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.
Africa Awaits Russia’s Investment
Russia has been looking to raise its existing relationship with African countries and Afreximbank is now providing huge support in realizing that long term goal. The bank, with the task of transforming Russia’s trade with Africa, organized an economic conference for more than 1,500 participants from June 20-22 in Moscow. The economic conference and other Russia–African events in 2019 can be described as “the Year of Africa” in the Russian Federation.
The Afreximbank Annual Meetings included Seminar and Meeting of the Afreximbank Advisory Group on Trade Finance and Export Development in Africa and special meetings between Russian and African political and business leaders to discuss trade, industrialization, export, and the implementation of joint investment projects.
Russia continues to strengthen its relationship with Africa due to multiple factors such as untapped abundant natural resources, improvement of the business climate, the rise of the middle-level income class and economic growth, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev noted in his speech at conference. He further pointed to Africa’s growing appeal to and demand for high-tech, telecom investors and other products that could make swift business connection with Russia.
“All these things have already made Africa attractive for investments, and not merely in producing industries but, which is of particular importance, in high technologies and telecommunications,” Medvedev said.
According to certain estimates, about a half of the resource potential of the planet is in Africa, he argued “we therefore need to more efficiently use these resources and at the same time promote cooperation in this sphere, just like cooperation in other spheres.”
Besides those factors, there is high desire for mutual-cooperation. “It is also important to have a sincere internal desire, and such a sincere desire is present from the side of the Russian Federation and from the side of African states. We see this at different levels, including the top levels of cooperation,” Medvedev said.
Opening the conference, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reminded conference participants that while relying on the long-time accumulated experience of constructive partnership, Russia and Africa are confidently moving along the road of comprehensively expanding Russian-African ties.
According to the Foreign Minister, the long years of solid friendship, which has been created, gives a fresh impetus to cooperation in many spheres and provides necessary conditions for building up trade, economic and investment exchanges, as well as cooperation in banking, and for encouraging business communities to implement mutually beneficial projects in African countries.
These include the construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant and the establishment of the Russian Industrial Zone in Egypt, as well as the projects that are being implemented in Africa by such leading Russian businesses as Rosneft, Lukoil, Rosgeo, Gazprom, Alrosa, Vi Holding, GPB Global Resources and Renova.
“We can report first achievements in this sphere. Mutual trade is growing – it exceeded US$20 billion last year – and becoming more diversified. Large projects are being implemented in Africa with direct financial support from Russia,” he assertively said, and added: “I am confident that cooperation with Afreximbank, which the Russian Export Centre (REC) has joined as a shareholder, will help promote long-term trade and economic relations between Russian businesses and their African partners.”
As expected, REC predicts the volume of Russian-African trade relations will double within the next 3-4 years. “The Russian Export Center maintains a close partnership with Afreximbank and has already entered the first deals that we are jointly implementing on the African continent. We intend to increase the volumes and we foresee the volume of the Russian-African trade ties in the next three to four years doubling,” said the Russian Export Center’s (REC) chief Andrei Slepnev.
“It goes without saying that the Russian Export Center sees the African region as an important area to promote Russian non-commodity export. Our objective is to use today’s positive market environment to open the access to African markets to as many exporters as possible and expand our geography,” he argued.
The African continent currently has enormous potential as a sales market. Many African countries are enacting economic reforms, demand is growing for high-quality, competitive products. Russian businesses are interested in this niche, and our goods are already competitive in terms of price and quality.
Basic financial instruments of supporting trade between Russia and Africa could be direct loans to foreign buyers (including those secured by the sovereign guarantee of the borrowing country) and loans to banks of foreign buyers under the insurance coverage Exiar, loans to sovereign borrowers, financing receivables against export earnings.
In 2018, for instance, the volume of export-supported Russian products to African countries amounted to US$2.47 billion. The main partners are Egypt, South Africa, Zambia, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria and Kenya.
Advisor to the President of the Russian Federation, Anton Kobyakov, noting the importance of multilateral cooperation between Russia and Africa: “The current situation in the world is such that we are witnesses to the formation of new centres of economic growth in Africa. Competition for African markets is growing accordingly. There is no doubt that Russia’s non-commodity exporters will benefit from cooperating with Africa on manufacturing, technologies, finances, trade, and investment.”
Afreximbank President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Dr. Benedict Okey Oramah, presented the 2019 African Trade Report, an analytical survey of African trade. “As we gather in this historic city of Moscow, we will explore how we can shape the future of trade and how we can transform our continent,” said Oramah. “Our collective endeavours will impact the economic future and wellbeing of Africans for generations to come.”
In the report, special attention was paid to practical cooperation in the spheres of finances, energy, mining, railway infrastructure, digital technologies, cybersecurity, healthcare, education, food security in Africa.
In 2017, the Russian Export Center became Afreximbank’s third largest non-African financial institution or organization shareholder, which has allowed for the rapid acceleration of investment, trade, and economic relations between Russia and African countries. It’s active in mining projects in Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone, and has expressed interest in attracting Russian partners to the implementation of projects in the oil industry in Africa.
Notable among the Russian-African foreign economic projects include the signing of a memorandum of cooperation between the REC and Joint company Afromet (Vi Holding) regarding the comprehensive development of the Darwendale platinum field project in Zimbabwe, which was signed during a visit by the President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to the Russian Federation in January 2019.
According separate reports, Russia has been developing a number of projects in cooperation with Afreximbank, including a project concerning the shipment of Russian ground transport and projects to finance industrial infrastructure construction and modernization projects in Nigeria and Angola. At the end of 2018, REC, Russian Railways, and Afreximbank signed a memorandum of cooperation. As a result, a trilateral working group was created, tasked with studying export and investment project issues in the railway and related industries, as well as forms of project and investment financing.
The latest description of Africa, which consists of 54 states, to many experts and business investors, is the last frontier. It is the last frontier because it has huge natural resources still untapped, all kinds of emerging business opportunities and constantly growing consumer market due to the increasing population. It has currently become a new business field for global players.
That negative perceptions deeply persistent among political and business elite, middle class and the public towards Russia. For the two past decades, due to Russia’s low enthusiasm, lack of coordinated comprehensive mechanism and slowness in delivering on skyline investment pledges have been identified as the key factors affecting effective cooperation between Russia and Africa.
London based Business Research and Consultancy firm published a new report about global players set to continue broadening economic and business engagement across Africa. The publication has become largely important as Russia with its recognizable global status and among BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) dominated headlines that it has played less visible role in sub-Saharan Africa after Soviet’s collapse.
The Russian Export Center, as a state institution for the support of non-primary goods, providing Russian exporters with a wide range of financial and non-financial support, is also working on a number of projects with Afreximbank in various African regions. Afreximbank was founded in 1993 in Abuja, Nigeria, with the authorized capital of US$5 billion. The main objectives of the bank are the development of trade between African countries and abroad. The banks’ headquarters is located in Cairo, Egypt.
Water Diplomacy: Creating Spaces for Nile Cooperation
The Nile River is the longest river on the earth, with eleven nation states sharing it and over 487 million people or about 20% of the African population living in the basin countries and they depend partly or fully on the Nile for their daily water use, foods and other economic benefits. The river drains 10 % of the African continent or an area greater than 3,176,541 km2, and its divided to ten different sub-basins with two main feeding sources’ the White Nile and the Blue Nile, which making it one of the worlds largest and complicated international trans-boundary river basins.
It’s very clear that the long and current regional disputes over the Nile’s waters between the upstream and downstream countries specially Uganda, Ethiopia and other upstream nations who are been the forehead leading the campaign for the lifting of colonial era treaties regarding Nile waters allocutions, governance, management, economic use and other Nile related issues and they been demanding renegotiating Nile river basin for fair shares and equal benefits and which they did in 2010 by reaching and signing of (Cooperative Framework Agreement or Entebbe agreement) to replace all the European colonial agreements, meanwhile the two downstream countries Egypt and Sudan in the other sides refusing to renegotiate or sign the Entebbe treaty and insists on maintaining the colonial era treaties or what they called “the historical rights” which gave the lion’s share of the Nile waters and the absolute veto to only two Nile countries and ignored the rights of other Nile’s nations.
Egypt and Sudan for years been using what they called “the historical rights” guaranteed by the colonial era agreements and their diplomatic influence to block international development funds and loans a policy which its aims only to prevent the upstream nations from establishing or constructing any developmental or economical projects on the Nile River, while Egypt is warring about the potential impacts which could effect its water security level as a result of any construction on the Nile river, the other Nile Basin nations said they are addressing the undergoing social, economic and environmental changes plus the population in the region is growing rapidly which will need more access to Nile basin resources in aim to provide water, food and energy to their people.
The looming conflict in the Nile Basin region over water recourses governance, allocutions and economic use has been a major security threat to the regional and international peace and stability, the risks of militarizing the Nile water dispute among the basin countries has been a growing serious security threat to the basin region as a result of lacking of middle point agreement on how to share, mange and benefit from the longest river fairly and equally.
In past years the downstream nations had already unilaterally constructed dams, used Nile waters for irrigation, industrial and other projects and with the upstream nations complaining about those unilateral projects done by the downstream nations and the none cooperative method and approach of Egypt and Sudan and as an outcome of years of disagreement over the Nile water issues and unilaterally decisions and actions taken by the individual countries claiming the Nile River waters and only favoring their own benefits over other Nile nations. The Entebbe Agreement came in to escalate the none cooperation situation more by geo-politically shifting the control of Nile basin waters away from the downstream nations and gave the upstream countries a legal frame to construct dams, establish different projects and increase their water use for different propos.
With some countries see themselves as victims of other Nile countries who had taken an advantage of certain period of time or situation that they were in, which let some of them to see no benefit now in been cooperative with the others concerning the Nile related issues and looks only at their national interests, but still the diplomatic dialogue and inclusive negotiations between the Nile basin nations is the only way forward to build confidence, trust and cooperation for sustainable future of the Nile and mutual and shared benefits for basin members countries. A positive engagement between the Nile basin members now can be observed in some steps taken by the countries were technical dialogue and diplomatic approach has increased the sharing of technical and hydrological data between the basin members countries, capacity building workshops and inter-nations trainings and seminars for technicians, policy and decision makers, government officials, diplomats, scientists, researchers, journalists, local and global think-tank institutions, NGOs, regional and other international stakeholders had really helped in easing the interstate political tensions and putting concord foundation for more regional cooperation which will contribute to a better understanding, enhancing the diplomatic relations and cooperation among the basin nations.
To have a sustainable Nile Basin with equal benefits, comprehensive cooperation, joint management, and effective partnership the diplomatic approach and inclusive negotiations is the only solution to overcome years of mistrust and standoff in the Nile Basin region.
Russia, Africa and the SPIEF’19
In 2019, four African countries – Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho Niger and Somalia – for the first time attend the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF’19) held on June 6-8 under theme “Creating a Sustainable Development Agenda” in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The Forum brought together a record-breaking number of participants: over 19,000 people from 145 countries, with 1,300 guests representing heads of companies. The sheer number of business community participants, variety of thematic events, and level of representation on both national and international levels underscore the status of SPIEF as a truly global economic forum.
Over the years, SPIEF has become an open platform to exchange best practices and key competences in the interest of providing sustainable development.
The main event was the plenary session, with the participation of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, President of the Republic of Bulgaria Rumen Radev, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic Peter Pellegrini, and Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres.
During his address to the participants of the Forum, Vladimir Putin talked about the tasks the country is facing, as well as about the importance of national projects as a driver of economic growth in Russia.
The overall budget for the implementation of proposed development projects of Russia is about US$400 billion. The priorities are healthcare, education, research and development, and support for entrepreneurship. And, considerable funds will also be allocated to develop major infrastructure, transport and the energy industry.
Putin also stressed to the guests and participants for their friendly attitude to Russia, their willingness for joint work and business cooperation based on pragmatism, understanding of mutual interests and, of course, trust, frankness and clear-cut positions. That global inequality between countries and regions is the main source of instability. It is not just about the level of income or financial inequality, but fundamental differences in opportunities for people.
More than 800 million people around the world do not have basic access to drinking water, and about 11 percent of the world’s population is undernourished. A system based on ever-increasing injustice will never be stable or balanced.
As a first step, necessary to conduct a kind of demilitarisation of the key areas of the global economy and trade, that also includes utilities and energy, which help reduce the impact on the environment and climate. This concerns areas that are crucial for the life and health of millions, one might even say, billions of people on the entire planet.
Russia has embarked on implementing long-term strategic programmes, many of which are global in nature, it is important to hear each other and pool efforts for resolving common goals. Russia is ready for these challenges and changes.
During the four days of the Forum, over 1,300 speakers and moderators, including Russian and international experts, took part in discussions. They shared their knowledge, experiences and best practices with the participants of the Forum. There was special zone of the area that hosted interviews with politicians, government officials, representatives of big business.
On the sidelines, there were business dialogues between Russia and other countries, for example Russia–Africa, were very popular this year. President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Mabel Chinomona, was one of the African participants. State officials came from Botswana, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Mauritius, Niger, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
The Russia-Africa session featured Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation; Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa; Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission and Tatyana Valovaya, Member of the Board – Minister in Charge of Integration and Macroeconomics, Eurasian Economic Commission.
Isabel Jose dos Santos, Chairman, Unitel SA; Daniel Kablan Duncan, Vice President of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire; Dmitry Konyaev, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors, URALCHEM JSC and Benedict Okey Oramah, President, Chairman of the Board of Director, The African Export Import Bank.
Sylvie Baipo-Temon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Central Africans Abroad of the Central African Republic; Nikita Gusakov, General Director, EXIAR; Boris Ivanov
Managing Director, GPB Global Resources and Nataliya Zaiser, Chair of the Board, Africa Business Initiative UNION; Executive Secretary, Russian National Committee, World Energy Council (WEC).
The participants noted that 2019 should be a historic year in the development of Russian-African relations. The summit of heads of state in October should take place amidst record growth in Russian exports to Africa. Russia is interested in new markets and international alliances more than ever before, while Africa has solidified its position as one of the centres of global economic growth in recent years.
In this context, the countries need to rethink the approaches, mechanisms, and tools they use for cooperation in order to take their relations to the next level as their significance grows in the new conditions of world politics and economics. What steps are needed to give a new impetus to bilateral economic relations? What are the key initiatives and competencies that can create a deeper strategic partnership between Russia and African states?
These are among the key questions on the meeting agenda for the upcoming Russia-Africa Summit planned for October in Sochi under the co-chairmanship of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Chairperson of the African Union.
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