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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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A Fault Line Named Farmajo

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Somalia, a country of many political fault lines that indicate looming earthquakes of great magnitude, now has a new one- the Farmajo fault. Mohmed Abdullahi Farmajo is the malignantly polarizing president of Somalia.

Two of the Farmajo fault’s severe foreshocks or preliminary shakers have occurred on Thursday 18 February and Friday 19 February. In the first one, government troops have attacked two former presidents and current candidates at a hotel where they were organizing to lead a peaceful march against Farmajo’s illegally delayed election the next day.

The second one occurred on Friday when the government fired indiscriminately at a peacefully marching citizens led by Farmajo’s former prime minister, former ministers and a few other candidates. An estimate of twenty people was reported dead or seriously injured

That was the most callous act that any leader or ruler could have ordered at a time of high political volatility. It is the opinion of this author that that has ended Farmajo’s political future. He severely wounded himself in his first reckless attack and committed suicide in his second.

Nature of the Violation

According to Article 19 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

And, according to Article 20:

(1)   Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association

(2)   No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

These universal rights coupled with the freedoms expressed in Somalia’s provisional constitution, affirm that those whose Friday march was violently aborted had the right to protest and chant ‘Doorasho diid dooni meyno!’ which means we don’t want election refuser. No one should be bullied, violently attacked, injured, or killed for their verbal expressions of discontent.      

What was witnessed in Mogadishu in that bloody protest was something not seen in a number of decades. The protesters were not those often seen in the streets of Mogadishu- IDPs and other poor women draped in the Somali flags who are stationed in street corners, under the baking sun, to get paid a few dollars at the end of the day, and children shouting slogans that they do not understand.

Any government that resorts to violence in order to silence its opposition, activists, or dissidents inevitably loses its legitimacy. So more often than not, such government’s days become numbered.

Anyone who has been following my commentaries on Somalia knows that I neither support nor think the opposition (any one of the 14 presidential candidates) could help save this nation that is sinking deeply into quicksand of distrust, for that requires more than election. Yet, I—like many others who have no horse in this bloody race—am committed to defend their right to publicly and privately express their political views. 

 Spin Doctors of Halane

The aforementioned Friday violence occurred within a walking distance from Halane (Somalia’s Green Zone) and key actors in that compound were well aware, at least for a few days before the event, that an anti-Farmajo protest would led by a coalition of presidential candidates who felt scorned and disenfranchised by the ‘Madaxweynaha uu xiligiisu dhamaaday’ or the President whose term has ended.

In reaction, the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) @UNSOM offered this solution “The UN in #Somalia notes that the clashes in #Mogadishu underscore the urgent need for Federal Government and Federal Member State leaders to come together to reach political agreement on the implementation of the 17 September electoral model.”

The U.S. Embassy in Somalia followed with a paraphrased version of the same statement from another planet. ” We urge an end to all violence and remind all parties of their commitment to immediately conclude an FGS-FMS agreement on #election implementation.”

Interestingly, the referenced ‘electoral model’ is at the heart of the presidential candidates’ grievance. They were denied to be part of it. These statements on behalf of the U.N. and U.S. were adding insult to an injury. As a result, the coalition of presidential candidates reasserted their position of not considering Farmajo as a legal president and that they would continue protesting until he comes back to his senses.

In solidarity with the disenfranchised presidential candidates, both the leader of Puntland federal-state and Jubbaland federal-state (who were at odds with Farmajo for long) have declared said agreement null and void. The 19 February bloody event has killed 17 September agreement.

In a no hold barred televised speech, President Said Abdullahi Deni of Puntland said “We are not going to a conference with Farmajo…” He described Farmajo as a “dictator” who has been dividing the country, and warned against regression into a renewed civil war.   

Recommendations

1)      Allow the candidates and all others who want to march to do so freely, and all domestic and foreign stakeholders should support their right to do so

2)      Farmajo must be pressured to step aside without being barred of participation in the election- a constitutional right that he cannot be denied

3)      The 2009 precedent should not be followed. When then controversial president, Abdullahi Yusuf, was pressured to step aside, his Prime Minister, Nur Adde, was asked to lead the country while a new government was being formed in Djibouti. Nur Adde was not seen as partisan as the current Prime Minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble, who recently declared to unilaterally conduct elections without Puntland and Jubbaland       

4)      Since no official in the Executive or the Lower and the Upper House branches has a mandate to lead the country while stakeholders are negotiating the right model of election and implementing it, the Speaker of the Upper House, Abdi Hashi, should be entrusted with that responsibility for the following reasons:

a)      He is a tower of patriotism among the current politicians

b)      He is the oldest, most ethical, and indeed most credible member of the parliament

c)      He is the only leader who has been playing by the rules

d)      He is the only one who refrained from the cut-throat politics that kept all others in a state of hyper-paranoia

e)      He is one of the Senators who represent Somaliland in the clan-based federal system

f)       He represents one of the four ‘major clans’ in the so-called 4.5 system that never held the presidency, even transitionally

g)      Once a new parliament is elected and a new president is elected or selected, Speaker Hashi clears the way for that new president

The Farmajo fault should not be underestimated. His prolonged stay could wholly tribalize the issue and subsequently make matters worse. Though the clan rhetoric has not been absent, so far the dichotomous divide between the political elite is not fueled by clan politics. Certain foreign actors possess more political leverage than the clans.

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African problems require African solutions

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In order to strengthen political dialogue and promote economic relations, Professor Robert Dussey, Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Integration and Togolese Abroad, held diplomatic talks on February 16, 2021 with his Russian counterpart Minister Sergey Lavrov in St. Petersburg. According to reports, Professor Dussey’s visit was on the invitation by Moscow, and came on exactly one year after their last meeting February 15 in Munich.

After their closed-door discussion, Lavrov told the joint news conference that there is a mutual interest in intensifying and deepening the entire scope of bilateral ties, including trade, the economy and investment, and have agreed to look for specific opportunities for joint projects in areas such as energy, natural resources, infrastructure, transport, and agriculture.

Regarding issues on the African continent, Lavrov re-emphasized that African problems (of which there are many) require African solutions. “We strongly support the African Union, the G5 Sahel, and the sub-regional organizations in Africa, in their efforts to resolve numerous local conflicts and crises. We specifically focus on supporting the fight against terrorism, which poses a real threat, including for our friends in Togo and other coastal countries in the region of the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.

In fact and as always, Lavrov reiterated Russia’s commitment to continue to act actively in pursuing peace and, to this end, called for the peaceful settlement of all kinds of differences, and reaffirmed support for sustainable development there in Africa.

Regarding issues from the last summit held in Sochi, Lavrov stressed: “We are interested in developing the resolutions of the Russia-Africa summit. We spoke in detail about the implementation of these agreements. The coronavirus pandemic has required adjustments. Nevertheless, the results on implementing the Sochi agreements are obvious. This year we will actively continue these efforts.”

The Association for Economic Cooperation with the African States was created in Russia following the 2019 Sochi summit. It includes representatives from the related departments and major Russian companies. The Russia-Africa Partnership Forum, which is a political association, was created, its secretariat is located at the Russian Foreign Ministry. The primary tasks of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum includes preparation and organization of the next Russia-Africa summit scheduled for 2022. The venue to be chosen by African leaders.

“We are still slightly behind other states, but trade between Russia and the African countries has been growing quite rapidly lately. I think we will soon make up for the time we lost in the years when, at the dawn of the new Russian statehood, we were too busy to maintain proper ties with Africa. A very strong foundation was laid in Soviet times, though,” Lavrov said further at the news conference about the current situation with relations between Russia and Africa.

It has always been the wish of both Russia and Africa to have an excellent quality of cooperation and partnership relations between the two regions and to diversify and deepen them as best as possible in order to provide an appreciable geopolitical influence and strategic power balance in Africa.

Russia and Togo, as with many other African countries, have had long time-tested relations over the years. The most recent high-level meetings were between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe during sidelined bilateral meeting in October 2019, when Gnassingbe participated in the Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, and on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg in July 2018.

With an estimated population of about 7.9 million, Togo is among the smallest countries in Africa. Its economy depends highly on agriculture. Togo pursues an active foreign policy and participates in many international organizations. Relations between Togo and neighboring states are generally good. It is particularly active in West African regional affairs and in the African Union.

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Russia offers 300 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine to Africa

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As African countries continue to experience increasing coronavirus infections, with the overall number of cases exceeding 3.79 million mid-February, Russia is stepping in to supply 300 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine through the African Union (AU). It an effort to assist to stop further spread of the pandemic on the continent.

An official release said that the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, set up by the African Union to acquire additional vaccine doses so that Africa can attain a target immunization of 60%, has received an offer of 300 million Sputnik V vaccines from the Russian Federation. This includes a financing package for any member states wishing to secure this vaccine.

Meanwhile, the Task Team advises that the 270 million doses previously secured from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnsons were all taken up by the first allocation phase deadline through the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP). With these additional 300 million Sputnik V vaccines, AMSP accelerates online COVID-19 vaccines pre-orders for the 55 African Union member states.

The Sputnik V vaccine from the Russian Federation is now available on the AMSP for the consideration of our AU Member States, says Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). Bilateral and private sector partnerships such as these aid our efforts to bringing the COVID-19 pandemic to an end.

Nkengasong is worried that vaccine apartheid will have dire consequences for Africans in the near future. According to him, the continent needed to be taken along by the developed world as they vigorously roll out inoculation efforts. Africa’s rollout has been relatively slower with over a third of African countries yet to receive doses.

About Africa’s lack of vaccines, he said:“That is absolutely one of our greatest concerns, that the vaccine situation will continue to exacerbate the inequality gap that exists in the world especially the north – south divide. My greatest fear is that once the United States and Europe get the vaccine, they begin to impose the need to have vaccine certificate to travel and that is extremely complicated for Africans to travel across the world.”

Nkengasongadded:“Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has a timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”

While details, including clinical and technical information, are now accessible on the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), Sputnik V vaccines will be available for a period of 12 months commencing by May 2021.

The African Union member states that wish to secure funding should approach the African Export-Import Bank through their Central Banks, as has been the case with the other vaccines that have been on offer. The lender approved US$2 billion for participating suppliers, allowing the finalization of supply contracts.

According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Sputnik V is one of the world’s top three coronavirus vaccines in terms of the number of approvals issued by government regulators.

Sputnik V had been approved in Russia, Belarus, Argentina, Bolivia, Serbia, Algeria, Palestine, Venezuela, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Hungary, UAE, Iran, Republic of Guinea, Tunisia, Armenia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Republika Srpska (entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina), Lebanon, Myanmar, Pakistan, Mongolia, Bahrain, Montenegro, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Gabon and San Marino.

Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, has said that Sputnik V has a number of key advantages:

• Efficacy of Sputnik V is 91.6% as confirmed by the data published in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals; It is one of only three vaccines in the world with efficacy of over 90%; Sputnik V provides full protection against severe cases of COVID-19.

• The Sputnik V vaccine is based on a proven and well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors, which cause the common cold and have been around for thousands of years.

• Sputnik V uses two different vectors for the two shots in a course of vaccination, providing immunity with a longer duration than vaccines using the same delivery mechanism for both shots.

• The safety, efficacy and lack of negative long-term effects of adenoviral vaccines have been proven by more than 250 clinical studies over two decades.

• The developers of the Sputnik V vaccine are working collaboratively with AstraZeneca on a joint clinical trial to improve the efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccine.

• There are no strong allergies caused by Sputnik V.

• The price of Sputnik V is less than $10 per shot, making it affordable around the world.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (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. RDIF acts as a catalyst for direct investment in the Russian economy. RDIF’s management company is based in Moscow.

About the Afreximbank: The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) is a Pan-African multilateral financial institution with the mandate of financing and promoting intra-and extra-African trade. Afreximbank was established in October 1993 and owned by African governments, the African Development Bank and other African multilateral financial institutions as well as African and non-African public and private investors. The Bank was established under two constitutive documents, an Agreement signed by member states, which confers on the Bank the status of an international organization, and a Charter signed by all Shareholders, which governs its corporate structure and operations.

About the Africa CDC: Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), is a specialized technical institution of the African Union that strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

About the AVATT: The African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), was established by African Union Chair, President Cyril Ramaphosa, as a component in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy that was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government on 20th of August 2020. The AVATT is chaired by President Ramaphosa and includes African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa FakiMahamat, Dr. Zweli Lawrence Mkhize, Mr. Strive Masiyiwa, Dr. Donald Kaberuka, Professor Benedict Oramah, H.E. Amira Elfadil, Dr. John Nkengasong and others, as to be nominated by the Chair of the African Union and the Chairperson of the Commission.

About the AMSP: The Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) is a non-profit initiative launched by the African Union as an immediate, integrated and practical response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The online platform was developed under the leadership of the African Union Special Envoy, Strive Masiyiwa and powered by Janngo on behalf of the African Union’s Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and in partnership with African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) with the support of leading African and international Institutions, Foundations and Corporations as well as Governments of China, Canada and France.

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