Africa and the World Bank: Why it’s Not Too Late
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.
Republic of Ghana to host PanAfrican Mall
The capital city of Accra, Republic of Ghana, hosts the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The AfCFTA spearheads the operations of the continental single market, a mega project of the African Union (AU). In a parallel development, a Pan-African Mall (PAM), set to become one of sub-Saharan Africa’s historic landmark mall for shopping.
The first of its kind, Pan African Mall is aimed at a more inclusive retail concept being introduced in Africa in furtherance of trade and socio-economic development and facilitation in alignment with the AfCFTA, considering it will accommodate businesses from several African countries and economic classes.
For shoppers, the experience will be all inclusive yet unique. PAM looks at “fostering multilateral socio-economic development and ties between African economies,” Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry of Ghana, Stephen Amoah, during the sod-cutting ceremony marking the start for construction of Pan-African Mall.
Minister of Trade and Industry of Nigeria, Otumba Adeniyi Adebayo, praised the investors for their commitment to the project and their dedication to the development of Africa.
In her speech, Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa said that they would provide mortgage financing for Nigerian business owners in Ghana, which should further be a boost.
The project is being spearheaded by Brains and Hammers Ltd (Ghana), in collaboration with Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation(NIDO), who are committed to the economic growth, job creation and empowerment of Africans. Brains and Hammers Ltd is a real estate and infrastructure construction, development and management company.
According to Mallam Bashir Patty, the Managing Director of Brains and Hammers Limited (Ghana), “the mall will have over 400 shops and over 300 workstations for those who can’t afford shops.”
The mall is functionally designed and will be replete with facilities and amenities, including but not limited to roof-top garden, 150 ground and basement parking spaces, banking halls, office spaces, restaurants, adequate supply of portable water, renewable energy supply and other environmentally sustainable features and elevators – a modern state of the art mall with eco-friendly facilities and environment.
As Chief Calistus Elozieuwa, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation – Ghana Chapter (NIDO), said: “This is a mall to be owned by Africans, not only Nigerians and Ghanaians because of the spirit of integration on the continent in terms of the area of trade.”
Andrew Achampong-Kyei, Managing Director of GLICO General Insurance also reiterated that they would offer guarantees to the investors and shop owners and had designed a special policy i.e the rent to own, which enables an investor make substantial regular rent payments towards owning the shop.
The mall is aimed at contributing to sustainability and youth employment, including women and the disabled. It is, however, expected that the shopping mall becomes accessible to its customers and favorite shopping destination to purchase various goods and services. There are plans to include foreign products from the most desired retailers to meet the needs of customers.
By managing every aspect, the mega mall offers its customers a simple, secure and convenient solution to shopping directly from many of the best brands in the world. The PAM welcomes all African traders to take advantage of the fully secured state of the art shops and the mall. The construction is planned over a period of two years.
South Africa Faces Deep-Seated Economic and Energy Crisis
South Africa, highly considered as an economic powerhouse, is in deep-seated crisis. Energy deficit has crippled industrial operations and supplies for domestic use has largely been reduced. Unemployment is rising and cost of living becomes unbearable across the country. Social discontent, as a result of the crisis, has engulfed every corner in South Africa.
Reports monitored here say South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet on May 7 held an extensive meeting with key business leaders as concern over the country’s energy crisis, logistic constraints and close ties with Russia grow. Attendees discussed collaborating to obtain inclusive growth, inspire confidence in the economy and create jobs, the Presidency said in an official Twitter post.
Five years after Ramaphosa ushered in a wave of business optimism that he’d revive the economy crippled by industrial-scale corruption under his predecessor, executives are running out of patience with the president, who is seeking reelection next year.
Economic stagnation stoked by record daily power cuts, rampant crime, disintegrating infrastructure and foreign policy missteps is leading investors to the exits. Yields on the benchmark 10-year generic government bond have risen 129 basis points this year to 12.1%, foreign buyers have been net sellers of the nation’s stocks and the rand has plunged 11%.
Executives including Daniel Mminele, Nedbank Group Ltd.’s chairman, and MTN Group Ltd.’s Chief Executive Officer Ralph Mupita have called for urgency in resolving domestic hindrances to economic growth and warned the country is at risk of becoming a so-called failed state. Others such as FirstRand Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Alan Pullinger have criticized the country’s relationship with Russia. The government’s indifference to the war in Ukraine and its friendship with Russia is “foolhardy in the extreme,” he said.
Early March, reports also warned that South Africa’s banking industry faces a “profound geopolitical risk” from the government’s close ties with Russia. South Africa has drawn criticism from some of its biggest trading partners, including the United States and the European Union, over military exercises it conducted with Russia and China. Those countries have also censured Ramaphosa’s administration over its abstention from United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s war with Ukraine.
“Our government’s left-leaning enthusiasm for China and Russia is being noticed by countries vehemently opposed” to the war in Ukraine, FirstRand Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Alan Pullinger said at an investor briefing in Johannesburg. The government’s indifference to the war and its friendship with Russia is “foolhardy in the extreme,” he said.
South Africa’s banking industry is dependent on access to international markets, global clearing and settlement, Pullinger said. The country risks consequences because of its stance on Russia, he said. “Our collective access is a privilege; it is not a right and it can be revoked with ease,” Pullinger said. “FirstRand does not share our government’s enthusiasm for Russia.”
With an estimated population of 58 million, South Africa is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres of coastline that stretches along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans; to the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and to the east and northeast by Mozambique and Eswatini.
Civil Society Engagement at the Core of US-African Relations in Multipolar World
United States has held its 8th annual civil society forum to review progress, examine challenges and renew interest in forging ways to strengthen relations with Africa. United States has the largest African diaspora which has close-knitted business, educational and cultural links with the African countries. This helps to support official efforts in promoting relations with Africa.
The conference was a hybrid event that brought together civil society organizations, business, and government leaders from across Africa and the United States virtually and in person. The purpose of the gathering was to advocate for a ten (10) year Enhancement/Extension of AGOA benefits from 2025 to 2035, support the African Union’s Agenda 2063, including the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Areas and an African Customs Union, and to come up with recommendations on the way forward.
Since its passage by Congress on May 18, 2000, and signing into law on October 2, 2000, by President Bill Clinton, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has been the cornerstone of U.S. economic engagement with the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
AGOA is a long-term commitment with broad bipartisan support. On June 25, 2015, Congress overwhelmingly approved the Trade Preferences Extension Act (TPEA) of 2015, and on June 29, 2015, President Barrack Obama signed TPEA into law. TPEA reauthorizes AGOA and the associated “third Country fabric “provision for ten years through 2025.
Congress passed, and the executive branch implemented three prior legislative enhancements of AGOA, with significant bipartisan support in 2002, 2004, and 2006.
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to strengthening US-Africa trade and commercial relations and engaging Congress on the next steps for AGOA.
In December 2022, the African Union Ministers of Trade from the AGOA-eligible countries met in Washington, DC, at the request of Ambassador Katherine Tai, USTR, “to have a full and frank exchange of views on how to work together to improve the utilization rates under AGOA and ensure that the program can be an effective tool for development.”
At those high-level engagements, there was consensus that there is a need to extend AGOA beyond 2025. The recommendation has been tabled before the US Administration. During the meeting, Ambassador Tai, the African Ministers, and the Africa Group of Ambassadors also underscored the following:
• An extension of AGOA for at least ten years with the inclusion of ALL African countries
• The importance of Africa speaking with One Voice in all US-Africa trade and investment engagements; and,
• Enhanced commercial diplomacy between the US and Africa. There was also agreement that South Africa would host the next AGOA Forum in August/September this year.
United States Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Katherine Tai is committed to robust trade and economic collaboration with Sub-Saharan Africa. USTR Tai believes that Africa is the future. On-going discussions are taking place with African nations, including negotiations between Kenya and the U.S. regarding a strategic trade and investment partnership.
Stringent requirements from the various U.S. trade regulatory authorities and the limited industrialization capabilities in Africa are factors for the very low utilization of AGOA benefits. As a result, only a few product lines, such as fossil fuels, vehicles, clothing, textiles, and currently, Beef, are exported from Africa under AGOA.
Under-utilization has caused African exports to the U.S. under AGOA to decline from USD 78.01 billion in 2013 to USD 28.19 billion in 2022, resulting in a setback for Africa.
African countries are devising methods to improve export diversification, growth, and industrialization, including developing regional and continental value chains. These efforts present a tremendous opportunity for US companies to take advantage of the market provided by the African Continental Free Trade Area.
Succeeding in the African Continental Free Trade Area, a market with enormous growth potential, requires investing.
Each State participating in the African Continental Free trade agreement retains its national external tariffs. Exporting into this market will generate tariff charges.
Creating an African Customs Union will allow for a shared external tariff and pave the way for Africa to establish free trade agreements with trading partners.
American companies can enjoy duty-free exporting from their home bases, and Africa is in a better position to grow US-Africa trade with the African Customs Union in place.
A renewed U.S. policy on AGOA should prioritize investment in specific sectors, such as Trade, Financial Services, Health, Climate, Food Security, Tourism, and Logistics, including Gateway Initiatives and the Digital Economy.
Targeted U.S. investment conducted in partnership with businesses and institutions in each AGOA-eligible country, and per their respective utilization/transition plans, will catalyze American investment and technology, encourage innovation, instill U.S. values and best practices throughout Africa, create more jobs for youth on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and fill in gaps in markets across the continent in preparation for the African Continental Free Trade Area and the African Customs Union.
Africa is the major consumption hub of the future. The general population is young and increasing, the African middle class is also growing and with it, demand for industrial goods is 1.5 times higher than the global average.
The issue of low utilization rates of AGOA benefits needs to be addressed. Studies show that nations with AGOA Country Strategies have higher utilization rates than nations without country strategies, and these countries use AGOA benefits to create good-paying jobs.
The utilization rate of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and all U.S. preferential trade programs for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) has decreased. AGOA is the only U.S. preferential trade program with a positive utilization rate of about 1.6%.
The metric and measure of AGOA’s success should be contingent on RETURN ON INVESTMENT, not its short comings.
AGOA’s cost to U.S. taxpayers is nominal especially compared to U.S. investment in Development Aid to Africa.
AGOA’s non-oil imports have risen approximately 307% to $5.7 billion in 2022, while AGOA’s apparel imports have singularly increased by more than 280%.
AGOA has created hundreds of thousands of new direct jobs and millions of indirect jobs in Africa in the textile, agricultural, and automotive industries and more than 500,000 in the U.S.
The economic impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Putin’s Conflict in Ukraine poses a threat to US-Africa trade and investment, US-Africa strategic alliances, and gains made over the last two decades using the benefits of AGOA. AGOA has incentivized marketbased economies that safeguard private property rights, the rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process. It has also enhanced healthcare and education access while protecting globally acknowledged workers’ rights. All these achievements are now at risk.
AGOA remains a transformative success story. Despite AGOA’s challenges and areas of needed improvement, AGOA serves as “proof of concept” at a small financial cost to the U.S. taxpayer, which did not exist 20 years ago.
Africa is the major consumption hub of the future. The general population is young and increasing, the African middle class is also growing and with it, demand for industrial goods is 1.5 times higher than the global average
The region of Africa is too significant to ignore. Simply giving inspiring speeches and using diplomacy will not be enough for America to regain its economic and commercial leadership in Africa.
Members of Congress want to see AGOA benefits shared widely and used to create goodpaying jobs across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA); members are open to discussions on ways to build on what is working, and deliberations by members and staff on the future of the legislation are ongoing as re-authorization is approaching in 2025.
There is interest on Capitol Hill to see how investment can be coupled with trade to address poverty reduction and advancement in targeted sectors, such as health care, critical minerals, and others.
Work in Progress Financing helps micro, small, and medium/smallholder farmers to increase productivity and create jobs.
Investing in a Special Purpose Investment Fund and taking advantage of tax incentives should be seen as an opportunity for the American public to support the growth of youth, effective governance, innovative ideas, strategic alliances, and the vast potential of African markets.
Congress never intended for AGOA to be permanent – it is a Trade Preference Agreement (TPA). And all TPAs must meet standards and requirements set by Congress.
Out-of-cycle reviews provide African nations with the opportunity for reinstatement once the sanctions have been addressed.
When AGOA is up for renewal, there is a decline in trade figures across the board, particularly in the apparel sector. Uncertainty regarding extending AGOA affects investment potential in AGOA-eligible countries. Extending AGOA for ten years will stimulate investment in AGOA-eligible countries.
AGOA needs to be extended as most people, especially women, and SMEs, are just beginning to learn about AGOA when the current legislation is about to expire.
Recommendations: During the event, delegates made the following recommendations:
1. The Biden-Harris Administration and the 118th Congress enhance and extend AGOA benefits for ten years from its current September 2025 sunset to September 30th, 2035, to support the African Union Agenda 2063 and the creation of an African Continental Free Trade Areas and African Customs Union – critical tools necessary to utilizing trade to strengthen U.S.-Africa strategic alliances.
2. Expand AGOA benefits to all 55-member states of the African Union from the current 49 Sub-Saharan African countries.
3. The U.S. must deliver on commitments made to Africa during the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit, including a $55 billion pledge to support the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the creation of a new Digital Transformation with Africa (DTA) initiative intended to invest more than $350 million in financing Africa’s digital transformation.
4. The AGOA CSO Network and private sector stakeholders, with the support of the 118th Congress, the Biden-Harris Administration, and the African Union Commission, to establish a $5 Billion Special Purpose Investment Fund (SPIF), with tax incentives to catalyze U.S. investment, technology, innovation, shared values, and best practices throughout Africa.
The 8th Annual AGOA CSO Network Spring Conference, under the theme ‘Extending AGOA to 2035’ was jointly coordinated by the AGOA Civil Society Organization (CSO) Network Secretariat and The Foundation for Democracy in Africa (FDA), in partnership with the Institute for African Studies, The Elliot School for International Affairs and George Washington University.
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