Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has held series of diplomatic discussions with a number of high-level African delegations who attended the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) from June 6 to 8, reaffirmed Russia’s preparedness to strengthen cooperation in socio-economic spheres, provide the necessary military-technical logistics for enforcing stability and continue training specialists in Russian educational institutions.
Traditionally, SPIEF is a meeting platform for world business leaders, government officials, experts and media representatives to discuss and jointly search for solutions to the most pressing issues in the Russian and global economies.
The key theme of this year’s forum, Creating a Sustainable Development Agenda, included discussions on the current state of and prospects for the sustainable development of the global economy. The business programme comprised four themed blocks: The Global Economy in Search of a Balance; The Russian Economy: Achieving National Development Goals; Technologies Shaping the Future; and People First.
As planned, Sergey Lavrov held several separate bilateral meetings. He attended a trilateral meeting with the Foreign Minister Somalia. On June 6, held meetings with Kenyan Secretary for Foreign Affairs Monica Juma, Foreign Minister of Botswana, Unity Dow and Central African Republic Foreign Minister, Sylvie Baipo-Temon among others.
With Minister Unity Dow, referring to an agreement signed between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Republic of Botswana, on waiving visa requirements for citizens of the Russian Federation and of the Republic of Botswana, Lavrov said that the agreement would ensure frequent exchanges of peoples and business community members. He further said it would provide “more comfortable conditions for interacting with each other.”
During the meeting with Foreign Minister of the Central African Republic Sylvie Baipo-Temon, Lavrov stressed that Russia and CAR would be able to find more areas for trade and economic cooperation.
“We have long-standing friendly relations. This helps us to cooperate in a way that is beneficial for the development of and the efforts to normalise the situation in the Central African Republic,” he told CAR Foreign Minister.
“The meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadera in St Petersburg in May 2018 and my prior talks with President Touadera in Sochi in October 2017 have proven useful for the efforts to implement the fundamental agreements which have been reached. We will work to achieve this,” concluded Lavrov.
Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation, Anton Kobyakov, also met with Vice-President of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire Daniel Kablan Duncan at the 2019 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Kobyakov noted that Russia attaches great importance to deepening cooperation with its African partners in trade and investment that includes the involvement of Russian companies in the implementation of projects in various sectors.
“In 2018, trade between the Russian Federation and Africa increased from US$17.4 billion to US$20.4 billion, domestic exports grew by 18.1%, and imports to Russia from the continent grew by 11.1%. Key Russian trading partners include such North African countries as Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, as well as the Republic of South Africa, located on the other end of the continent. Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, and Tunisia accounted for the lion’s share of Russian exports in 2018, while South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire, and Tunisia dominated imports,” Kobyakov said.
Vice-President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Daniel Kablan Duncan, underlined the strengthening of bilateral relations between Russia and Côte d’Ivoire: “2017 marked a half-century since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. We enjoy friendly relations that encompass many areas of interaction, including political dialogue, security, trade, economic and technical military ties, energy, and scientific, cultural, and cultural exchanges.”
Cote d’Ivoire is one of Russia’s largest trading partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and the beginning of 2019 has been marked by a significant increase in mutual trade. The outlook for cooperation in energy seems promising. The processing of agricultural products could also be included in a list of key areas of trade and investment cooperation with Russia.
Besides bilateral meetings, there were other related business programmes where Africans participated. Support of the Russian export to African countries can grow twofold and reach the level of US$1 bln this year, Chief Executive of the Russian Export Insurance Company EXIAR, Nikita Gusakov informed the Russia-Africa plenary session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).
“There is quite a lot of projects. We supported exports to Africa with an amount of US$0.5 bln last year. Regarding sectors, these are railways, pipeline infrastructure, everything linked to food security and fertilizer suppliers,” Gusakov said. There is no exact forecast of export support for Africa in 2019 but “the amount should be doubled at the least,” he added.
During the plenary session, the key speakers and participants agreed 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. The first event in the history of Russian-African relations to invite the heads of all African states along with the leaders of major sub-regional associations and organizations.
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 to 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. The first event in the history of Russian-African relations to invite the heads of all African states along with the leaders of major sub-regional associations and organizations.
Decade of Sahel conflict leaves 2.5 million people displaced
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called on Friday for concerted international action to end armed conflict in Africa’s central Sahel region, which has forced more than 2.5 million people to flee their homes in the last decade.
Speaking to journalists in Geneva, the agency’s spokesperson, Boris Cheshirkov, informed that internal displacement has increased tenfold since 2013, going from 217,000 to a staggering 2.1 million by late last year.
The number of refugees in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger now stands at 410,000, and the majority comes from Mali, where major civil conflict erupted in 2012, leading to a failed coup and an on-going extremist insurgency.
Increase in one year
Just last year, a surge in violent attacks across the region displaced nearly 500,000 people (figures for December still pending).
According to estimates from UN partners, armed groups carried out more than 800 deadly attacks in 2021.
This violence uprooted some 450,000 people within their countries and forced a further 36,000 to flee into a neighbouring country.
In Burkina Faso alone, the total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) rose to more than 1.5 million by the end of the year. Six in ten of the Sahel’s displaced are now from this country.
In Niger, the number of IDPs in the regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua has increased by 53 per cent in the last 12 months. In Mali, more than 400,000 people are displaced internally, representing a 30 per cent increase from the previous year.
Climate, humanitarian crisis
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating with crises on multiple fronts.
Insecurity is the main driver, made worse by extreme poverty, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of the climate crisis are also felt more strongly in the region, with temperatures rising 1.5 times faster than the global average.
Women and children are often the worst affected and disproportionately exposed to extreme vulnerability and the threat of gender-based violence.
According to the UNHCR spokesperson, “host communities have continued to show resilience and solidarity in welcoming displaced families, despite their own scant resources.”
He also said that Government authorities have demonstrated “unwavering commitment” to assisting the displaced, but they are now “buckling under increasing pressure.”
UNHCR and humanitarian partners face mounting challenges to deliver assistance, and continue to be the target of road attacks, ambushes, and carjacking.
In this context, the agency is calling on the international community to take “bold action and spare no effort” in supporting these countries.
UNHCR is also leading the joint efforts of UN agencies and NGOs to provide emergency shelter, manage displacement sites and deliver vital protection services, including combating gender-based violence and improving access to civil documentation.
In 2021, more than a third of the agency’s Central Sahel funding needs were unmet.
This year, to mount an effective response in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, the agency needs $307 million.
SADC extends its joint military mission in Mozambique
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has collectively decided to extend its force mission mandate in Mozambique for three months to provide military support in fighting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, the northern seaside provincial district that suffered frequent militant attacks displacing thousands out of their homes.
The South African Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM), according to the final communiqué released after the leaders of the southern African countries gathered to review significant issues, among them the operations of the joint military force dispatched last year as attacks reached its greater heights to Mozambique.
Chairperson of the SADC’s Organ on Politics, Defense and Security and South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa told the gathering in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, where the regional bloc held its extraordinary summit and reviewed progress in Mozambique, described SAMIM as highly successful in defeating the militant groups particularly in Cabo Delgado.
“I would like to express my appreciation and commend SAMIM for its work on the ground, as well as recognize the member states that have supported this work financially and in the deployment of military personnel and equipment,” the final report quoted Ramaphosa.
SADC cannot allow terrorism to spread to other provinces in Mozambique and to the region, and it is imperative to promote a spirit of unity among member countries as terrorism and violent extremism threaten the stability and development that the region has achieved over the past four decades, says the report.
The communiqué also approved the framework for support to Mozambique in addressing terrorism outlines, among others, comprehensive strategic actions for consolidating peace, security, and the socio-economic recovery of Cabo Delgado.
The Maputo daily Noticias wrote after the SADC summit that a budgetary allocation of US$29.5 million has been set aside for the three-month extension, after several years of high-level consultations and this would mean until at least mid-April. The SAMIM extension set from mid-January.
Addressing the opening session of the summit, the current SADC Chairperson, Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera, urged regional bloc member states to stick together and ensure that SAMIM remains multidimensional and comprehensive. He entreated SADC member countries not to relent, regress or even retreat on their commitments.
“What remains now is for us to stay the course and stick together. We cannot relent. We cannot regress. We cannot retreat. Our approach to this mission must continue to be multidimensional and comprehensive. It must not only focus on neutralizing the threat, but also have post-conflict plans to rebuild,” said Chakwera, added that the collective mission is paramount and the stakes for all the Member States are high because what they are fighting for is regional stability, and the sustainability of the quest for the bloc’s integration and socio-economic development.
Chakwera welcomed the comprehensive Cabo Delgado Reconstruction Plan launched by his Mozambican counterpart, Filipe Nyusi, and his government, which, among other issues, seeks to provide humanitarian support to the affected population, including internally displaced persons, and uplift their living standards.
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi however expressed high optimism about the current military situation in Cabo Delgado. He said that all the bases from which the terrorists used to plan their actions are now in the hands of the Mozambican forces, and 2022 would be a decisive year to support the regional standby force in the final fight against terrorism in Mozambique.
For the Mozambican President Nyusi the extension of the SAMIM mission demonstrates the spirit of unity and solidarity that the Southern African Development Community members have readily and warmheartedly shown with the people of Mozambique.
Mozambique has grappled with an insurgency in its northernmost province of Cabo Delgado since 2017, but currently fast improving after the deployment of joint military force with the primary responsibility of ensuring peace and stability, and for restoring normalcy in Mozambique.
Mozambique has consistently maintained that all problems especially relating to conflicts and crises should be resolved largely based on the approaches of Africans, and of course with moral, political and material support from regional blocs such as SADC and the continental organization – African Union, and the involvement of United Nations with its UN Security Council.
With an approximate population of 30 million, Mozambique is endowed with rich and extensive natural resources but remains one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world. Mozambique is a member of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
Mali: Security Council warned of ‘endless cycle of instability’
A decade after civil conflict erupted in Mali, hopes for an early resolution to insurgency and strife have not materialized, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country, El-Ghassim Wane, told the Security Council on Tuesday.
Instead, the UN top envoy explained, “insecurity has expanded, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, more children are of out of school and the country has been affected by an endless cycle of instability.”
In fact, more than 1.8 million people are expected to need food assistance in 2022 compared to 1.3 million in 2021, the highest level of food insecurity recorded since 2014.
And more than half a million children have been affected by school closures, which the envoy believes puts “the future of the country in jeopardy”.
Despite these challenges, Mr. Wane argued that the situation “would have been far worse” without the engagement of the international community, including the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) in 2013.
The Malian Government has been seeking to restore stability following a series of setbacks since early 2012, including a failed military coup d’état, renewed fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of its northern territory by radical extremists.
The Special Representative also briefed the Council on the current stand-off between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Malian transitional leadership, controlled by the military.
Over the weekend, ECOWAS held an Extraordinary Summit and decided that the proposed timetable for the transition, lasting up to five and a half years, was “totally unacceptable”.
Urging Malian authorities to focus on a speedy return to constitutional order, they decided to uphold individual sanctions put in place on 12 December and imposed additional ones.
The new sanctions include the recall of ambassadors from Bamako, the closing of land and air borders, suspension of all commercial and financial transactions (with some exemptions), and the suspension of financial assistance, among others.
Mali reciprocated by recalling its ambassadors and closing its borders with ECOWAS Member States.
In an address to the nation on Monday evening, however, Transition President, Colonel Assimi Goita, called for unity and calm, stating that Mali remains open to dialogue.
Mr. Wane explained that supporting the transition is a key aspect of the MINUSMA mandate, so the mission will try to find a consensual way out to overcome the impasse.
“A protracted impasse will make it much harder to find a consensual way out, while increasing hardship for the population and further weakening state capacity”, he argued, warning that such scenario would “have far-reaching consequences for Mali and its neighbours.”
Beyond the political transition, Mr. Wane believes it is also crucial that the Council continues to pay attention to the implementation of the peace agreement and to stability in the Centre of the divided nation, calling it two “building blocks” for a peaceful and stable Mali.
‘Window of opportunity’
Back in December, a process of national consultation, known as Assises nationales de la refondation, ended with a series of main recommendations, including a constitutional review, the creation of a Senate, the acceleration of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process and territorial decentralization.
For Mr. Wane, these proposals “offer a window of opportunity on which all stakeholders should build upon to move forward on the implementation of the peace agreement.”
The Special Representative also provided an update on MINUSMA’s activities, noting that 2021 saw more extremist attacks than any years prior.
The mission ended the year with the highest number of casualties since 2013, following a significant rise of attacks targeting main axes, convoys, camps, and temporary operating bases.
In total, 28 peacekeepers died, including seven Togolese in a single incident back in December.
The conflict has also had a devastating impact on civilians and the humanitarian situation.
On 3 December for instance, 32 civilians, including 26 women and children, were killed near Songho when their bus was attacked by extremist elements.
In just one year, the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) increased from 216,000 to more than 400,000.
In such difficult circumstances, Mr. Wane described the response to the humanitarian appeal as “lukewarm”, with only 38 per cent of funding received.
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