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Africa is open for business

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With the headquarters situated in Accra, the capital city of the Republic of Ghana, the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is now attracting a special business focus for both African countries and foreign countries. For foreign countries, it is an opportune time to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation and install joint manufacturing clusters inside Africa.

Some African countries are focusing on combining resources to step up production and distribution of high-quality commodities, as under the designed regulations goods and products can circulated across borders without taxes – one of the conditions under the newly established African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

In that direction, Ghana has witnessed unprecedented number of high-powered foreign visitors. Early August, it hosted a huge business forum during the three-day official visit of President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço of Angola. That oil-rich country is located on the west coast of Southern Africa. It is the second-largest Portuguese-speaking country in both total area and population (behind Brazil), and is the seventh-largest country in Africa.

According to official documents, President João Lourenço visited at the invitation of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. It was a reciprocal visit for President Lourenço, as in August 2019, he first invited President Akufo-Addo. During their meeting at the Jubilee House, the seat of the presidency, both leaders expressed the highest desire to strengthen and deepen their bilateral ties between both countries.

The agreement signed allows for a consultative mechanism for Ghana and Angola to interact regularly on areas of mutual interest, particularly in mining and hydrocarbon industry development, agriculture, education, tourism, transportation, and maritime security.

Angola looks to explore Ghana’s vast experience in the mining and cocoa sectors, whilst Ghana seeks to benefit from Angola’s rich knowledge in the oil and gas sector. The two leaders vowed to jointly fight threats to maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.

Under the auspices of the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the business forum that brought President João Lourenço to Ghana, was held and aimed at expanding bilateral business relations through promotion of two-way investment and mutually complementary partnerships in the relations between the two countries.

It was additionally focused to drive networking for investment opportunities, attempted at exploring ways to boost trade and to discuss concrete solutions to roadblocks hindering investment and increase two-way exports between Angola and Ghana.

Wamkele Keabetswe Mene, the first Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat elected in February 2020, reiterated during the opening that the AfCFTA was set to effectively harmonize trade in goods and services in addition to improving the business environment by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers on the continent.

In addition, the move marks a new trade and investment era for Africa and offers a wide range of possibilities for businesses across various sectors in the member states.

Resultantly, this new dawn of continental integration presented wide-spectrum of opportunities for both Angolan and Ghanaian companies in multiple sectors including agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, petroleum and hydrocarbon activities, environment, science and technology, and tourism.

“With harmonized trade regulations and better movement of goods and services across the continent, the case for production in Africa for Africa is now a reality, where business operators in the member states can play a significant role,” Mene told the forum gathering,  and added further that by consolidating Africa into one trade area provided great opportunities for entrepreneurs, businesses and consumers across the continent, unlocking trade and manufacturing potentials, enhancing industrialization in Africa.

With wide work experience in diplomacy including previous position as the Chief Director for Africa Economic Relations in South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry and South Africa’s lead negotiator in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, Wamkele Mene made a strong case for investing in Africa.

Compared to previous times, Africa is gradually becoming more competitive investment destination for decades to come because of its improving relative risk profiles, demography, and continental integration.

“My message today is very simple: Africa is open for business. The business potential of the continent is tremendous in various sectors, including agriculture, energy, infrastructure, natural resources, and information and communications, offering opportunities for entrepreneurs,” Mene asserted in his speech, and urged the business community to scale up entrepreneurship and turn challenges into springboards.

Alan Kyerematen, Ghana’s Minister of Trade and Industry, similarly reiterated that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), provides a unique platform to guide the continent’s industrialization, trade and economic recovery effort.

Angola and Ghana have a lot to gain from working together in fields such as agriculture, fisheries, livestock, industry, oil and gas, the petrochemical industry, value addition to their mineral resources, development of energy resources particularly renewable energy, financial technology and the industry.

Africa is shifting from one of the challenges and gaps to one about opportunities and prospects. The continent is now receiving a high level of interest as an investment destination from investors from across the globe. Indeed, it has a new narrative that should inspire the African diaspora to explore opportunities on the continent and invest in the various sectors.

Businesspeople from Ghana, Egypt, Senegal, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, among other guests, participated in the business forum held at the headquarters of the African Continental Free Trade Area, where the Angolan head of State encouraged investment in Angola.

Later at the Legislative Assembly session, the Speaker of Parliament Rt Hon Alban S. K. Bagbin, in his welcome speech urged Africa countries to direct their energies towards building stronger institutions and systems, and further argued that globally, countries that have succeeded in this endeavor, tend to discharge their mandates for the benefits of their people. Speaker Bagbin commended President João Lourenço for his dedication in tackling corruption head-on and reducing economic graft in his country.

On his part while addressing the parliamentarians, João Lourenço commended the Parliament and Speaker Bagbin’s leadership, for being able to steer the affairs of the house despite its unique nature. He called for deeper cooperation between the two countries in building a formidable energy sector, parliamentary diplomacy and good governance.

With the inception of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), there is now increased and diversified opportunities to promote trade and attract foreign direct investment, create businesses and spur entrepreneurship, transfer new knowledge and skills within the entire African market space.

Currently, almost 70 percent of countries that have signed the agreement have deposited their instruments of ratification, which means they have legally accepted the obligation to open their markets, reduce their barriers to trade, reduce barriers to investment and adhere to this single set of rules for trade and investment on the African continent.

The Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area is an independent organ of the African Union System in charge of the negotiations and implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area started in earnest on 1st January 2021, following a five-and-half-year period since negotiations were launched on 15th June 2015. [….]

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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