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Eurasian Integration Could Open Market for Africans

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Early January, Russia and four other ex-Soviet republics completed finally the creation of a new economic alliance intended to bolster their integration. The Eurasian Economic Union or popularly referred to as EAEU, which includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, came into existence on January 1, 2015.

It is expected that Kyrgyzstan will become a full-fledged member from May 1, 2015. In addition to free trade, it’s to coordinate the members’ financial systems and regulate their industrial and agricultural policies along with labor markets and transportation networks.

Russia’s changing economic identity with its neighbouring ex-Soviet republics, Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan has opened business and economic opportunities despite the inherent teething problems associated with its creation. For instance, President Vladimir Putin said that the new union will have a combined economic output of $4.5 trillion and bring together 170 million people which means a huge potential market for business. “The Eurasian integration is based on mutual benefit and taking into account mutual interests,” Putin said after business talks with his colleagues in the Kremlin.

Some experts say the union members will benefit largely members and other foreign countries if the emerging opportunities are exploited strategically, while other analysts have explained in an email to Buziness Africa that foreign countries such European countries and Asian states, expecially all three major powers of Asia – China, Japan and India are ready to take their share of the new developments. But on the other hand, the experts interviewed for this story are, however, skeptical as to what extent African business leaders, investors and political elites will recognise, interprete and explore the profitability of the new geostrategic economic arrangement in the region.

The key question is who can benefit from EAEU. According to an official statement posted on Kremlin website on Decemebr 23, 2014, “there is growing interest in cooperating with the Eurasian Union among countries in other regions. Thus, the drafting of a free trade agreement with Vietnam has entered its final stage. We are working on similar agreements with Turkey, India and Israel.”

In addition, the Eurasian Economic Commission (EAEC) press office explained in an email query to Buziness Africa media that foreign countries interested in cooperation with the Union have to apply to the EAEC and if all the necessary conditions fit both parties, the consultations about one of the forms of cooperation (e.g. Free Trade Agreement) could be started.

The press office cited in the report sent by email to Buziness Africa that “EAEC has negotiations with Vietnam about Free Trade Agreement. At this time, we have eighth round of negotiations, that were dedicated to existing provisions of the future agreement. The parties believe that they manage to reach a fair balance of benefits for the both of them and provide for necessary tools that would mitigate the risks for entrepreneurs. But the work is not over yet, the remaining issues will be solved in further consultations.”

According to media reports, East African Community (EAC) countries could soon be able to export tea, coffee and horticultural products to the Eurasian Economic Commission (EAEC) member states without going through Western Europe. According to the article based on official statement issued after a meeting by the EAC Ambassadors in the Russian Federation, this was one of the resolutions agreed on during a recent meeting between EAC ambassadors in the Russian Federation, “the meeting was aimed at learning about the EAEC integration process and development of the economic bloc with view of exploring business opportunities for EAC member states.”

EAC diplomats agreed that traders from the region pay custom taxes at only one entry point to the EAEC bloc to boost exports from East Africa. Once in effect, the EAEC bloc will represent a single economic market of 171 million people with a gross domestic product of $3 trillion. The East African Community (EAC) is a regional intergovernmental organisation of the Republics of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, the United Republic of Tanzania and the Republic of Uganda, with its headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania.

Last year, a high-powered delegation of officials from the Eurasian Economic Commission also visited South Africa to explore economic relations with SA and Africa broadly. Headed by Tatyana Valovaya, a member of the Board of the Commission responsible for Integration and Macroeconomics, the delegation held discussions with South African business representatives, political actors and academics on significant economic opportunities for South Africa and Africa.

This visit received no media reports or publicity but this does not mean that it was insignificant. The key questions are what is the potential for SA-Russia relations to be the springboard for relations with the whole of Eurasia generally or the Commission area particular? What would be the key drivers and pillars of such relations? What economic and trade potential lies is such relations? How should South Africa’s foreign policy and Russian foreign policy gurus be thinking through this development?

Egypt is one of Russia’s leading trade partners in the Arab world and may soon conclude an agreement to establish a free trade zone with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), according to the Russia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Experts argue that this will contribute to the revitalization of trading activities and develop deeper cooperation in a number of fields between Egypt and member countries of EAEU.

Victor Spasskiy, the director in charge of integration development, said there are initiatives to expand the bloc to include Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. Local business people were encouraged to take advantage of the immense opportunities in the bloc to develop new business ties with the EAEU business community. Possible exports from EAEC include natural resources, human capital, technology in manufacturing industry and farming machinery.

Some experts are skeptical pointing to the teething problems including differences in approach to varying issues in the region. The creation of the Eurasian Economic Union parallels two deepening interrelated crises: the growing rift between Russia and the West over the conflict in Ukraine and the looming economic crisis in Russia.

Since the beginning of 2014 the ruble lost almost half of its value and the inflation in Russia has exceeded 11%. Some of the member-states of the Eurasian Union (Belarus and Kazakhstan in particular) have been growing more and more ambivalent about Russia’s increasingly heavy-handed attempts to reassert its influence in the former Soviet spaces, according to views of Maxim Matusevich, director of the Russian and East European Studies program at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Historically, he maintained that African states have been exceptionally sensitive to any real or perceived efforts by “developed” nations to establish neocolonial control in their former zones of influence. And by a number of measures, Russia’s muscle-flexing in the so-called “near abroad” can be perceived as neocolonial.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some African states responded to such aggressive expansionism with caution or even distaste. So far only Egypt, which under the new military leadership has grown closer to Putin’s regime, expressed any interest in possible closer ties with the EAEU. But there exist far more specific reasons, for which, I believe, the creation of the Eurasian Union will have little relevance for Africa,” the director said.

Matusevich pointed out: “The member-states of the union have little to no manufacturing output, the two pillars of the union (Russia and Kazakhstan) have economies almost entirely based on oil and gas exports. It is not clear what exactly they can offer to African nations, especially in the context of the deepening economic crisis in Russia. I expect that just like during the previous period of economic turmoil in the 1980s and 1990s Russia and some of its post-Soviet allies will cut down on their ties with Africa rather than expand them. Africa, in my opinion, has very little either to gain or to lose from the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union.”

In an address at the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting in December 2014, Putin further explained that Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) were drafted with ASEAN and Mercosur states. “I am certain that expanding ties with all countries and organisations both in the East and in the West on the basis of equality and mutual benefit meets the interests of our Union as well. There are great new challenges ahead of us. We are to ensure the stable and efficient functioning of the Eurasian Union and continue strengthening its institutional basis,” Putin said assertively.

Among the priorities is the need to make the Union more competitive and attractive for investors, to launch joint projects and create high-technology jobs in the oil and gas sector, in the metals and chemical industries, aviation, machine-building and the space industry. In addition, to remove the existing barriers that impede the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour, and to implement plans to form as of 2016 a common market of pharmaceutical and medical products.

Putin added: “We will also approve a list of services sectors where the common market will become functional on January 1, 2015. This will benefit construction workers, wholesale and retail traders and companies working in tourism. It is important that we do not drag our feet with the mutual approval of licences for these activities issued by our respective countries. This will make it possible for our companies to take full advantage of the benefits of integration right from the start.”

The Treaty on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union was signed by the presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan on May 29, 2014 in Astana. The agreement is the basic document defining the accords between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan for creating the Eurasian Economic Union for the free movement of goods, services, capital and workforce and conducting coordinated, agreed or common policies in key sectors of the economy, such as energy, industry, agriculture and transport. The agreement stipulates the transition of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to the next stage of integration after the Customs Union and the common economic space.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Africa

Russia wants to bolster economic ties with Lesotho

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Foreign Affairs and International Relations of the Kingdom of Lesotho, Lesego Makgothi, held wide-ranging diplomatic talks mid-February to understand deeply how to continue to build upon relations in numerous areas especially economic cooperation.

Makgothi, who has been Minister since 2017, made his first official trip to Moscow.

According to the official media release, Lavrov and Makgothi exchanged views on important global and regional issues, including Russia’s participation in international efforts to resolve conflicts and crises in Africa and some ways to ensure sustainable socioeconomic development of the continent.

They noted a desire to expand these relations in all areas, beginning with the political dialogue and then cooperation within international organizations, as well as in trade and economic, cultural and humanitarian areas.

During the discussion, both noted geological prospecting, mining and the energy industry as promising areas. The economy is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing and mining. Water and diamonds are its significant natural resources.

Both ministers also focused on cooperation in education exchanges. Russia has expanded the quota by five times for students from Lesotho. This will make it possible to meet the interests of Lesotho and to train specialists in healthcare, meteorology and mining starting next academic year, 2019/20.

There was also the possibility of sending law enforcement officers to study in advanced training courses at the educational institutions under the Russian Interior Ministry.

Lavrov informed that an inter-parliamentary Russian-African conference has been scheduled to take place later this year, and Russia would host a general meeting of the African Export-Import Bank’s shareholders.

Lavrov and Makgothi believed that this would make it possible to considerably raise the level of cooperation and to chart specific ways of further enriching Russia’s relations with Africa. He invited Makgothi to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum scheduled for June.

In general, Lavrov and Makgothi advocated for greater cooperation between Russia and the African countries in all areas, primarily within the context of a proposal put forward by President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, at the BRICS summit in July 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Lesotho’s geographic location, the southernmost landlocked country in the world and is entirely surrounded by South Africa, makes it extremely vulnerable to political and economic developments in South Africa.

Relations between the two countries were established soon after Lesotho gained independence in 1980. Lesotho, with about 2.5 million population, is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

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‘Endemic’ sexual violence surging in South Sudan

MD Staff

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The intensification of road patrols followed shocking incidents of rape and sexual assault, reported in the area in recent weeks. UNMISS/Isaac Billy

A surge in sexual violence in South Sudan’s Unity state targeting victims as young as eight years old, has prompted a call from the UN human rights office, OHCHR, for urgent Government measures to protect victims, and bring perpetrators to justice.

Despite the signing of a peace deal between belligerents last September, UN investigators found that at least 175 women and girls have been raped or suffered other sexual and physical violence between September and December 2018.

The actual level of violence is likely to be considerably higher, OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told journalists in Geneva on Friday.

“Obviously (it is) not the whole picture, but they found 175, women and girls who had been either raped, gang-raped or sexually assaulted or physically harmed in other ways,” he said. “And 49 of those girls who were raped, were children.”

According to a joint report by OHCHR and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), attacks against women have decreased significantly since the peace accord was signed on 12 September.

Nonetheless, it warns that such incidents are “endemic” in northern Unity state, on the border with Sudan, creating a sense among communities that it is normal to be a victim of sexual violence.

Victim’s testimony recalls recurring attacks

Citing the testimony of one victim, Mr. Colville explained that many women are raped while fetching firewood, food or water – often more than once – as they lack any protection.

“She said, ‘If we go by the main road we are raped, if we go by the bush, we are raped. I was raped among others in the same area repeatedly on three separate occasions.”

The surge in conflict-related sexual violence is attributed to many factors including the breakdown in the rule of law, the destruction of livelihoods, forced displacement and food insecurity, after years of civil war.

Large numbers of armed young men, a ‘toxic mix’

But one of the main reasons is the large number of fighters in the area, who have yet to be reintegrated into the national army, according to the peace deal.

Most of the attacks are reported to have been carried out by youth militia groups and elements of the pro-Taban Deng Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition, SPLA-IO (TD), as well as South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF).

In a few cases, attacks were perpetrated by members of the group affiliated with reinstated Vice President and peace deal participant, Riek Machar, Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO (RM), the UN report says.

“Particularly in this area, there are essentially three main groups who…are involved in these rapes, including the National Government force,” said Mr. Colville. “And a lot of these young men who are heavily armed, are just waiting around…This is a very toxic mix, and there are also youth militia which some of these official groups ally with and you don’t know exactly who they are; they’ve been heavily involved as well.”

Rule of law ‘just not applied’

A key challenge is tackling the prevailing impunity throughout Unity state, which is linked to the volatility of the situation across the country, OHCHR maintains.

“There’s been very little accountability in South Sudan for what is chronic, endemic problem of sexual violence against women and girls,” Mr. Colville said. “Virtually complete impunity over the years, as a result, very little disincentive for these men not to do what they’re doing. The rule of law has just not been applied.”

Mobile courts provide glimmer of hope for victims

Among the practical measures taken to a bid to help vulnerable communities in Unity state, UNMISS has cleared roadsides to prevent attackers from hiding from potential victims.

A mobile court system is also operational in towns, including Bentiu, which has had “some success” in bringing perpetrators to trial, OHCHR’s Mr. Colville said, noting nonetheless that “this is just a drop in the ocean”.

“There are thousands and thousands of perpetrators, there are officers involved, there are commanders who’ve got command responsibility who instead of being investigated and brought to book…have been promoted, and are still in charge of groups operating in this area who are still raping women,” he concluded.

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Italy making its way back to Africa

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The countries of the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia) have recently been the focus of attention of Italian diplomacy, with the need to find political partners in Africa to resolve the migrant crisis, the signing of a long-awaited peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2018, China’s rapidly expanding influence in neighboring Djibouti amid the French and US military presence there making the region a strategically important hub.

Rome would like to see an end to Ethiopia’s “landlocked imprisonment” on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea and Djibouti, restore Italy’ presence in the region, based on its colonial past, and ensure Italian companies’ participation in the construction of a strategically important transport infrastructure in the region where they could be entrusted with looking at the possibility of building a railway connecting the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with the Eritrean port of Massawa.

The share of Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans in the migration flows from Africa to the European Union via Chad, Sudan and Libya has been traditionally high. Italy, which currently ranks third after China and the United Arab Emirates in terms of investment in Africa, wants to help reduce migration by investing in the Horn of Africa countries’ economy and transport infrastructure to improve the economic situation in the region and bring locally produced goods to foreign markets.

With 90 percent of Ethiopian exports going to Djibouti, a country with a population not exceeding 900,000, this helps check the number of Ethiopians heading to the EU, since the country depends on Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia both in terms of infrastructure and also from the standpoint of ensuring political stability in these countries.

While still remaining a poor country, Ethiopia keeps growing fast economically, raking in an impressive yearly growth of 10.3 percent between 2007 and 2017, compared to the regional average of just 5.4 percent. According to experts at the Washington-based Center for Global Development, Ethiopia, with its fast-growing population and relatively cheap labor, will soon emerge as an “African China” in terms of production volumes.

Addis Ababa is also active diplomatically, promoting closer ties with Kenya and Sudan. Italy, for its part, is staking on Ethiopia as an economic and political springboard for expanding its foothold in the Horn of Africa and extrapolating this presence into the Arabian Peninsula via the Red Sea and towards the Indian Ocean.

It is apparently with this goal in mind that, while traditionally maintaining a partnership with Ethiopia and having access to the Indian Ocean, Rome seeks a more dynamic relationship also with Kenya. Italian donor NGOs are currently working in Kenya, and Italian exports to this East African country now exceed €182 million. According to Italy’s Foreign Development Assistance Program (la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo Esteri), Somalia enjoys a priority position here with €270 million worth of Italian grants expected to come in the next 20 years.

Chad and Niger, which border on Libya, are a logical continuation of the Sudan – Eritrea – Ethiopia – Djibouti – Somalia – Kenya geopolitical chain being built by Rome. This explains why Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte visited Ndjamena and Niamey in January after stopovers in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Chad and Niger play a key role in balancing the international security system in the Sahel region, where Italian troops serve as part of a multinational force deployed there. Since the collapse of the Libyan state, Niger and Chad have been viewed by Rome as Europe’s southern border. Rome credits the 80 percent drop in migrant flows from these two countries to Libya to its cooperation with Chadian and Nigerian partners.

Meanwhile, the broad outlines of a rivalry between European powers, above all Italy and France, for control over strategically important African regions and their resources are already visible.

France fears that Italy’s diplomatic successes in Africa could eventually give Rome political and/or economic control over a vast region stretching from Algeria to Kenya, which in turn could politically separate French-speaking North Africa from Central Africa.

Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, which have been a traditional zone of French influence, have not been overlooked by Rome either with an Italian embassy expected to open in Burkina Faso shortly.

Rome’s expanding foothold in Kenya and Somalia is geographically taking it to Madagascar on the east coast of Africa, which is a place where France has its own interests too.

The present cool in Franco-Italian relations, stemming from the two countries’ conflicting views on the migrant problem and the ways to solve it, as well as the degree of political and legal sovereignty EU member states not sharing the views of Brussels, Paris and Berlin on matters pertaining to foreign and domestic economic policy, gives us a reason to expect the competition between Italy and France in Africa to heat up.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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