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Review: Africa At The SPIEF’19

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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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.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

Africa

How COVID-19 pandemic affected South Africa

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South Africa’s Armed Forces servicemen on patrol. Photo: thesouthafrican.com

At present, South Africa is the world’s fifth in the number of coronavirus cases. The epidemiological situation in the country continues to deteriorate, as despite a decreasing number of new cases reported daily, the number of tests has decreased as well. On August 2, 2020 the total number of infected exceeded 511,000, with a daily increase staying at 10,000 – 12,000. The death toll exceeds 8,000. Nevertheless, Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize points out that the percentage of recoveries make up 64% – higher than the world average of 58.2%, which does inspire hope.

Significantly, what hit South Africans the most was the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. South Africa is de facto the only country where along with the closure of different sectors of the economy after the introduction of a quarantine on March 27th there still exists a ban on the sale of tobacco and alcoholic drinks, including wine, the domestic consumption of which is a major source of the country’s revenues. (In June the government partially lifted the ban on alcohol for one month,, which caused a serious rush among the population and as a result, an upsurge in COVID-19 cases – P.L.) Moreover, the above-mentioned measures have inflicted substantial losses on the restaurant business and the farming sector, triggering severe criticism from trade union movements. Union leaders have warned the South African government that if not lifted the quarantine will result in the  loss of jobs for 800,000 public catering workers and for about half a  million employees of the wine-making industry. The situation in the tourist sector is as alarming as the country’s authorities keep the decision to close the borders in force. Domestic tourism is also prohibited. All in all, about 3 million people have lost their jobs during the 4-month quarantine and experts predict a growth in unemployment from 30% to 50%.

In addition, the South African society is demonstrating an ever growing criticism of the measures taken by police and military personnel to guarantee anti-pandemic regime. Participation of police and army servicemen is frequently accompanied by disproportionately harsh measures against quarantine violators, particularly residents of informal settlements, known as “townships”. All this sparks sporadic outbursts of protests among poor dark-skinned communities. Meanwhile, shortages of protective masks and other individual protection items have resulted in more cases of law enforcement employees contracting the coronavirus infection, which leads to the closure of many police stations and an increase in crime.

South Africans point out that the government and its anti-COVID-19 committee are unable to cope with the crisis, which becomes clear from a surge in coronavirus cases among the population. Also under question is the country’s healthcare system, which, experts say, will not be able to handle an influx of coronavirus patients at the peak of the epidemic in August-September due to shortages of hospital beds, medical equipment and medicaments. What is particularly frustrating is the numerous cases of the authorities being slow in addressing social issues, especially those related to the preservation and creation of new jobs.

Given the situation, South African experts say, tensions will continue to escalate and as the epidemiological situation deteriorates, there will be more mass protests on the part of the dark-skinned community, particularly residents of “townships”.

Simultaneously, the South African government is pinning hopes on a short lull, – last week the IMF approved the so-called “COVID” loan of 4.2 billion dollars for South Africa. The South African leadership expects these resources to reverse the negative trend by financing the priority program of supporting the country’s population.

Meanwhile, analysts underscore that the government is faced with other, equally pressing issues, including restoration of the economy, restructuring of state-run companies, and creation of jobs. Experts say South Africa is in for hard times, which will require maximum coordination from the authorities to maintain political and social stability amid the continuing social and economic crisis in the country.

From our partner International Affairs

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Africa

Sashaying to success: Fashionomics Africa helps designers embrace the digital age

MD Staff

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photo: AfDB

From a new digital marketplace to connect Africa’s creatives with global markets, to masterclasses to help designers share and learn, and webinars to inform and inspire: the African Development Bank’s flagship Fashionomics Africa(link is external) initiative has taken great strides this year.

The website and mobile app were unveiled at the Global Gender Summit in Kigali in November, to help Africa’s fashion designers, textile and accessories entrepreneurs grow their businesses, with a focus on women and young people.

“It is all really for connecting business to business, businesses to consumers and ensuring we are putting into place all we need to really transform the clothing and fashion industries in Africa,” Dr. Jennifer Blanke, the Bank’s Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, said at the launch.

With secure e-commerce and online payment systems, the aim is to connect suppliers, buyers, manufacturers and distributors to consumers and investors – to increase access and grow markets within Africa and across the globe.

“The Fashionomics Africa digital marketplace will be a game-changer for Africa’s fashion entrepreneurs, to be able to reach regional and international markets and increase their revenues,” said Mahlet Teklemariam, Founder of Hub of Africa, an Ethiopia-based fashion platform that promotes African brands.

In February, Fashionomics Africa hosted a masterclass in Nairobi on how to establish successful fashion brands. Organized by the Bank’s Gender, Women and Civil Society Department, more than a dozen fashion industry mentors shared their experiences and expertise with the aspiring entrepreneurs, the vast majority of them women.

“The Fashionomics Africa masterclass has all the right ingredients to add flavour to your fashion business,” said Linda Murithi, founder of Love Fashion Kenya, one of the designers who attended the Nairobi event.

The masterclass – which followed similar workshops held in Addis Ababa, Abidjan, Johannesburg, Kigali and Lagos – discussed business  acumen, access to finance, branding, marketing and networking and reflected on the challenges and opportunities African fashion entrepreneurs encounter.

“Some designers feel alone. Fashionomics Africa has created a platform where people share the same language,” said Brendan McCarthy of the Parsons School of Design, and one of the mentors at the masterclass. “They can connect, share experience and create a collaborative community.”

More recently, in a rapid response to the new social and economic environment created by the COVID-19 outbreak, Fashionomics Africa has launched a series of webinars to address the opportunities and threats posed by the pandemic to Africa’s fashion industry.

At the opening webinar in early June, fashion entrepreneurs, investors, industry experts and business insiders, exchanged ideas on the need for a digitally-enabled African fashion industry during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“African fashion is rising right now. African designers need to develop their unique business modeland have to be innovative. To do so, digital is key,” Sarah Diouf, founder of made-in-Africa online brand Tongoro, said at the webinar. “It’s a tool that we can truly leverage in our advantage.”

Be it the feel of the fabric, the fit of the design or the vibrancy of the pattern: the fashion business has traditionally thrived on personal attention and face-to-face contact. But the need to reimagine the role of technology as a lever for growth in the industry has been thrown into sharp relief by the COVID crisis.

The containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus mean fashion entrepreneurs, like those in other industries, must look to online trading tools and or mobile money platforms to build resilience and prepare for the future. In this, the role of Fashionomics Africa is more vital than ever.

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Africa

Somalia: An American Media Pundit, Exaggerates and Weaponizes International Aid

Ahmed Said

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Recently, after the Somali parliament removed prime minister, Hassan Ali Kheyre, in an overwhelmingly no-confidence vote, it didn’t only raise my eye borrows but it made me startled to read an opinion article on the matter in the Washington Examiner by Michael Rubin whose writings I usually find quite utopian and unbalanced. The piece titled, The State Department spent $1.5 billion on Somali democracy and built a dictatorship, was full of chunks of inconsistencies, bending the truth, and calumny attacks on the sovereignty of my home country, Somalia, in the disguise of having the right to express an opinion.

Before we delve into the essence of my observations of Mr. Rubin’s article, let me briefly explain why prime minister, Hassan Ali Kheyre, was ousted by the parliament. However, to safe the reader a boring monologue on why and how the prime minister was sacked, I have to go to the point with brevity; the prime minister lost his job after indirectly sabotaging a one-man, one-vote election legislation he was a part of creating it, so that the Somali citizens can directly elect their leaders, a right they lost decades ago, whose opposite is to go back to electing parliament through clan based picks by traditional elders, then the parliament elects the speaker and the president, then the president nominates a prime minister to be confirmed by the parliament, a process tainted with corruption and vote buying, coupled with dangerous foreign interests; the prime minister preferred that old process, but to say the least, the prime minister was a competent figure who did a great job for the public while he was in office, and in his resignation speech, although he did not like how the no-confidence vote was conducted, he left with dignity and a unifying message. 

The trick to hoodwink readers Mr. Rubin used in the title of his article was to combine all aid received by Somalia from all sources, even from the United Nations, as a single one of 1.5 billion given by the US State Department alone, which is not the case, and he claimed it as an example for being implicitly one-time payment. Then, he wrote:

“Consider first the sheer scale of the United States’s investment in Somalia: The U.S. has spent tens of billions of dollars on Somalia in recent decades.” But in the title of his article, he  tied together the 1.5 billion and what he called building a dictatorship in Somalia in which the reader cannot escape the inference that the US built in Somalia a president Farmaajo dictatorship with 1.5-billion-dollar aid money, a downright lie to discredit Somalia’s resolve not to cave in foreign interference in its affairs, as contrarily evidenced by the weak Somali governments prior to president Mohamed Abdullahi Farrago’s administration. On the other hand, what is so surprising if not disgusting is that Mr. Rubin wrote the following as he cites a biased website that Somali leaders embezzled, a website apparently run by Somalia’s self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland to disseminate anti-Somali news and propaganda; he wrote incoherently as he inserts links, making it an issue, for instance, the international debt relief Somalia deserved so much because of its transparence and good governance, which the international donors praised:

“Under Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, aid to Somalia more than doubled. Over the last year, not only did USAID contribute near $500 million, but Yamamoto successfully advocated debt forgiveness that forced American taxpayers to write off $1 billion in Somali debt, much of which was embezzled by some of the same figures with whom the U.S. now partners. Yamamoto wanted to give Somalia even more.”

Finally, I would say that Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, despite his government’s term coming to an end, will nominate a new prime minister, and the new prime minister will be confirmed by the parliament. Somalia will not go back to the corrupted, old system of election. Somalia will succeed and hold a one-man, one-vote election. The sovereignty of Somalia is stronger under president Farmaajo leadership, and as Somalis, we will not let our sovereignty to be compromised by foreign actors. And, Mr. Rubin, I resect your opinion no matter how distorted it can be, but I don’t think the United States government, or the international donors agree with you!

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