Last November marked forty two years since 350,000 Moroccans crossed into the Western Sahara as part of the staged manipulation called “Green March.” November 6 is a dark day for the Saharawi people, because it epitomises Morocco’s illegal military invasion and partial occupation of Western Sahara.
In October of 1975, the International Court of Justice had totally rejected Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara, and having failed to win the legal argument, Moroccan King Hassan II responded with force. He ordered the Green March, a manufactured “civilian” invasion, which was (rein)forced with an deployment of 20,000 Moroccan heavily armed troops.
Legacy of Dictator Franco still alive
With Francisco Franco on his deathbed, the Spanish colonial forces that had controlled the territory since 1884 did nothing to resist the annexation. In fact, that time Spanish dictatorship struck a deal to cede control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania. The “Madrid Accords” between Spain, Morocco and Mauritania deliberately excluded any representatives of the indigenous Saharawi people of Western Sahara – in the best fashion of neo-colonialism. Mauritania later relinquished its claim – applauded by all progressive word. However, Morocco has continued legacy of Dictator Franco and its occupation in defiance of international law and the world community calls ever since.
The Saharawi people refused to stand idly by and watch while their land was stolen. For fifteen years, the Frente POLISARIO resisted the invasion and fought a war with Morocco. In 1991 the Organization of African Unity (the precursor to the African Union) and UN – backed by the NAM/G-77, jointly brokered a ceasefire between the Frente POLISARIO, the legitimate political representatives of the Saharawi people, and Morocco with the agreement that the Saharawi people would be allowed to exercise its right to self-determination through a referendum. The Western Sahara nation is still waiting – its people divided between a brutal and oppressive Moroccan occupation in the west and the harsh desert refugee camps of southwest Algeria.
Western Sahara is divided by a 2,700 kilometers of sand “berm” that is littered with landmines and manned by tens of thousands of Moroccan troops. The landmines, in direct contravention of the Ottawa Treaty on anti-personnel mines, pose daily risks and dangers to the lives of the Saharawi population and their livestock in the liberated area of the territory. Those under occupation are denied basic human rights and freedoms; they are discriminated against and are frequently subject to arbitrary arrest, intimidation, detainment and torture. These areas are – by many independent accounts – some of the worst on planet earth. Those living in the refugee camps are exiled from their homeland – all that for decades, with new generations born under the refugee tends. The precariousness of this situation was highlighted recently when severe flooding destroyed the camps and created a major humanitarian disaster.
Morocco – Neocolonial Master-blaster
For decades, the legitimate representatives of the Saharawi people have followed a peaceful path towards liberation, patiently making their case to the world that they too deserve to exercise their fundamental right to self-determination – elementary liberty granted to any world nation. Saharawi do this knowing that they have the full weight of international law on their side and that no single country in the world recognizes Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara.
Some of the strongest support for Saharawi right to self-determination comes from the African continent and the Non-Aliened Movement, where many countries have fought their own battles for freedom in recent history. Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa, classified by the UN as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, still awaiting a process of decolonization.
The AU (African Union) has been clear in its support, stating that “Western Sahara remains an issue in the completion of the decolonization process of Africa” that must be resolved. Many countries in Africa and around the world formally recognize the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is a full and founding member of the African Union. Morocco, on the other hand, is the only country in Africa that is not a member of the African Union due to its illegal occupation of Western Sahara. And still, the UN Security Council has chosen to ignore the calls of Africans, its African Union as well as the NAM to rid the continent of colonialism, oppression, flagrant brutality and economic plunder.
For over 25 years the UN Security Council has had the responsibility to facilitate a referendum on self-determination in accordance with the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, tellingly called the United Nations Mission on the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). But France and few otherrP-5 (permanent members) of the Security Council have failed to live up to this obligation by acquiescing to, or in some cases assisting with, Moroccan obstruction of the negotiating process. In the context of this stalemate, it is incumbent upon the UN Secretary-General to point the finger at Morocco and acknowledge that it is the reason why the UN’s efforts to resolve the conflict have ground to a halt. As a first step the UN Secretary-General must follow through on his promise to visit Western Sahara. This would at least send a signal to the Saharawi people that the UN is serious about resolving the conflict.
A new “Green March” every year in March
Unfortunately, what we are witnessing this mid Marchis again a bogus Dakhla Forum. This new form of “Green March” brings stashes of naïve officials and manipulated spectators – all free of charge. This ‘summit’ in the center of Concentration Camp has no deliberations, directional agenda or substantive brainstorming. It is rather a showoff, pathetic one. This lavish pampering of (mostly purely informed and misused) visitors in Potemkin Village of brutally enslaved and tortured Dakhla has only one aim – to desperately try to legitimize this unjust occupation. Regrettably, some of the delegates are either European National (MP) or EU parliamentarians (MEP) who are taking per Diams (rather incorrectly) from their taxpayers – besides being fully covered by Morocco with a business class travel and the first class accommodation for themselves and for their spouses. Finally, nobody in the EU approved MPs or MEPs to participate at dubious political whitewashing events contrary to their constituencies’ official line – even charging their taxpayers for the non-existing costs.
It is hypocritical for the major Western powers, particularly some with the UN Security Council, to claim that they are the bastions of democracy and human rights while failing to stand up to Morocco when it denies the Saharawi people the basic right of self-determination. All Saharawi ask for is what their are owed under international law: the right to decide their own future.
Too often, the world has ignored the situation in Western Sahara because the ceasefire has held and Western Sahara nation has not returned to war. But the status quo is not sustainable. An increasingly restless generation of Saharawi youth will not accept that it is their fate to live and die without ever knowing freedom from occupation. The international community should take heed and live up to its responsibilities before it is too late.
South Africa: Better Education & Spatial Integration Crucial for Reduced Inequality, Job Creation
In an environment of accelerating but still modest growth, government policies that stimulate competition and create the fiscal space needed to build a skilled labor force from the poor population of South Africa, would create jobs and help reduce inequality, according to the South Africa Economic Update released by the World Bank today.
The World Bank expects real growth in gross domestic product (GD) to accelerate from 1.3 percent in 2017 to 1.4 percent in 2018, supported by a rise in confidence, global growth and benign inflation. For 2019, the forecast is 1.8 percent and 1.9 percent in 2020. But despite this modest rebound, growth in South Africa remains constrained and continues to lag behind its peers. Overall, South Africa is projected to remain largely below the average growth rate of 4.5 percent in 2018 and 4.7 percent in 2019 in emerging markets and developing economies.
“This outlook calls for fundamental policy action to turn the economy around through policies that can foster inclusive growth and reduce inequality,” said Paul Noumba Um, World Bank Country Director for South Africa. “Creating labor demand and fiscal space to finance improved education as well as reinforcing spatial integration will enhance the ability of the poor people of South Africa to participate meaningfully in the economy”.
The special focus section of this 11th edition of the South Africa Economic reviews the evolution and nature of South Africa’s inequality – among the highest in the world– arguing that it has increasingly been driven by labor market developments that demand skills the country’s poor currently lack. It suggests that significantly raising South Africa’s economic potential will require breaking away from the equilibrium of low growth and high inequality in which the country has been trapped for decades, discouraging the investment needed to create jobs.
Simulations assessing the potential impact of a combination of various policy interventions on jobs, poverty, and inequality suggest a scenario in which the number of poor people could be brought down to 4.1 million by 2030, down from 10.5 million in 2017. This would be driven by increasing the skilled labor supply among poor households through improved education and spatial integration as well as increasing labor demand through strengthened competition.
In this scenario, the Gini index of inequality would be reduced from 63 today to 56 in 2030. An additional 800,000 jobs would be created with higher wages for workers from poor households, and cheaper goods and services contributing to these outcomes, according to the report.
“In the short term, these policy interventions would include, getting the implementation of the recently granted free higher education right, continuing to address corruption, improving the competitiveness of strategic state-owned enterprises, restoring policy certainty in mining, further exposing South Africa’s large conglomerates to foreign competition and facilitating skilled immigration,” said Sebastien Dessus, World Bank Program Leader.
In the longer term, the report suggests that improving the quality of basic education delivered to students from poor backgrounds and reinforcing the spatial integration between economic hubs, where jobs are located, and underserviced informal settlements, would reduce poverty and inequality and support job creation.
Can Insurance Help Low-Income Ethiopians Cope With Risk?
The loss of crop or livestock as well as concerns about illness and accidents are key financial expenses on the minds of low-income Ethiopians.
Unexpected expenses associated with these issues are relatively common. A third of low-income Ethiopian households experienced at least one major health issue in the previous year, often paying for it out-of-pocket.
In rural areas, almost 50% of households experienced some agricultural loss in the previous year. For three-quarters of these households, these financial losses accounted for more than half of their income in a typical year.
Yet even though these crises affect a large number of the population, Ethiopians don’t have adequate mechanisms in place to cope with the financial hardship they bring.
“People don’t put money aside to deal with risk. Instead, they rely on cash and savings, if they have them, borrow money from family, if possible, or as a last resort, sell livestock to cope with these unexpected shocks,” said Craig Thorburn, a Lead Financial Sector Specialist with the Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global Practice of the World Bank Group, and the technical lead for a FIRST Initiative funded project that produced the new report What People Want: Investigating Inclusive Insurance Demand in Ethiopia.
Informally borrowing money is a common coping strategy as loans from formal financial institutions are expensive and hard to get. However, when a crisis, such as drought, affects an entire community, informally borrowing money from relatives isn’t a viable option. And selling livestock may inject rural households with quick access to cash, but this approach ultimately leaves families poorer and less resilient.
Last year, the World Bank Group conducted a demand-research study in Ethiopia to examine risks low-income households face and see whether insurance could be a tool that Ethiopians could tap into to reduce and better manage these financial burdens.
This country-wide survey reached close to 3000 households, totaling 13,000 people, from both rural and urban areas.
“Understanding the needs of underserved populations, including low-income households, is key to developing quality insurance products and expanding insurance markets,” Thorburn said. “Without this knowledge, potential insurers wouldn’t understand the real and perceived risk of this unserved market segment.”
The survey found that people had little knowledge or experience with insurance, and that 50% of surveyed households never heard of insurance. However, people expressed interest in it if insurance products were devised as accessible and inexpensive.
Ethiopians have unserved needs that could be met with affordable products they actually want.
For example, 97% of focus group participants indicated they would buy a proposed prototype crop insurance product if it were available to them, as it would allow them to replace lost income and buy inputs for the next crop cycle.
And for health-related issues, the survey found that while many people fear a high-cost illness, they could manage many basic expenses with their existing resources, with 75% reporting that they were able to fully recover from financial hardship. This indicated that a well-designed insurance product could leverage existing strategies such as savings, and provide peace of mind. Interest in a hospital cash prototype was high, with close to half of participants willing to pay an actuarially sound premium.
This openness to insurance could provide a great opportunity for insurers, particularly if they can customize and tailor their products to suit customers’ needs.
While this initial research indicates that low-income households are interested in insurance, it would require insurers, the government and other stakeholders to work together to develop insurance products that are accessible, affordable and appropriately designed for people’s needs. Other aspects related to extending the insurance market would need to be considered as well. These include adapting the regulatory framework to motivate insurers to enter this market and devise financial education programs to educate people on insurance.
“Ethiopia provides a significant opportunity for insurers to expand their businesses, the government to improve the overall stability of the low-income population, and low-income people to stabilize their economic status,” said Thorburn.
Focus group participants indicated they would be most likely to purchase insurance from formal financial institutions, such as banks or microfinance institutions, which would bring stability and financial capacity. They indicated that they would be less likely to purchase insurance through informal formal groups, such as savings and credit cooperatives or Edirs, which are well-ingrained local community-based organizations created to help cover funeral expenses.
The World Bank is working in Ethiopia to create an enabling environment for inclusive insurance.
These survey findings are part of a broader World Bank study that that looked at supporting more inclusive insurance markets in Ethiopia.
Catholic Church under attack in the DRC
In a country increasingly wracked by armed conflict, nothing is sacred anymore. The kidnapping of a Catholic priest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the subsequent demand for a ludicrous Sh50 million ($500,000) ransom, is just the latest instance of turbulence in this violence-ridden nation.
The abduction is concerning not only as the latest instance of the encroaching lawlessness that plagues the land, but also because it represents an openly hostile attack on the Catholic Church of Congo itself. With a corrupt president clinging onto power, the Church has become one of the DRC’s main sources of moral authority and resistance to tyranny. As a result, such a brazen assault on this influential institution only further undermines the country’s chances for a stable future.
Anarchy in the DRC
Despite its incredible natural wealth (it has vast resources of cobalt and copper, among other precious minerals), entrenched corruption in the DRC has kept the vast majority of the populace locked in entrenched poverty. With over 13 million people in need of humanitarian aid and 7.7 million of those facing “severe food insecurity”, the situation is comparable to the crisis in Syria. To add to the humanitarian emergency, armed rebel groups have been engaging in increasingly frequent attacks, especially in the DRC’s eastern provinces, prompting the UN to deploy over 16,000 peacekeepers in the country. That’s the largest peacekeeping operation anywhere on the planet.
15 of those peacekeepers were targeted by rebels in December last year in what has been described as one of the worst attacks on UN personnel in living memory, and the violence has recently spilled over into the religious community as well. The abduction of Father Celestin Ngango on Easter Sunday is just the latest attempt to extort money from the Church, as there have been several others in recent years. In October 2012, three priests were abducted from the Betumbo-Beni diocese, while two more were kidnapped in July 2016. None of the abductees have been seen since. Although a prominent bishop has admitted that kidnappings are virtually a daily occurrence in the DRC, the extortionate ransom demanded for Father Ngango represents a serious escalation vis-à-vis previous sums.
Church as a figurehead of freedom
The stakes have not only been heightened in monetary terms. By targeting clergymen, the rebels are destabilising the DRC further by victimising the very body which is fighting most to save it. The Church has long been an outspoken proponent of democracy and freedom, stretching back to the days of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. After Mobutu attempted to quash the Church in the 1970s – seeing it as an obstacle to his attempts to consolidate absolute power – the institution enjoyed renewed popularity among the common people, aided by its role as provider of educational and welfare services.
Indeed, in a country where the authorities often fail to supply even the most basic public services to their citizens, the Church has filled a critical vacuum, resulting in enduring popularity even among non-believers. 35 million of 84 million Congolese call themselves Catholics, but many of those who do not identify with the Church still appreciate their support for democracy and social justice. The de-facto leader, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, enjoys wide popularity; perhaps more tellingly, he has also been a constant thorn in the side of the country’s dictators. Indeed, current leader Joseph Kabila himself once confided to a European diplomat that he viewed Monsengwo as his “main opponent”.
Striving for justice
It’s easy to see why Kabila is so wary of Monsengwo and his order. The Church fielded 30,000 observers in the 2011 elections and were the first party to cry foul play. When Kabila promised to step down at the end of his mandate in 2016, the Church acquiesced, only to step in as mediators and broker the Saint Sylvester agreement (which called for elections by December 2017) after he refused to keep up his end of the bargain. However, the failure of those elections to materialise has now shifted their position from mediators to mobilisers. Since the end of 2017, the Church has organized 149 peaceful protests, only 16 of which have been allowed to take place unchallenged. With the political opposition typically fractious in nature, the Church has provided a rare and crucial voice of unity against Kabila.
That fractiousness, however, may now be coming to an end with the rise of presidential candidate Moïse Katumbi. Championed by the Church and by dozens of opposition leaders, Katumbi announced his candidacy with the launch of a new “Together for Change” party earlier this year. Katumbi has the financial credentials and the widespread popularity to topple Kabila, prompting the latter to hinder the former’s campaign in any way he can. Kabila has levelled charges of real estate fraud and mercenary recruitment at Katumbi’s door and charged him with three years in prison, though Katumbi (and the Church) maintain his innocence. Additionally, Congolese authorities have blocked his passport application and raised his former Italian citizenship as problematic in blatant attempts to discredit his candidacy. Nonetheless, Katumbi has promised to return to the DRC by June at the latest and lead the charge against his old foe.
If elections are allowed to proceed as planned on December 23rd and Katumbi given the opportunity to stake his claim to the presidency, there is a real hope that the DRC can dig itself out of the corruption, conflict and poverty that has taken hold of the country. The support of the Church will be instrumental in giving that hope credibility.
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