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Radia Garrigues: CEO of an Incubator Providing Gabon’s Youth with Skills for the Future

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photo: World Bank

Radia Garrigues is the CEO of JA Gabon, a member of Junior Achievement Worldwide, one of the largest youth-serving NGOs that provides hands-on learning in entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness. The Gabon location opened in 2013 and has trained nearly 7,000 young people (4,000 in entrepreneurship). The incubator supports around 30 start-ups a year. JA Gabon provides free services, except for its new SME Space that is co-financed by Noble Energy.

“I’ve always been fascinated with entrepreneurship,” says Garrigues. “Throughout my career, I’ve sought to set up and implement projects and ideas, introducing entrepreneurial principles anywhere I go.”

Her flair for business is evident. She was previously CEO of a subsidiary to Hachette Livre, the French publishing company, as well as director of the Alliance Française in Abu Dhabi. When JA Gabon was first founded, it had two employees. Today, it has increased that eighteen-fold, supporting thousands of young people in the process. 

Across much of West and Central Africa, entrepreneurship has traditionally been seen as the last resort in terms of career choice but — pointing to waning civil service job opportunities in the context of the oil crisis — Garrigues feels the landscape is changing in Gabon. “This is part of the mission of Junior Achievement,” attests Garrigues. “It started in the U.S. 90 years ago to provide people with training in professional skills and financial management. It really does change people’s mentality and I see changes already in children as young as 5 and 6 that have participated in our programs.”

Nevertheless, Garrigues warns that entrepreneurship is not necessarily for everyone. “People tend to gravitate to what’s easiest and entrepreneurship is hard.” JA Gabon has several employability programs, including for young people with no schooling who represent the majority of the unemployed population. The incubator also engages in a lot of fieldwork and supports other vulnerable groups, such as teenage mothers who are more likely to be unemployed.

Training in soft skills benefits up to 2,000 young people a year, with women making up 41% of participants. Garrigues notes, however, that as beneficiaries get older, the proportion of women tends to decline. “We certainly have more girls than women in our programs,” she admits, adding that the proportion of women falls in particular as programs transition from secondary to third-level education. Capturing girls early, therefore, does not necessarily guarantee they will continue their professional development at the same rate as men.

As with many countries in the region, human capital remains a key lacking resource in Gabon, but Garrigues insists that reinforcing incubators’ capacity at the local level is an easy win for policymakers. “We grew so quickly and the hardest thing now is finding the right people to implement our activities, including good mentors.” In addition, she advises that donors should continue facilitating networking and exchanges between different incubators across the region. JA Gabon is an implementing partner of the World Bank’s Gabon Competitiveness and Investment Promotion Project and is also currently a member of the network of West and Central African incubators under the Innovation Africa Program (PAI), financed by the French Agency for Development with the World Bank as a member of its steering committee.

Garrigues applauds the enthusiasm of the government in Gabon to support the work of JA Gabon. “The political will here to boost entrepreneurship is very strong, coming from the highest levels, including the President. There’s now a Ministry of Entrepreneurship that was founded two years ago to promote youth entrepreneurship, which is very unusual for francophone Africa.” JA Gabon is also working in partnership with the National Office of Employment on developing soft skills, such as preparing CVs.

The incubator is engaging in high-level policy dialogue with the government to foster better conditions for entrepreneurs in the country. In July 2018, Garrigues was received by the Minister for Small and Medium Enterprises, Julien Nkoghe Bekale, in order to define a set of essential tools to developing Gabon’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and promote SMEs.

Garrigues has long urged new legislation to facilitate MSMEs’ activities. “We want our incubees to have all the advantages possible but there’s nothing right now for start-ups (nor for incubators), not even tax breaks for small or new businesses. Without seed-funding, people will see their projects as something short-term and give up.”

She says this while emphasizing that JA Gabon has “beneficiaries, not clients”. All of JA Gabon’s services, aside from the SME Space, are free and even then, they are co-financed by Noble Energy. “I don’t agree with all incubators being strictly private businesses,” she says. “So many people wouldn’t be able to access our services and so much of the country’s potential would be lost!”

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Torture is ‘widespread’ and likely underestimated in DR Congo

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School children in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, take part in a parade ceremony of the 67th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, organized by the UN Joint Human Rights Office. (file) MONUSCO/Abel Kavanagh

Torture is “widespread” and underestimated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the abuse involves armed groups and State forces, UN investigators said on Wednesday.In findings issued in a report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in DRC (UNJHRO) and the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), the authors indicated that 93 per cent of the 3,618 registered cases of “torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” affecting 4,946 victims had happened in areas experiencing conflict.

Of that total, covering the period between 1 April 2019 and 30 April 2022, there were 492 cases of sexual violence, affecting 761 victims.

Torture can never be justified, no matter the circumstances or the context. The DRC authorities must act with urgency and determination to put an end to this scourge,” said Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, in a statement.

Responsibility shared

Members of the DRC’s defence and security forces were responsible for 1,293 cases, according to the report, while 1,833 cases were attributed to armed groups. “In certain contexts, (they) subjected victims to torture in collusion with members of the security forces,” it said.

Victims suffered torture and ill-treatment either during detention or “while exercising their fundamental rights, such freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, or during detention”, the report’s authors continued.

Highlighting the low number of complaints filed against perpetrators and the “widespread nature of torture” compared with the “magnitude of the violations”, the report explained that only two army officers, 12 national police officers and 75 members of armed groups were convicted of torture during the reporting period.

‘Hate speech’ surging

The development comes amid concerns that the DRC has been gripped by a ‘proliferation’ of hate speech, just 12 months ahead of presidential elections.

In a scheduled debate at the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, also expressed deep concern about the alarming security situation in the east of the country, where two provinces have been placed under military rule since May 2021.

Withdrawing UN peacekeepers MONUSCO from the country “could have serious consequences on the human rights situation in the east of the country and the sub-region”, said Christian Jorge Salazar Volkmann, Director of Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division at OHCHR.

Member States at the Geneva forum heard that although armed groups carried out most rights violations and abuses between 1 June 2021 and 31 May 2022, DRC security personnel were responsible for over four in 10 cases, out of an overall total of 6,782.

The military rule in Ituri and Nord Kivu provinces which came into effect on 6 May 2021 “do(es) not appear to have deterred armed groups from attacking civilians, particularly in internally displaced persons sites”, said Mr. Volkmann.

Some 2,413 people – 1,778 men, 471 women and 164 children – had been killed by armed groups in the first year of military rule in the two provinces, he said, compared to 1,581 people (1,076 men, 365 women and 140 children) during the previous 12-month period.

Nearly 5.5 million people had been forced from their homes by the violence, amid a resurgence of the M23 armed group in Nord Kivu’s Rutshuru province, which has attacked DRC “defence and security forces, civilians and (UN peacekeeping Mission) MONUSCO”, the OHCHR official added.

Militia rule

Other attacks by militias the ADF and CODECO against civilians and humanitarians “may constitute serious crimes under international law”, Mr. Volkmann said, in an appeal for an end to the violence and a nationally-led demobilization and reintegration plan. 

While welcoming the life sentence handed down to Mihonya Chance Kolokolo, leader of militia group Raïa Mutomboki, for crimes against humanity and war crimes including the recruitment and use of children, rape, murder and the violation of natural reserves in South Kivu, the UN human rights official highlighted the “slow pace” of justice for “almost all” priority cases committed by Kamuina Nsapu armed group between 2016 and 2018 in the Kasai region.

To tackle hate speech, OHCHR has recommended practical measures to the authorities in the DRC.

These include implementing a proposed law on racism, tribalism and xenophobia which is under discussion in Parliament.

“One year before the next presidential elections, it is important that the alleged perpetrators of these messages be brought to justice and held accountable, and to prevent the security situation from further deterioration,” said Mr. Volkmann.

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Five years of violence in northern Mozambique has forced nearly a million to flee

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Nearly one million people have fled extreme violence perpetrated by non-State armed groups in northern Mozambique over the past five years, the UN refugee agency UNHCR reported on Tuesday. As the conflict in Cabo Delgado province has not subsided, UNHCR is appealing for both an end to the bloodshed and greater international support for the displaced and local communities hosting them. 

The situation has had a devastating impact on the population, Spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh told journalists in Geneva. 

Beheadings, rapes and burnings 

“People have witnessed their loved ones being killed, beheaded, and raped, and their houses and other infrastructure burned to the ground,” he said

“Men and boys have also been forcibly enrolled in armed groups. Livelihoods have been lost, and education stalled while access to necessities such as food and healthcare has been hampered. Many people have been re-traumatized after being forced to move multiple times to save their lives.” 

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate, with displacement figures increasing by 20 per cent, to over 946,000 in the first half of this year. 

Neighbouring province affected 

The violence has now spilled into the neighbouring province of Nampula, where four attacks were reported in September affecting at least 47,000 people and displacing 12,000. 

“People displaced during those latest attacks told UNHCR that they are scared and hungry. They lack medicine and are living in crowded conditions – with four to five families sharing one house,” said Mr. Saltmarsh.  

“Some sleep under open skies. Lack of privacy and exposure to cold at night and the elements during the day, create additional safety and health concerns, particularly for women and children.” 

Meeting the needs

UNHCR has been responding to the needs of displaced populations in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces, through humanitarian assistance and protection support. 

Staff are providing shelter and household items, helping survivors of gender-based violence with legal, medical, and psycho-social support, and supporting displaced people to obtain legal documentation. UNHCR also supports those at higher risk, including children, people with disabilities, and older persons. 

The agency requires $36.7 million to deliver life-saving protection services and assistance in Mozambique but has so far received around 60 per cent of the funding. 

Promoting safe returns

Despite ongoing displacement in Cabo Delgado, some people have returned to their homes in areas they perceive as safe, said Mr. Saltmarsh.

Last month, UNHCR and partners conducted the first protection assessment mission to Palma, a town in the far north-east which saw deadly attacks in March 2021. Most of the 70,000 residents were displaced and the majority have returned in recent weeks.

“People who have lost everything are returning to areas where services and humanitarian assistance are largely unavailable. UNHCR is concerned about the risks people face should they continue to return to their areas of origin before conditions are stabilized,” said Mr. Saltmarsh.  

Danger remains 

While UNHCR is in favour of returns when they are voluntary, safe, informed and dignified, current security conditions in Cabo Delgado are too volatile for people to go back to the province. 

“However, growing protection needs and limited services for those who have chosen to return home must still be urgently addressed by relevant stakeholders, including authorities and humanitarian actors,” he said. 

In the interim, UNHCR is working closely with the Mozambican government and other partners to support and advocate for the inclusion of all displaced populations in national services.  

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Critical Views On Russia’s Policy Towards Africa Within Context Of New World Order

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In September WhatsApp conversation with Matthew Ehret, a Senior Fellow and International Relations Expert at the American University in Moscow, he offers an insight into some aspects of Russia-African relations within the context of the emerging new global order. 

In particular, Matthew gives in-depth views on Russia’s valuable contribution in a number of economic sectors including infrastructure development during the past few years in Africa, some suggestions for African leaders and further on the possible implications of Russia-China collaboration with Africa. Here are important excerpts of the wide-ranging interview:

What are the implications here and from historical perspectives that Russia is looking for its allies from Soviet-era in Africa…and “non-Western friends” for creating the new world order?

Russia is certainly working very hard to consolidate its alliances with many nations of the global south and former non-aligned network. This process is hinged on the Russia-China alliance best exemplified by the integration of the Eurasian Economic Union with the Belt and Road Initiative and the spirit of cooperation outlined in the the Feb. 4 Joint Statement for a New Era of Cooperation.

Of course this is more than simply gaining spheres of influence as many analysts try to interpret the process now underway, but has much more to do with a common vision for instituting a new system of cooperation, creative growth and long term thinking uniting diverse cultural and religious groups of the globe around a common destiny which is a completely different type of paradigm than the unipolar ideology of closed-system thinking dominant among the technocrats trying to manage the rules based international order.

Soviet Union, of course, enormously supported Africa’s liberation struggle and resultantly attained political independence in the 60s. What could be the best practical way for Russia to fight what it now referred to as “neocolonialism” in Africa?

Simply operating on a foundation of honest business is an obvious but important thing to do. The African people have known mostly abuse and dishonest neo-colonial policies under the helm of the World Bank and IMF since WW2, and so having Russia continue to provide investment and business deals tied to the construction of special economic zones that drive industrial growth, infrastructure and especially modern electricity access which Africa desperately needs are key in this process.

African countries currently need to transform the untapped resources, build basic infrastructure and get industrialized -these are necessary to become somehow economic independent. How do you evaluate Russia’s role in these economic areas, at least, during the past decade in Africa?

It has been improving steadily. Of course, Russia does not have the same level of national controls over their banking system as we see enjoyed by China whose trade with Africa has attained $200 billion in recent years while Russia’s trade with Africa is about $20 billion. But despite that, Russia has done well to not only provide trains in Egypt, and has made the emphasis on core hard infrastructure, energy, water systems, and interconnectivity a high priority in the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit and the upcoming 2023 Summit.

Generally, how can we interpret African elite’s sentiments about Russia’s return to Africa? Do you think Russia is most often critical about United States and European Union’s hegemony in Africa?

I think the over arching feeling is one of trust and relief that Russia has returned with a spirit of cooperation. According to all the messaging from Lavrov who recently completed an important Africa tour late July, I can say that Russia is very critical of the USA and EU approach to hegemony in Africa. As Museveni and the South Africa Foreign Minister have recently emphasized, they are sick of being talked down to and threatened by western patronizing technocrats, whereas we see a sense of mutual respect among the discourse of Russian and Chinese players which is seen as a breath of fresh air. 

While the west is obsessed with “appropriate green technologies” for Africa while chastizing the continent for its corruption problems (which is fairly hypocritical when one looks at the scope of corruption within the Wall Street- City of London domain), Russia supports all forms of energy development from coal, oil, natural gas and even nuclear which Africa so desperately needs to leapfrog into the 21st century.

Understandably, Russia’s policy has to stimulate or boost Africa’s economic aspirations especially among the youth and the middle class. What are views about this? And your objective evaluation of Russia’s public outreach diplomacy with Africa?

So far Russia has done well in stimulating their youth policy with expanded scholarships to African youth touching on agricultural science, engineering, medicine, IT, and other advanced sectors. Additionally the Special Economic Zones built up by Russia in Mozambique, Egypt have established opportunities for manufacturing and other technical training that has largely been prevented from growing under the IMF-World Bank model of conditionality laced loans driven primarily by the sole aim of resource extraction for western markets and overall control by a western elite. Russia has tended to follow China’s lead (and her own historic traditions of aiding African nations in their development aspirations) without pushing the sorts of regime change operations or debt slavery schemes which have been common practice by the west for too long.

Sochi summit has already provided the key to the questions you have, so far, discussed above. Can these, if strategically and consistently addressed, mark a definitive start of a new dawn in the Russia-African relations?

Most certainly.

Geopolitical confrontation, rivalry and competition in Africa. Do you think there is an emerging geopolitical rivalry, and confrontation against the United States and Europe (especially France) in Africa? What if, in an alliance, China and Russia team up together?

China and Russia have already teamed up together on nearly every aspect of geopolitical, scientific, cultural and geo-economic interest imaginable which has created a robust basis for the continued successful growth of the multipolar alliance centered as it is upon such organizations as the BRICS+, SCO, ASEAN and BRI/Polar Silk Road orientation. This is clear across Africa as well and to the degree that this alliance continues to stand strong, which I see no reason why it would not for the foreseeable future, then an important stabilizing force can not only empower African nations to resist the threats, intimidation and destabilizing influences of western unipolarists. 

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