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Community of Portuguese Language Countries: Forging Cultural Unity in Economic Diversity

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The Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) established with the fundamental objectives to promote sustainable development, scale-up social standards and preserve the unique language culture among the Portuguese-speaking countries. The CPLP’s nine member states are Angola, Brazil, Cabo Verde, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and Sao Tome and Principe.

In a review of 25 years of the CPLP, Fernando Jorge Cardoso, Researcher at the Centre for International Studies at Lisbon’s ISCTE University Institute, argues that the CPLP is far from being an economic organization as most of its members have stronger economic relations with countries outside the CPLP.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Kester Kenn Klomegah early July, Fernando Jorge Cardoso, among many other significant questions, underscores the fact that a country belonging to multilateral groupings is very beneficial, but each of CPLP member state has other stronger relationships while defending the common heritage of the Portuguese language and culture. Here are the interview excerpts: –

In the first place, what would you say, in objective assessment, about the Community of Portuguese Language Countries – its achievements to date, and existing challenges?

There are so many aspects of the CPLP, but considering that in its statutes the community has the objective to increase diplomatic collaboration in multilateral fora, to encourage the relationship among entities of the civil society of the CPLP members and to re-enforce the use of Portuguese language, my assessment is positive.

All countries have budget constraints and what has been achieved is inseparably dependent upon that, so there is no spectacular achievements of the community, just a fair accomplishment of those three major aims as mentioned above.

The group holds a summit marking 25 years on July 16 to 17 in Luanda, Angola. What issues do you think are the most paramount for discussion? In terms of good governance and democracy, are there any deficiencies in the system of approach in these countries?

Most members of the CPLP are young countries with lots of troubles on creating sound states, having a clear division of powers and an innocuous accomplishment of democracy and human rights. There is a lot yet to be done, but the process is on track, in spite of problems of bad governance and systems inefficiencies in almost all the countries of the community. I do think there is a lot to commemorate, but I also believe there are reasons for continuing cooperation.

The dynamics of economic growth are different among members of the group, the resources and levels of sustainable development vary widely. What are your arguments here, the best and the worst development scenarios?

All these countries belonging to CPLP are not countries with common borders. They belong to diverse economic and geopolitical spaces. Therefore, CPLP differently from Francophonie or commonwealth is not a “natural” group of countries sharing common problems, other than those that are established in the objectives. The question here is not to have grandiose expectations. Therefore, it will be completely natural that development of each country will follow diverse paces and confront diverse scenarios. This is a cooperation space, not a kind of economic organization or political integration project.

In addition to theoretical targets, there must be considerable impact on the basic needs of the population: health, education and employment-creating sectors. Do leaders of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries think the same way as expected by the ordinary people?

Here it is important to understand that each country has its own reality and governments follow diverse strategies. There is not the will or the capacity of Portugal or any other country to influence the development of the community members.

Do you think the culture and social traditions unite these countries? Do people feel there has been unity in cultural diversity over the years? What should be the way forward for the organization or group?

There are some problems here. Some people, mostly in Portugal and Brazil refer to the CPLP as a “Lusophone Community” while others look at it from different perspectives. This is far from realty. There is a diversity of languages inside the other CPLP countries, the Portuguese functions as an official language that helps to create a sense of national unity and regional differentiation, But it does not substitute for the realty of diverse cultural settings among and within the countries.

Besides the fact that a great proportion of the population of newly independent countries do not speak Portuguese in a day-to-day basis. So this is not a Lusophone community, it is Portuguese official language group of countries that share some cultural elements due to history – to make it clearer, on subjects such as gastronomy, music, literature (or even soccer), for example. Cultural diversity is the name of the game, any intention of trying to build a Lusophone community for Portuguese language speaking community is bound for failure and conflict.

And finally, talking on external relations – to what extent foreign states influence the group members? Despite the fact that Portuguese is widely and commonly spoken, they look up to the United States, Europe and Asia, not only to Portugal? 

What is interesting here is that each country looks for diverse ways of international integration and collaboration. CPLP is and should continue to be a loose organization. The more loose it is, the more effective it will be, avoiding interference on domestic matters and, therefore, increasing the space for mutual collaboration in multilateral fora and among the community members. Summing up, CPLP is not a Lusophone space and, for sure, cannot be equalized to Francophone or Commonwealth. This is the only way to move forward.

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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Africa

The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan

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Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.

The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.

In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.

Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.

The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.

While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.

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Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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