Italy’s Energy Deal Faces Backlash in Africa
Critics charge that a plan that aims to curb migration will derail the continent’s climate change agenda.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: Protests rock Senegal after Sall delays election, Nigeria’s devaluation, and Namibia’s succession.
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Kenya’s Ruto, Loved Abroad and Loathed at Home
Kenyan President William Ruto backed a nearly $6 billion Italian plan proposing energy resources in exchange for migration restrictions that has been criticized by other regional leaders. The divisions over the plan highlight the widening gulf between Ruto’s international profile and domestic opposition.
Italy last week held its first Africa summit, during which Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni unveiled the scheme to fund energy, education, and health projects in North African nations as well as Mozambique, Ethiopia, the Republic of Congo, and Kenya in exchange for Italian access to energy sources and African governments’ cooperation in blocking migration.
Meloni’s venture is named the Mattei Plan for Africa, after Italian state-owned oil giant Eni founder Enrico Mattei. Italy has signed several gas deals with African nations over the past few years in its bid to replace Russian supplies. The plan hopes to support infrastructure and pipelines that would facilitate energy trade between Italy and North Africa, to be spearheaded by Eni.
It highlights hydrogen and biofuels but does not rule out oil and gas projects. More than 50 African groups wrote a letter to the Italian government lamenting Rome’s failure to consult Africans and arguing that the plan undermines Africa’s climate change agenda “by spurring more investments and financial flows into new fossil oil & gas projects.” Ruto received swift backlash for endorsing a scheme that so blatantly prioritizes Italy’s fossil fuel needs over African interests.
“A plan that fails to address Africa’s structural needs and instead increases carbon-emitting fossil fuel projects, further burdens the continent with debt, and keeps countries rooted at the bottom of the global value chain” is likely to increase African migration, wrote Fadhel Kaboub, a senior advisor with Power Shift Africa.
Critics pointed to the framing of the initiative as a “Plan for Africa” instead of an African partnership. “African countries would have liked to have been consulted before Italy rolled out its plan,” said African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki at the summit in Rome.
“We are not beggars. Our ambition is much higher. We want a paradigm shift for a new model of partnership that can pave the way toward a fairer and more coherent world,” he said.
Many of Rome’s financing pledges are not new commitments, instead coming from loans and grants already allocated in climate and development cooperation. Yet Ruto endorsed the deal as a positive step. “Every journey begins with one simple step. And I think that the most important step has been made, that we are recalibrating our relationship with Italy as a continent,” he said. The leaders of Africa’s three biggest economies—Nigeria, Egypt, and South Africa—did not attend. Egypt instead chose to send its international cooperation minister while South Africa and Nigeria, who do not appear to benefit from the plan, sent no representatives.
It’s the latest saga in which Ruto has publicly backed a Western policy much to the chagrin of Kenyans. His scheme to send Kenyan police to tackle gang violence in Haiti was scrapped by the Kenyan High Court as unconstitutional. Washington and Ruto have indicated a commitment to forge ahead with the mission anyway by putting in place a bilateral agreement with Haiti.
Yet Kenyan opposition members argue that the court ruling was clear that only Kenyan military and not police can be deployed abroad. They have warned the U.S. government against meddling in Kenyan affairs.
Ruto also lost his appeal challenging a ruling that had halted his plans to charge all Kenyans 1.5 percent of their monthly incomes to build affordable housing. According to the judges, the plan was discriminatory. Ruto’s administration said the program has created 120,000 jobs.
The two separate court rulings against Ruto have led to a bitter feud between him and Kenyan judges that sparked a protest last month in Nairobi. “A few individuals who are beneficiaries of corruption are using corrupt judicial officials to block our development projects,” Ruto said in a public address last month.
Chief Justice Martha Koome hit back. “When state or public officers threaten to defy court orders, the rule of law is imperiled, setting stage for anarchy to prevail in a nation,” she said in an internal memo.
During the election campaign, Ruto cast himself as a “hustler,” who would ease Kenyan hardship. He has recently come under fire for high tax policies. Wide-ranging economic reforms removed existing subsidies on food and fuel, hiked wage taxes, and introduced a 2.75 percent Social Health Insurance Fund tax as well as a 3 percent turnover (gross sales) tax on small businesses. Kenyan economists say the high taxes have increased operating costs and shuttered some businesses.
Kenyans have nicknamed him “Zakayo” after the biblical tax collector Zacchaeus.
With at least 70,000 private-sector jobs lost, according to the Federation of Kenya Employers, Ruto appears to be edging closer to losing the confidence of those who voted for him.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Feb. 7: South Africa faces Nigeria in a much-awaited Africa Cup of Nations semifinal soccer match.
Host nation Ivory Coast takes on the Democratic Republic of the Congo later in the evening.
Wednesday, Feb. 7, to Friday, Feb. 9: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hosts Ruto in a state visit that began Tuesday.
Thursday, Feb. 8: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his state of the nation address.
Friday, Feb. 9: The African Union’s Peace and Security Commission is slated to discuss Gabon’s return to democracy.
Friday, Feb. 9, to Thursday, Feb. 15: The 13th edition of the Luxor African Film Festival is held in Egypt.
Tuesday, Feb. 13, to Wednesday, Feb. 14: Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan visits Norway.
What We’re Watching
Senegal’s political fragility. Senegal’s parliament on Monday approved a nearly 10-month election delay, postponing a vote planned for later this month until Dec. 15—extending President Macky Sall’s term. The decision is being challenged by opposition members in court. Authorities on Monday restricted mobile phone internet access as protests spread in Senegal. Some opposition figures attempting to block the extension vote were removed from the National Assembly by police. Demonstrations broke out across the country following Sall’s unprecedented announcement on Saturday that he would postpone presidential elections three weeks before voting was due to take place. Critics accused Sall, who was due to leave office on April 2, of effectively staging a coup d’état.
Sall cited his aim to resolve a dispute between the judiciary and parliament over the candidate list, which excluded major opposition figures, and promised he would not seek a third term.
Firebrand opposition politician Ousmane Sonko was disqualified from the ballot because of a six-month suspended sentence last May for defamation. Sonko was convicted of defaming Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang after accusing him of stealing 29 billion CFA francs (about $47 million) from a government agency. In June 2023, he was sentenced to two years for “corrupting youth”—a crime that involves using one’s position of power to have sex with or encourage the debauchery of an individual under the age of 21—a lesser offense than his initial rape charge. The defamation conviction renders him “ineligible,” according to Senegal’s Constitutional Council.
Karim Wade, the son of Sall’s predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade, was excluded from the ballot because of his dual French and Senegalese citizenship—although Wade said he had renounced his French nationality and called his disqualification “a blatant attack on democracy.”
Wade had alleged corruption within the constitutional body that handled the list, which prompted lawmakers to open an investigation. The controversy, Sall said, “could seriously undermine the credibility of the ballot by sowing the seeds of pre- and post-electoral disputes.” He added, “I will begin an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent, and inclusive election.”
Senegal was long viewed as West Africa’s most stable democracy—having never experienced a coup since independence and never delayed a presidential vote.
Experts suggest Sall’s handpicked successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, did not have the full backing of ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar coalition. Ba was predicted to win after Sall ruled out seeking a third term yet his margin narrowed significantly amid public resentment over the disqualification of Sonko from the official candidates list.
Those in Sall’s inner circle feared Ba would lose the election. Accusations of alleged corruption within the the constitutional body handed Sall the opportunity to play for time in reorganizing his own party, say analysts. Of course, Sall could have intervened over the legal harassment of opposition candidates several months earlier if that was his primary concern.
Ethiopian farms dispute. Eritrean soldiers are alleged to have raided livestock and abducted farmers in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, according to a memo dated Jan. 31 by the Ethiopia Health Cluster, a U.N. coordination mechanism for delivering aid. Yemane Gebremeskel, Eritrea’s information minister, denied the allegations as “false.” Ethiopia’s parliament on Friday extended a state of emergency by four months in Amhara to respond to an insurgency by members of the Fano militia.
Nigerian currency devaluation. The country’s central bank devalued the naira almost 40 percent last week in an attempt to make the currency competitive. It follows an almost 50 percent overall drop in 2023 after Abuja removed a peg to the U.S. dollar.
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu aims to align the currency’s official exchange rate with the parallel underground market rate so as to attract foreign investment and remittances. This would help clear a foreign currency backlog of about $7 billion in payments due. A hike in interest rates is expected later this month as part of market-friendly reforms that have caused hardship among Nigerians and an exodus of qualified workers. Protesters blocked major roads on Monday in Kano state and Niger state over the high cost of living.
Namibia’s first female president? Nangolo Mbumba, previously Namibia’s vice president, has assumed the presidency following the death of Hage Geingob on Sunday. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah became Namibia’s first female vice president.
Geingob, who was 82 years old, made his cancer diagnosis public last month. Mbumba has declared he will not run in the country’s presidential elections this year—potentially clearing the path for Nandi-Ndaitwah, who is on the ballot, to become Namibia’s first female president.
This Week in Money
Strikes disallowed. Endeavour Mining, a company headquartered in London, won its lawsuit ordering striking Burkinabé staff back to work at the company’s second-biggest gold mine in Houndé, Burkina Faso, about 155 miles southwest of the capital, Ouagadougou. An internal company memo stated that workers striking over safety conditions who refuse to obey the Burkinabé court’s interim ruling will be fined. According to Bloomberg, Burkina Faso’s military government was concerned the conflict could impact Burkina’s gold output.
Ouagadougou canceled a $58 million bond auction on Feb. 1 due to low investor interest following its decision to quit the Economic Community of West African States regional bloc. Junta leaders said they are also considering exiting the eight-nation West African Economic and Monetary Union, which manages the Francophone Africa currency, the West Africa CFA franc, pegged to the euro.
Ghana carbon tax. On Feb. 1, Ghana began enforcement of an annual tax targeting emissions produced by petrol- or diesel-powered vehicles, a policy approved by lawmakers in December 2023. Fees will range from $6 to $24 and are expected to raise $40 million in revenue for the Ghanaian government. The move follows carbon tax policies implemented by South Africa and Mauritius.
What We’re Reading
South Africa’s ICJ case too narrow. Chile Eboe-Osuji, a former president of the International Criminal Court, argues in Foreign Policy that South Africa’s case against Israel was limited in outcome by not widening the case to include other war crimes being committed in Gaza as well as crimes committed by Hamas. “South Africa lost the opportunity to actually try to halt the ongoing armed conflict by compelling both sides to stop fighting,” he wrote.
Gupta-linked UAE proxies. South Africa’s public prosecutor agreed to a 500 million rand forfeiture settlement with former Gupta business associate Daniel McGowan, who ran proxy companies registered in Dubai. In AmaBhungane, Sam Sole lambasts prosecutors for failing to obtain the United Arab Emirates’ cooperation in sharing banking information related to McGowan’s proxy businesses, arguing that the full extent of money laundering activities will now never be known.
Nosmot Gbadamosi is a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She has reported on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development from across the African continent. Twitter: @nosmotg
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