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Conflict In Northern Ethiopia: Pathways To Peace And Normalization

Ethiopian refugees fleeing clashes in the country's northern Tigray region, rest and cook meals near UNHCR's Hamdayet reception centre after crossing into Sudan. © UNHCR/Hazim Elhag

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On 28 November, Ethiopian federal troops captured Mekelle, the capital of Tigray province in northern Ethiopia. For the first time in decades, the fighting involved formed military units after the Army’s Northern Command had been attacked by forces loyal to the Tigray TPLF.The TPLF political group held power in Ethiopia for decades prior to the government of PM Abiy. The last major military engagement in the Horn of Africa Region was fought on the 1000-kmborder between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the border war 1998-2000over areas close to the current conflict theatre. The fighting claimed over 100,000 lives and caused massive deportations on both sides.

Although an all-out siege of Mekelle was avoided, the region contains much combustible material and security risks- hovering perilously near an inter-state conflict. This was underscored by the rocket attack last Saturday from Tigray against the airport area in Asmara in neighboring Eritrea- the third such strike since the conflict started three weeks before. In the last few years, the wider Horn of Africa and IGAD region had become a beacon of hope  for increased stability and integration: this includes PM Abiy’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, political transition in Sudan after the fall of the Al-Bashir regime and peace deals with rebel groups earlier in 2020.  The new conflict has once again exposed the weak state of multilateralism during the COVID-19 Pandemic, lack of consensus in the UN Security Council and the gulf between ambitions and realities in conflict prevention and conflict resolution.

All signs point to continued escalation risks in the conflict. Foreign observers agree that there is no quick end to the fighting. TPLF has apparently sidestepped the Army’s assault and may still command a considerable arsenal, according to a new statement by the fugitive TPFL leader from near Mekelle. TPLFis poised to wage a guerilla campaign in the north, which has been its strength against previous central governments in Ethiopia. If the conflict spirals out of control and unrest affects other regions inside Ethiopia, there is a lot at stake: Ethiopia will be weakened as an eminent power in the region, spillover into neighboring states may occur.

Human Security, Protection Of Civilians And Economic Issues

Already before the conflict, the civilian population of northern Ethiopia was facing great challenges. The hostilities have further weakened human security in a region plagued by drought and food scarcity, experiencing climate change effects such as transboundary locust swarms. Refugee movements peaked last week in Sudan which has received some 43,000 arrivals from Tigray and increased the stress on its resources. UNHCR has appealed for about $150 mln USD in relief. Tigray also houses about 96,000 refugees from Eritrea in several camps. During the latest fighting, the killing of hundreds of civilians at Mai-Kadra on 9 November near the border between Tigray and Amhara regions of Ethiopia  illustrated the lack of civilian protection and raised fears of more violence and retaliation. Ethiopian authorities have now stated they would establish humanitarian corridors after Tigray was effectively cut off from humanitarian aid for a month and the UN repeatedly urged  humanitarian access.

The conflict is also deepening Ethiopia’s economic trouble from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. with a projected decline from 1.9% in 2020 to zero in 2021, according to the IMF.Young peoplein particular struggle to find employment and have been recruited into provincial militias or political party militant groups. Despite its political differences and the expansion of a transport corridors with Djibouti and from Berbera Port in Somaliland, Tigray has long dominated the Ethiopian import business and its entrepreneurial class is quite established in Addis Ababa.

Vulnerable Neighboring States And Proxy Wars

Stability in northern Ethiopia is paramount for the regional neighbors, including Sudan and Somalia. They are in the middle of their own transitions and vulnerable to external shocks and political destabilization. Eastern Sudan saw tribal clashes and unrest in Kassala and Port Sudan cities in early 2020; Sudan still has many armed factions that might benefit from turmoil in northern Ethiopia. Ethiopian troop withdrawals from Somalia as a result from conflict in Tigray could additionally imperil the electoral calendar for Somalia and embolden Al-Shabaab terrorists. Continued and escalating violence could provoke more massive refugee flows and lead to an “African world war” scenario in the Horn Region, according to analysts. Across the Horn of Africa, the conduct of proxy wars by supporting domestic rebel groups in rival countries had been a pattern in the 20th century after de-colonization.

Just across the Tigray border, the authoritarian regime of Eritrea remains highly militarized. It remains a mercurial player with possible regional power ambitions in the new conflict. In 2018, President Afewerki and PM Abiy managed to form an understanding but neuralgic points along the  border such as the disputed town of Badme persist in the absence of a demarcation line. Anecdotal information suggests that Eritrea allowed sophisticated weapons such as drones to be launched from its territory. It also sheltered Ethiopian military from TPLF forces while carrying out large sweeps for mobilization in Asmara which were reportedly extended to some refugee camps inside Ethiopia. 

Unpredictable military moves in an area fraught with a history of tension can create misunderstandings and easily spark wider conflagrations. As a small state that has so far been unaffected by the violence, Djibouti prides itself of stability but remains potentially also at risk. The country is still nominally at war with Eritrea. Just after the Ethiopia-Eritrea border war, Djibouti hosted tripartite military talks under UNMEE UN-Mission auspices in the form of a Military Coordination Commission. For transparency and arms control in northern Ethiopia and its border regions, similar confidence building efforts could take place. This could manage further escalation potentials and discuss sensitive reform steps in the military and security posture of Tigray.     

Geopolitics In The Red Sea Region And The Nile Basin

Although there is no evidence of any outside power interfering with the conflict in northern Ethiopia, extra-regional powers are by no means disinterested. These actors include Egypt which vigorously opposes the completion of Ethiopia’s new „Grand Renaissance Dam“ on the Blue Nile for fears of water security as well as the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and China. Russia is considering building a new naval base on the Red Sea in Sudan. 

IGAD regional states have only recently started systematic information sharing and joint dialogue for the Red Sea Region among littoral states and some important neighbors. Consultative meetings were held with all IGAD members through an IGAD Task Force for the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, established in February 2019. It is in this complex geopolitical environment that Djibouti may have a role to play, as a realistic and trusted actor on the doorstep of the strategically important Babel-Mandeb Strait. Further up from Djibouti on the Red Sea along the Eritrean seacoast, the shipping lane is only about 150 km from Ethiopian territory and caries significant international traffic for Energy security in Europe. Interference or a surge in illegal migration across the Red Sea towards the Gulf States would have to be avoided at all costs. Nothing could illustrate better the sensitivity of Djibouti’s strategic location than the concentrated military presence. There are no less than five foreign military bases in Djibouti. The US keeps its largest base in Africa there and China its largest overseas base, along with France, Italy and Japan.   

The Way Forward In Conflict Resolution And Mediation

PM Abiy has so far refused outside mediation or negotiation with the TPLF faction, labelling the intervention a “law enforcement action” and an internal matter of Ethiopia. The designated panel of African Union mediators (three former heads of state from Liberia, Mozambique and South Africa) has not been allowed to engage after they arrived in Addis Ababa last week. Commentators have criticized the AU of being inconsistent and bowing to Ethiopian pressure, since the AU is headquartered in Addis Ababa. The EU has nominated Finland’s Foreign Minister as an Envoy for the conflict, and both the EU and the UN  already keep envoys for the Horn of Africa in Nairobi and in Addis Ababa. High-level coordination and cooperation are therefore well resourced. Once sufficient trust has been built for an Ethiopian-led process to bring the protagonists to the table, flanking support can be provided to an African Union mediation effort.

Despite the current challenges, an Ethiopian-led genuine dialogue and comprehensive normalization process can still gain traction. This would require a tailored set of confidence building measures (CBMs) to reassure the parties that a return to the battlefield is firmly excluded and a modicum of oversight internationally guaranteed. Incentives can be created  for quick recovery, restoring trust in stability among neighboring states, and in justice and the rule of law as harbingers of reform which is a shared interest of all protagonists. Along the vectors of conflict risks outlines above, these initiatives can help open the door to national reconciliation and more comprehensive mediation processes around the time of the next Ethiopian general election in 2021.

Some analysts are proposing a basic3-Step Planto launch negotiations (including ceasefire, humanitarian access, mutual acceptance and national dialogue for a new dispensation of power in state and federal level relations as well as constitutional reform). In the Horn of Africa region, many leaders are cautious about formal ‘power sharing’ arrangements which showed their limits in situations such as South Sudan. Therefore, smaller discreet steps and targeted incentives run in parallel might be advisable in the short run to create a more conducive environment for broader mediated talks:

  1. Provide expertise for an inventory of heavy and crew-served weapons and cantonment under mixed supervision, e.g. with International Observers.
  • Establish common principles for Security Sector Reform steps in affected areas, with focus on the regime and command and control over provincial militias / paramilitary units and police forces as well as training in Protection of Civilians; monitoring of military tribunals to ensure the conflict parties are seeing fair trials against worst offenders.
  • Launch rapid projects for connecting infrastructure and self-help reconstruction for returnees with the goal of normalizing conditions in Tigray province and on the borders;devise labor-intensive programs to benefit transport and trade corridors as  outlined by the World Bank and African Development Bank in order to boost the region’s economic potentials, create jobs and foster entrepreneurship.

Matthias E Leitner, Senior Adviser/ International Coordinator with ICSVE Center Washington, DC (USA), Berlin-based Matthias Ernst LEITNER has over 20 years’ experience in international peace and security, mainly in UN and regional peace operations across Africa and in the Middle East. His professional focus is on governance/ accountability, national dialogues and coalition building as well as on project development for preventing violent extremism and radicalization. Mr. Leitner has held senior management positions with UN Special Envoy Offices. His ongoing interest is in UN reforms, peacebuilding and innovative approaches for resilience to the COVID-19 Pandemic. His academic background from Bonn and Oxford Universities is in languages and history.

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Criticism Highlights Russia’s Media Weakness in Africa

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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 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, Sputnik News and Russia Today), TASS News Agency and Interfax Information Service. These are powerful and reputable Russian brands, compared to most well-known Western and European media organizations operate in and 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 organized 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 showed 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 the media from sub-Saharan Africa. That trend remains unchanged even after the first Russia-Africa Summit, held 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 at the 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. The African middle class is twice Russia’s population and almost the size the population of United States. According to UN forecasts, the Africa’s middle class, constitutes a very huge vibrant information-consuming market, will exceed 350 million by 2025.

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 continue to attract more and more academic discussions. 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 on 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 African 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, most Africans have had enough of all these public discussions. 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 therefore means taking concrete practical steps toward an effective 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.

Moscow hosted the first Russia-Africa Public Forum in October 2018, most of the issues emerging from there and diverse opinions expressed at that gathering are useful for improving current relationship. As already known, Russia has a long-time relationship with Africa. Russia and Africa have to make that mutual desire to step up cooperation in all areas including social spheres and public outreach diplomacy. In this connection, it requires complete understanding, necessary primary support for new initiatives and, as always reiterated, commitment to dynamic work to expand traditionally friendly relations with Africa.

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For 25 Years, At Least, CPLP Exists by Its Historical Name

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In Luanda, capital of Angola, hosted the 13th Conference of Heads of State and Government of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) with the key objective of reviewing the historical past and discussing effective pathways for the future. Through its history, the CPLP has largely been known as an organization, besides that, much has been shrewd away from public domain including its development processes, collective challenges and achievements, and impact on global scene.

In mid-July, Angola hosted the conference under the theme: “Building and Strengthening a Common and Sustainable Future” and the theme, without doubts, highlights the importance of building a common and sustainable future that promotes sustainable development and the effective improvement of the population’s quality of life.

During the conference, as expected, the heads of state and government had the opportunity to discuss relevant issues for the respective countries and establish a cooperation framework in line with the current international situation. A number of representatives also had the chance to address the strategic views for the organization.

According to reports, Angola takes over the presidency of the organization for the next two years (2021-2023). As the host of the 13th conference, at the same time, marks the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the CPLP organization, Angolan President João Lourenço, delivered his welcome and closing addresses full of all diplomatic niceties, reminding detailing the primary objectives and vividly itemizing various tasks as the way forward into the future.

Monitoring those issues, as contained in his speech, sparked off one significant proposal. President Lourenço launched the challenge of creating an investment bank for the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). “We can be a relevant economic force if we work for this we have left the challenge of starting to think about the pertinence and feasibility of creating a CPLP Investment Bank.”

According to his analysis, belated though, the creation of this potential bank is in line with the intention to include a new economic and business pillar, one of the priorities of the Angolan CPLP presidency.

President of the Business Confederation of the Community of Portuguese-Language Countries (CE-CPLP), Salimo Abdula, explained that it was with “satisfaction” that he had heard the announcement from Angola’s President, João Lourenço, about fortification plans for an economic pillar among the members of the ornization.

“We want to congratulate Angola,” Abdula said. “We know that it wants to invest in a fourth pillar – the economic one, and business cooperation. This is exactly what the Business Confederation of the CPLP (CE-CPLP) has been developing for years,” he said, adding that the idea of creating an investment bank, as proposed by President Lourenço in his inaugural speech as holder of the presidency, “is welcome, it is in fact a project that the Business Confederation has been developing for some time.”

Abdula, who comes from Mozambique, recalled that in 2014, there was a conference in Lisbon attended by representatives of central and commercial banks from almost all CPLP member states, “under the coordination and leadership of the Confederation, with the aim of studying an investment or development bank, which could support the integration of companies and not only, but also the needs for investment in infrastructure in a large part of the countries” mainly in Portuguese-language countries in Africa.

While acknowledging that this type of project is complex and takes time to implement, Abdula noted that the Confederation had, at the time, made a proposal for the CPLP to go ahead and create such a bank. “That was during the East Timor presidency, in 2014,” he recalled. It took some time to respond but, when it did, it gave a positive response, yet to date nothing has moved forward. The CE-CPLP did not, however, give up on the idea, according to Abdula.

“We have indeed consulted some states about what type of bank would be acceptable, whether with mixed capital or public capital, and the trend is towards mixed capital, that is public and private,” he said, explaining further that it would thus be “a bank with less political interference, with a more impartial governance, in order to ensure the interests of all countries across the board.”

More recently, the Confederation took up the issue again, at a business summit it organized in May in Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea, a CPLP member since 2014, which Abdula noted was attended by some political leaders. According to the Confederation President, “there was a positive manifestation from the government of Equatorial Guinea that it would look at this project” and several commercial banks have showed interest in this project.

Taking his turn at the conference, Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa discussed, at length, the agreement on free movement within the Community of Portuguese-Language Countries (CPLP) and offered an assurance that parliament will ratify at the beginning of the next legislative session in September.

“The government is thus making an immediate priority of the parliamentary ratification of this agreement as well as the respective legislative framework on free movement and on academic qualifications. As soon as the work of the Portuguese parliament reopens, we will present this agreement for ratification and also the legislative framework that will allow for speeding up both the circulation and recognition of (academic) qualifications, because this is fundamental to people’s lives,” Costa told the conference gathering.

Costa then referred to problems that have existed in the past between Portuguese-language countries, such as Portugal and Brazil. “With this agreement, we will not again have the crisis of Brazilian dentists in Portugal (as in the 1980s), or, more recently, of Portuguese engineers in Brazil,” he said, referring to two situations where there was no mutual recognition of qualifications. Costa then moved to temper expectations, saying that the framework agreement on free movement “still requires development” and further diplomatic work.

Prime Minister of São Tomé and Principé Jorge Bom Jesus also comment positively on the mobility agreement will create a great space for movement and will allow movement within the CPLP. “We have to join forces to find new solutions to old structural problems, particularly from an economic point of view,” he said.

It is necessary for bilateral meetings to discuss cooperation, share several economic dossiers, debt, investments in the areas of energy, agriculture, industry, human resources and other strategic investments, Jorge Bom Jesus said and added “These are precisely for us to join forces and face the problems because they are common, which is why the solutions also have to be common.”

For many delegates, the conference is a platform to express primarily their views and reiterated vehemently the huge untapped potentials among the members. Portuguese-Mozambican businessman Paulo Oliveira said by illustrating the fact that the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) is a house where you must apply for a permit to go from the bedroom to the kitchen, to illustrate barriers to investment. “The way of approach is completely different from one country to another, within the CPLP, and this, sometimes delays investment that could be carried out in a faster way,” he stressed.

As a further indication of optimism, Paulo Oliveira frankly believes opening of borders to greater mobility should be gradual – without throwing the doors wide open – with businesspeople, students and cultural agents in the front line. In his argument, it is necessary to take additional collaborative efforts towards shaping business development among the members. For example, in order to enhance investments in this organization, a common CPLP visa for business people and specialized labor would be a possible mechanism. In practice, all countries have things to offer if there is a different kind of mobility.

In an interview with Portuguese News Agency Lusa in Lisbon ahead of the conference, Portugal’s Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva indicated that Portugal expected what he described as “firmest and most absolute solidarity” from all member states of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) over the situation in Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

Asked about a strengthening of multilateral cooperation under the CPLP, the head of Portuguese diplomacy was more cautious, but noted that there are missions from Portugal and other countries underway as well as from organizations such as the European Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to help with security in Mozambique.

The conference, however, saw some progressive steps. The members signed an Agreement on Mobility and on Economic and Investment Cooperation.

The agreement on mobility establishes a “framework for cooperation” among all member states in a “flexible and variable” manner and, in practice, covers all citizens. Member states are offered range of solutions enabling them to take on “mobility commitments in a progressive manner with differentiated levels of integration”, taking account of their own internal specificities in their political, social and administrative dimensions.

In this context, the “freedom in the choice of the mobility modalities, of the categories of persons covered” as well as of the countries of the community with which they wish to establish partnerships. For two decades, the question on facilitating movement has been discussed consistently among the members without any concrete decision. Strengthening economic cooperation is another thorny question still on the table.

During the conference, Namibia’s President Hage Geingob commended Portuguese-speaking countries for their effort to open up borders to foster economic co-operation and hails Lusophone unity necessary for pursuing their multifaceted ambitions. He said the agreement on mobility among CPLP member states that “is an important step in making sure that our borders remain open to strengthen and promote business and economic relations in times of the pandemic.”

President Geingob added explicitly that, “As observer states, we join hands with CPLP members to strengthen our local, regional and global governance architecture. The values of international cooperation and multilateralism that underpin the CPLP are fundamental for the promotion and strengthening of peace and security and socio-economic development. The equality of all states cannot be over-emphasized, as stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations. Let us, therefore, continue to treasure the unity of our nations, a unity forged in blood and defined by kinship.”

President of the Republic of Cabo Verde, Jorge Carlos de Almeida Fonseca, praised the political and diplomatic coordination in improving the assertion of CPLP countries in the international arena, reiterated its commitment to strengthening solidarity and cooperation aimed at ensuring the economic and social development of the peoples.

In short communique referred to as the “Luanda Declaration” signed by the Heads of State and Government and their representatives at the end of the 13th CPLP Conference, the participants reiterated their commitment to peace and harmony, the rule of law, democracy, human rights and social justice.

The leaders welcomed the choice of the motto “Building and strengthening a common and sustainable future” for the event and pledged to promote political dialogue, exchange of experiences and cooperation, with a view to enhancing the achievements of the CPLP in all areas.

As considered an additional challenge to the fulfillment of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals within the community, expressed regret at multiple factors hindering this development process. The CPLP reiterated the need to build public policies aimed at creating the necessary infrastructure to democratize access to new technologies, promoting training and education suitable for their use.

The Heads of State and Government decided to increase multilateral action in terms of capacity building, sharing of experiences, networking initiatives and development of partnerships, within the scope of promoting trade and investment aimed to preserve and create decent jobs, income and productive capacity.

They reiterated the importance of progressively integrating economic cooperation into the general objectives of the CPLP, as well as the consolidation of a multilateral community agenda for the sector, with a view to contributing to the economic and social development of the member states.

They adopted the Mobility Agreement between member states, an instrument that aims to effectively, contribute to greater circulation within the community, to increase cooperation relations in all areas and to promote the feeling of belonging to the CPLP.

Attended the ceremony also the Presidents Cabo Verde Jorge Carlos Fonseca, Guinea-Bissau Umaro Sissoco Embaló and Vice President of Brazil Hamilton Mourão. There were representatives of the Heads of State of Mozambique, East Timor and Equatorial Guinea, Special Representative of the United Nations François Lounecény Fall, as well as representatives of the United Nations and the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).

There were social and cultural aspects of the conference. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa donated his José Aparecido de Oliveira prize, stressing that the CPLP “is a community of common principles and values” while he presented the prize awarded  by the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), to the victims of terrorism in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique.

Established in 2011 and biennial in nature, the José Aparecido de Oliveira prize, named after one of the main creators of the CPLP, honors personalities and institutions that stand out in the defence, appreciation and promotion of principles and values and community objectives, as well as in carrying out studies and related research work.

Mozambique’s Leonardo Simão appointed CPLP Goodwill Ambassador, a new resolution approved at the Luanda concerns the approval of new CPLP Goodwill Ambassadors. Among those appointed for a four-year mandate, renewable for a further four years, were Leonardo Santos Simão, a former Foreign Minister of Mozambique, for the area of political and diplomatic consultation, and Filipe Silvino de Pina Zau, a University Professor and Researcher in Angola, for the Portuguese language area.

Two leading athletes from Portugal – Olympic triple-jump champion Nelson Évora, and another triple-jump athlete, Patrícia Mamona, who this year won the gold medal at the indoor European Athletics Championships, are the ambassadors for the areas of youth, sport and gender equality.

The fundamental role of CPLP Goodwill Ambassador is to “widely promote the objectives and disseminate the activities of the CPLP.” These are social and cultural developments at the 13th Conference of Heads of State and Government, chaired by Angola, so also was the signing of an agreement on free movement and the declaration of a new priority: strengthening economic relations.

With headquarters in Lisbon, CPLP is a multi-regional organization created in 1996. It comprises Angola, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe and East Timor. The CPLP Conference of Heads of State and Government is the community’s highest organ. It meets every two years and is responsible for defining and guiding its general policy and strategies.

The Associate Observer and Consultative Observer status, without the right to vote, were established in 2005. Consultative observers, of which there are now more than 100, are civil society organizations that may develop joint projects with the CPLP. Namibia is among 19 observer countries to the CPLP together with Uruguay, Senegal, Georgia, Japan, Turkey, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Mauritius, Argentina, Chile, Italy, Andorra, France, Luxembourg, Serbia, and the United Kingdom.

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Africa

Former South African president is pursuing a treasonous strategy

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The foundation of our Constitutional order is its claim to and maintenance of legitimacy. A threat to its legitimacy is an existential threat to the State and its citizens. Jacob Zuma’s Stalingrad legal defence and perpetual victimhood are among the tactics he employs in pursuit of his strategy. We must see the forest for the trees. Zuma is actively pursuing the delegitimisation of the South African State. This pursuit becomes apparent when examining his central stratagems.

Undermining the State’s authority

Zuma asserts that it is not him, but the State that is behaving in an unconstitutional manner. In his challenge to the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Zuma alleges that he cannot conscientiously comply with the Commission as its terms and therefore the entire Commission is irregular. He says that it “recommended that the chairperson of the inquiry be appointed by the Chief Justice and not the president as is the normal and correct legal procedure”. On these grounds, Zuma claims that the Commission chaired by Justice Zondo is legally invalid and that he, therefore, cannot legally engage it. Only if Zondo recuses himself, as demanded by Zuma, would the Commission not be illegal. “Had Judge Zondo simply recused himself”, said Zuma in his 4 July media conference, “the people of South Africa would have heard my version”. In an affidavit, Zuma says: “I do not believe that it was established in terms of the Constitution…that issue will be the albatross around the neck of its legitimacy”.

Zuma builds from this foundation, asserting his innocence. He maintains that the Commission’s actions against him were invalid. Conscious of his centrality to the Commission, he must have anticipated as the former President, or simply to assure his compliance, that it would provide him with certain privileges. He was right. In its judgement ordering Zuma to answer to the Commission, the Constitutional Court found that the Commission was indeed biased and afforded Zuma special treatment; “no reason was furnished for this favourable treatment to the former president. The commission was alive to the fact that the Constitution requires the equal treatment of witnesses under the law”. This judgement should not be misconstrued. It was a major victory for Zuma’s strategy to discredit the State’s authority.

Zuma’s defence in his corruption trial follows a similar approach. His special plea and his call for acquittal are based on the argument that advocate Billy Downer has no title to prosecute. That the state has an illegitimate prosecution and that thereby the State is illegitimate. Again, while his stratagem may not achieve his personal ends, it primarily seeks to asperse the authority of the State. 

When served with an order from the Constitutional Court to attend the Commission, Zuma did not oppose. Instead, he maintained that he could not participate with the proceedings of an illegitimate Commission. By compelling him to attend, Zuma argues that the Constitutional Court was itself acting illegitimately by advancing an invalid institution. It follows then that when Zuma was asked to submit to the court’s requests, to comply with the summons from the Commission, he refused. Instead, he wrote a lengthy letter casting aspersion on the justices of the Constitutional Court, alleging the Court to have become politicised and thereby failing to uphold the Constitution.

Political subversion of Constitutional authority

Throughout Zuma has maintained that he does not regard himself to be above the law. That his actions should not be construed as being defiant to legal processes. Instead, says Zuma, he is being defiant of those who are failing to uphold and apply the law. This is a political charge that seeks to subvert State institutions to the realm of politics.

Zuma’s refusals to comply with the legal orders, and his arguments that the State has denigrated his Constitutional rights are charges of injustice committed against his person. His claim of being a conscientious objector who is “not scared of going to jail for my beliefs”, suggests that his is the just and authoritative approach. This is unprecedented. Much of what he says and does has legal and other experts confused. How could he, guided by his lawyers not see his arguments to be legally irregular and irrelevant. Herein lies the rub: by making a passionate claim about State affairs as applied to his person, he is not making a legal but instead a political argument that seeks to elevate political above legal authority.

Zuma makes the affairs of the State a matter as applied to individuals and not about the dispassionate application of Constitutional ideals and principles. By personally challenging State institutions, Zuma subjugates the ends of the State to the ends of politics. He uses his stature to peddle misrepresentations about his supposed poor health and financial strain. He misdirects, saying that sending him to jail during the pandemic would be a death sentence. This performance seeks to ensure that the courts engage him personally. When legal rulings are made, he contorts them into being political, stating that judges are biased and have vendettas against him.

Zuma’s populist claim is that legal power is constrained, that the Constitutional order is ineffective in achieving the revolutionary ends of the liberation movement. Instead, it is only through politics that the ends of the materialist revolution, or simply Radical Economic Transformation can be achieved. To Zuma, the Constitutional State was always a means towards the ends of the revolution. Unconstrained political power, where the ends justify the means is therefore the superior and legitimate approach. 

Equating Constitutional democracy with Apartheid

The greatest challenge to the South African state is for the Constitutional order to be popularly delegitimized. A central charge Zuma employs is to liken the Constitutional to the Apartheid State. He knows very well that the just and legitimate South African order is seen relative to the unjust, immoral system that preceded it. Constitutional legitimacy is founded upon it perpetually surmounting and transforming the illegitimacy of the Apartheid regime. Zuma has increasingly equated his current treatment to that which he experienced under Apartheid. He says that the Commission is behaving “exactly like the Apartheid government”, alleging there to be “a judicial dictatorship in South Africa…like the injustice of Apartheid”. In his letter to the Constitutional Court, he states: “I had never imagined that there would come a time when a democratic government in South Africa built on Constitutional values would behave exactly like the apartheid government”. Zuma lambasts the current regime; “I am very concerned that South Africa is fast sliding back into Apartheid-type rule”. He compares his treatment to that of Robert Sobukwe’s arbitrary imprisonment and says that lockdown has “all the hallmarks of a state of emergency and the curfews of the 1980s…the substance is exactly the same. Being jailed without trial is not different to the Apartheid detention without trial”. This latter claim, of being jailed by the Constitutional Court ruling as a court of first instance, has become a primary and powerful proof in his strategic argument. By equating the democratic to the Apartheid regimes, he legitimises any action against it; “I am left with no other alternative but to be defiant against injustice as I did against the apartheid government”.

Subverting order to disorder

Zuma and his acolytes instigate disorder. The violent protests that are spreading throughout the nation do not only recall the anti-Apartheid tactics of sowing instability and fear. They are justified by Zuma insisting that the democratic State is akin to the illegitimate Apartheid State.

By defying its orders, Zuma challenges the State institutions to pronounce and to act against him. By demanding that the High Court declare on a Constitutional Court judgement and then to say if the court does not find in his favour that anarchy will descend over the country is an existential threat. Zuma does not only pit the courts against each other, he maliciously contends that the minority judgement of the Constitutional Court signifies contention between judges. Zuma knows that the Constitutional Court has no operational force, that its legitimacy resides in precedent and trust. By muddying judicial precedent and suggesting judicial discord, he provokes others to follow his destabilising course.

Not only does he personally attack the judges, but he also uses the values whereupon the State is founded against itself. Accusing the State of not upholding Constitutional values, while rejecting these values in his invective not only flies in the face of the national project, it seeks to derail the transformational and reconciliatory national project. Leaders are expected to embody the ideals that afford the State legitimacy. Zuma uses politics, rejects ideals, and breaks the State down.

Moving forward

When we look beyond Zuma’s ad hoc postures, we see a calculated and consistent strategy to undermine the supremacy of the Constitutional order. Though he may have handed himself over, count on him to use his acquiescence as a proof to further his greater strategy. It is time to look past individual misdemeanours. If his plan of attack is not appropriately rebuffed, his followers and others will increasingly employ similar, fundamentally dangerous approaches. The State cannot merely deny Zuma’s assertion that it is illegitimate. It must prove its legitimacy by charging those whose intents and actions threaten its fundamental existence.

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