On the 30th of January 2020, the world came to an end. A new infectious disease was declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization. Some would argue that the world first ended on the 31st of December 2019, when the patients who first reported at hospitals in Wuhan with pneumonic symptoms led to the discovery of the novel coronavirus. The fires of the pandemic stealthily stole across the world exposing the fault lines of fragile healthcare systems and in the developed world, healthcare systems snapped like dry twigs. Mortality statistics jumped around the world, leapfrogging regions. At first, it seemed the pandemic had a preference for a certain class of people within demographics, however it quickly showed that it had many sides to its biological pattern. In no time, the pandemic had proven a virological affront on humanity and its civilizations.
Today, globalization has been rudely arrested in its frenzied manifestations in the global commerce. International conferences have been stalled, and virtual presence has increased. There is a temptation to think that humanity itself is going through the process of dematerialization that has taken over the sphere of its technologies. The face of the global economy has changed considerably, with capitalism suffering a significant blow in its pace. This is not because capitalism in itself is to blame, but prevailing Keynesian behavioral economics define the global economy today. Since the invisible hand in the markets follow the pattern of people’s actions and inaction, the global economy has refused to change, because people are unwilling to change.
The pandemic’s rage across the world has forced a roaring debate amongst libertarians, about government intervention and what it means for human liberty. The biopolitics of societal preservation is the prevailing discourse and this is informing the iron-fist policies of governments’ across the world in controlling the spread of the virus. The times require unconventional thinking and technological innovation more than ever, and more than before, government’s role in the polity should be emphasized, but defined. Governmental economic relief packages, especially in Africa could increase corruption as there are lower restraints to executive action in states across Africa. Therefore governments should focus on tax cuts and as never before, support technological innovation through beneficial policies, as this is one of the building blocks of the modern economy.
The structure of liberty in the minimal state is defined by the social contract, as the individual is seen as a party in a contractual agreement to trade some liberty for preservation. What this suggests is that with liberty comes great individual responsibility. Governments across Africa have succumbed to the socialist temptation of militarizing collective preservation internally. According to the BBC, the South African government deployed a large number of troops, the largest since the time of Apartheid. In Nigeria, it was the same response, with Nigeria recording deaths from its army’s brutal engagement with civilians. In Kenya, there has been several human rights issues arising from the security forces deployed to enforce curfews. The Daily Mail reported that a young boy was shot on the balcony of his parents’ house during the curfew in Kenya. The endangerment of liberty isn’t the solution to the surging rates of COVID 19 infection. Rather a humanistic approach should engage individual responsibility.
The social contract suggests that individual liberty should not be taken without negotiation. However democracies across the African continent are scarred by the decades of turbulent strong man regimes and therefore do not think much of individual liberty. There are lessons to come away with, in an Africa where a pandemic puts people at the crossroads between economic annihilation and government sponsored violence. What makes Africa very vulnerable to the ravaging throes of the pandemic, is that in pre-COVID 19 times, many economies across Africa were machines whose working parts were small businesses that struggled from day to day, and whose growth were stifled by repressive government policies inspired by too much governmental interest in the commerce.
Today lockdowns and curfews across the continent hold African economies by their tails. It is a showdown between the pandemic and decadent systems unchanging because many African governments attempt to control economic outcomes in their countries. They realize that holding the key to the economy is power, but they forget that as guardians of the polity, they already hold enough power. Attempting to hold any more power is to play God. The delusion that African governments have about their capacity to create prosperity and wealth for their citizens has become a hopeless one in the face of the current realities. It has become even more obvious that the undervalued private sector is the one to look to as the future of the African economy. The bigger picture especially in Africa is allowing more autonomy in the private sector. Africa will transition economically only when governments on the continent, step back from meddling with the economies of their countries. African people would become freer in their home countries if only they can have more economic liberty, and this would emancipate the markets, only then would prosperity be created.
Reducing industrial pollution in the Niger River Basin
The Niger River is the third-longest river in Africa, running for 4,180 km (2,600 miles) from its source in south-eastern Guinea, through Mali, Niger and Nigeria, before discharging via the Niger Delta into the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. Tributaries that run through a further five countries feed into the mighty Niger.
Hundreds of millions of people in West Africa depend on the river and its tributaries, for drinking water, for fish to eat, for irrigation to grow crops, for use in productive processes, and for hydroelectric power.
The health of the Niger River Basin is vitally important for the people and for the environment of West Africa. But this health is endangered by land degradation, pollution, loss of biodiversity, invading aquatic vegetal species and climate change.
To both assess and address these environmental issues, a Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded project has brought together international, regional and national entities to work on integrated water resources management for the benefit of communities and the resilience of ecosystems. (Project details can be found here.)
One part of the early project research found that as the Niger River passes through Tembakounda, Bamako, Gao, Niamey, Lokoja and Onithsa – major trading, agro-processing and industrial cities – wastewater and other polluting substances are discharged directly into the river, often without consideration for the environment. National governments of the countries which the river runs through are either unable to deal with the accumulated environmental problems and/or are ineffective at preventing, regulating, reducing and managing pollution from industrial activities.
For this reason, one component of the GEF project, implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), will facilitate the Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technology (TEST) to reduce wastewater discharges and pollution loads into the Niger River.
Despite the limitations on travel resulting from measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, in August this year, UNIDO successfully identified and engaged with 19 pilot enterprises in various sectors, including pharmaceuticals, mining and agribusiness, operating in ‘pollution hotspots’ in the countries of the Niger River Basin. This number exceeds the original target of one enterprise per country.
UNIDO experts are now introducing and sharing the Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technology (TEST) methodology with the pilot enterprises. In essence, this will mean the application of a set of tools including Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production, Environmental Management Systems, and Environmental Management Accounting, which will lead to the adoption of best practices, new skills and a new management culture.
Armed with these tools, the enterprises will be able to reduce product costs and increase productivity, while reducing the adverse environmental consequences of their operations. An awareness-raising campaign will be carried out so that the demonstration effect resonates across the Niger River Basin, prompting other enterprises to follow suit.
Wagner: Putin’s secret weapon on the way to Mali?
France is outraged at the prospect of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group arriving in Mali. However, Paris is seeking a way out of an unwinnable conflict.
On September 13, a Reuters news agency article citing unnamed sources and reporting advanced negotiations between Mali and the Russian mercenary company Wagner sparked a firestorm of reactions. The United States, Germany, and the United Nations have all warned Bamako’s military against such collaboration. According to them, the arrival of Russian mercenaries – a thousand have been estimated – would jeopardize the West’s commitment to fighting the jihadists who control a large portion of Malian territory.
But France, understandably, is the most vocal against such a move. The former colonial power has maintained a military presence in the country since 2013, when it halted the jihadists’ advance on the capital. Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, visited Bamako on September 20th to warn Malian colonels in power following two coups in August 2020 and May 2021. Wagner’s choice, she said, would be that of “isolation” at a time when “the international community has never been so numerous in fighting jihadists in the Sahel”.
What the minister does not mention is that France’s commitment to Mali is waning. Emmanuel Macron used the second Malian coup d’état last June, less than a year before the French presidential election, to announce a “redeployment” of French forces in Mali. Although Paris refuses to discuss a de facto withdrawal, even if it is partial, the truth is that the tricolored soldiers will abandon the isolated bases of Kidal, Timbuktu, and Tessalit in the country’s north by next year, concentrating on the area further south of the three borders with Niger and Burkina Faso.
Europeans, who are expected to be more supportive of France, are also perplexed. The humiliation of the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan has served as a wake-up call. The Afghan government’s sudden collapse in the face of the Taliban has demonstrated how difficult it is to build a strong army and institutions. This scenario appears to be repeating itself in Mali.
The possibility of a rapprochement between Bamako and Moscow is taken seriously because Putschists in Mali have always been sensitive to Russian offerings. Colonel Sadio Camara, Mali’s Defense Minister, visited Russia on September 4. Disagreements over a reversal of Mali’s alliances are said to have been one of the causes of the Malian colonels’ second coup, which ousted the civilian transitional government last May.
Russia also acts as a boogeyman for the Malian military. According to a Daily Beast investigation, the Malian army organized a supposedly spontaneous demonstration last May demanding Russian intervention. This was also a warning to the international community, which is growing weary of the country’s poor governance and repeated coups.
Is Mali transitioning from the French to the Russian spheres of influence? Since Moscow gained a foothold in the Central African Republic, the scenario is not a figment of the imagination. Russian instructors and Wagner’s mercenaries have proven their worth in this former French backyard. Even though the UN condemns Russia’s atrocities in this conflict, the Russians were able to push back the rebels who were threatening the capital Bangui last December with the help of UN peacekeepers and Rwandan reinforcements.
The Kremlin denies any involvement with the Wagner group. However, the company is actually run by a close associate of Vladimir Putin. The use of private mercenaries allows Moscow to avoid military commitments abroad, as it did previously in Ukraine and Libya. “Russia is not negotiating a military presence in Mali,” said a Kremlin spokesman in mid-September. When questioned by the magazine Jeune Afrique on September 20th, Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra swore that he had “not signed anything with Wagner.” “In the Central African Republic, we have companies that were established in accordance with the law and operate on liberalized markets,” he explained.
Nothing has been decided on Wagner, it is repeated in Bamako. According to the military, the selection of foreign “partners” is a matter of Mali’s “sovereignty.” They regard these “rumors” as an attempt to “discredit the country.” The Malian junta is under siege, not only from jihadists but also from the international community. The latter is calling for elections to be held in February to return power to civilians, as stipulated in the military-agreed transition charter. Electoral reform must come before the election. However, Colonel Assimi Gota, the transitional president, has shown little interest in preparing for these elections. The Malian junta may also be hoping that Russia’s partners will be less stringent on democratic requirements.
Google Drives Deeper into Africa
As the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the new initiative that places emphasis on intra-African trade – including free movement of goods, capital and people – foreign players have accordingly raising eyes on using the new opportunity to expand their operations in Africa.
Foreign enterprises are gearing up to localize production in industrial hubs and distribute their products across the borderless territory considered as a single market in Africa. Thus, by its description, Africa’s estimated population of 1.3 billion presents itself a huge market – from baby products through automobiles and to anything consumable.
Google LLC, the U.S. Global Technology Gaint, has primarily set its eyes on business, with a comprehensive plan to expand its operations into Africa. Google made known its plans to commit US$1 billion over the next five years in tech-led initiatives in Africa. It is investing this US$ 1 billion in Nigeria and African countries to support and transform the digital market over the next five years.
In its media release, it said the investment would include landing a subsea cable into the continent to enable faster internet speeds, low-interest loans for small businesses, equity investments into African startups, skills training and many more directions determined in future.
This is in a bid to enable fast, affordable internet access for more Africans, building helpful products, supporting entrepreneurship and small business, and helping nonprofits to improve lives across Africa.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Google and Alphabet, Sundar Pichai, noted that the company was building global infrastructure to help bring faster internet to more people and lower connectivity costs. Through the Black Founders Fund, Google will invest in Black-led startups in Africa by providing cash awards and hands-on support.
The developing world represents the best chance of growth for large internet companies, and today, one of the very biggest set out its strategy for how it plans to tackle that.
“We’ve made huge strides together over the past decade – but there’s more work to do to make the internet accessible, affordable and useful for every African. Today, I’m excited to reaffirm our commitment to the continent through an investment of US$1 billion over five years to support Africa’s digital transformation, to cover a range of initiatives from improved connectivity to investment in startups,” said Pichai.
According to him, this is in addition to Google’s existing support through the Google for Startups Accelerator Africa, which has helped more than 80 African startups with equity-free finance, working space and access to expert advisors over the last three years. The subsea cable is set to cut across South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena, connecting Africa and Europe.
According to Managing Director for Google in Africa, Nitin Gajria, it will provide approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve Africa. It is projected to create about 1.7 million jobs in Nigeria and South Africa by 2025 as the digital economy grows.
Google further announced the launch of the Africa Investment Fund, where it will invest US$50 million in start-ups across the continent providing them with access to Google’s employees, network, and technologies to help them build meaningful products for their communities.
It will additionally disburse US$10 million in low-interest loans to small businesses in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa in order to alleviate hardships brought about by the Covid pandemic.
Google is bringing venture capital into the continent. The fund might work in a similar fashion as the Google for Startups Accelerator programme.
Although Africa has a Big Four (Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt) in terms of startup and venture capital activity on the continent, the accelerator has made sure to accept applications from startups in less-funded and overlooked regions. These countries include Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Founded in September 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google is considered as one of the Big Five information technology companies alongside Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Google specializes in internet cloud services, software and hardware as well as online advertising technologies.
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