Despite conflicts and instability in parts, Africa’s fast growth and development, at least during the past decade, has attracted external countries mainly from Asian region, European Union (EU) and the United States. In this special interview, David Shinn, an Adjunct Professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs, a former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, and previously served as a Director of the Office of East African Affairs in Washington, explains some ways to engage Africa.
He further discusses the important institutional differences in each BRICS member countries that impact on the implementation of policies in Africa, whether to compete or cooperate jointly on development infrastructure projects, and finally identifies the tools and tactics some countries use to achieve their respective goals on the continent.
How unique is East Africa and the Horn for foreign investors and who are the proactive countries there?
This region, especially the Horn of Africa, has more than its share of conflict, which poses a special challenge for foreign investors. The three East African countries—Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda–have been more successful in attracting foreign investment because they have experienced less conflict in recent years and made a special effort to reach out to foreign investors. The investment has come from a variety of countries including the United Kingdom, Netherlands, India, Canada, South Africa, China, United States, Germany, and France. The Horn of Africa is witnessing a growing amount of investment from the Gulf States, but political instability is limiting investor interest. Before the independence of South Sudan, there was considerable investment in Sudan’s oil sector by China, India, and Malaysia.
While that investment remains, it is now shared between Sudan and South Sudan. Conflict in South Sudan has stopped new investment. Somalia and Somaliland attract investment from the Somali diaspora but foreign countries have been reluctant to go into both entities for different reasons. Somalia is not sufficiently stable and Somaliland is not recognized internationally and, therefore, poses legal challenges for potential investors.
While Djibouti and Eritrea are politically stable, their markets are too small to attract significant foreign investment. Of all the countries in the Horn, Ethiopia has in recent years been the recipient of most foreign investment from countries such as China, Turkey, Bangladesh and the Netherlands. Political protests that began last summer are beginning, however, to impact foreign investment. A number of foreign investments were destroyed during the most recent protests concerning a range of grievances. This will discourage others from coming.
China is still leading with investment in infrastructure, but are the United States and European Union competing or cooperating with China?
China is the largest builder of infrastructure in Africa today, but this is not foreign direct investment. These are contracts with Chinese state-owned companies financed by loans from Chinese government institutions, the African Development Bank, World Bank, etc. In some cases, the African governments finance the projects. Once the infrastructure project is completed, China almost never has any ownership involvement. Hence, it is not foreign direct investment, but a commercial deal financed by loans that have to be paid back by the African government. Private US and European companies are in a much weaker position to win these contracts because they have less access to financing from their own governments and tend to submit higher bids than Chinese companies. There are exceptions such as the Italian company that is building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. In any event, this is an area where the US and European Union compete with China.
There are areas where China, the US, and EU cooperate. All three seek political stability in Africa and cooperate on UN peacekeeping operations, African Union efforts to achieve peace such as in South Sudan, and the anti-piracy campaign in the Gulf of Aden. There is occasional collaboration on aid projects, but there is room for much more, especially in the areas of health and agriculture. All three parties have partnered with Africa to achieve development and they all want to see Africa succeed economically. There is one area of major difference. The US and EU, to varying degrees, encourage open political systems, the rule of law, and free and fair elections in Africa. China is satisfied with whatever form of government exists in a particular African country and has no desire to be critical of any governmental system. African governments prefer the Chinese approach; many African civil society organizations prefer the US and EU approach.
In your view, can Russia (a member of BRICS) make any headway into the region?
The short answer is yes and, to some extent, it has. Following the end of the Cold War, Russia pulled back sharply from Africa, although it maintained most of its diplomatic missions there. Serious economic problems in Russia prevented it from reengaging in Africa until relatively recently. There has been an increase in Russian investment in Africa, especially North Africa and several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are prospects for greater Russian investment in Africa. Russian trade with Africa has been especially disappointing. In 2014, it exported $9.3 billion to Africa, most to North Africa, and imported $2.8 billion from Africa. This is less trade than Turkey has with Africa. Russia is energy self-sufficient; Africa just does not have much that Russia wants to buy. This situation is not likely to change any time soon. At the political level, Russia has demonstrated minimal high-level interest in Africa. Until it makes a decision to pay more high-level attention to Africa, it is difficult to see greater engagement at the political level. For the time being, Russia is preoccupied with Syria, Ukraine, and relations with China and the US. I doubt that it will be in a position in the foreseeable future to devote much attention to Africa.
What’s the best way for foreign countries to engage Africa?
I assume your question about the best way to engage Africa refers to engagement by governments outside Africa. If so, I think the process should be as follows. First, foreign governments should determine what kind of engagement individual African governments prefer. The foreign government must then decide if it is prepared to engage in that manner. If not, it should explain frankly to the African government why not.
If the engagement sought by the African government is the kind of interaction that the foreign government is prepared to do, then both sides should discuss the details. At this point, it is essential that the foreign government not mislead the African government that it can do more than is, in fact, the case. Western governments, compared to statist driven governments, have a handicap because so much Western engagement comes from the private sector, which Western governments do not control. This handicap also applies to a number of non-Western governments.
Now, looking at BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), are there institutional differences in implementing business policies in Africa?
There are institutional differences among the BRICS. The private sector is proportionally much more important in India, Brazil, and South Africa than is the case in China and Russia. The state-owned sector of the economy is especially important in the case of China. BRICS’ business practices and the degree to which their governments control business practices vary widely from one member to another.
Unlike many Western countries, however, none of the BRICS attaches political strings to their business engagements although they all, to varying degrees, impose economic conditions. These conditions include, for example, infrastructure loans tied to construction companies from the offering country and contractual arrangements for a percentage of labor from the offering country.
Can BRICS members, say for example Brazil, China or India, compete or cooperate with Russia on development projects in Africa?
I believe there are cases where BRICS’ members have already competed for winning contracts in Africa. This has especially been the case between India and China in the petroleum sector. While I don’t know of specific examples involving Russia, I would be surprised if Russia has not competed against another BRICS’ country for winning a contract in Africa. By its very nature, business interaction usually involves competition. At the same time, companies from two different BRICS’ member countries can team up in their effort to win a contract or start a business in Africa.
The area where there is more likely to be cooperation is foreign aid. China and Brazil have been cooperating on agricultural research in Africa. Theoretically, all BRICS’ members, including Russia, could cooperate on a development project financed by two or more BRICS’ members. The BRICS’ New Development Bank has approved its first package of four loans to Brazil, China, South Africa, and India worth some US$811 million. They are all in the field of renewable energy; South Africa received a loan for US$180 million. This is an example of cooperation but, so far, only to the benefit of BRICS’ members.
Do they have strategic differences that make it difficult for a unified approach in Africa?
I believe the BRICS have strategic differences that will complicate a unified approach in Africa. Each BRICS’ member country has its own interests in Africa. Each one has a different development model and political system. The size of their respective economies varies enormously from China’s nominal GDP of US$11.4 trillion to Russia’s US$1.1 trillion and South Africa’s US$266 billion. These countries have more differences than they have commonalities. I don’t believe this will result often in unity of action.
Future Perspectives of Russia-Africa Cooperation
While celebrating the Africa Day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to offer support and participate in the sustainable development processes in Africa. In a videoconference held May 28 with local and foreign media, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, highlighted the history behind the establishment of the Africa Day, which is observed as an annual holiday symbolizing the desire of the peoples of the African continent to peace, independence and unity.
According to her, “the close nature of friendly ties with African countries, the significant experience of mutually beneficial cooperation dates back to the early 1960s, when the Soviet Union unconditionally supported the desire of Africans to free themselves from colonial oppression. It provided them with substantial practical assistance in shaping the foundations of statehood, establishing national economies, and preparing civilian and military personnel.”
In recent years, however, African countries have been actively gaining weight and influence in international affairs, are increasingly participating in solving pressing issues of modern world politics and economics, she said.
The creation of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum was one of the appreciable results of the first Russia-Africa Summit held last year, Zakharova noted, and expressed hope that “the mechanism of partnership between Russia and the African continent created during the summit will allow to establish and broaden cooperation.”
Under the current circumstances, African leaders and business elites try, most importantly, to reflect on how far Africa has gone in building a unified identity and strides made in socio-economic development. These socio-economic developments in some individual countries were achieved by harnessing internal resources and through bilateral and multilateral relations with external countries and cooperation with development partners.
For example, Soviet Union and Africa had very close and, in many respects, allied relations with most of the African countries during the decolonization of Africa. For obvious reasons, the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991.
As a result, Russia has to struggle through many internal and external difficulties. For the past few years, it has been struggling to survive both the United States and European sanctions. Moscow still has a long way to catch-up with many other foreign players there in Africa.
Currently, Russia seems to have attained relative political and economic stability. “As we regained our statehood and control over the country, and the economy and the social sphere began to develop, Russian businesses began to look at promising projects abroad, and we began to return to Africa,” noted Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov early September during his interaction with students and staff of Moscow State Institute for International Relations.
Emphasizing that the process of returning to Africa has been ongoing for the past 15 years, he further explained: “the return is now taking the form of resuming a very close political dialogue, which has always been at a strategic and friendly level, and now moving to a vigorous economic cooperation. But economic cooperation is not as far advanced as our political ties.”
With this understanding, Dmitry Medvedev, while addressing the Russia-Africa Economic forum in July, also added his voice about strengthening cooperation in all fronts. “We must take advantage of all things without fail. It is also important that we implement as many projects as possible, that encompass new venues and, of course, new countries,” he said.
In addition, Medvedev stressed: “It is important to have a sincere desire. Russia and African countries now have this sincere desire. We simply need to know each other better and be more open to one another. I am sure all of us will succeed if we work this way. Even if some things seem impossible, this situation persists only until it is accomplished. It was Nelson Mandela who made this absolutely true statement.”
Acknowledging undoubtedly that Africa has become a new world center for global development, Russian legislators at the State Duma (the lower chamber) have advocated for supporting business and economic cooperation with Africa. Thus as a step forward, State Duma has established relations with African parliaments.
During an instant meeting held with the Ambassadors of African countries in the Russian Federation, Viacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma, remarked: “We propose to move from intentions to concrete steps. Our people will better understand each other through parliamentary relations.” The full transcript is available on the official website.
On April 29, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a powerful Russian NGO that focuses on foreign policy, held an online conference with participation of experts on Africa. Chairing the online discussion, Igor Ivanov, former Foreign Affairs Minister and now RIAC President, made an opening speech. He pointed out that Russia’s task in Africa is to present a strategy and define priorities with the countries of the continent, build on the decisions of the first Russia-Africa Summit.
On the development of cooperation between Russia and African countries, Igor Ivanov pointed out a few steps here: “Russia’s task is to prevent a rollback in relations with African countries. It is necessary to use the momentum set by the first Russia-Africa Summit. First of all, it is necessary for Russia to define explicitly its priorities: why are we returning to Africa? Just to make money, strengthen our international presence, help African countries or to participate in the formation of the new world order together with the African countries? Some general statements of a fundamental nature were made at the first Summit, now it is necessary to move from general statements to specificity.”
Sergey Lavrov, long ago, asked for more substantive dialogue on Russia-Africa issues, and chart ways for effective cooperation. In an interview with the Hommes d’Afrique, he stressed “time is needed to solve all those issues, but it could start with experts’ meetings, say, within the framework of the St Petersburg Economic Forum or the Valdai forum, and other events where business leaders of both countries participate.”
Experts from the think-tank Valdai Discussion Club, academic researchers from the Institute for African Studies and independent policy observers have noted Russia’s policy, its current achievements and emerging economic opportunities and possibilities for partnerships in Africa. Quite interestingly, majority of them acknowledged the need for Russia to be more prominent as it should be and work more consistently to achieve its strategic goals, – comparing and citing largely unfulfilled pledges over the years.
Established in 2004, it’s (the club) primary goal is to promote dialogue between Russia and the rest of the world. It hosted an expert discussion titled “Russia’s Return to Africa: Interests, Challenges, Prospects” with participation of experts on Africa. Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Africa Department were present.
“I would like to begin my speech with the words of Foreign Minister (Sergey Lavrov), who said, referring to the current situation: ‘No more fairy tales,’” joked Oleg Ozerov from the Africa Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. “For us, Africa is not a terra incognita: the USSR actively worked there, having diplomatic relations with 35 countries. In general, there are no turns, reversals or zigzags in our policy. There is consistent development of relations with Africa. ”
Over the past few years, contacts between Russia and Africa have expanded, and at the same time, this was also due to the African countries’ interest in Russia, he added. Nevertheless, Oleg Ozerov is now Ambassador-at-Large with the key responsibility for expediting work on the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum created at the initiative of African participants during Sochi summit.
As Head of the Secretariat, the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum, his task is to prepare for the second Russia-Africa summit in 2022 in pursuance of the agreements, achieved during the first Russia-Africa summit held on October 23-24 in Sochi. The Secretariat of the Forum will also organize annual political consultations of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the troika of the African Union.
In 2010-2017, Ozerov served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Saudi Arabia, concurrently from 2011-2017, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
In conclusion, worth to say Russia sees Africa as a key potential partner in the vision for a multipolar world order, and for now, it is well-known that strengthening ties with African countries is among Russia’s foreign policy priorities. But, much has to be done to change image, perceptions and the old narratives.
The symbolic Russia-Africa Summit was the result of President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin authorities’ progressive steps taken to move toward a new phase in consolidating political and economic ties broadly at the state levels with Africa. The final declaration, joint declaration, seeks to consolidate the results of the summit. It has undoubtedly reaffirmed the goals of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Visualising Ethiopia’s Economic Leadership (and Challenges) in the Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa has historically been one of the world’s most unstable regions, with internal strife, secessionism, interstate war, terrorism and piracy dominating the region for the latter half of the twentieth century, and the early years of the twenty-first. Things have changed in more recent times, however. But in recent years, the pattern which perhaps best defines the region today is uneven economic growth, and thus cause for cautious optimism.
This is demonstrated by the five charts below, tracing the GDPs, GDP growths, unemployment rates, different levels of mobile phone access, and estimated GDP growth for 2020 (in the wake of COVID-19) of the four countries in the region; Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Particularly noticeable is not only Ethiopia’s size but also the rate of its growth when compared to its neighbours, though the country has several points of vulnerability.
The first chart shows the enormous gap between Ethiopia and the other three countries that neighbour it. Leveraging on its population (of more than 108 million people), its physical size and relative stability since the 1990s, the country has been able to grow despite its landlocked status, history of civil war, famines, ethnic tensions, and significant lack of mineral resources. Successfully diverting its exports to the port of Djibouti after the war with Eritrea in 1998, the country’s total GDP is about eight times the other countries in the region combined. Somalia, the state with the second-largest GDP, has a GDP 18 times smaller than Ethiopia’s. This gap is only set to expand, given the differences in GDP growth visualised in the second chart.
In terms of GDP growth, the whole region has registered considerable amounts, with three of the fastest-growing countries (Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti) registering more than 7% in GDP growth per annum. Ethiopia is present here as well, being the fastest-growing economy in 2019. Moreover, growing from a comparatively higher base ($91.1 billion compared to Djibouti’s $2.9billion, Eritrea’s $2.6billion and Somalia’s $4.7billion), the country’s growth is unparalleled in real comparative terms.
Ethiopia also observes the lowest unemployment rate in the region, with less than 2% of its workforce out of employment. The principal sources of employment are agriculture (72.7%), followed by services (19.9%) and industry (7.4%). The country has been on an industrialising spree, with industrial parks as the principal strategy of attracting foreign direct investment geared towards light manufacturing of textiles, automobiles, and metals processing. Like most countries in the early stages of economic development, however, the country’s wages are still quite low. Nevertheless, if the trajectory of similar countries (most notably China) is anything to go by (and all other things being equal), this is set to transform over the next number of decades as the country ascends to middle-income status. Moreover, the low-wage factor has been one of the country’s major points of FDI attraction.
Mobile phone access in Ethiopia is also the strongest in the region, with more than 56% of its population having at least one mobile phone. The country’s telecommunication industry is dominated by Ethio Telecom, the government-operated monopoly.
The effects of COVID-19 are unclear, but they will short-circuit many developing countries’ economies. IMF revised estimates place the region’s prospects quite favourably nonetheless, with Eritrea estimated to grow by 7.9%, followed by Ethiopia and Somalia at 3.2%, and 1.3%.
For all its strengths, however, Ethiopia is also marked by some vulnerabilities from outside as well as within. Firstly, the country’s GDP per capita of $953 is dwarfed by Djibouti’s $2,787, although it still outranks Eritrea ($332) and Somalia ($348).Secondly, most of its trade is not with its neighbours. While most of its exports are through Djibouti, the country has almost no interdependence with Eritrea and Somalia. This means most of its growth and the growths of its neighbours are not intertwined, despite the impetus for regional integration. Indeed, the country has previously gone to war with two of its neighbours – Somalia and Eritrea – over disputed territory. With talks over the disputed Badme region came the prospect of the port of Massawa, however. These leaves open the prospect that the country’s channels of export will be further enhanced, especially its noticeable industrial base in its north. However, reports of local communities on preventing soldiers from retreating (and thus re-opening the border) indicate that the path to interdependence will require trust-building and may perhaps not be easily divorced from domestic politics of either side. Ethiopia’s goal of energy self-sufficiency in electrification through the waters of the Blue Nile (which commences in Ethiopia’s Lake Tana) are also cause for tense relations with Egypt, with the timeframe of the filling-up of the dam being a particular bone of contention. Given these tensions, it is sensible that most of the work with which the regional body, IGAD, is preoccupied with peacebuilding in Somalia more than with economic issues.
COVID-19 has also put on hold one of the most anticipated elections in recent Ethiopian political history. The country’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, who took over an uncompleted term of his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn, is seeking to obtain a fresh mandate of his own. Not only does the election mark the first electoral run of the newly formed Prosperity Party, formed after the consolidation of the previous coalition of ethnic-based parties (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front), but also some economic policies. Importantly, however, the northern-based Tigray People’s Liberation Front has not taken part in the merger. The next election will, therefore, be an implicative one for Ethiopia’s future growth and future role in the region.
South Africa: Returning tostatism?
The South African state of disaster has been evolving since its declaration on March 15th. Following local and global acclaim for its responsive, science-based approach, the government has come under increased scrutiny for its turn towards command and control. Following the extended 35-day lockdown, President Ramaphosa announced a staged relaxation which paradoxically included strict limitations which were not part of the preceding ‘hard’ lockdown. For the first time in its democratic history, South Africa is under a nightly curfew. While the global health pandemic associated with COVID-19 may be novel, the government’s response appears awfully familiar. Different as the situations may be, to understand the present one should turn to past.
Since 1994, South Africa has abided the post-Cold War international order to pave its path along Western liberal norms. The newly elected liberation party assumed the power of government at a time when it had little choice but to accede to these prevailing internationalist truths. It could either stand secure inside a global arrangement of states which ensured wealth and privilege along mandated rules and lines of thought or it could perilously go at it alone.
Based on hegemonic international practices and due on the injustices and vagaries of country’s brutalized past, the ANC sought to salvage the state it inherited in accordance with the international system; it gave up an element of sovereign independence, chose to reconfigure its revolutionary strategy and became a casualty of its time by acquiescing to fantastical end of history persuasions. South Africa chose indirect governance over direct government.
This approach to power is captured in the dogma of good governance, the conformity to a set of prescribed indicators of administrative best practice; a managerial approach to political authority. Good governance does not interrogate peculiarities, nor is it based on the lay of the land. Instead, it accedes to specific standards. Having never executed power, the ANC alliance assumed leadership by following.
Through efforts to advance the rights-based democratic ideals which gave expression to the Constitution, it pursued development along international governance norms. The constitutive initial phase of democracy, characterized by consultation, policy formulation and institutional consolidation adhered to this dogma. Government’s aspirational approach aligned to the aspirational character of the new Constitution. The modalities of good governance were, however, as foreign to the ANC as they were to South Africa. In according international norms, the history of the state was suppressed.
When Nelson Mandela assented to the presidency, a new nation was not birthed. The South African state remained; it was given another life. This is the reason the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) rebuffed Fw de Klerk’s presence at the SONA earlier this year. This was no argumentum ad hominem.It was a politically astute move to delegitimate the government. It charged the ANC with ruling over the state of De Klerk. By rejecting the government’s legitimacy, its authority over law and order, the EFF seeks to bring down the edifice upon which government rests. Potentially portending a move toward coup d’etat, it presciently recalls the architecture and history of the state. While the ANC government prefers to limit the debate about the history of the state, the EFF critically reminds South Africans of their history. It invokes an awakening to the history of the state.
To accurately perceive the frenzied national condition, South Africa needs to shed the veil of ignorance that conceals the history of the state.
The late 1970s saw the introduction of a total national strategy that was legitimised by what the state labelled a total onslaught; today benignly referred to as the ‘struggle’. These analogous approaches shaped the national order which emerged in 1994. The total national strategy as laid out in the 1977 White Paper on Defence called for a “comprehensive plan to utilize all the means available to a state… A total national strategy is, therefore, not confined to a particular sphere, but applicable at all levels and to all functions of the state structure”.
As was the case under the total strategy, today’s concern is security. Security oriented government by decree is being justified in the fight against the nebulous COVID-19.
The ominous rise of the ambiguous National Coronavirus Command Council begs serious questions. It reminds of how under the total national strategy, power moved from cabinet to be concentrated into the State Security Council and later the National Security Management System. Vigilance must persist against decreed rule by selective committees.
Whereas the pragmatic Prime Minister PW Botha essentially portrayed the role of a crisis manager, today the similarly astute administrator Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, regarded by some as a sort of Prime Minister, rules by regulation. Botha was obsessed with security; to maintain law and order Botha insisted upon an expanded militarisation despite the government recognition that there was no military solution. Today command and control again reign supreme. Reminiscent of the 1980s, the defence force is again (mainly) wielding sjamboks in townships. With more than 70 000 troops deployed to maintain law and order, South Africa is clearly no longer in the domain of governance, it has returned to statist government. The state is again seeing a total strategy whereby the resources of war are mobilised at political and economic levels. What really is the perceived threat upon which government’s strategy is based? Is the defence force called upon because the state is fearful of its ability to maintain trust and legitimacy? Is it facing a potential loss in law and order? Though the virus is new, South Africa has been here before.
The ongoing state of exception presents a Manichean situation whereby claiming one’s rights, one necessarily stands outside the law. The threat of a normalised state of exception isthe temporary if not permanent loss of freedom. In the words of famed American whistle-blower, Edward Snowden: “a virus is harmful, but the destruction of rights is fatal”.
South Africa’s bewilderment has largely been based on the perception that there is no precedent to demonstrable state control. COVID19 may be novel, but limitation, South African government by regulation, is not. There is an urgent need to wake up to history, to view the past in order to discern the present. While the ANC government has consulted widely and the state of exception is administered under the relevant Act, any limitation of rights and privileges must be challenged. Learning from the past, South Africans must be cautious of securocrats’ use of security as a central means of government.
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