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Media facelift: An informed African society

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In her weekly media briefing July 23, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized United States support for educational programs, media and NGOs in Africa. In addition, Zakharova said “the allocation of grants fits into the White House’s efforts to promote the idea that there is no alternative to Western concepts regarding state governance and the imposition of alien values on sovereign states, and this represents another manifestation of neo-colonialism and an element of covertly formalizing inequality in the overall system of international ties.”

Russia’s position as contained in her briefing is available on the official website, and part of which is further quoted here: “We have no choice but to comment and explain why we perceive this as Washington’s striving to eliminate the favorable regional socio-political background with regard to Russia that became particularly obvious following the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019.

It appears that the United States is deliberately encouraging anti-Russia publications in some African media outlets and is trying to portray Russia as a destabilizing force. We are confident that such methods of unfair competition and misinformation show that there is no hard evidence confirming the so-called Russian policy of propaganda and misinformation, and this is also the consequence of weak US approaches in the field of public diplomacy.”

That well-said of the United States, it is equally important to note that since the Soviet collapse in 1991, the question of media representation both ways, in Russia and in Africa, has attracted unprecedented concern and discussions. Over the years, nearly 30 years after the Soviet era, Russia has not encouraged African media, especially those from south of Sahara, to operate in the Russian Federation.

On the other hand, Russian media resources are largely far from eminent in Africa, and these include the media conglomerate popularly referred to as Rossiya Sevogdnya (RIA Novosti, Voice of Russia and Russia Today), TASS News Agency and Interfax Information Service. These powerful and reputable Russian brands, compared to most well-known Western and European media organizations that cooperate with Africa.

Even not quite long, that was in November 2018, the State Duma, the lower house of parliamentarians, called for an increased Russian media presence in African countries, while Russia has closed its doors in offering opportunities for Africa media representation in the Russian Federation.

During the meeting that was scheduled to brainstorm for fresh views and ideas on the current Russia-African relations, State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin told Ambassadors from African countries: “it is necessary to take certain steps together for the Russian media to work on the African continent.”

“You know that the Russian media provide broadcasting in various languages, they work in many countries, although it is certainly impossible to compare this presence with the presence of the media of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany,” Volodin said, and promised that the State Duma would create the necessary legal basis for this long-term media cooperation.

Experts say that neither Russia has an African media face nor Africa has a Russian media face. Thus, in the absence of suitable alternative sources, African political leaders and corporate business directors depend on western media reports about developments in Russia and from the developed world.

Interestingly, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department has accredited media from Latin America, the United States, Europe and Asian countries, and only two African media came from the Maghreb region (Morocco and Egypt) in North Africa.

The official information presented during the first Russia-Africa Summit, held in October 2019, explicitly showsed the degree of priority given to African media. Some 300 media bureaus from 60 countries are currently operating in Russia, including 800 foreign correspondents while there are only two African news bureaus from Egypt and Morocco, according to Artem Kozhin, who represented the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department, at the panel discussion on media.

According to his interpretation, this extremely low representation of African media hardly meets the level of current dynamically developing relations between Russia and Africa. “We invite all interested parties to open news bureaus and expand media cooperation with Russia,” Kozhin said at the gathering, inviting Africa media to Moscow.

Nearly all the panelists noted precisely that western media dominates in Africa. “Often times, unique news offerings created by the Russian media simply do not make to the users and viewers in many regions, including Africa. Evidently, this vacuum gets filled with one-sided information from other players in the media market. This information can be biased, or outright hostile towards Russia and residents of other countries,” said Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa.

During the Russia-Africa Summit, Professor Alexey Vasiliev, the first appointed Special Representative of Russian President for Relations with Africa (2006-2011) and currently the Head of the Center for African and Arab Studies at the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (2013-2020), told the audience there in Sochi: “Africa is largely unaware of Russia, since African media mainly consumes information the Western media sources and then replicates them. And all the fake news, the Rusophobia and anti-Russian propaganda, spread by the western media, are repeated in the African media.”

“Measures are needed to enable us to better understand each other,” suggested Professor Vasiliev, who regularly advises the Presidential Administration, the Government of the Russian Federation, both chambers of the Federal Assembly, and the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Some experts have consistently argued that Russia has discriminated against sub-Saharan Africa. That trend remains unchanged even after the first Russia-Africa Summit, in Sochi with the primary aim of helping identify new areas and forms of cooperation, put forward promising initiatives that would bring collaboration between Russia and Africa to a qualitatively new level and contribute to strengthening multifaceted cooperation between the two regions.

Let that be the acceptable case, but both Russia and Africa have basic questions that still need quick answers. The questions raised at the panel discussion on media in Russia-Africa gathering: What issues are currently encountered in the formation of the modern media landscape? What role does the media play in Russian-African relations? What are the prospects for collaboration in the information sphere? What needs to be done to develop a Russian media agenda in Africa? What is the role and place of Russia in the information space of Africa today? What role can African media play in promoting further Russia’s image in Africa?

In practical terms, the highly successful spade-work was the first Russia-Africa Summit. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to layout some new mechanisms and adopt a more favorable approach that could readily attract African media to operate in the Russian Federation.

Russia and Africa need to examine every sphere based on shared partnership interests and redefine practical approach to realizing whatever plans on media cooperation. Media and NGOs, as instruments for improving adequately public knowledge, especially on developments and emerging opportunities, have not been persuaded to match the desired future objectives and policy goals.

The stark reality is that Russia needs Africa media and Africa needs Russian media, in order for them to enlighten ties in the economic spheres, to promote a better understanding among African elites and the middle class through media reports.

Professor Vladimir Shubin, the former Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies, explained in an interview with me that political relations between Russia and Africa as well as the economic cooperation would attract more and more academic discussions, and such scholarly contributions, in essence, would help deepen understanding of the problems that impede building solid relationship or partnership with Russia.

In order to maintain this relationship, both Russia and Africa have to pay high attention to and take significant steps in promoting their achievements and highlighting the most development needs in a comprehensive way for mutual benefits using appropriately the media, according to Professor Shubin.

“African leaders do their best in developing bilateral relations,” he added. “Truly and passionately, they come to Russia more often than ten years ago, but a lot still has to be done; both Russian and African media, in this case, have a huge role to play.”

Perhaps, one of the reasons why some African leaders appear to have “written off” Russia has been lack of adequate information about Russia, or rather plenty of distorted information they have received from the Western media coverage of Russia, Professor Shubin concluded.

“Russian media write very little about Africa, what is going on there, what are the social and political dynamics in different parts of the continent. Media and NGOs should make big efforts to increase the level of mutual knowledge, which can stimulate interest for each other and lead to increased economic interaction as well,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal ‘Russia in Global Affairs‘ and also the Chairman of the State Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

“To a certain extent,” Lukyanov said, “the intensification of non-political contacts may contribute to increased interest. But in Russia’s case, the main drivers of any cooperation are more traditional rather than political interests of the state and economic interests of big companies. Soft power has never been a strong side of Russian policy in the post-Soviet era.”

Similarly, Bunn Nagara, a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, member of the Valdai Discussion Club, has observed that “Russian businesses face a number of challenges. First, there is little information available internationally about the opportunities and possibilities for partnerships between Russian and foreign businesses.”

“Russia is a large country spanning both Europe and Asia. So, it can do much to bring Asian and European business linkages together and build on them. Better public relations and improved information dissemination are very important. To do this, it needs to do more in spreading more and better information about its achievements, the progress so far, its future plans, and the opportunities available,” Bunn Nagara said.

Early October 2019, the Valdai Discussion Club released an ebook titled “Russia’s Return to Africa: Strategy and Prospects” jointly or collectively authored by Vadim Balytnikov, Oleg Barabanov, Andrei Yemelyanov, Dmitry Poletaev, Igor Sid and Natalia Zaiser.

The Valdai Discussion Club was established in 2004, with a goal is to promote dialogue between Russian and international intellectual elite, and to make an independent, unbiased scientific analysis of political, economic and social events in Russia and the rest of the world.

The authors explicitly suggested the need to take steps in countering Western anti-Russia clichés that are spreading in Africa and shaping a narrative whereby only dictators and outcast partner with Russians. Therefore, efforts to improve Russia’s image must target not only the continent’s elite, but also a broader public opinion. It would be advisable to create and develop appropriate media tools to this effect.

Media and NGOs, working with the civil society, have to support official efforts in pushing for building a positive image and in strengthening diplomacy. Displaying an attentive and caring attitude towards the African diaspora in Russia, the key objective is to overcome racist stereotypes that persist in marginal segments of Russian society. Helping highly qualified educated migrants to integrate through employment. This will, in addition, showcase and shape public opinion about Africa in the Russian Federation.

According to the authors, building a more and consistent positive public opinion within Russia and Africa should be considered extremely important at this stage of relations between Russia and Africa. Should Russia assist other countries for political purposes only? Will the recipient countries be willing to lend Russia their political support, and can they be trusted? Should Russia build its partnerships exclusively based on the principle of economic expediency?

The authors wrote: “Russia will have to answer these questions as it moves towards implementing its African strategy. Its experience in working with public opinion and governments across Eurasia to shape public perceptions will come in handy in Africa.”

In the context of these existing challenges, leaders on both sides have to draw a roadmap. Inside Africa, Africans have had enough of all these public debates. The time has come to make progressive changes to the current approach, create a new outlook or simply call it “media facelift” instead of maintaining the old status quo. It means taking concrete practical steps toward media cooperation, this will substantially not only broaden but deepen two-way understanding of current developments in Russia and in Africa.

The irreversible fact is that there is the need to have an informed African society, and this has to be done largely, systematically and necessarily through the media. Africa has the largest number of young people, who look at the world with open eyes and are ready for cooperation with partner countries. This is a good opportunity to inform the young generation, bring them together through knowledge from Russia, Eurasia, and Africa. According to UN forecasts, the Africa’s middle class, constitutes a very huge vibrant information-consuming market, will exceed 350 million by 2025.

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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Hydro-projects in Africa: Interview with Vladislav Vasilyev

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As widely known, Russia plans to hold the second Russia-Africa summit in 2022, as a further step to make inroads into Africa – that comprises a diverse collection of countries, each with its own set of development setbacks and challenges. The political culture and investment climate are, in fact, diverse but are also important forces in determining the levels of the economy.

As it aims at raising its economic profile, Russia is strongly encouraging Russian business leaders to prioritize sustainable development-oriented projects as a practical step towards raising the living standard of millions of impoverished population in Africa.

For instance, JSC Institute Hydroproject promises to transfer its experience in advanced and innovative technologies, and efficient use of water resources, especially ways of managing and ensuring reliable hydro-energy supply. JSC Institute Hydroproject can further help in the accelerated social and economic development in Africa. 

In this interview, Vladislav Vasilyev, Head of International Projects Department at JSC Institute Hydroproject, discusses his company’s efforts directed at establishing hydro-projects in Africa, further touched on the state support for Russian business in Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

– How important is African market for your company, JSC Institute JSC Institute Hydroproject?

JSC Institute Hydroproject has vast working experience in African countries wherein we have done designs of HPPs in Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea, San Tome and Principe, Tunisia, Morocco, Ethiopia. We would like to separately emphasize about the masterpiece high class engineering of the Aswan dam on the Nile river in Egypt. JSC Institute Hydroproject management has deep knowledge of the African market.

– What are your expectations from African governments, industrialists and agribusiness directors in cooperating on products and services of your company?

African countries are among the fastest growing in the world. About one and half billion people live there, and that constitute approximately 20% of the world’s population. At the same time, there is a big demand in infrastructure development. Even the United Nations, forming the “Sustainable Development Goals” emphasizes the high development needs of the African region.

The African market is a big challenge in all areas of water use, from land reclamation to large and complex knowledge-intensive industries, not to mention the usual but much-needed electricity generation. In this regard, we see many opportunities for cooperation with governments, industrialists and in the huge agroindustry.

– Do you envisage any key problems and impediments to developing business, especially in the sphere of agriculture in African countries?

Difficulties and obstacles are possible – this is life. However, we can look at things differently, and see the obstacles as opportunities and incentives. For example, the lack of land reclamation networks makes it possible to build and develop a water delivery system that can become a link to strengthen the local neighboring countries and peoples.

The construction of a hydroelectric power station requires a channel with a large water pressure, which means the presence of a water basin, a reservoir. This will not only provide the local region with electricity, but also provide water. Here are a number of issues that are being resolved with the participation of the design and survey and research school of such a company as JSC Institute Hydroproject.

– How competitive do you see African market for Russian companies, generally, and for your company, specifically? From the previous experience, what challenges Russian companies and investors face in Africa?

There are several challenges, which are still in place for Russian engineering companies on African market. Russia is still not a member country of African Development Bank. AfDB announces many tenders, which are closed to companies from non-member countries. Still it is only a few African countries, who signed an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation with Russia.

– Business needs vital information, knowledge about the investment climate and so forth. Do you think there has been an information vacuum or gap between the two countries?

In my opinion we can talk about the rapprochement of the positions of Africa and Russia, the formation of new and strengthening of long-standing ties. This is explicitly noted, for instance, by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Head of the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Uganda, Olive Kigongo.

Joshua Setipa, Managing Director of the United Nations Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, says of the importance of high-tech companies: “It is important for us to continuously develop our partner network and establish cooperation with organizations that can help and support less developed countries with their technological and innovative potential. I am sure that working in Russia and, in particular, at the events of the Roscongress Foundation will help us to use the country’s opportunities for the benefit of others.” He said so at the recent Russia-Africa summit in Sochi.

– In your opinion, does the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit planned for 2022 hold an opportunity for raising the level of investment and business engagement with Africa?

Russia-Africa summit is unique platform that is expected to bring together corporate business directors and potential investors from both regions – Russia and Africa. We can simply agree that investments are always possible, and Russia is highly interested in them. This is also a state and business interest. Such people and companies are also among our partners. 

According to the achievements of recent years – this is not only the First Joint Russia-Africa Summit, but also during many previous bilateral forums, it is important to say that cooperation in the business sphere is just gaining momentum.

Now there is a lot of work to be done, including a well-structured and well-coordinated policy for Russian business, restructuring foreign policy and supporting economic circles – with African politicians, business people and residents of African countries. It is necessary to cooperate between scientific, technical, humanitarian, information, and digital platforms, and ultimately to develop common approaches for the implementation of our upcoming joint projects.

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Nigeria- Ghana Trade War: Where to from here

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Several months after a series of bilateral talks between the Nigerian government and authorities in Ghana aimed toward addressing the nearly a decade-long controversy that led to the closure of Nigerian traders’ shops in Ghana, the problems have not been resolved. Hundreds of shops belonging to Nigerian traders are still under lock and key; while most of the owners are stranded. A number of them said they beg to feed, as many of them remain reluctant to return to Nigeria despite a window created by the Nigerian government to facilitate their safe return.

What has happened so far?

President Muhammadu Buhari stunned Nigeria’s neighbors when he unexpectedly closed the country’s land borders to goods trade, saying the time had come to crush contraband trade. The land borders with neighboring Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger were closed to goods in August 2019, with partial openings and closings for people prompted by the coronavirus pandemic throughout 2020.

The center of the lingering controversy was a $1 million levy imposed on Nigerian traders and other foreign investors to pay Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) before the shops would be opened. The conditions set by the Ghanaian authorities had triggered a debate in Nigeria and within the African sub-region, which many considered as a breach of ECOWAS’ trade protocols.

However, on 19 June 2020, armed men entered the compound of the Nigeria High Commission in Ghana, and destroyed buildings under construction. Nigeria’s foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama described the vandalism as “outrageous and criminal” and urged the Ghanaian authorities to make sure that they protect Nigerian diplomatic buildings. Nigerian residents in Ghana held a demonstration calling for Nigerian government to take action. Although a piece posted on the Nigerian High Commission website in Ghana places responsibility on a businessperson who had previously claimed he owned the land where the building was being built, Nigerians living in Ghana still took to the streets to protest for their protection. The Ghanaian foreign ministry also promised that security had been “beefed up”.

Flashback on bilateral talks

The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had last year summoned Ghana’s Chargé d’Affaires to Nigeria, Ms. Iva Denoo, with whom he discussed the closure of the Nigerian-owned shops in Accra with a view to addressing the problem. Onyeama described the action taken by the Ghanaian authorities as politically motivated. However, his Ghanaian counterpart, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, countered his allegation, insisting that the crackdown was on illegal foreign retail businesses in Ghana.

Botchwey, described in a tweet by Onyeama, tagging Ghana’s policy on retail business as a politically motivated move as ‘most unfortunate. She said the Ghanaian government did not target any particular nationality in the exercise. “Countries sometimes take tough decisions in order to enforce their laws, just as Nigeria took a decision to shut its borders to stop smuggling, despite its impact on ECOWAS member countries,” she had said.

Is Ghana innocent?

While it’s easier to quickly point a finger at Nigeria as the aggressor, given it’s the bigger country who opted to shut its borders, therefore creating a ripple effect in the smaller economies, Ghana also has laws that clash with ECOWAS protocol, which ensures the free movement of the community’s citizens, as well as free and fair trade. The 2013 Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act (GIPC) is one such Act. It prioritizes the interests of Ghanaian traders and business owners by designating certain only its citizens, whereby foreigners wanting to set up shop in Ghana must have a minimum equity capital of $10,000, run enterprises. That alone limits the number of foreigners – particularly from the poorer surrounding West African countries – who can successfully work in Ghana.

Where to from here

While tariffs can result in individual ‘winners’, a full trade war, protectionism, and a reversal of decades of globalization would damage economies across the board, hitting emerging markets particularly hard. COVID-19 has arguably pushed many countries towards concentrating on themselves, as many economies have been negatively affected in an exceedingly shocking manner. Although few expect to see the kinds of tensions witnessed in the 1980s when Nigeria expelled two million undocumented West African migrants, half of whom were from Ghana.

Key takeaways

  • Nigeria border closure weakened trade across West Africa
  • A full trade war and globalization reversal will benefit nobody
  • Nigerian traders have suffered the most; Ghanaians also faces pain
  • Traders have seen big losses.
  • Demolition of Nigerian High Commission building in Accra.

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H.E. President John Mahama Appointed As AU High Representative for Somalia

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The Chairperson of the Commission, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, has announced the appointment of H.E John Dramani Mahama, former President of the Republic of Ghana, as his High Representative to Somalia.

As the High Representative for Somalia’s political track, President Mahama will work with the Somali stakeholders, to reach a mutually acceptable compromise towards an all-encompassing resolution for the holding of Somali elections in the shortest possible time.

In fulfilling his mandate, the High Representative will be supported by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), to ensure that the mediation efforts and the peace support operation work together seamlessly.

The Chairperson of the Commission calls on the Somali stakeholders to negotiate in good faith, and to put the interests of Somalia and the well-being of the Somali people above all else in the search for an inclusive settlement to the electoral crisis.

This should usher in a democratically elected government with the legitimacy and mandate to resolve the remaining outstanding political and constitutional issues that are posing a threat to the stability of the country and the region as a whole.

The Chairperson of the Commission also encourages all the Somali stakeholders and the international community to extend every support to the High Representative, who will arrive the country in the coming days.

Ambassador Abukar Arman, a former Somalia special envoy to the United States and a foreign policy analyst says there have previously been interventions from neighbors have not brought Somalia the promised peace.

It is clear that no Somali can pursue a political career in his own country without first getting Ethiopia’s blessings. Already, Ethiopia has installed a number of its staunch cohorts in the current government and (along with Kenya) has been handpicking virtually all of the new regional governors, mayors and so forth.

In October 2010, the African Union appointed Jerry John Rawlings as the AU High Representative for Somalia to “mobilize the continent and the rest of the international community to fully assume its responsibilities and contribute more actively to the quest for peace, security and reconciliation in Somalia.”

That however, Ambassador Arman says the former Ghana president and AU Special Representative for Somalia is now assuming his new post with significant diplomatic capital, mainly resulting from the credible work of his fellow countryman, former president, and Special Envoy to Somalia, Jerry John Rawlings.

“On the other hand, he would be carrying the hefty political burden that comes with the so-called African Solutions for African Problems and its cash-gulping record. The concept is taken hostage by African sloganeers and foreign elements eager to advance zero-sum interests,” he wrote me in an emailed message.

Make no mistake, Somalia is held in a nasty headlock by a neighbourhood tag-team unmistakably motivated by zero-sum objective. It is their so-called African solution (not so much of the extremist group al-Shabaab) that is setting the Horn on fire.

According to AFP news report, Mogadishu had been on edge since February, when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s term ended before elections were held, and protesters took to the streets against his rule. But a resolution in April to extend his mandate by two years split the country’s fragile security forces along all-important clan lines.

Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital. The fighting drove tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and divided the city, with government forces losing some key neighborhoods to opposition units.

Under pressure to ease the tension, Mohamed abandoned his mandate extension and instructed his prime minister to arrange fresh elections and bring together rivals for talks. Indirect elections were supposed to have been held by February under a deal reached between the government and Somalia’s five regional states the previous September.

But that agreement collapsed as the president and the leaders of two states, Puntland and Jubaland, squabbled over the terms. Months of UN-backed talks failed to broker consensus between the feuding sides.

In early May, Mohamed re-launched talks with his opponents over the holding of fresh elections, and agreed to return to the terms of the September accord.

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has invited the regional leaders to a round of negotiations on May 20 in the hope of resolving the protracted feud and charting a path to a vote. In the meanwhile, the international community has threatened sanctions if elections are not held soon.

Somalia remains the epicenter of global geopolitical and geo-economic competition. Some of the major ones are in a cut-throat competition that further complicates the Somalia conundrum. With its longest coastline, bordering Ethiopia to the west, Kenya to the southwest and the Gulf of Eden, Somalia has attracted many foreign countries to the region in East Africa.

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