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Constitutional Crisis in Sri Lanka and its Impact on Indo-Pacific Diplomacy

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Authors: Raghav Pandey & Adithya Anil Variath

The neologism – Constitutional coup, entered into the foray ofrealpolitik with President Maithripala Sirisena sacking his ally and incumbent Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and appointing former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, persona non grata with the regime as the new Prime Minister. The current capture of power has again put the Indian Ocean diplomacy in the international foreground following pandemonium in Maldives island over its recent presidential election. Sri Lanka has again dived into a stalemate menacing its democratic values and political stability.  The current crisis was unanticipated and serendipitous given the political realities of the nation, the verdict in the last parliamentary elections and the amended powers of the President under the Constitution of the country.

This is not the first time that a President according to his whims and fancies has ousted Wickremesinghe from his office. A similar scenario arose in 2004, the then head of state sacked him from his responsibilities and called for snap elections in the mid-term. Eventually, after winning the top post for the third time in August 2015, Wickremesinghe passed a Constitutional amendment to amend the Constitution to remove the President’s power to sack Prime Ministers to prevent a repeat of his earlier unceremonious ouster. 72 – year- old Mahindra Rajapaksa, considered as a war hero among the supporters was previously elected as the President from 2005 to 2015. But during Rajapaksa’s period of misgovernance, Sri Lanka warranted international criticism from economies worldwide and intergovernmental bodies for obstructing investigations into allegations of war crimes perpetrated and executed by the military officials against Tamil civilians.

A 2011 United Nation’s Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka estimated that as many as 40,000 Tamils may have been killed in the endmost months of the war alone. The panel on the basis of shreds of evidence inculpated the Tamil Tigers of committing atrocities against women, including recruiting child soldiers. During Rajapaksa’s regime, he concurrently was in charge as President and finance minister, among other cabinet positions, while his family members served as the defence secretary and ministries dealing with economy and ports. This political power and nepotism controlled about 80 per cent of the total national budget and was accused of corruption and major human rights abuses. The voice of dissent, both political opponents and investigative journalists critical of their governance often disappeared.

Sirisena as a Cabinet ranked Minister handled the Ministry of Health and Defence, ante defecting the party to join then Opposition in 2014. After which Sirisena loyalists in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) formed a coalition with the United National Party (UNP), led by Ranil Wickremesinghe. He was voted into power in January 2015, relying on the promises of greater transparency and administrative accountability, protecting human rights and a crackdown on corruption and nepotism.  The fragile coalition government kickstarted an ambitious reform package, including measures to introduce constitutional and electoral reform. The Government also sent strong signals to international community to showcase its creditability and intention to protect and promote human rights by co-sponsoring a UN resolution in 2015 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights that required them to make concrete commitments on transitional justice, following the end of Sri Lanka’s nearly three-decade-long civil war in 2009. But these assertive projects began to crumble due to inefficiency and social divisions along the lines of ethnicity and religion. In the recent local government elections, Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a breakaway faction of the SLFP consisting of Rajapaksa and his followers accumulated over 44% of the vote.

The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), headed by President Maithripala Sirisena won just over 8%. While the faction of United National Party (UNP), led by Ranil Wickremesinghe attracted a substantial voter base, the elections were seen as a bone breaker to the coalition government. Concatenation of Cabinet reshuffles and power successions led to a no-confidence motion levelled against Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in April 2018.  Before suspending the elected Government, Sirisena also accused the UNP faction of not taking cognizance of an alleged murder conspiracy to assassinate him and former top Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, making a powerful statement from Temple Trees, addressed the people as “the elected Prime Minister of the democratic republic of Sri Lanka under the powers guided by Article (42) of the Constitution and the 19th Amendment. I trounced the no-confidence motion brought against me and relish a clear majority in Parliament. I shall remain Prime Minister for as long as I enjoy a majority in Parliament and support of people.”  Wickremesinghe’s faction of UNP has been counting on the constitutional principle of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, adopted with the guidance of President Sirisena in April 2015, which empowers the President to appoint a new prime minister, but not the power to remove one. Article 46 (2) after the infamous 19th Amendment to the Constitution, reads as; the Prime Minister continues to hold office, throughout the period during which the Cabinet of Ministers continues to function under the provisions of the Constitution, unless he: (a) resigns by writing or, (b) ceases to be a Member of Parliament. Meanwhile, there is high speculation that Sirisena and Rajapaksa have already entered into a secret deal which will empower Sirisena to contest the upcoming 2020 presidential elections against the UNP with the full cooperation of SLPP.

Wickremesinghe’s UNP and other political as well as non-political groups challenged the President’s decision in the Supreme Court, terming it unconstitutional. UNP’s main argument was based on the interpretation of Article 70 (1) of the Sri Lankan Constitution. The petitioners pointed out that this provision restricts the powers of the President to dissolve Parliament before the end of the four-and-half years out of the five-year term. Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court upheld the arguments raised by the petitioners, that the President’s move did not have the support of two-thirds of the members, which is an essential requirement under the said article. Taking into consideration these constitutional principles, the Supreme Court overturned President Maithripala Sirisena’s controversial decision to dissolve the Parliament and stayed the preparations for snap polls declared to be held on 5 January 2019. Immediately after the Court’s verdict, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya summoned a Parliamentary session on 14 November 2018, during which the Parliament passed the non-confidence motion against the recently appointed government led by Prime Minister Rajapaksa with the backing of 122 of the 225 lawmakers in a voice vote, followed by a signed document. But, President Sirisena in an official letter addressed to the Speaker said he could not accept the non-confidence motion as it appeared to have ignored the Constitution, parliamentary procedure and constitutional tradition.

In an unprecedented move, as a temporary solution, the political parties in Sri Lanka agreed to form a select committee to conduct parliamentary affairs amid the constitutional crisis. Sri Lanka’s Parliament which was convened yesterday for a third-floor test was adjourned just ten minutes after its commencement as the parliamentarians were unable to decide on the members of the committee. The Sri Lankan lawmakers have also submitted a motion which shall be out into vote on November 29, seeking the suspension of state funds allocated to the present illegitimate government. The current constitutional and political dilemma has hit the economy. On Monday, the Sri Lankan rupee fell to a record low of 177.20 per dollar and the foreign investors have pulled out more than 30 billion rupees ($169.5 million) since the decision of the Supreme Court.Sri Lanka’s politico-economic condition is already under duress with Forex reserves slithering, pressuring the local currency vis-à-vis economic problems in global emerging markets and weakening international investor confidence.

A stable Sri Lankan democracy is in the political, social and economic interests of New Delhi to further strengthen its blue water diplomacy.  Taking into consideration the tenets of Indian Ocean diplomacy, the current political scenario is a real gift to China, during Rajapaksa’s stint, Sri Lanka moved closer to China. While Wickremesinghe practiced a liberal approach to balance relations with India and China, Rajapaksa supports and endorses a tilted policy to accept Chinese money even in the face of unreasonable terms. Colombo is a real victim here due to the repercussions of this inarticulate economic policy, as it was forced to sell strategic assets to Beijing, including the Hambantota port, when it failed to meet liabilities. The United States has been vocal against China’s “debt trap diplomacy” and singled out Sri Lanka, contending the Chinese-built seaport will preferably become a forward military base for China’s growing blue-water navy to exert dominance in the region.

Analysing the present economic situation, it is clear that there is an urgent need of foreign capital and international financial aid and Rajapaksa’s government will most likely accelerate more Chinese investments in the region. With this tapping of Chinese resources and monetary aid, other major foreign players operating in the island nation such as India and Japan are likely to experience unmitigated economic and political risks.  A recent election in the Maldives was a diplomatic win for India as the region witnessed the previous China funded government lose power to a pro-democracy party, attracting the island closer to New Delhi. The current political discourse in Sri Lanka would further facilitate the world’s second-largest economy steal a diplomatic victory against India as the two nuclear superpowers battle for supremacy in the Indian Ocean region.

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South Asia

Kashmir Bleeds, International Community Sleeps

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The most beautiful part of the World “Kashmir” bleeds while the International community sleeps. Snow-covered mountains, lush green pasters, blue skies, blue lakes, excellent climate, rich culture, best food, unique race – one of the most pretty races on this earth, makes Kashmir “Paradise, but India has turned it a living hell. Nine hundred thousand troops enforcing curfew since the 5th of August 2019 has turned Kashmir a prison, where 8 million people are under siege, for the most prolonged period of curfew in the known history of humankind. No food, no medicines, no fuel, no electricity, no basic neccessaties of life, yet, the brave people of Kashmir survived and kept their struggle for their legitimate right of self-determination.

Seventy-three years ago, Indian illegitimate occupation armed forces entered Jammu & Kashmir in a stab to subjugate the Kashmiri people. To this day, the brave people of Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (I.I.O.J.K.) have remained committed in their resolve to confront India and stand firm in their quest for the right to self-determination.

On the 5th of August 2019, India took further illegal and unilateral actions to change the internationally recognized disputed status of I.I.O.J.K. and alter the demographic configuration of the occupied territory.  Pakistan and the Kashmiris have unconditionally rejected this blatant travesty of law and justice. For over one year, the scale and impunity of the Indian Government’s human rights abuses have increased manifold. Through the deployment of additional troops and exceptional media and communication blackout, occupied Jammu & Kashmir has been turned into the largest open prison in the world. The world community is calling India out on its oppression, and its cover-up as one of the world’s so-called largest ‘democracies’ has been undeniably exposed.

Pakistan, along with all other nations and individuals, with human conscious, calls for the urgent lifting of the military siege and media blackout, immediate stop to the violations of human rights of Kashmiri people, release of Kashmiri leaders and youth, and an end to impunity allowed to Indian occupation forces under draconian laws.We urge the international community to play its role in exerting pressure on India to reverse its illegal course in I.I.O.J.K. and restore the Kashmiris’ fundamental human rights.

We express complete solidarity with the people of I.I.O.J.K. and assure our Kashmiri brothers and sisters that the Government and people of Pakistan remain shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Pakistan will not concede in its support until the Kashmiris realize their legitimate right to self-determination in harmony with the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

India has turned Kashmir into a volcano, which may burst any time, any moment, and may cause disaster not only to India and Pakistan but may engulf the entire region or the whole world. It is worth mentioning that India and Pakistan both are nuclear states and possess enough piles of lethal weapons to eradicate each other. Mostly, the Government in India has been hijacked by Hindu extremists, and one can expect any abnormal action from them. Or by mistake or accidentally eruption of war, might lead to nuclear war, or World War III.

India is already involved with China, and a war-like situation exists. India is holding parts of Nepal illegally and at odd with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Maldives, Sikkim, Bhutan, etc. The extremist Government in India may initiate any misadventure and endanger humanity.

The U.S. is backing India and supporting it to counter China. But, history tells, that when Americans are your friends , you do not need enemies. Former Securty Advisor in Trump Administration, Mr. John Bolten, who has worked with President Trump closely, understands him much better than anyone else. He is of the opinion that President Trump supports India, but if a war broke out between China and India, President Trump might no longer support India. Is India able to confront China???. Let the Indian think tanks and intellectuals decide it.

However, the region is highly populated, with 1.4 billion population of China, 1.2 billion population of India, 220 million population of Pakistan, and almost similar to Bangladesh, etc. The loss of humanity may cross all previous records.

The international community may awaken and take preventing measures to avert any possible disaster.

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South Asia

October 27th: The Tyranny Continues in Kashmir

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October 27 marks the beginning of Indian Occupation of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. It is forever scarred in the collective minds of the Kashmiri people as the day they became occupied.

The Kashmir conflict began in 1846 with the illegal, immoral and inhumane sale of the historic state of Jammu and Kashmir to a non-Kashmiri Dogra family for services rendered to the British Raj. From that point, onwards, Kashmiri’s have long for self-determination. Yet, tragically, their legitimate aspirations were crushed with the grotesque, irregular and illegal ascension, by the brutal foreign ruler Maharaja Hari Singh who did not have the consent of the people.  With the arrival of Indian soldiers – the historic Black Day of Occupation begins its most recent and insidious manifestation.

The Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir obtained independence on August 15, 1947, when British paramountcy lapsed.  At that moment, under international law as understood by Indian National Congress, The Muslim League and Great Britain, sovereignty in Kashmir devolved on its peoples, not its autocratic Maharaja.  Indeed, Kashmir was beset by wholesale domestic revolt against the Maharaja when independence arrived, and widened in the initial months thereafter. To save his despotism from collapse, the Maharaja requested the assistance of the Indian military on October 27, 1947, after ostensibly signing an Instrument of Accession to that nation. British Scholar, Alistair Lamb has convincingly demonstrated that the Instrument of Accession was as bogus as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or the Donation of Constantine.  An original has never been found, and there is no plausible explanation for a disappearance if an original had ever existed. 

The people of Kashmir are constantly reminded of the resolution # 47, adopted on April 21, 1948 that states that the future status of Kashmir must be ascertained in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the people of the territory. This resolution was agreed upon by both India & Pakistan, negotiated by the United Nations and accepted by the Security Council.

Ambassador Warren Austin of the United States said it the best in the Security Council on January 24, 1948, “…When India accepted the accession of Kashmir, it made its act stand for a great principle by stating as a part of the acceptance, that it was conditional on fair plebiscite being held to determine the will of the people of Kashmir with respect to accession. I think an example was made in history at that point.”

India, however, was soon undeceived of its delusions over Kashmir’s political yearning. Recognizing that its people would never freely vote accession to India, it contrived excuse after excuse to frustrate a plebiscite. When the United Nations proposed arbitration, a reference to the World Court, or any other method of resolving minor demilitarization quarrels, India nixed them all. After a few years, it dropped all pretense of acceding to a referendum by unilaterally proclaiming its annexation of Kashmir. India’s proclamation has never been accepted by the United Nations, which continues to list Kashmir as a disputed territory who future status is yet to be determined by its people.

History proved the British Prime Minister Clement Richard Atlee wrong when he said on November 7, 1947, “…he (Pandit Nehru) undertook that the will of the people should be ascertained, and he proposed that this should be done under the authority and supervision of the United Nations…I can’t believe that Mr. Nehru’s pledges have the sinister implications.”

India’s creepy design was also confirmed by Bertrand Russell who said in 1964 “ The high idealism of the Indian government in international matters breaks down completely when confronted with the question of Kashmir.”

So, a false narrative was concocted by India, out of nothing more than thin air, in a vain attempt to intellectually subjugate a people. This challenge is most serious, since it resonates, even today with more vigour. How often do we hear outlandish statements like, ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India’? These statements do not exist in a vacuum. They are loaded and violent. This form of violence is more insidious, more difficult to confront, for it is attempting to indoctrinate Kashmiris about their past, their present and direct them to a future that does not belong to them.  They had become the objects of history rather than the masters of it.

Another serious challenge that people of Kashmir face, when attempts are made to confine the Kashmir dispute to a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan as if Kashmiris were inconsequential. This charade of sorts represents an outrageous attempt to restrict discussions of Kashmir, to India and Pakistan to the exclusion of the most important party to the conflict – the people of Kashmir.  Today, this strikingly ignorant political strategy has collapsed after the Abrogation of Article 370 & 35 A on August 5, 2019 and no longer is considered an honest initiative for resolving the Kashmir dispute. It has not achieved any of its desired objectives of bettering relations or resolving Kashmiri aspirations for self-determination. It is evident that this policy has proven a colossal failure. If, in more than 73 years, the ‘bilateral masquerade’ has produced nothing more than cheap photo opportunities, then it is better to once and for all, put this show to an end.

The world powers and the saner elements in both India and Pakistan need to realize that the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan have always remained barren. And trilateral dialogue between Governments of India, Pakistan and the leadership of Kashmir — without any precondition from any side — is the only way to resolve the issue of Kashmir once for all. Participation of Kashmiri leadership in the dialogue process is the sine qua non that will help to achieve the lasting peace and tranquility in the region of South Asia.

In fact, a ‘Kashmir Quartet’ should be established that includes Kashmir, Pakistan, China, and India. Moreover, outside intervention and mediation should include the United Nations. The chairmanship of the Kashmir Quartet mediation should be undertaken by a person of international stature, such as Kjell Bondevik former prime minister of Norway or President Mary Robinson of Ireland.

Today, the challenge before us is that a new generation in Kashmir has been raised with blood and tears for which death no longer poses a threat for what can death do that life has not done before: their suffering is freeing them from fear. Kashmiris’ fearlessness has led to the powerful protests and the largest demonstrations in recent years. The presence of hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Srinagar, marching towards the office of the UNMOGIP, is a proof that the freedom struggle is not a terroristic movement but a movement that is indigenous, spontaneous, peaceful and popular. 

Now, is the time that Mr. Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations brings the situation in Kashmir to the attention of the Security Council under the provision of the Article 99 of the United Nations Charter. It is here in the region of South Asia that not two but three nuclear powers have been eyeball to eyeball for the last one-year? The Article 99 authorizes the Secretary General to ‘bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security’.  If not now, then when can Article 99 be invoked to bring peace and stability to the region of South Asia.

The UN Secretary General should listen to Mr. Gross, US Ambassador to the UN who said in the Security Council on December 5, 1952, we feel that it is the role of the Security Council to assist the parties in seeking to reach agreement.

So, now is no time for complacency or temporizing.  And the chilling suffering and misery of the Kashmiri people continues every day a peaceful resolution is deferred.

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South Asia

Promoting Projects and Practices in Community Health in India

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Street scene in India, August 2020. © UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

One of the most populated countries in the world, India has been facing problems with regard to well-being of its citizens while sustaining their developmental needs. The need for better health facilities, and developing antidotes for new kinds of pathogens and viruses have made the task more challenging. The respective governments, pharma companies, and testing labs are trying to develop safe trial mechanisms and developing safeguards for protecting the lives of vulnerable sections of society. Within India, the community health programme involves the non-governmental sector, healthcare professionals, economics aspects and social interaction through people and voluntary workers. While the health ecosystem exists, the problem has been finance, support and critical knowledge repository. India did well to address issues such as polio vaccination and creating community awareness for regular medication against tuberculosis. There is a mounting impact of chronic diseases in economic and social sectors, need for quality health services in the wake of changing demographics, and increasing life expectancy have made matters more complex.

In terms of understanding the requirements for building better resilient and health-conscious societies, it is important that the vaccines, lifesaving drugs, and medicines should be developed with certain generalised regulations which can improve the health of the society and address problems faced by people living across regions. While India is a subcontinent comprising of all geographical features, it is also a cauldron of different ethnic communities, and physical features which provides exceptional opportunities for testing and developing medicines which can cater to different physical and pathological profiles of people. Within India, one can find people with different levels of immunity. As the eating and food habits have been different, there is higher incidence of diabetes, hyper tension and cardio diseases in a cross-section of people. It has also been seen that people who are above 40-70 years of age have been more vulnerable to pandemics, and other communicable diseases. A sizeable mortality profile of people suggests that.

In this context it becomes very important that medicines which should be developed should have a better shelf life and give results which can be corroborated with testing facility, with a cross-section of people. The results have usually varied with regard to people with different eating habits and also nutrition factor. Pandemics such as COVID-19 have brought to the fore that India has better resistance mechanisms which has helped in relatively less mortality rate when these people have been infected with COVID-19. The duration of sickness because of COVID -19 has varied from five days to more than three weeks. In such certain times, it has been found that because of lack of any effective medicine or any sure shot diagnostic mechanisms the treatment has prolonged and the recovery has been slow. In terms of legal and other regulatory mechanisms, it has been found that most of the clinical trials which are done in India enroll the vulnerable  and poor people and human trials are conducted. There is a grey area of medical compensation and addressing post-tests complications from legal point of view.

For India it has become imperative to develop projects and conduct feasibility studies through government mechanisms rather than through medical companies. While projects have been undertaken to study different kind of diseases that school children and adults will be facing in the next two decades, it has been found that most of the complications will be related to teeth, eyesight, anxiety and mental well-being. However, in the case of pandemics and community health programmes it has been encouraging signs that initiatives such as creating awareness with regard to AIDS, mental well-being, depression and anxiety disorders have been fruitful and rewarding with institutionalising counselling and telephone helplines. Most of the programs have been done and supported by NGOs as well as a few voluntary organisations.

The projects and programmes which can be initiated in India should address core issues. Firstly, the incidence of non-curable diseases, depression, immunity disorders, other issues related to community transmission, and the development of proper safeguards and awareness with regard to pandemics and life-threatening diseases. Secondly, the COVID-19 has opened a Pandora’s box with regard to the incidence of diseases which impact community, and thereby also affect government health budget. Lastly, it is necessary that India will have to create medical soldiers and inform voluntary workers so that the community transmission and community health well-being should be addressed on a priority level.

As the COVID vaccine is in different trial stages, many countries are looking for testing facility in India and also conduct human trials, as legal structure in medicinal trials is still in infancy. India needs to address the issue of IPR on developing vaccines and medical history should be addressed jointly as it has been found that many western countries have been purchasing medical history of the patients living in developing Asia, providing vaccines through great testing mechanisms and subsequently using copyright laws to deny cheap medicines to the larger community.

 In this regard it is important that India should conduct research on immunity vectors of its population and develop generic drugs which can help in protecting communities from most transmissions. It is also pertinent to note that in terms of the temperature variance across India it provides unique testing opportunities in different conditions. However, there is a need for a holistic approach and therefore it is important that training and sensitisation of the personnel working in this field is of paramount importance. Initiatives related to preventive and therapeutic services is critical. Also, looking for quick alternatives would save the lives of personnel.

Just like any emergency, there is a need for rapid action medical force which can provide immediate assistance and better cognitive abilities track critical illnesses and the reasons thereof. It has been seen in the case of midwifery and associated postnatal diseases that it has worked wonders with a better equipped and knowledgeable person existing in each society for better assistance and awareness.

The critical importance of voluntary workers is that with sufficient technical assistance (which might come from government and state units) gives them confidence and also strengthens their application of knowledge for better informed public health practices and policies. Technical assistance and quick action through centralised control centre has to create the first line of defence in case of a pandemic. 

The institutes which have been working in this field are Public Health Foundation of India, Indian Institutes of Public Health and All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health, which have been disseminating information through online workshops, seminars, and social media. They have created affiliates and sister agencies working in the field all across India. Networking of public health institutions in medical education need to address issues such as environmental health and countering new kind of diseases which are dominating.

This clearly highlights the fact there is a need for understanding pandemics, developing awareness among communities about public health, and stress on hygienic environment, conducting long term  research on emerging diseases and promoting research in tropical medicine.

India need to allocate separate fund for public health initiatives and promote exchange of medical workers with third world countries for better understanding the nuances of medical and health research. In fact, in most of the think tank meetings, public health and awareness is not listed as topics whenever Track II dialogues are held. There is also a need for better practices in public health, education, and developing health demonstration projects, barefoot nurses and doctors, strengthening an eco-system of education, training, and scholarship. Developing traditional medicine and making it easily accessible should be the bulwark against diseases. Restructuring Community Medicine/ Preventive and Social Medicine colleges which impart this kind of education in developing countries is required as the number is relatively less. Across developing world scholarship in community medicine and hospital administration is low and needs structural financial support. The data collection and diagnostics apparatus need micro management to create better response chain. COVID-19 has provided the reason for public health to be taken as a national initiative.

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