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Russia Dealing with Neo-Colonialism in Africa

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The United States, European Union and their Pacific allies’ sanctions are truly fast-driving Russia towards Africa. As the sanctions bite, Russia continues stepping up to realign with Africa, steadily stemming its policy with mountainous pledges of helping with sustainable development, increase trade through economic cooperation and strengthen relations. In addition, the sanctions have created the conditions for Russia to push its anti-Western and neo-colonialism agenda, reminiscent of the Cold War during the Soviet days. But such steps must necessarily and discernibly be implemented with renewed determination and decisiveness. 

Late April, Russian Presidential Special Representative for Middle East and Africa, and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mikhail Bogdanov explicitly explained in an interview to Interfax News Agency that Africa has always been an important region from the point of view of foreign policy for Russia. As oftentimes, he traced and renarrated, especially from 1950s and 1960s, the historical role the Soviet played in support for African peoples in attaining their statehood and political independence, the fight against colonial rule. 

“After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many other problems emerged and pushed cooperation with Africa into the background. Regrettably, much has been lost over this period,” he told the media, and frankly admitted further that Western and European countries, China, Turkey, and India et cetera, have filled the vacuum that emerged after the ‘retreat’ from Africa. 

According to Bogdanov, Africa is beyond any doubt a continent of the future, both from the point of view of human resources and because it is a storeroom of the world, one of the richest regions. But another issue is that colonial powers, as well as neocolonialists, have never let the Africans take advantage of the treasure which is literally right under their feet.

These past years, Russian diplomat have played the song of “neo-colonialism” and its negative effects on Africa, this song aims at winning the sympathy of African leaders. It has meanwhile embarked on fighting “neo-colonialism” which it considers as a stumbling stone on its way to regain part of its Soviet-era influence in Africa. Russia has sought to convince Africans over the past years of the likely dangers of neocolonial tendencies perpetrated by the former colonial masters and the scramble for resources on the continent.

Russian diplomats might have read Jamiacan Walter Rodney’s book “How Europe Underdevloped Africa” – as they similarly and consistently blames Western and Europeans for political, economic and social bottlenecks in Africa. Russia has expressed uttermost disatisfaction about Western and European engagement with Africa. All kinds of Soviet assistance rendered until many African states got the independece be simply considered as history. 

In an interview with Steven Gruzd, Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), explained that Africa is a busy geopolitical arena, with many players, both old and new, operating. Apart from EU countries, China and the US. There are players such as Iran, Turkey, Israel, the UAE, Japan and others. Russia has to compete against them, and distinctively remain focused its efforts with strategies. On the other side, Russia uses the rhetoric of anti-colonialism in its engagement with Africa, and that it is fighting neo-colonialism from the West, especially in relations with their former colonies. It sees France as a threat to its interests especially in Francophone West Africa, the Maghreb and the Sahel.

“I would largely agree that there is a divide between what has been pledged and promised at high-level meetings and summits, compared to what has actually materialized on the ground. There is more talk than action, and mere  intentions and ideas have been officially presented as initiatives already in progress. There needs to be a lot of tangible progress on the ground for the second summit to show impact. It will be interesting to see what has been concretely achieved in reports at the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled for this 2022,” he distinctively argued.

Steven Gruzd heads the Russia-Africa Research Programme initiated at SAIIA, South Africa’s premier research institute on international issues. It is an independent, non-government think tank, with a long and proud history of providing thought leadership in Africa.

From Russian and African experts’ point of view, Africa’s most valuable asset is not only its natural resources, but its people, especially the youth. The population of the continent has already passed the 1.3 billion mark, with a median age of about 20. Around 60% of the population are young people under the age of 25. With digital technology, these young Africans have the benefit of several alternative perspectives, and choose the approach they feel is closest to them. The young African generation between 25 and 45 years now have different perceptions and approaches toward issues relating to politics,economics and social questions. 

Given these numbers, for instance, United States and European countries are investing in the youth. China trains about 10,000 yearly, ranging from short-term courses to long-term academic disciplines. During the days of Barak Obama, the White House created Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). It brings 500 Africans to the White House in Washington and this YALI still runs various academic and training programmes for Africans. Before the Covid-19, The The Times Higher Education index indicated that approximately 43,000 Africans enrolled into American universities. There are many African universities and institutes with joint agreements running programes, including fellowships, together with Westerners and Europeans. That compared, Russia’s annual scholarship of about 1,800.

The young African generation (that constitutes the electorate) expect their leaders to deliver on sustainable development and initiatives that focus on employment creation. Political leaders, highly desirous to consolidate their positions, are searching for external partners who are ready to invest in energy, transport, industry, agriculture, health and other viable economic sectors. Therefore, in practical terms, all such warnings on the existing or emerging neo-colonialism could fall on deaf ears as African leaders choose development partners with funds to invest in the economy.

In terms of working with the African continent, Russian business leaders say the African continent remains so little known in Russia. The historic Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum held three years ago played a crucial role in addressing this, as did the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But many issues stipulated in the joint political declaration largely remain untouched on the shelves of the Kremlin and the Russian ministries, departments and agencies. And who cares about those official files? The newly created Russian African Public Forum Secretariat and the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS). People who work within these structures hardly talk about the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). They faintly know, if nothing at all, that AfCFTA could also serve as a platform to strengthen business ties between Russia and Africa. 

Nevertheless, the African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA) promises creating a single borderless market, it offers various opportunities for localization, production and marketing of consumables throughout Africa. This should perhaps, be the strongest dimension of Russia’s dealings in Africa.

Currently, Russians know and strongly value only state-to-state cooperation, completely ignored the private sectors and civil society in their diplomacy with Africa. While the public sector has a responsibility to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, the private sector, equally plays a key role in among others, enhancing trade and investment, expanding innovations and resource mobilization for investment in socio-economic projects. Increased investment is a prerequisite for the realization of the UN Development Goals 2030 and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Unsurprisingly, both Russian and African experts have expressed their concern about official visits proliferating both ways, with little impact on the sustainable development currently needed by the majority of African countries. While some see official visits simply as diplomatic tourism. But a number of the African leaders wonder how to turn Russia’s focus towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Last November, a group of 25 leading experts headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, released a report that vividly highlighted some spectacular pitfalls and shortcomings in Russia’s approach towards Africa. It pointed to Russia’s consistent failure in honouring its several pledges over the years. It decried the increased number of bilateral and high-level meetings that yield little or bring to the fore no definitive results. In addition, insufficient and disorganized Russian African lobbying combined with a lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking, says the policy report.

The United States, EU representatives, China, India, Turkey and even the Gulf States are, these days, looking at Africa from different perspectives, but more importantly pushing for their economic footprints on the continent. For instance, fresh from their previous EU-AU summit, both agreed on several infrastructure and investment projects. EU is committing approx. €300 billion ($340 billion) for financing new investment initiatives – similar to China’s Belt and Road initiative – an investment programme the bloc claims would create links, not dependencies.

U.S. investment amounts to billions of dollars. At the 13th US-Africa Business Summit, organized by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), a leading reputable American business association, the American investors indicated that there are ways the continent can benefit from them, including in sectors like pharmaceuticals, automobiles, agro-processing and financial technology. On the other hand, American investors are looking forward to exploring several opportunities in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a policy signed by African countries to make the continent a single market.

The United States is pursuing agreements that go beyond African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA). It will be pursuing public-private partnerships that support the US and African businesses, including women-owned and led Small and Medium Enterprises. Special focus is also on youth business especially technology, while looking to build more stronger relationships with willing Africans through bilateral engagement. There were diverse panel discussions that emphasized the growing trend of digitalization of SMEs and African business operations.

During the separate discussions with more than 20 former African ambassadors who served in the Russian Federation, they have abundantly made it clear how to stimulate African governments to explore best investment opportunities in Russia and woo Russian investors into developing Africa’s SDGs within a framework of bilateral cooperation.

Former South African Ambassador, Mandisi Mpahlwa, said that Sub-Saharan Africa has understandably been low on post-Soviet Russia’s list of priorities, given that Russia is not as dependent on Africa’s natural resources as most other major economies. The reason: Soviet and African relations, anchored as they were on the fight to push back the frontiers of colonialism, did not necessarily translate into trade, investment and economic ties, which would have continued seamlessly with post-Soviet Russia.

“Of course, Russia’s objective of taking the bilateral relationship with Africa to the next level cannot be realized without close partnership with the private sector. Africa and Russia are close politically, but they are geographically distant, and the people-to-people ties are still rather under-developed. This translates into a low level of knowledge on both sides of what the other has to offer. There is perhaps also a measure of fear of the unknown or the unfamiliar in both countries,” according to Mpahlawa.

On April 29, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Russian NGO that focuses on foreign policy, held an online conference with participation of experts on Africa. Chairing the online discussion, Professor Igor Ivanov, former Foreign Affairs Minister and now RIAC President, made an opening speech, pointed out that Russia’s task in Africa is to present a strategy and define priorities with the countries of the continent, build on the decisions of the first Russia-Africa Summit.

On the development of cooperation between Russia and African countries, Professor Igor Ivanov pointed out a few steps here: “Russia’s task is to prevent a rollback in relations with African countries. It is necessary to use the momentum set by the first Russia-Africa Summit. First of all, it is necessary for Russia to define explicitly its priorities: why are we returning to Africa? Just to make money, strengthen our international presence, help African countries or to participate in the formation of the new world order together with the African countries? Some general statements of a fundamental nature were made at the first Summit, now it is necessary to move from general statements to specificity.”

In this context, Russia needs to face the new geopolitical realities and its challenges. Whether one likes it or not, Africa has become an arena for competition between various global powers. As Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized at the Boao Forum, “We have to uphold the principle of indivisible positions on the global stage, continue building a balanced, effective and external sustainable economic architecture around the world.”

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and AUC Chairperson, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat have also been discussing the ways and means of encouraging Russian corporations’ participation in major infrastructure projects on the continent and expecially in Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution. Lavrov has many times assured that Moscow firmly supports the principle of “African solutions to African problems” within a framework of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as developed by individual African countries, sub-regional organizations and the African Union.

Most importantly, given the sanctions imposed on Russia by the collective West, it would be necessary to substantially adapt mechanisms of cooperation to suit these new realities, primarily in the bilateral and multilateral relations. Lavrov, in one of his speeches posted to the official website, has noted frankly in remarks: “it is evident that the significant potential of our economic cooperation is far from being exhausted and much remains to be done so that Russian and African partners know more about each other’s capacities and needs. We still have to create conditions necessary for interaction between Russia and Africa.” 

Now at the crossroad, it could be meadering and longer than expected to make the mark. Russia’s return journey could take another generation to reach destination Africa. With the current geo-political changing world, Russia has been stripped of as a member of many international organizations. As a direct result of Russia’s “special military operation” aims at “demilitarization and denazification” of its neighbouring Ukraine since late February, Russia has come under a raft of sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada, European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries.

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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Russia Scrambles for Higher Performance Marks in Africa

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Squeezed between Western and European sanctions due to its “special military operation” in Ukraine since late February and its dilapidating effects on Africa’s economy on one side and its decades-old desire to regain part of the Soviet-era influence despite the weak economic presence and negative perceptions at the core among the public especially the youth and middle class, Russia is gearing up for the next traditional African leaders summit. 

With preparations underway, Russia would have to begin preparing for and play different attractive rhythms at the second African leaders summit in 2023 at St. Petersburg, Russia. Reports monitored by the author indicate that the modest economic gains are gradually eroding due to Covid-19 these past two years and the situation is turning complicated currently due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The Russia-Ukraine crisis has a strong immeasurable negative impact, generating social discontent across large spectrum of the population in Africa. Therefore, African leaders would indiscriminately have cooperate with any foreign investors willing to invest and support their development process. Across Africa, more than 282 million people are food insecured – and that number is rising, according to the estimates by the World Bank. 

Throughout Africa, many across the population are displaying discontention and dissatisfaction due to unbearable rising prices for commodities and consumables. This latest food crisis, which did not originate in the continent, is reaching alarming dimensions especially in Africa. In fact, African leaders are confronted with these hurdles and emerging challenges. They are feverishly looking for both short-term solutions to calm down existing tensions among the people, and also long-term strategies to push sustainable development and make pace for growth.

The United States percieves most of the challenges and opportunities with a difference in Africa. It is constantly investing and its private investors are active exploring the continent. The United States is well-connected with its public outreach diplomacy. American institutions and organizations are linking up with the youth, women and the civil society.

After a peak in 2014, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa from the United States dropped to US$47.5 billion in 2020. During the pandemic, it provided more than 50 million doses to 43 African countries. It has further given more than US$1.9 billion in Covid-related assistance, for urgent needs like emergency food and other humanitarian support.

President Joe Biden has launched the Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience. The year, the Congress allocated US$3 billion every year by 2024 to finance climate adaptation projects, the largest commitment ever made by the United States to reduce the impact of climate change on those most endangered by it. Through the Power Africa programme, the U.S. has connected more than 25 million homes and businesses across the continent to electricity, 80 percent of which is based on renewables. Development Finance Corporation supports renewable energy across Africa, including a solar project in Nigeria, wind farms in Senegal and Kenya. Nigeria marked a new chapter with the signing of a US$2.1 billion development assistance agreement that supports collaboration in the fundamentals: in health, in education, agriculture, good governance. 

And then four U.S. companies are collaborating with the Senegalese Government on infrastructure projects; that’s the Institut Pasteur de Dakar, which is working toward COVID vaccine production with American support and investment; and pushing innivation, technology and entrepreneurship with women and youth groups in Africa.  The popular partnership between the United States and Africa is YALI – the Young African Leaders Initiative.

The Prosper Africa initiative aims to increase two-way trade and investment.  The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act – known as AGOA – provides duty-free access to American markets, and most African countries have taken full advantage of it. U.S. investors are seriously leveraging unto the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Similarly, China, Japan and South Korea have started localizing production of automobiles and tech gadgets. 

Despite some criticism, international development institutions and organizations are ready and offering support. In addition, external countries are stepping up efforts in that direction. The World Bank stands ready. Its latest three-year, US$93 billion global programme – about 2/3 of which will support Africa’s development agenda – delivered through the International Development Association (IDA). The IDA is the world’s largest source of concessional funds, including grants for low-income countries, helping them seize opportunities to reduce poverty and stimulate inclusive growth.

This latest IDA replenishment will enable our support to Africa to increase even more in the years ahead.  Africa has become the prime region benefiting from IDA resources – growing more than tenfold its annual program of about US$3 billion in 2000 to well over US$30 billion currently. This support, plus our growing on the ground presence across Africa, is enabling us to work hand-in-hand with governments, with the private sector, and civil society to implement the continent’s ambitious development agenda.

While in Dakar, capital of Senegal, meeting more than a dozen Heads of State from across Africa, Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, said “African leaders have, through the African Union process, articulated clear goals – from digitalization to electricity to education – and we are committed to helping Africa translate these ambitions into strong programmes that can, within a short period of time, improve people’s lives and transform the continent.”

Foreign countries, the United States, European Union, Asian states such China, and from the Gulf and Arab states are, indeed, at the forefront in Africa. In March during the heat of Russia-Ukraine crisis, the United States and European Union supported Africa through the African Development Bank (AfDB), when the bank sought funds more than US$50 billion for curated bankable projects in key priority sectors identified in the Africa Investment Forum’s 2020 Unified Response to Covid-19 initiative.

According to the China-Africa Economic and Trade Relationship Annual Report (2021), while Covid-19 has shaken the global economy, Chinese investment in Africa has been climbing. The report says China invested US$2.96 billion in Africa in 2020, up 9.5% from 2019.  The turnover of Chinese enterprises’ contracted projects in Africa amounted to US$383.3 billion in 2020, that is a 16.7% drop from 2019.

In a media release, the U.S. Government’s lead development agency, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has renewed its partnership with many African countries. Quiye recently, it offered to fund various projects, including investment in health and education, women and youth, and infrastructures in a number of African countries. For instance, in April this year, it gave assistance funding of US$1.5 billion to promote a more peaceful, prosperous and healthy Mozambique.

The economic significance of Eurasian Union for Africa’s development here need not be over-discussed. Members of the European Union such as Britain, France, Germany and The Netherlands are play some visible roles in Africa. The European Union, as a substantial economic power bloc, has long-term working relations with African Union.

With its new Global Gateway Strategy, the EU is demonstrating the readiness to support massive infrastructural investment in Africa.  It also seeks to unlock new business and investment opportunities, including in the areas of manufacturing and agro processing as well as regional and continental value chains development. In a document entitled “Toward a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa” – the document sets forth the template of what the EU plans to do with Africa. 

Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President and Commissioner at the EU Secretariat pointed out that “In this new approach towards Africa, we can build a modern, sustainable and mutually rewarding partnership of equals. Of course, there will be challenges along the way but the EU stands ready to help. We want to share the lessons from our own process of economic integration, and with our new Global Gateway Strategy. We have demonstrated that we are ready to support massive infrastructural investment in Africa.”

That said, African leaders are exploring available possibilities and windows that have been opened after the last EU-Africa summit. The European Union has unveiled €300 billion (US$340 billion) alternative to China’s Belt and Road initiative – an investment programme the bloc claims will create links, not dependencies.

There great rivalry and keen competition among key global players now. And Africa is now seen from different perspectives, but more importantly, it has been described as the last investment frontier due to the current transformations taking place there. During the 35th Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the AU in Addis Ababa in February, António Guterres argued that Africa was “a source of hope” for the world. 

In November 2021, a report prepared by 25 Russian policy experts, titled ‘Situation Analytical Report’ explicitly noted that many external countries are using diplomacy in all ways to support their efforts in Africa. It criticized the inconsistency of Russia’s current policy towards Africa. The intensification of political contacts is only with a focus on making them demonstrative. Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa needs to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries. 

While the number of high-level meetings has increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are little definitive results from such high-level meetings. Many bilateral agreements largely remain not implemented, and many pledges undelivered. It pointed to lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa. According to the report, Russia has to intensify and redefine its parameters as it has now transcended to the fifth stage in its relationship with Africa.

That report was also critical about public speaking. The report lists insufficient and disorganized Russian-African lobbying, combined with the lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. In several ways, ideas and intentions are often passed for results, and worse Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations.

Several reports monitored by this author show clearly that there has been little approach, in terms of government and institutional public relations, in Russia’s foreign policy in Africa. This author has written a lot about this, emphasizing the seriousness of using media networks – an calculated attempt to build an atmosphere of trust and confidence. Quite obviously, Russians have to devote a great deal of thought to creating strategic communication group that could highlight its diverse performance and practical genuine interests in Africa.

Opening a new stage of relations becomes important especially when analyzing the contradictions and confrontations posed by the Russia-Ukraine crisis and its multiple effects on future relations. Without doubts, African leaders complained bitterly that they have become direct victims of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Overall Russia’s investment in economic sectors is still staggering there in the continent and comparatively, the fact still remains that the United States, the European Union and a number of Asian and Gulf States are investing heavily in Africa.

The Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Deputy Mikhail Bogdanov, most often show their crosshair of consistent criticism for Western and European dominance and investment in Africa. It lacks strategies for implementing those oftentimes forward-looking policy for Africa. The passion for repeating the same things in different ways in speeches. In a general sense, their repetitive theme of Soviet-era support for political liberation and now efforts to help Africa fight neocolonialism is highly appreciated but Russia has to, in practical terms, show its latest policy achievements in various sectors for the past two decades. 

On another side note, Russia most probably needs to design its template of its communication strategy ahead of the 2023 summit, that has to largely win the hearts of African leaders to the emerging New World Order. As already promised, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, indicated in a mid-June message that “in these difficult and crucial times the strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy. The signed agreements and the results will be consolidated at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit.” 

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Ethiopia: Without immediate funding, 750,000 refugees will have ‘nothing to eat’

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Children displaced by conflict and drought pose for a photo n Semera, Afar Region, Ethiopia. © UNICEF/UN0639245/Sewunet

UN agencies appealed on Tuesday for $73 million over the next six months to provide food rations to more than 750,000 people seeking refuge in Ethiopia.

The World Food Programme (WFP), UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and Ethiopian Government Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS) made the plea for assistance because without it, WFP will run out of food for the refugees by October.

The impending crisis will leave vulnerable families at risk of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, and increased susceptibility to diseases, the agencies warned

“Three quarters of a million refugees will be left with nothing to eat in just a matter of weeks unless we receive funding immediately,” said Claude Jibidar, WFP’s Representative and Country Director for Ethiopia.

Ration cuts

Cutting rations has been an issue with which WFP has long had to grapple.

Food rations for refugees in Ethiopia were first reduced by 16 per cent in November 2015, then 40 per cent in November 2021, and finally 50 per cent in June 2022.

The impact of these cuts has been heightened by global limitations on food availability, widespread economic shock, rising food and energy costs, the COVID-19 fallout, and armed conflict.

Impact of cuts

To understand the impact of ration cuts on refugees, WFP, UNHCR and RRS conducted in April, a rapid assessment on 1,215 refugee camps households throughout relevant regions.

The results show that most had coped with food insecurity by reducing the number of meals eaten in a day, consuming less expensive foods, or limiting meal portions. 

The joint assessment also revealed that households are going to desperate measures to make up for funding cuts.

Funding repercussions

Funding cuts have forced refugees to rely on an ever-finite supply of food, which increases the likelihood of resource-based conflicts.

Data shows that many families have been relying on children to generate extra income to afford food.

Other households were forced to borrow cash, relying on friends or relatives for sustenance.

“We have a shortfall of $73 million for refugees’ minimum needs and we are deeply concerned that if funding cuts continue, they may consider returning to their places of origin when it is unsafe,” warned Mr. Jibidar.

Taking action 

More resources must be mobilized to meet immediate food demands, and smart investments should be taken to prioritize sustainable farming.  

“The priority for us all must be to restore assistance to at least minimum levels for refugees, all of whom are solely reliant on WFP’s cash and food assistance for survival,” said the UN Country Director.

With an immediate donor response, WFP would be able to buy food available in the region to meet the dietary needs of the refugees and also transfer cash to the refugees, providing them the choice of how to meet their immediate needs and stimulating local markets.

Support needed

The agencies have established an effective system to identify the food assistance needs of refugees through biometric verification, accountability mechanisms and programmes to grant monthly food and cash assistance.

The trio called on all partners to strengthen efforts to address their immediate and long-term food needs in line with international commitments. 

Meanwhile, WFP, UNHCR and RRS will continue to count on donors for extended funding support based on the principle of shared responsibility to implement basic humanitarian life-saving activities.

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Central African Republic: Militias spreading ‘terror, insecurity’, must lay down arms

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UN peacekeepers patrol the town of Bambari in the Central African Republic. (file) MINUSCA/Hervé Serefio

Armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) must lay down their arms and engage in political dialogue, a UN-appointed independent human rights expert said on Friday, urging the international community to strengthen efforts to restore State authority and end impunity there.

“I vehemently condemn the obstinacy of the Coalition of Patriots for Change and other armed groups who continue to spread terror, insecurity and suffering among the civilian population and victims of violations and abuses,” said Yao Agbetse, who monitors rights abuses in CAR.

Armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) must lay down their arms and engage in political dialogue, a UN-appointed independent human rights expert said on Friday, urging the international community to strengthen efforts to restore State authority and end impunity there.

“I vehemently condemn the obstinacy of the Coalition of Patriots for Change and other armed groups who continue to spread terror, insecurity and suffering among the civilian population and victims of violations and abuses,” said Yao Agbetse, who monitors rights abuses in CAR.

Grave human rights violations

At the end of a ten-day official visit to the country, he expressed dismay over reports from residents in the town of Bria, capital of the Haute-Kotto prefecture, who described the ease with which armed groups can move in and out of neighbouring Sudan.

In that same district, schools in Ouadda, Yalinga, and Sam-Ouandja regions, have been closed for four years.

Meanwhile, in Haute Kotto and Mbomou prefectures, the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic and the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance en Centrafrique (FPRC) have committed numerous grave human rights violations, including sexual violence, particularly rape and sexual slavery, mostly targeting girls aged 11-17.

Mahamat Salleh, an FPRC leader based in Nzako, has been implicated in several cases of rape and other serious human rights abuses, Mr. Agbetse said.

‘Unacceptable’ attack

He pointed to the brutal, organized attack on the village of Boyo last December, saying that human rights violations committed by the CAR national army (FACA) and the internal security forces (FSI) and their auxiliaries were “unacceptable”.

Russian allies and the FACA had allegedly provided support to the mostly Christian anti-Balaka militia who committed atrocities there, including beheadings and sexual violence, and forced thousands of residents to flee.

“The seriousness of these facts requires appropriate responses from national authorities towards the victims,” Mr. Agbetse said.

“I recommend that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCAset up a more reactive warning system and regular joint operations with the FACA to prevent tragedies like the one in Boyo”.

Mercenaries

The UN expert also demanded that Russian mercenaries of the Wagner security group refrain from obstructing collaboration and joint operations between FACA, FSI and UN peacekeepers. 

“The Wagner group must not prevent the deployment of MINUSCA protection operations and not obstruct the investigation of human rights abuses and violations of International Humanitarian Law,” he continued.

In the interest of all citizens of CAR, the UN expert urged outlawed militias to engage in the peace and reconciliation process led by the Commission on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation.

Systematic investigations

At the conclusion of his visit, Mr. Agbetse recommended that all allegations of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law be systematically and thoroughly investigated by Central African authorities.

“These investigations must be followed by concrete actions to ensure that the victims have access to justice,” he said.

The expert said a reparation fund should also be established to ensure justice for victims.

Moreover, he strongly recommended extraordinary judicial sessions to tackle the heavy caseload of sexual violence allegations linked to the chronic instability and conflict across CAR.

Sentencing

Mr. Agbetse upheld that in cases of conflict-related sexual violence, so-called “amicable settlements” were simply unjust to victims, and must be stopped, he added.

Moreover, he noted that some testimonies and reports indicated a lack of control and accountability within the State apparatus, including the judiciary, police, and the civil service in general.

He also called on Authorities to address hate speech and incitement to violence, and on the international community to strengthen its support to ensure that State authority restoration is effective.

Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.

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