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Agenda Setting For a Renewed Afro-Euro Diplomacy in a Post-Covid World

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The predicted ‘second wave’ of Coronavirus (Covid-19) seems to be knocking so fast and furious on the doorstep of many countries within the eurozone. Officials in Europe’s capital cities are bracing for a winter storm as figures of new cases climb steadily. 

On Monday, the French authority ordered bars and cafe shops in Paris locked for 15days to interrupt the sudden spike among Parisians. On Saturday, a new daily record of 16, 000 cases was discovered across France. 

In neighbouring Germany, the situation is similarly less than encouraging as the commendations that greeted the management of the virus back at the beginning of 2020 appear to have evaporated. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent denunciation of the laissez-faire attitude of residents, especially younger members of the population, reflects the deep concerns within the Reichstag. Going by the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s leading disease control centre, the forecast for the coming months is scary. According to the institute, five neighbourhoods in Berlin are regarded as tipping points due to the surge of the disease in these densely inhabited areas.

Amidst the scrambling, and sometimes excruciating, efforts to safeguard the European economies from further strains, governments across the continent are stressed with additional worries of dealing with a growing sentiment among sceptics that what is at play is not a pandemic but what they termed ‘covid fascism’. Anti lockdown protest, aimed at forcing governments into rescinding the physical restrictions imposed since early March, has become a weekly dosage of activities in urban centres of Europe.

THE CAUTIOUS SUCCESS

For Africa, the doomsday prediction by Melinda Gates that the streets of the continent would be littered with corpses by mid-2020 did not see the light of the day. The continent has, surprisingly, been the least affected by the novel coronavirus. Figures from the Addis Ababa-based Africa Centres for Disease Control (ACDC) reveal that the continent has, till date, recorded 1.4million infections, and a miserly 36,000 deaths from the pandemic. 

The general feeling is that, for a sum continental population of 1.3billion, Africa deserves to be cut some slack as far as the handling of Covid-19 is concerned. Director of the Africa CDC, John Nkengasong, attributes the secrets of this particular Africa’s success story to “joint continental effort”. 

In Senegal, a team of experts at Dakar’s Pasteur Institute led by Dr Amadou Sall caught global attention in May with the discovery of a dollar test kit for the disease. Besides, officials at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) recently followed in the direction of their Senegalese counterparts with the announcement of a cheaper and faster test kit to scale up the snail-pace diagnosis of the current PRC test for the disease.

While one may continue to wax lyrical about Africa and its handling of the COVID-19, there is need to exercise some restraints. Africans should be told to continue to brace themselves for a more strenuous test in the weeks ahead.

For a start, it is difficult to conclude that the figures being brandished for Africa are accurate reflections of the reality on the ground going by reservations expressed by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The test capacity of many African countries remains very low months into the pandemic and some deaths which may have been caused by COVID-19 were, possibly, not capture in the statistics from the continent.

Moreover, the territorial proximity between Northern Africa and Europe is now more or less a burden going by the traffic of humans between the two regions. For instance, Morocco and Egypt are witnessing a huge rise in new infections of the virus; the geographical romance with Spain where the pandemic ran riot in June/July should not be discarded as a possible cause for this trend. As the yuletide beckons towards the year-end, unsuspecting travelers to and from many African cities may unwillingly be carrying more than their baggage upon arrival for Christmas holidays.

FOREIGN AIDS AND CORRUPTION

The ability of Africa to scoop more financial aids from the advanced North to cater to her downtrodden populace, whose living condition had been made worse by COVID-19, may be hampered by allegations of corruption that characterized relief funds and donations in many countries. 

Uganda’s Ambassador to Denmark, Nimisha Madhvani, and her deputy have been recalled after appearing in a leaked video conversation discussing how to share donations meant for the pandemic. In Kenyan, an investigation is ongoing into alleged financial impropriety at Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMA) where it is believed that money was siphoned through dubious procurements of personal protective equipment for health workers in the country. 

Although the decision of the African Development Bank (AfDB) to support some countries with $3billion as a cushion against the pandemic is worthy of note, it remains a drop in the ocean compared to the €6.2billion set aside by the European Union for the same purpose. This would be better appreciated when juxtaposed with the number of persons now desperately in need of government intervention in the continent’s worst-hit country, South Africa.

AFRO-EUROPE DIPLOMACY

One is not unconscious of the fact that SARS-CoV-2 has left nothing in its sight untouched, yet the time calls for diplomatic retooling like never before. In the absence of the hitherto indispensability of Donald Trump’s United States, China appear to be taking charge, even on the forefront of the fight against the pandemic in Africa. Pictures of tons of relief and medical aids in more than one airport (in Africa) were common features in various media while the first phase of the virus lasts. Such diplomatic theatrics play perfectly into the image-washing strategy of Beijing in the eyes of onlookers far and near. 

Scant European powers did thrust their hands to Africa, too, but that did not quite measure up to the Chinese’ bold statement.

Historically, Africa and Europe have endured seemingly inseparable ties which spanned trade expeditions to colonialism and bilateral relations. That, perhaps, inspired the Head of the European Union Commission, Ursula von der Leyen into submitting that, “Africa is the European Union’s natural partner and neighbour”. Largely dictated by trade and economic interests, the post-colonial interactions between the two are, however, being challenged by China’s ‘Road and Belt’ incursion into Africa to ignite a new theatre of a geopolitical cold war between Europe and China.

Europeans’ ties with Africa have over the years being predicated upon diplomatic treaties. Ratified in 2000, the Cotonou Agreement which serves as the policy framework for the EU relations with African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries is the most notable of such instruments and has a terminal date of December 2020. In recent years, there has been the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (2007) and the EU-Africa Summits through which Heads of governments of countries in the two regions hold formal intercontinental deliberations every three years. Unfortunately, the 2020 summits originally scheduled to hold in Brussels had been consumed by COVID-19.

One of the enduring lessons of the pandemic is the changing dynamics of what constitutes power in the twenty-first century global conversations. The failure of European governments to rise to the occasion is a sharp contrast to what obtains in Africa where a combination of cautious, pragmatic advocacy approach and practicable epidemiological experience in handling the deadly Ebola virus mitigated the spread of the Coronavirus. It is, to this end, crucial for the two continents to deepen existing collaborations and initiate new strategies to combat common threats through consensus.

The role of mutuality between Africa and Europe has never been more imperative on the scale of new global emergencies like migration, global warming, and threats to peace and security, all of which are uniform threats to national and global cohesion. Political leaders in the two continents should, therefore, further close ranks in the realization of their continents’ Siamese-like relationship, even in a post COVID world.

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Africa

Critical Views On Russia’s Policy Towards Africa Within Context Of New World Order

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In September WhatsApp conversation with Matthew Ehret, a Senior Fellow and International Relations Expert at the American University in Moscow, he offers an insight into some aspects of Russia-African relations within the context of the emerging new global order. 

In particular, Matthew gives in-depth views on Russia’s valuable contribution in a number of economic sectors including infrastructure development during the past few years in Africa, some suggestions for African leaders and further on the possible implications of Russia-China collaboration with Africa. Here are important excerpts of the wide-ranging interview:

What are the implications here and from historical perspectives that Russia is looking for its allies from Soviet-era in Africa…and “non-Western friends” for creating the new world order?

Russia is certainly working very hard to consolidate its alliances with many nations of the global south and former non-aligned network. This process is hinged on the Russia-China alliance best exemplified by the integration of the Eurasian Economic Union with the Belt and Road Initiative and the spirit of cooperation outlined in the the Feb. 4 Joint Statement for a New Era of Cooperation.

Of course this is more than simply gaining spheres of influence as many analysts try to interpret the process now underway, but has much more to do with a common vision for instituting a new system of cooperation, creative growth and long term thinking uniting diverse cultural and religious groups of the globe around a common destiny which is a completely different type of paradigm than the unipolar ideology of closed-system thinking dominant among the technocrats trying to manage the rules based international order.

Soviet Union, of course, enormously supported Africa’s liberation struggle and resultantly attained political independence in the 60s. What could be the best practical way for Russia to fight what it now referred to as “neocolonialism” in Africa?

Simply operating on a foundation of honest business is an obvious but important thing to do. The African people have known mostly abuse and dishonest neo-colonial policies under the helm of the World Bank and IMF since WW2, and so having Russia continue to provide investment and business deals tied to the construction of special economic zones that drive industrial growth, infrastructure and especially modern electricity access which Africa desperately needs are key in this process.

African countries currently need to transform the untapped resources, build basic infrastructure and get industrialized -these are necessary to become somehow economic independent. How do you evaluate Russia’s role in these economic areas, at least, during the past decade in Africa?

It has been improving steadily. Of course, Russia does not have the same level of national controls over their banking system as we see enjoyed by China whose trade with Africa has attained $200 billion in recent years while Russia’s trade with Africa is about $20 billion. But despite that, Russia has done well to not only provide trains in Egypt, and has made the emphasis on core hard infrastructure, energy, water systems, and interconnectivity a high priority in the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit and the upcoming 2023 Summit.

Generally, how can we interpret African elite’s sentiments about Russia’s return to Africa? Do you think Russia is most often critical about United States and European Union’s hegemony in Africa?

I think the over arching feeling is one of trust and relief that Russia has returned with a spirit of cooperation. According to all the messaging from Lavrov who recently completed an important Africa tour late July, I can say that Russia is very critical of the USA and EU approach to hegemony in Africa. As Museveni and the South Africa Foreign Minister have recently emphasized, they are sick of being talked down to and threatened by western patronizing technocrats, whereas we see a sense of mutual respect among the discourse of Russian and Chinese players which is seen as a breath of fresh air. 

While the west is obsessed with “appropriate green technologies” for Africa while chastizing the continent for its corruption problems (which is fairly hypocritical when one looks at the scope of corruption within the Wall Street- City of London domain), Russia supports all forms of energy development from coal, oil, natural gas and even nuclear which Africa so desperately needs to leapfrog into the 21st century.

Understandably, Russia’s policy has to stimulate or boost Africa’s economic aspirations especially among the youth and the middle class. What are views about this? And your objective evaluation of Russia’s public outreach diplomacy with Africa?

So far Russia has done well in stimulating their youth policy with expanded scholarships to African youth touching on agricultural science, engineering, medicine, IT, and other advanced sectors. Additionally the Special Economic Zones built up by Russia in Mozambique, Egypt have established opportunities for manufacturing and other technical training that has largely been prevented from growing under the IMF-World Bank model of conditionality laced loans driven primarily by the sole aim of resource extraction for western markets and overall control by a western elite. Russia has tended to follow China’s lead (and her own historic traditions of aiding African nations in their development aspirations) without pushing the sorts of regime change operations or debt slavery schemes which have been common practice by the west for too long.

Sochi summit has already provided the key to the questions you have, so far, discussed above. Can these, if strategically and consistently addressed, mark a definitive start of a new dawn in the Russia-African relations?

Most certainly.

Geopolitical confrontation, rivalry and competition in Africa. Do you think there is an emerging geopolitical rivalry, and confrontation against the United States and Europe (especially France) in Africa? What if, in an alliance, China and Russia team up together?

China and Russia have already teamed up together on nearly every aspect of geopolitical, scientific, cultural and geo-economic interest imaginable which has created a robust basis for the continued successful growth of the multipolar alliance centered as it is upon such organizations as the BRICS+, SCO, ASEAN and BRI/Polar Silk Road orientation. This is clear across Africa as well and to the degree that this alliance continues to stand strong, which I see no reason why it would not for the foreseeable future, then an important stabilizing force can not only empower African nations to resist the threats, intimidation and destabilizing influences of western unipolarists. 

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Sahel security crisis ‘poses a global threat’

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Refugee women prepare food in a displacement site in Ouallam, in the Tillaberi region of Niger. © UNOCHA/Michele Cattani

Rising insecurity, including the proliferation of terrorist and other non-State armed groups, coupled with political instability, is creating a crisis in the Sahel that poses a “global threat”, the UN chief warned Thursday’s high level meeting on the vast African region, which took place behind closed doors at UN Headquarters in New York.

“If nothing is done, the effects of terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime will be felt far beyond the region and the African continent”, said Secretary-General António Guterres, in his remarks issued by his Spokesperson’s Office.

“A coordinated international breakthrough is urgently needed. We must rethink our collective approach and show creativity, going beyond existing efforts.”

The insecurity is making a “catastrophic humanitarian situation even worse”, he said, leaving some beleaguered national governments, without any access to their own citizens.

‘Deadly grip’ tightening

Meanwhile, “non-State armed groups are tightening their deadly grip over the region and are even seeking to extend their presence into the countries of the Gulf of Guinea.”

The indiscriminate use of violence by terrorist and other groups means that thousands of innocent civilians are left to suffer, while millions of others are forced from their homes, Mr. Guterres told the meeting of national leaders, during the High Level Week summit.

Women and children in particular are bearing the brunt of insecurity, violence and growing inequality”, he said, with human rights violations, sometimes committed by security forces mandated to protect civilians, “of great concern”.

Climate factor

And the crises are being compounded by climate change, said the UN chief, with soil erosion and the drying-up of water sources, “thereby contributing to acute food insecurity and exacerbating tensions between farmers and herders.”

“Against a global backdrop of turmoil on energy, food and financial markets, the region is threatened by a systemic debt crisis that is likely to have repercussions throughout the continent.”

The conventional international finance remedies are not helping, the UN chief said bluntly, with more and more countries forced to channel precious reserves into servicing debt payments, leaving them unable to pursue an inclusive recovery, or boost resilience.

“It is absolutely necessary to change the rules of the game of the financial reports of the world. These rules of the game are today completely against the interests of developing countries, and in particular the interests of African countries”, said Mr. Guterres, “with debt problems, with liquidity problems, with inflation problems, with instability, necessarily posed by this profound injustice in international financial and economic relations.”

Democracy, constitutional order

The UN chief called for a “renewal of our collective efforts to promote democratic governance and restore constitutional order” across the whole Sahel, which stretches from Senegal in the west to northern Eritrea and Ethiopia in the east, a belt beneath the Sahara of up to 1,000 kilometres.

The rule of law and full respect for human rights are indispensable for ensuring security and sustainable development, Mr. Guterres said.

Addressing national leaders and senior politicians from the region, he said the UN “stands ready to work alongside you, with urgency and solidarity, for a peaceful, stable and prosperous Sahel.”

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South Sudan: Extended roadmap for lasting peace deal, a ‘way point, not an end point’

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Since 2018, the Revitalized Agreement between the key players in South Sudan’s long-running civil war has provided a framework for peace, the Head of the UN mission there, UNMISS, told the Security Council on Friday – “despite continued outbreaks of intercommunal violence”. 

UN Special Representative Nicholas Haysom said that although key provisions of the Agreement are set to end by February, the parties agreed in August on a Roadmap that extends the current transitional period by 24 months. 

While a welcome development, he reminded that “there is no alternative to the implementation of the peace agreement”. 

“Let me underscore that the roadmap is a way point, not an end point”, he said. 

Inclusive political process 

The UNMISS chief flagged the importance of an inclusive political process and the opening of civic spaces as “essential conditions” for a robust and competitive electoral process. 

He then outlined some steps underway – from President Salva Kiir and first Vice-President Riek Machar’s agreement to resolve the parliamentary impasse, to the graduation of the first class of joint armed forces recruits – for which budgetary resources, integration and deployment, are vital to allow a broader security sector transformation. 

“Failure to address these critical issues…have the potential to reverse the gains made,” Mr. Haysom warned. 

Violence continues 

He went on to describe violence on the regional level, marked by cycles of cattle raiding, abduction, and revenge killings along with fighting in Upper Nile state that has displaced thousands of people. 

The Special Representative reported that while conflict-related violence is also increasing, UNMISS continues to support prevention through policy frameworks and other areas. 

“The Mission is strengthening its support to the justice chain in each state…to address crimes that risk destabilizing the peace, including those involving gender-based violence,” he told the ambassadors. 

‘Double pivot’ 

Mr. Haysom said that UNMISS has managed to accomplish a “double pivot” in its focus and operations, by channeling resources towards the political process; proactive deployment to violent hotspots; and expanding its protection presence for civilians. 

He assured that South Sudan’s natural resources have “tremendous potential” for either conflict, or cooperation.  

“It is always political that can make the difference”. 

Turning to the humanitarian situation, he acknowledged that food security continues to deteriorate, leaving some 8.3 million people in need and outstripping available funding. 

Noting that the Humanitarian Response Plan is only 44.6 per cent funded, he urged donors to fulfil their pledges. 

‘Litmus test’ 

He asserted that the next few months would be “a litmus test” for the parties to demonstrate their commitment to the Roadmap, warning against “delays and setbacks”. 

In closing, the Special Representative reaffirmed the importance of the international community’s support. 

“Our collective task now is to support the parties in fulfilling their obligations to the people of South Sudan as per the timing of the Roadmap,” he concluded. 

Indispensable timelines 

Meanwhile, Lilian Riziq, President, South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network discussed a broad-based and inclusive process for all key participants, underscoring the need for a new transitional governance process.  

She underscored that election timelines are indispensable, noting that four years on, levels of revitalized agreement implementation have not brought security or ended humanitarian misery. 

She also highlighted ways that precious oil revenues in South Sudan, have been heavily misused. 

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