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Italy making its way back to Africa

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The countries of the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia) have recently been the focus of attention of Italian diplomacy, with the need to find political partners in Africa to resolve the migrant crisis, the signing of a long-awaited peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2018, China’s rapidly expanding influence in neighboring Djibouti amid the French and US military presence there making the region a strategically important hub.

Rome would like to see an end to Ethiopia’s “landlocked imprisonment” on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea and Djibouti, restore Italy’ presence in the region, based on its colonial past, and ensure Italian companies’ participation in the construction of a strategically important transport infrastructure in the region where they could be entrusted with looking at the possibility of building a railway connecting the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with the Eritrean port of Massawa.

The share of Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans in the migration flows from Africa to the European Union via Chad, Sudan and Libya has been traditionally high. Italy, which currently ranks third after China and the United Arab Emirates in terms of investment in Africa, wants to help reduce migration by investing in the Horn of Africa countries’ economy and transport infrastructure to improve the economic situation in the region and bring locally produced goods to foreign markets.

With 90 percent of Ethiopian exports going to Djibouti, a country with a population not exceeding 900,000, this helps check the number of Ethiopians heading to the EU, since the country depends on Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia both in terms of infrastructure and also from the standpoint of ensuring political stability in these countries.

While still remaining a poor country, Ethiopia keeps growing fast economically, raking in an impressive yearly growth of 10.3 percent between 2007 and 2017, compared to the regional average of just 5.4 percent. According to experts at the Washington-based Center for Global Development, Ethiopia, with its fast-growing population and relatively cheap labor, will soon emerge as an “African China” in terms of production volumes.

Addis Ababa is also active diplomatically, promoting closer ties with Kenya and Sudan. Italy, for its part, is staking on Ethiopia as an economic and political springboard for expanding its foothold in the Horn of Africa and extrapolating this presence into the Arabian Peninsula via the Red Sea and towards the Indian Ocean.

It is apparently with this goal in mind that, while traditionally maintaining a partnership with Ethiopia and having access to the Indian Ocean, Rome seeks a more dynamic relationship also with Kenya. Italian donor NGOs are currently working in Kenya, and Italian exports to this East African country now exceed €182 million. According to Italy’s Foreign Development Assistance Program (la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo Esteri), Somalia enjoys a priority position here with €270 million worth of Italian grants expected to come in the next 20 years.

Chad and Niger, which border on Libya, are a logical continuation of the Sudan – Eritrea – Ethiopia – Djibouti – Somalia – Kenya geopolitical chain being built by Rome. This explains why Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte visited Ndjamena and Niamey in January after stopovers in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Chad and Niger play a key role in balancing the international security system in the Sahel region, where Italian troops serve as part of a multinational force deployed there. Since the collapse of the Libyan state, Niger and Chad have been viewed by Rome as Europe’s southern border. Rome credits the 80 percent drop in migrant flows from these two countries to Libya to its cooperation with Chadian and Nigerian partners.

Meanwhile, the broad outlines of a rivalry between European powers, above all Italy and France, for control over strategically important African regions and their resources are already visible.

France fears that Italy’s diplomatic successes in Africa could eventually give Rome political and/or economic control over a vast region stretching from Algeria to Kenya, which in turn could politically separate French-speaking North Africa from Central Africa.

Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, which have been a traditional zone of French influence, have not been overlooked by Rome either with an Italian embassy expected to open in Burkina Faso shortly.

Rome’s expanding foothold in Kenya and Somalia is geographically taking it to Madagascar on the east coast of Africa, which is a place where France has its own interests too.

The present cool in Franco-Italian relations, stemming from the two countries’ conflicting views on the migrant problem and the ways to solve it, as well as the degree of political and legal sovereignty EU member states not sharing the views of Brussels, Paris and Berlin on matters pertaining to foreign and domestic economic policy, gives us a reason to expect the competition between Italy and France in Africa to heat up.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Africa

Russia wants to bolster economic ties with Lesotho

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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In southern Russian city Sochi, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations of the Kingdom of Lesotho, Lesego Makgothi, held wide-ranging diplomatic talks mid-February to understand deeply how to continue to build upon relations in numerous areas especially economic cooperation.

Makgothi, who has been Minister since 2017, made his first official trip to Moscow.

According to the official media release, Lavrov and Makgothi exchanged views on important global and regional issues, including Russia’s participation in international efforts to resolve conflicts and crises in Africa and some ways to ensure sustainable socioeconomic development of the continent.

They noted a desire to expand these relations in all areas, beginning with the political dialogue and then cooperation within international organizations, as well as in trade and economic, cultural and humanitarian areas.

During the discussion, both noted geological prospecting, mining and the energy industry as promising areas. The economy is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing and mining. Water and diamonds are its significant natural resources.

Both ministers also focused on cooperation in education exchanges. Russia has expanded the quota by five times for students from Lesotho. This will make it possible to meet the interests of Lesotho and to train specialists in healthcare, meteorology and mining starting next academic year, 2019/20.

There was also the possibility of sending law enforcement officers to study in advanced training courses at the educational institutions under the Russian Interior Ministry.

Lavrov informed that an inter-parliamentary Russian-African conference has been scheduled to take place later this year, and Russia would host a general meeting of the African Export-Import Bank’s shareholders.

Lavrov and Makgothi believed that this would make it possible to considerably raise the level of cooperation and to chart specific ways of further enriching Russia’s relations with Africa. He invited Makgothi to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum scheduled for June.

In general, Lavrov and Makgothi advocated for greater cooperation between Russia and the African countries in all areas, primarily within the context of a proposal put forward by President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, at the BRICS summit in July 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Lesotho’s geographic location, the southernmost landlocked country in the world and is entirely surrounded by South Africa, makes it extremely vulnerable to political and economic developments in South Africa.

Relations between the two countries were established soon after Lesotho gained independence in 1966. Lesotho, with about 2.5 million population, is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

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‘Endemic’ sexual violence surging in South Sudan

MD Staff

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The intensification of road patrols followed shocking incidents of rape and sexual assault, reported in the area in recent weeks. UNMISS/Isaac Billy

A surge in sexual violence in South Sudan’s Unity state targeting victims as young as eight years old, has prompted a call from the UN human rights office, OHCHR, for urgent Government measures to protect victims, and bring perpetrators to justice.

Despite the signing of a peace deal between belligerents last September, UN investigators found that at least 175 women and girls have been raped or suffered other sexual and physical violence between September and December 2018.

The actual level of violence is likely to be considerably higher, OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told journalists in Geneva on Friday.

“Obviously (it is) not the whole picture, but they found 175, women and girls who had been either raped, gang-raped or sexually assaulted or physically harmed in other ways,” he said. “And 49 of those girls who were raped, were children.”

According to a joint report by OHCHR and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), attacks against women have decreased significantly since the peace accord was signed on 12 September.

Nonetheless, it warns that such incidents are “endemic” in northern Unity state, on the border with Sudan, creating a sense among communities that it is normal to be a victim of sexual violence.

Victim’s testimony recalls recurring attacks

Citing the testimony of one victim, Mr. Colville explained that many women are raped while fetching firewood, food or water – often more than once – as they lack any protection.

“She said, ‘If we go by the main road we are raped, if we go by the bush, we are raped. I was raped among others in the same area repeatedly on three separate occasions.”

The surge in conflict-related sexual violence is attributed to many factors including the breakdown in the rule of law, the destruction of livelihoods, forced displacement and food insecurity, after years of civil war.

Large numbers of armed young men, a ‘toxic mix’

But one of the main reasons is the large number of fighters in the area, who have yet to be reintegrated into the national army, according to the peace deal.

Most of the attacks are reported to have been carried out by youth militia groups and elements of the pro-Taban Deng Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition, SPLA-IO (TD), as well as South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF).

In a few cases, attacks were perpetrated by members of the group affiliated with reinstated Vice President and peace deal participant, Riek Machar, Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO (RM), the UN report says.

“Particularly in this area, there are essentially three main groups who…are involved in these rapes, including the National Government force,” said Mr. Colville. “And a lot of these young men who are heavily armed, are just waiting around…This is a very toxic mix, and there are also youth militia which some of these official groups ally with and you don’t know exactly who they are; they’ve been heavily involved as well.”

Rule of law ‘just not applied’

A key challenge is tackling the prevailing impunity throughout Unity state, which is linked to the volatility of the situation across the country, OHCHR maintains.

“There’s been very little accountability in South Sudan for what is chronic, endemic problem of sexual violence against women and girls,” Mr. Colville said. “Virtually complete impunity over the years, as a result, very little disincentive for these men not to do what they’re doing. The rule of law has just not been applied.”

Mobile courts provide glimmer of hope for victims

Among the practical measures taken to a bid to help vulnerable communities in Unity state, UNMISS has cleared roadsides to prevent attackers from hiding from potential victims.

A mobile court system is also operational in towns, including Bentiu, which has had “some success” in bringing perpetrators to trial, OHCHR’s Mr. Colville said, noting nonetheless that “this is just a drop in the ocean”.

“There are thousands and thousands of perpetrators, there are officers involved, there are commanders who’ve got command responsibility who instead of being investigated and brought to book…have been promoted, and are still in charge of groups operating in this area who are still raping women,” he concluded.

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Africa

Nigeria Outlines Strategies to Boost its Economic Diplomacy with Russia- Interview

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Nigeria is an economic powerhouse in West African region. As it is publicly known, Nigeria is one of the Africa’s fastest growing economies and it boosts the largest population. Under H.E. President (Alhaji) Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria has taken practical steps to continue bolstering economic and strategic ties with Russia. Interestingly, Russia and Nigeria’s two-way trade remains minimal, far below expected level, given the fact that Russia is the biggest market in the Eurasian region and Nigeria the biggest market in Africa.

Nigerian and Russian economic relations: Relations between Nigeria and Russia can be traced back to the former Union of the Soviet of Social Republics era when diplomatic relations between the two countries were established. Since then, economic relations between both countries have steadily developed with a number of leading Russian companies establishing their presence in Nigeria. Russian investment in Nigeria covers such areas as energy, iron and steel, and hydrocarbon.

The Russian-Nigerian Business Council was also established to oversee economic activities between the two countries. It is also a platform for the two countries to sit down and draw up Agreements and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on how to conduct effective businesses and investment in both countries.

Now, new hopes in Moscow and Abuja are that the countries’ annual commercial ties have to be increased rapidly to billions of dollars during the next few years. Russia plans to help Nigeria explore for oil and gas. Furthermore, Russia has expressed deep interest in Nigeria, highly pledging to build nuclear power plants, petroleum pipelines, railways and infrastructure.

Kester Kenn Klomegah recently interviewed Professor Steve Ugbah, Nigerian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, who discussed the current Nigeria and Russia economic cooperation, ways to improve trade and other key foreign policy priorities. In addition, Professor Ugbah shares hopes and optimism for the future relations between the two countries.

How do you see the economic relations developing currently between Russia and Nigeria?

The economic relations between Nigeria and Russia are not consistent with the long-standing cordial relations between both countries. This may be attributed to the apparent inadequate knowledge of the many investment opportunities in both countries. Nigeria is a vast market with huge potentials for prospective foreign investors and so is Russia. Regrettably, investors from both sides appear to know little or nothing about these opportunities.

However, in recent times, efforts have been made to improve the economic relations between both countries through rigorous sensitization interfaces and negotiations by the Embassies of both countries. Since, my resumption of office as Nigerian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, I have held talks with several Russian companies who have demonstrated keen interest to invest in Nigeria, as well as resuscitating several abandoned economic projects.

I would like to add that, with our current sensitization drive on the economic potentials in both countries, there is an encouraging upsurge of interest that we have observed recently with an increasing number of interactions between private businesses in both countries. So given this development, I believe in a short time there will be tremendous improvement in the economic relations between both countries.

By the way, what are the Federal Government’s key priorities and expectations from the Russian Federation?

The priorities of the Federal Government of Nigeria from the Russian Government include the following: to promote mutually beneficial interests, particularly the promotion of friendly and cordial relations between the Government and Peoples of Nigeria and those of the Russian Federation; as well as to facilitate good socio-economic partnership and establish business ties that will be beneficial to both countries.

In addition, also a key component of Nigeria’s interest is to protect and promote the security and wellbeing of Nigerian citizens resident in the Russian Federation.

These priorities are pursued majorly through interactions at official levels between both Governments and between the peoples of the two countries; exchange of official visits and cultural programmes and the signing of series of agreements including the Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA) which has brought many Nigerian students to various institutions in the Russian Federation.

What is the state of development regarding infrastructure projects already began by Russia, at least, a decade ago, in Nigeria?

There are two major infrastructural Russian projects in Nigeria: ALSCON and Ajaokuta Steel Plant. ALSCON has been resuscitated, while negotiations are ongoing to operationalize Ajaokuta Steel Plant.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations with Soviet Union and now with Russia, trade figures have never balanced. What are your views about this trend and in what ways the trade imbalance could be reversed?

As I have stated earlier, the problem of low volume of trade and trade imbalance may be traced to the apparent poor or inadequate information on the vast investment opportunities in both countries. Concrete efforts have been made by the Embassy to increase awareness among Nigerian investors and their Russian counterparts on the many available investment opportunities.

I have held series of meetings with the Russian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Russia-Nigerian Business Council and several companies and private owned business establishments here in the Russian Federation to promote economic partnership between both countries.

My duties as Nigerian Ambassador in the Russian Federation include: to deepen the existing cordial relations between our two friendly countries; to open Nigeria to Russian investors with regards to our vast business opportunities; and to expose investment openings in the Russian Federation to Nigerian investors.

In order to improve the trade imbalance, the Economic, Trade and Investment Section of the Embassy has been rigorously involved in educating and informing Nigerian investors of the investment opportunities in Russia, as well as providing necessary assistance they may require to invest in Russia.

In Nigeria, how do political elite and business people perceive the economic changes, and what they make out from the changes, emerging opportunities in Russia?

Economic changes are keenly observed by both, the political elite and business people, as it helps them to make informed decisions that would improve the state of the nation and business, respectively. Nigeria views Russia as a strategic partner therefore, efforts are being made to harness emerging opportunities in Russia by Nigeria.

H.E. Ambassador, could you please give us your interpretation of future perspectives of the relations between Russia and Nigeria. How would you like to see the relations develop into the future?

Nigeria-Russia relations have come a long way since diplomatic ties were established between both countries, dating back to the Soviet Union Era. This can be seen in the different levels of cooperation between Nigeria and Russia. Worthy of mention in this regard is the diligent implementation of the Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA); Russia military assistance to end the Nigerian Civil War from 1967-1970; and, in recent times, military and technical assistance to help end the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East of Nigeria.

Recently, exchange of visits by senior public officials and private sector players from both sides have facilitated the prospects for even greater bilateral cooperation. I am hopeful that this cordiality will expand into various partnerships in different sectors that would be beneficial to both countries. Russia, as the successor state to the defunct USSR, is a strategic partner, with a lot of promise for greater mutually beneficial relations into the future.

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