Europe in Africa: Russia-China in NATO’s Spotlight, Wagner’s Atrocities and Africa’s Stolen Arts Returned

Written by | Thursday, June 30th, 2022

NATO SUMMIT AND RUSSIA-CHINA’S GROWING INFLUENCE IN AFRICA — While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has dominated the NATO summit in Madrid, the alliance’s new Strategic Concept — its main working document for the next decade — is having to contend with Russia and China’s growing influence in Africa. As the host of the summit taking place this week (27-29 June), Spain has emphasized its proximity to Africa as it lobbies for a greater focus on Europe’s southern flank in a new document outlining NATO’s vision of its security challenges and tasks. Spain and other member nations are quietly pushing the Western alliance to consider how the likes of Russia’s Wagner mercenaries are spreading Kremlin’s influence to the continent, while China quietly strengthens its own presence.vThe Strategic Concept is NATO’s most important document after the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949. The security assessment is updated roughly every decade to reset the West’s security agenda. The current version, approved in Lisbon in 2010, stated the risk of a conventional war on NATO territory was “low.” It did not explicitly mention concerns about instability in Africa. But there appears to be a consensus among NATO members heading into the Madrid summit that while Russia remains concern No. 1, the alliance must continue to widen its view globally. Spain’s position for an increased focus on “the South” is shared by the UK, France and Italy.
WAGNER GROUP’S ALLEGED ATROCITIES IN CONFLICT-STRICKEN COUNTRIES — Russia has gained traction thanks to the presence of its mercenaries in the Sahel region, a semiarid expanse stretching from Senegal to Sudan that suffers from political strife, terrorism and drought. The Kremlin denies links to the Wagner Group, despite decorating its leadership and allowing it to train on Russian Ministry of Defence property, and the group’s front-and-centre participation in the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and war in the Donbas. The private military company with links to neo-Nazis and far-right extremists has also participated in the war in Syria and has since developed footholds in Libya, Mali, Sudan and the Central African Republic. In Mali, Wagner soldiers are filling a void created by the exit of former colonial power France. In Sudan, Russia’s offer of an economic alliance earned it the promise of a naval base on the Red Sea. In the Central African Republic, Wagner fighters protect the country’s gold and diamond mines. In return, Putin gets diplomatic allies and resources. In recent weeks, reports have emerged of indiscriminate attacks and arrests by the Russians, which suggest that things had reached breaking point again. The refugees crossing the border from Mali to Mauritania Al Jazeera spoke to had reported that they were fleeing violence by the armed groups, the Malian army or fighters affiliated with it, and reported no connection to Wagner. Multiple refugees also either cited the Russians specifically as a threat or said the security situation in Mali’s decade-long war has gotten worse since Wagner mercenaries arrived.
GERMANY RETURNS AFRICA’S STOLEN ART — In the 19th and 20th centuries, European powers colonized the African continent and plundered its cultural artefacts on a massive scale. Pieces of great local significance were pillaged by invading soldiers, seized by the colonial authorities, or taken by Christian missionaries. The Europeans then put these works on display in their museums, in ethnographic exhibitions labelled “Negro Art”. But now priceless artefacts taken from Cameroon, Namibia and Tanzania during colonial times will be permanently returned, Germany says. The Berlin-based Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which manages the German capital’s many museums, has said recently it had entered into negotiations on the returns of artefacts to Namibia, Tanzania and Cameroon. The foundation’s president, Hermann Parzinger, welcomed the move to return the artefacts. “The decision makes clear that the issue of the return of items collected in a colonial context does not always come down to injustice,” he said, adding that “the special significance – in particular spiritual – of an artefact for the community it originated from may also justify return.”

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