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Russia’s Summit on Africa: Challenges, Implications and Beyond

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With highly expected symbolism, Russia’s primary focus at the forthcoming November summit in St. Petersburg with African leaders, corporate business directors, representatives from the academic community, civil society organizations and media will largely be renewing most of its unfulfilled bilateral agreements and making new pledges that will, as usual, be incorporated into a second joint declaration.

Brilliant speeches reminded of long-standing traditions of friendship and solidarity, how Soviets assisted African countries in their struggle to attain independence and established statehood, and further highlighted neo-colonialism tendencies wide spreading on the continent. That Russia stands with Africa on matters of strengthening peace and stability on the continent and ensuring regional security. Next is absolute readiness to engage in broadening vibrant cooperation in all economic sectors.

While the first summit was described as highly successful due to its spectacular blistering symbolism and has offered the necessary solid impetus for raising to qualitative level the multifaceted relations, especially in the economic spheres with Africa, much has still not been pursued as expected. Behind the shadows of the bilateral agreements, some of the projects were simultaneously assigned to either Western or European investors.

Long before the historic summit, African foreign ministers and delegations had lined up visiting Moscow. Those frequent official visits were intended to show off that Russia is high demand as indicated in a 150-paged new policy released last November by 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.

The report that vividly highlighted some pitfalls and shortcomings in Russia’s approach towards Africa. It further pointed to Russia’s consistent failure in honoring its several agreements and 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.

There are, indeed, to demonstrate “demand for Russia” in the non-Western world; the formation of ad hoc political alliances with African countries geared towards competition with the collective West. Apart from the absence of a public strategy for the continent, there is lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.

Despite the growth of external player’s influence and presence in Africa, Russia has to intensify and redefine its parameters. Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa has to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries.

Unlike most competitors, Russia has to promote an understandable agenda for Africa: working more on sovereignty, continental integration, infrastructure development, human development (education and medicine), security (including the fight against hunger and epidemics), normal universal human values, the idea that people should live with dignity and feel protected.

Nearly all the Russian experts who participated in putting the report together unreservedly agreed with this view. The main advantage of such an agenda is that it may be more oriented to the needs of Africans than those of its Western and European competitors. It is advisable to present such a strategy already at the second Russia-Africa summit, and discuss and coordinate it with African partners before that. Along with the strategy, it is advisable to adopt an Action Plan – a practical document that would fill cooperation with substance between summits.

Vsevolod Tkachenko, the Director of the Africa Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, stated during one of the preparatory meetings, “the African partners expect concrete deeds, maximum substantive ideas and useful proposals.” The current task is to demonstrate results and highlight achievements to the African side. Over the past years, African countries have witnessed many bilateral agreements, memoranda of understanding and pledges.

Russia has to set different narratives about its aspirations and intentions of returning to Africa. The approach has to move from rhetoric and mere declarations of interests. Since the basis of the summit remains the economic interaction between Russia and Africa, “the ideas currently being worked out on new possible instruments to encourage Russian exports to Africa, Russian investments to the continent, such as a fund to support direct investment in Africa, all these deserve special attention,” Tkachenko says.

According to an official report posted on the website, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov, during the “Government Hour” in the State Duma on January 26, stated that the “cooperation with African countries has expanded to reach new frontiers. Together with African friends, we are working on preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled to be held this year.” Previously, for instance, Lavrov explicitly indicated: “Russia’s political ties, in particular, are developing dynamically. But economic cooperation is not as far advanced as political ties.”

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Many experts have expressed concern about the relationship between Russia and Africa, most often comparing it with other foreign players on the continent within the framework of sustainable development there in Africa. It is about time to make meaningful efforts to implement tons of bilateral agreements already signed with Africa countries.

“Russia, of course, is not satisfied with this state of affairs. At present diplomacy dominates its approach: a plethora of agreements was signed with many African countries, official visits proliferate apace, but the outcomes remain hardly discernible,” Professor Gerrit Olivier from the Department of Political Sciences, the University of Pretoria in South Africa and a former South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation wrote in an emailed comment.

“While, given its global status, Russia ought to be active in Africa as Western Europe, the European Union, America and China are, it is all but absent, playing a negligible role. Be that as it may, the Kremlin has revived its interest in the African continent and it will be realistic to expect that the spade work it is putting in now will at some stage show more tangible results,” Olivier added.

Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Russia, Brigadier General (rtd) Nicholas Mike Sango, who has been in his post since July 2015, expresses his views on the relations between Africa and the Russian Federation. While Russia has traditional ties with Africa, its economic footprints are not growing as expected. It has however attempting to transform the much boasted political relations into a more comprehensive and broad economic cooperation, he noted in his conversation with me.

He pointed to the disparity in the level of development, the diversity of cultures and aspirations of the peoples of the two regions, there is growing realization that Africa is an important partner in the “emerging and sustainable polycentric architecture of the world order” as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has aptly asserted. But in fact, Africa’s critical mass can only be ignored at great risk therefore.

For a long time, Russia’s foreign policy on Africa has failed to pronounce itself in practical terms as evidenced by the countable forays into Africa by Russian officials. The Russian Federation has shied away from economic cooperation with Africa, making forays into the few countries that it has engaged in the last few years. African leaders hold Russia in high esteem as evidenced by the large number of African embassies in Moscow. Furthermore, Russia has no colonial legacy in Africa, according to the Zimbabwean diplomat.

Ambassador Sango, who previously held various high-level posts such as military adviser in Zimbabwe’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, and as international instructor in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), also said that “Russia has not responded in the manner expected by Africa, as has China, India and South Korea, to name a few. Africa’s expectation is that Russia, while largely in the extractive industry, will steadily transfer technologies for local processing of raw materials as a catalyst for Africa’s development.”

While Russia and Africa have common positions on the global platform, the need to recognize and appreciate the aspirations of the common man cannot be overstated. Africa desires economic upliftment, human security in the form of education, health, shelter as well as security from transnational terrorism among many challenges afflicting Africa. The Russian Federation has the capacity and ability to assist Africa overcome these challenges leveraging on Africa’s vast resources, Ambassador Sango concluded.

For more than three decades after Soviet collapse in 1991, Russia has had different degrees of political relations and currently looking forward to build stronger economic cooperation. During these years, the relations have also transited through distinctive phases taking cognizance of challenges and fast changing global politics.

In an interview discussion for this story, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana, explains to this research writer that “Although, for a relationship lasting this long with Africa, one would have expected it to move past where it is now. In short, there is still room for improvement, in fostering particularly stronger economic ties.”

It is hoped that Russia continues consistently to catch up with other active foreign competitors, makes attempts to transform the well-developed political relations with broader economic cooperation the coming years. Ultimately, emphasis should also be placed on developing ‘people-to-people’ relations, whereby the peoples of both countries would have better understanding of each other.

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Critically not much has been achieved, looking at the Russia-Africa relations from the perspective of regional organizations – especially Southern African Development Community (SADC), when it was headed by Lawrence Stergomena. Regrettably, she explained during discussions with me that like most of the developing countries, Southern African countries have largely relied on multilateral and regional development financial institutions to fund their development projects.

In this regard, SADC welcomes investors from all over the world. In reality, Russia has not been that visible in the region as compared to China, India or Brazil. On the other hand, it is encouraging that Russia is currently attempting to position itself to be a major partner with Southern Africa, underlined Stergomena, and further explained that the SADC is an inter-governmental organization with its primary goal of deepening socio-economic cooperation and integration in the southern region.

Dr. Babafemi A. Badejo, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Nigeria, argues that many foreign players and investors are now looking forward to exploring several opportunities in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which provides a unique and valuable access to an integrated African market of over 1.2 billion people. In practical reality, it aims at creating a continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business people and investments in Africa.

Badejo argues further that Russia’s gradual engagement can be boosted by African media popularizing and boosting knowledge on such engagements by Russia. Hosting the next summit would feed very well into popularizing Russia’s efforts at engagement with African leaders. However, promoting relations with the continent of Africa would require more than a one-off event with African leaders who have varying levels of legitimacy from performance or lack of it in their respective countries.

Interestingly, and at the current moment, not much of Russia’s image is promoted by the media in Africa. African media should have the opportunity to report more about Russian corporate presence in Africa and their added value to the realization of the sustainable development goals in Africa. This corporate presence can support the building of the media image of Russia in Africa through involvements with people-at-large oriented activities.

In this final analysis, Russia has to make consistent efforts in building its media network that could further play key role in strengthening relations with Africa, the academic professor noted in his lengthy discussions on Russia-Africa, and concluded that it is Western perception and narrative of Russia that pervades the African media. Russia needs to do more in using media to tell its own story and interest in Africa.

President Vladimir Putin noted at the VTB Capital’s Russia Calling Forum, that many countries had been “stepping up their activities on the African continent” but added that Russia could not cooperate with Africa “as it was in the Soviet period, for political reasons.” In his opinion, cooperation with African countries could be developed on a bilateral basis as well as on a multilateral basis, through the framework of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Reports say Moscow promises to provide genuine cooperation seems illusive over these years. Russia’s involvement in infrastructure development has been extremely low for the past decades on the continent. With its impressive relations, Russia has not pledged publicly concrete funds toward implementing its policy objectives in Africa. Its investment efforts have been limited thus far which some experts attributed to lack of a system of financing. While Russians are very cautious about making financial commitments, the financial institutions are not closely involved in foreign policy initiatives in Africa.

In addition, experts have identified lack of effective coordination and follow-ups combined with inconsistency are basic factors affecting the entire relations with Africa. While the first summit is still considered as the largest symbolic event in history, many significant issues in the joint declaration have not been pursued and that could lay down a comprehensive strategic roadmap for building the future Russia-African relations.

As publicly known, China, Japan and India have committed funds publicly during their summits, while large investment funds have also come from the United States and European Union, all towards realizing various economic and infrastructure projects and further collaborating in new interesting areas as greater significant part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa.

via MD

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Afghanistan

How to Prevent Famine in Afghanistan

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As Afghanistan slides further into a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis, the United Nations is the one global actor that can help the country pull through. The international community must deliver aid where it is most needed, and support national reconciliation and peace processes for as long as necessary.

In August, the world watched in shock as the Western-backed Afghan government rapidly collapsed and the country spiralled into chaos, culminating in the Taliban’s takeover of the capital, Kabul, and return to power after nearly 20 years.

Since then, Afghanistan has faded from global view. But almost nine million Afghans are now at risk of famine, and a further 14 million are facing acute hunger, owing to a drought and an economic collapse triggered by the sudden suspension of foreign aid. The World Health Organization warns that one million Afghan children are at risk of dying this winter.

In December, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution exempting humanitarian aid from sanctions against the Taliban. But that is just one piece of the puzzle in addressing the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan. The global community is facing an urgent challenge to prevent mass starvation and avoid a complete collapse of basic services.

The Council on State Fragility, of which I am a member alongside prominent global leaders, is calling on the international community not to abandon the people of Afghanistan, and to act now to head off imminent famine. Specifically, we urge world leaders to focus on three key imperatives.

First, as Afghanistan slides further into a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis, the UN – the one global actor that can help the country pull through – can still support Afghans, even as its member states continue to debate whether to recognize the Taliban government. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, acting with the full backing of the Security Council, should strengthen the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, and send a special envoy to be based in Kabul with UN agencies’ staff. Furthermore, Guterres should task the UNAMA with maintaining clear and consistent communication channels with the Taliban leadership and ensuring an integrated approach to humanitarian, development, and peace efforts.

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The UN and its agencies are not new to such challenges. Similarly strong and coordinated UN responses have had a clear impact in other difficult contexts, including in North KoreaYemen, and Sudan. In Afghanistan, UN agencies have excellent local staff: well-trained, experienced, and devoted men and women, many of whom successfully delivered aid programs under the Taliban’s previous regime in the 1990s. They have done the same in Taliban-controlled areas in the recent past.

Second, inclusivity is essential to a stable, lasting peace. An inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan remains as necessary today as it was before the Taliban retook control of the country. Rather than writing off the Afghan peace process as dead in the water, the international community should view it as a multi-year, adaptive, and ongoing process of bringing all sides together to build bridges and reach a common understanding regarding the country’s future.

The winner-takes-all politics that has long plagued Afghanistan must be avoided at all costs, because exclusion will only fuel endless cycles of conflict. National consensus-building mechanisms, chief among them a well-prepared and well-led Loya Jirga – a traditional gathering of ethnic, tribal, and religious leaders – can help to foster agreement among the country’s communities and lead to the patient construction of the new dispensation Afghanistan needs.

Lastly, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors and near-neighbors – primarily Iran, Pakistan, China, and India, as well as key regional actors such as Qatar and Turkey – have a critical role to play in stabilizing the country. The international community should urge these countries to contribute to peace efforts in Afghanistan, and support existing constructive engagement by regional players, such as Qatar, that have established a track record as trusted interlocutors between the Taliban and the outside world.

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The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is severe, and millions of lives are at stake this winter. The international community, with strong UN leadership, can and should step up to support Afghans at this challenging time. The world must deliver aid where it is most needed, and support national reconciliation and peace processes for as long as necessary.

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Afghanistan

PM calls upon International Community to provide immediate relief to Afghans

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Prime Minister Imran Khan Saturday once again called upon the international community to provide immediate humanitarian relief to the millions of Afghans who were facing an imminent danger of starvation.

In a tweet, the prime minister also reminded that providing immediate relief to impoverished Afghanistan was also obligatory under the unanimously adopted UN Principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Brown, in his article, had warned that more than 23 million people were at risk of starvation if aid did not materialize.

The former UK prime minister said: “We are witnessing a shameful but also self-defeating failure to prevent famine”, adding that the UK should urgently take a lead in resuming the delivery of aid dramatically halted after Taliban announced their government.

The UN agencies had launched a call for $4.5bn in aid for 2022, its biggest-ever international appeal. The US responded with a donation of $308m, to be channeled through independent humanitarian organizations.

Brown said that was not enough. “The 35-country, American-led coalition that ruled Afghanistan for 20 years under the banner of helping the Afghan people has still put up only a quarter of the money that would allow UN humanitarians to stop children dying this winter.”

Brown further wrote that he had written to Truss and to the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, to ask them to host an international donor conference “in January or at the latest in February” to break the impasse.

PM calls upon int’l community to provide immediate relief to Afghans

“The devastation the world was warned about months ago is no longer a distant prospect,” Brown said, adding, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator Martin Griffiths, Brown wrote, “forecasts that if we do not act, 97% of Afghans will soon be living below the poverty line”.

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Conflict

Tribal Clashes and the Bloodshed

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Tribal Clashes in the parts of Baluchistan and Sindh bring miseries and destruction as warring tribes go on Killing Sprees and do not stop until they equal the numbers.

They go on a massive scale and target indiscriminately, the young and old are consumed in the fire of revenge and vengeance.

Tribal clashes create several socioeconomic problems that compel the tribes men to adopt criminal activities for instance armed robbery, mobile snatching, motorbike snatching and stealing in the rural areas where police patrolling is not available.

Sindh, Baluchistan, KP and Punjab are embedded in the Feudal fabric that is controlling the social, cultural and political arena of these provinces.

This is obviously the great game of some sardars and politicians to incite the tribes to fight to settle their dispute. The disputes are triggered from trivial issues like water share, agriculture land disputes, grazing of animals in somebody’s farmlands, marriage, illicit relations and Karo Kari (honour Killings).

These tribal feuds have already consumed thousands of innocent lives since our judicial system fails to provide relief so people are forced to seek justice from the traditional jirga system, run by the tribal chiefs. Regrettably, the Jirga’s decisions are unmerited in most cases,women are given in exchange to settle the disputes,and the verdicts are binding on both parties.

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During the colonial era British conferred various benefits to these feudals due to their allegiance to the British Empire. They were awarded lands and properties along with various titles that still exist in today’s Pakistan.

Titles such as sardar,Mir,Nawab, Khan Bahadur, rais and Muqdum are used even today. The princely states were also classified as Salute and Non-salute states, depending on their favorability with the British.

These states were controlled indirectly by British India. Some examples include Bahawalpur, Khairpur, Makran, and Kalat.

For a long time these entitled elite have been ruling and controlling Sindh, Baluchistan and Punjab, for more than seven decades they have had a stronghold in these areas socially, economically and politically.

There are several sardars who traditionally hold hereditary Turbans (pug) of Tribal chief and control their community along with other communities.

In Baluchistan, the most active Sardari tribes are Bugti, Marri, Mengal, Bizenjo, Jamali, Magsi and Rind, In Sindh Sundrani, Bijarani, Mahar,Chandio, Mazari, Lund, Pitafi, Arbabs, Khoso, Chachar, Teghani, Jatoi, Bhayo and Shar. Syed tribes have been ruling the roost in Sindh for several decades, the most important seat of CM falls in their domain.

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The heads of these tribal chiefs are autocratic princes and have totalitarian control over the people of their tribes;they enjoy the full authority in their respective areas.

These jirgas are not only lucrative businesses for the sardars, but they also aid them in consolidating their influence over their tribe members who then vote them to assemblies and the Parliament

The Sundrani, Bijarani, Mahar and Chandio Tribal chiefs control the greatest number of tribes in Sindh whereas Rind, Marri, Bugti and Mengals control most of the Baloch tribes in Baluchistan.

The extent of their control can be assessed on the following point that no one can have even matrimonial proposal without their consent and their verdict is final in all matters.

Feudal influence persists in these areas only because of the absence of writ of state and of law and order.Therefore, the tribesmen are compelled to opt for the Jirgas to settle disputes.

These jirgas delegate infinite powers to the arbitrator (Tribal Chief) consequently some decisions are astounding and illogical, but the communities cannot challenge them because of fear and oppression.

The Jirga process is very slow,both warring tribes must mutually agree to end the dispute, this may involve several sittings. Sometimes, the tribes resume their clashes soon after a settlement and pursue the killing spree owing to resentment by one tribe.

The women especially the young girls bear the brunt of these tribal clashes as unmarried girls are exchanged for compensation in case of murder settlements.These girls live in misery as the family members treat them as the daughter of the enemy and resort to domestic abuse and violence.Consequently, the innocent girls become the victims of these tribal jirgas.

The school going children also become victims of these tribal clashes amid fear of attack if they go to school, the enemy may target these students. Such incidences have been reported in the past.

In a recent incident between the Teghani and Bijarani tribes, two innocent students of matriculation were killed they were prepared to appear in the exams this March, unfortunate death took care that.

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In another ironic incident a 70-year-old man was shot in the head when he was riding his donkey cart to work so he could feed his minor children and wife. Instead of getting food on the table in the evening the family received his dead body.

One recent incident still resonates in the minds of many when 30 innocent lives were lost in exchange of fire between two tribes owing to a trivial issue of illegal grazing of a cow. This continues to happen due to widespread illiteracy and unrestricted use of sophisticated weapons.

This was the one of the worst examples when dozens of men, women and children got butchered in a single day,in a blatant display of barbarity.

The role of Police is very dismal rather dubious since such incidences also occur in cities,in broad day light. Police usually arrive late giving these trigger happy thugs a license to kill innocent people.

The open display of sophisticated weapons like fully automatic fire arms to rocket launchers makes one question how these communities manage to purchase such expensive arms when their purchase requires official approval and some are not even meant for civilians.

In some instances the police becomes an accomplice taking monetary benefits form the tribe that intends on attacking it’s rival turning a blinds eye.

The Government is clueless or an accomplice like the police in these incidents or deliberately avoids legislation against this butchery of humanity since most of the MPA’s and MNA’s are tribal chiefs themselves. They will never legislate against these crimes as they are well aware that legislation means curtailing their own powers and monetary losses.

It is high time that civil society, legal fraternity, and human rights defenders must come forward to stop this massacre in the name tribal disputes and the Supreme Court of Pakistan must take notice of this cold-blooded murder.

The Government should ban the jirgas completely and all murders under the guise of Honour Killings and Tribal disputes should be treated as a crime against humanity with exemplary punishments. Government should also control issuing of licenses to civilians.

The civil society must create awareness against and promote love and harmony among the communities so that they may settle their differences peacefully and never engage in fighting.Precious human lives need to be preserved especially those of the youth.

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