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How Prime Minister Abiy looking to change Ethiopia

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Reportedly, while speaking with Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump suggested Egypt could bomb the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The comment comes several months after President Trump ordered the State Department to cut around $100 million of US military aid to Ethiopia. Such attitudes will harm US interests in the region.

Over the last few months, Prime minister Abiy has faced several challenges that could have undermined his reputation and weakened Ethiopia. However, he has shown good acumen in navigating these issues, and in doing, so he has strengthened not only his position but that of Ethiopia. This does not mean that he has not been without criticism, as one can always do better.

Challenge One: The Tigray Regional Authority Elections

On 9 September 2020, the Tigray Regional Authority defying the federal government held regional elections. The election could have undermined the Abiy government, which showed great skill in managing the situation. Prime Minister Abiy merely referred to them as ‘shanty elections’ treating them as illegal. Abiy opted not to send in the military to quash the election, the standard practice of authoritarian leaders. Since then, the federal government has relied on the power of the purse, cutting direct dies with the newly elected government, and working directly with local institutions. Such a response ensured there were no casualties or international opprobrium, although arguably the federal government is merely postponing a potential conflict with the Tigray Regional Authority, as seen with Abiy’s decision to send the military into the province.

Sino-Ethiopian relations

Addis Ababa’s relations with Beijing are at an all-time high.

In 2017, Ethiopia and China elevated their relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation. The change is indicative of Beijing’s commitment to ensure Ethiopia remains friendly and open to them. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Report 2020 makes it clear that China is the largest foreign direct investment source in Ethiopia in 2019, accounting for about 60% of the newly approved foreign projects in Ethiopia. Chinese lenders supported the construction of the Dire Dawa Industrial Park in Somali State. It is believed that the Park could generate 20,000 jobs, in addition to the current 1000 jobs. Linked to the Industrial Park is a massive road construction initiative, aimed at connecting communities, and in doing so unite the country.

Beijing has provided Ethiopia with great support to address the Covid-19 pandemic and the locust infestation. Beijing and Jack Ma’s Alibaba Foundation supported the building of a Covid-19 testing factory, enabling Ethiopia to produce testing kits. Beijing has also provided much needed medical assistance and expertise in dealing with the pandemic. In response to the locust infestation, Beijing sent 72 tons of pesticides, 2,000 hand-held sprayers, and 20,000 personal protective gear. Such measures underlie China’s commitment to using soft power diplomacy to win allies in Ethiopia.

One suspects the Abiy government is confident it could secure lines of credit from China and Chinese lenders. Lines of credit and investment are crucial for Abiy if he is to continue with his commitment to ‘open’ up – privatize/de-nationalise – the economy, which is why the UNCTAD’s Investment Trends Monitor Report issued in October 2020 provided good news for Abiy, as it showed that whereas Foreign Direct Investment in sub-Saharan Africa was down 21 percent, Ethiopia drew in$1.1 billion in Foreign Direct Investment inflows during the first half of 2020, with China being a key lender, funding around a quarter of all newly approved projects.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

Despite the kerfuffle with the US decision to reduce its military aid to Ethiopia in lieu of the deadlock over the GERD with Egypt, the federal government is secure. The decision not to make much of the reduction in military aid because it meant little in the grand scheme of things further empowered the Abiy government. Had it returned to the negotiation table because of the reduction in aid it would have been kowtowing to US pressure.

Things could still go wrong

In the immediate period, one major threat to stability is the locust infestation. The Food and Agriculture Organization has described the latest invasion as the worse in 25 years, with locust swarms destroying over 200,000 hectares (490,000 acres). Consequently, there are serious concerns about food production.

Concern over food security remains high because some models including one by IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Centre, suggest Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are also heading towards dry conditions between October and December. The models supported by Earth Observations suggest there is a particularly good chance of another poor rainy season from March to May 2021.

The Tigray Regional Authority election did not spark ethnic conflict. Nevertheless, threats of ethnic divisions remain as seen with events in the Afar Province but also in Western Ethiopia, in Wollega. There are lots of small disputes, with little evidence that Abiy is taking an active measure to address them.

One of the biggest challenges for Abiy is the state of the economy. Abiy rode to power intending to massively reform the economy, opening it up to foreign and domestic investors. Ethiopia has a national debt of $28 billion, of which $12 billion is owed to China and Chinese companies and agencies. The debt has come in part because of attempts to reform the economy; in 2014 in the hope of raising a billion dollars to finance electricity, railway, and sugar industry projects, Ethiopia issued an international bond. The ten-year bond has than six percent interest rates.

Ethiopia’s economy is still operating under the rules of a planned economy, which is why Abiy is committed to reform it. Ethiopia’s telecommunication sector serves as a good example of a sector that needs drastic change. Abiy has sought to open up the sector, and it is expected that within the new few weeks, the Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency would announce which of the twelve official bidders would receive a license to operate elements of the sector.

The challenge is that EthioTelecom carries substantial debt much of which is owed to the Export-Import (EXIM) Bank of China and China Development Bank. The terms of the loan were harsh, as the government focused on the financing. Ultimately, ZTE and later Huawei were able to offer the support, which companies such as Ericsson and Alcatel Lucent SA, could not match because the Chinese could rely on state support. Putting the debt issue aside, it also means the telecommunication sector is dependent on Chinese equipment and expertise.

In sum

Prime Minister Abiy’s greatest challenge is the prospect of an economic slowdown. The Ethiopian economy is fragile, and so is food security, with the World Development Indicators notingthat Ethiopia’s poorest 20% subsist on around $250 a year. Nevertheless, there seems to be optimism within the government because

  • There are no serious internal or external threats. Abiy’s decision to improve relations with Eritrea has paid enormous dividends.
  • The public generally does not blame it for massive failure in dealing with the pandemic
  • There is tremendous nationalist energy surrounding the GERD and hope it would help solve the currency and energy problem
  • Abiy remains popular on the international scene, and more countries are turning their attention to Ethiopia.

Overall, there is momentum for change in Ethiopia, which is why the US should seek to work closely with Addis Ababa as the country would only become stronger over time.

Isaac Kfir, Independent consultant, Advisory Board, International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law and Adjunct Professor, Charles Sturt University

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SADC Counts on EU and US for Security Funding in Mozambique

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The 16-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) is counting funding from the United States and European Union (EU) to support its proposed military deployment (3,000 troops) in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique, according to Andre Thomashausen, professor emeritus of international law at the University of South Africa (UNISA).

Thomashausen said that Pretoria “is desperately seeking” ways to strengthen and rehabilitate its military operational capabilities through the intervention in northern Mozambique and “SADC wants this entire operation to be funded by support from the European Union and, to some extent, the United States. SADC is envisaging a role for the European Union of financial rather than logistical or human resources support.”

SADC technical assessment mission has proposed sending a military intervention force of 3,000 troops as part of its response to help fight the militant insurgency in Mozambique. In terms of military assets, the SADC assessment team proposes that 16 be sent to Mozambique, namely two patrol ships, a submarine, a maritime surveillance plane, six helicopters, two drones and four transport planes.

On April 28, Southern African ministers have agreed to deploy a regional force in Mozambique. But the Southern African leaders meeting that was scheduled for April 29 to assess the security situation and offer the final approval for deployment of SADC military force was postponed due to unavailability of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Botswana is the current chair of the SADC division, which is tasked with promoting peace and security in the region. Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi is quarantined due to Covid-19. Ramaphosa was busy giving testimony to an inquiry into corruption under his predecessor Jacob Zuma.

Botswana and South Africa along with Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, are the current members of the SADC security organ troika. The three would have met Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi at the summit to decide whether to accept the proposed intervention plan.

The insurgency broke out in Mozambique’s northeast in 2017 and the rebels have stepped up attacks in the past years, with the latest March 24 heinous attack left more than 2,800 deaths, according to several reports, and about 714,000 people displaced, according to government sources.

The worsening security situation is a major setback for Mozambique. While it hopes to reap nearly US$100 billion in revenue over 25 years from LNG projects, the state failed its pledge to maintain and enforce security after several warnings. Now French energy group Total declared force majeure on its €20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project following the insurgent attacks. The gas project located about six kilometers from the city that suffered the armed attack in March.

In an official release, the Paris based Total officials said considering the evolution of the security situation in the north of the Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique, Total confirms the withdrawal of all Mozambique LNG project personnel from the Afungi site. This situation leads Total, as operator of Mozambique LNG project, to declare force majeure. The suspension of work arising from the “Declaration of Force Majeure” will remain in force until the government restores security in a verifiable and sustainable manner.

Besides that, Mozambique is rocked with frequent kidnappings. In a recent interview with Lusa, the president of Confederation of Economic Associations of Mozambique (CTA), the largest employers’ association in the country, Agostinho Vuma, said that kidnappings targeting entrepreneurs and their relatives are a negative feature of the country’s business environment.

In addition, a report by ratings agency Standard & Poor Global also said militant attacks in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province still pose a “significant threat” to production facilities associated with one the biggest natural gas discoveries in the world.

S&P, which ranks Mozambique’s foreign debt at CCC+, seven rungs below investment grade, said it expected economic growth in the country to recover in 2021 on higher mining output, especially linked to liquefied natural gas (LNG) production.

But that rebound was subject to completion of the gas projects in the face of mounting security risks, as well as risks of droughts and flooding. Mozambique was battered by two massive cyclones in 2019, and another hit its shores in this year.

“If this project comes on stream as expected by 2024-2025, it will benefit Mozambique’s economic outlook, and support wealth levels that are currently very low by global comparison,” said S&P. But most benefits will materialize beyond our current forecast horizon as gas production will likely come on stream in 2025 given the delays experienced in 2021.”

The ratings firm project gross domestic product (GDP) to expand 2.5% in 2021 after last year’s 1.25% contraction. It however sees economic growth to average 5.5% from 2022 onwards.

With an approximate population of 30 million, Mozambique is endowed with rich and extensive natural resources, but remains as one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world. It is one of the 16 countries, with collective responsibility to promote socio-economic and political and security cooperation, within the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

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Mozambique: Total Halts Gas Project, Parliamentary Opposition Parties Demand Accountability

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(image: Mitsui)

The French energy giant Total has finally announced suspension of its gas project and that will leave an unmeasurable impact on the economy of Mozambique.

The Mozambican government has largely failed with its security policy and ignored experts’ advice on security after several warning issued after militant bloody attacks bloody in 2017 by a group known locally as al-Shabab. Experts also attributed attacks to governance deficit and disparity in development in northern Mozambique.

Its scale raised doubts over the viability of the biggest single investment in Africa even before the latest raid. March’s attack on Palma took place just 10 kilometers (six miles) from the gas project’s nerve center, despite a government commitment to set up a 25-kilometre security radius around the site.

French energy giant Total has a massive multi-billion gas project in northern Mozambique, but has now declared a “force majeure” situation beyond its control, a legal concept meaning it can suspend fulfilling contractual obligations.

The declaration “will remain in effect until the Government of Mozambique has restored security and stability in the province… in a verifiable and sustainable manner,” the company said in its official release on April 26.

Meanwhile, the Mozambican parliamentary opposition parties have demanded “scrutiny” of the cost of war in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, accusing the government of “failure” and warning of the risk of the conflict being used for the “illicit enrichment of the elites.”

The requirement was made during the second and last day of questions to the government session in the Assembly of the Republic of Mozambique.

“The defense and security sector must be scrutinized, because elites in times of war use this sector for their illicit enrichment,” said Deputy Fernando Bismarque of the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM), Mozambique’s third-largest parliamentary party.

Insisting on a reply to the question that the MDM had already posed about the costs of the fight against “terrorists” and the use of “mercenaries” in Cabo Delgado, Fernando Bismarque accused the government of making “a secret” of expenditure on the conflict in the north of the country.

“It is the Government’s role to render accounts to the Assembly of the Republic. It is not and should not be any state secret, because it is this House that approved the State Budget and we are within the scope of our constitutional and regimental powers to oversee government action,” the MDM deputy said.

Last week, the Confederation of Economic Associations of Mozambique (CTA) said Total had already suspended contracts with a series of businesses indirectly involved in the gas project.

The National Petroleum Institute (INP), a Mozambique government body that governs energy projects, similarly said that Total “may not fulfil contractual obligations and could suspend or cancel further contracts, depending how long the halt (to construction) lasts.”

The Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy, through the National Petroleum Institute (INP) gave an assurance in a statement that the Mozambican authorities are continuing to work towards the restoration of “normal security conditions” and ensuring that enterprise activities can resume “as soon as possible.”

The suspension of work arising from the “Declaration of Force Majeure” on Total’s LNG project in Mozambique will remain in force until the Government has restored security in the province in a verifiable and sustainable manner.

In the release, the Paris based Total officials said that considering the evolution of the security situation in the north of the Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique, Total confirms the withdrawal of all Mozambique LNG project personnel from the Afungi site. This situation leads Total, as operator of Mozambique LNG project, to declare force majeure.

That however, Total expresses its solidarity with the government and people of Mozambique and wishes that the actions carried out by the government of Mozambique and its regional and international partners will enable the restoration of security and stability in Cabo Delgado province in a sustained manner. Valued at €20 billion, it is the largest ongoing private investment in Africa.

About Total: Total is a broad energy company that produces and markets fuels, natural gas and electricity. Our 100,000 employees are committed to better energy that is more affordable, more reliable, cleaner and accessible to as many people as possible. Active in more than 130 countries, our ambition is to become the responsible energy major.

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NAM has a critical role to play: Interview with one of the most influential women in Africa

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Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, chair at the University of Mauritius, sworn in as the 6th President and the First Female President of the Republic of Mauritius (in 2015).

Forbes List noted her for the 100 ‘Most Powerful women in the world’ and 1st among the Top 100 Women in Africa (Forbes List 2017, 2019). The Foreign Policy’ Magazine listed her as one of the leading Global Thinkers.

What went through your mind when Mauritius majority political party asked you to run as President of the country? Especially given the fact that you had no prior political experience.

In the Republic of Mauritius, the post of Presidency is not a political post per se as the President has replaced the ‘Queen of England’ when the country adopted the status of Republic and thus becomes the Head of State. Executive power rests with the Prime Minister. When I was approached, I said to myself why not – if I can serve my country at the highest level. I am not the first scientist to serve in this position. Other commonwealth countries have done the same.

Gender equality is one of the principal Sustainable Development Goals. It is being debated globally at all levels. In Many African countries there is known to be gender inequality, is that an issue in Mauritius?

Gender equality or inequality is a global issue and that is why we name it on 8th March every year. Does the African continent have more gender inequality ? Good question !.. If we look at the political arena, Africa has some countries who are ahead in gender balancing in Parliament – South Africa, Rwanda etc.. 5 Ladies Presidents on the continent already..  In Mauritius since education became free in 1976, there has been an increase in the feminization of several key sectors including the judiciary, education, medical profession etc.. So I will say that work is still in progress in Mauritius and on the African continent.

What has been your experience regarding this issue during your career and your presidency?

Gender inequality has been pervasive throughout my career. The pecking order is in place and all the way up to the position of Head of State. Patriarchy is omnipresent but I was lucky when I was growing up and I had a cheerleader like my father who taught me that I was capable of doing anything. This boosted my self confidence and from then on, I could take many calculated risks in my life and my career. Risk taking is not taught in any business school, it is an innate feeling that must be inculcated in any young girl. Stereotyping destroys the self confidence in many girls and many are lost as they climb the professional ladder. Societal pressure does not help either. It is time to dao away with these prejudices if economies are to thrive. It has been said ad nauseum that educating a girl is not the right thing to do but the smart thing to do !..

In precolonial Africa there was mostly no (or very little) gender inequality which we may see today. Is it so with Mauritius?

A: I think in pre-colonial days, there were so many other challenges that women rights issues may have not been at the top of the agenda. Nonetheless, in Mauritius the right to vote for women came during the colonial days.

Studies show that women do not take opportunities as much as men do, how do you think nations should encourage young women to take a seat at the table? 

It is cliche to say that women do not seize opportunities. Women are denied opportunities at all levels and so much so that words like ‘quotas’ keep coming up in conversations. Since the CEDAW meeting in Beijing in 1995, many of the gains for women have been reversed only during the Covid era. We have seen so many women losing their jobs; those operating in the informal sector could not access the stimulus package that the government was offering because of the legal status of their business and also one cannot turn a blind eye to domestic violence !

Your Excellency, you are a very fascinating woman, being both religious and a scientist, Is there ever a contradiction in being a woman of god and a woman of science? 

A: There is no incongruity in being a woman in science and one who believes in the Majesty of the Creator. Science is a tool that helps us understand the wonders of the living world and its perfection. We are just cobblers when we say that we are protecting the planet. We are not protecting the planet. We are protecting our survival on this planet. In fact Nature does not need us. Again Covid has amply highlighted this when wild animals took over our cities when we were indoors.

Not only women in politics but also women in science are probably not prominent in Mauritius and perhaps in the sub-Saharan region. Are there any projects you are involved in or keen on?

There are still very few women in science and women in politics for our own good. This applies to Africa and to the whole world. We must empower our girls and our women in all walks of life if our economies are to thrive. An educated woman is one who will take the right decisions for her family, society, country and eventually the world. I am keen on sustainable development goals. They are all ‘systems’ and if we get them right, we will definitely ‘… leave no one behind’..

In a few nations in Europe we have seen it become a law that a certain number of women have to be in positions of power in corporations, in Africa, specifically the sub-Saharan region is that something that could happen in the foreseeable near future? 

Weneedlaws to be able to ensure more female representation as otherwise it will not happen.

Mauritius is a multicultural nation, with nationals from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. What has been key in preventing cultural fragmentation within the country?

In Mauritius, we are a population of immigrants and we all hailed from elsewhere. This has been a powerful reckoning. We are perhaps one of the few countries in the world where you can find a church,  a mosque and a temple within one square kilometer. Over the years, we have developed a way of living together which remains unique in the world. There is a tendency for cultural fragmentation especially at election time but fortunately the social fabric is strong enough to weather this down. At the level of the Presidency, I have always encouraged interfaith and intercultural dialogue. This helped whenever there was any sporadic intercommunal tension.

Transforming and improving the Tech and scientific field in Mauritius (and greater Africa) has been one of your priorities. But big parts of Africa are still dealing with instability in many areas. How would you see the realization of these innovative goals in the current unstable environment in which many African countries fall within?

Mauritius and the African continent are already straddling the 4th Industrial Revolution. Our region is going to have to run before crawling in the light of the potential and challenges that the sector will bring. There are huge potentials if we invest in the right ecosystems that will empower the youth. 4IR will transform how we do business and Africa is blessed with all the necessary material resources. We have to make sure that it works for its people.

How do you think Mauritius and many other African countries should strengthen the integrity of public institutions and government officials? 

There is no doubt that institutions matter. The legacy of all leaders must be strengthened when they leave office. It’s a culture that must be inculcated in our youngsters. Having said this, one must not forget that for every corruptor there is a corruptee !..

As a former president, academic, entrepreneur, and scientist, what is your priority now, and did the political experiences hape your new inhibitions? 

The political world provided me with a pedestal of substance to get my words out. My message will remain the same. We need 100% of our human capital, we need quality education, we need the best institutions, an ecosystem that will empower young people so that a better tomorrow is within reach.

What advice would you give young women today in the workforce?

Dream big but set yourself goals and know that there is nothing in this world that you cannot do.. Take risks and deliver on your promises to yourself… 

What are your thoughts on the current discussions of the Vienna Process?

Past Brexit, the EU Europe is perceived to becoming smaller and more fragile, while the non-EU Europe is growing more detached and disenfranchised. At this moment in time while the world is still in the grips of the unfolding crisis, there is a rallying call for more integration. On the medium to longer term, an integrated and united Europe will be necessary. The world will emerge as a multipolar world and a united Europe will help ensure peace, security and also the much needed multilateral system to tackle global issues. The Vienna Process seems indispensable for the future of Europe, and we in Africa will observe it as an interesting model to learn from.

Lastly, do we need an reinvigorated Non aligned movement today or it is movement of the past?

Some of the members of the NAM are presently among the G20 countries which produce over 80% of the Global GDP. I think that with two thirds of UN Member States, the Non-Aligned Movement has a critical role to play in forging global solidarity and help address global challenges. The NaM marked important past, but has certainly its bright future, too.

***

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim (GCSK, CSK, PhD, Dsc) has been the Managing Director of the Centre International de Développement Pharmaceutique (CIDP) Research and Innovation as well as Professor of Organic Chemistry with an endowed chair at the University of Mauritius. Since 2001, she has served successively as Dean of the Faculty of Science and Pro Vice Chancellor (2004- 2010). She has also worked at the Mauritius Research Council as Manager for Research (1995-1997).

Ms Gurib-Fakim earned a BSc in Chemistry from the University of Surrey (1983) and a PhD from the University of Exeter, UK (1987). During her academic journey, she has participated in several consultation meetings on environmental issues organized by international organizations. Between 2011-2013, she was elected and served as Chairperson of the International Council for Scientific Union – Regional Office for Africa, and served as an Independent Director on the Board of Barclays Bank of Mauritius Ltd between (2012-2015).

As a Founding Member of the Pan African Association of African Medicinal Plants, she co-authored the first ever African Herbal Pharmacopoeia. She has authored and co-edited 30 books, several book chapters and scientific articles in the field of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. She has lectured extensively across the world; is a Member of the Editorial Boards of major journals, has served on Technical and national committees in various capacities. Elevated to the Order of the Commander of the Star and Key by the Government of Mauritius in 2008, she has been admitted to the Order of the Chevalier dans L’Ordre des Palmes Academiques by the Government of France in 2010 and is the recipient of 5 DSc (s).

Elected Fellow of several academies and societies, Ms Gurib-Fakim received several international prizes including the 2007 l’Oreal-UNESCO Prize for Women in Science, the African Union Commission Award for Women in Science, 2009.

On 05 June 2015, she was sworn in as the 6th President and the First Female President of the Republic of Mauritius and served in that capacity until March 2018.

She was elevated to the Order of GCSK by the Government of Mauritius, and received the Legion d’Honneur from the Government of France in 2016. In 2017, she received both the lifelong achievement award of the United States Pharmacopoeia-CePat Award and the American Botanical Council Norman Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award. In 2018, she received the Order of St George at the Semperopernball, Dresden, Germany. In 2019, she received the ‘Trailblazing award for political leadership’ by the World Women Leaders Council in Iceland. In 2020, she was elected Honorary President of the International and Engineering Institute and received their 2020 5th IETI Annual Scientific Award. She also received the IAS-COMSTECH Ibrahim Memorial Award from the WIAS in Jordan. In 2021, she received the Benazir Bhutto Lifetime Achievement Award.

In June 2016, she was in the Forbes List for the 100 ‘Most Powerful women in the world’ and 1st among the Top 100 Women in Africa Forbes List 2017, 2019. She is honoured as one of Foreign Policy’s 2015 Global Thinkers.

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