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United States and China chess up in Africa’s smallest country: Cape Verde

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Presidential Palace of Cape Verde. Image source: Wikipedia

The United States has announced plans to invest almost half-a-billion dollars in Cape Verde, a set of islands off the coast of West Africa. $400m of the package will be used to build a new embassy in the capital, Praia, sited next to the presidential palace. Once completed, the mission will employ more than 300 local and diplomatic staff.

The money was announced in a special 4th of July speech by US ambassador to Cape Verde, Jeff Daigle who called for greater commercial ties along with, “security and law enforcement co-operation”.

Analysts say the former Portuguese colony has potential to rival Djibouti near the entrance to Suez as a strategic outpost. Djibouti houses the Pentagon’s only permanent military base in Africa at Fort Lemonier, with some 4000 military and civilian personnel, now dwarfed by a new set of Chinese barracks designed to hold 10,000 troops.

Likewise, China is more than matching America’s spend in Cape Verde, including a $50m university completed in July 2021.

The country is comprised of a string of islands lying more than 600 kilometres from the coast of West Africa, placing it well beyond the territorial waters of is closest neighbours including Senegal and Mauretania — key players in the US war against groups like Boko Haram — but close enough for eavesdropping or military strikes.

The Presidential Palace is a neoclassical mansion built in 1894 to house the colony’s then Portuguese governor, and by 2014, it was in dire need of repair. The plan was to preserve as much of the original work as possible and redecorate in keeping with a 120-year-old building. This needed a team of specialists who didn’t come cheap: China paid the bill.

This was followed by a new football stadium, a number of public buildings and the university. Over the past decade, Beijing has outspent all other donors, including the US and Portugal.

The archipelago forms a horse-shoe in the Atlantic Ocean, the two points facing west with its back to Africa. In the south is Santiago, largest of the islands and home to the capital city of Praia. To the north lies St Vincent, smaller but with better harbours and inlets and it’s here that China has a maritime repair station.

In an effort to spread wealth across the lesser islands, St Vincent has been declared a “special economic zone”. The infrastructure will come from China. The strategic importance of the islands is nothing new. Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, and Sir Francis.

Drake all stopped in Cape Verde and the US opened its first consulate more than 200 years ago. During the apartheid era, South African Airways was barred from overflying the continent, but Cape Verde allowed the airline to refuel on the route between Johannesburg and London.

On charts that measure justice, personal liberty and the fairness of elections, Cape Verde is near the top. Freedom House ranks it at No 8 out of nearly 200 countries, well ahead of Britain, New Zealand, South Africa and the US.

The Biden administration has made clear it will favour countries that uphold these values, and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has already described Cape Verde as “a model of democratic governance and human rights in Africa”.

There are more Cabo Verdeans living in America than at home and this creates a human and cultural link between the two that other countries find hard to match.

In February, Blinken spoke by phone to the minister for defence and foreign affairs, Mr. Rui Figueiredo, promising to expand US trade and cooperation. Blinken’s spokesman, Ned Price, said the two men also discussed ways to “strengthen our security partnership”.

That partnership is under strain over a request dating from the Trump era to extradite Alex Saab (49), a Venezuelan national of Lebanese decent, born in Colombia and now under house arrest in Praia. Washington accuses Saab of money laundering and propping up the regime of Nicolás Maduro in Caracas by thwarting US sanctions against Venezuela.

The bans started under President Obama and were intensified by Donald Trump in response to what America claims is an “illegitimate” government led by Maduro, and gross abuse of human rights.

On 12 June 2020, Saab set off from Caracas for a diplomatic meeting in Iran which he says was to secure humanitarian supplies. He was carrying a Venezuelan passport and a letter from President Maduro when his private jet stopped to refuel at Cape Verde. Police boarded the plane and arrested him on what they claimed to be a Red Notice from Interpol. It later emerged that the warrant was only issued after Saab had been taken into custody.

The Economic Community of West African States — of which Cape Verde is a member — has ruled the arrest illegal and prosecutors in Switzerland say there is not enough evidence to charge Mr. Saab with a criminal case.

Maduro has since appointed him Venezuela’s ambassador to the African Union and demanded his release, but to no avail. A court in Praia has approved extradition to the US and Saab’s lawyers have appealed the decision. Venezuela demands he be allowed to return to Caracas.

The continued detention of Mr. Saab has potential to damage Cape Verde’s reputation for justice, if as his defence insists, he has diplomatic immunity, and the Interpol warrant was only issued after he was removed from the aircraft. They also question the evidence – rather than hearsay – on which he might be convicted. His lawyers fear that, if a US court exonerates their client, Washington will simply come up with new charges that did not apply when they asked for his extradition.

Canada, Panama and a number of EU states have imposed sanctions on Venezuela and several Latin American countries now restrict entry to members of the Maduro government while Colombia has its own money laundering charges against Mr. Saab.

In 2018, Matthias Krull, a Swiss banker who moved money around the world for Maduro was arrested while holidaying with his family in Florida. Slapped with a 10-year prison term, he revealed the multiple accounts and shell companies used by Venezuela to circumvent sanctions. Some of his testimony is believed to include allegations against Mr. Saab though these might be dismissed as given “under duress”; in exchange for the information, Krull was rewarded with early release in April 2021.

Washington has a wide-ranging statute that criminalizes a person in any jurisdiction if they have used the American banking system or even its currency in certain acts deemed unlawful.

In 2012, Zimbabwean drug dealer Paul le Roux was lured to what he thought was a meeting with a Colombian cartel boss at a hotel in Liberia. It was a sting set up by local police at the behest of the US which has an extradition treaty with Liberia. Le Roux is now serving a 25-year sentence in New York.

Cape Verde has no such treaty and unless the government feels especially cooperative, there is no pressure for them to hand over Mr. Saab who, in July 2021, was also placed on a British list of “sanctioned persons” in connection with his work for Venezuela.

If the sudden interest in Cape Verde along with vast amounts of aid and investment looks like a bribe to get Saab onto US soil, Wikileaks cables dating back almost a decade show otherwise. Messages during Hilary Clinton’s term as secretary of state speculate on a possible military base for the islands.

In 2018, Africom – the US military command for Africa – hosted its annual conference in Cape Verde, and in March 2019, the State Department set out in writing its priorities for the country. Key among these was to, “support Cabo Verdean security forces in deterring and combating a full spectrum of threats, especially crime, trafficking, and terrorism through increased security collaboration between the United States and Cabo Verde.

The report ends with a warning that China is, “also working in these areas and are willing and able to fill any voids”. In Johannesburg, another man accused of breaching US law well beyond its borders has been in custody almost three years. Mozambique’s one-time finance minister, Manuel Chang is accused of signing off a deal for a fleet of fishing boats that left a $2bn hole in the national accounts.

Both the US and Mozambique have applied for his extradition, but South Africa appears in no hurry to comply. Success in this field has not been good. Edward Snowden who revealed secrets from the CIA and other agencies, has been granted permanent residence in Moscow.

Efforts to arrest Julian Assange started during the first Obama presidency and have never come close to fruition. The Wikileaks founder is in a British prison on a charge of slipping bail but will soon be due for release. There is little chance of either man being sent to the US.

Regardless of how many appeals there are or how much the Biden administration spends in Cape Verde, odds are Alex Saab won’t be heading to America any time soon.

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Africa

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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Africa: The G20 Must Recommit to Covax

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It is one year since the international community gave its backing to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility to lead a worldwide effort to end the acute phase of the pandemic. The initiative aimed to ensure that every country, and not just those with sufficient money or resources, could access life-saving vaccines once they became available. As G20 health ministers prepare to meet in Rome on September 5-6, they are in a position to ensure that COVAX fulfills its mission.

A year ago, no one knew when or even if it might be possible to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, let alone the 20 that are available today. But since making its first international deliveries in February, COVAX a partnership established by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has delivered more than 235 million vaccine doses to 139 countries, and expects to deliver another billion doses in the fourth quarter. Only China, India, and the United States have delivered more. This start to the largest and most complex vaccine rollout in history has given hope to millions of people and laid solid foundations for how we respond to future pandemics.

Yet, so much more could, and should, have been achieved by now. It is unacceptable that only 1.8% of people in low-income countries have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 82% in high- and upper-middle-income countries. This shocking inequality is as economically senseless as it is destructive to human life, with the latest estimate of the cost of the slow rollout amounting to $2.3 trillion.

The world was woefully unprepared for a pandemic, and this is reflected in the challenges COVAX has faced. By the time initial funding arrived, wealthy countries had already locked up early vaccine supplies. Export bans affecting key suppliers, and difficulties experienced by many manufacturers in scaling up production to the required level, also undermined COVAX’s ability to access doses early.

Given increasing global vaccine inequity and the rise of new, more contagious coronavirus variants, we must put these challenges behind us. Thanks to the support of almost all G20 governments, alongside that of foundations and private businesses, COVAX has now raised nearly $10 billion and secured more than 600 million donated doses. All the preparations are in place for the most comprehensive vaccination effort that the world has seen.

Based on the committed orders COVAX has placed with vaccine manufacturers and the additional donations, hundreds of millions of new doses should now be available each month. We need to make sure they reach poorer countries and get into people’s arms. To avoid further delays, and for the facility to succeed, we need support from G20 leaders in four key areas.

First, we need doses, and we need them now. The premise of COVAX was always that the facility should be able to negotiate and buy its own doses. With our early vaccine access compromised, donations have played a vital role in maintaining our ability to keep doses flowing to those most in need. Of the 600 million doses pledged to COVAX to date, 100 million have now been delivered. We need more, and soon, with longer shelf lives and greater certainty so that recipient countries have time to plan their rollout. This can be achieved without jeopardizing high-income countries’ national vaccination efforts.

We also need G20 leaders to support our call for transparency. COVAX has legally binding agreements with manufacturers for more than four billion doses, but has all too often faced delays in accessing them. Without greater clarity regarding firms’ order books, it is impossible to know whether these holdups are due to production challenges or preferential treatment for bilateral arrangements. Insisting that manufacturers are transparent about their order timelines can ensure a level playing field where no one particularly those living in developing countries gets bumped to the back of the vaccine queue because of another bilateral deal.

In addition to ensuring that manufacturers keep their commitment to COVAX, governments should make global vaccine access their highest priority. Countries with pending orders for doses that they currently do not need should allow COVAX to take their place in the queue so that we can get doses to needy countries now.

Finally, lower-income countries require continued financial and technical support for their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. Strengthening national health systems will help these countries to ensure delivery of doses and mitigate the pandemic’s secondary effects, and will leave in place infrastructure critical to future global health security.

By recommitting to COVAX, G20 leaders will recommit to a multilateral solution that builds on the astounding scientific progress of the past year. Based on COVAX’s latest forthcoming supply forecast, when topped up with doses through bilateral deals, equitable COVID-19 vaccine access can protect up to 60% of the adult population in 91 lower-income countries. This would represent a huge step toward the WHO target of 70%, which is needed to suppress the coronavirus everywhere, and COVAX represents the best opportunity to achieve it.

Failure would mean more lives lost, broken health-care systems, even deadlier and more transmissible variants, and a pandemic with no end in sight. The G20 must not allow that to be an option.

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More African Countries Register Russia’s Sputnik Vaccine

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Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is a specialized technical institution of the African Union (AU) that strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

During the outbreak of the coronavirus, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), was established by African Union, as a component in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy and was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government on 20th of August 2020.

Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), has emphasized: “Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has a timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”

An official media release in February 2021, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team from the African Union (AU) informed that Russia would supply and deliver 300 million Sputnik V vaccines to Africa. That step was intended to support African countries to attain their targeted immunization of 60% of the population by the year-end. That vaccine story disappeared, but instead what become so common is the speedy registration of Sputnik V on bilateral basis in various African countries.

According to the latest, Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. The use of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has been approved in Nigeria, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in an official statement.

“The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund) announces the approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control of Nigeria (NAFDAC). Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. Total population of all countries, where Sputnik V is approved for use, now exceeds 3.7 billion people, which is nearly half of the global population,” the statement said.

“Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, and the approval of Sputnik V will provide for using one of the safest and most effective vaccines in the world. Sputnik V is based on a proven human adenoviral vectors platform and is successfully used in over 50 countries. Approval in Nigeria will make an important contribution to the country’s fight against the pandemic,” CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev said.

Besides Nigeria, other African countries have registered Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Reportedly, the vaccine has been registered in Algeria, Angola, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.

Russia’s drive to share Sputnik V vaccine, of course, offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has made efforts promoting the vaccine using all its channels. But supply and delivery have largely lagged behind, the pledges have simply not been fulfilled. Russian authorities have oftentimes said that they would step up efforts for fruitful cooperation in combating coronavirus in Africa.

Promising more than can be delivered appears to be a universal problem with coronavirus vaccines, and it is a real risk for Russia as well, said Theresa Fallon, Director of the Brussels-based Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies. “They have won the gold medal for creating this very effective vaccine,” she said. “But the problem is how are they going to implement production and delivery?”

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), with profit motivation, has attempted supplying the Russian vaccines through, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, from the Monarch family and a third party in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to a number of African countries. For instance, the Republic of Ghana reportedly signed US$64.6 million contract for Sputnik V vaccine from Russia through Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum. It was double the price from the producer as reported in the media.

On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted, in a speech early September, that advanced countries that produce vaccines against the coronavirus do little to protect humanity from the pandemic.

“The benefits of vaccination are enjoyed mostly by advanced economies. The bulk of the vaccines is made there, and it is used to protect their own population. But very little is being done to protect humanity in the broad sense,” Putin said at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, the Far East of Russia. “This is very bad for the producers, because all this boomerangs around the globe. For instance, in Africa the level of protection with vaccines is minimal, but contacts with the African countries continue. There is no getting away from this. This infection will return again and again.”

According to an official release obtained late February, the Sputnik V vaccine the following advantages:

• Efficacy of Sputnik V is 91.6% as confirmed by the data published in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals; It is one of only three vaccines in the world with efficacy of over 90%; Sputnik V provides full protection against severe cases of COVID-19. 

• The Sputnik V vaccine is based on a proven and well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors, which cause the common cold and have been around for thousands of years. 

• Sputnik V uses two different vectors for the two shots in a course of vaccination, providing immunity with a longer duration than vaccines using the same delivery mechanism for both shots. 

• The safety, efficacy and lack of negative long-term effects of adenoviral vaccines have been proven by more than 250 clinical studies over two decades. 

• The developers of the Sputnik V vaccine are working collaboratively with AstraZeneca on a joint clinical trial to improve the efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccine. 

• There are no strong allergies caused by Sputnik V. 

• The price of Sputnik V is less than $10 per shot, making it affordable around the world. 

In February, peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet published an analysis from Phase III clinical trial of the Russian vaccine, showing its 91.6-percent efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19. The Sputnik V vaccine was developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Sputnik V was registered in Russia on August 11, 2020 as the world’s first officially registered coronavirus vaccine. Russian vaccines have advantages as no deaths have been reported after vaccination with the Sputnik V, Alexander Gintsburg, Director of the Gamaleya Center, the vaccine developer, said and was reported by TASS News Agency. “As of today, no deaths after vaccination with Sputnik V have been registered,” he said.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors. RDIF acts as a catalyst for direct investment in the Russian economy. RDIF’s management is based in Moscow.

In Africa, during first of September, the coronavirus-related death toll has topped 196,190, while more than 6.9 million recoveries have been reported. South Africa accounts for a majority of coronavirus cases and deaths across Africa – 2,777,659 and 82,261 respectively. The death toll in Tunisia climbed to 23,451, and 664,034 cases have been confirmed. Egypt recorded 16,736 deaths and 288,441 coronavirus cases.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia is ranked second to South Africa (308,134 cases and 4,675 deaths) and is followed by Kenya (235,863 cases and 4,726 deaths) and Nigeria (191,805 and 2,455). The total number of COVID-19 cases has reached almost 8 million in Africa, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.

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