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.
Sudan Normalize Ties with Israel: A “New Stab in the Back” For the Palestinians?
Less than three months President Donald J. Trump has brokered a peace agreement between Arab-Muslim nation and Israel. Sudan have confirmed will normalize relations with Israel, ending decades of fierce hostility, through mediation by the United States (US). The normalization plan was announced after talks between the Prime Minister (PM) of Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, with US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu on October 23, 2020.
Sudan become the fifth Arab country to normalize relations with Israel. It is known that Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain have previously reached a peace agreement with Israel. The expansion of the Abraham Accords to include Sudan relations with Israel is a significant step that will further enhance Israel’s security and create opportunities for the Arab nation and Israel to deepen their economic ties and improve the lives of their people.
Since 1948, when the Arab nation start the war that birthed Israel, Israel’s relationship with Sudan has been difficult. Moreover, when Omar al-Bashir’s regime was hosting Osama bin Laden in Khartoum, The US put Sudan as one of the lists of state sponsors in 1993. In 2009, Sudan’s ties with Iran were seen by Israel as a means for Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, to receive arms from Iranian militias. As recently as 2012, Israel was blamed by Sudan for bombing a weapons factory in Yarmouk.
Normalization with Israel as One of the Efforts for Sudan Economic Recovery After Planned US Terror Delisting
A ties normalization deal with Israel could be an opportunity for Sudan’s economic recovery post-US terror delisting. Sudanese officials were expected to meet with U.S. representatives and discuss two major concerns – a peace deal with Israel and Sudan’s removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Trump has informed Congress of his intent to formally rescind Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, in fulfillment of this agreement, Sudan have to transfer $335 million into an escrow account for these victims and their families. The governor of the Sudan Central Bank, Mohammed al-Fatih Zainelabidine, told a press conference that the authorities agreed to pay compensation of US $ 335 million for victims of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The bomb attacks were carried out by the Al-Qaeda network while the late Osama bin Laden was living in Sudan.
Sudan’s entry into the list has presented obstacles to seek debt relief and foreign loans from International Monetary such as World Bank and IMF. The impact of the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, given a near isolation from the international community, thus all Sudan needs to remove from the list. Since listed by the US, Sudan has been dealing with a deteriorating economic crisis for years. In September 2020, Sudan’s inflation hit almost 170 percent, which coincided with the pandemic. The US naming of Sudan as one of the sponsors for terrorism has been a nightmare for the country’s longtime economic woes, as foreign investment in Sudan and its trade with other countries have been largely restricted. Thus, removing Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism will pave the way for the country’s reintegration into the global economy after being isolated for nearly three decades.
Removing from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism will not be enough unless Sudan implements very serious socio-economic reforms. Even if Sudan gets what it wants such as financial assistance, Sudan cannot solely rely on external relief to get out of its economic quagmire. Thus, Sudan’s decision to normalize with Israel was a big step to get out of its economic crisis. Different cases from the UAE and Bahrain’s rapprochement with Israel is a mutual hostility towards Iran, Sudan, which does not share their regional concerns, is to make the normalization deal as one of the efforts for Sudan economic recovery post-Sudan’s removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
According to the World Bank Report, that emphasizes the need for a sectoral focus, as agriculture is expected to pay a bigger role in Sudan’s economy in the foreseeable future in the absence of dominant resource-based exports. By Increasing agriculture productivity through a set of policy changes in the areas of centralized markets, subsidies, and the promotion of fertilizer usage. In addition, the both of Sudan and Israel agreed to begin economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture as well as in agriculture technology, aviation, migration issues, and other areas for the benefit of the two countries. Agriculture plays a crucial role in the economy of developing countries and provides the main source of food, income, and employment to their rural populations. Thus, it will help for Sudan’s economic recovery post Sudan’s removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Iran and Palestine’s Response to Normalization of Relations between Sudan and Israel
Palestine rejects and strongly condemns the plan to normalize relations between Sudan and Israel which is mediated by the US. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated that Palestine rejects the agreement to normalize relations with the Israeli occupation state that seizes Palestinian land. Meanwhile, Hamas also stated that Sudan’s actions to normalize relations with Israel could harm the Palestinian people and their struggle, and even endanger Sudan’s national interests. Previously, Palestinians also conveyed their rejection and criticism of the agreement to normalize relations between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain with Israel. The peace agreement between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel signed in Washington DC, last month was described by the Palestinians as “treason“.
Iran Foreign Ministry describes the US proposal to Sudan as “shameful” and described a U.S.-brokered Sudan-Israel deal to normalize ties as “phoney” Sudan relations with Iran is actually complicated, after the storming of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad in 2016, Sudan was cutting diplomatic ties with Iran.
After Sudan, which country does Trump expect to have a relationship with Israel?
President of the United States (US), Donald Trump, hopes that Saudi Arabia will soon establish ties with Israel. President Trump has at least five countries that want to normalization the deal with Israel. Although Trump did not mention any other countries, there is some speculation about Oman and Mauritania are among the other countries in the region that have been tipped to normalize ties. The United States will continue to stand with the people of the region as they work to build a brighter, more hopeful future.
Used vehicles get a second life in Africa – but at what cost?
John Mwangi’s 22-year-old car is his lifeline. His run-down Toyota saloon not only ferries him around the streets of the traffic-congested Kenyan capital, Nairobi, but is also his main source of revenue.
Resting against its open boot, surrounded by fresh pumpkins, sweet potatoes and other vegetables, a smiling Mwangi, 34, explained how it has transformed his life. Thanks to this unlikely saviour, he is now a trader, shopkeeper and entrepreneur.
“I have changed to a career as a businessman. I use my car to sell foodstuffs. I go to the village, buy food and then I come here and sell it,” he said, gesturing around a market in Nairobi.
Mwangi is not alone. Across Africa, and much of the developing world, used cars, minibuses and vans imported from abroad are changing people’s lives. But they come with a high and growing global price tag.
Entitled Used Vehicles and the Environment: A Global Overview of Used Light-Duty Vehicles – Flow, Scale and Regulation, the report details how the global fleet of light-duty vehicles will double by 2050. Some 90 per cent of this growth will take place in low- and middle-income countries. Of the 146 countries studied in the UNEP report, about two-thirds have “weak” or “very weak” policies regulating the import of used vehicles. Many of the imported vehicles would not be allowed to circulate on the roads of exporting countries.
“Countries have to stop exporting vehicles that are no longer roadworthy, and fail environment and safety inspections while importing countries must adopt up-to-date regulations,” said Rob de Jong, report author and Head of Transport at UNEP.
Vehicle emissions are a prime source of small particulates and nitrogen oxides, which cause urban air pollution. Globally, vehicles are responsible for 25 per cent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
UNEP is calling on both exporting and importing countries to regulate the trade and eliminate a range of abuses. It stresses that a regulated trade can have several positive impacts, improving the lives of many people and boosting prosperity.
Landmark new rules
UNEP’s report comes after 15 African countries announced strict new rules for vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency. The directives, issued by the Economic Community of West African States, with UNEP support, bar the import of light-duty vehicles more than five years old and aim to double the efficiency of cars by 2030.
The rules are a milestone in slashing greenhouse gas emissions in a region that is home to about 400 million people, where many vehicles are past their prime. The Gambia, for example, imports vehicles on average 18.8 years old, while a quarter of those imported by Nigeria are nearly 20 years old.
Africa is the ultimate destination for some 40 per cent of used light-duty vehicles, like the one owned by Peter Karanja Njuguna. He ferries passengers around Nairobi in an old 14-seat Nissan minibus pumping out exhaust fumes from dawn to dusk. He says he does not know the exact age of his vehicle but reckons it is between 10 and 15 years old. It cost $3,000 and anything newer would have been outside his budget. He says the catalytic converter, which contains platinum, was removed before it was exported.
“They remove those things that are not necessary for the way we use them here. They just leave the basic stuff,” he explained. “It is cheapish to buy but expensive to maintain. But it pays for itself within two years and gives me an income.”
Poor quality used vehicles can lead to more road accidents, which kill an estimated 1.25 million people each year. Africa has the world’s highest road traffic fatality rates with 246,000 deaths occurring annually, a number projected to rise to 514,000 in 2030, according to the World Health Organization.
Improvements down the road
The issue of faulty vehicles is catching the attention of exporting countries. The Netherlands – one of the largest used vehicle exporters to Africa – studied used European vehicles being exported through their ports and found that many vehicles, mainly destined for West Africa, were between 16 and 20 years old, fell below European Union emission standards and did not have a valid roadworthiness certificate at the time of export. The Netherlands is developing policies to improve the quality of used vehicles while addressing the issue with other European countries.
UNEP’s report also showed that countries, such as Morocco and Mauritius, that had implemented far-sighted policies gained access to high-tech vehicles, like hybrid and electric cars, at affordable prices.
It is time to end the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe
At the UN General Assembly (UNGA), African Leaders signalled to the West that it is high time to end the illegal sanctions that have been crippling Zimbabwe for over two decades.
The current Chairman of the African Union, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, led the call which was subsequently echoed and strongly endorsed by the Heads of State of Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and others in their respective addresses to the General Assembly.
I am immensely grateful for this support. Indeed, it could not be more timely. Our African partners understand that a better Africa equals a better world. But, the continent is facing unprecedented challenges. Coronavirus has significantly exacerbated already existing health, economic and food-security challenges on a scale not seen for more than one hundred years. Sadly, for African nations, coronavirus is just one additional burden to be borne: on top of devastating droughts, locust infestations of biblical magnitude and relentless floods.
The West often expects so much from our nations, and world leaders often analyse us through the lens of their own success. But, in doing so they are only adding to the suffering of millions of Africans.
When President Emmerson Mnangagwa won the election in 2018, he pledged to bring about change, to forge a new relationship with the citizens of Zimbabwe and with the nations of the world.
In the face of endless criticism, we have made and we continue to make significant progress. Most recently, we achieved closure on the long-outstanding issue of compensation to farmers whose land was acquired during the Land Reform Programme of the late 90’s and early 00’s. The sum of US$ 3,5 billion, for improvements effected to the land prior to its acquisition, was agreed-upon by way of negotiations between government and the farmers.
Elsewhere, we repealed two antiquated laws (AIPPA and POSA). We passed a new Freedom of Information Act, and draft legislation to address the Constitutional requirement for an Independent Complaints Mechanism will shortly be tabled before Parliament. Other constitutional amendments designed to further modernise and open up government are already before Parliament.
The reformed Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has received global plaudits, with some notable and important arrests, including two sitting cabinet ministers. The “audit of the rich”, currently being undertaken, is expected to yield further fruits of transparency and accountability.
We have also initiated the most ambitious set of privatisations in the history of Zimbabwe, with 43 of Zimbabwe’s 107 state-owned enterprises earmarked for reform.
We know these reforms are essential if we are to show the world that we are changing our nation’s trajectory. We want to be more open, to grow our economy, to strengthen our public services, to improve the lives of our citizens and we want to play a positive part in the globalised world.
We acknowledge that we still have a long way to go but we are resolute in our determination to modernise Zimbabwe. Even in the midst of the shattering economic impact of COVID-19, we are committed to the path of reform.
I believe the new Zimbabwe has shown sincerity in its willingness to compromise with the West. However, rather than less criticism and an easing of sanctions, we have in fact faced more pressure from the United States. Those who believe these so-called ‘targeted’ measures only hurt the rich and powerful, are profoundly mistaken. The UN recognises that economic sanctions have worsened existing inequalities. They have crippled our banking sector and have negatively impacted upon the performance of businesses both large and small. Our exclusion from lucrative trade benefits afforded under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), in particular, is holding back our entrepreneurial potential.
Sanctions, and the enhanced country-risk factor they generate, have also made it close to impossible to attract meaningful foreign investors from the West. And a lack of foreign exchange continues to impinge on the very basics of economic life, from raw materials to life-saving drugs.
Our request to the West is very simple: end these sanctions, allow us to respond more comprehensively to the coronavirus pandemic and support us on our journey towards a new Zimbabwe. The desire to squeeze us into a corner serves only to maintain unjustified isolation from the West, to foster negative sentiment towards those who punish us and, most importantly, to perpetuate the suffering and privation endured by our already hard-pressed people.
A better Zimbabwe results in a better Africa and a better world.
It is time to end the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe.
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