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Dr. Dolittles and Ben Alis: How Is the Collective North Responding to African Challenge?

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As we learned back in the Soviet times, on 25 May, all progressive people celebrate Africa Day, also known as the African Freedom Day. It commemorates the Organization of African Unity being established by thirty African leaders on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa. On this day, a great variety of events are held around the world: exhibitions, culture forums, concerts, film festivals and academic conferences to remind everyone about the African continent, its indisputable achievements and—equally obvious—unresolved problems. Africa Day was celebrated a short while ago, providing an occasion to discuss this part of the world.

It would be true to say that each of us gets to know Africa in their own distinct way. To me, then a child, Africa first showed itself from the pages of an old, well-thumbed copy of Korney Chukovsky’s book.* Later, of course, I read Louis Boussenard and Jules Verne, Mayne Reid and Alphonse Daudet, Nikolay Gumilev and Ernest Hemingway… Yet, none of these wonderful writers could ever superimpose themselves over the deeply imprinted images of the good Dr. Dolittle and the villain Ben Ali. My off-and-on trips to Africa, ranging from Egypt in the north to South Africa at the other end of the continent, have not erased these images either. Faded pictures in a children’s book sometimes keep resurfacing in my memory.

Incidentally, for Chukovsky, who never got to visit Africa, the continent was absolutely desolate. Chukovsky’s Africa is populated exclusively by anthropomorphic representatives of local fauna: crocodiles and hippos, gorillas and rhinos, and other good or bad animals. As for humans, in addition to the protagonists, Chukovsky only mentions the little Vanya and Tanya, who secretly ran away to Africa when their parents carelessly fell asleep. Most likely, there are no other people in the book because the author needed to turn the spotlight on the confrontation between the altruistic liberal Dr. Dolittle and the cynical realist Ben Ali.

However, when Chukovsky was working on his book a hundred years ago, Africa was rather sparsely populated indeed. Various estimates put the population of Africa in the early 20th century at 93–110 million people, which is significantly less than, for instance, the population of the Russian Empire at that time. By the mid-20th century, Africa already had a population of half a billion and, by the end of the century, this figure had risen to 800 million. Today, Africa’s total population (1.365 billion) is nearly ten times that of Russia; Africa is catching up with such demographic giants as China and India and will soon overtake them both.

Today’s forecast of Africa’s in 2050 population is at least 2.4 billion, and 4.2 billion in 2100. In other words, by the end of this century, Africa’s once vast desolate expanses will be home to nearly 40 per cent of the global population. The population of Nigeria alone will have reached almost a billion by then, that is, one in ten on Earth will be Nigerian. The population of Russia at the turn of the 22nd century will be comparable to that of a single large Nigerian state (Nigeria has thirty-six states, not counting the capital, which is a special status federal territory).

Getting away from the current political situation for a second and leaving aside the current confrontation between the great powers, we easily arrive at the logical conclusion that it is Africa, not Russia or China or India for that matter, that constitutes the principal challenge to the current, mostly western, world order.

Yet this long-term challenge has nothing to do with geopolitics, which has once again become trendsetting.

Africa is seeing a most chaotic urbanization at its fastest rates. Before our very eyes, huge and poorly governed metropoles are emerging, each of them with a population of tens of millions. Urban problems of the future will be epitomized by the larger in size than cities on other continents, though infrastructurally lagging behind Lagos, Cairo, Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam, Luanda and Nairobi rather than New York or London, Shanghai or Karachi.

Africa is experiencing the fastest shrinkage of forests and expansion of deserts. The Sahara is advancing on the countries of the Sahel from the north, prompting waves of “environmental refugees” as well as exacerbating ethnic and denominational issues. The African Great Lakes in the east of the continent, including Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa, are becoming shallow, yet they contain about a quarter of all the Earth’s fresh water.

Climate change is hurting Africa more than any other continent and will do so more and more as time goes on. Rising heat has resulted in the agricultural season becoming 50–100 days shorter in some areas. Most countries of the continent, including the most populous ones, are already incapable of feeding themselves; national food shortages tend to increase, as do economic and social inequality and the attendant potential for civil and inter-country conflicts.

How is the collective West or, rather, the collective North responding to this challenge? The African stage still has its Dr. Dolittles and Ben Alis. The outstanding European theologian Albert Schweitzer, philosopher of culture, humanitarian, musician, and doctor, was a surprising embodiment of the classical image of Dr. Dolittle. He dedicated most of his life to treating Africans in a village hospital in Gabon. Yet, far more often, the role of Dr. Dolittle is today played by the manager of a big charity foundation, the employee of an international development institution, or the official of a government agency providing technical assistance to foreign states. Today, an entire industry has emerged to render aid to African education, healthcare, agriculture, and social development.

The image of Ben Ali has also changed significantly over the last hundred years. There are still some colorful international adventurers, indefatigable condottieri and soldiers of fortune, be it the almost legendary weapons seller Viktor But, who is currently serving a twenty-five-year term in an American prison, or nameless soldiers of private military companies, who are fighting in many conflicts around the world, including in Africa. As a rule, however, Ben Ali is now disguised as a far less imposing head of a big transnational company working in energy, mining or finance. They have come to Africa to do business: to produce oil and gas, mine non-ferrous metals, operate a logging company, supply food and extend loans to African governments.

The problem is that neither the Dr. Dolittles nor the Ben Alis of today are capable of even slowing down the exacerbation of the continent’s problems, much less resolving them. For instance, big charity funding for leading African universities often results in boosting the “export sector” in African education: graduates of the continent’s best universities endeavor to use their abilities and skills somewhere in Europe or America rather than at home. And transnational corporations, both Western and Chinese, have so far done little to assist in transforming Africa into the world’s new “industrial workshop.” Recently, the interest of present-day Ben Alis in Africa has generally shrunk: total foreign direct investment has been falling for at least seven years and the number of new projects launched in Africa with foreign participation has dropped by nearly two-thirds amid the pandemic.

If you don’t come to Africa, Africa will come to you.

The global North will be unable to fence itself off from the global South, and the rapidly growing but poorly developing Africa will inevitably make its presence felt through multiplying regional conflicts and rising international terrorism, an exacerbated situation on the global food market and an increasing contribution to the overall global warming.

Even so, it will make its presence felt mostly through the inevitable increase in transcontinental migration flows. The likely scale of Africa’s impending migration pressure on the rest of the world is hard to predict, but it is quite obvious that we are talking colossal numbers, far exceeding anything human history has ever known. The European migration crisis of 2015 will seem like a minor trouble when compared to what may lie ahead for the developed countries of the North in the not-so-distant future.

At the same time, a young Africa, with its ebullient new blood, is not only humanity’s main potential challenge but also its main potential opportunity. Unlike the aging Europe, unlike North and East Asia, which are losing their bloom, unlike the U.S., which is past the peak of its power, Africa is a continent with everything ahead of it. It has many of the potential growth sources for the global economy in the second half of the 21st century and for the more distant future. It is not just an exotic place for little Vanya and Tanya’s magical adventures, it is the place where the future of humanity will be largely determined.

With that in mind, Africa should become a global project that could unite East and West, Atlantic liberals and Eurasian autocrats. They would be united not by the fairy-tale altruism of Dr. Dolittle, nor by the grotesque cynicism of the pirate Ben Ali, but by taking a sober account of their long-term national interests. The African project should involve coordinated global re-distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars invested annually in large-scale projects in agriculture, renewable energy sources, urban development, middle and higher education, public healthcare and municipal governance.

Instead of being targeted showpieces based on blueprints provided by today’s charity foundations, specific programmes should be systemic and comprehensive; they should span the entire continent and be implemented over several decades. Neither the IBRD nor the IMF will be able to handle the African project, which means that radically new institutional solutions are needed. Of course, no one likes to part with their money but the future of humanity is worth the global North assuming the generally feasible burden of an additional tax.

Let us stress once again that the main, planet-wide challenge of our century lies not in Atlantic-Eurasian confrontation; it lies in U.S.–China rivalry and in the deep rift between the North and the South. The African continent remains the indisputable center of the global South. Humanity will not be able to successfully move forward in the next hundred years without responding properly to the African challenge thought this century.

* The author is referring to a popular book by Korney Chukovsky, which is a Russian adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s The Story of Dr. Dolittle; the Russian version features Dr. Aybolit (Ouch-It-Hurts) and the villain Barmaley, who roughly correspond to Dr. Dolittle and the pirate Ben Ali, but the book differs significantly from its source.

From our partner RIAC

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West Africa: Extreme poverty rises nearly 3 per cent due to COVID-19

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Food insecurity is affecting millions of people in Burkina Faso. © UNICEF/Vincent Treameau

Extreme poverty in West Africa rose by nearly three per cent in 2020, another fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, a UN-backed report launched on Thursday that looks at the socio-impact of the crisis has revealed. 

The proportion of people living on less than $1.90 a day jumped from 2.3 per cent last year to 2.9 per cent in 2021, while the debt burden of countries increased amid slow economic recovery, shrinking fiscal space and weak resource mobilization. 

More than 25 million across the region are struggling to meet their basic food needs. 

Gains annihilated 

The study was published by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in partnership with the West Africa Sub-Regional Office for the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the World Food Programme (WFP). 

Sekou Sangare, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment and Water resources, said the pandemic has, in particular, annihilated benefits gained in fighting food insecurity and malnutrition. 

“Even if we are happy with the governments’ response through the mitigation actions they have taken, we have to worry about the residual effects of the health and economic crisis as they are likely to continue disturbing our food systems for a long time while compromising populations access to food, due to multiple factors,” he said

The report highlights the effects of measures aimed at preventing coronavirus spread, such as border closures, movement restrictions and disruption of supply chains. 

Forced to sell 

These measures had an impact on income-generating activities, and on food prices in markets, with small traders, street vendors and casual workers most affected. 

The deteriorating economic situation has adversely affected food security and nutrition in West Africa.  

More than 25 million people are unable to meet their basic food needs, a nearly 35 per cent increase compared to 2020. People have been forced to sell their assets and livelihoods in order to get enough to eat. 

The situation is most severe in those areas affected by conflict, such as the Lake Chad Basin region, the Sahel, and the Liptako-Gourma region, which borders Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. 

Strengthen social protection 

The partners hope the report will encourage public and private response to address the pandemic’s negative impacts on the people of West Africa. 

Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa, underscored the need for immediate and concerted action. 

“This report clearly shows the urgent need for Governments and partners to deliberately increase investments to strengthen and increase social protection programs, social safety-nets such as school meals, and other livelihoods-enhancing programs with particular emphasis on women and youth,” he said. 

The Director of the ECA’s Sub-Regional Office, Ngone Diop, pointed to one of the strengths of the partnership, namely the ability to carry out an online survey which mobilized nearly 8,000 respondents. 

Moreover, she said “basing our analyses on primary, first-hand data from households directly impacted by the health crisis makes it possible to offer decision-makers at the regional and national levels with relevant and better-targeted policy options.” 

Responding to needs 

Since the outbreak of the pandemic nearly three years ago, ECOWAS and its partners have implemented several economic and financial measures to respond to the increasing needs in the region.  

ECOWAS Member States, with support from WFP and other technical partners, have also expanded social protection programmes, as well as food distributions, for the most vulnerable communities.  

For example, In Mali and Niger, they are supporting some 1.4 million people and helping to strengthen national social protection systems. 

“WFP is committed to engage more with ECOWAS in enhancing coordination and facilitating experience sharing among countries, with the aim to ensure social protection systems in the region support food security and nutrition and provide resilience to shocks,” said Mr. Nikoi. 

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Pragmatic Proposals to Optimize Russia’s Pledged Rehabilitation of Ethiopia

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A girl stands outside her home in the Tigray Region, Ethiopia. © UNICEF/Tanya Bindra

Russian Ambassador to Ethiopia Evgeny Terekhin pledged that his homeland will help rehabilitate his hosts after getting a clearer understanding of the full extent of the damage that the terrorist-designated Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) inflicted on the northern part of the country throughout the course of its approximately half-year-long occupation of the Afar and Amhara Regions. China’s Xinhua recently cited official Ethiopian government statistics about this which claim that the Amhara Region suffered damages upwards of approximately $5.7 billion.

According to their data, the TPLF partially or fully damaged 1,466 health facilities and vandalized water, electricity, and transport infrastructure. 1.9 million children are out of school in that region after more than 4,000 schools were damaged by the group. Over 1.8 million people were displaced from the Afar and Amhara Regions while 8.3 million there are suffering from food insecurity. The scale of this humanitarian crisis is massive and the direct result of the US-led West’s Hybrid War on Ethiopia that was waged to punish the country for its balanced foreign policy between the US and China.

It’s here where Russia can rely on its recent experiences in helping to rehabilitate Syria and the Central African Republic (CAR) in order to optimize its pledged rehabilitation of Ethiopian. Those two countries are much more war-torn than Ethiopia is, the latter of which only saw fighting in its northern regions instead of the entirety of its territory like the prior two did. The most urgent task is to ensure security in the liberated areas, which can be advanced by summer 2021’s military cooperation agreement between Russia and Ethiopia.

This pact could potentially see Russia sharing more details of its earlier mentioned experiences in order to enhance the Ethiopian National Defense Force’s (ENDF) security and stabilization operations in the northern part of the country. Syria and the CAR survived very intense Hybrid Wars that utilized cutting-edge military tactics and strategies against them similar to those that were subsequently directed against Ethiopia by the TPLF. It would help the ENDF to learn more about the challenges connected to ensuring security in areas that have been liberated from such contemporary Hybrid War forces.

The next order of business is to help the many victims of that country’s humanitarian crisis. Russia’s experience with assisting Syria in this respect, which suffered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in decades, can be of use to Ethiopia. This is especially the case when it comes to aiding its internally displaced people. Their immediate needs must be met and maintained, which might require urgent support from that country’s trusted partners such as Russia. Provisioning such in an effective and timely manner can also improve Russia’s international reputation too, especially among Africans.

Northern Ethiopia’s post-war rehabilitation must be comprehensive and sustainable. The country’s Medemer philosophy — which has been translated as “coming together” – will form the basis of these efforts. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed touched upon this in his 2019 Nobel Peace Prize speech and his book of the same name that was released earlier that year. Its English translation hasn’t yet been published but Medemer was explained at length by high-level Ethiopian officials during an early 2020 US Institute of Peace panel talk and in Ethiopian writer Linda Yohannes’ insightful book review.

An oversimplification of it in the economic context is that Medemer preaches the need for comprehensive, inclusive, and sustainable growth through public-private and other partnerships that bring prosperity to all of its people, which in turn strengthens socio-political relations between them. It seeks to apply positive aspects of foreign models while avoiding the bad ones. The Medemer mentality aspires to balance cooperation with competition, constantly improving itself as needed, in order to synchronize and synergize Ethiopia’s natural economic advantages in people, location, and resources.

In practice, this could see Russian public and private companies partnering with Ethiopia’s primarily public ones to rehabilitate the northern regions’ damaged infrastructure. Since sustainable growth is one of Medemer’s key concepts, the country’s Russian partners could also train more laborers, social workers, teachers, and doctors throughout the course of these projects while offering scholarships to some internally displaced youth for example. In that way, Russia and Ethiopia could truly embody the Medemer spirit by literally bringing their people closer together as a result of these noble efforts.

All the while, Russia’s international media flagships of RT and Sputnik should be active on the ground documenting the entire experience. The immense influence that Moscow has in shaping global perceptions can be put to positive use in exposing the foreign-backed TPLF’s countless crimes against humanity in northern Ethiopia. This can powerfully counteract the US-led West’s information warfare campaign against its government, which misportrays the TPLF as innocent victims of the “genocidal” ENDF, exactly as similar Russian media efforts have done in debunking Western lies against Syria.

The world wouldn’t only benefit by learning more about the US-led West’s lies against Ethiopia, but also in seeing how effectively Russia is working to reverse the damage that their TPLF proxies inflicted in the northern part of that country. Russia is also a victim of their information warfare campaign, which misportrays the Kremlin as a dangerous and irresponsible international actor. The truth, however, is that Russia is a peaceful and responsible international actor that has a documented track record of cleaning up the West’s Hybrid War messes in Syria, the CAR, and prospectively soon even Ethiopia too.

Upon taking the lead in rehabilitating northern Ethiopia, Russia should diversify the stakeholders in that country’s prosperity in coordination with its hosts. It’s in Ethiopia’s interests as well to receive assistance from as many responsible and trusted partners as possible. Russia can help by requesting that relevant aid and multilateral rehabilitation efforts be placed on the agenda of the proposed heads of state meeting between the Russian, Indian, and Chinese (RIC) leaders that presidential aide Yury Ushakov said was discussed for early 2022 during President Putin’s latest video call with President Xi in December.

The RIC countries stood with in solidarity with Ethiopia at the United Nations in the face of the US-led West’s subversive attempts to weaponize international law against it. They’re strong economies in their own right, not to mention through their cooperation via BRICS and the SCO, the latter organization of which also has anti-terrorist and other security dimensions. These two multipolar platforms could potentially be used to extend economic, financial, humanitarian, and security cooperation to their Ethiopian partner to complement bilateral and trilateral efforts in this respect.

Russia’s increasingly strategic ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) could also lead to Moscow working more closely with Abu Dhabi on related rehabilitation matters with their shared partners in Addis Ababa. Observers shouldn’t forget that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) played a crucial role in brokering peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2018. He even awarded their leaders his country’s highest civil honor when they both visited the UAE that summer. Furthermore, Al Jazeera alleges that the UAE has maintained a humanitarian (and possibly even military) air bridge to Ethiopia.

Regardless of whether or not the military aspect of this reported bridge is true or not, there’s no denying that the UAE has emerged as a major stakeholder in Ethiopia’s success. It deposited $1 billion in Ethiopia’s central bank in summer 2018 as part of its $3 billion aid and investment pledge at the time. The UAE also plans to build an Eritrean-Ethiopian oil pipeline in order to help the latter export its newly tapped reserves in the southeast. Additionally, DP World signed a memorandum with Ethiopia in May 2021 to build a $1 billion trade and logistics corridor to separatist Somaliland’s Berbera port.

Considering the closeness of Emirati-Ethiopian relations, it would therefore be fitting for RIC to incorporate the UAE as an equal partner into any potential multilateral plan that those countries might come up with during their proposed heads of state summit sometime in early 2022. It enjoys excellent relations with all three of them so it’s a perfect fit for complementing their shared efforts. Plus, the UAE has the available capital needed to invest in high-quality, long-term, but sometimes very expensive infrastructure projects, which can ensure northern Ethiopia’s sustainable rehabilitation.

It’s pivotal for Russia to prioritize its pledged rehabilitation of Ethiopia ahead of the second triennial Russia-Africa Summit that’s expected to take place in October or November after fall 2019’s first-ever summit saw Russia return to Africa following a nearly three-decade-long hiatus. Coincidentally, Ethiopia requested last April to hold the next event in Addis Ababa. That would be a sensible choice since its capital city hosts the African Union headquarters, has sufficient infrastructure, and can serve most of the continent through its Ethiopian Airlines, which regularly wins awards as Africa’s best airline.

The interest that Ethiopian Ambassador to Russia Alemayehu Tegunu recently expressed in courting more Russian investment ahead of the next summit goes perfectly well with Russian Ambassador to Ethiopia Terekhin’s vow to heighten cooperation between those countries’ ruling parties. This in turn raises the chances that the present piece’s proposals could hopefully serve as the blueprint for beginning relevant discussions as soon as possible on Russia’s pledged rehabilitation of Ethiopia with a view towards achieving tangible successes ahead of the next Russia-Africa Summit.

That timing is so important since Russia mustn’t miss the opportunity to showcase its bespoke “Democratic Security” model in Ethiopia. This emerging concept refers to the comprehensive thwarting of Hybrid War threats through economic, informational, military, and other tactics and strategies such as the action plan that was proposed in the present piece. “Democratic Security” approaches vary by country as evidenced from the differing ones that Russia’s practicing in Syria and the CAR, but the concept could attract many more African partners if it’s successful in Ethiopia by next fall’s summit.

Russia must therefore do everything in its power to bring this best-case scenario about. Rehabilitating Ethiopia won’t just improve millions of lives, expose the war crimes committed by the US-led West’s TPLF proxies, and enable Russia to showcase its “Democratic Security” model to other African countries, but ensure that the continent’s historical fountainhead of anti-imperialism and pan-Africanism survives its existential struggle. Upon that happening, Ethiopia can then serve to inspire a revival of these ideas all across Africa through its complementary Medemer concept and thus strengthen multipolarity.

From our partner RIAC

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Decade of Sahel conflict leaves 2.5 million people displaced

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Two displaced women sit at a camp in Awaradi, Niger. © UNOCHA/Eve Sabbagh

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called on Friday for concerted international action to end armed conflict in Africa’s central Sahel region, which has forced more than 2.5 million people to flee their homes in the last decade.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, the agency’s spokesperson, Boris Cheshirkov, informed that internal displacement has increased tenfold since 2013, going from 217,000 to a staggering 2.1 million by late last year.

The number of refugees in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger now stands at 410,000, and the majority comes from Mali, where major civil conflict erupted in 2012, leading to a failed coup and an on-going extremist insurgency.

Increase in one year

Just last year, a surge in violent attacks across the region displaced nearly 500,000 people (figures for December still pending).

According to estimates from UN partners, armed groups carried out more than 800 deadly attacks in 2021. 

This violence uprooted some 450,000 people within their countries and forced a further 36,000 to flee into a neighbouring country.

In Burkina Faso alone, the total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) rose to more than 1.5 million by the end of the year. Six in ten of the Sahel’s displaced are now from this country.

In Niger, the number of IDPs in the regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua has increased by 53 per cent in the last 12 months. In Mali, more than 400,000 people are displaced internally, representing a 30 per cent increase from the previous year.

Climate, humanitarian crisis

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating with crises on multiple fronts.

Insecurity is the main driver, made worse by extreme poverty, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of the climate crisis are also felt more strongly in the region, with temperatures rising 1.5 times faster than the global average.

Women and children are often the worst affected and disproportionately exposed to extreme vulnerability and the threat of gender-based violence.

According to the UNHCR spokesperson, “host communities have continued to show resilience and solidarity in welcoming displaced families, despite their own scant resources.”

He also said that Government authorities have demonstrated “unwavering commitment” to assisting the displaced, but they are now “buckling under increasing pressure.”

Bold response

UNHCR and humanitarian partners face mounting challenges to deliver assistance, and continue to be the target of road attacks, ambushes, and carjacking.

In this context, the agency is calling on the international community to take “bold action and spare no effort” in supporting these countries.

UNHCR is also leading the joint efforts of UN agencies and NGOs to provide emergency shelter, manage displacement sites and deliver vital protection services, including combating gender-based violence and improving access to civil documentation.

In 2021, more than a third of the agency’s Central Sahel funding needs were unmet.

This year, to mount an effective response in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, the agency needs $307 million.

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