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Russia-Africa: Time to Act –interview with Alexander Stuglev

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Within the framework of the joint declaration adopted in Sochi, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation created a Secretariat of Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. The Secretariat’s primary task is to coordinate efforts for promoting cooperation between Russian and African business associations, ensure political and diplomatic support for projects carried out by Russia’s state-run and private companies in Africa, and coordinating aspects of preparations for future Russia-Africa summits.

During its September meeting, the Secretariat created Coordinating Council headed by Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Roscongress Foundation Alexander Stuglev. Early October, Alexander Stuglev gave an exclusive interview to Modern Diplomacy’s Special Regional Representative, Kester Kenn Klomegah, in which he discussed some aspects of Russia’s plan to raise its economic, investment and trade profile in Africa.

Q: Is it comfortable for you to discuss the key questions that were raised during September meeting of the Secretariat under the slogan “Time to Act” and what is the main advantage to have Roscongress Foundation acting as the coordinator for business-related aspects with Africa?

A: The main objective of the event held in Moscow was to make all stakeholders based in Russia and African States aware of two specialized bodies that were established following the Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum in 2019. These are the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat and the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States.

The Summit and Economic Forum laid the foundations for further collaboration. The wide-ranging and ambitious task now ahead of us is to create the conditions and to identify opportunities which will allow us to strengthen and increase Russian-African cooperation across the board.

Three interdepartmental councils have been established within the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat: a coordinating council, research council, and public council. By working together, these three bodies will enable us to take a comprehensive approach to fulfilling existing and new emerging tasks. We have a great deal of work ahead of us right now, and the outcomes will be discussed at the next Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum, which is set to take place in 2022.

For our part, we will continue working hard to promote the African agenda, including at key events organized by the Roscongress Foundation. We will involve all stakeholders in the process, especially our African partners. I have every confidence that the Foundation’s experience, extensive international ties, and expertise will enable us to build an integrated ecosystem which will facilitate effective collaboration between the business, political, and expert communities of Russia and Africa. That is our long-term objective as we see it.

Q: What are your views on trade between Russia and Africa following the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum in October 2019? Trade needs to flow in both directions. What can Russia offer Africa, and vice versa?

A: Russia has achieved impressive results across numerous areas to date, and is ready to share its experience and expertise with its African partners. Specific examples would include agriculture, energy, medicine, digital technologies, and infrastructure projects. There is interest on both sides in working together in these areas – a fact which was demonstrated at the Economic Forum in Sochi. Something that is crucial and extremely relevant for the times we currently live in is the successful experience of working together in healthcare. Up to 60% of yellow fever vaccines imported by Africa are produced in Russia. A Russian vaccine against Ebola has also shown to be highly effective, and is currently being used in Guinea.

At the same time, I am convinced that Africa possesses enormous potential to become, for example, one of the key players on the international food market. It is Russia’s objective to help Africa achieve this by entering into an equal and mutually beneficial partnership. By working together, we can fully deal with any of the difficulties which can be encountered in certain regions of Africa. We can increase the amount of cultivated land, improve irrigation systems, and increase the use of fertilizers. I believe that close collaboration in this area could serve as a good example of a mutually beneficial endeavour which results in African states improving their agricultural sectors and increasing production, and over time, in Russia having the opportunity to purchase high-quality agricultural products.

Q: According to official statistics, Russia’s current exports to Africa are worth US$20 billion. However, two thirds of exports go to the Maghreb region or North Africa. What could be the reasons for the low level of trade with countries in sub-Saharan Africa?

A: I would highlight two key problems here which have negatively impacted trade with countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Firstly, there is a lack of mutual awareness. Unfortunately, the African continent remains little known in Russia, and in Africa, there’s only a vague notion of what Russia is. All of this ultimately leads to the creation and reinforcement of stereotypes, and puts up barriers to more productive cooperation. Russian businesses simply don’t know what to expect from Africa or vice versa.

Secondly, the risks can be high, and investors are often not willing to assume all these risks alone. I think that a possible solution to this problem could lie in the creation of mechanisms to facilitate inter-governmental collaboration and provide support. That way, an investor can feel assured that in the event of force-majeure, such as socio-political unrest, their investment is protected by the state in question. An additional security guarantee for investments could be provided by having two or more states involved via subregional organizations and large African banks, for example.

Q: For many years now, trade between Russia and Africa has been unbalanced, and has often been one-sided in Russia’s favour. What measures could be taken to overcome this disparity?

A: As I have already mentioned above, the experience and expertise that Russia is able to offer African states can, in the long-run, positively impact the level of exports from Africa to our country. It therefore follows that balancing out trade between Russia and Africa depends, to a specific extent, on the willingness of Russian businesses to invest in promising areas of Africa’s economy and to share their knowledge, and on the willingness of partners in Africa to facilitate this process by putting in place all the necessary prerequisites for this to happen.

The mutual awareness factor I mentioned will also play an important role. As far as that is concerned, it will be crucial to raise awareness in our countries, both through having an increased Russian media presence on the continent, and as a result of joint humanitarian initiatives. I believe that centres of expertise and business support centres will do a great deal to help resolve this issue locally, as will working together with the local population on a regular basis.

Furthermore, I would like to highlight the question of mutual trust. An initiative by our partner -the African Export-Import Bank – deserves special attention in this regard. They have built a platform called MANSA, which collates verified information about African organizations which are registered there. That means that MANSA operates as a guarantee of sorts, and as a one-stop resource to find reliable partners on the continent. We will step up our collaboration with Afreximbank in this area and identify common areas of interest together with members of the Russian business community.

Q: Do you see any difficulties for African exporters? What advantages exist, particularly in light of the establishment of the new Eurasian Union, which is made up of five former Soviet republics?

A: Of course, Russian imports of goods from Africa make up the smallest percentage of total trade by some distance (accounting for around 15%). However, this figure is growing faster than the average rate of growth of imports among all trading partners in Africa. There are also no global barriers in this area. You are correct to note that trade and economic ties are being strengthened through regional and continent-wide intergovernmental organizations. Of course, one of the main outcomes of the Summit was the signing of a memorandum between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union Commission. We see enormous potential in this area.

Indeed, since 2010, trade between the EAEU and African nations has grown by almost 170%.Presuming that free talks between the EAEU and Egypt conclude successfully, the parties involved will be able to enjoy free movement of goods, services, and capital. This in itself is already unprecedented in the context of our trade relations with the continent. The EAEU and a number of African countries are already discussing mutual settlements in national currencies in order to avoid incurring cross-rate costs. This, in my objective view, will help boost trade.

Q: The African Union has established the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which allows for the free movement of goods and services across the entire continent. With that in mind, what would be your advice to Russian exporters?

A: For my part, I can say that the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area represents an important step forward, both in terms of trade on the continent, and trade with foreign partners. I believe that as competition for African markets increases, it is essential to increase the number of trading partners we have in Africa, to increase the amount of trade we do, and to provide assistance in creating the right conditions for increasing African exports to Russia.

Q: What immediate plans does Roscongress have with regard to Africa? What prospects exist for strengthening relations between Russia and African countries?

A: The Roscongress Foundation’s priority is to create opportunities, build communication platforms, and to make it possible for members of the Russian and African business communities to discuss their ideas and proposals directly. Dialogue lies at the heart of everything. Without dialogue, it is difficult to build trusting relations.

That is why we are continuing to collect ideas and proposals from our colleagues and partners so that we can analyse them and try to implement them in practice. There is no doubt in my mind that there is enormous potential to build relations between Russia and Africa, starting with the investment and financial sphere, and ending with various humanitarian projects in culture and sport. Each area is unique and significant in its own way. That is why it is vital to pay close attention to everything, even details which may appear, at first glance, to be wholly insignificant. A comprehensive approach must be employed when building Russian-African relations. It was with this aim in mind that the interdepartmental councils were established.

I would like to highlight the role of the Roscongress Foundation’s regional partners who have expressed an interest in working together with Russia. It is our hope that the Foundation’s partnerships in Africa will only become stronger and encompass more countries on the continent. For our part, we are always open to new initiatives and mutually beneficial partnerships. After all, it is by working together that we will be able to create a space defined by trust, which is vital in the current environment, as it continues to be shaped by a new reality.[Modern Diplomacy]

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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