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Financial Institutions to Support Russia-African Business Projects

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An Interview with Dmitry Golovanov

Russian financial institutions have shown high interest in helping to raise the economic and business profiles both ways, Russian business in Africa and African business in Russia. For example, Eximbank of Russia has expressed readiness to take advantage of huge opportunities and existing growth potential in both regions. Eximbank of Russia is always open for a dialogue and discussion of projects of various degree of complexity.

In this exclusive interview, Dmitry Golovanov, Chairman of the Management Board of Eximbank of Russia, believes “there is everything necessary for that – significant experience of implementation of complicated infrastructural projects accumulated from Soviet days.”

He further advocates for an increased economic partnership between Russia and African countries, reaffirms the desire to continue developing business dialogue with interested companies in efforts to pursue active involvement in international programmes and projects for Africa. In addition, he raises some specific proposals necessary for facilitating business between Russia and Africa.

How do you assess the level of activity of economic cooperation between Russia and Africa today?

Golovanov: For the purposes of visibility, I would like to proceed to figures right ahead. Goods turnover between Russia and countries of Africa to the south of Sahara is today only about US$1.5 bn. Export – less than US$1 bn., among almost 50 countries real counteragents in export operations are less than 10. We can see that the structure of Russian export has deformed significantly towards export of raw materials. One more impressive statistics is that about 80% of Russian investments into Africa relate to exploration and mining of natural resources.

Skeptics will probably call such situation as “pessimistic”. We, Eximbank of Russia, see in the current situation high opportunities – a growth potential, on account of development of export of products other than raw materials. There is everything necessary for that – significant experience of implementation of complicated infrastructural projects and development of the territories accumulated from the times of the USSR, experience of Eximbank of Russia (financing of the project for construction of the satellite communications system), comprehensive approach to achievement of the objective: a line of credit and insurance products developed together with the Export Insurance Agency of Russia (EXIAR) especially for exporters, efficiency of taking decisions on issue of loans, market expertise and individual approach to every client.

Do you think that Russian authorities should support the business in cooperation between Russia and Africa? Can such support become a driver of growth of business activity between Russia and Africa? What is the role of the banking sector in this process?

Golovanov: Russian authorities provide considerable support to the business – moreover, at present support of its export initiative is a priority for the Russian Government. We, as a state bank oriented towards support of exporters, provide one of the efficient instruments capable to give a new impulse to economic cooperation between Russia and Africa.

In addition to specific proposals from exporting companies, in aggregate with deep understanding of needs of the African market, our portfolio contains a line of various financial products – this may be loans to Russian exporters, loans to foreign purchasers, leasing offers, financing involving foreign banks, all this is supplemented with a line of insurance products of EXIAR – so, the state provides significant support to export.

As regards to the banking sector, today there is no designated product line for the Russian exporters. Banks experiencing a difficult economic situation prefer only short-term profits and cannot afford development of business models which will become efficient in the long term. The state oriented towards timely support of export understands that it is necessary to invest into and develop this direction which will further become a driver of economic growth.

It is very important that cooperation between Russia and Africa can and should be developed on account of expansion of the export potential of companies which are now operating in the domestic market only. Eximbank of Russia has taken negotiations with companies willing to expand their business on account of achievement of foreign markets which need our financial support for this purpose.

Now we are taking negotiations for implementation of projects in such directions as supplies of geological equipment, equipment for washing plants, metal structures for construction of mining modules at the carrier Katoka (the 4th diamond deposit in the world by size). There are some perspective projects for supply of mineral fertilizers to Senegal, Togo and Benin, supply of medical goods, we discuss the possibility of financing of construction of social residential facilities in the region etc.

Experts believe that the share of Russian export to African countries is very low, first of all, due to insufficiently developed infrastructure in the industrial sector and problems with the production base. Do you agree to such an opinion? How the situation may be improved in the long term?

Golovanov: Obviously, Russia has faced some problems associated with poor development of the industrial base, however such problems are much less critical compared to the situation in the beginning of the 2000’s. Tasks set to our country may be resolved by means of implementation of joint projects.

In addition to the standard set of instruments for support and stimulation of export being implemented by national development institutes, the experience of our cooperation also includes such a solution as cooperation of Russian and African companies aimed at implementation of projects for export to third countries.

Cooperation will provide additional opportunities for investments; ensure additional load of production capacities; improve competitiveness of products on account of cooperation with other companies; become a catalyzer of expansion of sales markets by means of implementation of the strategy of “joint reach” of new markets. Competitiveness of joint projects will be ensured by advantages of our economies and instruments for support of private initiative.

We should not forget about accessibility of financial instruments regardless the level of development of the industrial sector and perspectives of a company interested in international trade, if the instrument necessary for that, for example, a loan is accessible at the rate of 17-20%, implementation of business plans will be postponed till stabilization in economy. Although we speak about the reserve dynamics – first we should support export, and in the long term, this will facilitate stabilization of economy.

How do you assess the potential of African producers interested in the Russian market? What may attract them to Russia?

Golovanov: Russia is a large developing market with growing purchasing capacity, interested in development of competition and improvement of quality of products supplied from abroad. We can surely say that companies which are ready to try the Russian market have a chance to gain much profit. It is to be noted that the Russian market has its own peculiarity, so companies entering the market should clearly understand economy, political components and legal issues.

We often face a problem that companies willing to enter international markets cannot simply find foreign purchasers for their products. I suppose that the same problem is experienced by African businessmen. Provision of consulting services, thanks to development of special state institutions, – they would facilitate their activity in Russia. If such support would be useful on our part, we are willing to provide it to our African partners.

You pronounced at the annual meeting of the AfroCom at Vnesheconombank some of specific solutions and proposals to improve the business climate between Russia and Africa – what steps do you suggest?

Golovanov: It is necessary to arrange large-scale Russian-African forums/summits. This format proposed by partners from China, USA and European Union, has proved itself – personal communications and contacts at all levels favor dynamics of cooperation development. A significant effect can be caused by formation of general registers of businessmen interested in cooperation. This will allow to facilitate the task of importers/exporters search for counteragents for placement of orders or sale of products.

Besides, joint implementation of projects in the area of infrastructural development will positively influence development of contracts between Russian and African companies. However, transparency and possibilities for medium and small business to access contracts within the framework of implementation of major projects are required. Such projects generally have significant multiplicative effect in terms of comprehensive development of territories.

One more direction of stimulation of cooperation may be provision of Russian and African companies with assistance in creation of value added chains, including creation of joint ventures which base their competitive potential on the use of country advantages. Eximbank of Russia works in this direction to the extent of creation of financial infrastructure to procure such projects. The Bank plans to develop cooperation with institutions for development of countries of the region. We are always open for a dialogue and discussion of projects of various degree of complexity.

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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Is Myanmar an ethical minefield for multinational corporations?

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Business at a crossroads

Political reforms in Myanmar started in November 2010 followed by the release of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and ended by the coup d’état in February 2021. Business empire run by the military generals thanks to the fruitful benefits of democratic transition during the last decade will come to an end with the return of trade and diplomatic sanctions from the western countries – United States (US) and members of European Union (EU).  US and EU align with other major international partners quickly responded and imposed sanctions over the military’s takeover and subsequent repression in Myanmar. These measures targeted not only the conglomerates of the military generals  but also the individuals who have been appointed in the authority positions and supporting the military regime.

However, the generals and their cronies own the majority of economic power both in strategic sectors ranging from telecommunication to oil & gas and in non-strategic commodity sectors such as food and beverages, construction materials, and the list goes on. It is a tall order for the investors to do business by avoiding this lucrative network of the military across the country. After the coup, it raises the most puzzling issue to investors and corporate giants in this natural resource-rich country, “Should I stay or Should I go?”

Crimes against humanity

For most of the people in the country, war crimes and atrocities committed by the military are nothing new. For instances, in 1988, student activists led a political movement and tried to bring an end to the military regime of the general Ne Win. This movement sparked a fire and grew into a nationwide uprising in a very short period but the military used lethal force and slaughtered thousands of civilian protestors including medical doctors, religious figures, student leaders, etc. A few months later, the public had no better options than being silenced under barbaric torture and lawless killings of the regime.

In 2007, there was another major protest called ‘Saffron Uprising’ against the military regime led by the Buddhist monks. It was actually the biggest pro-democracy movement since 1988 and the atmosphere of the demonstration was rather peaceful and non-violent before the military opened live ammunitions towards the crowd full of monks. Everything was in chaos for a couple of months but it ended as usual.

In 2017, the entire world witnessed one of the most tragic events in Myanmar – Again!. The reports published by the UN stated that hundreds of civilians were killed, dozens of villages were burnt down, and over 700,000 people including the majority of Rohingya were displaced to neighboring countries because of the atrocities committed by the military in the western border of the country. After four years passed, the repatriation process and the safety return of these refugees to their places of origin are yet unknown. Most importantly, there is no legal punishment for those who committed and there is no transitional justice for those who suffered in the aforementioned examples of brutalities.

The vicious circle repeated in 2021. With the economy in free fall and the deadliest virus at doorsteps, the people are still unbowed by the oppression of the junta and continue demanding the restoration of democracy and justice. To date, Assistant Association for Political Prisoner (AAPP) reported that due to practicing the rights to expression, 1178 civilians were killed and 7355 were arrested, charged or sentenced by the military junta. Unfortunately, the numbers are still increasing.

Call for economic disengagement

In 2019, the economic interests of the military were disclosed by the report of UN Fact-Finding Mission in which Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (MEHL) were described as the prominent entities controlled by the military profitable through the almost-monopoly market in real estate, insurance, health care, manufacturing, extractive industry and telecommunication. It also mentioned the list of foreign businesses in partnership with the military-linked activities which includes Adani (India), Kirin Holdings (Japan), Posco Steel (South Korea), Infosys (India) and Universal Apparel (Hong Kong).

Moreover, Justice for Myanmar, a non-profit watchdog organization, revealed the specific facts and figures on how the billions of revenues has been pouring into the pockets of the high-ranked officers in the military in 2021. Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE), an another military-controlled authority body, is the key player handling the financial transactions, profit sharing, and contractual agreements with the international counterparts including Total (France), Chevron (US), PTTEP (Thailand), Petronas (Malaysia), and Posco (South Korea) in natural gas projects. It is also estimated that the military will enjoy 1.5 billion USD from these energy giants in 2022.

Additionally, data shows that the corporate businesses currently operating in Myanmar has been enriching the conglomerates of the generals and their cronies as a proof to the ongoing debate among the public and scholars, “Do sanctions actually work?” Some critics stressed that sanctions alone might be difficult to pressure the junta without any collaborative actions from Moscow and Beijing, the longstanding allies of the military. Recent bilateral visits and arm deals between Nay Pyi Taw and Moscow dimmed the hope of the people in Myanmar. It is now crystal clear that the Burmese military never had an intention to use the money from multinational corporations for benefits of its citizens, but instead for buying weapons, building up military academies, and sending scholars to Russia to learn about military technology. In March 2021, the International Fact Finding Mission to Myanmar reiterated its recommendation for the complete economic disengagement as a response to the coup, “No business enterprise active in Myanmar or trading with or investing in businesses in Myanmar should enter into an economic or financial relationship with the security forces of Myanmar, in particular the Tatmadaw [the military], or any enterprise owned or controlled by them or their individual members…”

Blood money and ethical dilemma

In the previous military regime until 2009, the US, UK and other democratic champion countries imposed strict economic and diplomatic sanctions on Myanmar while maintaining ‘carrot and stick’ approach against the geopolitical dominance of China. Even so, energy giants such as Total (France) and Chevron (US), and other ‘low-profile’ companies from ASEAN succeeded in running their operations in Myanmar, let alone the nakedly abuses of its natural resources by China. Doing business in this country at the time of injustice is an ethical question to corporate businesses but most of them seems to prefer maximizing the wealth of their shareholders to the freedom of its bottom millions in poverty.

But there are also companies not hesitating to do something right by showing their willingness not to be a part of human right violations of the regime. For example, Australian mining company, Woodside, decided not to proceed further operations, and ‘get off the fence’ on Myanmar by mentioning that the possibility of complete economical disengagement has been under review. A breaking news in July, 2021  that surprised everyone was the exit of Telenor Myanmar – one of four current telecom operators in the country. The CEO of the Norwegian company announced that the business had been sold to M1 Group, a Lebanese investment firm, due to the declining sales and ongoing political situations compromising its basic principles of human rights and workplace safety.

In fact, cutting off the economic ties with the junta and introducing a unified, complete economic disengagement become a matter of necessity to end the consistent suffering of the people of Myanmar. Otherwise, no one can blame the people for presuming that international community is just taking a moral high ground without any genuine desire to support the fight for freedom and pro-democracy movement.

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Economy

The Covid After-Effects and the Looming Skills Shortage

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coronavirus people

The shock of the pandemic is changing the ways in which we think about the world and in which we analyze the future trajectories of development. The persistence of the Covid pandemic will likely accentuate this transformation and the prominence of the “green agenda” this year is just one of the facets of these changes. Market research as well as the numerous think-tanks will be accordingly re-calibrating the time horizons and the main themes of analysis. Greater attention to longer risks and fragilities is likely to take on greater prominence, with particular scrutiny being accorded to high-impact risk factors that have a non-negligible probability of materializing in the medium- to long-term. Apart from the risks of global warming other key risk factors involve the rising labour shortages, most notably in areas pertaining to human capital development.

The impact of the Covid pandemic on the labour market will have long-term implications, with “hysteresis effects” observed in both highly skilled and low-income tiers of the labour market. One of the most significant factors affecting the global labour market was the reduction in migration flows, which resulted in the exacerbation of labour shortages across the major migrant recipient countries, such as Russia. There was also a notable blow delivered by the pandemic to the spheres of human capital development such as education and healthcare, which in turn exacerbated the imbalances and shortages in these areas. In particular, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) shortages can mount up to 9.9 million physicians, nurses and midwives globally by 2030.

In Europe, although the number of physicians and nurses has increased in general in the region by approximately 10% over the past 10 years, this increase appears to be insufficient to cover the needs of ageing populations. At the same time the WHO points to sizeable inequalities in the availability of physicians and nurses between countries, whereby there are 5 times more doctors in some countries than in others. The situation with regard to nurses is even more acute, as data show that some countries have 9 times fewer nurses than others.

In the US substantial labour shortages in the healthcare sector are also expected, with anti-crisis measures falling short of substantially reversing the ailments in the national healthcare system. In particular, data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), suggests that the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.

The blows sustained by global education from the pandemic were no less formidable. These affected first and foremost the youngest generation of the globe – according to UNESCO, “more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic”. On top of the adverse effects on the younger generation (see Box 1), there is also the widening “teachers gap”, namely a worldwide shortage of well-trained teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “69 million teachers must be recruited to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030”.

From our partner RIAC

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Economy

Accelerating COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake to Boost Malawi’s Economic Recovery

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Lunzu market in southern Malawi. WFP/Greg Barrow

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries including Malawi have struggled to mitigate its impact amid limited fiscal support and fragile health systems. The pandemic has plunged the continent into its first recession in over 25 years, and vulnerable groups such as the poor, informal sector workers, women, and youth, suffer disproportionately from reduced opportunities and unequal access to social safety nets.

Fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccine acquisition—alongside widespread testing, improved treatment, and strong health systems—are critical to protecting lives and stimulating economic recovery. In support of the African Union’s (AU) target to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population by 2022, the World Bank and the AU announced a partnership to assist the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative with resources, allowing countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million Africans. This extraordinary effort complements COVAX and comes at a time of rising cases in the region.

I am convinced that unless every country in the world has fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, we will not stem the spread of the pandemic and set the global economy on track for a steady and inclusive recovery. The World Bank has taken unprecedented steps to ramp up financing for Malawi, and every country in Africa, to empower them with the resources to implement successful vaccination campaigns and compensate for income losses, food price increases, and service delivery disruptions.

In line with Malawi’s COVID-19 National Response and Preparedness Plan which aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the population, the World Bank approved $30 million in additional financing for the acquisition and deployment of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. This financing comes as a boost to Malawi’s COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness project, bringing World Bank contributions in this sector up to $37 million.

Malawi’s decision to purchase 1.8 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines through the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) with World Bank financing is a welcome development and will enable Malawi to secure additional vaccines to meet its vaccination target.

However, Malawi’s vaccination campaign has encountered challenges driven by concerns regarding safety, efficacy, religious and cultural beliefs. These concerns, combined with abundant misinformation, are fueling widespread vaccine hesitancy despite the pandemic’s impact on the health and welfare of billions of people.  The low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is of great concern, and it remains an uphill battle to reach the target of 60 percent by the end of 2023 from the current 2.2 percent.

Government leadership remains fundamental as the country continues to address vaccine hesitancy by consistently communicating the benefits of the vaccine, releasing COVID data, and engaging communities to help them understand how this impacts them.

As we deploy targeted resources to address COVID-19, we are also working to ensure that these investments support a robust, sustainable and resilient recovery. Our support emphasizes transparency, social protection, poverty alleviation, and policy-based financing to make sure that COVID assistance gets to the people who have been hit the hardest.

For example, the Financial Inclusion and Entrepreneurship Scaling Project (FInES) in Malawi is supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises by providing them with $47 million in affordable credit through commercial banks and microfinance institutions. Eight months into implementation, approximately $8.4 million (MK6.9 billion) has been made available through three commercial banks on better terms and interest rates. Additionally, nearly 200,000 urban households have received cash transfers and urban poor now have more affordable access to water to promote COVID-19 prevention.

Furthermore, domestic mobilization of resources for the COVID-19 response are vital to ensuring the security of supply of health sector commodities needed to administer vaccinations and sustain ongoing measures. Likewise, regional approaches fostering cross-border collaboration are just as imperative as in-country efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. United Nations (UN) partners in Malawi have been instrumental in convening regional stakeholders and supporting vaccine deployment.

Taking broad, fast action to help countries like Malawi during this unprecedented crisis will save lives and prevent more people falling into poverty. We thank Malawi for their decisive action and will continue to support the country and its people to build a resilient and inclusive recovery.

This op-ed first appeared in The Nation, via World Bank

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