U.S. soldiers stand guard in Hasaka, northeast Syria, Jan. 27, 2022 (AP photo by Baderkhan Ahmad).

At its height half a decade ago, the Islamic State was among the most feared armed organizations in the world. The infamously brutal group had at one point captured and established governance of more than a third of Iraq and large swaths of Syria. But that shocking, sudden rise to infamy was followed by a steep, if slower, downfall. By January 2019, the Islamic State had lost nearly all of its territory in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. declared it defeated and media organizations began to pay only sporadic attention to its isolated attacks. By 2021, Google searches for the Islamic State, a […]

A man holds a portait of Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba who has taken the reins of the country in Ouagadougou, Jan. 25, 2022 (AP photo by Sophie Garcia).

In the latest in a series of military coups in West Africa, a group of army officers in Burkina Faso has overthrown the government of President Roch Kabore. In a televised address on Burkina Faso’s state broadcaster on Monday, the group—which has dubbed itself “the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration,” or MPSR—said that it had deposed Kabore, suspended the constitution, closed the country’s borders and dissolved the government and the legislature. The group affirmed that Kabore remains safe and in good condition.  The announcement came after two days of confusion and pandemonium in the capital, Ouagadougou, amid reports of […]

U.S. President John F. Kennedy and President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana talk as they sit in a limousine at Washington National Airport on March 8, 1961 (AP photo).

Anyone with even a sketchy understanding of the Cold War knows that it was a time not only of intense direct competition between the reigning superpowers, but also of grand schemes by both the U.S. and USSR for integrating their allies and clients into adversarial blocs, as well as for poaching the partners of the rival power—especially in the developing world—into their own camp. Throughout much of this era, the West regarded professions of neutrality among poorer countries with skepticism or even outright hostility. Beginning with the Eisenhower administration, the view took hold in Washington that non-alignment was just a […]

Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera delivers his speech during his inaugural ceremony in Bangui, March 30, 2021 (AP photo by Adrienne Surprenant).

Once considered a marginal country in regional affairs, the Central African Republic has become a frequent topic of discussion in African security circles. The CAR is frequently cited as the jumping-off point on the continent for the Russian private military contractor the Wagner Group and the touchstone for the group’s involvement in other African countries. But with the group’s activities having now expanded to Mali, Sudan and Libya, the fixation on its flashy entrances into the region’s conflict zones has diverted international attention from a far more alarming development in Bangui: CAR’s increasingly precarious future. For a brief moment in […]

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and Kenyan Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, in Mombasa, Kenya, Jan. 6, 2022 (AP photo by Gideon Maundu).

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi completed a tour of Eritrea, Kenya and Comoros, continuing a tradition dating back three decades by which Chinese foreign ministers open the diplomatic year with a trip to Africa. The visit—which comes just over a month after the conclusion of the eighth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC, held late last year in Dakar, Senegal—illustrates how China’s engagement with African countries is evolving. Beijing is apparently ready to play a bigger role in mediating some of the region’s conflicts. Whether those efforts will pay off is an open question for both China and […]

United Nations peacekeepers from Rwanda wait to escort members of the U.N. Security Council as they arrive at the airport in Juba, South Sudan, Sept. 2, 2016 (AP photo by Justin Lynch).

The United Nations has no standing army, despite its initial plans to create one. Instead, when it launches a peace operation—the best established tool the international community has to address security threats—it relies on member states to voluntarily contribute personnel and troops. These U.N. deployments have grown in number and size throughout the 21st century, reaching a peak around 2014, when more than 100,000 military peacekeepers were stationed around the world. Today, four of the U.N.’s 12 peace operations—in South Sudan, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic—are staffed with more than 10,000 troops each. Along the […]

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in front of the Soviet U.N. delegation headquarters, New York City, Sept. 22, 1960 (AP photo).

In 1956, then-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev executed a sharp but largely forgotten reorientation in his country’s foreign policy. During the long decades under Josef Stalin, with the exception of its support for communist China, Moscow had focused almost all of its energy abroad in buttressing client states in Eastern Europe. But with one major speech, Khrushchev announced that the era of investing only in Russia’s “near abroad” was finished.  Taking his cues from the 1955 Asian-African Bandung Conference in Indonesia that launched the Non-Aligned Movement, and anticipating the huge wave of newly sovereign countries that would commence with Ghana’s independence […]

A supporter wearing a T-shirt showing Col. Assimi Goita, head of the junta that staged the Aug. 18 coup and now Mali’s interim president, in Bamako, Mali, Sept. 25, 2020 (AP photo).

The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, has closed regional borders with Mali and slapped a new round of sanctions on Bamako, after the country’s interim military government sought to postpone elections it pledged to hold in February, as part of the country’s return to civilian rule following a 2020 military coup.  Sunday’s announcement followed an extraordinary summit of the bloc’s 15 leaders held in Accra to discuss a proposal by Mali’s provisional government for a five-year transition plan that would culminate with a presidential election scheduled for February 2026. That would be four years after the date Mali’s ruling […]

A Senegalese soccer fan holds up a scarf during the African Cup of Nations final match between Algeria and Senegal in Cairo International stadium in Cairo, Egypt, July 19, 2019 (AP Photo by Hassan Ammar).

Fear not, for this isn’t about to be yet another piece forecasting or making “predictions” about the new year. Rather, the intention of this newsletter is to follow up on my final edition of 2021, which took stock not only of lessons learned from having written this newsletter weekly for six months, but also of some of the key developments shaping African affairs last year. Those included the geopolitics of vaccines, military coups on the continent and Africa’s international relations with the world, particularly the great powers.  To that end, here is a rundown of four major trends, developments and events […]

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech after a meeting via video-conference with leaders of the G5 Sahel countries, Feb. 16, 2021, Paris (AP photo by Francois Mori).

In mid-December, with little forewarning, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would soon be visiting Mali, a country in West Africa’s Sahel region that, along with several others there, has been afflicted with rising communal violence in recent years. It seems that the surprise Macron trip was conceived in order to serve multiple goals. Foremost was the desire to call Mali’s interim leader, who took power in a military coup last May, to heel, and get him to commit to a calendar for democratic elections early in 2022. By the same token, Macron surely also wanted to personally warn […]