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President Macron says France will end its military presence in Niger, pull its ambassador after coup

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PARIS (AP) — President Emmanuel Macron announced Sunday that France will end its military presence in Niger and pull its ambassador out of the country as a result of the coup that removed the democratically elected president.

Niger’s junta said in response that the announcement signals a “new step towards the sovereignty” of the country.

“Imperialist and neo-colonialist forces are no longer welcome on our national territory. The new era of cooperation, based on mutual respect and sovereignty is already underway,” it said in a statement.

The announcement was a significant, if expected, blow to France’s policy in Africa, with French troops having had to pull out of neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso in recent years after coups there. France had stationed thousands of troops in the Sahel region at the request of African leaders to fight Islamic extremist groups.

France has maintained some 1,500 troops in Niger since the July coup, and had repeatedly refused an order by the new junta for its ambassador to leave, saying that France didn’t recognize the coup leaders as legitimate.

But tensions had mounted in recent weeks between France and Niger, a former French colony, and Macron said recently that French diplomats were surviving on military rations as they holed up in the embassy.

Macron’s announcement came after the coup leaders issued a statement earlier Sunday that they were closing Niger’s airspace to French planes, commercial and military, so that the new leadership could “retake total control of its skies and its territory.″ The decision did not apply to other international aircraft.

Ali Sekou Ramadan, an aide to Niger’s deposed President Mohamed Bazoum, told The Associated Press that Bazoum requested that Macron withdraw the French ambassador, Sylvain Itte, “in order to reduce tension.”

In an interview with the France-2 and TF1 television networks, Macron said he spoke to Bazoum on Sunday and told him that “France has decided to bring back its ambassador, and in the coming hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France.”

He added, “And we will put an end to our military cooperation with the Niger authorities because they don’t want to fight against terrorism anymore.”

He said the troops would be gradually pulled out, likely by the end of the year, in coordination with the coup leaders ‘’because we want it to take place peacefully.”

He said France’s military presence was in response to a request from Niger’s government at the time. That military cooperation between France and Niger had been suspended since the coup, however. The junta leaders claimed Bazoum’s government wasn’t doing enough to protect the country from the insurgency.

The junta is now under sanctions by Western and regional African powers.

Insa Garba Saidou, a local activist who assists Niger’s new military rulers with their communications, said they would continue to monitor developments until the French ambassador leaves the country. He also demanded a clear deadline for the withdrawal of the French troops.

“This announcement from the French president announces the victory of the people of Niger. However, we are going to take it with a lot of reservation because I no longer believe in Mr. Macron,” said Saidou.

The junta in August gave the French ambassador 48 hours to leave. After the deadline expired without France recalling him, the coup leaders then revoked his diplomatic immunity.

In New York on Friday, the military government that seized power in Niger accused U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of obstructing the West African nation’s full participation at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders in order to appease France and its allies.

Experts say that after repeated military interventions in its former colonies in recent decades, the era of France as Africa’s “gendarme” may finally be over, as the continent’s priorities shift.

Andrew Lebovich, a research fellow with the Clingendael Institute, a think tank, said the decision marks both an acceptance of a “harsh reality for France in the region and may possibly put some limits on the U.S. deployments in Niger, though as we have seen, the U.S. and France have not followed exactly the same positionings in Niger.”

Rida Lyammouri, a senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, said Niger will feel the loss of French support in its fight against violent extremist groups.

“France has been a reliable partner providing support to its operations and Niger simply doesn’t have an alternative to fill this void by the French, at least in short and mid term,” Lyammouri said.

Macron last year withdrew French troops from Mali following tensions with the ruling junta after a 2020 coup, and more recently from Burkina Faso, for similar reasons. Both African countries had asked for the French forces to leave.

France also suspended military operations with Central African Republic, accusing its government of failing to stop a “massive” anti-French disinformation campaign.

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Could South Africa be the first-ever country to provide a no-strings-attached universal basic income?

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South Africa suffers from severe income inequality — one of the worst anywhere in the world. Its unemployment rate, meanwhile, is over 30%.

But its government thinks it has a solution: a universal basic income .

The idea has broad political support and the country’s largest political party, the African National Congress, said recently it is committed to implementing a universal basic income within two years.

Once the figment of ideological dreamers, a universal basic income — regular direct cash payments to a population with no strings attached — has grown in legitimacy, especially after the success of COVID-era stimulus checks. Tech visionaries racing to develop ever-more advanced artificial intelligence have also suggested implementing a universal basic income. They say it would help mitigate the job losses from AI .

Several other countries have experimented with versions of a universal basic income. Kenya, for instance, offers unconditional payments to about 20,000 people in 200 different towns.

In the United States, numerous cities and some states are experimenting on a small scale with guaranteed basic incomes , which offer no-strings-attached payments but only to select groups of people in need. While studies have shown these American programs to be successful, they have also run up against significant political opposition .

But in South Africa, most political parties are all for it. They just need to work out the details.

“The ANC is committed to finalizing a comprehensive policy on the basic income support grant within two years of the new ANC administration, ensuring broad consultation and expedited action,” South Africa’s ruling party said in a statement .

That statement came a week before hotly contested general elections on May 29, which saw the ANC lose its majority in parliament. The ANC is now working to form a unity government and a commitment to implementing a universal basic income will almost certainly come up in negotiations.

According to the party, a study at the University of Johannesburg showed that a majority of South African citizens “fully support the introduction of a basic income support grant.”

While South Africa provides payments to certain groups living below the poverty line through its Social Relief Distress grant program, the ANC plan would open eligibility to all South African adults, the Guardian reported .

The ANC said it is “exploring” options, like new tax measures and a new social-security tax, to fund the program. The party also says its goal for the program is not to replace existing social-security programs, but to complement them.

If it follows through, the ANC plan would make South Africa the first country to provide a universal basic income.

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In a historic election, South Africa’s ANC loses majority for the first time

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party has lost its outright majority for the first time in a devastating blow for the party once led by Nelson Mandela. The ANC has dominated South African politics since winning in the first post-apartheid elections 30 years ago.

The ANC was braced for a disappointing outcome, predicted by polls before Wednesday’s elections, but the final results are even more sobering. It won 40 percent of the vote, falling from 57% in 2019.

Tessa Dooms, a director at Rivonia Circle, a think tank in South Africa, said it was a historic result that diminished the ANC’s three decades hold on power. “The election in South Africa is an important watershed moment that fundamentally changes politics,” she said.

According to the constitution, the party with the largest vote has two weeks from the result confirmation to form a new government. The ANC will now have to form a coalition government with one or more opposition parties for the first time, to remain in power.

Driving the party’s waning support is an all too bleak reality for millions of people.

South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, with 32% unemployed, along with soaring levels of crime. Immense frustrations with water and electricity shortages as well as corruption have led to growing criticism of the ANC government.

For many, the initial progress that followed liberation from white-minority rule has not been sustained. Despite significant achievements in Africa’s most industrialized nation, inequalities inherited from the apartheid regime have remained, and over the last decade, even worsened. The party’s vote share has fallen by a few percent in every election since 2004 — exacerbated by a generation divide, with younger voters born after apartheid, the so-called “born frees”, less likely to vote for the ANC.

“On the one hand, we overcame apartheid as a structural force,” Dooms said, “On the other hand, we have not actually changed many of the dynamics. We inherited inequality of one form, and we have doubled down on inequality in South Africa and another form going forward and it has hurt us.”

But in this election, the gradual decline in ANC support over the last 20 years grew more dramatic, Dooms said. “The ANC has in some ways imploded in the form of its former president, Jacob Zuma. The rise of the MK is certainly the biggest story of this election.”

The fall and rise of Zuma

The controversial, convicted former ANC leader’s new party, the uMkhonto weSizwe party, or MK, was the story of the election. MK was named after the disbanded military wing of the ANC, and registered just six months ago. But in a short space of time the party has soared above expectations. The party was bolstered by many former ANC supporters and a base of largely poor and ethnically Zulu South Africans who followed Zuma’s lead and left the ANC. It is now the third-largest party in South Africa, with almost 15%.

It caps a dramatic fall and rise of the 82-year-old leader. While a conviction bars him from being elected into parliament, as leader of the MK, he could now be a significant player in the negotiations to form a new coalition government, and could use his power to attempt to avoid a further conviction.

Zuma was forced to resign from the presidency in 2018, and was convicted in 2021 of failing to present himself at a corruption trial against him. He is also due to be tried again next year for corruption in an alleged arms deal in 1999.

The populist leader has accused his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, of being behind his legal troubles. Now Zuma has inflicted a major defeat on his rival, who is likely to face pressure from some in his party to resign.

Zuma’s daughter and MK member, Duduzile Sambudla, told NPR, “The MK is not willing to go into a coalition with the ANC of Ramaphosa,” she said, implying that a coalition would be possible without Ramaphosa.

The MK’s success against the ANC is most significant in South Africa’s second-most populous province, KwaZulu Natal (KZN). The party won almost 46% of the vote, against nearly 18% for the ANC in a landslide result.

Liberation icon Nelson Mandela first voted at the Ohlange High Schoolin Durban, KZN, in 1994, when he became president. Thirty years later, many voters at the same polling unit echoed a similar sentiment: frustration with the state of the country, and a desire for change.

Nqobile Khumalo, 24, arrived at the polling station shortly after polls opened at 7 a.m. on Wednesday and was voting for the first time. “We just really hope that there will be change,” she said. Tracy Bongiwe Zondo, 39, went further. “Before now I was voting for the ANC but now I’m voting for MK because I need a change in our community,” she said.

President Ramaphosa’s future is now an open question. He is the first ANC president to lose the party’s majority, has overseen the steepest fall in share of the vote (17%), and turnout has reduced to 58 percent. The ANC’s head of elections, Nomvula Mokonyane told NPR Ramaphosa would not step down. “Nobody’s going to resign,” she said. But Ramaphosa faces a major challenge to survive the duration of his second term, if he manages to form a government that based on the results, will likely be divisive.

Culled from NPR

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Congressional Black Caucus condemns Speaker Johnson’s treatment of Kenya’s president

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The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) shared a post online Wednesday condemning Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) for refusing to host Kenyan President William Ruto for a joint meeting of Congress, which is typically extended to other international leaders.

“While @SpeakerJohnson might not have given the President of Kenya the opportunity to address a Joint Session of Congress, the CBC was proud to welcome President Ruto to the United States Capitol today,” the CBC posted on the social platform X . “We were honored to present President Ruto honorary membership in the CBC.”

Ruto is in town for a state dinner Thursday, President Biden’s sixth state dinner since taking office.

He posted on X highlighting CBC’s role in “advancing social justice, human rights and economic development across the globe.”

“We implore the Congress to take lead in reconfiguring the global financial architecture where power is not in the hands of the few. A bold, robust and targeted approach will free Africa of the debt burden and transform the world,” Ruto said on X .

The Hill has reached out to Johnson’s office for comment; it released statement to USA Today that Johnson offered the Kenyan Embassy “over 90 minutes of engagement including a one-on-one visit with Speaker Johnson, bipartisan leadership meeting with Speaker Johnson, Leader Jeffries, and Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members, and a bicameral meeting.”

Ruto said he was honored to be recognized as an honorary member of the CBC and shared photos of his visit.

The dinner will honor the 60th anniversary of the United States’s partnership with Kenya, and Biden plans to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO ally , the first in sub-Saharan Africa.

The post from the CBC was meant as a dig against Johnson, who is planning to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. Johnson’s invitation has been met with pushback from some Democrats as the war between Israel and Hamas continues in Gaza.

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