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Could a Ukraine-style crisis happen in Kazakhstan?

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

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Welcome to the Caspian Daily, where you will find the 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region. We appreciate ideas, reports, news and interesting articles. Send along to Caspian[at]moderndiplomacy.eu or on Twitter: @DGiannakopoulos

1In a region described as the “pivot of history’, where great power rivalry has often been a cause of conflict and tension, governments are sensitive to anything that might upset the existing balance of relations. This is already having an effect in fostering new alignments and complicating plans for Eurasian integration under Russian leadership. David Clark for New Statesman.

2Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has pledged to move forward in constructing a railroad line from Turkmenistan to China. Berdymukhammedov, on his first official visit to Kyrgyzstan on August 5, said after talks with Kyrgyz counterpart Almazbek Atambaev that the two discussed energy and security issues that hold “great importance for the whole world.””The construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan will be implemented in the very near future,” Berdymukhammedov said, without elaborating. Atambaev said Berdymukhammedov’s two-day visit to Bishkek was “the new phase of the development of ties between the two nations.”

3Russia and France cancel $1.3 billion warship deal. The two countries have terminated a contract worth 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) for France to supply two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to Russia. The deal was signed in 2011 but France faced pressure to withdraw from the arrangement after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. The French government suspended delivery of the ships last year. Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande said in a joint statement that the parties had reached a “mutually acceptable agreement.” Russia will be reimbursed for money already paid under the contract, and France will retain ownership of the helicopter carriers. Russian media reported that more than one billion euros had already been deposited in a Russian bank account by France.

4Kazakhstan: United Nations Security Council 2017-2018. Kazakhstan is scooping up high-profile chairmanships in regional organizations for two primary reasons: to advance Kazakhstan’s image as a peacemaker and mediator; and to fulfill President Nazarbayev’s vision for Kazakhstan of being the “Eurasian Bridge,” linking Asia to Europe. With a track record of high participation in international organizations, Kazakhstan can benefit from and build lasting trade and political and economic relationships. Obtaining the UNSC seat reinforces Nazarbayev’s multi-vector foreign policy and adds diversity to the Asia bloc of countries of the 15 member UNSC. Samantha Brletich for Modern Diplomacy.

5Tourism sector observes growth in Azerbaijan. The tourism sector of Azerbaijan has marked a minimum of 20 percent growth, said Tural Aleskerov, an independent expert in the field of tourism. The first European Games held in June in Baku is the reason for this increase, he believes. To attract more tourists into the country, Azerbaijan facilitated visa procedures for foreign citizens wishing to watch the Games.Over 2 million tourists came to Azerbaijan last year, which amounted to about one billion manats (over $950,000 million) in revenue from tourism. In the near future, the country is expected to increase its tourist flow up to 5 million a year. Nigar Orujova for Azernews.

6What opportunities will Azerbaijan get as result of lifting of sanctions against Iran? Azerbaijan has several advantages over the West. First of all, the geographical location plays a major role here. The proximity to Iran simplifies trade relations. Currently, the trade turnover between the countries is not high. As of 2014, it amounted to only $186.6 million (0.6 percent of the total trade turnover of Azerbaijan). However, after the lifting of sanctions, one can be confident in the growth of trade between the countries.Second, Europe and Iran have a certain lack of confidence. Being a neighbor of Iran, Azerbaijan has much in common with this country. Therefore, one can assume that Azerbaijan will have an advantage over the European companies.Of course, most likely, the oil and gas sector will remain the basis of economic cooperation between the two countries. But, nevertheless, there are other areas where Azerbaijan and Iran could cooperate, for example, Iran’s mining sector. Azad Hasanli for Trend.

7The Irony of Revolution: JCPOA as Youth Coercion Tool in Iran. When one considers that Iran has expended a great deal of resources over previous decades on building up its nuclear program, there has to be a serious reason for it to give up its nuclear aspirations now. Iran has spent billions of dollars on building infrastructure: nuclear reactors, centrifuges, and facilities; attaining nuclear materials; and thousands of man-hours expended on uranium enrichment. So why after all that material, time, and man-power investment does Iran reverse course and agree to curb its nuclear aspirations? Dr. Matthew Crosston for Modern Diplomacy.

8Pakistan and Turkmenistan are set to engage in talks in a bid to take a giant leap forward in executing the US-backed transnational pipeline project that will connect four countries in Central and South Asia. Gas companies of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India have already established a company that will build, own and operate the natural gas pipeline, which will be 1,800km long, starting from Turkmenistan and reaching India after passing through Afghanistan and Pakistan. The four state-run gas companies will have an equal share in the pipeline operator. According to officials, the shareholding agreement was reached before selecting the consortium leader.

9The International Monetary Fund has improved its forecast for GDP growth in Kazakhstan in 2016. The organization reported that Kazakhstan’s GDP growth will be 3.25 percent in 2016 while the country’s economy will increase by 2 percent.”Real GDP growth is projected to decelerate to 2 percent in 2015. Weaker demand from Russia and China, lower oil prices, confidence effects, and continuing delays in the Kashagan oil field are the main factors behind the projected slowdown. Next year, growth is projected to pick up to 3.25 percent, driven by gradual recovery in oil prices and external demand,” the IMF said on August 5.

10Resolving territorial disputes in the Far East – Kuril Islands. A dispute over Kuril Islands is the reason why Russia and Japan still after more than 70 years have not signed a peace treaty to end the World War II. Could compromise about so long stagnating conflict which was so far discussed by Gorbachev, Yeltsin and also by Putin, be found this year during Russian planned visit in Japan? Teja Palko for Modern Diplomacy.

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine. follow @DGiannakopoulos

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Achieving Broadband Access for All in Africa Comes With a $100 Billion Price Tag

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Across Africa, where less than a third of the population has access to broadband connectivity, achieving universal, affordable, and good quality internet access by 2030 will require an investment of US $100 billion. This is according to a report launched at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group, which calls for urgent action to close the internet access gap while providing a roadmap to reach this ambitious goal.

The report from The Broadband for All Working Group  gives practical insights and suggestions of what is needed to attain this objective, including an action plan for universal broadband connectivity in Africa. To achieve universal broadband access, African countries will need to bring about 1.1 billion more people online. This will require exceptional and coordinated efforts from governments, the private sector, development partners, and civil society, the report says, but the investment is worth it.

The digital agenda is first and foremost a growth and jobs agenda,” says Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s Vice President for Infrastructure. “The working-age population in Africa is expected to increase by some 450 million people between 2015 and 2035. If current trends continue, less than one quarter will find stable jobs. Broadening internet access means creating millions of job opportunities.”

While the number of broadband connections in Africa crossed the 400 million mark in 2018 (nearly twenty times 2010 levels), the regional average broadband penetration —including 3G and 4G connections— is only 25% in 2018. Mobile broadband coverage in Africa is still at 70% of the population. Even in North Africa, there is ample room for growth with 4G networks covering only about 60% of the population. Additional challenges, such as the lack of access to reliable and affordable electricity, make accelerating Africa’s digital transformation journey even more difficult.

According to the report, nearly 80% of all required investments are directly related to the need to roll out and maintain broadband networks. However, connecting the unconnected is about more than just infrastructure: about 20% of required investments consists in building the user skills and local content foundations, and another 2-4% should be allocated to setting up the appropriate regulatory framework, the report notes. While the private sector has driven most successful broadband initiatives, public agencies play a crucial role by implementing effective sector regulation, addressing potential market failures, and creating the conditions for an open, competitive broadband sector. 

“In large parts of Africa, we are witnessing a lack of progress in extending access and network coverage. Affordability is also declining in many nations. Promoting greater digital inclusion is going to require more effective and innovative collaboration,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Executive Director of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development and Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “We need to leverage our strengths and expertise. Governments can help with policies enabling new technologies, new business models and investment. The right policies will, in turn, provide the private sector with the incentives to build out infrastructure and explore new technologies and applications that will drive demand.”

Connecting the 100 million people in rural and remote areas that live out of reach of traditional cellular mobile networks will require strong private sector involvement, innovative business models, and alternative technologies, such as satellite and Wi-Fi based technical solutions, the report notes.

Let us be clear: no single actor will be able to meet Africa’s 2030 target and carry the burden of a $100 billion investment funding requirement alone. All stakeholders must work together to make sure that every African has affordable and reliable access to the internet”, says Hafez Ghanem, the World Bank’s Vice President for the Africa Region. This includes: the African Union and regional economic communities; African governments and respective public investment agencies; sector regulators; multilateral development banks and regional development banks; the United Nations and other development agencies; the private sector; and civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations.

* The Working Group on Broadband for All: A Digital Moonshot Infrastructure for Africa, led by the World Bank, was established in 2018 under the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development with the primary objective of identifying investment requirements and policy roadmaps to increase connectivity and to reach full coverage in Africa. This report draws upon the expertise of Broadband Commissioners and experts from around the world.

About the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development: ITU and UNESCO set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010 with the aim of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda and expanding broadband access in every country as key to accelerating progress towards national and international development targets. Following adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, the Commission was re-launched as the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development to showcase and document the power of ICT and broadband-based technologies for sustainable development. Its members include top CEO and industry leaders, senior policy-makers and government representatives, international agencies, academia and organizations concerned with development.

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Landmark labour reforms signal end of kafala system in Qatar

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Qatar has announced sweeping reforms to its labour market, with a view to ending the kafala system and marking a momentous step forward in upholding the rights of migrant workers.

On 16 October 2019, the Council of Ministers of the State of Qatar  unanimously endorsed new legislation allowing workers to change employers freely. Workers in Qatar had previously required a no-objection certificate (NOC) from their employer in order to do so. A Ministerial Decree by the Minister of Interior was also signed, removing exit permit requirements for all workers, except military personnel. Together, these steps mark the end of kafala in the country.

In addition, the Council of Ministers endorsed a new law to establish a non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first in the Middle-East.

“The ILO welcomes these reforms and recognizes the commitment of the State of Qatar to transforming its labour market. These steps will greatly support the rights of migrant workers, while contributing to a more efficient and productive economy. I am pleased that the ongoing ILO technical cooperation programme in Qatar is tangibly contributing to the government’s effort to advance social justice and promote decent work in the country,” said Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General.

The elimination of the NOC requirement will allow workers to freely change employers following an initial probationary period. Should they wish to change employers during this period, the new employer would need to reimburse recruitment costs to the original employer.

The decision on exit permits means that domestic workers; workers in government and public institutions; workers employed at sea and in agriculture; as well as casual workers are free to leave the country either temporarily or permanently without having to obtain the permission of their employers. This covers all workers not covered by Law No. 13 of 2018, which removed the requirement to obtain exit permits for most workers covered by the Labour Law.

Meanwhile, the establishment of a non-discriminatory minimum wage that applies to all nationalities and all sectors will guarantee a minimum level of protection for all workers. The minimum-wage level will be set later in the year, based on a joint study already completed by the ILO and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (ADLSA).

“Qatar is changing. The new tranche of laws will bring an end to kafala and put in place a modern industrial relations system. We recognize that a new evidence-based minimum wage rate will ensure dignity for migrant workers. We urge the government to announce this as quickly as possible. The partnership between the Qatar Government and the ILO, supported by the ITUC, is working to change lives,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

Roberto Suarez-Santos, Secretary-General of the International Organisation of Employers, said: “We congratulate the Government of Qatar on the major steps they have taken to adapt their labour market standards. IOE is proud to have supported the government’s efforts over the past several years. I would like to express our appreciation to those leading this process for making decent work and sustainable economies a centrepiece of development in Qatar.”

The respective draft laws will now be referred to the Advisory (Shura) Council, and subsequently for the approval and signature of the Emir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The legislation is expected to come into force by January 2020.

These reforms are part of the ILO-ADLSA cooperation agreement signed in 2017, which resulted in the opening of an ILO Project Office in Doha in April 2018 .

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Major Environmental Groups Call On Businesses To Lead On Climate Policy

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Eleven leading environmental and sustainable business organizations published an open letter in the New York Times today, urging the CEOs of Corporate America to step up their engagement on climate policy. Signatories include the heads of BSR, C2ES, CDP, Ceres, Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund, The Climate Group, The Nature Conservancy, the Union of Concerned Scientists, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund.

In the letter, the organizations call on businesses to adopt a science-based climate policy agenda that is aligned with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and with the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The letter highlights three essential actions for businesses to execute this agenda:

  1. Advocate for policies at the national, subnational and/or sectoral level that are consistent with achieving net-zero emissions by 2050;
  2. Align their trade associations’ climate policy advocacy to be consistent with the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050; and
  3. Allocate advocacy spending to advance climate policies, not obstruct them.

Additionally, the signatories call for “robust disclosure of the above actions to ensure transparency and demonstrate leadership, as well as strong corporate governance to enable sustained, strategic and effective engagement in climate policy.”

The recommended actions follow a statement from 200 institutional investors, with a combined $6.5 trillion in assets under management, who recently called on publicly traded corporations to align their climate lobbying with the goals of the Paris Agreement. They also build on momentum from the U.N. Global Climate Action Summit in September, when many companies announced ambitious commitments to reduce their emissions to net zero by 2050 and unprecedented global youth strikes demanded accountability from business leaders.

Further, the groups’ call for corporate leadership on climate policy is in line with the goals of upcoming Santiago Climate Change Conference (COP 25), which will focus on increasing ambitious actions to tackle climate change.

“Corporate voluntary science-based commitments have spurred progress and innovation. But alone they’re not enough. We need strong national policy and regulations to protect business and their customers from the greatest risks of climate change. And we need the voice of business to insist that our government leaders deliver the policies we need. ” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of  World Wildlife Fund, United States. “It’s time for business to make this a policy priority – not only for their own government relations teams but also for the trade organizations that represent their interests.”

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