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African Leaders Participate in Victory Day

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Three African leaders from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Egypt were among the invited global personalities who witnessed this year’s Victory Day parade on May 9 celebrating the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany during the World War II in Europe.

The event’s logo showing a white dove on a blue background with the slogan “Victory! 70 years!” splashed over a giant banner on Red Square measuring 3,300 square metres. Around the city, billboards show images of wartime commanders and joyful faces of members of the public on Victory Day. The orange-and-black St George’s ribbon, a symbol of patriotism which Russians wear to commemorate the WWII victory, also a key element of the decorative scheme.

Around 2,300 people were invited to the Red Square for celebrations, including veterans from Russia and abroad. According to media reports, Putin shared the reviewing stand with the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa, all members of the BRICS group.

A press release issued by the Kremlin, the festive events include grand parade on the Red Square, paying tribute to the memory of those who died on the Soviet front of World War II by laying garlands of flowers and wreaths to the Tomb of the unknown soldiers in the Alexander Gardens outside the Kremlin walls.

Also a formal photo session for Putin with top-level foreign visitors in the Alexander Gardens, after which the guests would walk to the Grand Kremlin Palace to take part in a gala reception given in the name of the Russian President, and that to be crowned with a concert on Red Square and gala fireworks.

Yury Ushakov, a Russian presidential aide, told the media here that Russian President Vladimir Putin held a number of bilateral meetings with prominent international leaders, among them President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe.

On May 8, President Jacob Zuma arrived in Moscow at the invitation of his counterpart President Vladimir Putin to attend the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Prior to his departure to Moscow, Zuma said in an official statement that South Africa endorsed a “meaningful” reform of the United Nations to build a more just world order.

“This is an important occasion as it marks a significant period in the history of the world, the defeat of fascism and Nazism. It is 70 years since the end of the war and 70 years since the formation of the United Nations. Today, we recall the promise that had been made to the oppressed African majority during the war by the then South African authorities, that the post-world war order would include self-determination for the oppressed in South Africa. It was not to be. It took a few more decades to achieve our freedom and we are delighted that we triumphed against the evil that was apartheid colonialism in the end,” said President Zuma in an official statement posted to presidential website.

“With the celebration of 70 years since the end of the war and 70 years since the formation of the UN, the spotlight falls on the shape of the world order currently, especially the exclusion of Africa from the permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The time has come therefore, for the world to seriously reflect on this exclusion of Africa yet again, 70 years on, and seriously discuss the question of the meaningful reform of the UN Security Council, as we commemorate the contribution of Africa to the war against fascism,” according to the President.

He added that South Africa would continue working for a better Africa and a better world in memory of all our people who contributed to the war against fascism and those who fought relentlessly in the struggle against apartheid colonialism in our country.

On his trip to Moscow, President Zuma was accompanied by Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans. As expected, Zuma and his delegation’s visit will further cement the strong and warm relations between South Africa and the Russian Federation, which are already expressed through cooperation in political, economic, social, defence and security areas.

Earlier this year, the Russian Federation worked with South Africa to facilitate the historic repatriation of heroes of the struggle for liberation Mr J. B. Marks and Mr Moses Kotane back to South Africa. They were reburied in the North West province.

On arrival, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov met with Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa M. Nkoana-Mashabane. Both Lavrov and Nkoana-Mashabane underlined unreservedly the continuing importance of the Great Victory for the fate of the whole world, and both sides further discussed prospects of cooperation between Russia and South Africa in the spirit of traditional friendship and strategic partnership.

The ministers called for further intensive efforts in Moscow and Pretoria capacity of mutually beneficial relations in trade-economic, mining, energy, cultural and other fields. The meeting expressed a common opinion on the feasibility of the development and promotion of joint economic projects in Russia and South Africa on the African continent. Lavrov informed South African delegation about the upcoming July 8-10 that is slated for Ufa BRICS summit events.

For Egypt, President Fattah Sisi used the chance to discuss bilateral economic ties during his two-day visit to Moscow. In February, Putin visited Egypt to boost bilateral ties with the Arab republic. During the visit, the two countries signed a number of agreements on cooperation in the spheres of trade, nuclear energy, space, tourism and agriculture.

According to the Kremlin website, Putin and Fattah el-Sisi discussed prospects for the development of  relations between the two countries. The Russian President thanked his Egyptian counterpart for taking part in celebrations of the 70th Victory anniversary in Moscow.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, accompanied on the trip by Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, were met at the Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport by Zimbabwe’s Charge D’Affaires, Mr Andrew Mariga, and Russian government officials.

For Mugabe, the 91-year-old leader, has been criticised for his numerous foreign trips this year. Mugabe returned home two weeks ago from Indonesia having, before that, travelled to Singapore twice and also visited Algeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Namibia, Japan and South Africa.

The critics argue that he now uses the cover of being African Union and SADC Chaiperson as strong pretexts for his love for foreign travel. Opposition parties say the cash-strapped administration cannot afford Mugabe’s globe-trotting which, they add, brings back little by way of meaningful returns for the country.

Despised by the West, Mugabe has been looking to China and Russia for investment and much-needed financial assistance to help pull Zimbabwe out of its economic problems. Despite that, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went on an official visit to Harare last September during which the Russian Government announced plans to build a $3 billion platinum mine in the country.

Zimbabwean Government authorities said Putin and Mugabe would use the opportunity to discuss the further strengthening of diplomatic relations as well as business issues, including the Darwendale platinum project — signed in September last year — expected to be rolled next year.

“The two leaders will use the opportunity not only to cement ties but also discuss the Darwendale platinum project. The Russians are worried at the slow pace of progress and they have been saying Mugabe must sign a special lease permit urgently as their investment funds which are in roubles (the Russian currency) will depreciate with the prolonged delays,” said one government official of Mugabe’s visit.

Russia’s VI Holding and state corporations Rostec and Vnesheconombank agreed to invest an initial $1.6 billion in the joint-venture project which has a targeted production capacity of 600,000 ounces per annum, making it the biggest platinum mine in the country. Zimbabwe holds the biggest platinum reserves in the world after South Africa.

Presidential Spokesman, George Charamba, said President Mugabe held a series of meetings with Russian investors. His four-day visit to Russia was winded up with a meeting with Zimbabwean students studying at various Russian universities.

A Senior Researcher on foreign policy at the Institute of African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences told me by phone that the appearance and participation of the three African leaders in Moscow was an exceptional timing for both sides, their respective countries and Russia because “Russia needs more partners especially during this period of sanctions against the country and at this time when global politics is changing.”

Many families marked the day by visiting war memorials and exchanging reminiscences of family members who sacrificed for victory in what Russians still call the Great Patriotic War.

According official information gathered here, the parade features Russian military equipment and members of the Russian military play a major role in the celebrations and the parade showcased 16,000 military servicemen marching, 194 units of military hardware and 143 combat aircraft. According to official data, about 27 million Soviet citizens, including both civilians and servicemen, died in the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany in 1941-1945.

MD Africa Editor 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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Gender Equality at the Expense of Democracy in Africa

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At a first glance, the Transitional Charter released by the Comité national du rassemblement et du développement (CNRD), the junta that led a military coup in Guinea in September, seems like a small win for Guinean women. The charter stipulates that the National Transitional Council must be composed of at least 30% women members. This would constitute notable progress in political representation for Guinean women. Despite a May 2019 law mandating that parties submit electoral lists with equal men and women candidates, women won less than 17% of seats in Guinea’s National Assembly in the March 2020 elections.

However, such gender initiatives cannot be analyzed in a vacuum. While the CNRD’s resolve to include women in Guinea’s transition is laudable, it should not distract from the patently undemocratic direction the junta has taken the country. This will ultimately produce worse outcomes for women that a quota cannot offset. The rights of Guinean women will be better protected and promoted under a strong, well-entrenched, citizen-centered democracy than by any other form of government, even one that is gender inclusive.

The CNRD’s strategy is not new – leaders often promote gender initiatives as a tool to gain goodwill from the international community and to temper criticism of democratic backsliding or authoritarianism. The conflation of gender equality with human rights and democratic norms and values allows authoritarian leaders to point to indications of women’s political representation as evidence of democracy. This placates potential critics while they silence detractors, rig elections, and consolidate power.

The archetype of this practice is Rwanda, where President Paul Kagame’s actions over his 21 years in power have garnered the country praise as a “feminist fantasy.” Yet while Kagame receives praise for moves like appointing a 52 percent female cabinet, his government is cracking down on opposition and dissent, including the arrest of Diane Rwigara, a vocal critic of Kagame’s who was disqualified from running in the 2017 presidential election.

Even Rwanda’s 62 percent female Chamber of Deputies, a much-cited data point on a continent where women hold an average of 25 percent of seats in national parliaments, has raised questions about the meaningful participation of women in politics. Rectifying historically-entrenched inequalities is not as simple as “add women and stir.” In governance systems where ruling parties hold considerable power, they often manipulate gender quotas and reserved seats to further consolidate power by rewarding women party members and sympathizers who will support and push through reforms that allow for further repression.

Further examples dot the continent. Beninese President Patrice Talon has recently led a series of legal initiatives on women’s rights, including legalizing abortion, a first in West Africa. Talon also established the Institut national de la femme (National Institute for Women), put forth a bill on gender-based violence, and was re-elected in 2021 on a ticket with a woman vice president Mariam Chabi Talata, the first to be elected to the newly created position. In addition, reforms under Benin’s 2019 constitution add 24 new seats to the National Assembly that will be reserved for women. This suite of reforms follows a hotly contested presidential election in a period of elevated political tension, during which critics including Reckya Madougou, opposition candidate, and Gariya Saka, leader of the women’s group Les Mamans du Benin (the Mothers of Benin), were arrested and remain in detention. Cameroonian President Paul Biya has also made commitments to increase women’s representation in Parliament, and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni recently appointed women as Vice President and Prime Minister.

Women lead better lives under strong, consolidated democracies because democracies are better able to provide for citizens’ needs and interests than other forms of government. Dictatorships are associated with worse civil, economic, and political rights than democracies. Military coups undermine political institutions, promote political violence, can lead to a militarization of the state and increased chances of civil conflict. Democracies experience greater economic growth due to enhanced quality of governance. Democracies ultimately produce better outcomes for women’s rights, freedoms, and quality of life than do discrete, piecemeal measures like quotas imposed in undemocratic systems of government.

The CNRD’s gender quota is a positive step, but it remains a quota imposed by a military junta who took power after deposing an elected president. Guinea and other African countries’ international partners should not allow the expedient gender initiatives taken by these leaders to cloud their responses to concerning developments that subvert democratic norms and institutions. The Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), France, and other stakeholders must ensure that Guinea swiftly begins its return to democracy in order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of Guinean women.

Furthermore, Guinea’s path forward must involve comprehensive and intersectional gender equality initiatives that go beyond designating a small percentage of positions for women. After all, an increase in the number of women in positions of power does not necessarily translate to improved respect for women’s rights and freedoms. In addition, changing gender roles without also changing gender norms could result in backlash against the women who dare to challenge these restrictive norms.

The steps taken by the CNRD in Guinea and other African leaders show that international norms are changing with regard to women’s rights. Governments, even non-democratic and authoritarian ones, recognize that they can gain legitimacy with the trappings of gender equality. The international community must ensure that this legitimacy is contingent on the full and equal participation of women in all aspects of public and private life.

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China will donate 1 billion covid-19 vaccines to Africa

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Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping  during his keynote speech, via video link, at the opening ceremony of the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) on November 29, 2021 said that China would donate 1 billion vaccines to Africa (600 million directly and 400 million through other sources). Xi made this commitment at a time when global concerns with regard to the spread of the Omicron covid variant which originated in South Africa have risen. Many countries have suspended flights to Southern African nations — Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Angola and/or Zambia – while others have imposed severe travel restrictions. Restrictions have also been imposed by certain countries on travellers from other countries where omicron variant cases have been detected.

The Chinese President also said that China will assist Africa through medical and health projects and also send its medical personnel.

     The WHO which has designated the omicron variant as one of ‘concern’ has also been consistently flagging the low rate of vaccination in Africa. Figures clearly reiterate this point. Last month, the WHO Chief  Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a media briefing pointed out, that out of the over 7 billion vaccines administered globally, 10 countries have received 70%. The WHO Chief said that while globally 40% of the population has received vaccines in Africa only 6% have been administered both doses of the vaccine.

The South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also underscored the point with regard to vaccine inequity. Said the South African President:

      ‘Instead of prohibiting travel, the rich countries of the world need to support the efforts of developing economies to access and to manufacture enough vaccine doses for their people without delay’

    WHO had also been critical of developed countries for going ahead with booster doses, while the more vulnerable in poorer countries had not even received the initial doses. The WHO Chief flagged this point last month in his media briefing pointing out that :

       ‘Every day, six times more boosters are administered globally than primary doses in low-income countries. It makes no sense to give boosters to healthy adults, or to vaccinate children, when health workers, older people, and other high-risk groups around the world are still awaiting their first dose’

China- US rivalry and Africa

China had earlier sold 136 million vaccines to Africa and committed to donating 19 million vaccines (of these 107 million have been delivered and nearly 12 million are being delivered by the Covax initiative). US President, Joe Biden had also announced that the US would donate 17 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson (J &J) vaccine to the African Union in October 2021, and the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit to the region discussed the need for ramping up local vaccination production sites in Africa.

 In recent years, China’s economic linkages with Africa have consistently grown. The China Daily while highlighting this point in an editorial stated:

      ‘China has been Africa’s largest trade partner for 12 years in a row, and China-Africa trade hit a historical high of $185.2 billion in the first nine months of this year, up 38.2 percent year-on-year, while its investment in Africa was $2.59 billion, up 9.9 percent, surpassing that in 2019 before the pandemic’

 China is also the largest bilateral lender to the African continent as a whole. There are a number of countries, such as Kenya, Djibouti and Nigeria which whose debts vis-à-vis China have become unsustainable. As a consequence, a number of  African countries have been renegotiating their debts with China (many countries such as Ethiopia and Ghana have been calling for debt cancellations). During his address on November 29, Xi said that China was ready to waive debts, and would also work towards greater job creation in the African continent.

 While African countries have begun to realize the pitfalls of being excessively dependent upon China, they do not have any alternative as such.

Apart from flagging the threats of China’s model of engagement with developing countries, the US and other countries have not been able to provide any tangible alternatives (US has sought to further increase its outreach vis-à-vis Africa in recent years, and it seeks to increase economic engagement under the umbrella of the Indo-Pacific) . The decision to impose travel bans on African countries by many developed nations has also not gone down well with Africa.

Important for the global community to work together

While a number of countries, not just the US and China, have been paying greater importance to Africa in recent years as a result of its strategic and economic importance, it is imperative for the global community to work collectively for addressing the issue of vaccine inequity and ensuring that a substantial percentage of Africa’s percentage is vaccinated. It is important that developed countries realize that there is a need to focus on long term measures and understand that short term steps and knee jerk reactions such as travel bans on countries will not suffice.

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Q&A: Arguments for Advancing Russia-African Relations

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As preparations are underway for the second Russia-Africa summit planned for 2022, African leaders, politicians, academic researchers and experts have been discussing several aspects of the current state of Russia-Africa relations. They, most often, compare it with a number of foreign countries notably China, the United States, European Union, India, France, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea that have held such gatherings in that format with Africa.

Some have convincingly argued that Russia has moved away from its low-key strategy to vigorous relations, as shown by the first symbolic Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea city of Sochi in October 2019. Russia and Africa adopted a joint declaration, a comprehensive document that outlines the key objectives and necessary tasks that seek to raise assertively the entirety of relations to a new level.

Long before the summit, at least, during the past decade, several bilateral agreements between Russia and individual African countries were signed. Besides, memoranda of understanding, declaration of interests, pledges and promises dominated official speeches. On the other side, Russia is simply invisible in economic sectors in Africa, despite boasting of decades-old solid relations with the continent.

Undoubtedly, Africa is opening up new fields of opportunity. The creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) provides a unique and valuable opportunity for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people with a GDP of over US$2.5 trillion. It aspires to connect all the regions of Africa, to deepen economic integration and to boost intra-African trade and investment.

Despite existing risks, challenges and threats, a number of external countries continue strengthening their economic footholds in Africa and contribute enormously towards the continent’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Russia has to upgrade or scale up its collaborative engagement with Africa. It has to consider seriously launching more public outreach programmes, especially working with civil society to change public perceptions and the private sector to strengthen its partnership with Africa. In order to achieve this, it has to surmount the challenges, take up the courage and work consistently with both private and public sectors and with an effective Action Plan.

In this exclusive interview with Steven Gruzd, Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), discusses a few questions, highlights existing challenges and passionately offers some progressive suggestions regarding Russia-African relations.

Steven Gruzd also heads the Russia-Africa Research Programme initiated this year at SAIIA, South Africa’s premier research institute on international issues. It is an independent, non-government think tank, with a long and proud history of providing thought leadership in Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

What are your appreciations and fears for Russia returning to Africa?

Africa is becoming crowded, with many old and new actors actively involved on the continent. Apart from EU countries, China and the US, we have players such as Iran, Turkey, Israel, the UAE, Japan and others. So Russia’s renewed interest in Africa does not happen in isolation. It, of course, seeks to build on Soviet-era ties, and several African leaders today studied in the USSR or the Soviet sphere of influence. Russia has tended to focus on niche areas such as weapons sales, nuclear energy and resource extraction, at a much smaller scale than China. Many leaders are welcoming the attention of Russia, but some remain wary of Russia’s hidden motives and intentions. Russia’s dealings are not transparent and open compared to China. The shadowy world of private military companies such as Russia’s Wagner Group is causing concern in unstable countries like the CAR, Libya and Mali. So, in fact, there is a kind of mixed picture, sentiments and interpretations are also varied here.

How would you argue that Russia engages fairly in “competition for cooperation” in Africa?

Africa is a busy geopolitical arena, with many players operating. Russia has to compete against them, and distinctively remain focused its efforts. Russia welcomes diplomatic support from African countries, and unlike the West, it does not demand good governance or advocate for human rights reforms. Russia likes to portray itself as not interfering in local politics or judging African countries, even though there is mounting evidence that it has been involved in meddling in elections in Africa through disinformation, fake news and attempting to exploit fault lines in societies through social media.

Do you think, to some extent, Russia is fighting neo-colonial tendencies, as shown in Guinea, Mali, CAR and Sudan? Does it imply that Russia supports military leaders in Africa?

Russia uses the rhetoric of anti-colonialism in its engagement with Africa, and that it is fighting neo-colonialism from the West, especially in relations with their former colonies. It sees France as a threat to its interests especially in Francophone West Africa, the Maghreb and the Sahel. Russia has invested resources in developing French-language news media, and engages in anti-French media activity, including through social media. I think Russia has its own economic and political interests in countries like Guinea, Mali, CAR and Sudan, even if it uses the language of fighting neo-colonialism. It explicitly appears that Russia supports several undemocratic African leaders and their regimes.

Some experts have argued that Russia’s diplomacy is full of bilateral agreements, largely not implemented, and gamut of pledges and promises. What are your views about these?

I would largely agree that there is a divide between what has been pledged and promised at high-level meetings and summits, compared to what has actually materialised on the ground. There is more talk than action, and in most cases down the years mere intentions and ideas have been officially presented as initiatives already in progress. It will be interesting to see what has been concretely achieved in reports at the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled for late 2022.

From the above discussions so far, what do you think are Russia’s challenges and setbacks in Africa?

Africa is a crowded playing field. Russia does not have the same resources and approaches as China, France, UK or US, so it has limited impact. The language barrier could be used as an excuse, but Russia has the great possibility to leverage into the Soviet- and Russian-trained diaspora. On the other hand, Russia feels it is unfairly portrayed in Western media, so that is another perception it seeks to change. It can change the perception by supporting public outreach programmes. Working closely with the academic community, such as the South African Institute of International Affairs and similar ones throughout Africa, is one potential instrument to raise its public image. In places like Mozambique and the CAR, the Wagner Group left after incurring human losses – does Russia have staying power?

As it prepares to hold the second Russia-Africa summit in 2022, what could be the expectations for Africa? What to do ultimately with the first Joint Declaration from Sochi?

As already mentioned, there needs to be a lot of tangible progress on the ground for the second summit to show impact. It is worth to reiterate here that African countries will expect more debt relief and solid investment from Russian businesses. In terms of political support at places like the UN Security Council, there is close interaction between Russia and African States, but as recent research by SAIIA shows, not as much as assumed. The relationship has to however deliver, and move from words to deeds. In conclusion, I would suggest that Russia has to take up both the challenges and unique opportunities, and attempt to scale up its influence by working consistently on practical multifaceted sustainable development issues and by maintaining appreciable relations with Africa. And African countries likewise have to devise viable strategies for engaging with Russia.

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