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Updated: May 4, 2023 at 2:56PM

Wagner’s Yevgeny Prigozhin – the man who would be king on two continents

Russian billionaire and businessman, Concord catering company owner Yevgeny Prigozhin at a meeting with foreign investors at Konstantin Palace in Saint Petersburg on 16 June 2016. (Photo: Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images)

By: Phillip van Niekerk

Yevgeny Prigozhin, ex-convict, restaurateur for St Petersburg’s criminal elite and proprietor of the largest private army in Africa, is the thread that connects the butchery in Ukraine to that of Sudan and Africa’s surrounding conflict zones.

Multiple credible reports this week indicated that Prigozhin’s Wagner forces based in Bangui in the Central African Republic have started supplying the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Sudan with weapons and ammunition via an airfield in the western province of Darfur.

Pictures on social media showed RSF troops holding newly acquired Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS) – surface-to-air missiles whose purpose is to take down the government’s crucial advantage in the fight – its air force. The fresh ammunition is a lifeline in a war where the only limitation to the fighting is the finite number of bullets.

Darfur is the stronghold of Prigozhin’s ally, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, and has been the scene of fighting second only in intensity to the battles in Khartoum.

It is somewhat ironic that while his forces were opening a pipeline of weapons to Hemedti, Prigozhin was complaining that his Wagner troops in Ukraine were being starved of ammunition by the Russian army. He even threatened to abandon the Ukrainian front unless his troops were properly supplied.

North Rhine-Westphalia, Duesseldorf: A motto float with the inscription ‘Putin’s delusion’ shows the leader of the Russian mercenary force Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, referring to Nazis all over the world. Dusseldorf was hosting its first Rose Monday parade in three years. (Photo: Federico Gambarini/dpa Picture-Alliance via AFP)

Wagner forces have taken huge losses in the assault on the now wasted city of Bakhmut whose capture holds dubious strategic value and whose residents fled the carnage months ago. US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby claimed this week that Russia had suffered 100,000 casualties, including 20,000 deaths, in the past five months of fighting, at least half of whom were Wagner mercenaries.

Even if those numbers are exaggerated, the slaughter is hard to get one’s head around. Russia has thrown wave after wave of fighters into a merciless show of determination but has little to show for all those lost lives.

Now Prigozhin is warning that Ukraine wants to take back the dead city and to outflank the Russians in Bakhmut.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Wagner Group leads Russia’s African front in cold war with the West

Prigozhin’s almost clownish volubility exposed not only the widening breach between him and Russia’s regular military, but positioned him to say that it’s not his fault if the whole thing fails.

Prigozhin is awaiting the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which is believed to be coming in the next few weeks, with trepidation, warning: “A bloody battle is ahead.”

Though the Russians have spent months digging in and entrenching their positions in the east, Ukraine will be attacking with an armoury of new weapons such as German Leopard tanks, while its elite forces have been retrained on brand-new US and European equipment.

Ukraine is playing for a win; Russia is playing for a draw.

Smoke billows above residential buildings in Khartoum on 16 April 2023 as fighting in Sudan raged for a second day in battles between rival generals. (Photo: AFP)

Sudanese greet soldiers loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan on 16 April 2023. (Photo: AFP)

Wednesday’s alleged attempted assassination of Vladimir Putin via a drone attack on the Kremlin has been dismissed by many as a poorly staged false flag operation and a diversion ahead of Russia’s 9 May Victory Celebrations in which there won’t be much to celebrate. It has signalled a certain level of desperation in Moscow.

The seriousness of the situation can be seen in reports that Gazprom, the Russian state-owned energy corporation, has not only created its own paramilitaries, but that these “volunteer battalions” have been deployed to the front. Some have even been captured by the Ukrainians.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Russia’s Wagner chief warns of frontline collapse if forced to retreat from Bakhmut

“It is becoming more and more difficult for the regular army to get conscripts, so they are using them as volunteers,” Mikhail Krutikhin, a Moscow-based energy analyst, told Deutsche Welle. “They were told they were going to guard oil and gas assets, but they ended up on the front line.”

A veteran former member of Wagner told Daily Maverick that apart from the big PMCs Wagner and Patriot there were now at least 17 private armies in Russia, including the Chechens, with oligarchs and corporations forming their own militias.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Russia’s Wagner mercenaries control more than 80% of Bakhmut, says leader

Krutikhin said these armies were being created to protect the private interests of “very rich people” in case of the chaos that would ensue from an economic and military defeat.

Thriving warlords

For different reasons both Russia and the war zones in Africa are witnessing a plethora of private military companies.

Once again what connects them is Wagner, which now has offices and operations in 14 African countries.

The loss of the monopoly of state violence in some countries has created a vacuum for warlords, ethnic militias, Jihadist insurgents and private military companies to thrive, in turn making the problem of state control worse.

A satellite image courtesy of Maxar Technologies taken on 16 April 2023 shows two Il-76 transport aircraft on fire and several additional planes that have been damaged at Khartoum International Airport. (Photo: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies / AFP)

The PMCs in Africa operate under the radar. Mostly, they are there to secure mines, oil and gas installations and critical infrastructure but have also been engaged in combat.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Sudan’s expanding crisis risks dragging half of Africa with it into perpetual chaos

Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where upwards of 80 rebel and militia groups are known to be operating, is a particular magnet for PMCs.

One that stood out this week was a report in African Intelligence that UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (MBZ) is assisting the DRC government of President Felix Tshisekedi to recruit a company known as Academi as part of a deal in which UAE companies will acquire mining rights in the DRC.

Four military planes carrying 343 citizens of Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Germany who were evacuated from Sudan arrive at Marka Military Airport in Amman, Jordan, on 24 April 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mohammed Ali)

Firefighters extinguish a fire at a facility that was hit by a missile attack in Dnipro, southeastern Ukraine, on 28 April 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration)

Academi was known two name changes back as Blackwater when it was under the notorious American mercenary entrepreneur Erik Prince and was responsible for atrocities in Iraq.

Academi was also engaged in the Yemen war where a number of its employees were killed. Academi is now part of the Constellis Group, which clusters it together with security companies such as Triple Canopy, Centerra, AMK9 and Olive Group. It operates in a number of African countries including Senegal and South Sudan and is owned by the multibillion-dollar private equity fund Apollo Global Management LLC.

Perhaps some of these companies will take business from Wagner, which is struggling to find new clients, hampered by its track record of human rights abuses and its designation by the US as a transnational criminal organisation. 

People who fled the fighting in Sudan wait outside the railway station in Aswan, Egypt, on 3 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Khaled Elfiqi)

Whatever happens in Ukraine in the coming weeks will have a major impact on Africa.

Might Prigozhin, the man who would be king on two continents, end up getting squeezed in both places? DM

Phillip Van Niekerk is the editor of Africa Unscrambleda newsletter covering the continent in a way you won’t read anywhere else. Get unscrambled by signing up right here.

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African nations shouldn’t ignore Russia’s destabilising influence in face of Cold War 2

A handout picture made available by Russian Foreign ministry press service shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) with Mali's Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diopand (right) at a press conference in Bamako, Mali, on 7 February 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Russian Foreign Ministry Press service)

By: Peter Fabricius

As a region, Africa may not be interested in the Ukraine war, but the war is interested in Africa. 

As the world marks the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, it has been suggested that Africa needs a common approach to the war. So far Russia’s aggression has elicited contrary responses across the continent, as evidenced by the equivocal votes on numerous resolutions at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly — including yesterday’s decision calling for an immediate end to the war. 

But no attempt at establishing a common position was evident at the African Union’s (AU) ordinary summit in Addis Ababa last weekend. Participants told ISS Today that the subject hardly came up, except for a brief discussion about its impact on food insecurity.

Perhaps the leaders considered it too divisive. Or perhaps avoiding the subject expressed the prevailing attitude of non-alignment from what has become something of a new Cold War. But as Leon Trotsky ominously remarked, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

Apart from creating food shortages, the war may affect Africa in less obvious ways that could undermine the AU’s ambitions to achieve stable governments and strong democracies, and to ‘silence the guns’.

One of the topics the summit tackled explicitly was the resurgence in Africa of military coups. Four AU member states — Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Sudan — have been suspended from the AU because of “unconstitutional changes of government”, specifically military coups. And leaders insisted at the end of the meeting that they had “zero tolerance” for such takeovers and would maintain the four states’ suspension.

However, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Bankole Adeoye, told a news conference that the AU Commission was “ready to support these member states to return to constitutional order. The idea is that democracy must take root and must be promoted and protected.”

But how to do that is a conundrum that the AU, Africa’s regional economic communities and the international community have failed to solve. Addressing the rash of coups will take a careful balance of sanctions and measures to strengthen political and governance structures, especially in countries undergoing political transitions. 

As important is each country’s security context, especially when a foreign security presence may be a factor driving instability. This seems likely, for example, in the case of Mali where the military junta that seized power has enlisted the services of the private Russian military company Wagner, which is widely regarded as a proxy for the Kremlin. 

Certainly, Wagner and Russia more generally rushed into Mali after France was ejected by the junta after relations between the two countries deteriorated, and France criticised the coup. Russia has no such scruples about democracy and is apparently exploiting the vacuum created by France’s exit to thwart Western influence in Africa. 

Wagner is also exploiting other opportunities that might arise on the continent, such as in natural resources, which the United States (US) says is a Russian tactic to fund its war in Ukraine and elsewhere. A new Global Initiative report details Wagner’s operations in Africa and its ties to the Russian state and organised crime.

Ghanian president Nana Akufo-Addo has warned that Burkina Faso has already done a deal to accept Wagner’s support. It is as ripe as Mali was for such an intervention, as its military rulers have also expelled France and are looking for new friends. 

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

While suspensions from the AU provide some deterrent against coups, their effect is diminished as long as juntas like those in Mali and Burkina Faso can turn to Russia for backing.

Meanwhile, in Sudan, support from Wagner and Russia more broadly is slowing the transition towards a civilian democracy. Reports indicate that Wagner first tried to prop up president Omar al-Bashir’s faltering regime. After his ousting in 2019, the group threw its weight behind the military authorities who scuppered negotiations on democracy by seizing military power in a coup in 2021.

Wagner may also be poised to intervene in Cameroon, partly by exploiting the growing tensions and violence between the government and separatist groups in the country’s Anglophone regions. Wagner may also be eyeing Cameroon as a useful gateway to the sea for exporting the natural resources it is being granted in the Central African Republic in exchange for propping up the shaky government of Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

How has the war in Ukraine affected Wagner and Russia’s presence in Africa? It has prompted a flurry of diplomatic initiatives by Russia and Western powers eager to expand their circles of friends in an increasingly uncertain and hostile world. Russia in particular needs allies more than ever to counter the isolation of Western sanctions.

And in extending its ties with African countries, Russia’s offering has largely been in the military domain and arms trade. In a new report, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Priyal Singh notes that Russia’s main economic engagement has long been through the arms industry. “Russian arms sales are often seen as a key avenue that is leveraged by Russia in order to establish, sustain and expand its political influence within African states,’ he says.

Regarding other commodities, Russian trade with Africa is dwarfed by that of the West and China. The ISS report notes that Russia was the continent’s largest arms supplier in 2017-21 (and the second largest globally), according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Russia constituted 44% of all arms imports to Africa — far ahead of the US (17%), China (10%) and France (6%).

Whether the war in Ukraine has affected Russian arms sales is unclear. Western assessments indicate that Russia isn’t making enough munitions to replace the missiles and shells fired at Ukraine, so it has turned to Iran for supplies. Is it also turning to Africa? Stanford University Russian scholar Stephen Kotkin told The New Yorker that Russia was buying back arms from African countries to replenish its dwindling arsenal in Ukraine. Another Russian arms expert is sceptical, suggesting that concrete evidence is lacking. 

Overall, Russia’s ties to Africa remain primarily military, with no democratic strings attached — a situation unlikely to advance the continent’s fundamental governance values or silence the guns.

It can be argued that Russia stepped up its military engagement with Africa — including the injection of Wagner — even before Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February last year. But let’s not forget that, as any Ukrainian will remind you, Russia’s war against Ukraine didn’t start on 24 February 2022 but on 20 February 2014, when it invaded and annexed Crimea. 

Three months later, “Putin’s chef’ Yevgeny Prigozhin established Wagner, initially to infiltrate the Donbas, then spreading its tentacles into Syria and Africa. In that wider sense, Russia’s war against Ukraine has been impacting Africa for some time. DM

Peter Fabricius, Consultant, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Pretoria.

First published by ISS Today.

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Diplomatic manoeuvres in South Africa amid the dark of a deadly war

Front: Sergey Lavrov (left) and Naledi Pandor. (Photo: Deaan Vivier) / Gallo Images | Centre: Janet Yellen. (Photo: Alet Pretorius / Gallo Images) | Back, from left: Josep Borrell. (Photo: Stephanie Lecocq / (EPA-EFE) | Nikolaos Dendias. (Photo: Orestis Panagioto / EPA-EFE)

By: Peter Fabricius

A controversial position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seems to be the magnet drawing foreign luminaries to Pretoria. For how long can South Africa continue to play both sides?

A diverse drove of diplomats descended on South Africa this past week. From the East, Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; from the West, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, EU Foreign Minister and Vice-President Josep Borrell and Greek Foreign Minister Nikolaos Dendias.

Meanwhile, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor’s director-general Zane Dangor visited Palestine.

Why this sudden flurry of diplomacy? A bit of a coincidence perhaps. Borrell, for instance, was here for the 15th South Africa-EU Ministerial Political Dialogue, which was arranged some time ago. Dendias’s visit was for the same reason.

War in Ukraine

But undoubtedly Russia’s war in Ukraine was also a factor. It is very unlikely Lavrov would have been here if he were not on the first leg of an African charm offensive which then took him to Eswatini, Angola and Eritrea.

And probably Yellen’s visit wouldn’t have happened either without the war. She was also on an African safari which had taken her to Senegal and Zambia. US Treasury Secretaries usually stay at home to babysit the domestic economy or to attend big international financial meetings of the International Monetary Fund, the G7 and so on. But the US government explained the woman holding the purse strings was venturing into Africa to advance agreements reached at President Joe Biden’s US Africa summit in December.

That was in itself in part a Ukraine-inspired event. More explicitly, Washington added that “during her travel, the Secretary will also underscore the spillover effects of Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine, which have disproportionately hurt developing countries in Africa and globally”.

Yellen’s focus was on the war’s aggravation of food insecurity and its inflation of global energy prices.

South Africa’s refusal to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine seems, ironically, to be the diplomatic magnet. That stance has pleased Moscow and greatly displeased the West. The latter grew even more irritated this week when Pandor made clear that, let alone condemning the invasion, she had not even asked Lavrov for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.

That was a regression even in South Africa’s position. On 24 February 2022, hours after Russian tanks and planes crossed the border, Pandor’s department had demanded that Russia “immediately withdraw” its forces and respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

‘Simplistic and infantile’

But this week she said she had not repeated that call to Lavrov, as it would have been “simplistic and infantile” to do so, given the vastly changed circumstances now, by which she meant the massive transfer of arms and the rise in the level of conflict.

This argument seemed spurious. Pretoria’s “balanced” position as Lavrov approvingly called it, or “non-aligned” position as Pretoria prefers to call it, seems to be tilting towards Russia.

And as the various Desmond Tutu foundations and others have pointed out, South Africa’s insensitive hosting of the joint naval exercise Mosi 2 with Russia and China next month, on the very anniversary of Russia’s invasion, also indicates a shift beyond “balance” towards helping Russia, in this case by making its military more efficient. The optics of having Russia’s state-of-the-art frigate Admiral Gorshkov, armed with hypersonic missiles which Nato apparently cannot deflect, participating in Mosi 2, seem rather perverse.

Certainly, Borrell told Daily Maverick this week he would raise with Pandor the Ukraine war and its consequences for global peace and stability, especially because Russia had violated and jeopardised the future observance of the UN rules against launching “brutal aggression” against another country.

Borrell said South Africa was, of course, free to choose its own friends. But he added, significantly, that Ukraine had exercised that same freedom of association. And for that it had been brutally attacked.


South Africa’s stance is also contradictory as it never stops hammering Israel for its occupation of Palestine, but remains silent as Russia inflicts far greater death and destruction on Ukraine.

Pandor, of course, conversely also accuses the US and the West of hypocrisy because she says they obsess about Ukraine and say and do nothing about Palestine.

This typical diplomatic tit-for-tat illustrates the truth of the famous (and possibly apocryphal) rejoinder uttered in the early 1940s by US President Franklin Roosevelt when quizzed about America’s friendship with the brutal Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. “Sure, he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

Putin, it seems, is South Africa’s son of a bitch.

But if it’s obvious then that the EU, the US and pretty much the rest of the West are greatly irritated with South Africa’s stance on the war, does it matter? Many commentators have warned that South Africa is jeopardising its friendships with the US and the wider West.

Others warn that it is suicidal madness for Pretoria to tilt like this towards Russia when it has far more substantial economic ties with and interests in the West.

Playing both sides

But this misses the point that Pretoria wants to have its cake and eat it. To maintain equally good economic and political relations with both sides. Is that overly ambitious? Perhaps. Yet, so far at least, it seems to be succeeding.

The drove of diplomats who descended this week suggests South Africa is being courted by both sides precisely because of its ambivalent position on the war.

The aim apparently is to ensure South Africa does not stray even further into Russia’s grim embrace. That is also true for Africa as a whole. Yellen and Lavrov both touched down here on wider African tours – and Lavrov will apparently be back next month to visit four North African countries. That is because the US and Russia would both like to tilt Africa’s ambivalent positions on the Ukraine war in their direction. And because, as the war polarises East and West again – and drags the world back into something like another Cold War – the quest for Africa’s strategic minerals, like lithium, coltan etc, for electric cars and smart weapons, becomes more urgent.

The dangers

One danger for South Africa though is that, even if pragmatic Western governments might publicly turn a blind eye to South Africa’s rather unseemly romance with Russia for geostrategic reasons, their displeasure could manifest indirectly and indiscernibly when South Africa really needs their diplomatic support. Another danger is that Western investors might be less indulgent than their governments. Perhaps, even as we speak, potential Western investment is diverting elsewhere.

Another risk is that having mounted the Russian bear – and the Chinese tiger – by joining BRICS back in 2011 and because of shared ideological dispositions, South Africa might find the ride gets even rougher.

What if Russia decides to deploy nuclear weapons against Ukraine, as it has threatened to do? What if the war expands to include direct confrontation between Nato and Russia and not only by proxy as now?

And what if China invades Taiwan, as it looks increasingly likely to do? Will little South Africa stay on for the rodeo? And, if so, will the West continue to indulge it?

Ultimately though, South Africa should be guided in its position on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine by its own values, forged in part by its own liberation struggle, and not by any consideration of how its stance will go down with others.

As the Tutu foundations reminded us this week, the man who inspired their establishment and who surely remains, even in death, the conscience of the nation, once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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SA agriculture shows mild decline in 2022, but positive developments bode well for 2023

Workers harvest cauliflowers at the Karoo Fresh Produce (Pty) Ltd farm in Groenfontein, South Africa, on 24 August 2022. (Photo: Guillem Sartorio / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

By: Wandile Sihlobo

It has been a relatively good year for agriculture, despite a range of challenges that include poorly functioning network industries — roads, rail, ports, water, and electricity — and service delivery problems in municipalities, leading to an increase in business costs.

We are nearing the end of a challenging year in South Africa’s agriculture. The sector’s gross value added will likely show a mild contraction when the data for the entire year is published by March next year. This would be a notable shift from two consecutive years of solid growth with the sector having expanded by 14.9% y/y in 2020 and 8.8% y/y in 2021.

Mild declines in critical crop harvests such as maize, production challenges in the sugar industry, trade friction in fruits, vegetables, beef and wool, as well as widespread foot-and-mouth disease weighed on the sector’s performance this year.

In a slightly more technical sense, the strong growth in the last two years has created an exceptionally high base, setting the ground for some pullback. Therefore, despite the expected moderate decline in 2022, it is important to note that overall activity has remained strong and the sector maintained its core contribution of improving national food security and job creation.

On the food security front, South Africa’s ranking in The Economist’s Global Food Security Index has improved. This index ranks South Africa at 59 out of 113 countries, improving from 70th position in 2021. This places South Africa as the most food-secure country in Africa, followed by Tunisia, ranked 62nd. This improvement is commendable.

When looking at the index scoring’s technical position, it becomes clear why South Africa’s food security conditions have improved, as the “headline” ranking shows. Notably, South Africa’s progress in the Global Food Security Index is not merely because other countries have regressed notably since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, which increased global food prices.

Ground corn to be used in livestock, agriculture

A worker handles ground corn to be used in livestock feed in an arranged photograph on the Ehlerskroon farm, outside Delmas in the Mpumalanga province, South Africa (Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South Africa’s scoring came in at 61.4 for 2022, a notable improvement from 57.8 in 2021. In the four sub-indices that comprise the Global Food Security Index — namely; 1) food affordability, 2) food availability, 3) food quality and safety, and 4) sustainability and adaption — there was a deterioration only in the food affordability sub-index, while the rest improved.

Regarding jobs, South Africa’s primary agriculture had 873,000 people employed by the third quarter of 2022, up 5% y/y. Notably, this is well above the long-term agricultural employment of 780,000. As with the previous quarter, the increased farm activity in some vegetables, fruits and field crops sustained robust employment. This speaks to the sector’s resilience amid many domestic and global economic and geopolitical challenges in 2022.

The export revenue from the sector also remains encouraging, despite the trade frictions South Africa experienced with its citrus in the EU, wool in China and vegetables in Botswana and Namibia. For example, in the data we have for the first eight months of this year, South Africa’s agricultural exports amounted to $8.9-billion, up by 6% from the first eight months of 2021.

The generally higher commodity prices have also contributed to this increase in export values. In these months, the African continent and Europe remained vital markets, accounting for two-thirds of total export earnings. Citrus, maize, nuts, wine, sugar, apples and pears, and grapes were among the key exports, especially in the latter months under consideration. 

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There have also been important policy developments and programmes that came into effect this year, which, if implemented effectively, could boost long-term growth for the sector. For example in May, the industry role-players together with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (Dalrrd) launched the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan. This is a socio-compact programme which requires a collective effort of all agriculture role-players to succeed.

Importantly, the programme was co-created by all partners, which means it enjoys a shared vision for the sector’s growth agenda. The Master Plan reflects on key growth-constraining factors of the sector and further proposes solutions on sectoral cross-cutting and commodity-oriented issues.

Meanwhile, the launch of the blended finance instrument between the Dalrrd and Land Bank was an important step that will support the implementation of the Master Plan. The industry wishes for this blended finance instrument to be broadened and increase the support of other financial institutions. This will likely occur in the coming months as there has been enormous progress in the programme design.

The one area where there has been minimal progress and where expectations were high at the start of the year is the launch of the Agricultural Development and Land Reform Agency, which we believe could help to accelerate the redistribution pillar of the land reform programme.

The agency was mentioned on various occasions by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza. We understand that there has been considerable progress in structuring this agency, and when launched, it could play an important role in land reform. This will be an additional instrument to support the Master Plan.

Cattle rest in pens, agriculture

Cattle rest in pens at the Karan Beef (Pty) Ltd. feedlot in Heidelberg, outside Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

All this has been achieved while South Africa’s agriculture continues to face a range of exogenous challenges. These include poorly functioning network industries — roads, rail, ports, water, and electricity — and service delivery problems in municipalities, leading to increased business costs.

Moreover, there is a need to expand export markets beyond the country’s traditional markets. The priority countries should be China, South Korea, Japan, the US, Vietnam, Taiwan, India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the Philippines and Bangladesh. These countries have a sizable population and have large imports of agricultural products, specifically fruits, wine, beef and grains. These countries are already on the radar of the South African authorities.

In sum, the year 2022 presented various challenges to the sector. Still, the resilience ensured that the core objectives, such as food security and job creation, are met amid the intensified geopolitical and rising input costs largely outside South Africa’s control. The 2022/23 summer season presents prospects of a La Niña, which is already evident from the recent heavy rains across South Africa.

These favourable weather conditions (assuming they won’t be destructive) combined with farmers’ drive to increase plantings, imply that 2023 could be a year of recovery from a potential contraction in 2022. Importantly, accelerated implementation of the programmes we highlight above in 2023 would be an even more important catalyst for the sector’s long-term growth.

The government must lead the implementation role, complemented by all agriculture role players, as South Africa focuses on a socio-compact approach to agricultural expansion and development. DM

Wandile Sihlobo is chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA, and is a Senior Fellow at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Agricultural Economics. He is the author of Finding Common Ground: Land, Equity and Agriculture.

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The world is on shaky ground right now – and South Africa is no different

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Leila Dougan

By: Daryl Swanepoel

In an indictment of its inability to set the course to a prosperous future, South Africa’s governing party’s electoral fortunes have been on a downward trajectory over the last few elections – evidence of a significant trust deficit.

In 2022, the global public health crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic quickly turned into the largest global economic crisis in more than a century, resulting in major setbacks to growth, increased poverty rates and widened inequality. 

The economic slowdown induced by Covid-19 – equivalent to a mini-recession – is now coupled with the rise in inflation, price increases in energy, food, fertiliser and so on. There has been a tightening of interest rates to counter rising inflation, deeply impacting real incomes and consumer spending.

Particularly, there is concern about rising food prices, given the disproportionate impact on the poor. The world faces a volatile situation, unprecedented in recent history.

On an ideological level, the much-trumpeted globalisation process has been weakened by the effects of increased levels of inequality, the rise of nationalism/illiberalism, the hollowing out of democracy, trade conflicts, climate-change induced disasters, the coronavirus pandemic and, now, the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The world has also witnessed the rise of Asia in general – and China in particular. With its large, populous countries, Asia has seen the centre of gravity of economic activity shifting from West to East, thereby challenging US-EU global dominance.

The waning in influence of multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the UN is cause for great alarm. The UN has been dysfunctional in resolving global flashpoints, as events have shown in Libya, Yemen and, more recently and acutely, the Russia-Ukraine war. This dysfunctionality has resulted in a move away from multilateralism towards unilateralism and a focus on regional blocs, which has led to further polarisation globally.

On the BRICS front, the institution is experiencing flux and instability. Its character has changed since its inception, with the addition of more countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Iran, some not known for their democratic credentials, which can only exacerbate existing divisions.

Closer to home, Africa has witnessed increasing internal instability and conflict caused by a weakened African Union and coup d’états in 2021, mainly in West Africa. In addition, Africa does not appear to feature on the global agenda of formations like the G7.

In fact, there is a real possibility that Africa could become the playground of superpowers, as was the case during the Cold War, as these powers scramble for resources and spheres of influence on the continent. As Europe accelerates its renewable energy, its appetite for Africa’s raw energy will explode.

The view of leading international scholars is thatwhat the world really needs is what we called for back in 2001: genuinely representative global (economic) governance”. In the 2022 World Development Report, Carmen Reinhart, chief economist of the World Bank, said, “It’s time to prioritise early, tailored action to support a healthy financial system that can provide the credit growth needed to fuel recovery. If we don’t, it is the most vulnerable that would be hit hardest.

Unfortunately, the situation in South Africa mirrors the instability suffered globally. South Africa has been afflicted by poor economic growth since the 2008 global financial crisis, leading to unacceptably high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality, corruption and malfeasance, gender violence, rising insecurity, and low trust and social cohesion in society.

It is particularly frustrating that these problems beset a country with one of the highest spending budgets for education and health and a social safety framework that is globally lauded as one of the most comprehensive in the world.

In an indictment of its inability to set the course to a prosperous future, South Africa’s governing party’s electoral fortunes have been on a downward trajectory over the last few elections, which is evidence of a significant trust deficit among the populace.

To compound matters, though the polls suggest for now that the ANC will not immediately lose power, should they decline further and not be able to form a government, any opposition coalition government that will take over will most likely suffer from policy incoherence. This would do little to alleviate instability.

It is a sobering thought that the only feasible outcomes of the upcoming elections are unpredictability and instability or continuity and predictability.

At its sixth National Policy Conference (NPC), the ANC declared 2022 as “The Year of Unity and Renewal to Defend and Advance South Africa’s Democratic Gains”. The degree to which this lofty declaration needs to be aligned with reality became clear when President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his political overview, noted that the ANC was at its weakest ever. He also outlined the myriad challenges the ANC faces that need to be addressed in order for our society to flourish.

Scholars and analysts echoed the president’s sentiment, with Professor Richard Calland of UCT saying, “The ANC is now an empty vessel, both policy-wise and politically. It can neither hold the centre nor lead society.”

In a scathing assessment, economist Duma Gqubule wrote that “ANC conferences are a waste of time for anyone who follows macroeconomic policy, because they never discuss [pertinent] issues, and nothing changes”.

South Africa is far from where it needs to be. So, should the ANC wish to retain its lead position, it is incumbent on them to prove at their national conference in December their commitment to real renewal and sensible growth-centred policies. Policy proposals need to address these challenges and unlock cooperation among social partners to improve matters.

The policy goals of the party must be in line with the words of Ramaphosa when he said, in his opening address at the NPC, that “our deliberations over the next few days, the resolutions we will adopt at our 55th National Conference, and the actions that we then take, will determine the fate of our movement and indeed the direction of our country.

“This policy conference should be seen as a festival of ideas, where the ANC lives up to its role as the leader of society by developing policies that relate to the lived experience of our people where they live to shape the trajectory of our country”. DM

Daryl Swanepoel is CEO of the Inclusive Society Institute. This article draws on content of its recently published ANC 6th National Policy Conference – ISI insights’ report.

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Weaponised drones — the latest tech threat to be employed by criminal and extremist groups in Africa

Technology is the gangster's friend. The 28s gang in South Africa has access to drones, which they use to monitor people. (Photo: iStock)

By: Karen Allen

As evidence grows of drones being used by terrorists and other criminals, governments should consider regulating the industry. 

Drones have for some time been used by regular armed forces on Africa’s battlefields, such as in Ethiopia and Mali. But now they’re increasingly being deployed by terrorists — sparking a global sense of urgency. 

At the end of October, the United Nations (UN) Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee will host a special meeting in India on countering the use of new technologies for terrorism. Drones or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have been identified as one of the key terrorist threats by the meeting’s organisers. Other risks are disinformation, the misuse of social media, and new payment technologies used by violent extremists.

Drones are by and large a force for good, for example in delivering medicines to hard-to-reach parts of Africa. But their widespread availability, increased range and growing sophistication in terms of payload (what they can carry) have seen an expansion in their applications. 

The hobbyist drone market has grown rapidly, with global sales increasing from $14-billion in 2018 to a projected $43-billion in 2024, according to Drone Industry Insights. South Africa represents the biggest market in Africa, particularly for aerial technology used in the mining and agricultural sectors. This democratisation of relatively affordable technology means that UAS can be used for nefarious ends both in wartime and peace. 

The Ukraine-Russian war has underscored the significance of the new drone battlespace with an arms race in production and acquisition underway. But drones can also be bought, adapted and used to disrupt critical infrastructures such as airports, energy plants and communications networks. 

As African governments assess the risks of cyber attacks on critical infrastructure such as on Transnet in South Africa in 2021, they should also consider the unintended consequences of drone proliferation.

The continent has yet to witness a major installation being targeted by a UAS. But there is growing evidence of drones being weaponised by violent extremists and transnational criminal networks, either as a surveillance tool or as part of their intelligence and reconnaissance operations. As ISS Today has previously reported, armed groups such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and insurgents in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique are applying the technology in combat.

UN Security Council Resolution 2617 recognises the increasing misuse of UAS globally, including “the misuse of unmanned aerial systems by terrorists to conduct attacks against, and incursions into, restricted commercial and government infrastructure and public places.” Council members have been urged to “balance fostering innovation” while “preventing the misuse of UAS.” But how can this be achieved in practice?

For a start, research is being done to understand how terrorists use drones. A joint UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, and Conflict Armament Research project is underway to assess global trends. The next steps will be to classify types of UAS (hobbyist, commercial, military, etc) and establish a registration system so they can be tracked. 

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The UN Office of Counter-Terrorism has developed a good practice guide on protecting vulnerable targets from drone attacks, knowing that commercial or hobbyist drones are being shaped into weapons. 3D printing technology also opens up the prospect of spare parts being rapidly manufactured by extremists.

While countries such as South Africa may not consider themselves at risk of an imminent terrorist attack, industry insiders worry about economic terrorism — the destabilisation of essential utilities or other state services. 

Kim James, an executive member of the Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of Southern Africa, confirms that crime syndicates use ‘narco drones’ in South Africa for basic reconnaissance and to distribute drugs. A similar tactic is seen in Colombia to evade border security measures. The prospect of drones being used to target, for example, cash-in-transit vehicles is a possibility.

While tighter regulations won’t necessarily prevent the nefarious uses of drone technology, they can provide early warning signs. They could, for example, locate suspect drones or flag the delivery of bulk purchases of hobbyist drones close to potential targets. This was seen in Iraq and Syria in 2016 when large consignments of hobbyist drones were delivered to Turkey and then driven across the border. 

As Audrey Kurth Cronin observed in her book Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists, “the most common type of drone used by Islamic State was the DJI phantom, purchasable on for as little as 450 USD.” Export controls for such dual-use technologies may also be an avenue for policymakers to consider.

Regulations require enforcement. Given the broad applications of drones, it will need an approach in which government departments coordinate their responses. In South Africa,  the Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of Southern Africa is drawing up proposals with the Department for Economic Development for a registration and accreditation process that protects the public but doesn’t harm business.

Technical fixes and alerts including how to identify potentially dangerous drones are also being developed by the private sector with a focus on big installations such as mines, pipelines, prisons, airports etc. This raises questions of who is legally permitted to intercept a drone, and of state sovereignty and international law.

This month’s UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee meeting will have to tread carefully so as not to hamper the legitimate use of drones which is transforming business, agriculture, humanitarian relief and medicine in Africa. At the same time, the continent presents a vulnerable environment where weaponised drones may be tested and used by militaries and insurgents alike. DM

Karen Allen, Consultant, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Pretoria.

First published by ISS Today.

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Putin’s trashing of international norms will encourage rulers with malevolent ambitions

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a concert on Red Square in Moscow on 30 September 2022 after a ceremony to sign treaties on the annexation of Ukrainian territories to Russia. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergei Karpukhin / Kremlin Pool)

By: J Brooks Spector

The recent sham referendums in four eastern provinces of Ukraine gives Vladimir Putin a pretext to annex them. But beyond this immediate outcome, Russia’s invasion is a punch in the solar plexus of the international norm of no territorial changes.

Vladimir Putin announced this week — in grand imperial style married to shoddy pop star glitz — that, henceforth and forevermore, the two Ukrainian Donbas provinces, as well as the provinces of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, were now integral parts of Mother Russia. Thus sayeth the emperor — even if events on the ground tell a different story.

There are various problems with this declaration. The first, of course, is that the Ukrainian army has been successfully rolling back the invaders in the northeast, first around and beyond the city of Kharkiv in a well-coordinated, fast-moving push that stunned the Russian military, forcing many soldiers to flee as they abandoned their armour and other equipment in a scramble to save their lives.

Now, in a follow-up manoeuvre, the Ukrainians have liberated the transport junction town of Lyman, even further to the east, very nearly trapping yet more Russian military formations with a classic encirclement movement. 

Amazingly, that second advance happened almost simultaneously with Putin’s declaration that the four provinces (one of which includes Lyman) were now Russian and thus liberated from those dreadful neo-Nazis, drug dealers and thugs who rule Ukraine.

In Putin’s true rant of speech, he insisted those evil forces were acting on behalf of those appalling Western powers who remain eager to divide, conquer and colonise Russia, and then inflict all the satanic-style sins running rampant in the West. Vladimir Putin is decidedly not woke. 

This, of course, has made Putin’s land grab the only time in history that an annexation achieved initially at the sharp point of a lance has taken place even as the retreat from those same lands has begun and continues.

On the back foot

Whether the conflict will finally end with the withdrawal of all Russian forces from the entirety of Ukrainian territory — including a Crimea that was seized about eight years earlier — remains unclear at best.

What is, however, clear is the Russians are, at least for now, on their back foot militarily, with no easy way to reverse the tide given the Ukrainians’ increasing battlefield skill and a growing supply of advanced weaponry.

Putin’s grand strategy is in tatters. The challenge for him is to figure out how to end this mess without it looking like his vision of the re-establishment of the expanse of the czarist empire has been a total disaster, and thus grounds for someone to start a movement to retire him before things begin going to pieces inside Russia.

The call-up of 300,000 conscripted men for service — via a particularly botched effort that included some people up to age 60 and many who had never served in the military, despite the initial claim it was to call up trained reservists — will do little to stabilise the Russian invasion forces. This is because many of these newly conscripted, instant soldiers are unlikely to be deeply imbued with achieving Putin’s glorious special military operation, or even staving off military disaster.

This precipitate move must also take into consideration the reality that thousands of young Russian men have been fleeing the country to avoid the possibility of being conscripted, leaving by plane and cars to the few neighbouring nations that still permit visa-free entry for Russians. 

Lost empires

But it is a second problem of this declaration that is yet more important and it is one with still broader international repercussions. And that, of course, is the traducing of fundamental international norms of state behaviour. 

One aspect of this was the post-1945 retreat from empire and the unwillingness (or inability) of former colonial regimes to attempt efforts to reclaim their lost empires.

In the 15 years following the end of World War 2, the British, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Belgians eventually surrendered their colonial empires. Sometimes this only came about after losses in rearguard fighting, as in French Indochina, Algeria, Kenya, the Dutch East Indies, as well as the Portuguese African and Timorese colonies. Nevertheless, by 1975, the last of these empires had come to an end.

One empire still remained, of course, and that was the Soviet Union/Russia. But the Soviet Union’s Eastern European empire of subservient nations evaporated between 1989 and 1991.

Moreover, by the end of that period, even much of the old czarist empire across parts of Eastern Europe and through northern Asia was gone as well. This second breakup separated the old emirates of Central Asia, the Caucasian lands, the Baltic states, Belarus and Ukraine (much of which had been captured by Russia at the end of the 18th century from a still older Polish-Lithuanian kingdom) from Russia.

The final result was more than a dozen new nations — 14 to be exact — and the remaining core of Russia. But even Russia still included ethnicities such as the Volga Bulgars and Chechens, many of whom continue to long for the possibility of independence. There is also a vast swathe of land on the eastern edge of Siberia seized from a decaying Chinese Ching dynasty in the 1850s.

Territorial norms

The international norm that increasingly took hold in the post-war world of 1945 onward has been one of the general inviolability of national state borders, save when one independent nation split into several new nations — largely over ethnic tensions or because of the ambitions of local actors eager to become national ones.

Such events included the violent breakups of Yugoslavia and Sudan/South Sudan, and the far more peaceful one of Czechoslovakia. In the years following the great wave of independence in Africa in the early 1960s, despite horrific disputes within nations such as the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia/Tigray, the never-ending crises in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia, or disputes over boundaries that have led to occasional warfare such as between Morocco and Algeria, the Organisation of African Unity and then the African Union and its members have consistently embraced the sanctity of national borders inherited from the colonial era.

There have been very few wholesale absorptions of one nation (in whole or in part) by another, following the territorial changes after World War 2 settlements. In some ways, this is a reaction to the conflict of that war.

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Most observers agree that in the period between the two world wars, it was the efforts of nations such as Germany, Italy, Japan, along with a few smaller nations, to gain total territorial control over other sovereign nations that broke down an international norm that had come to be established after World War 1. These territorial land grabs precipitated the outbreak of the second global war.

In the post-war period, there obviously have been numerous (albeit limited) violent conflicts, but the norm against the outright seizing of neighbouring territory and annexing it permanently has largely been upheld.

There have been several, usually less-than-permanent, exceptions to that rule, notably an effort by Iraq to annex forcibly Kuwait, Indonesia’s takeover of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor to make it a new province, Russia’s seizure of Crimea, and Israel’s effective annexation of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem (the rest of the West Bank has not been claimed officially as Israeli territory).

But none of these has been accepted and embraced by the international community as a whole, and, in several cases, the occupying nation has been forced to withdraw.

Nefarious threats

There have been other important international norms that have largely held since 1945, including the prohibition against using poison gas or biochemical warfare (with a few exceptions such as the Iraqi deployment of gas in its war with Iran, and the reported use against civilians in Syria by the forces of the Syrian government in association with Russian forces in the country).

There is also the norm of no use of nuclear weapons, following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 that brought World War 2 in the Pacific Theatre to a decisive end. But despite all the sabre rattling and two near-misses of crises in the early 1960s (Cuba and Berlin), the norm has held.

But Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian provinces this past week is helping destroy that global norm of no forcible changes in borders.

As Tanisha Fazal writes in The Return of Conquest?, her article for Foreign Affairs:

“Russian President Vladimir Putin has long declared that Ukraine has never existed as an independent country. The former Soviet republic is ‘not even a state,’ he said as early as 2008. In a speech on February 21 of this year, he elaborated, arguing that ‘modern Ukraine was entirely and fully created by Russia.’ Days later, he ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine. As Russian tanks streamed across the Ukrainian border, Putin seemed to be acting on a sinister, long-held goal to erase Ukraine from the map of the world.

“What made Russia’s invasion so shocking was its anachronistic nature. For decades, this kind of territorial conquest had seemed to be a thing of the past. It had been more than 30 years since one country had tried to conquer another internationally recognised country outright (when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990). 

“This restraint formed the basis of the international system: borders were, by and large, sacrosanct. Compliance with the norms of state sovereignty — including the notion that a country gets to control what happens in its own territory — has never been perfect. But states have generally tried to observe the sanctity of borders or at least maintain the appearance of doing so. Countries could rest assured that of all the threats they faced, an invasion to redraw their borders was unlikely to be one of them…”

The shambolic referendums by residents who were under close guard by Russian troops and whose balloting was carefully being observed (let alone the inability of the many hundreds of thousands of people who had fled the battle zone to be able to express any sort of voice in those votes) meant it hardly qualified as an internationally accepted effort for people to effectively exert their right of self-determination-style free choices about their political future.

This is true despite those starry-eyed comments from the ANC Youth League’s delegation in Russian-occupied territory at the time of the voting.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “ ‘A beautiful, wonderful process’ — ANCYL defends sending observers to Russia’s sham referendums in Ukraine

Instead, what this invasion has done is give heart and possible inspiration to nations and rulers who may well harbour irredentist goals or ambitions against neighbours. This could happen even if it should ultimately transpire that the Russians are driven from the territory of Ukraine as depicted on the world’s maps.

Moreover, all this increasingly truculent, loose, chest-thumping talk about using nuclear weapons in defence of greater Russia — against the supposed depredations of Ukrainians and the West’s nefarious designs — is also helping degrade a heretofore solid international norm against the use of nuclear weapons in conflicts.

Moreover, this kind of dangerous rhetoric could easily be deployed by other states’ rulers who might want precedents for their use of such weaponry (or at the least the continuing threat of their use) in a future conflict.

Taken together, the “special military operation” has now made the international system that much more unstable, in addition to all those other harms to global trade, supply chains for food, fertiliser, oil and natural gas, flows of refugees, as well as the still-growing, still-ongoing cost from the invasion to Ukraine’s people. DM

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