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Berbera is taking back its place on the map

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Once upon a time this town was so important, the entire seaway was known as the Gulf of Berbera. Today it’s the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, a funnel almost 400 kilometres wide at the entrance where it meets the Indian Ocean, tapering to a narrow strait between Djibouti and Yemen, then on to the Red Sea and Suez.

If there’s a problem, it’s that Berbera — having passed through the Roman, Greek, Ottoman and British empires and fancied as a base for the Soviet fleet during the Cold War — is now in a country that doesn’t exist.

In 1961, the British territory of Somaliland gained independence and joined an unhappy union with greater Somalia. In 1991, it broke away and has fought a 30-year battle for recognition. Britain and the US have opened consulates, Taiwan has a trade office and Ethiopia has long used Berbera as a link to the coast.

But the new terminal built by Dubai firm DP World has potential to give Somaliland the kind of power no one can ignore. With a quay length of 400 metres and three ship-to-shore gantry cranes, it is now able to host the biggest container ships in the world.

For more than a century, the key stop for naval and merchant craft has been Djibouti where the US and China each have a military base, not far from the giant container terminal also built and operated by DP World.

Problems came in 2018 when Djibouti president, Ismaîl Guelleh nationalised the dock. The country has a poor record on human rights and, since independence from France in 1977, the only two presidents have been Guelleh and his uncle.

Push north and you’re in Eritrea, one of Africa’s last dictatorships and to the south is Somalia with a history of instability.

That leaves Berbera which, until now, was too small to handle the volume of shipping that plies the Gulf. The country’s president, His Excellency Muse Bihi Abdi, President of Somaliland

“This is a proud and historic moment for Somaliland and its people, as the completion of the first phase has made our vision of establishing Berbera with its strategic location into a major trade hub in the region a reality. With the new terminal, along with the second phase of expansion and economic zone along the Berbera corridor, we are now firmly positioned to further develop and grow our economy through increased trade, attracting foreign direct investment and creating jobs”.

Since reestablishing its sovereignty, Somaliland has been a multiparty democracy (the only one on the Horn) and has had several changes of government through the ballot box. Elections are monitored by the US and the European Union and the media is more free than most across the continent.

The other advantage is that Somalilanders speak English, a plus for countries like India, Australia, Britain, South Africa and the UK who rely so heavily on the Suez Canal.

The Pentagon has its only permanent military base in Africa at Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti. In recent years, their relationship with Guelleh has become awkward, both on the question of human rights and because he has moved ever-closer to China. There has long been speculation that, if Somaliland won recognition at the UN, the Americans might move their troops to Berbera.

If there’s a difficulty, it’s that the last time the world accepted a split in an African state, it gave birth to South Sudan and an almost continuous civil war.

Like Taiwan or Northern Cyprus — both largely unrecognised but with
sovereign control of their affairs — Somaliland is a fact and no one seriously believes it might join again with Mogadishu. One thing that stands out to the visitor both in Berbera and the capital Hargeisa, is the support for independence. None of the groups pushing for unity with the south is taken seriously.

The harbour did not come cheap. In 2016, DP World signed a deal worth close on half-a-billion dollars to redevelop Berbera and run the terminal which would operate as a free-trade zone. The first phase of the work was completed this year and the opening ceremony on 24 July was hosted jointly by Somaliland president Muse Bhi and the chairman of DP World, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem.

Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, DP World Group Chairman and CEO, said: “DP World’s investment in the Port of Berbera, and its integration with the special economic zone we are developing along the Berbera Corridor, reflects our confidence in Berbera and intent to develop it into a significant, world-class centre of trade. It will be a viable, efficient and competitive option for trade in the region, especially for Ethiopian transit cargo.

The region’s key power, Ethiopia is likely to be its major client. In 1993 after years of civil war, the coastal region of Eritrea was officially recognised as a sovereign state and its secession left Ethiopia landlocked. Since then, all trade has had to pass through neighbouring states; when Somaliland broke free, the government in Addis Ababa was the first to allow direct flights to Hargeisa.

With Somalia still recovering from conflict and both Djibouti and Eritrea well-short of democracy, the issue of recognition was put to one side. It’s less than a three-hour drive from Berbera to the Ethiopian border and a planned rail link will be even quicker.

Until now, the only limit has been capacity at the docks but the expansion has been drafted to cope with regional growth for the next 30 years

There’s an airport at Berbera with one of the world’s longest runways, built by the Russians who had plans for a military base that never materialised, then rented by NASA as an emergency landing pad for the Space Shuttle. With the new harbour and increased shipping, there are hopes of tourism and, ultimately, flights from Europe. The coast here is unspoiled with miles of empty beaches, coral reefs and temperatures that even in winter rarely dip below 28˚C.

By the first century AD, this was the go-to place for gold, copper, honey and fabric, carried by camel from the hinterland and shipped to Arabia. In the 1850s, a European explorer wrote of it as, “the true key to the Red Sea and the centre of East African traffic”.

Under the British, Berbera was the capital of Somaliland, with beachside restaurants and a busy nightlife, and in the early years of union with Somalia, more than half the country’s income was generated by goods shipped from here.

Somalia still claims sovereignty over all the former territory, but investors have long dismissed that idea. This confusion is made worse by the United States insisting that matters pertaining to Somaliland be dealt with by their embassy in Mogadishu.

When leaders from Hargeisa get the red carpet on visits to other African states or further afield, it’s followed by protest from Somalia which in 2019 severed diplomatic ties with Guinea after Somaliland’s president was given a welcome there befitting a head of state.

No one pays much attention, and there have been rumblings in Washington and London about recognition. The fear is it might encourage other parts of Somalia to break away and spur secessionist movements already active in Nigeria, Cameroon and northern Mozambique.

It’s a tough neighbourhood. Across the gulf lies Yemen, beyond that Israel and Lebanon with problems of their own. The region is short on water and has a young population, many without jobs. But it’s also the only route to the Suez Canal.

For its part, DP World is pushing ahead with further plans for Berbera. In a recent tweet, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said his company will extend, “the new container terminal’s quay by more than twice its current length to a total of 1000 metres.”

With that done, capacity will rival Mombasa in Kenya, one of the busiest wharves in Africa. Historically it was called the Gulf of Berbera, and Berbera is taking back its place on the map.

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Africa

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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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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