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Africa’s development must be based on resilient approaches with nature and people at the center

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In this insightful and wide-ranging interview, Professor Patrick Verkooijen, Chief Executive Officer of Global Center on Adaptation discusses the organization’s establishment, its main objectives, challenges and the plans for the future.

The Global Center on Adaptation in Africa (GCA Africa), based at the African Development Bank (AfDB), has launched the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program to mobilize US$25 billion to scale up transformative actions on climate adaptation. It hopes to mobilize funds and bridge the financing gap for climate adaptation across Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

What does the setting up of the Global Center on Adaptation mean for Africa?

Africa is on the frontline of our climate emergency. Five out of the ten world most climate vulnerable countries are in Africa. Contributing a meager 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Africa is more victim than contributor to climate change, with the bulk of its emissions deriving from deforestation and poor land use practices. Climate change is already negatively affecting the continent’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Its impacts are showing up in extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and heatwaves affecting most of the continent with severe economic consequences. Hurricanes Idai and Kenneth in 2018 that hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi affected over 3 million people, led to the death of over a thousand people and damaged infrastructure worth about US$ 2 billion.

Compounding the already enormous climate challenges, Covid-19 has ushered in an era of multiple, intersecting systemic shocks, and one of its casualties has been our capacity to adapt and respond to escalating climate risks. Investment in climate adaptation fell in 2020, even as more than 50 million people were affected. There is no doubt the adaptation challenge for Africa is extraordinary. For us, although the adaptation challenge is a global agenda, our priority is Africa.

We must make up for lost ground and lost time by accelerating action on climate adaption and resilience. Climate change did not stop because of Covid-19, and neither should the urgent task of preparing humanity to live with the multiple effects of a warming planet. If the virus is a shared global challenge so too should be the need to build resilience against future shocks.

In September last year, in the midst of the pandemic, we virtually launched our Africa office hosted by the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Many African Heads of State and Government participated – they understand how vital accelerated adaptation action is because they are living with the impacts of climate change every day.Our rationale is that it doesn’t make sense to have an Africa office in isolation. We also have offices in Beijing and Dhaka because we think solutions that work well in South Asia, for example, could potentially also be translated to Africa and vice versa.

Do you target regions and different segments of the population in Africa? How do you determine and direct the activities of the GCA-Africa?

If we fail to include fairness and equity in how we adapt to a warming planet, we risk pushing millions more people into poverty. We know how that story ends – with more conflict, migration and instability. With that in mind, we work closely with our partners including the African Adaptation Initiative and the African Development Bank to ensure our activities are directed towards where the need is greatest. Partneringwith existing networks, platforms and organizations ensures that we don’t duplicate existing resources but can play a role in effectively filling the gaps that exist.

Right now global, regional, national, subnational and local entities are working simultaneously, and in parallel to support adaptation actions and many important initiatives exist. However, the speed and scale of adaptation action is grossly insufficient to meet the demand and many stakeholders are not connected to the resources, knowledge, expertise or support others can offer them. GCA is key to bridging this gap while ensuring at the same time that best practices can be replicated and scaled up in order to catalyze progress towards resilience in the most effective and efficient way.

Africa’s development – be it in infrastructure, agricultural production, urban development, and youth empowerment – can have a different path from other regions. Africa can have a development that is based on deep understanding of climate risks for planning, resilient approaches with nature and people at the center, and continuous innovations in technology, financing, and governance for a climate-smart adapted future.

What are the long-term priority objectives here? But in the short-term, what projects would you tackle in Africa?

The short-term objective, in terms of the programs, is to make sure that when COVID-19 support packages are developed — and they are being developed in real time by the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and other partners — they have resilience or adaptation action embedded in them. Current estimates of the cost of climate change to Africa are between US$7 – US$15 billion per year. African countries are projected to experience clear detrimental macroeconomic consequences from climate change over the coming decades. The IMF estimates that this cost could rise to US$50 billion by 2040, about 3% of the continent’s GDP. It is estimated that climate change could result in lower GDP per capita growth ranging, on average, from 10 to 13 per cent, with the poorest countries in Africa displaying the highest adaptation deficit. So it’s important we act, and we act now.

Let me give an example. As part of the recovery package in Africa and other continents, there is a lot of investment in infrastructure. We want to make sure that these investments have climate risk embedded in their design and hence in their implementation and maintenance. We don’t want to build infrastructure anymore which will be destroyed when the next floods come.

For us there is a very simple business case, over and above a moral argument, that investing in adaptation is good economics. We think that it is absolutely vital that, in the development of these new infrastructure projects or agriculture projects, that the climate lens is being applied consistently, and that is what we are planning to do in Africa long-term. We are developing tools, guidelines, methodologies, and innovation programs for governments and development partners to do precisely that.You cannot develop properly without taking climate into consideration. There is this integrated approach that is not always applied, not only in Africa but also across the globe. That is what we are working on.

Since the start of this initiative, what would you consider as your main achievements on the continent? How did you overcome the initial challenges in order to get these positive results?

The urgency of the compounded COVID-19 and climate crises is compelling a new and expanded effort to accelerate momentum on Africa’s adaptation efforts. At the GCA we are joining forces with the African Development Bank to use their complementary expertise, resources and networks to develop and implement a new bold Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) to galvanize climate resilient actions through a triple win approach to address COVID-19, climate change, and the economy.

The AAAP will contribute to closing Africa’s adaptation gap, support African countries to make a transformational shift in their development pathways by putting climate adaptation and resilience at the center of their critical growth-oriented and inclusive policies, programs, and institutions.

As part of this program, just a couple of weeks ago, at the inaugural Climate Adaptation Summit, hosted by the Netherlands, we announced a new program to deploy billions of dollars to help young people in Africa build a new digitally-driven model of agriculture that can feed the continent’s people and boost prosperity even as the planet heats up. The African Development Bank has already committed to put half its climate finance towards the initiative – US$12.5 billion between now and 2025.

The challenge now is to raise an equal amount from donor governments, the private sector and international climate funds. In the Covid-context this is challenging – our latest report “State and Trends in Adaptation” showed that investment in climate adaptation fell in 2020 even as more than 50 million people were affected by a record number of floods, droughts, wildfires and storms.

The pandemic is eroding recent progress in building climate resilience, leaving countries and communities more vulnerable to future shocks. I think awareness is really starting to increase that we can either delay climate action and pay for that choice or plan now and prosper. The returns in investing in building climate adaptation and resilience are much greater than the investment – investing US$1.8 trillion globally in the next decade could generate US$7.1 trillion in total net benefits.

We are also working to strengthen ecosystems that support youth-led climate adaptation entrepreneurship, and youth participation in adaptation policies; scale up climate adaptation innovations by strengthening business development services to 10,000 youth-owned enterprises and 10,000 youth with business ideas on jobs and adaptation; develop tailored skills and provide starting tool packs for one million youth to prepare them for climate resilient jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities in adaptation and unlock US$ 3 billion in credit for adaptation action by innovative youth-owned enterprises through innovative financial instruments.

With all these on the agenda, what role do African leaders have to play in terms of the global adaptation agenda?

With climate-related disasters expected to slow GDP per capita growth, African Governments are likely to experience increasing pressure on budgets and fiscal balances. Climate extremes are already leading to increased government expenditure, a reduction in the volume of collected taxes, ultimately resulting in an increase in government debt and impairment of investments. Adaptation and investment in climate resilience remain high development and investment priorities for Africa if the continent is to attain the SDGs.

In their Nationally Determined Contributions, African countries have already identified key areas where investments in adaptation and resilience building could yield high dividends. These include agriculture and forestry, water resources, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity and ecosystems, and human settlement. Many African countries are also in the process of preparing and finalizing their National Adaptation Plans. 

Having said that climate change is an all of society problem. No one can solve it alone. The role of African leaders is crucial to mobilise governments to boost climate action on both mitigation and adaptation. They need to improve their ability to incorporate climate risks in to planning and financing major infrastructure, agriculture and other resilience-related investments. With the youngest population in the world, Africa needs to find ways to unlock the power of its youth for adaptation – something we are very focused on at the GCA. Having said all of that, there are already a lot of good adaptation initiatives happening on the continent and many other countries in different regions are going to be able to learn from what Africa is doing.

Besides this, what specifically are the expectations from the leaders, looking at the fact that policies and approaches are different in African countries?

Earlier this year we published a GCA policy brief, with the African Adaptation Initiative which recommended focusing stimulus investment in Africa on resilient infrastructure and food security to overcome the COVID-climate crisis. This was endorsed by 54 Heads of State and Government on the continent so when it comes to the need to accelerate adaptation action, it’s clear African countries are very much aligned. We are working hard on the ground to facilitate knowledge management and capacity building both within countries and between countries as well as promoting partnerships and co-operation at sub-regional and regional levels for increased synergy and scale. This cannot happen without the support of African leaders.

For example in Ghana, we are working to develop its first national-level assessment of the resilience of its infrastructure systems to climate change. By exploring and showcasing the potential co-benefits of nature-based solutions as part of country-level package of investment in grey and green infrastructure, Ghana will function as a demonstration country of how to reduce costs and enhance ecosystems and we plan to roll out the initiative to other countries across the continent.

What platforms are there for discussing the GCA initiatives and programs for African elite and the public? Do foreign organizations offer any support for these?

In January 2021, we hosted our first annual Ministerial Dialogue with over 50 ministers and leaders from international organizations including the newly appointed climate envoy John Kerry and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva. The aim of this event is to help scale-up global leadership cooperation to accelerate climate adaptation. Going forward it will also serve as an annual high-level forum on climate change adaptation, acting as a lever for global leadership to drive a decade of transformation for a climate resilient world by 2030. African leaders were very active in the dialogue and we look forward to hearing from them in our future sessions.

There are also other partnerships such as the Climate Commissions of the African Union and the African Climate Policy Center. The African Risk Capacity, a specialized agency of the African Union is making important progress enabling countries to manage climate risks and access rapid financing to respond to climate disasters. The African Union is leading the pan-African Great Green Wall initiative which involves many international organizations and foreign governments.

But climate adaptation will not be successful if it just comes from the top-down. The design of adaptation actions must include and be led by local communities who ware best placed to understand needs. Solutions need to be context relevant and accompanied by soft support designed to enhance uptake such as formal education initiatives, agricultural extension or behavioral change campaigns.

Do you suggest governments have to act now to accelerate issues that you have on the agenda for the next few years? What kind of support do you envisage from African governments?

Over half of Africa’s total population experiences food insecurity. The growing number of extreme climate events, from droughts and new crop diseases to floods and unpredictable growing seasons, continues to threaten Africa’s ability to feed itself. There are increasing rainfall and malaria risks in East Africa, increasing water stress and decreasing agricultural growing periods North Africa, severe flood risks in coastal settlements in West Africa and increased food insecurity, malaria risks and water stress in Southern Africa. The effect of aggregated climate impacts could decrease the continents GDP by 30 percent by 2050.

Suffice to say Africa really doesn’t a moment to lose and we need to accelerate climate adaptation now. In looking towards recovery from the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to ensure that we all build forward better. It is our responsibility to ensure that the opportunity isn’t wasted and countries around the world must support Africa in this.

About African Development Bank: The African Development Bank (AfDB) Group is the premier development finance institution in Africa with a mandate to spur sustainable economic development and social progress in the continent, thereby contributing to poverty reduction.

The Bank Group achieves this objective by mobilizing and allocating resources for investment in the continent; and providing policy advice and technical assistance to support development efforts. The African Development Bank’s authorized capital of around $208 billion, and is subscribed to by 81 member countries made up of 54 African countries and 27 non-African countries. For more information, visit www.afdb.org

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Why African Leaders Complain of Wheat Imports and Yet Ignore Zelensky

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Wheat harvest near the Krasne village, Ukraine. © FAO/Anatolii Stepanov

Modern Diplomacy media monitoring shows that only four African leaders were present at the Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to the Africn Union (AU), the 55-member continental bloc held on June 20. Ukraine’s leader Zelensky has been addressing golbal leaders, international organizations and regional associations soliciting their assistance to end the crisis involving Russia’s “special military operation” that began late February. He has addressed the United Nations, the United States Congress and European Union among others during these past months.

Now in its fourth month, the special military operation targeting “demilitarization and denazification” of the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, now in its fourth month, has shattered the global economy, sent prices skyrocketing and generating deep-seated social discontent among the population worldwide due to raft of unprecedented sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and host of other countries.

France and Germany pressured African Union leaders for months to join a Brief Zoom call with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky. But, 51 of 55 African heads of state (93%) boycotted the meeting, showing clear neutrality over the Western proxy war with Russia. Western governments have tried to rally the nations of Africa to join their war on Russia. But the vast majority of the continent has ignored their pressure campaign.

For months, Ukraine attempted to organize a video conference between the African Union and Western-backed leader Volodymyr Zelensky. France and Germany put heavy pressure on African governments to attend the Zoom call, which was held on June 20. The conference ended up being a total failure, however. The heads of state of just four of the 55 members of the African Union joined the meeting.

In other words, 93% of the leaders of the African continent did not attend the video conference with Zelensky. This was a clear sign of Africa’s overwhelming neutrality in the proxy war between the West and Russia.

France’s major newspaper Le Monde described Zelensky’s video call as “an address that the African Union (AU) has delayed for as long as possible and has been keen to keep discreet, almost secret.” Ukraine had tried to organize the conference since April, but the AU had repeatedly pushed it back.

Le Monde noted that “the organization of the simple video message illustrates the tense relationships between Mr. Zelensky and the leaders of the continent,” who are “sticking to a neutral position.” Citing an internal source, The Africa Report identified the very few African heads of state who attended the call as Senegal’s President Macky Sall, Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara, and the Republic of the Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso.

Also at the video conference was Mohamed al-Menfi, the leader of the Libyan Presidential Council, which is recognized by some countries as a legitimate government, although this is disputed by many nations, and Libya has remained territorially divided since a 2011 NATO war destroyed the central state.

At the meeting with Zelensky, these three or four heads of state were joined by Moussa Faki, a politician from Chad who serves as chair of the African Union, and some lower level diplomats of other countries. The African Union apparently tried to keep the conference as quiet as possible. It did not post anything about the call on its official website. It did not tweet about the meeting either.

The only official recognition of the call came from Faki, in a lone tweet, in which he cautiously “reiterated the AU position of the urgent need for dialogue to end the conflict to allow peace to return to the Region and to restore global stability.”

Ukrainian president @ZelenskyyUa addressed the @_AfricanUnion Assembly today. We reiterated the AU position of the urgent need for dialogue to end the conflict to allow peace to return to the Region and to restore global stability. Moussa Faki Mahamat (@AUC_MoussaFaki) June 20, 2022

The United States and European Union frequently claim that they are acting on behalf of the “international community, but events like this demonstrate that when Washington and Brussels say international community, they actually just mean the roughly 15% of the global population in the West and their loyal allies in Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan.

Multipolarista detailed in a report in March how the vast majority of the world’s population, which resides in the Global South, has remained neutral over the Western proxy war in Ukraine. Countries with some of the largest populations on Earth, such as China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Mexico, and Vietnam, have remained neutral.

Many more nations in the Global South, such as South Africa, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, and Eritrea, have openly blamed NATO and the United States for causing the war in Ukraine. Global South nations representing the majority of the world’s population have either blamed US/NATO for the Ukraine war or are neutral, including: China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Congo, Iran, South Africa, Mexico, Tanzania and Vietnam.

Establishment British newspaper The Guardian, which is closely linked to UK intelligence agencies, published an article in March reluctantly acknowledging that many African countries “remember Moscow’s support for liberation from colonial rule, and a strong anti-imperialist feeling remains.” The report noted that a significant number of African leaders are “calling for peace but blaming Nato’s eastward expansion for the war, complaining of western ‘double standards’ and resisting all calls to criticise Russia.”

It conceded that nations like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Mozambique, “are still ruled by parties that were supported by Moscow during their struggles for liberation from colonial or white supremacist rule.”

Russia Today also has important trade relations with Africa. As one of the world’s top producers of wheat, Russia is a significant source of food for the continent. While food insecurity is an endemic problem in formerly colonized nations in Africa that were ravaged by centuries of Western imperialism, the United States has threatened to make this crisis even worse.

The New York Times reported that the US government is pressuring food-insecure countries in Africa not to buy Russian wheat.

Nearly all African countries are struggling to contain the impact of the crisis, two years after the coronavirus pandemic had locked them up behind borders and unprecedented climate change compounding difficulties facing the continent. African leaders complained bitterly that they become direct victims of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Russia has consistently brushed aside this accusation and rather blamed Western and European sanctions for the precarious situation that has equally engulfed Africa.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had talks with Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is also African Union Chairperson, in Sochi on June 3. Russia has always been on Africa’s side in its fight against colonialism, Putin said, reminding Africa again about Soviet assistance that was offered more than 60 years ago. The United Nations declared Africa fully independent in 1960, and Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The OAU transformed into what is now referred to as African Union.

According to reports, 17 African countries abstained from voting on the resolution at the United Nations. Some policy experts say this Africans’ voting scenario at the UN opens a theme for a complete geopolitical study and analysis. There are so many interpretations and geopolitical implications though. 

Nevertheless, the African Union, Regional Economic organizations and the African governments are still and distinctively, divided over the Russia-Ukraine crisis due to divergent views and worse, afraid of contradictions and confrontations posed by the crisis and its effects on future relations with Russia.

“We are at a new stage of development and attach great importance to our relations with African countries,” Putin noted. According to him, the development of relations between Russia and Africa has shown glaring positive results. In particular, the trade turnover is steadily increasing. 

“In the first months of this year it grew by 34%. We are striving to develop humanitarian ties with African countries and we will do everything that depends on us to make this process gain momentum,” he specified, adding that Russia has always been on the side of Africa.

Despite the unprecedented sanctions and information warfare launched by the United States and its satellites, Russia manages to maintain the entire bilateral cooperation in working order, and to saturate it with a relevant substantive agenda, noted Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. 

His message reaffirmed that “in these difficult and crucial times the strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy. Russia highly appreciates the readiness of Africans to further step up economic cooperation.” 

Lavrov said: “It is in the interests of our peoples to work together to preserve and expand mutually beneficial trade and investment ties under these new conditions. It is important to facilitate the mutual access of Russian and African economic operators to each other’s markets and encourage their participation in large-scale infrastructure projects. The signed agreements and the results will be consolidated at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit.”

With the upcoming second Russia-Africa summit, the date and other detailed information are being withheld. But Kremlin Aide Yury Ushakov said mid-June that both sides are planning, referring to Russia and the African Union.

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Can cryptocurrencies be used as a geopolitical weapon? The case of Central African Republic

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April 27 can be considered a trailblazing day for the cryptocurrency industry in Africa, as the Central African Republic (CAR) approved bitcoin as its legal tender. This is the second country globally to move forward with such a bold move, after El Salvador, in September 2021, decided to adopt the prevalent cryptocurrency for internal financial transactions. This move might be seen by blockchain and cryptocurrency enthusiasts as the start of a revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa and, under certain circumstances, this might prove to be true, eventually. Nonetheless, in the current state of affairs, where CAR ranks in the 9th place in poverty globally and only 15% of its residents enjoy the perks that electricity entails, this move seems to be out of scope and not taking into consideration the actual issues that people in the Central Africa state are facing. In addition, the adoption comes at a very suspicious timing, where Russia, CAR’s main security guarantor, already 4 months into the war on Ukraine, is eyeing positively cryptocurrencies as a way to perform financial transactions. Combined with the overall conundrum in the region regarding cryptocurrencies and the urge of the Bank of Central African States towards Bangui to annul this decision, a strong geopolitical element arises. Hence, several questions are brought up, including the feasibility of such a decision and the impact it can have on the local communities, lessons that can be learnt from regions where crypto tokens are being mined, as well as threats and potential geopolitical implications for CAR and for the region.

Can bitcoin make such a big impact on the CAR community?

As mentioned, it would be safe to deem it impossible that a nation with less than 15% access to electricity, less than 10% access to internet and a highly problematic grid could, at the moment, support an energy-intensive practice such as decentralized finance and its broader mining process. President Touadera, a PhD holder and assistant professor in mathematics, is fully aware of that and hitherto resorted in the short-term move of establishing the mining company for the electronic currency in Dubai. Nevertheless, this kind of structure and arrangements are very unlikely to benefit the people in the Central African country on the long-term. If Bangui is willing to support this technology, major reforms are needed in the electricity sector to increase access and reliability. President Touadera can follow two paths with that regard.

The first one would involve power plants that rely on conventional fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, or hydropower stations. Currently, Bangui is mostly an oil importer, part of which is used to power the only thermal station in the country, located in Bangui. Imports come mainly from DR Congo($37.8mln), with France being also a significant oil partner($547k). A decision to build several conventional power plants to support digital currency mining would require, first of all, major funding. For a country that has around 45% debt-to-GDP ratio and has already resorted to the IMF for assistance 17 times and still has unresolved arrangements, seeking assistance to international financial institutions would face backlashes.  Additional imports will also be needed. For both challenges to be overcome, another obstacle are the sustainability pledges in light of the Paris Agreement. Development banks, for example, are no longer funding such projects, even if they will actually change the macroeconomic landscape in a country. CAR will then need to involve global key players that still support conventional fuels, such as Russia and China. And while Moscow is in a financially weakened position amidst its isolations following the invasion of Ukraine, China is better situated. However, Beijing has also made several promises to participate in combating climate change. These promises limit the potential maneuvers it can make with regards to fossil fuel investments, but they certainly do not constitute a complete ban. These can be considered good news for Bangui and it can pursue support from the East Asian giant, but it is advisable that they do so with caution, as alleged debt traps are already starting to generate devastating results in countries such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

The second path would encompass broad investments in intermittent renewable energy units, such as solar and wind parks. This move has an acutely higher chance of attracting investment from key actors from around the world, both public, private but also international financial institutions with much friendlier arrangements. In this case, however, other issues come up. A grid that relies heavily on intermittent RES is a decentralized grid that requires modernization both of its infrastructure and its regulatory framework. Both will need resources, which translates to additional funding/potential debt, but also higher technical expertise, which is very challenging to be found within the country. A big impediment with that regard is expected to be put by the government as well. Reflecting on the fact that the government in Bangui scored solely 24/100 in the transparency index, place in the 154th position globally, modernization and unbundling of the grid is a tedious process that mandates transparency and hence a conflict of interest is projected to happen. Last, but not least, the ambitions of President Touadera to make CAR a blockchain hub could also backfire, converting it into a terrorist hub instead. Electronic currency mining hubs in a decentralized grid become an extremely appealing target, both to control energy resources and to make untraceable financial transactions. Considering CAR’s proximity to Lake Chad, where FACT rebels and Boko Haram have occasionally been active, and to the Great Lakes, where the ADF currently operates, making such reforms for a radical shift to decentralization ought to come with the respective security measures.

Geopolitical and Security Implications for a Conflict-Torn Region

Comprehending the myriad challenges that the Central African state will have to face, so that the adoption of bitcoin can actually have a substantial societal impact, many are contemplating on potential hidden agendas in Bangui. The action of Russian PMC’s in CAR to fight insurgents, such as terrorist groups, audibly delineate the status of the Kremlin as a security partner for the country. Considering the alliance of the two countries and the fact that, virtually simultaneously, both states started exploring the possibility of using digital currencies, this move can be seen as additional pressure from Moscow to exert influence to partners in Sub-Saharan Africa. The fact that Gazprom Neft decided to partner with BitRiver, the largest crypto-mining colocation services supplier, for the mining of bitcoin with flare gas, depicts that Russia sees another solution to break out of the isolation by the global community due to the war in Ukraine and that  solution is decentralized finance. This means that, from now on, electronic currency from blockchain has the potential of being converted to a geopolitical asset, or even geopolitical weapon. This becomes remarkably alarming if one considers that the outreach of the Russian mercenaries spans across Sudan, South Sudan, Madagascar, Mozambique, Libya and other African states.

For Moscow and its security partners, this creates a fine line between strengthening their partnership and becoming a harbor for terrorists which will enhance instability and mayhem. On one hand, this will increase financial interconnection with Sub-Saharan Africa, which is something that the Kremlin is currently lacking and the situation is expected to get worse. Trade with Africa is projected to be heavily disrupted due to the sanctions and decentralized finance can function as a lifeline for Moscow, but also as a way to even enlarge its influence. On the other hand, a form of currency that is not able to be controlled by a centralized authority, in a terrorism-torn region, has a high chance of being used for financial transactions between terrorists. This can make the job of the Russian PMC’s orders of magnitude difficult and destabilize Central and Southern Africa. Combined with the effects of the pandemic and climate change over the past years, a mix of devastation that can wreak complete havoc has high potential of occurring.

As final, and obvious, potential geopolitical implications, Sub-Saharan Africa can easily turn into a fully fragmented arena based on each country’s stance on cryptocurrency. Countries such as Cameroon and Gabon have a clear stance against the actions of CAR and have audibly stood against the actions of Russia in Ukraine. This decision from Bangui comes as a means for additional polarization, leading to a decrease in collaboration efforts within the region. A further fragmentation can only be seen as a positive outcome for terrorist groups to expand their action across Central and Southern Africa. It can also lead to escalations and a replication of the battlefield in Ukraine. This would be a catastrophic scenario, as CEMAC has made colossal efforts and steps forward to maintain regional peace and stability. Other regional security guarantors, such as France, ought to pay a great deal of attention during the coming months and even play the role of the mediator, should any verbal disputes arise.

What does the future have in store for CAR and Central Africa?

Blockchain is a disruptive technology that can have an immense positive impact on the local communities, if circumstances allow and if used appropriately. This does not seem to be the case for CAR, as President Touadera made a bold move of adopting bitcoin as a legal ledger, but has done so without considering the current major limitation posed by the electricity grid nor the geopolitical implications for the region. Both internally and regionally this can create a chain of events that can have far-reaching ramifications for regional stability and can end up backfiring for cryptocurrency enthusiasts’ ambitions to increase the usage of decentralized finance. Combined with the current shift of the geopolitical world order and the influence of the Kremlin on Bangui, there are numerous signs that digital currencies might start being used as a geopolitical weapon. The international community, with EU being a key player, ought to pay more attention to the Central African region. Important state actors, such as France, but also international institutions both on security and on finance, such as NATO, the IMF and African Development Bank, need to immediately approach regional players that are willing to cooperate, such as Cameroon and Gabon, but also to approach CAR directly and engage with CEMAC as a whole to find a solution that is fit for everyone, before potential disputes escalate, something that might be used by Russia as leverage later on.

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With Peace and Accountability, Oil and Agriculture Can Support Early Recovery in South Sudan

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South Sudan has suffered years of underdevelopment, corruption and conflict. UNMISS/Amanda Voisard

Economic recovery has stalled in South Sudan amid a multitude of crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate shocks and dwindling oil production, and most recently, the adverse effect of the broad-based rise in commodity prices brought on by the war in Ukraine.

The latest World Bank economic analysis for South Sudan, Directions for Reform: A Country Economic Memorandum (CEM) for Recovery and Resilience, highlights the need for the country to leverage its natural capital in the agriculture and oil sectors to support recovery and resilience.  

Oil and agriculture are the most important sectors of South Sudan’s economy, with oil contributing to 90 percent of revenue and almost all exports, while agriculture remains the primary source of livelihood for more than four in five households. Thus, the report suggests a focus on the country’s use of its main endowments of natural capital—oil and arable land—is warranted in the early stages of recovery.

“Getting South Sudan to realize its potential will require steps aimed at consolidating peace and strengthening institutions, as well as targeted reforms tailored at harnessing South Sudan’s rich natural capital for development impact as first-order prerequisites for inclusive economic recovery,” said Firas Raad, World Bank Country Manager for South Sudan.

With weak institutions and recurring cycles of violence, South Sudan remains caught in a web of fragility and economic stagnation a decade after independence. A dearth of economic opportunities and food insecurity are major concerns, and are reinforced by inadequate provision of services, infrastructure deficits, displacement, and recurring climatic shocks

The cost of the conflict has been immense, with South Sudan’s real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in 2018 estimated at being one-third of the counterfactual estimated for a non-conflict scenario. However, authorities in 2020 initiated an ambitious reform program aimed at macroeconomic stabilization and modernization of the country’s public financial management architecture. With this reform effort, the gap between the official and parallel exchange rates was eliminated, and inflation declined. To consolidate and broaden these gains, more will have to be done to strengthen governance systems and improve transparency in economic management.

“Three messages emerge from this report. First, there is a peace dividend in South Sudan. South Sudan’s real GDP per capita in 2018 was estimated at one third of the counterfactual estimated for a non-conflict scenario. Thus, maintaining peace can by itself be a strong driver of growth. Second, with better governance and accountability, South Sudan’s oil resources can drive transformation. Third, South Sudan’s chronic food insecurity could be reversed with targeted investments to improve the resilience of the agricultural sector,” said Joseph Mawejje, World Bank Country Economist for South Sudan.

The CEM outlines several recommendations, including:

  • Addressing the drivers of fragility, ending all forms of conflict, and ensuring peace and stability in all parts of the country are prerequisites for an inclusive economic recovery.
  • Stay the course on macroeconomic reforms and continue on a stabilization path, building on key milestones already achieved in unifying the exchange rate and taming inflation.
  • Improve oil sector governance by ensuring that all oil revenues and expenditures are on budget and used effectively to achieve national development goals.
  • Support the resilience of agricultural sector to reverse the food crisis and achieve food security for all households.

The Country Economic Memorandum is a World Bank Knowledge product that provides an assessment of the country’s drivers of growth and productivity. In this context, this report highlights what South Sudan can do to sustain future growth, but it also shows why the country has not yet managed to achieve high levels of diversified growth alongside peace, stability, and a better standard of living for its people. The report also suggests strategic pathways by which South Sudan can break free from its legacy of persistent food insecurity, in a country with enormous agricultural potential.

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