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Russia-Africa Summit: Welcome to Sochi!

photo credit: Kremlin website

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent warm greetings to African leaders, business people and participants early October, signaling that everything is set for the first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, southern coastal city of Russia.

The message reads, in part: “Today, the countries of Africa are well on their way towards social, economic, scientific and technological development, and are playing a significant role in international affairs. They are strengthening mutually beneficial integration processes within the African Union and other regional and sub‑regional organizations across the continent.”

In recent years, the traditionally friendly ties of partnership between Russia and Africa have gained new momentum, both at a bilateral level and in various multilateral formats. In addition to preserving past experience of successful cooperation, have also managed to make significant new steps forward.

Trade and investment are growing dynamically, and new joint projects are under way in extractive industries, agriculture, healthcare, and education. Russian companies are ready to offer their scientific and technological developments to their African partners, and share their experience of upgrading energy, transport and communications infrastructures, according to President Putin.

It is, broadly, expected that the Summit will help identify new areas and forms of cooperation, put forward promote collaboration between Russia and Africa to a qualitatively new level and further contribute enormously to the development of bilateral relations between Russia and Africa.

According to the Organizing Committee, some 50 African heads of state have already confirmed their participation. It will feature more than 200 CEOs, ministers of key industries, and representatives of the expert community from Russia and Africa. The events will be attended by more than 3,000 representatives of African businesses.

The main event are the plenary session “Russia-Africa: Uncovering the Potential for Cooperation” during which the Presidents of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, are expected to speak. A final declaration of the Summit titled “For Peace, Security, and Development” has been prepared and it includes items on the global and regional agendas that are important for Russia as well as comprehensive proposals on diverse ways to develop the full scope of future Russian-African relations.

In addition, at least 23 intergovernmental and interagency agreements and other agreements between African and Russian companies will be signed on the sidelines.

Under the theme “Russia and Africa: Uncovering the Potential for Cooperation” here are the key areas the Summit will discuss:-

*The Role of Media in Russian-African Relations

The African continent is becoming ever more important in today’s international order. Russian-African relations are adding an additional dimension to developments, especially with the boost provided by rapidly expanding links across a vast range of areas.

The media can, and indeed must be a decisive factor in building effective ties. Africa is frequently portrayed in the media as suffering from numerous intergovernmental, religious, and ethnic conflicts; political and economic instability; and an array of demographic and social problems. Knowledge of today’s Russia and the steps being taken by its political leaders to tackle global challenges is also given little space in the continent’s media landscape.

*Contribution of Nuclear Technologies in the Development of Africa

Today, African countries face major challenges. Rapid population growth and the worsening energy crisis are constraining economic growth on the continent. The poor transport infrastructure, access of the population to health services, low level of education and food supply insecurity are severely hampering Africa’s efforts to improve the quality of life in the region. It is clear that to solve these problems a large-scale development programme is required, including a strategy based on achieving the UN sustainable development goals. Nuclear technologies can become a driver for socio-economic development and a comprehensive solution to the systemic continent-wide problems.

*Humanitarian cooperation: Development Goals and Corporate Social Responsibility

Humanitarian partnership between Russia and African countries is becoming increasingly important. It is an area covering the development of human capital (education and culture), social programmes, healthcare, and access to essential benefits supporting people’s lives and national development in countries across the continent.

*Current Objectives in Developing the Housing Construction Market on the African Continent

Access to housing is one of the most pressing issues facing most African countries. Modern housing and a comprehensive approach to spatial planning can help ensure sustainable urban development and socioeconomic growth. We must now determine the needs of the housing construction market in African countries and identify joint solutions and ways of working together to achieve the most effective results in the shortest possible time. Practical steps aimed at identifying, supporting, and implementing joint projects are vital to such partnerships.

*Investing in Africa

In 2050, Africa’s total GDP will reach $29 tn, exceeding the combined GDP of US and Euro zone in 2012. Pan-African and national growth strategies as well as global thinktanks’ forecasts highlight the following growth areas and potential key drivers of the continent’s rise in the medium and long term: commodities; infrastructure (utilities and roads) and industrialization; demography; education; expanding middle class; access to financial services. These factors will define the continent’s investment outlook: future investment climate, current investments and their diversification. They have potential either to bolster or hamper the capital inflows.

*Economic Sovereignty for Africa: Problems and Solutions

In order to fulfil their development objectives and meet the needs of their citizens, countries in Africa are compelled to turn to foreign sources of financing. However, these mainly take the form of credit from international financial institutions and direct loans whereby the creditor imposes socioeconomic and political requirements which limit a country’s sovereignty. Sovereign bonds and other forms of borrowing on the capital market account for just a small proportion of African debt, but some countries on the continent are still unable to access this form of financing. As a result, more than USD 100 billion of borrowing potential is going untapped. More than USD 200 billion of existing debt could be refinanced under less stringent conditions.

*Russia and Africa: Energy for Development and Cooperation

Africa today has a population of over one billion people, huge resource potential and a platform for development. The continent has the potential to become one of the world’s largest economies and most populated regions by 2050 through organic growth and reform. Creating a foundation for growth at the very outset and using the continent’s mineral wealth in the most effective way possible requires the right energy policy.

*Transport Infrastructure on the African Continent: Opportunities to Implement Joint Projects

The transport sector in Africa possesses excellent potential for development. The continent’s railways offer great promise, as do joint ventures. Several African nations have prioritized the development of their transport infrastructures, particularly given transport’s ability to spur growth in key industries. The expansion of transport links brings with it additional jobs and expertise, and improves quality of life for the local population. Russia is able to offer technology and expertise at the very forefront of construction, planning, engineering, and equipment supplies. However, there remain a number of barriers to the market, as well as a lack of financing and country specific risks.

*Financing as an Essential Instrument of Economic Growth in Africa

The African continent has enormous economic potential and is actively integrating into the system of international economic relations. Prospects for Russia to increase its trade with African countries are directly linked to the diversification of its merchandise exports. However, this is only a realistic aim if international financing channels are put in place to facilitate growth in trade. Given the interest in Russia and Africa increasing economic cooperation, new solutions need to be found to implement ambitious trade projects.

*Russian–African Collaboration in the Diamond Industry

The diamond mining industry is key to the economies of several African countries, accounting for a significant portion of income from exports. Today, diamond mining faces a number of industry-wide challenges, attempts to tackle which will determine its future.

*The Future of the African Continent: Sovereignty and Traditional Values as Crucial Elements of a Development Strategy

In an era of globalization, protecting national values and priorities is a pressing concern. Economic and political sovereignty are the foundation of development in a polycentric world, and African countries are no exception. The African Union’s strategic framework Agenda 2063 highlights the importance of preserving African values and Pan-Africanism.

*Collaboration in Industry: Potential Areas of Growth

The development of high-tech and export-oriented industries in the Russian manufacturing sector has laid the groundwork for expanding areas of collaboration and launching ambitious long-term projects. What needs to be done to bring about a substantial improvement in collaboration between Russia and Africa? Which areas of cooperation are of most interest to Russian businesses and African nations? What projects and forms of Russian-African partnership are in need of financial support from parties such as Afreximbank?

*Doing Business in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities

Today, Africa is one of the most promising and fastest-growing regions of the world, with leading powers actively competing with one another. However, the continent should not be viewed as a single, monolithic market. Its economy varies from place to place in terms of type, scale, and structure. Africa today is a place of great political, cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity. As a result, each country has a unique business culture, requiring an individual approach from any company wishing to enter its market.

*Biosecurity: Current Projects and Opportunities for Cooperation

Global threats in today’s interconnected world, such as epidemics of infectious diseases, have a huge impact on the development of African nations. Robust healthcare systems and the ability to react to these threats can boost prosperity and help countries to thrive. Over the past few years, the African continent has had to tackle outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases affecting thousands of lives and costing national economies millions of dollars. Russia has a great deal of experience in reacting to health threats, and today is implementing large-scale projects in countries around the world.

*Digital Transformation as a Driver of State Development

Today, digitalization is a major driver of state development. Effective e-government simplifies communication between people and the state, and helps create an effective system for departments to interact with one another. As a result, people gain quicker access to government services. In turn, this leads to greater user satisfaction, and substantial monetary savings.

*The Eurasian Economic Union and Africa: Trends and Opportunities to Develop Integrated Processes and Collaborate

Over the past few decades, economic integration processes have become an overarching trend in regional development throughout the world. They have helped member states to successfully embed themselves in the global economy and minimize the risk of crises occurring in various industries. Economic integration provides a new perspective on crucial projects related to infrastructure, logistics, energy, trade, agricultural and industrial development, digitalization, migration policy, and employment.

It offers additional opportunities to form common approaches to issues concerning the environment, renewable energy, and other factors determining scientific and technological progress. In view of the substantial expertise that regional associations offer, the next logical step is to foster dialogue between them and exchange experience at the forefront of integration, with the aim of optimizing economic integration processes and collaborating on the widest possible range of issues.

*Technological Sovereignty and Security in a Digital World: Solutions to Tomorrow’s Challenges

Africa’s fast-growing commercial sector is making rapid inroads in the virtual space. African companies are overcoming problems related to communication and financial infrastructure and choosing to immediately build their business online, implementing modern mobile solutions as they do so. However, the cyber security measures used by these fast-growing companies cannot keep up with their rapid development, leaving the companies vulnerable to cyber criminals.

In terms of governmental information systems, a monopolization of global IT markets by a handful of major Western corporations could result in financial losses in Africa, threatening citizens’ personal safety and Africa’s sovereignty at large. Russian companies are global leaders in digital security and are capable of protecting African businesses from cyber threats while ensuring digital sovereignty for African states. Success can be guaranteed through building partnerships between African and Russian companies and training up an IT security workforce in each country.

*Using Minerals in Africa for the Benefit of Its Peoples

There is a long history of Soviet and Russian specialists participating in and supporting the systemic geological study of a number of countries in the African continent. Their work on natural resource bases has done a great deal to aid mineral extraction. These countries now have the opportunity to leverage modern means of geological research and exploration, and in doing so, continue the comprehensive study of subsoil resources. This could lead to new and globally unique sites being developed, both on land and the continental shelf.

*Business Associations in Russia and Africa: A Starting Point for Long-Term Business Partnership

A major barrier hindering greater cooperation between the Russian and African business communities is a lack of awareness regarding the current state of markets, along with trade and investment opportunities. There is also an insufficient level of trust towards potential partners. These issues can be solved through establishing an effective system of communication between public business associations in Russia and African nations. These organizations can both serve the interests of entrepreneurs, and also guarantee their reliability and integrity.

*Russia and Africa: Science, Education, and Innovation for Economic Development

The accelerated development of both Russia’s and Africa’s economic potential is inextricably linked to scientific output and the improvement of general education and professional training. The 21st century has heralded the rise of the knowledge economy. Scientific research and development results in new products and industries, and is able to make a vital contribution to tackling current social and economic challenges facing our countries. The Soviet Union made an invaluable contribution to developing the scientific and educational potential of a number of African countries.

*A Safe Africa

Illegal migration, contraband, and criminal activity are all too frequent problems facing the African continent. The biggest threat of all though is terrorism. Experts agree that to ensure a country’s national security, a set of measures needs to be taken, along with preventative action to combat possible threats. The biggest vulnerabilities in this regard include weak border control, unprotected industrial facilities, and large urban areas where it becomes easy to disappear into a crowd. An effective set of measures has been developed in Russia to counter terrorism, curtail illegal activity, and provide dependable protection for citizens. Russian organizations and companies are ready and able to share their experience with African partners.

*Drivers of Growth in National Healthcare Systems

National healthcare systems are simply unable to cope economically with the burden of disease in Africa. Particular attention is given to infectious diseases; however, there is a growing need to fight against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. What’s more, the high cost of medicines and services, together with a shortage of vital modern equipment, is hindering access to medical care in African countries.

The lack of medical personnel is a particularly pressing problem. Cutting-edge technologies, such as mobile phones, blockchain, 3D printing, UAVs, and others clearly need to be applied as drivers of growth in this area. If used correctly, they could significantly improve the quality of medical services while cutting costs. The high number of people in Africa suffering from chronic diseases and requiring remotely administered care and treatment will spur the development of telemedicine.

*New Forms of Cooperation between Russia and Africa: Opportunities for Special Economic Zones Based on the Project to Establish a Russian Industrial Zone in Egypt

A new model for the development of production lines is based on closing the gap between production and delivery to the end consumer, minimising logistical and technical expenses and facilitating projects with a social dimension to successfully develop the local economy. Based on this logic, creating and facilitating conditions conducive to competitive production, including the production of quality hi-tech products, can be done most effectively through the use of points of entry.

Such points draw on the advantages of special (free) economic zones, which provide additional competitive advantages when gaining access to local markets. The project to create a Russian Industrial Zone – devised and implemented at the interface between governments, state development institutions and business communities – is a unique step toward ensuring state investment and implementing the industrial zone mechanism to support access to foreign markets for relevant companies.

*Digitalization in the Mining Industry: New Opportunities, Robots, Artificial Intelligence

Africa is a world leader in volume of reserves and the extraction of many valuable raw materials and fuels, over 90% of which is then exported. The mining industry forms the basis of many countries’ industrial capacity and exports and accounts for around 75% of all foreign investments. Traditional field development methods are becoming increasingly expensive. Productivity is dropping due to high maintenance costs, unreliable equipment, reactive troubleshooting, low capacity factors, and incidents related to safety violations.

*Russian Geological Exploration in Africa: Looking to the Past and to the Future

Africa is exceptionally rich in mineral reserves, although these have not yet been studied comprehensively. Compared with other continents, it boasts the largest ore reserves of manganese, chromite, bauxite, gold, platinum, cobalt, diamond, and phosphorite. It also has substantial oil, natural gas, graphite and asbestos reserves. Russian companies, for their part, have a wealth of experience leading exploratory work and are interested in working on the African continent.

*Creating a New Quality of Life in Africa

Africa has the fastest-growing population in the world. Over 50% of people living in Africa are under the age of 26. At the same time, the quality of life in the African continent is one of the lowest in the world.

*Women in Russian-African Relations: Gender Balance in Politics, the Economy and the Social Sector

Developing female entrepreneurship and leadership is currently of interest in every region of the world and is discussed at platforms of leading international organisations and associations. According to forecasts, women’s full involvement in the economy will allow global GDP to reach 28 trillion dollars by 2025, which is equal to that of the Chinese and US economies combined. On average, a woman in Europe currently earns 15% less than a man working in the same position. This gender gap is even more pronounced in Africa and Asia. In 2019, Russia presented an integrated systemic development model entitled ‘Women and the economy’ at UNIDO, which was formed on the basis of best practice in Russia and beyond.

*The Contribution to Global Sustainable Development Made by Young People in Russia and Africa

It is crucial that young people play a role in international cooperation and efforts to build an environment allowing young leaders and entrepreneurs to be fully involved in efforts to tackling global challenges. These aims also tally with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Collaboration between young people in Russia and Africa can be strengthened by exchanging best practices and working together on specific projects. Leadership and startup communities play a particularly important role in establishing partnerships, as these are the most effective mechanisms for enacting a structural shift in the socioeconomic sphere.

*Oil and Gas Projects in Africa: Implementation Prospects

The African continent’s oil reserves are estimated at 129.2 billion barrels, or 7.5% of global reserves, and it produces 8.2 million barrels per day, representing 8.6% of global production. There is significant potential for the continent to increase production and monetize reserves. At the same time, Russian companies currently have a limited presence in the region. Broadening Russian-African cooperation could boost competition and efficiency in field development, and provide an additional stimulus for efforts to localize equipment and strengthen technological partnership.

*Sustainable Partnership in Agriculture: Institutions, Tools, and Guarantees

The steady development of African countries in the last few years, together with growing populations and income levels are all factors helping to boost agricultural production. However, a deficit of modern technology, lack of land suitable for farming, and a shortage of qualified personnel mean that the needs of the African market have not been fully met.

Russia’s unique geographic conditions, together with its vast land and water resources, provide the country with enormous agricultural potential. In the past few years, Russian companies have taken active steps to increase exports of agricultural products and food. Indeed, Russia is already one of the ten largest food suppliers to Africa. However, a range of barriers related to infrastructure is currently hindering effective trade. Removing these could help collaboration reach an entirely new level.

The Roscongress Foundation, a socially oriented non-financial development institution, is the organiser of the events, and the Russian Export Center and Afreximbank are the co-organisers of this first Russia-Africa Summit. Welcome to the first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi and Modern Diplomacy also wishes you All the Best !

MD Africa Editor 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.

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Why Russia’s Vaccine Diplomacy Failed Africa

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President Vladimir Putin with Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

In these difficult and crucial times, the strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy, declared Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister. The difficult times understandably refers to both the Covid-19 pandemic and the current period when Russia’s own “special military opeartion” in Ukraine has shattered the global economy. But why is Russia so quiet over its vaccine diplomacy in Africa? What has Russia-African Union relations brought to the health sector in Africa? Why Russia’s vaccine diplomacy could arguably be described as a failure for vaccinable people among the 1.3 billion population. 

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) estimated approximately 28 percent of the entire Africa’s population was vaccinated over the past two years. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and a few African leaders have vehemently accused European and Western countries with advanced pharmaceutical technologies of hoarding Covid-19 vaccines. 

Russia was the first advanced country that came out with Sputnik V in August 2020 less than a year when coronavirus was declared an epidemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). But, Sputnik V has never been approved by the WHO primarily because of a lack of transparency of Russian laboratories. In addition to the fact that it was approved before going into compulsory phase III clinical trials, breached relevant international protocols and ruined its reputation from the outset, including in Russia as demonstrated by a high degree of vaccine hesitancy. 

According information sources, the Sputnik V was developed by the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology. It was later registered under the emergency use authorization procedure, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) website. The RDIF is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors. The Kremlin offered this agency the full-fledged task of managing and directing all aspects of Covid-19 vaccine production and distribution.

The RDIF has made a substantial contribution to developing and marketing Sputnik V, the first registered Covid-19 vaccine, in the world. Sputnik V was heavily promoted via a professional international marketing campaign and Russia obtained commercial contracts for close to 800 million doses of Sputnik V. Russia has only delivered 108 million doses, i.e. less than 15%. 

In the first place, Sputnik V has little impact in Africa. Second, there are no African country manufacturing Sputnik V so far. In fact, Russia signed manufacturing agreements with no less than 23 countries to produce Sputnik V. However, only a few countries actually started production, due to delays in the supply of raw materials. As one of very few countries, Russia stayed completely outside the COVAX Facility and it played no significant role in vaccine donations.

Holding the heck of the bumpy road during the pandemic period, Russia made progressive steps, resembling a substantial breakthrough to save human extinction. It swiftly registered the vaccine in many countries and often promised to establish manufacturing points in a number of countries, including Africa. But in critical assessment, we cannot skip the messy description, from various points of views, that Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has failed Africa. Certainly, that was the case with Russia’s diplomacy in Africa.

President Vladimir Putin has oftentimes praised the entire healthcare system, and particularly the hard-working team of scientists and specialists from different institutions for their efforts at research and creating a series of vaccines for use against the coronavirus both at home and abroad.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry reports indicated that the Sputnik V vaccine was registered in the following African countries: Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.

However, majority of African countries where Sputnik V was registered could not get supplies to purchase as promised. Admittedly, Russia faces vaccine production challenges to meet the increasing market demand and to make prompt delivery on its pledges to external countries. 

Russia’s drive to share Sputnik V vaccine offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. It has made some vaccine deliveries, but only to its preferred countries including North Africa (Algeria Morocco and Egypt), in East Africa (Ethiopia), in Southern Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe) and West Africa (Guinea). Media reports say South Africa, a member of BRICS group, categorically rejected Sputnik V donation from Russia.

Furthermore, an official media release mid-February 2021 said that the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team – set up by the African Union (AU) to acquire additional vaccine doses so that Africa could attain a target immunization of 60% – received an offer of 300 million Sputnik V vaccines from the Russian Federation. It was described as a “special offer” from Russia. In the end, Russia never delivered the 300 million vaccines as contracted.

In the Situation Analytical Report on Russia-Africa, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and was released in November 2021, pointed to Russia’s consistent failure in honoring its several pledges over the years was vividly highlighted. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa that was not fulfilled through the African Union was mentioned as an example in the report. “Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers failed to meet its contractual obligations,” says the report.

Another report also compared Russia’s vaccine diplomacy with Europe, China and other external countries: (https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/vaccinating-world-between-promises-and-realities_en). The report says one and a half years after the start of Covid-19 vaccines rollout, the European Union (EU) can be proud of what it has achieved to help vaccinate the world, and in particular low- and middle-income countries. The EU’s record stands in contrast to what China and Russia did beyond the bluster of their noisy “vaccine diplomacy” during these years.

In 2021, the subject was not only dominating the headlines, but also at the centre of international relations, with major powers, in particular China and Russia, conducting active vaccine diplomacy to extend their global influence by promising to provide vaccines to the world. From the outset, EU had chosen to act in a multilateral framework, by supporting the COVAX facility launched by the WHO to jointly purchase and supply vaccines for low and middle-income countries. 

The report says, based on data collected by the multilateral institutions, the EU has actually been by far the largest exporter of vaccines in the world. With 2.2 billion doses supplied to 167 countries, we exported almost twice as much vaccines as China, three times as much as the United States and 20 times as much as Russia.

Of these 2.2 billion exported doses, 475 million were donated to 104 countries, of which 405 million via COVAX and 70 million bilaterally, particularly in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership. In terms of donations, the United States did slightly more than EU, with 542 million doses donated to 117 countries. But, EU has actually donated far more vaccines than China – with just 130 million to 95 countries – and Russia – with only 1.5 million doses to 19 countries.

The EU has not only exported and donated vaccines but also helped to develop vaccines production in Africa: last year, the EU with its member states and financial institutions have committed over one billion euros to finance this development. 

By 2040, the African Union wants that 60% of the vaccines used on the continent are manufactured in Africa and the EU fully supports that goal. This year already, two factories will be installed in Rwanda and Senegal and commercial production is set to begin in 2023. Close cooperation is also ongoing with South Africa’s Biovac Institute and with partners in Ghana.

In these difficult and crucial times, Russian vaccine diplomacy has been a total failure and this was already the case before its “special military operation” in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine. In short, the vaccine diplomacy of these two countries, Russia and China, can be summarized as “great expectations – broken promises.”

The EU has a lot to be proud of, not only did it manage to vaccinate its own population against Covid-19 in a short period of time, but it has also been the world’s largest exporter of vaccines and the second largest donor to low- and middle-income countries. The EU has accomplished much more in this area than China and Russia together. Building on this solid track record, the EU will continue to support access to vaccines worldwide, in particular by helping with vaccine manufacturing in Africa. 

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Ethiopia still in grip of spreading violence, hate speech and aid crisis

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photo: © UNICEF/Tanya Bindra

UN Human Rights Council-appointed rights investigators announced on Thursday that they’ve launched a probe into an alleged massacre of at least 200 people in Ethiopia’s Oromia region. 

Kaari Betty Murungi, chair of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, was briefing the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in what was the Commission’s first appearance since its creation in December last year. 

The Commission had received reports last week of the killings in Western Oromia, as it continued its work investigating rights abuses linked to conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, that flared in November 2020. 

Don’t forget Ethiopia 

Despite many other conflicts around the world, Ms. Murungi said that the world must not ignore what was happening in Ethiopia: 

“The ongoing spread of violence, fuelled by hate speech and incitement to ethnic-based and gender-based violence, are early-warning indicators of further atrocity crimes against innocent civilians, especially women and children who are more vulnerable. The expanding conflict makes worse the existing humanitarian crisis that is being experienced in Ethiopia and the region.” 

The Commission, established in December 2021, is mandated to conduct investigations to establish the facts and the circumstances surrounding alleged violations and abuses of International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law committed by all parties to the conflict in Ethiopia since November 2020. 

Lack of access 

“The dire humanitarian crisis made worse by lack of access in some areas by the civilian population to humanitarian assistance including medical and food aid, obstruction of aid workers and persistent drought, exacerbates the suffering of millions of people in Ethiopia and in the region”, said Ms. Murungi. 

She added that “the Commission emphasizes the responsibility of the Government of Ethiopia to bring to an end such violations on its territory and, bring those responsible to justice”. 

Since the outbreak of armed conflict in November 2020 in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, Ethiopian national forces, Eritrean troops, Amhara forces and other militias on one side, and forces loyal to the Tigray people’s Liberation Front (TPLF), have forced hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans to leave their homes through threats and intimidation in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign. 

The violence escalated and began to affect neighboring regions Afar and Amhara, with Afar providing the only channel of access for aid into Tigray. 

Widespread violations 

Warring parties are accused of carrying out widespread human rights violations, including massacres, gender-based violence, extra judicial killings, forced displacements, violence against refugee camps and internally displaced persons. 

In March this year, the Ethiopian government declared a humanitarian truce, an agreement that opened the door to much-needed access to aid for citizens in the region. 

Ethiopia ‘turning a page’ 

In its reply to the Commission’s report Zenebe Kebebe Korcho, Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the UN in Geneva, said that “the country is now turning a page. The Government of Ethiopia has decided to seek a peaceful end to the conflict. An inclusive national dialogue is launched to address political problems across the country. The government has taken numerous confidence building measures”. 

The Commission which was appointed in March, is also mandated to provide guidance on transitional justice including accountability, national reconciliation, healing and make recommendations to the Government of Ethiopia on these measures. 

According to ambassador Zenebe Kebebe Korcho “Ethiopia has also taken measures to ensure accountability for alleged serious human rights violations. The Government of Ethiopia facilitated the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission to conduct a joint investigation within the context of the conflict in the Tigray region.” 

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South Africa Stands on Verge of Massive Domestic Crisis

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Russian tourists in South Africa usually go home lost in admiration, at least they did before the pandemic. Palm trees, beaches, exotic African animals and folk dances to the beat of the drums, stunning natural reserves, wonderful roads, marvelous restaurants, luxury hotels, amazing wine. South Africa produces the ultimate impression of a prosperous and stable country—both economically developed and politically stable. Indeed, South Africa is rich in mineral resources that are constantly going up in price, and it has a relatively developed industry. It regularly holds quite democratic elections, whose results have never been contested so far.

However, the prosperous façade is hiding a host of grave problems. Economy-wise, the principal issue lies in the public sector. Virtually every state corporation is billions in debt accrued owing to corruption, embezzlements, inefficiency, inept management. Eskom alone, a state corporation that controls power generation and distribution, owes the state about ZAR 400 bn. (USD 26 bn.). This is a tremendous amount for South Africa. Eskom cannot even pay interest on it. Its power plants are in such a state that shutting the power down for several hours a day for another round of repairs is a rule rather than an exception. This is not at all conducive to normal functioning of businesses and industry. Eskom’s predicament is one of the main reasons why South Africa has lost its once high investment rating.

And here we arrive at politics. Technically, South Africa can generate far more energy than it does now. Large enterprises, mines, and many farmers have long since installed solar panels and other devices to make sure they have electric power. Many offer to supply their extra power to Eskom, but the government turns them down. This also limits amounts of energy private businesses can generate. Privatization is out of the question, while it is the only thing that could save the power grid from collapse. The government is quite content with its role of a monopoly that generates power from coal and has no competition. The reasons for that are pure politics.

The African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s ruling party, sees itself as the party of workers and the poor, and although it does not assume the name of a socialist party, it clearly prefers a government-controlled economy. Additionally, there are more practical reasons: trade unions are the ANC’s core voters, and they are opposed to privatizing Eskom and other state corporations. Additionally, they are fundamentally opposed to bringing private businesses into the power generating industry, since such a move may result in competition and lower wages that are far higher in South Africa than in countries with comparable GDP despite its 45% unemployment rate, which is an abnormal combination.

Today, the ANC is facing a choice: either in-depth structural reforms that are unpopular, or stagnation and possible collapse. The party arrives at this choice in a state of internal crisis. The ANC’s leaders and local functionaries are locked into a struggle between corrupt and political groups, clans, and factions. In the upcoming December, the ANC’s party conference is to choose a new leader or re-elect the current president Cyril Ramaphosa. At the next national elections, the elected leader will inevitably become the country’s president. Even though the ANC is losing its popularity, Mr. Ramaphosa will remain the leader of the majority party since there is no real electoral alternative. Ramaphosa’s main rivals are supporters of former president Jacob Zuma, who advances a populist agenda (for instance, expropriation, primarily of land, and introducing universal healthcare, which the country has no money or infrastructure for).

Contradictions within the party are running so high that political assassinations have happened locally. Membership in provincial delegations that will be attending the December elections is bought and sold along with votes of individual delegates and entire delegations. The delegation of the province of KwaZulu-Natal (Zuma’s province) is the largest, since the ANC has the largest membership here. Zuma’s supporters have good chances. A split in the party and anarchy cannot be ruled out in the event of one of their candidates being elected. Even if the party subsists as a united organization, a change in its course will result in expropriation or takeover of farms, enterprises, or maybe even banks. That will plunge South Africa in utter economic collapse.

If the current president’s faction remains in power, he will have to implement unpopular market reforms and attempt to fight corruption: he simply has no other agenda. His opponents will be destabilizing the situation up to inciting riots. Such riots were already organized in June last year allegedly in support of Zuma who had been charged with corruption and contempt of court. In reality, it was an attempt to show the party and the people that Ramaphosa was unable to control the situation, or maybe even to remove him from the office of the president of the party and the country. Back then, crowds numbering in thousands looted and burned down thousands of stores and warehouses, including the huge warehouses in the port of Durban; they houses commodities for the entire country. South Africa’s economy lost billions, and over 400 people died. A replay of these events amid unemployment and poverty already exacerbated by the pandemic cannot be ruled out.

From our partner RIAC

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