Investing in women and girls must be central to global efforts towards sustainable peace and development in both Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations deputy chief said today.
“Both have dismayingly low levels of women’s political participation and are experiencing conflicts marked by extremely high levels of sexual- and gender-based violence,” said Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed as she updated the Security Council on her recent trip to the two African countries. The trip, from 19 to 27 July, was “the first of its kind” because it focused entirely on the role of women in peace, security and development, she said.
The joint AU-UN high-level mission was undertaken by four African women, namely Ms. Mohammed, the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, and the African Union (AU) Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, Bineta Diop.
The mission’s goal was to advance peace by advancing the equality, empowerment and well-being of women, which is in line with the Secretary-General’s vision and the relevant Security Council resolutions.
In both countries, Ms. Mohammed noted, the mission met with Heads of State, ministers, donors, diplomats, faith leaders, parliamentarian and the respective UN mission and country teams, spending the lion’s share of time with the women and girls most affected by conflicts, including through visits to camps for internally displaced persons.
While each country is unique, the situations share some commonalities, she said, noting that sexual violence is widespread in the DRC, and abductions, forced marriage and the use of women as suicide bombers have taken a terrible toll in northern Nigeria, where in the camps sexual exploitation, including in the form of “sex for food” is a new and alarming trend.
“The international community needs to better understand the role of women in development and peace building alongside the gender dimensions of conflict if our responses are to be effective,” she said.
Turning to country-specific matters, the UN deputy chief said that the mission was touched by the meeting with the schoolgirls, who were abducted in Nigeria’s Chibok and then released, after years in captivity, by the Boko Haram group.
“Their remarkable strength as survivors rather than victims is inspiring. Many are receiving education and psychosocial support to prepare them for reintegration,” Ms. Mohammed said, noting that thousands of other young women who have been subjected to sexual violence and affected by conflict in other ways are still to receive adequate support.
Beyond theoretical debate, humanitarian-development nexus requires tangible resources
In the DRC, the mission emphasized the need to respect and implement the 31 December agreement, which provided a clear path towards democratic elections, she noted.
At the time of her visit, Ms. Mohammed said the electoral commission had registered more than 80 per cent of voters. That number now stands at more than 90 per cent. Of those registered, 48 per cent are women, placing the country in the same bracket as more established democracies such as Solomon Islands and Paraguay.
The mission also met with women who have no choice but to cook with coal in their tents, at great risk to their health and that of their children.
“While we may debate the humanitarian-development nexus philosophically here in New York, without resources flowing to both sectors simultaneously and a real investment in early recovery, we can neither sustain peace nor prevent future gender based violence,” she said, encouraging donors to respond to the DRC’s reintegration challenges based on need alone.
Russia’s Lukoil Finds A New Home In Senegal
Undoubtedly, a number of Russian companies have largely underperformed in Africa, which experts described as 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 and technical hitches in Africa.
Lukoil, the largest Russia’s oil company, has had a long history, going forth and back with declaration of business intentions or mere interests in tapping into oil and gas resources in Africa. In the past, Lukoil have said in separate reports about its business deals in a number of African countries including Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. These are coastal countries on the Gulf of Guinea (Atlantic Ocean) in West Africa.
Besides technical and geographical hitches, Lukoil noted explicitly in its official reports that “the African leadership and government policies always pose serious problems to operations in the region.” It said that the company has been ready to observe strictly all of its obligations as a foreign investor in Africa.
Lukoil has moved to Senegal. Predominantly rural and with limited natural resources, Senegal is classified as a heavily indebted poor country, with a relatively low Human Development Index. Most of the population is on the coast and works in agriculture or other food industries. Other major industries include mining, tourism and services.
Energy is produced by private operators and sold to the Senelec Energy Corporation. According to a 2020 report by the International Energy Agency, Senegal had nearly 70% of the country connected to the national grid. Current government strategies for electrification include investments in off-grid solar and connection to the grid. Senegal has a population of approximately 15.9 million.
In spite of that, business is business. Quite recently, Lukoil, one of the largest Russia’s oil companies, publicly declared that it finally concluded an agreement with Cairn Energy PLC to acquire a 40% interest in RSSD (Rufisque, Sangomar and Sangomar Deep) project in the Republic of Senegal for $300 million in cash.
The agreement provides for potential bonus payment to Cairn Energy PLC of up to $100 million after the commencement of production. The transaction is subject to customary conditions, including the approval by the Government of the Republic of Senegal.
The blocks of the project covering 2,212 sq. km are located on the deepwater shelf of the Republic of Senegal 80 km from the shore with the sea depth of 800-2,175 meters. The blocks include two discovered fields: Sangomar and FAN.
The Final Investment Decision (FID) on the Sangomar field was taken early 2020 and the field development has begun. According to the Company’s estimates, the recoverable hydrocarbon reserves of the Sangomar field total approximately 500 million. The field is planned to be launched in 2023, with designed production level of 5 million tons of crude oil per year.
The RSSD project is currently implemented under a production sharing agreement. Woodside is the project’s operator with 35% stake. Other participants are FAR (15%) and state-owned company Petrosen (10%).
“Entering the project with already explored reserves at early stage of their development is fully in line with our strategy and allows us reinforcing our presence in West Africa. Joining the project with qualified international partners will allow us to gain additional experience in development of offshore fields in the region,” said Vagit Alekperov, President of PJSC Lukoil.
It has, however, one success story. Lukoil company’s operations in the Republic of Ghana where it has focused on upstream exploration. The reserves evaluated on the blocks proves to be sufficient for their industrial development.
On the opposite side, Russian news agencies reported that Lukoil exited projects in Cote d’Ivoire, where it had led exploration in the deep offshore. The company confirmed the information about leaving the projects to TASS News Agency.
In August 2015, Lukoil also pulled out of the oil and gas exploration and drilling project that it began in Sierra Leone. According to Interfax, a local Russian News Agency, the company did not currently have any projects and has backed away due to poor exploration results in Sierra Leone.
It reported that drilling in West Africa, including Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, did not bring Lukoil the expected results, as preliminary technical results did not demonstrated commercial hydrocarbon reserves. According to official reports, Lukoil has been active in a number of countries with a high level of political and economic risks that could significantly complicate the work of the company in a particular region, and even lead to its termination.
Russia’s Lukoil is one of the world’s biggest vertically integrated companies for production of crude oil and gas, and their refining into petroleum products and petrochemicals. The company is a leader on Russian and international markets in its core business and its key mission is to harness natural energy resources for human benefit and supports long-term economic growth, social stability, prosperity and progress in the regions where it operates.
Terrorism and COVID-19: Brutality of Boko Haram in Africa
Authors: Dr Nanda Kishor and Ms Meghna Ria Muralidharan*
On 1 August 2020, Boko Haram killed 19 civilians through a grenade attack on a camp of displaced people in Nguetchewe village of northern Cameroon leaving 11 people seriously injured. Boko Haram has turned out to be one of the lethal terrorist organisation in western and central Africa. Year after year it has been listed as the fiercest terrorist organisation in the global terrorism index. As the world tries to counter the pandemic, Nigeria continues its battle against insurgent groups threatening the stability and political integrity of Africa’s most populous state. Since 2011, Boko Haram has been the largest Islamist militant groups in Africa, has attacked political and religious groups, military and the local police. The Chibok abduction of 200 girls in April 2014, drew international attention to the growing threat from the militant group and the inability of the government to counter it. Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam that considers western education as “Haram”. It forbids the Muslims from taking part in political and social activity linked with western society including voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or obtaining secular education. The militant group has been in Nigeria for over a decade, fighting to carve out an Islamic caliphate based in Nigeria. The violence has led to the death of approximately 30,000 people and millions have been displaced and the spillover effect is witnessed in the neighbouring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
Boko Haram and COVID-19
From 17 February 2020, when Nigeria reported its first case of coronavirus, there has been a spike in the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19, with more than 43,000 confirmed cases and over 800 deaths as of 3 August 2020. The North East region of Nigeria, Boko Haram’s stronghold has become a COVID hotspot. There have been reports about mass mysterious deaths in Yobe, one of the state worst hit by the militant attacks and Borno, Nigeria’s second-largest city. The pandemic struck first in Borno, the epicentre of Boko Haram on 18 April 2020 after a health care worker assisting in an internally displaced peoples (IDP) camps hosting approximately 60,000 Boko Haram survivors was killed by the militant group. Since then, Borno has become one of Nigeria’s worst-hit state. Further, it is believed that the virus is spreading at a higher rate in these IDP camps due to a poor health care system.
The pandemic has had a very little mitigating impact on the terrorist activities and there has been a steady rise in the attacks. In addition to the recent attacks on the military, the group has been targeting health care workers and destroying religious as well as educational institutions. Boko Haram has continued its media activities during this pandemic by releasing audio messages of its factional leader, Abubakar Shekau. These messages reflect its continuous attempt to rejuvenate the jihadist scheme across the Sahel. Keeping up with its communication strategy, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad, abbreviated as JAS)released an hour-long audio message detailing its position on Covid-19. Shekau framed the virus as a divine punishment from Allah for indulging in sodomy and non-payment of Zakat. This aligns with Boko Haram’s motive of being against western education. He has further claimed that the non-Muslims and hypocrites were using the outbreak as a pretence to stop Muslims from practising their faith, stopping pilgrimage to Mecca and congregational prayers. The group also released audios thereby stating that how it has continued to stay in groups and were observing fast and also condemned the safety measures of lockdown and social distance as evil. The groupwent on to claim that Sambisa is a safe haven against the pandemic, a propaganda to lure the young Nigerian population.
Responses of State and International Community
Since one of the factions of Boko Haram led by Abubakar Shekau expressed allegiance to Islamic State in 2014, they have dreamt of their own Islamic state in Africa. In 2015, Boko Haram opened its first twitter account in the name of al-Urwa al-Wuthqa, or “the Incessant Handhold” and has been active in propaganda. The major issue and vulnerability of Nigeria is being unable to govern its people and provide them with welfare. Exploiting this scenario, Boko Haram uses underemployed youth as recruits. The state though argues that due to the security scenario it is unable to deliver the promises, the far north of the state suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition have been the easy target for Boko Haram. Boko Haram promised to pay them between 300,000 and 400,000 CFA (US$600 – US$800) each month to join their cause. The minimum wage, for those lucky enough to be employed, is just 36,000 CFA (US$72) per month. Those who resist joining Boko Haram are severely punished and are forced to leave the place. Boko Haram has been a single reason for the internal displacement of more than 2.4 million people in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. International organisations are in critical condition even while providing refuge to the internally displaced people. Their security is always compromised and the international community is mute to this scenario.
Terrorist groups across the world have been exploiting the COVID-19 scenario by spreading misinformation and have not spared the population in such a grave scenario. Two important factions led by Abubakar Shekau and another by Abu Musab al-Barnawi have been constantly thriving to overthrow the secular regime in Nigeria to establish Islamic State with strict enforcement of Sharia. Knowing the spread and reach of the organisation, Nigeria has tried to negotiate with Boko Haram but unfortunately, Shekau has spoiled every attempt so far and anybody willing to do have been mercilessly killed within the organisation. Barnawi has been willing to negotiate but from the position of strength though the government has been denying of paying ransom or prisoner exchange. Several reports indicate that the schoolgirls from Dapchi of Yobe State were captured by the Barnawi faction.
Time and again the international community has failed to help counter-terrorism and contain Boko Haram. Partially this is also due to the leadership in the affected states in Africa. The Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram consisting of Nigeria, Benin, Chad, Niger and Cameroon which became comparatively weaker since the withdrawal of Chad in 2017 has been one of the reasons for the failure of the effective counter-terrorism measures.
What is in Store?
The uninterrupted propaganda and activity of Boko Haram may affect the people of the region much more than before. It also has the potential to damage the relief expected to combat COVID-19. Any health intervention by Muslims, individuals, State or international agencies during the pandemic has been viewed by Boko Haram as Haram (Forbidden). Knowing the brutality unleashed by Boko Haram in the past, Boko Haram is not just a terrorist organisation killing and kidnapping people but a public health risk now.
*Ms Meghna Ria Muralidharan is a Research Scholar at Centre for African Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
How COVID-19 pandemic affected South Africa
At present, South Africa is the world’s fifth in the number of coronavirus cases. The epidemiological situation in the country continues to deteriorate, as despite a decreasing number of new cases reported daily, the number of tests has decreased as well. On August 2, 2020 the total number of infected exceeded 511,000, with a daily increase staying at 10,000 – 12,000. The death toll exceeds 8,000. Nevertheless, Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize points out that the percentage of recoveries make up 64% – higher than the world average of 58.2%, which does inspire hope.
Significantly, what hit South Africans the most was the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. South Africa is de facto the only country where along with the closure of different sectors of the economy after the introduction of a quarantine on March 27th there still exists a ban on the sale of tobacco and alcoholic drinks, including wine, the domestic consumption of which is a major source of the country’s revenues. (In June the government partially lifted the ban on alcohol for one month,, which caused a serious rush among the population and as a result, an upsurge in COVID-19 cases – P.L.) Moreover, the above-mentioned measures have inflicted substantial losses on the restaurant business and the farming sector, triggering severe criticism from trade union movements. Union leaders have warned the South African government that if not lifted the quarantine will result in the loss of jobs for 800,000 public catering workers and for about half a million employees of the wine-making industry. The situation in the tourist sector is as alarming as the country’s authorities keep the decision to close the borders in force. Domestic tourism is also prohibited. All in all, about 3 million people have lost their jobs during the 4-month quarantine and experts predict a growth in unemployment from 30% to 50%.
In addition, the South African society is demonstrating an ever growing criticism of the measures taken by police and military personnel to guarantee anti-pandemic regime. Participation of police and army servicemen is frequently accompanied by disproportionately harsh measures against quarantine violators, particularly residents of informal settlements, known as “townships”. All this sparks sporadic outbursts of protests among poor dark-skinned communities. Meanwhile, shortages of protective masks and other individual protection items have resulted in more cases of law enforcement employees contracting the coronavirus infection, which leads to the closure of many police stations and an increase in crime.
South Africans point out that the government and its anti-COVID-19 committee are unable to cope with the crisis, which becomes clear from a surge in coronavirus cases among the population. Also under question is the country’s healthcare system, which, experts say, will not be able to handle an influx of coronavirus patients at the peak of the epidemic in August-September due to shortages of hospital beds, medical equipment and medicaments. What is particularly frustrating is the numerous cases of the authorities being slow in addressing social issues, especially those related to the preservation and creation of new jobs.
Given the situation, South African experts say, tensions will continue to escalate and as the epidemiological situation deteriorates, there will be more mass protests on the part of the dark-skinned community, particularly residents of “townships”.
Simultaneously, the South African government is pinning hopes on a short lull, – last week the IMF approved the so-called “COVID” loan of 4.2 billion dollars for South Africa. The South African leadership expects these resources to reverse the negative trend by financing the priority program of supporting the country’s population.
Meanwhile, analysts underscore that the government is faced with other, equally pressing issues, including restoration of the economy, restructuring of state-run companies, and creation of jobs. Experts say South Africa is in for hard times, which will require maximum coordination from the authorities to maintain political and social stability amid the continuing social and economic crisis in the country.
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