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How Deep Can South Korea-Africa Relations Go?

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The history of relations between South Korea and African countries does not cast a particularly long shadow as far as international relations go.

This is easily explained by geography and the fact that both entities, and both at least until the 1950s incidentally, were dominated by colonisers and that in subsequent years,South Korea prioritised its alliance with the US in pursuit of economic growth and military security – thereby going from one of the most economically disadvantaged countries in the world to being among the most wealthy (currently ranking 11th in the world in terms of GDP). And in the Cold War climate that characterised these subsequent post-World War II, post-colonial years, there were high levels of indifference between African states and South Korea as many post-colonial African states honed relations with the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China (the PRC) and communist North Korea. And so the rest of the twentieth century was characterised by relatively little contact between the two entities, going no further than the opening up of formal diplomatic ties and consulates.

But things have changed as of recent. Particularly in the past decade or so, South Korea has increasingly looked at Africa as a viable economic partner. Attracting over 7,000 delegates in the year 2015, the Korea-Africa Forum (KAF), which was formulated in 2006 as a forum for African heads of state and their South Korean counterparts to hold discussions and negotiations, has been largely understood as the two parties’ attempt to catalyse and harness the relationship between themselves in trade, investment and aid terms. Having held just four summits in over ten years, however, the Forum is especially important and will need to hold its sessions more regularly, and will also need to be more ambitious in the goals it sets for itself.

South Korean investment and trade with Africa: trends and patterns – and ways forward

According to a 2014 Chatham House report entitled ‘South Korea’s Engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa: Fortune, Fuel and Frontier Markets’, South Korea’s increasing presence in sub-Saharan Africa is motivated by three factors: “the pursuit of food and energy security; the establishment of new markets for its manufactured goods; and the enhancement of its credentials as a prominent global power, particularly in order to counter the diplomacy of North Korea.” South Korean exports to Africa rose fivefold between 2000 and 2011 and, although South Korea-Africa bilateral trade remains low (being a portion of only two per cent of South Korea’s global trade), South Korean chaebols (multinational corporations/conglomerates) such as Samsung, Daewoo and Hyundai are incrementally making a presence in the face of some serious competition in the form of the more established players on the African market such as the US, the European Union (EU), China and Japan. South Korea has also been an active donor to the continent. Tanzania, Egypt, Kenya and Ethiopia have been major recipients of South Korean aid. The aid has been aimed at funding measures for achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs) and the latter-day sustainable development goals (SDGs) by providing much-needed assistance to health and medical services, education, and rural development in sub-Saharan countries and responding to climate change and improving governance in North Africa. In sum, prioritising education (30%), health (20%), and governance (6%) the continent receives more than 55 percent of South Korea’s allotted foreign aid budget.

While difficult to ascertain for sure (a time-honoured custom in international affairs), it can be generally said that in its few years of activity on the continent, South Korea has had a largely positive impact on the continent. Perhaps the best example is Rwanda. In 2013 the Rwandan government announced that an agreement had been reached with KT Corporation, which is South Korea’s largest telecommunications provider, to roll out high-speed 4G internet service to 95 per cent of the population of Rwanda by 2017. With only 8.3 per cent of Rwandans currently online, such an increase in connectivity could mean a 10–13 per cent rise in the rate of GDP growth. The PPP was made possible by the integration of Rwanda’s pre-existing fiber optic network with KT Corporation’s financial resources, as the latter provided around $140 million for the initiative. This partnership has the potential to transform the Rwandan economy, and is likely to become an integral part of the country’s Vision 2020 development programme.

South Korea’s positive impact in Rwanda is largely a result of the Korea International Cooperation Agency’s involvement there. The Chatham House report further adds that “as well as being involved in the planning stages of the 4G scheme, the agency is also currently financing a $5.6 million ICT innovation centre in Kigali. KOICA’s commitment to Rwanda is further evident in its agricultural development programmes, police training and its partnership with UNICEF Rwanda, which uses SMS technology to reduce maternal and new-born deaths in the country.”

But there have been setbacks in the relationship; including most infamously the controversial and blatantly unfair land-lease deal with Madagascar wherein 50% of that island-nation’s arable rice land was to be leased to South Korea for some 90 years in exchange for ambiguously defined infrastructural improvements by South Korea to the island; the unpopular deal was arguably seen as corrupt by the citizenry of that country and led to the toppling of the government of Marc Ravalomanana in 2009 – upon which it was scrapped when Andry Rajoelina came into power. South Korea’s involvement in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on African shores has also been a serious blot on the country’s relations with the continent as it has taken away potential jobs in West Africa and even threatened relations with the EU (which gave South Korea a “yellow card”).

One of the key responsibilities of African leaders in the Korea-Africa Forum should be to convey and relay public opinion so as to avoid similar pitfalls from occurring again in the future. Clearly, for a South Korean presence and interchange to continue to receive popular support African leaders and South Korean leaders will need to work hard to shape the relations along the lines of a moral and legal framework that does not compromise adherence to domestic and international laws and protocols because this will hurt business and relations in the long-run.

And this speaks to another matter: good governance. While not necessarily being intrusive, South Korea may need to harness the Agenda 2063 goal of good governance in the continent – South Korea itself stands to benefit most from this. For example, South Korea may prioritise those African states that are leaning towards democracy. It is more prudent to do so not only for the moral stance but also because those regimes that are democratic are also more likely to be stable and have a good investment climate. The Arab Spring in North Africa, the civil riots and general dissatisfaction in the undemocratic states of Burundi, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and Uganda in recent years over presidents who wanted unwarranted, unconstitutional additional terms in office is a prime example of this. To what extent can South Korea risk the chances of having their investments and infrastructure tarnished and destroyed in a civil riot? Or of a sudden regime change revoking previous agreements (as was the case with a Nigerian deal)? Or of having its name associated with the malpractices of undemocratic regimes?

Naturally, among of the key discussion points in any upcoming Korea-Africa Forum summit are the security threats that currently plague the continent. As a country that has had to live with the threat of attack by an unpredictable government in its neighbourhood in the form of North Korea, South Korea is uniquely placed among the nations of the world in terms of speaking from experience in offering counsel and advices on dealing with force at the hands of unscrupulous, ideologue leaders. Africa itself is currently faced with a number of these. The Central African Republic has for a long time been torn asunder by rebel forces that use religion as a benchmark for their violence; likewise Somalia cannot be brought to a state of functionality due to much the same problem in the form of al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabab, which has also terrorised Kenya (most notably in its 2013 attack on Westgate mall in Nairobi). Nigeria has only recently rendered Boko Haram ineffective but that is no assurance that they will not rise up again. Likewise the government of Mozambique had previously believed RENAMO to be neutralised when they invited them into the government but since 2014/15 the right-wing group has “gone back to the bush”. The same can be said of South Sudan which is torn along lines of ethnicity; the result being a dysfunctional, failed state born just 6 years ago. In light of South Korea’s own experiences, the East Asian republic has a lot to offer in way of mediation and strategy formation.

The question of good governance speaks to another issue of institutional arrangement on the African continent. In spite of the many movements for balkanisation worldwide (Brexit, the Catalan, Quebec, and Kashmiri questions to mention a few) by 2030, the African continent wants to have carved out a form of unity in line with its vision of a pan-African arrangement of the continent’s political interface. South Korea must therefore be supportive of African integration movements and policies for practical reasons as it will be easier and less demanding to deal with a single political entity than a constellation of them. Also, active and close involvement in the process of structuring of alternatives of what a “united Africa” may look like will be a learning experience for South Korean statesmen and stateswomen who may use this accumulated expertise to work out possible ways in which Greater Korea itself may be re-unified after being divided some seven decades ago. In other words, Africa may become for Korea a ‘petri dish’ in which political unison is experimented with.

South Korea and Africa’s exchange of ideas and experience can go further. An avenue which would allow the fulfilling of both the cultural and economic aspirations of the relations could be the formation of sister-cities; pairing each of South Korea’s major cities’ governments with those of Africa and forging a kind of ‘Mayoral Korea-Africa Forum’ as well accompanying that with population exchange programmes. As the author suggested to the South Korean and South African delegation in a meeting with students in 2016 in Pretoria, while heads of state who attend the Korea-Africa Forum summits do connect with their nations, this lower-level platform would allow not only for a more meaningful, grassroots kindling of cultural promotion for both sides but would also allow for a more precise intelligence-gathering tactic for investment opportunities. Increasing the number of direct airports would also be beneficial as that could allow for South Korean goods to reach specific African metros easier – especially those which are land-locked, of which Africa has a high number.

Among others, the African Union Foundation describes one of its 2060 goals as “developing Africa’s youth to take their rightful place on the global stage, by promoting science and technology education among young people”. This goal may well have been written with South Korea in mind. The extent of access to technology and science in South Korea – where almost every household is computer literate and connected to the internet – is the world’s envy, whereas there is an incredible paucity of even a fraction of this in Africa. South Korea’s niche as a technology hub in the world should, in its relationship with Africa, mean that it could be able to form technology apprenticeships as well as sci-tech scholarships for African students. In the long-run, this will pay for itself as computer literate citizens are likely to purchase more and recent innovations from South Korean producers. In the very least, nonetheless, the model applied in Rwanda should be replicated elsewhere on the continent.

While having taken steps to relatively solve the rural-urban divide in the Saemaul Undong movement (whose policy methods, in 2008, the Economic Commission for Africa selected as the model for its own Sustainable Modernization of Agriculture and Rural Transformation program) of the 1970s, South Korea is increasingly running out of land in which to produce its food. While the deal with Madagascar may have failed, it would be possible to carve out newer ones with African countries, one of whose Vision 2063 goals is to “[work] with women and youth in agriculture towards modernised agriculture and food production.” South Korea has agricultural expertise, with each South Korean farmer producing on average 40 times more than their Chinese counterpart, Africa has both land and human capital (and also, a low human density thanks to the sheer geographic size of the continent). Bringing in the South Korean expertise would bring about larger quantities of produce; enough for South Korea to import and ultimately resolve the food insecurity threat for both parties.

As both South Korea and many African states are part of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a free trade deal between the two entities will also be ideal for some, if not all, goods and services as has already been being done with the Korea Southern African Customs Union Free Trade Agreement (KSACUFTA). South Korea has shown the benefits to be reaped from a free market engagement with its own development trajectory. And frankly, Africa can benefit from the realisation of true multilateral free trade. But so far, while African countries have a number of bilateral free trade agreements with the US and the EU, these are almost rendered meaningless by the number of constraints and preconditions posed – and in many instances the continent opens up to these partners but they close their own markets in turn. Indeed, the EU has such high regulatory measures that Africa cannot access the European market. And Africa’s agricultural produce is blockaded by the common tariff that is imposed by the EU on agricultural produce in order to protect failing, subsidised EU farmers – the WTO Doha Round only managed to get a tariff-free agreement on a single agricultural produce: the banana. Meanwhile, potential niche goods such as coffee have such high tariffs placed on them that there is almost no incentive to produce them on a large scale.

Both South Korea and Africa have a lot to gain from one another, and must look to do just that without denying the other fairness. And so, coming onto every negotiation table, each entity’s representative must come in good faith and with willingness to carve out a truly mutually beneficial relationship. South Korea has the opportunity to get it right; to be Africa’s first true friend in a non-exploitative, fair relationship. And in the long-run, Korea will be immensely rewarded for this. As the first major economic entity to willingly and openly seek to sit down and co-plan and co-strategize a way forward together with African leaders and African citizens beforehand, South Korea, if nothing else, grasps that there are moral, legal and institutional implications to international relations and trade. It is up to Africa now to make the most of this.

Bhaso Ndzendze is the Research Director at the University of Johannesburg-Nanjing Tech University Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS). His research interests include international economics, security studies, and International Relations methodology and he has taught and written on Africa-China relations, the politics of the Middle East, soft power, and the war on terror among other topics at the University of the Witwatersrand. His work has appeared in numerous journals and in the popular press including Business Day, Mail and Guardian, The Sunday Independent and The Mercury among others. His most recent publication is the Beginner’s Dictionary of Contemporary International Relations.

East Asia

Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China

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image source: chinamission.be

There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China. It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public. The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track. Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs, and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year. North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang. All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.

Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions. Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.

By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.

The Motorway M-1, which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.

China is the first door neighbor of Afghanistan having a common border. If anything happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on China. China has a declared policy of peaceful developments and has abandoned all disputes and adversaries for the time being and focused only on economic developments. For economic developments, social stability and security is a pre-requisite. So China emphasizes peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is China’s requirement that its border with Afghanistan should be secured, and restrict movements of any unwanted individuals or groups. China is compelled by any government in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of its borders in the region.

Taliban has ensured china that, its territory will not use against China and will never support any insurgency in China. Based on this confidence, China is cooperating with the Taliban in all possible manners. On the other hand, China is a responsible nation and obliged to extend humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. While, the US is coercing and exerting pressures on the Taliban Government to collapse, by freezing their assets, and cutting all economic assistance, and lobbying with its Western allies, for exerting economic pressures on the Taliban, irrespective of human catastrophe in Afghanistan. China is generously assisting in saving human lives in Afghanistan. Whereas, the US is preferring politics over human lives in Afghanistan.

The US has destroyed Afghanistan during the last two decades, infrastructure was damaged completely, Agriculture was destroyed, Industry was destroyed, and the economy was a total disaster. While, China is assisting Afghanistan to rebuild its infrastructure, revive agriculture, industrialization is on its way. Chinese mega initiative, Belt and Road (BRI) is hope for Afghanistan.

A peaceful Afghanistan is a guarantee for peace and stability in China, especially in the bordering areas. The importance of Afghan peace is well conceived by China and practically, China is supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighboring countries, and regional countries, are agreed upon by consensus that peace and stability in Afghanistan is a must and prerequisite for whole regions’ development and prosperity.

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East Asia

Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question

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image credit: kremlin.ru

The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.

Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.

Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.

However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.

Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.

During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.

Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.

Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.

If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.

From our partner RIAC

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Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?

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Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.

One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.

In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.

To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.

The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.

Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.

Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.

From our partner RIAC

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