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The Russia-Mauritius agenda: Interview with H.E. Indira Savitree Thacoor-Sidaya

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The Republic of Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 km) off the southeast coast of the African continent. It possesses a wide range of natural and man-made attractions, enjoys a tropical climate with clear warm sea waters, attractive beaches, tropical fauna and flora complemented by a multi-ethnic and cultural population that is friendly and welcoming.

These tourism assets are its main strength, especially since they are backed up by well-designed and run hotels, and reliable and operational services and infrastructures. Mauritius is one of the world’s top luxury tourism destinations. Mauritius received the World Leading Island Destination award for the third time and World’s Best Beach at the World Travel Awards in January 2012.

Mauritius is ranked high in terms of economic competitiveness, a friendly investment climate, good governance and a free economy. It has strong and friendly relations with various African and foreign countries. For instance, Mauritius and Russia have good diplomatic relations.

As part of our sustainable efforts to highlight the current Russia’s relations with individual African countries, Kester Kenn Klomegah interviewed the Ambassador of the Republic of Mauritius to the Russian Federation, Indira Savitree Thacoor-Sidaya. She discusses some of the issues on the Russia-Mauritius agenda, expresses satisfaction with the current level of bilateral relations and outlines further steps necessary to be taken to deepen Russia-Mauritius cooperation especially in trade, economic and tourism areas.

What are your Government’s priorities and expectations in the Russian Federation? And most probably in other ex-Soviet republics, do you have the same business agenda?

Our Government’s objectives are to improve investments and trade from Russia and other ex-Soviet republics interested in doing business in Mauritius. We also have a policy of openness and make it easy for eligible foreign investors and talents to work and live in Mauritius.

Foreign Direct Investment: As a small open economy, Mauritius needs foreign direct investments (FDI). Since 2009, Mauritius has been attracting more than $300 million FDI every year. The main sources have remained the traditional markets of UK, France, India and South Africa. Mauritius would wish to attract investors from the Russian Federation to invest in Mauritius and, through Mauritius, into Africa.

From an agricultural base dominated by sugarcane, Mauritius has had a sustained economic growth, diversifying into tourism, textiles and manufacturing, financial services, ICT and seafood processing among others.

The ocean economy is seen as the next driver of our growth, transforming our small island state into a 1.9 km2 Ocean State (www.oceaneconomy.mu). Seven priority areas are identified:

• Seabed exploration for hydrocarbon and minerals
• Fishing, seafood processing and aquaculture
• Deep ocean water applications
• Marine services (including marine finance, marine ICT, marine biotechnology and ship registration)
• Seaport-related activities
• Marine renewable energies
• Ocean knowledge cluster

Mauritius also has a prominent role as the gateway to invest in Africa. Mauritius has the best governance in Africa (1st in Mo Ibrahim’s Index of Governance since its creation), the easiest investment climate (1st in Africa and among Top 20 globally in World Bank’s Doing Business Index), economic freedom (1st in Africa and 8th globally in the Economic Freedom Index of Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal, and the Fraser Institute). With strong hard and soft infrastructure and a reputable international financial centre, Mauritius offers an ideal platform to invest in Africa.

Trade: Through membership to free trade areas such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Southern African Development Community (SADC), Mauritius benefits from preferential trade access. In addition, Mauritius is a signatory to AGOA which provides duty free and quota free access for specific products into the US market. We are also in the process of signing an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU which will provide Mauritian goods with single transformation a duty-free access to the EU.

In addition, Mauritius has a well-developed Freeport where export-oriented Freeport companies benefit from a zero-tax regime for manufactured goods exported to Africa. Taken together, these represent a preferential market access to several hundreds of millions.

Work and Live in Mauritius: Since 2005, Mauritius has carried out an in-depth reform agenda to open the economy and streamline administrative procedures. International businesses can set up in Mauritius within three working days and three categories of foreigners namely investors, self-employed and professionals are allowed to work and live in Mauritius under an occupation permit delivered by the Board of Investment.

Discuss Russia’s economic footprints in Mauritius? Is your Government satisfied with Russia’s investment interest there as compared to other foreign players such as China and India?

Mauritius, which has had record years of attracting FDI from the EU, India and South Africa since 2006, has not witnessed significant flows from Russia. In comparison, Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs have been increasing their investments in Mauritius.

The Mauritius international financial centre, which has successfully attracted funds from India and China, loses to other jurisdictions such as Cyprus, BVI and Bermuda when it comes to Russian global funds. Yet, according to FDI Intelligence, Russians are investing in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Seychelles and South Africa. Mauritius could be used as the platform for these investments.

Trade between Russia and Mauritius is also not very significant compared to neighboring India or China. Imports from Russia are principally manufactured goods and chemical products. There is no export from Mauritius to Russia per se. While tourism from Russia is improving, there is still a large untapped potential with less than 2% of tourists visiting Mauritius coming from the Russian Federation.

How does Mauritius also plan to engage Russia? How do you view possible trade exchanges between Russia and Mauritius now that some economic opportunities have opened for African countries to trade (export products) here?

Mauritius will need to conduct trade and investment promotion activities in Russia. Already, the Board of Investment (BOI), the national investment promotion agency is planning a mission next October. The Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) has also been present regularly and has held meetings with its counterparts. A MoU was signed some years back between the MCCI and The Russian Chamber Of Commerce. It needs to be rekindled, reactivated….and so forth.

Finally, Enterprise Mauritius, responsible for the promotion of Mauritian exports, has Russian business community on its agenda. A MoU has already been prepared between our countries in the fishing sector.

How is Mauritius tourism business developing in Russia? Are the tourism numbers increasing compared to the previous years and what strategies would you like to adopt to further popularize your country’s recreational destinations?

Russian tourists have increased over the last three years with high occupancy rates in high-end luxury hotel such as St Regis and Four Seasons. But, I believe we still have to increase our efforts with a more aggressive marketing strategy to succeed in our goals because, it is sad to say that many Russians do not know much about this beautiful little island called Mavrici, in Russian language. More importantly, Russian visitors to Mauritius do not require visa prior to entering Mauritius.

To further promote Mauritius as a tourism destination in Russia, I led a delegation of 16 well known Russian Tour Operators, including the Vice President of RUTI (Russian Union Of Travel Industry), Mr Barzykin,Yuriy Aleksandrovich to my country. This tour was sponsored by the MTPA (Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority) and the Emirates Russia.

A  MoU in the tourism sector is also being prepared, with emphasis on cultural tourism, by the Ministry of Culture, also responsible for tourism, following two important meetings between myself and the Deputy Minister, Ms. Alla Manilova, (to be signed very soon with my country.) I have also had discussions with the General Director of Transaero, Mrs Olga Pleshkova, a couple of times in view of having more frequent direct flights to Mauritius. For the time being, Transaero is operating only during peak seasons (December to May).

In the meantime, I wish to thank the wonderful team from Aviareps, the organization that officially represents MTPA, in Russia (Mr Robert Obolgogiani, Ms Ekaterina Lenkova and Ms Victoria Mukranova) for their sustainable efforts towards promoting Mauritius as a tourism destination for the Russians. I also wish to thank the President of RUTI, Mr Shpilko Sergey Pavlovich and Mr Yuriy Schegolkov for their engagement to promote my country in the Russian Federation. 

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Africa

Decade of Sahel conflict leaves 2.5 million people displaced

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Two displaced women sit at a camp in Awaradi, Niger. © UNOCHA/Eve Sabbagh

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called on Friday for concerted international action to end armed conflict in Africa’s central Sahel region, which has forced more than 2.5 million people to flee their homes in the last decade.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, the agency’s spokesperson, Boris Cheshirkov, informed that internal displacement has increased tenfold since 2013, going from 217,000 to a staggering 2.1 million by late last year.

The number of refugees in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger now stands at 410,000, and the majority comes from Mali, where major civil conflict erupted in 2012, leading to a failed coup and an on-going extremist insurgency.

Increase in one year

Just last year, a surge in violent attacks across the region displaced nearly 500,000 people (figures for December still pending).

According to estimates from UN partners, armed groups carried out more than 800 deadly attacks in 2021. 

This violence uprooted some 450,000 people within their countries and forced a further 36,000 to flee into a neighbouring country.

In Burkina Faso alone, the total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) rose to more than 1.5 million by the end of the year. Six in ten of the Sahel’s displaced are now from this country.

In Niger, the number of IDPs in the regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua has increased by 53 per cent in the last 12 months. In Mali, more than 400,000 people are displaced internally, representing a 30 per cent increase from the previous year.

Climate, humanitarian crisis

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating with crises on multiple fronts.

Insecurity is the main driver, made worse by extreme poverty, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of the climate crisis are also felt more strongly in the region, with temperatures rising 1.5 times faster than the global average.

Women and children are often the worst affected and disproportionately exposed to extreme vulnerability and the threat of gender-based violence.

According to the UNHCR spokesperson, “host communities have continued to show resilience and solidarity in welcoming displaced families, despite their own scant resources.”

He also said that Government authorities have demonstrated “unwavering commitment” to assisting the displaced, but they are now “buckling under increasing pressure.”

Bold response

UNHCR and humanitarian partners face mounting challenges to deliver assistance, and continue to be the target of road attacks, ambushes, and carjacking.

In this context, the agency is calling on the international community to take “bold action and spare no effort” in supporting these countries.

UNHCR is also leading the joint efforts of UN agencies and NGOs to provide emergency shelter, manage displacement sites and deliver vital protection services, including combating gender-based violence and improving access to civil documentation.

In 2021, more than a third of the agency’s Central Sahel funding needs were unmet.

This year, to mount an effective response in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, the agency needs $307 million.

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SADC extends its joint military mission in Mozambique

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The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has collectively decided to extend its force mission mandate in Mozambique for three months to provide military support in fighting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, the northern seaside provincial district that suffered frequent militant attacks displacing thousands out of their homes.

The South African Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM), according to the final communiqué released after the leaders of the southern African countries gathered to review significant issues, among them the operations of the joint military force dispatched last year as attacks reached its greater heights to Mozambique.

Chairperson of the SADC’s Organ on Politics, Defense and Security and South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa told the gathering in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, where the regional bloc held its extraordinary summit and reviewed progress in Mozambique, described SAMIM as highly successful in defeating the militant groups particularly in Cabo Delgado.

“I would like to express my appreciation and commend SAMIM for its work on the ground, as well as recognize the member states that have supported this work financially and in the deployment of military personnel and equipment,” the final report quoted Ramaphosa.

SADC cannot allow terrorism to spread to other provinces in Mozambique and to the region, and it is imperative to promote a spirit of unity among member countries as terrorism and violent extremism threaten the stability and development that the region has achieved over the past four decades, says the report.

The communiqué also approved the framework for support to Mozambique in addressing terrorism outlines, among others, comprehensive strategic actions for consolidating peace, security, and the socio-economic recovery of Cabo Delgado.

The Maputo daily Noticias wrote after the SADC summit that a budgetary allocation of US$29.5 million has been set aside for the three-month extension, after several years of high-level consultations and this would mean until at least mid-April. The SAMIM extension set from mid-January.

Addressing the opening session of the summit, the current SADC Chairperson, Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera, urged regional bloc member states to stick together and ensure that SAMIM remains multidimensional and comprehensive. He entreated SADC member countries not to relent, regress or even retreat on their commitments.

“What remains now is for us to stay the course and stick together. We cannot relent. We cannot regress. We cannot retreat. Our approach to this mission must continue to be multidimensional and comprehensive. It must not only focus on neutralizing the threat, but also have post-conflict plans to rebuild,” said Chakwera, added that the collective mission is paramount and the stakes for all the Member States are high because what they are fighting for is regional stability, and the sustainability of the quest for the bloc’s integration and socio-economic development.

Chakwera welcomed the comprehensive Cabo Delgado Reconstruction Plan launched by his Mozambican counterpart, Filipe Nyusi, and his government, which, among other issues, seeks to provide humanitarian support to the affected population, including internally displaced persons, and uplift their living standards.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi however expressed high optimism about the current military situation in Cabo Delgado. He said that all the bases from which the terrorists used to plan their actions are now in the hands of the Mozambican forces, and 2022 would be a decisive year to support the regional standby force in the final fight against terrorism in Mozambique.

For the Mozambican President Nyusi the extension of the SAMIM mission demonstrates the spirit of unity and solidarity that the Southern African Development Community members have readily and warmheartedly shown with the people of Mozambique.

Mozambique has grappled with an insurgency in its northernmost province of Cabo Delgado since 2017, but currently fast improving after the deployment of joint military force with the primary responsibility of ensuring peace and stability, and for restoring normalcy in Mozambique.

Mozambique has consistently maintained that all problems especially relating to conflicts and crises should be resolved largely based on the approaches of Africans, and of course with moral, political and material support from regional blocs such as SADC and the continental organization – African Union, and the involvement of United Nations with its UN Security Council.

With an approximate population of 30 million, Mozambique is endowed with rich and extensive natural resources but remains one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world. Mozambique is a member of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

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Mali: Security Council warned of ‘endless cycle of instability’

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The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has supported peace and reconciliation efforts in the country. MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

A decade after civil conflict erupted in Mali, hopes for an early resolution to insurgency and strife have not materialized, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country, El-Ghassim Wane, told the Security Council on Tuesday.  

Instead, the UN top envoy explained, “insecurity has expanded, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, more children are of out of school and the country has been affected by an endless cycle of instability.”  

In fact, more than 1.8 million people are expected to need food assistance in 2022 compared to 1.3 million in 2021, the highest level of food insecurity recorded since 2014.  

And more than half a million children have been affected by school closures, which the envoy believes puts “the future of the country in jeopardy”.  

Despite these challenges, Mr. Wane argued that the situation “would have been far worse” without the engagement of the international community, including the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) in 2013.  

The Malian Government has been seeking to restore stability following a series of setbacks since early 2012, including a failed military coup d’état, renewed fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of its northern territory by radical extremists. 

Standoff 

The Special Representative also briefed the Council on the current stand-off between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Malian transitional leadership, controlled by the military.  

Over the weekend, ECOWAS held an Extraordinary Summit and decided that the proposed timetable for the transition, lasting up to five and a half years, was “totally unacceptable”. 

Urging Malian authorities to focus on a speedy return to constitutional order, they decided to uphold individual sanctions put in place on 12 December and imposed additional ones. 

The new sanctions include the recall of ambassadors from Bamako, the closing of land and air borders, suspension of all commercial and financial transactions (with some exemptions), and the suspension of financial assistance, among others.  

Mali reciprocated by recalling its ambassadors and closing its borders with ECOWAS Member States.  

In an address to the nation on Monday evening, however, Transition President, Colonel Assimi Goita, called for unity and calm, stating that Mali remains open to dialogue.  

Mr. Wane explained that supporting the transition is a key aspect of the MINUSMA mandate, so the mission will try to find a consensual way out to overcome the impasse. 

“A protracted impasse will make it much harder to find a consensual way out, while increasing hardship for the population and further weakening state capacity”, he argued, warning that such scenario would “have far-reaching consequences for Mali and its neighbours.”  

Beyond the political transition, Mr. Wane believes it is also crucial that the Council continues to pay attention to the implementation of the peace agreement and to stability in the Centre of the divided nation, calling it two “building blocks” for a peaceful and stable Mali.  

‘Window of opportunity’ 

Back in December, a process of national consultation, known as Assises nationales de la refondation, ended with a series of main recommendations, including a constitutional review, the creation of a Senate, the acceleration of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process and territorial decentralization.  

For Mr. Wane, these proposals “offer a window of opportunity on which all stakeholders should build upon to move forward on the implementation of the peace agreement.” 

The Special Representative also provided an update on MINUSMA’s activities, noting that 2021 saw more extremist attacks than any years prior.  

The mission ended the year with the highest number of casualties since 2013, following a significant rise of attacks targeting main axes, convoys, camps, and temporary operating bases.  

In total, 28 peacekeepers died, including seven Togolese in a single incident back in December.  

Humanitarian situation 

The conflict has also had a devastating impact on civilians and the humanitarian situation.  

On 3 December for instance, 32 civilians, including 26 women and children, were killed near Songho when their bus was attacked by extremist elements.  

In just one year, the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) increased from 216,000 to more than 400,000.  

In such difficult circumstances, Mr. Wane described the response to the humanitarian appeal as “lukewarm”, with only 38 per cent of funding received.  

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