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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

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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