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Towards Independence of the Biafra State

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Ambassador Uche Ajulu-Okeke, a veteran Diplomat and Development Studies Expert with thirty-year achievements in the Nigerian Foreign Service. She is widely known for her performance orientation, positive mentorship and team spirit. In recognition of her high-level competences, the Anambra State Government appointed Ambassador Ajulu-Okeke to serve in various capacities. She also served in the All Progressive Grand Party (APGA), a Southeastern-based political party, before relocating to the United States.

In the present-day Federal Republic of Nigeria, several years after its independence, the leaders have not succeeded in rebuilding its state institutions enough to reflect all-inclusive ethnic diversity, let alone in adopting Western-style democracy that takes cognizance of different public opinions on development issues in the country. The struggle for and misuse of power have brought the country into a stalemate, disrupting any efforts to overcome the deepening economic and social crisis, she explained in her in-depth discussions.

In this interview with Kester Kenn Klomegah from Modern Diplomacy, Ambassador Uche Ajulu-Okeke further spoke about many other significant and outstanding issues that are creating tensions in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and why the Biafra has to work unreservedly towards self-determination and independence. Here are the interview excerpts:

How is the situation, in your interpretation, in the Eastern regions that constitute Biafra today in Nigeria?

The situation in the region is dire depicting a derelict lack of infrastructure widespread unemployment, insecurity and youth hopelessness. As a result of decades of state endorsed systemic exclusion since the end of the Civil War, economic emasculation of the East by Nigeria in giving all Easterners £20 irrespective of previous bank holdings at the end of the war, State sponsored nepotic ostracism which eschewed merit and human enterprise from mainstream governance, Easterners found themselves at the brink of socio-economic exterminations and had to pull themselves up by sheer perseverance and dint of effort resulting in disenchantment with Nigeria and a massive migration to new diasporas.

In the region, what economic spheres are available for foreign investors? Currently what foreign players are showing interest in the region?

There are no foreign investors of repute in the region. However, a plethora of virile local entrepreneurs abound which provide fertile ground for viable foreign investment. The indigenous entrepreneurial spirit and the dexterous will to survive the odds has been of immense value in containing widespread poverty. To this end, a number of indigenous entrepreneurs such as Innoson Motors, Coscharis Forms, Lynden Forms, ABC Transport, Air Peace, AA Oil et cetera, have become successful industrialists from sheer dint of self-effort.  

The economic spheres open to foreign investors will usher in unprecedented growth is in the area of human capital especially in the digital space. Human economy and venture capital leveraging on the age-old entrepreneurial apprenticeship tradition is the way to go for any foreign investor.  No foreign investors are currently showing interest in the region due to heavy occupationist police and military presence in the region that does not permit the thriving nature of free enterprise to grow as people live and operate in a climate of persecution and fear.

What investment incentives and kinds of business support are available for foreign investors in Biafra?

The Republic of Biafra will emplace a sustainable merit-based investment regime and a justiciable investment clime based on the rule of law. With the emplacement of security and the rule of law, merit and equity in governance models and institutions and a sense of patriotism and belonging in the Citizenry, the restored Republic will lay enviable firm sustainable foundations for investor confidence and economic growth based on tried and tested models and international best practice. The model of business support incentives readily available to the People are the traditional entrepreneurial self-help. Highfaluting government postulations on business exist on paper but are beyond the reach and access of the common man, especially the unschooled rural dweller or urban slum dweller with no access to political or nepotic privilege.

Since 1970, after the civil war, has Igbo women’s status changed in the Eastern Nigeria? Generally, what are the popular perceptions about Igbo women, as against Yoruba, in Federal Republic of Nigeria?

Nothing has changed for the Igbo Woman since after the Civil War. With the increasing socio-political incarceration endured by her male brethren, Igbo women lost their self-esteem. Popular perception of the Igbo Woman are no different from the plight of their male brethren. The renowned resilient strength and baseline support for which Igbo women are known for has been corroded by willful denial of opportunity by the Nigerian State. Many have been forced into unwholesome practices for basic sustenance and are now part of the human and brain-drain which has engulfed the East.

Do the social and cultural changes influencing the activities of women in Biafra State. Can you please discuss the main spheres where Igbo women are currently?

Currently Igbo Women agonize over the seemingly disparate dissipative efforts of their Male brethren in their quest for the restoration of Biafra. Within the sphere of Christianity however Igbo women have excelled and found avenues for self-worth and social expression as religious activities and platforms have created viable avenues to restore the self-esteem of the Igbo Woman. Also, Igbo Woman in the diaspora has again and again proved beyond all reasonable doubt her achievement orientation and resilience in all walks of life. Names like Chimamanda Adichie and Ngozi Okonjo-lweala are household names.

What are the challenges, in your view, that remain especially for Igbo women and the youth in the region of Biafra?

Several challenges exist, the first of which is coercive alien hostile occupation of our homeland which have severally subjected Igbo Women to rape, ravaging their homes and farmlands, decapitating their husbands and children and sources of traditional rural livelihoods. Widespread poverty, unemployment and unemployable skill sets, remain a major challenge. State endorsed occupation of large portions of rural and village communal lands by alien hostile Jihadists have hampered the ability of women to provide for their families as supportive income earners.

Many women and young graduates from schools and cannot find jobs as there are no factories to absorb them and Government, the major employer, has become an overburdened inept nepotism and corrupt. With the prevailing socio-economic climate and the steadily dwindling economic fortunes and hostile stance of the Government towards entrepreneurial endeavor of Easterners, the future is bleak for women and youth. The only glimpse of hope in the horizon is a fallback to the age-old traditional practice of nurtured apprenticeship has been the bulwark of survival and sustenance in the face of the current existential threat facing Easterners.

Could it have been better if the region were independent of the federal system of governance?

An independent Biafra will, of course, usher in a regime of laws. A merit-based system of law and order. Independent Biafra will emplace a just and fair system where merit is accorded due cognition and reward and criminality and kleptomania is eschewed. In five years of independence indigenous enterprise of the East will reach unparalleled heights with world class infrastructure and a first-tier digital economy. This will be achieved through the effort and resilience of the indigenous Peoples of Biafra. In the face of years of criminal neglect by Nigeria and our strong footing in the Diaspora, Biafra’s emancipation and development will be the Eighth Wonder of the World.

In your objective assessment, what can you say are the current achievements or gains in the economic sphere for the Biafra under Federal President Buhari?

Absolutely nothing. The current entrapment of Biafra within the British Nigeria contraption prevents the actualization of its investment and development potential in all ramifications. This is why we Easterners want to delink from this entrapped arrangement called Nigeria.

What are some of the weaknesses and strengths of Nigeria’s stranglehold on Biafra?

Nepotism at all levels and institutions of Government. Morbid corruption. Endemic kleptocracy. Ethnic cleansing and persecution of Christians and ethnic capture of the military and security apparatus of the State. Our current entrapment in Nigeria has been of no gain to the East and a lingering Albatross.

What do you suggest could be possible exit ways out from all these? Most probably, you would advocate for political independence, to become a separate republic?

Some members of the international community and the Comity of Nations were not part of and did not participate in the 1885 Berlin Conference which saw the scramble for and partition of Africa and heralded blatant conquest colonialism. Greedy European nations lumped indigenous nationalities together with little regard for their distinct indigenes and cultures identities. European colonialism therefore created unstable amalgamations of hitherto strange and alien groupings into artificial contemporary nation states of today.

In many African nations such as Nigeria, these indigenous nationalities have had a hostile acrimonious fractious relationship that has impeded development and led to unstable anarchy. The result is that there is massive corruption and widespread kleptocracy with indigenous ethnicities in power making strenuous effort to capture State resources to the exclusion of other groups. This scenario found in many African countries today have led to several Civil Wars and quests for self-determination notable of which is the Nigeria-Biafra War and the enduring quest for self-determination of the indigenous Peoples of Biafra and recently of the entrapped nationalities of the Western and Middle Belt Regions.

The international community has long recognized that the structure of many African states remains unsustainable due to the artificial nature of their creation. They also recognize that many of these indigenous nationalities such as the Igbo have enduring ancient democratic state and governance systems that were subsumed by colonial conquest and use capable of having separate countries as seen with the Republic of Biafra.

The way forward in restoring these ancient nationalities and bringing sustainable peace and development to the beleaguered peoples of Biafra is through the conduct of plebiscites that will afford the indigenous nationalities the inalienable right to choose how they are governed.

In Nigeria, the juxtaposition of ancient nationalities with incompatible values presently held together by a coercive military decree in a centrist top down military format federations, fundamental regional autonomies should be returned to the constituent indigenous groupings through the conduct of plebiscites. There should also be the renunciation of the military Decree 1999 Constitution which has been held the constituent indigenes hostage since 1999. A return to the truly democratic 1963 Constitution and holding of self-determination autonomy plebiscites for all indigenous nationalities will usher in sustainable development and peace.

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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Used vehicles get a second life in Africa – but at what cost?

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John Mwangi’s 22-year-old car is his lifeline. His run-down Toyota saloon not only ferries him around the streets of the traffic-congested Kenyan capital, Nairobi, but is also his main source of revenue.

Resting against its open boot, surrounded by fresh pumpkins, sweet potatoes and other vegetables, a smiling Mwangi, 34, explained how it has transformed his life. Thanks to this unlikely saviour, he is now a trader, shopkeeper and entrepreneur.

“I have changed to a career as a businessman. I use my car to sell foodstuffs. I go to the village, buy food and then I come here and sell it,” he said, gesturing around a market in Nairobi.

Mwangi is not alone. Across Africa, and much of the developing world, used cars, minibuses and vans imported from abroad are changing people’s lives. But they come with a high and growing global price tag.

Entitled Used Vehicles and the Environment: A Global Overview of Used Light-Duty Vehicles – Flow, Scale and Regulation, the report details how the global fleet of light-duty vehicles will double by 2050. Some 90 per cent of this growth will take place in low- and middle-income countries. Of the 146 countries studied in the UNEP report, about two-thirds have “weak” or “very weak” policies regulating the import of used vehicles. Many of the imported vehicles would not be allowed to circulate on the roads of exporting countries.

“Countries have to stop exporting vehicles that are no longer roadworthy, and fail environment and safety inspections while importing countries must adopt up-to-date regulations,” said Rob de Jong, report author and Head of Transport at UNEP.

Vehicle emissions are a prime source of small particulates and nitrogen oxides, which cause urban air pollution. Globally, vehicles are responsible for 25 per cent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

UNEP is calling on both exporting and importing countries to regulate the trade and eliminate a range of abuses. It stresses that a regulated trade can have several positive impacts, improving the lives of many people and boosting prosperity.

Landmark new rules

UNEP’s report comes after 15 African countries announced strict new rules for vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency. The directives, issued by the Economic Community of West African States, with UNEP support, bar the import of light-duty vehicles more than five years old and aim to double the efficiency of cars by 2030. 

The rules are a milestone in slashing greenhouse gas emissions in a region that is home to about 400 million people, where many vehicles are past their prime. The Gambia, for example, imports vehicles on average 18.8 years old, while a quarter of those imported by Nigeria are nearly 20 years old.

Africa is the ultimate destination for some 40 per cent of used light-duty vehicles, like the one owned by Peter Karanja Njuguna. He ferries passengers around Nairobi in an old 14-seat Nissan minibus pumping out exhaust fumes from dawn to dusk. He says he does not know the exact age of his vehicle but reckons it is between 10 and 15 years old. It cost $3,000 and anything newer would have been outside his budget. He says the catalytic converter, which contains platinum, was removed before it was exported.

“They remove those things that are not necessary for the way we use them here. They just leave the basic stuff,” he explained. “It is cheapish to buy but expensive to maintain. But it pays for itself within two years and gives me an income.”

Poor quality used vehicles can lead to more road accidents, which kill an estimated 1.25 million people each year. Africa has the world’s highest road traffic fatality rates with 246,000 deaths occurring annually, a number projected to rise to 514,000 in 2030, according to the World Health Organization.

Improvements down the road

The issue of faulty vehicles is catching the attention of exporting countries. The Netherlands – one of the largest used vehicle exporters to Africa – studied used European vehicles being exported through their ports and found that many vehicles, mainly destined for West Africa, were between 16 and 20 years old, fell below European Union emission standards and did not have a valid roadworthiness certificate at the time of export. The Netherlands is developing policies to improve the quality of used vehicles while addressing the issue with other European countries.

UNEP’s report also showed that countries, such as Morocco and Mauritius, that had implemented far-sighted policies gained access to high-tech vehicles, like hybrid and electric cars, at affordable prices.

UN Environment

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It is time to end the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe

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At the UN General Assembly (UNGA), African Leaders signalled to the West that it is high time to end the illegal sanctions that have been crippling Zimbabwe for over two decades.

The current Chairman of the African Union, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, led the call which was subsequently echoed and strongly endorsed by the Heads of State of Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and others in their respective addresses to the General Assembly. 

I am immensely grateful for this support. Indeed, it could not be more timely. Our African partners understand that a better Africa equals a better world. But, the continent is facing unprecedented challenges. Coronavirus has significantly exacerbated already existing health, economic and food-security challenges on a scale not seen for more than one hundred years. Sadly, for African nations, coronavirus is just one additional burden to be borne: on top of devastating droughts, locust infestations of biblical magnitude and relentless floods.

The West often expects so much from our nations, and world leaders often analyse us through the lens of their own success. But, in doing so they are only adding to the suffering of millions of Africans.

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa won the election in 2018, he pledged to bring about change, to forge a new relationship with the citizens of Zimbabwe and with the nations of the world.

In the face of endless criticism, we have made and we continue to make significant progress. Most recently, we achieved closure on the long-outstanding issue of compensation to farmers whose land was acquired during the Land Reform Programme of the late 90’s and early 00’s.  The sum of US$ 3,5 billion, for improvements effected to the land prior to its acquisition, was agreed-upon by way of negotiations between government and the farmers. 

Elsewhere, we repealed two antiquated laws (AIPPA and POSA). We passed a new Freedom of Information Act, and draft legislation to address the Constitutional requirement for an Independent Complaints Mechanism will shortly be tabled before Parliament. Other constitutional amendments designed to further modernise and open up government are  already before Parliament.

The reformed Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has received global plaudits, with some notable and important arrests, including two sitting cabinet ministers. The “audit of the rich”, currently being undertaken, is expected to yield further fruits of transparency and accountability.

We have also initiated the most ambitious set of privatisations in the history of Zimbabwe, with 43 of Zimbabwe’s 107 state-owned enterprises earmarked for reform.

We know these reforms are essential if we are to show the world that we are changing our nation’s trajectory. We want to be more open, to grow our economy, to strengthen our public services, to improve the lives of our citizens and we want to play a positive part in the globalised world.

We acknowledge that we still have a long way to go but we are resolute in our determination to modernise Zimbabwe. Even in the midst of the shattering economic impact of COVID-19, we are committed to the path of reform.

I believe the new Zimbabwe has shown sincerity in its willingness to compromise with the West. However, rather than less criticism and an easing of sanctions, we have in fact faced more pressure from the United States. Those who believe these so-called ‘targeted’ measures only hurt the rich and powerful, are profoundly mistaken. The UN recognises that economic sanctions have worsened existing inequalities. They have crippled our banking sector and have negatively impacted upon the performance of businesses both large and small. Our exclusion from lucrative trade benefits afforded under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), in particular, is holding back our entrepreneurial potential.

Sanctions, and the enhanced country-risk factor they generate, have also made it close to impossible to attract meaningful foreign investors from the West. And a lack of foreign exchange continues to impinge on the very basics of economic life, from raw materials to life-saving drugs.

Our request to the West is very simple: end these sanctions, allow us to respond more comprehensively to the coronavirus pandemic and support us on our journey towards a new Zimbabwe. The desire to squeeze us into a corner serves only to maintain unjustified isolation from the West, to foster negative sentiment towards those who punish us and, most importantly, to perpetuate the suffering and privation endured by our already hard-pressed people.

A better Zimbabwe results in a better Africa and a better world.

It is time to end the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe.

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SADC, Zimbabwe and Sanctions

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Emmerson Mnangagwa, President of Zimbabwe. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Sikarin Thanachaiary

Reports suggest the South Africa Development Community (SADC) is growing increasingly impatient with President Mnangagwa’s willingness to impose repressive measures. The speculation emerged in part because President Chakwera, the incoming SADC chair had left Zimbabwe after two days, even though he was meant to spend three days in the country. The suggestions were that SADC was considering sanctions on Zimbabwe. Conversely, there are reports that the SADC countries are pushing for the easing of Western sanctions. In 2001, the US and the EU have imposed sanctions on 141 individuals and around 60 companies. The sanctions relate to allegations of gross human rights abuses.

The Zimbabwean government claims the sanctions are hurting Zimbabwe and ordinary people, limiting its ability to gain lines of credit from international monetary institutions or attract foreign investments. The US-Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), for example, prohibits American companies from working with companies and individuals on the sanction list. Failure to abide by the legislation has led to financial penalties as seen with the US government’s decision in April 2019 to fine Standard Chartered bank $18 million for dealing with a sanctioned country.

The SADC and the Zimbabwean government assert that removing the sanctions would allow Zimbabwe to revamp its economy, as the country could attract foreign direct investment, which in turn would help the region by reducing the number of Zimbabweans searching for work but also encouraging greater economic development. One should not forget that for decades, Zimbabwe served as the region’s breadbasket, something the Mnangagwa administration is keen to resurrect.

Political Outlook

The push to remove the sanctions comes despite growing authoritarianism in Zimbabwe. The government has introduced a host of policies to limit protests and demonstrations and punish those opposing it. It has also adopted measures aimed at countering increasing tensions within ZANU-PF.

In September, the government introduced the Patriot Act. The measure is meant to respond to a ZANU-PF claim that groups within Zimbabwe, primarily the MDC-Alliance, are not only reaching out to foreign governments but are concocting stories about factionalism within ZANU-PF. State Security Minister Owen Ncube has also spoken of attempts to smuggle guns into the country and establish violent militia groups aimed at destabilising the country and bring forth foreign intervention.

The Act speaks of “conduct aimed at undermining the country” under which Zimbabweans speaking to foreign governments without the express permission of the regime itself will face criminal sanctions. Conduct includes private correspondence and making false statements influencing foreign governments. The Act is likely to impact the opposition and human rights groups who often look to get support from a foreign government.

More of a concern to President Mnangagwa is internal tensions with ZANU-PF. For example, following the chaos in the Kwekwe Central constituency during primary elections on October 3, President Mnangagwa convened a special meeting with provincial executive members. There were youths, women, and war veterans’ representatives. The President warned leaders against manipulating the ZANU-PF constitution by imposing preferred candidates through vote-buying. He also warned against attempts to use the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission voters’ roll in conducting primary and district coordinating committees’ elections. Important leaders in ZANU-PF have been expelled Cleveria Chizema and Tendai Savanhu, claiming they were causing divisions and factionalism in the party and province. The party also expelledKiller Zivhu because he called for a dialogue between First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa and MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s wife Sithokozile. It seems President Mnangagwa favours this method of asserting his will on the party, like those that show contrition are allowed to rejoin.

An additional concern for President Mnangagwa is unhappiness from the veterans regarding his plan to compensate white farmers for the 2000-2001 land reform program. President Mnangagwa’s overture towards the white farmers involves either revoking the offer letters given to black farmers, resettled on the land formerly belonging to white farmers and if restitution proves impractical, the intention is to white farmers land elsewhere. Included in the package is $3.5bn in compensation “for infrastructure on the farms they lost”. In September, a group of former fighters filed an application with the High Court against the measure.

The MDC-Alliance is facing several key challenges. First, since the death of Morgan Tsvangirai in 2018 from colon cancer, the group has been unable to challenge the ZANU-PF. Second, the opposition must be circumspect in criticising what is taking place in Zimbabwe as such action would sustain the sanction regime thus harming ordinary Zimbabwean. Consequently, the opposition must balance its actions: encourage demonstrations and opposition to the government while making sure ordinary Zimbabweans are not too affected further by the sanctions.

Economic Outlook

In 2018, the Zimbabwean government introduced the Transitional Stabilisation Programme, which included the re-introduction and stabilisation of the Zimbabwe dollar, rationalisation of the civil service to contain wages, and the foreign currency auction system. Interfuse within this program was controlling Zimbabwe’s runaway inflation.

In September, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Zimbabwe (SECZ) issued a licence for the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange Limited. VFEX is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. The purpose behind VFEX is to facilitate the inflow of hard currency to Zimbabwe. VFEX is currently finalising the listing and membership requirements, setting up of the trading and depository systems, modalities on the clearing and settlement of transactions. There are also discussions as to the listing bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, depending on the digital asset issuers getting “regulatory approval.” The SCEZ has yet to determine what are cryptocurrencies; they may follow the Nigerian example and classify cryptocurrencies as securities. Notably, over the last two years, the Zimbabwean Central Bank has shifted its position on cryptocurrencies. For example, in 2018 it banned Golix, Zimbabwe’s largest cryptocurrency exchange to noting the value of digital currencies. The Bank may be seeing the potential for bitcoin mining in Zimbabwe, an endeavour that demands a tremendous amount of energy as seen in Ghana which opened Africa’s first mining facility Ghana Dot Com.

The US/EU Aspect

Brian A. Nichols, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, who has had an interesting relationship with the Mnangagwa administration who at one point labelled him a thug, has spoken on how to improve US-Zimbabwean relations. This change could be related to rumours that the United States is hoping that Zimbabwe could help Mozambique deal with the Islamist insurgency raging in Cabo Delgado. The US Agency for International Development (USAid) will provide approximately US$60 million to the World Food Programme’s Lean Season Food Assistance programme in Zimbabwe. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention currently has several experts working with the Zimbabwean authorities on healthcare issues.

The EU is less likely to publicly change its position on the sanctions, however, due to the persistent humanitarian crisis, the EU is unlikely to weaken its support for the country. The EU is in the midst of devising a new humanitarian budget as the 2014-2020 budget needs revision (the next budget is due in 2021). The EU would like to see more engagement from regional actors such as the SADC. Nevertheless, despite the imposition of sanctions, the EU’s European Development Fund has continued to support Zimbabweans in three main areas: health, agriculture, and institution-building. This type of support is likely to do continue especially as the EU is showing greater interest in Mozambique due to the huge liquid gas field find and the insurgence in Cabo Delgado.

Summary

Zimbabwe is on the precipice of major changes, some of which are in its hands whereas others depend on the region and the world.

President Mnangagwa has introduced some structural reforms aimed at improving the state of the economy, which have slowed down the economic collapse, although the country is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the sanction regime.

It is presumptuous to assume President Mnangagwa is politically safe. He is facing pressure from within ZANU-PF. There is opposition within ZZANU-PF to some of his policies. He is also contending with pressure from a disorganised opposition, which is why he has introduced several new measures all aimed to secure his reign. These measures include weeding out potential threats from within the party and further weaken the opposition.

President Mnangagwa does enjoy some support from his neighbours whose priority is a stable Zimbabwe. There are concerns across the region about growing authoritarianism (including unhappiness with gross human rights violations) in Zimbabwe and a return to Mugabe-style rule. However, the key to many in the region is economics. In other words, there is a belief that by ending Zimbabwe’s economic woes, stability and democracy would take hold. This is why there seems to be regional support for the easing, ideally lifting of sanctions. It is likely the SADC is likely to explore. The SADC may find receptive ears in Washington and Brussels who see great value in Zimbabwe, as both are concerned with the increased Chinese presence in Southern Africa.

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