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Africa and the World Bank: Why it’s Not Too Late

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African countries are in a developmental conundrum; they have seen economic reversals in the wake (and arguably because) of the World Bank and yet African countries, at least for the foreseeable future, need the World Bank – owing to a paucity of alternative lenders in the present. In its assessment of the outcomes of World Bank involvement in Africa’s development, this paper emerges with a mixed picture.

While the institution’s policy prescriptions saw large-scale failure in the form of cumulative debt, GDP declines and impoverishment in many African countries (for example Liberia, Nigeria, the DRC/Zaire and many others), it also succeeded in some (the two success stories often touted are Ghana and Uganda). But it would also be illegitimate to pin the failures purely on the World Bank. Ultimately, there are states – for example the DRC/Zaire, the Central African Republic/Empire of the 1980s, among others – wherein substituting the funder, and even removing the structural adjustments (which were not even wholly applied in some countries) would not have resulted in a less bleak picture. Indeed that they needed to go to the World Bank in the first place is proof enough that the countries in the region were mired in economic problems that preceded involvement with the institution.

Thus this article concludes that the World Bank has hitherto hampered development in Africa; but with the help, in many instances, of African leaders, who fostered unreceptive neopatrimonial environments and mismanaged the loans, at the expense of African citizens. Ultimately, however, it is not too late as there is nothing in this setting which does not lend itself to reversal.

‘Accelerated Growth’, Structural Adjustments, and Lost Decades: The World Bank and African Underdevelopment, 1979-Present

Despite remarkable performance in the 1960s, African economic development slowed down in the 1970s and stagnated in the 1980s, Africa’s so-called lost decade. In turn, the African states’ attempts to reinvigorate economic growth through state-led investments and import substitution industrialisation strategies were unsuccessful. And then, unable to raise funds locally, shunned by commercial banks abroad, African states opted for rescue by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In effect, Western donor institutions took over as Africa’s bankers. Thus Senegal in 1979 became the first African state to obtain a loan from the World Bank predicated on structural adjustment programmes (SAPs). Soon, others followed suit. Despite their desires, and domestic pressures (interestingly, this was not always the case; as in Dar es Salaam there was virtually no opposition to austerity measures because some 90% of the population had been living off the private, informal market), to do otherwise, by 1980 some thirty-six African governments signed up; many were either on the verge of, or beyond, bankruptcy.

These structural adjustments, today so synonymous with the World Bank, included currency devaluation, elimination of subsidies, market liberalisation through removal of tariffs and quotas, decreased government spending, privatisation, low regulation of foreign enterprises and raising of agricultural prices that had been artificially kept down by governments. The idea had been to enact a series of radical economic reforms to shift African states from the state-centred approach (which had once been lauded even by the west) of the 1960s, and to give the markets a bigger role. Echoing the language of Ronald Reagan, then recently elected President of the United States, the appointer of the successive World Bank presidents, government was no longer to be looked to as the solution to economic problems, government was deemed to be the very cause of these problems.

Because of their emphasis on expenditure cuts, public support for infrastructure, education, social services, as well as for research and extension, while not attaining reciprocal agreements from the corresponding western states, these sectors suffered and rural areas, with their high proportion of poor people, were particularly hard hit. Stein argues that SAPs, as promoted by the bank as a result of their neoclassical roots, were basically a-institutional and therefore ill-equipped to promote market and institutional development in Africa. The outcomes of this were immediate and prolonged. For many scholars, the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa in 2014 was as a result of the neoliberal orthodoxy imposed on Liberia in the 1980s which championed rolling back expenditure on, and privatisation of, health services under direction from the Berg Report, Accelerated Growth, prepared under the auspices of the World Bank. The outcome, in a situation where there was a lack of state capacity with regards to health services (precisely due to the World Bank’s directives) and no will on the part of the private interests to invest in a “clientele” which could not afford the treatment, was the transnational proliferation of what could have been a containable outbreak. Less severely, Tanzania’s medical and educational systems had ceased to function in all but name with school enrolment down from 98% (in 1981) to 76% in 1988.

Further, between 1991 and 1995, Africa’s annual real per capita GDP growth averaged at 0% for all Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (the below market price lending facility that funds poor states in exchange for the adoption of World Bank-directed structural adjustments) countries, whereas non-ESAF developing countries experienced, on average, 1.0% annual real per capita GDP growth. Far worse was the fact that between 1991 and 1995, sub-Saharan African countries which had adopted ESAF programs experienced an average annual 0.3% decline in terms of per capita incomes over the period of adjustment. The shrinkage is also attributable to the decline in purchasing due to World Bank-mandated structural adjustments which necessitated austerity and currency devaluation.

And in 1996, the World Bank, in response to demands for action to address the external debt crisis of poor countries, ushered in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. More than 80% of the countries identified by HIPC as needing debt relief were African. But the debt relief would come, in a familiar way, with conditions attached; in order to qualify for debt relief under HIPC, countries had to participate in structural adjustment programs. The HIPC program has been criticised for providing too little actual debt relief and providing it too slowly while at the same time opening up African markets to Western corporations with whom they could not yet compete due to the infancy of their own markets.

To the extent that SAPs failed to promote growth, no improvement in poverty can be expected from growth effects. The impact on poverty and food security arising from the shifting of relative agricultural prices has been mixed, but in general in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt, for example, the winners have been net surplus producers of agricultural products among rural households, particularly those with export crops, while the losers have been net consuming poor households and the urban poor.

What of Africa’s Leaders?

It is not only the conditionality which determine the success of World Bank involvement in Africa, but also the conditions under which these are introduced; national leadership being the key one since the loans are granted to states and not private entities.

One of the few leaders to actually implement structural adjustment was Jerry Rawlings of Ghana in the 1980s and 1990s. Coming into power through a coup in 1982, he embarked on a wholesale reform, accepting market disciplines and a reduced role of the state. He increased cocoa prices, he devalued the Ghanaian cedi, import-licensing systems were abolished, and about 60,000 public sector employees were retrenched, and Ghana’s prized Ashanti Goldfields was privatised. Despite doubling of debt between 1983 to 1988, in that period, cocoa exports increased in just three years from 155,00 to 220,000 by 1986. Equally significant, food per capita rose, and inflation fell from 123% to 40% between 1983 and 1990; increasing the Ghanaians’ buying power. Similarly, Uganda through PRSP policies reduced its GDP-debt ratio from 58.3% in 1999 to 2.1% in 2009.

Even these so-called miracles, in any case 2 out of 54 African states, have been lacklustre and are disappointing on the whole – Ghana’s GDP in 1998 was still 17% less than its 1970 levels, and Uganda’s low debt has been due to donations. And some question whether these results have clearly been linked to SAP-related macroeconomic policies. Yet, it is probable that Ghana’s GDP would be even worse without the role of the World Bank, and in a more corrupt country – such as in post-Nyerere Tanzania cited above where bribery and corruption were rife – the donations and loans received by Uganda to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio could have been imprudently managed and not made a difference.

The issue of whether the overall disappointing performance of SAPs in Africa is due to incomplete and “half-hearted implementation”, inappropriate policy components of the SAPs, or adverse external factors lies at the heart of the debate. A review of the available studies suggests that in most cases a combination of these three factors was at work – Africa has over 50 states after all. It is certainly true that there was incomplete, half-hearted, and “stop-and-go” implementation, that there were deficiencies in the sequencing of measures, lack of coordination of policies and inappropriate policy design, and that the markets for primary products, Africa’s main export, deteriorated in the 1980s and 1990s but it is clear that the failures were in large part due to World Bank failure in vetting the countries to be granted loans, and inabilities to affect penalties for mismanagement of funds. Qualification for loans, in other words, should have been predicated on more than just a state being a Western ally during the Cold War, or the anti-terror ally today. And here lies the problem, neopatrimonialism, in such places as the former Zaire, CAR, Nigeria, Malawi and numerous others, ensured that the funds were misused, and yet the World Bank failed to recognise this, or when it did, it did not hinder it from continuing to give the loans – which in turn went into “white elephant” projects. Indeed, a shadow review by ActionAid concluded that the Bank does not have an effective plan for ensuring accountability even in the wake of the Operation Policy and Country Services unit.

Where to From Here?

In at least two African countries, the World Bank has been a facilitator of development; and in those countries where there has been debt and negative growth in spite of World Bank presence, it is still possible that matters would be even worse in its absence, as it has been one of few institutions willing and able to make concessional loans. Furthermore, World Bank granting of loans has been found to positively increase attractiveness of receptor states in the short run and causes other funders to be more willing to make investments. SAPs during periods of falling growth or no growth appear to reinforce underlying expectations for the future; they are associated with positive expectations.

And to conclude, it has to be noted that essentially, the failures of the World Bank in the continent have also come about as a result of the World Bank’s own internal structural inconsistencies as well as an unreceptive climate within countries. For example, some scholars have argued that the content of PRSP, its ideological underpinnings, and the global context in which it is situated seem to involve contradictory impulses for national ownership, governance and poverty reduction in Africa.  We may go so far as to say that the institution is essentially a paradox; it is a neoliberal institution, and yet is itself state-owned – and therefore prone to serving national interests – and, moreover, despite its profession of market-orientation, it is a lender to governments as opposed to private entities; and thereby buys out of key classical liberal truisms such as competition and room for incentives. Equally pertinent, African countries themselves need to own up the other end of the equation because they are the recipients of the funds. In the wake of the 1990s Asian crisis and recovery through World Bank assistance (especially in the case of South Korea which managed to pay back its loan ahead of schedule), it is clear that the bank can be a partner for recovery and growth provided there is prudent assimilation of these funds. But before these funds can be granted, there ought to be a revisiting of the process so as to ensure the loans do not end up in imprudent hands in the first place. Perhaps then, and only then, the World Bank can continue to facilitate development on the continent. Wedded into this is the responsibility of not only African but World Bank leaders to make the bank more responsive – something which previous presidents such as James Wolfensohn and incumbent Jim Yong Kim began to grasp in their various “listening tours” around prospective recipient states.

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.

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Russians’ Passion for Signing Agreements with African Countries

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Russia needs to go beyond its traditional rhetoric of Soviet-era assistance rendered to Africa. It is important now to highlight concrete success stories and policy achievements, at least, during the past decade throughout Africa. The young generation and the middle class, aged between 25 to 45 that make the bulk of the 1.3 population, hardly see the broad impact of Russia’s relations with Africa.

Russia plans to hold the second Russia-Africa summit later this year. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, indicated in mid-June message that “in these difficult and crucial times the strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy. Russia highly appreciates the readiness of Africans to further step up economic cooperation.”

Lavrov said: “It is in the interests of our peoples to work together to preserve and expand mutually beneficial trade and investment ties under these new conditions. It is important to facilitate the mutual access of Russian and African economic operators to each other’s markets and encourage their participation in large-scale infrastructure projects. The signed agreements and the results will be consolidated at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit.” 

The above statement arguably offers some implications especially discussing this question of relationship-building. Nevertheless, Lavrov has aptly asserted that within the “emerging and sustainable polycentric architecture of the world order” relations with Africa is still a priority, but Russians always close their eyes on the fact that Russia’s foreign policy in Africa has failed to pronounce itself, in practical terms, as evidenced by the countable forays into Africa by Russian officials. 

The Soviet Union was quite extensively engaged in Africa, comparatively. Russia has only been criticizing other foreign players during the past two decades without showing any template model of building relationship. Its foreign policy goals is simply sustaining the passion for signing several MoUs and bilateral agreements with African countries. 

During the past years, there have been several meetings of various bilateral intergovernmental commissions both in Moscow and in Africa. The first summit discussed broadly the priorities and further identified opportunities for collaboration. It, however, requires understanding the tasks and the emerging challenges. The current tasks should concretely focus on taking practical collaborated actions leading to goal-driven results. Lavrov hopes “the signed agreements and the results will be consolidated at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit.” 

Still Russia plays very little role in Africa’s infrastructure, agriculture and industry. While, given its global status, it ought to be active in Africa as Western Europe, the European Union, America and China are, it is all but absent, playing a negligible role, according to Professor Gerrit Olivier at the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria, and former South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

Researchers have been making tangible contributions to the development of African studies in Russia. This Moscow-based Africa Institute has a huge pack of research materials useful for designing an African agenda. In an interview, Professor Vladimir Shubin at the Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences reiterated that Russia is not doing enough to communicate to the broad sectors of the public, particularly in Africa, true information about its domestic and foreign policies as well as the accomplishments of Russia’s economy, science and technology to form a positive perception of Russia within the context of the current global changes of the 21st century. 

As to Russia’s involvement, it has undoubtedly a vast experience in development of projects in Africa accumulated during Soviet times, building of power stations and dams or creating of technological training institutes. What is lacking nowadays is its ability to provide large investments, according to Shubin, “but Russian expertise and technology can still be used while carrying out internationally-financed projects in Africa.”  

As to the failures, perhaps, we have to point to the lack of deep knowledge of African conditions, especially at the initial stage of the involvement which sometimes resulted in suggesting (or agreeing to) unrealistic projects, But there are good prospects for reactivating diversified cooperation, he explained.

Chronological analysis shows that Russia’s politics toward Africa under President Boris Yeltsin (1991-2001) was described as a lost decade, both in internal and external affairs, including relations with Africa. Historical documents further show that after the Soviet collapse there were approximately 380 projects throughout Africa. In the early 1990s, Russia exited, closed a number of diplomatic offices and abandoned all these, and now hardly no sign of Soviet-era infrastructure projects there. 

Policy statements have indicated strong optimism for raising relations. That however, at least during the two past decades, official reports including speeches at high-level conferences, summits and meetings indicated there are projects being implemented in Africa by such leading Russian businesses as Rosneft, Lukoil, Rosgeo, Gazprom, Alrosa, Vi Holding, GPB Global Resources and Renova.

It is an acceptable fact that Russia has always been on Africa’s side in the fight against colonialism and now neo-colonialism. But the frequency of reminding again and again about Soviet-era assistance, that was offered more than 60 years ago, will definitely not facilitate the expected beneficial trade and investment ties under these new conditions. The United Nations declared Africa fully independent in 1960, and Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Afreximbank President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Dr. Benedict Okey Oramah, says Russian officials “keep reminding us about Soviet era” but the emotional link has simply not been used in transforming relations. Oramah said one of Russia’s major advantages was the goodwill. He remarked that even young people in Africa knew how Russia helped African people fight for independence. “So an emotional link is there,” he told Inter-Tass News Agency.

The biggest thing that happened in Africa was the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). That is a huge game-changer, and steps have been made lately in the African countries for creating better conditions for business development and shaping attractive investment climate. “Sometimes, it is difficult to understand why the Russians are not taking advantage of it?  We have the Chinese, we have the Americans, we have the Germans who are operating projects…That is a very, very promising area,” Oramah said in his interview last year.

Ahead of Sochi summit 2019, Oramah presented a useful economic report to a special business conference that ran from 18 to 22 June, the same year, and listed spheres for possible cooperation such as finances, energy, mining, railway infrastructure, digital technologies, cybersecurity, healthcare, education, food security in Africa.

That conference saw several agreements signed including between the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and Sinara-Transport Machines JSC (STM), Transmash Holding JSC, Russian Export Center JSC, Avelar Solar Technology LLC, Chelyabinsk Pipe Plant PJSC, Kolon World Investment, and Opaia SA and the Roscongress Foundation. As far back in 2017, the Russian Export Center became Afreximbank’s third largest non-African shareholding financial organization shareholder, and expected to contribute to the acceleration of investment, trade, and economic relations between Russia and African countries.

Interesting to note here that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people. The growing middle class, among other factors, constitutes a huge market potential in Africa. The African continent currently has enormous potential as a market, and some experts say it is the last business frontier. 

Many African countries are enacting economic reforms, demand is growing for high-quality, competitive products. Russian businesses are interested in this niche, but Russians are extremely slow. The snail-pace approach reflects their inability to determine financial instruments for supporting trade with and investment in Africa.

Accentuating the importance of multilateral cooperation between Russia and Africa, Advisor to the President of the Russian Federation, Anton Kobyakov, said: “The current situation in the world is such that we are witnesses to the formation of new centers of economic growth in Africa. Competition for African markets is growing accordingly. There is no doubt that Russia’s non-commodity exporters will benefit from cooperating with Africa on manufacturing, technologies, finances, trade, and investment.”

Kobyakov further pointed to modern Russia, which already has experience of successful cooperation with African countries under its belt, is ready to make an offer to the African continent that will secure mutually beneficial partnership and the joint realization of decades of painstaking work carried out by several generations of Soviet and Russian people.

With these impressive relations, Russia has not pledged publicly concrete funds toward implementing its policy objectives in Africa. Moreover, Russian officials have ignored the fact that Russia’s overall economic engagement is largely staggering, various business agreements signed are still not fullfilled with many African countries. 

Agreements and business negotiations resulted into 92 agreements, contracts and memoranda of understanding. Summit documents say a total of RUB 1.004 trillion ((US$12.5 bn) worth of agreements were signed at that highly-praised historic first summit in October 2019.

Large Russian companies have been unsuccessful with their projects, negatively reflecting the real motives for bilateral economic cooperation. There are several examples such as Rosatom in South Africa, Norrick Nickel in Botswana, Ajeokuta Steel Plant in Nigeria, Mining projects in Uganda and Zimbabwe, Lukoil in Cameroon, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Currently, Russia is simply invisible in spheres providing infrastructures in Africa.

Undoubtedly, a number of Russian companies have largely underperformed in Africa, experts described was primarily due to multiple reasons. Most often, Russian investors strike important investment niches that still require long-term strategies and adequate country study. Grappling with reality, there are many investment challenges including official bureaucracy in Africa.

In order to ensure business safety and consequently taking steps to realize the primary goals, it is necessary to attain some level of understanding the priorities of the country, investment legislations, comply with terms of agreement and a careful study of policy changes, particularly when there is a sudden change in government.

What is abundantly clear is how to further stimulate African governments into exploring investment opportunities in Russia and also Russian investors into Africa within some framework of mutual cooperation. In order to facilitate both Russian and African economic operators to have access to each other’s markets and encourage their participation in large-scale infrastructure projects must necessarily involve taking progressive practical steps toward resolving existing obstacles.

That said, preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit are currently underway. “The Russian side aims to continue preparing the second, as well as subsequent Russian-Africa summits and aims to make them as efficient as possible. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries are taking steps to build a full and mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and the African countries, including the formation of a reliable social and economic infrastructure, food and energy security on the continent,” said Oleg Ozerov, Ambassador-at-Large and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum.

Worth saying here that African leaders are waiting to cut white ribbons marking the successful completion of Russian-managed something. Really it is time to shift from juicy rhetoric and move on towards implementing the package of bilateral agreements especially those involving infrastructure investments, determine financing concrete projects and deliver on decade-old pledges to the people of Africa. 

While Russian and African leaders strike common positions on the global platform, there is also the need to recognize and appreciate the welfare of 1.3 billion population, majority impoverished, in Africa. Significant to suggest that with new horizons of the polycentric world order emerging and unfolding, active engagement of the African youth, women entrepreneurs, civil society leaders and active change-makers in the middle-class into policy efforts is necessary.

With the youth’s education, some experts are still critical. Gordey Yastrebov, a Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer at the Institute for Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of Cologne (Germany), argues in an email interview discussion that “education can be a tool for geopolitical influence in general, and for changing perceptions specifically, and Russia (just like any other country) could use it for that same purpose. However, Russia isn’t doing anything substantial on this front, at least there is no consistent effort with obvious outcomes that would make me think so. There are no large-scale investment programs in education focusing on this.” 

He explains that Russian education can become appealing these days, but given that Russia can no longer boast any significant scientific and technological achievements. Western educational and scientific paradigm embraces cooperation and critical independent thinking, whereas this is not the case with the Russian paradigm, which is becoming more isolationist and authoritarian. Obviously by now, Africa should look up to more successful examples elsewhere, perhaps in the United States and Europe.

As the official Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website indicated – it is evident that the significant potential of the economic cooperation is far from being exhausted, much remains to be done in creating conditions necessary for interaction between Russia and Africa. At a meeting of the Ministry’s Collegium, Lavrov further suggested, that was back in 2019, taking a chapter on the approach and methods adopted by China in Africa.

Now at the crossroad, it could be meadering and longer than expected to make the mark. Russia’s return journey could take another generation to reach destination Africa. With the current geopolitical changing world, Russia has been stripped of as a member of many international organizations. As a direct result of Russia’s “special military operation” aims at “demilitarization and denazification” since late February, Russia has come under a raft of sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada, European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries.

For more information, look for the forthcoming Geopolitical Handbook titled “Putin’s African Dream and The New Dawn: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities” (Part 2) devoted to the second Russia-Africa Summit 2022.

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Why Russia’s Vaccine Diplomacy Failed Africa

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President Vladimir Putin with Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

In these difficult and crucial times, the strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy, declared Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister. The difficult times understandably refers to both the Covid-19 pandemic and the current period when Russia’s own “special military opeartion” in Ukraine has shattered the global economy. But why is Russia so quiet over its vaccine diplomacy in Africa? What has Russia-African Union relations brought to the health sector in Africa? Why Russia’s vaccine diplomacy could arguably be described as a failure for vaccinable people among the 1.3 billion population. 

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) estimated approximately 28 percent of the entire Africa’s population was vaccinated over the past two years. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and a few African leaders have vehemently accused European and Western countries with advanced pharmaceutical technologies of hoarding Covid-19 vaccines. 

Russia was the first advanced country that came out with Sputnik V in August 2020 less than a year when coronavirus was declared an epidemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). But, Sputnik V has never been approved by the WHO primarily because of a lack of transparency of Russian laboratories. In addition to the fact that it was approved before going into compulsory phase III clinical trials, breached relevant international protocols and ruined its reputation from the outset, including in Russia as demonstrated by a high degree of vaccine hesitancy. 

According information sources, the Sputnik V was developed by the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology. It was later registered under the emergency use authorization procedure, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) website. The RDIF is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors. The Kremlin offered this agency the full-fledged task of managing and directing all aspects of Covid-19 vaccine production and distribution.

The RDIF has made a substantial contribution to developing and marketing Sputnik V, the first registered Covid-19 vaccine, in the world. Sputnik V was heavily promoted via a professional international marketing campaign and Russia obtained commercial contracts for close to 800 million doses of Sputnik V. Russia has only delivered 108 million doses, i.e. less than 15%. 

In the first place, Sputnik V has little impact in Africa. Second, there are no African country manufacturing Sputnik V so far. In fact, Russia signed manufacturing agreements with no less than 23 countries to produce Sputnik V. However, only a few countries actually started production, due to delays in the supply of raw materials. As one of very few countries, Russia stayed completely outside the COVAX Facility and it played no significant role in vaccine donations.

Holding the heck of the bumpy road during the pandemic period, Russia made progressive steps, resembling a substantial breakthrough to save human extinction. It swiftly registered the vaccine in many countries and often promised to establish manufacturing points in a number of countries, including Africa. But in critical assessment, we cannot skip the messy description, from various points of views, that Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has failed Africa. Certainly, that was the case with Russia’s diplomacy in Africa.

President Vladimir Putin has oftentimes praised the entire healthcare system, and particularly the hard-working team of scientists and specialists from different institutions for their efforts at research and creating a series of vaccines for use against the coronavirus both at home and abroad.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry reports indicated that the Sputnik V vaccine was registered in the following African countries: Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.

However, majority of African countries where Sputnik V was registered could not get supplies to purchase as promised. Admittedly, Russia faces vaccine production challenges to meet the increasing market demand and to make prompt delivery on its pledges to external countries. 

Russia’s drive to share Sputnik V vaccine offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. It has made some vaccine deliveries, but only to its preferred countries including North Africa (Algeria Morocco and Egypt), in East Africa (Ethiopia), in Southern Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe) and West Africa (Guinea). Media reports say South Africa, a member of BRICS group, categorically rejected Sputnik V donation from Russia.

Furthermore, an official media release mid-February 2021 said that the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team – set up by the African Union (AU) to acquire additional vaccine doses so that Africa could attain a target immunization of 60% – received an offer of 300 million Sputnik V vaccines from the Russian Federation. It was described as a “special offer” from Russia. In the end, Russia never delivered the 300 million vaccines as contracted.

In the Situation Analytical Report on Russia-Africa, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and was released in November 2021, pointed to Russia’s consistent failure in honoring its several pledges over the years was vividly highlighted. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa that was not fulfilled through the African Union was mentioned as an example in the report. “Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers failed to meet its contractual obligations,” says the report.

Another report also compared Russia’s vaccine diplomacy with Europe, China and other external countries: (https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/vaccinating-world-between-promises-and-realities_en). The report says one and a half years after the start of Covid-19 vaccines rollout, the European Union (EU) can be proud of what it has achieved to help vaccinate the world, and in particular low- and middle-income countries. The EU’s record stands in contrast to what China and Russia did beyond the bluster of their noisy “vaccine diplomacy” during these years.

In 2021, the subject was not only dominating the headlines, but also at the centre of international relations, with major powers, in particular China and Russia, conducting active vaccine diplomacy to extend their global influence by promising to provide vaccines to the world. From the outset, EU had chosen to act in a multilateral framework, by supporting the COVAX facility launched by the WHO to jointly purchase and supply vaccines for low and middle-income countries. 

The report says, based on data collected by the multilateral institutions, the EU has actually been by far the largest exporter of vaccines in the world. With 2.2 billion doses supplied to 167 countries, we exported almost twice as much vaccines as China, three times as much as the United States and 20 times as much as Russia.

Of these 2.2 billion exported doses, 475 million were donated to 104 countries, of which 405 million via COVAX and 70 million bilaterally, particularly in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership. In terms of donations, the United States did slightly more than EU, with 542 million doses donated to 117 countries. But, EU has actually donated far more vaccines than China – with just 130 million to 95 countries – and Russia – with only 1.5 million doses to 19 countries.

The EU has not only exported and donated vaccines but also helped to develop vaccines production in Africa: last year, the EU with its member states and financial institutions have committed over one billion euros to finance this development. 

By 2040, the African Union wants that 60% of the vaccines used on the continent are manufactured in Africa and the EU fully supports that goal. This year already, two factories will be installed in Rwanda and Senegal and commercial production is set to begin in 2023. Close cooperation is also ongoing with South Africa’s Biovac Institute and with partners in Ghana.

In these difficult and crucial times, Russian vaccine diplomacy has been a total failure and this was already the case before its “special military operation” in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine. In short, the vaccine diplomacy of these two countries, Russia and China, can be summarized as “great expectations – broken promises.”

The EU has a lot to be proud of, not only did it manage to vaccinate its own population against Covid-19 in a short period of time, but it has also been the world’s largest exporter of vaccines and the second largest donor to low- and middle-income countries. The EU has accomplished much more in this area than China and Russia together. Building on this solid track record, the EU will continue to support access to vaccines worldwide, in particular by helping with vaccine manufacturing in Africa. 

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Ethiopia still in grip of spreading violence, hate speech and aid crisis

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photo: © UNICEF/Tanya Bindra

UN Human Rights Council-appointed rights investigators announced on Thursday that they’ve launched a probe into an alleged massacre of at least 200 people in Ethiopia’s Oromia region. 

Kaari Betty Murungi, chair of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, was briefing the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in what was the Commission’s first appearance since its creation in December last year. 

The Commission had received reports last week of the killings in Western Oromia, as it continued its work investigating rights abuses linked to conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, that flared in November 2020. 

Don’t forget Ethiopia 

Despite many other conflicts around the world, Ms. Murungi said that the world must not ignore what was happening in Ethiopia: 

“The ongoing spread of violence, fuelled by hate speech and incitement to ethnic-based and gender-based violence, are early-warning indicators of further atrocity crimes against innocent civilians, especially women and children who are more vulnerable. The expanding conflict makes worse the existing humanitarian crisis that is being experienced in Ethiopia and the region.” 

The Commission, established in December 2021, is mandated to conduct investigations to establish the facts and the circumstances surrounding alleged violations and abuses of International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law committed by all parties to the conflict in Ethiopia since November 2020. 

Lack of access 

“The dire humanitarian crisis made worse by lack of access in some areas by the civilian population to humanitarian assistance including medical and food aid, obstruction of aid workers and persistent drought, exacerbates the suffering of millions of people in Ethiopia and in the region”, said Ms. Murungi. 

She added that “the Commission emphasizes the responsibility of the Government of Ethiopia to bring to an end such violations on its territory and, bring those responsible to justice”. 

Since the outbreak of armed conflict in November 2020 in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, Ethiopian national forces, Eritrean troops, Amhara forces and other militias on one side, and forces loyal to the Tigray people’s Liberation Front (TPLF), have forced hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans to leave their homes through threats and intimidation in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign. 

The violence escalated and began to affect neighboring regions Afar and Amhara, with Afar providing the only channel of access for aid into Tigray. 

Widespread violations 

Warring parties are accused of carrying out widespread human rights violations, including massacres, gender-based violence, extra judicial killings, forced displacements, violence against refugee camps and internally displaced persons. 

In March this year, the Ethiopian government declared a humanitarian truce, an agreement that opened the door to much-needed access to aid for citizens in the region. 

Ethiopia ‘turning a page’ 

In its reply to the Commission’s report Zenebe Kebebe Korcho, Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the UN in Geneva, said that “the country is now turning a page. The Government of Ethiopia has decided to seek a peaceful end to the conflict. An inclusive national dialogue is launched to address political problems across the country. The government has taken numerous confidence building measures”. 

The Commission which was appointed in March, is also mandated to provide guidance on transitional justice including accountability, national reconciliation, healing and make recommendations to the Government of Ethiopia on these measures. 

According to ambassador Zenebe Kebebe Korcho “Ethiopia has also taken measures to ensure accountability for alleged serious human rights violations. The Government of Ethiopia facilitated the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission to conduct a joint investigation within the context of the conflict in the Tigray region.” 

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