability allow them to operate. Young men earn far more being part of one of militias than they do working a normal job. Even if there were the job opportunities, forming or joining a militia is far more lucrative. Of course, what it boils down to now is that their existence relies solely on instability. The fear is that militias will aim to keep or incite political instability to sustain their existence. Neither Iraq nor Syria has the power to regain control. Foreign actors are attempting to control the situation, but the complexity of the sheer number of groups and changing rivalries puts any meaningful peace at risk.

Islamic Extremism in the Maldives

White beaches, crystal clear waters and luxury holidays are what comes to mind when you think of the Maldives. Beyond the lavish resort islands lies a growing problem with religious extremism. Per capita, the Maldives has the highest number of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria. It is estimated that 1 out of every 1500 citizens has gone to fight with ISIS.

Political and socio-economic upheaval have been the root of the radicalisation issues in the Maldives. Like is so often the case, a disillusionment with society provides the perfect breeding ground for radicalisation. The country was hit hard by the 2004 tsunami, and many people fell into poverty after losing their homes and livelihoods. Wahhabi religious leaders framed this as God’s punishment for irreligious living. Saudi Salafist and Pakistani funded NGO’s came to the islands to help rebuild some of the worst hit areas. However, this was often used as an opportunity to radicalise Maldivian men living under the poverty line. Those with a lack of economic opportunity, especially young men, have long been a target of extremist recruiters. 

The country underwent a rapid liberalisation, with a new constitution and its first multiparty democratic elections held in 2008. This is where the crisis of identity formed, the national identity was associated with belonging to Islam and not the new ‘apostate’ democratic state. As such, some citizens do not see returning fighters as criminals and as such a small country, many will have connections to the fighters and share similar beliefs.

The Maldivian government has a tough task ahead to stop the return of its foreign fighter citizens. The problem is that even a few entering could cause significant trouble. It is a lack of leadership currently which is said to be stopping any notable jihadist resistance in the country. The presence of battle hardened, committed and experienced extremists could quickly whip up support and organise the array of cells and gangs that exist in the Maldives. Those who have fought in Syria and Iraq have acquired the skills to coordinate such networks and realistically could organise some form of small-scale rebellion. 

The threat of an attack to the local population and foreign tourists has been noted by the international community. The majority of the resorts in the Maldives are isolated and ill protected, perfect places for an attack. Their tourism industry is in a precarious place with nations like the US and UK warning its citizens of potential risks. Its economy has been devastated by the pandemic and cannot afford to have any further setbacks. With 25% of the country’s GDP coming from the tourism industry, this is a worrying sign.

Despite it being such a vital part of the economy, tourism is thought to be a driving factor in anti-government sentiment. There is a stark difference in culture between the conservative Islamic population and the heavy drinking, scantily clad liberal westerners. This has caused friction in the religious society. It is seen that the government are allowing, if not favouring, non-Islamic culture while neglecting the needs of its own population. These grievances may have some merit considering the high levels of unemployment in the country. However, this is a dangerous rhetoric to still be circulating, especially if people believe the claims by religious leaders as to the cause of the 2004 tsunami. It could be a worrying sign of trouble to come.

When you look at factors that increase the likelihood of radicalisation, the Maldives does seem to be somewhat of a melting pot. There is political instability, unemployment, climate change worries, gang violence and an economy devastated by the pandemic. Mix this with a strong Islamic identity and manipulation from foreign actors like the Wahhabism and Saudi Salafist groups, it not unsurprising the radicalisation issue is growing.

Covid-19 and the Impact on Democracy in Africa

The pandemic continues to present unique challenges to democracies across the world. Efforts to stop the spread are becoming convenient excuses to suppress democratic activity. The UK are having problems, the BLM protests back in 2020 resulted in clashes with the police over lockdown restrictions as did the recent vigil for Sarah Everard where crowds gathered to protest women’s safety and male violence. On the one hand we must stop the spread of the virus, but also not limit peoples freedoms.

This trend can be seen across the world and unsurprisingly there are more serious concerns about this in Africa. There is a legitimate worry that African leaders may use the pandemic to hang onto power and supress, often brutally, opposition. The evidence suggests this fear is legitimate, however it is not widespread.

With countries focused on domestic and western responses to the pandemic, the suppression of democracy in some African countries has gone generally unnoticed. There have been isolated cases of media coverage, perhaps the most notable was the social media campaign surrounding the actions of SARS in Nigeria. However, this gained little mainstream media attention and public interest on social media soon dwindled. Zimbabwean police have used pandemic restrictions to arrest political opponents of the government. In Kenya, 15 people have been killed in crackdowns since lockdown measures came into force. Authoritarian governments are using the pandemic as a justification to repress protests surrounding socio-economic problems. The concern now is that the isolated cases may spread throughout the continent.

Seven countries who score low on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index had their elections in 2020. Guinea, Mali, Tanzania, Côte D’Ivoire, the Central African Republic (CAR), Uganda and Burundi were all plagued with controversies such as opposition boycotts, blocking of social media and irregular results. In the CAR the president called for the constitution to be amended to allow the election to be delayed, citing the pandemic as the reason. however, many of the polling stations could not open due to them being in rebel held areas. The constitutional court ruled against it. A clear attempt at using the pandemic to hold onto power in times of political instability.

In Uganda the efforts were more widespread and obvious; campaign rallies were banned, as too was campaigning. The stated reasoning behind this was stopping the spread of the virus. The bans however occurred in areas generally supportive of the opposition. Along with this, the opposition leader, Bobi Wine was arrested on coronavirus violations. However, an ulterior motive is not hard to find. In Burundi there were similar issues. International observers were put into a 14-day quarantine upon arrival and therefore stopped from carrying out their monitoring duties. This was despite the downplaying of the election and very few other measures in place.

The events in the CAR, Burundi and Uganda could present a worrying trend that spreads to other weak democracies across the continent.  With that being said, elections in Guinea, Mali, Tanzania and Côte D’Ivoire went ahead without any pandemic issues. They were unsurprisingly blighted by the normal controversies and issues, but these were not related to the pandemic.

Although this could present cause for concern, like many things it should not be overplayed. The pandemic only played a minor role in elections last year. The already an established history of corruption and authoritarianism does not need a pandemic as an excuse to manipulate elections. Coronavirus is certainly a tool for leaders but not a cause of election manipulation.

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.


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.