Quietly last week, the West African state of Togo extended a state of emergency for another six months. The country had declared a three-month state of emergency in the northern region in June after jihadists attacked a military outpost, killing soldiers. That attack was the first inside Togo since jihadists attacks began in the wider region in the mid-2010s. More have followed in the weeks since.
Togo is now the latest West African country to suffer a deadly terror attack. What started as an insurgency in the countries of the Sahel, a belt of nations below the Sahara desert, has now spread, slowly but inexorably, south to the coastal countries, with militants attacking Ivory Coast and Benin.
It is an insurgency that shows no sign of abating and one that countries appear to be powerless to stop. The nimbleness of the militants, combined with the vast, barely-governed spaces and porous borders beyond the main cities, mean that governments are constantly on the defensive, unable to maintain security and unable to predict where the next attack will come from.
The spread of jihadists across the region is causing, and is caused by, political instability. All the countries of the Sahel have suffered from a convergence of crises for years: political upheaval, a lack of governance, food crises and climate change. Each exacerbates the other. As it spreads, it becomes harder for political solutions to be found.
But crucially, this instability is now stretching and even breaking apart the very political structures and alliances that were meant to offer a solution.
Just last month, France finally withdrew all its forces from Mali. French troops had been in Mali for nearly 10 years as part of Operation Barkhane, but after a military coup two years ago, relations between the countries deteriorated.
The deterioration was political, of course, but there was popular feeling behind it. Nationalist sentiment in many countries of the Sahel is rising, with the public feeling that their own governments can’t end the violence and outside governments are merely interfering. Memories of historical western and French interference remain strong.
So far, Mali is the only country to have ordered French forces out – but anti-French protests have taken place in every country of the Sahel, particularly Chad and Niger, where the thousands of French troops are now concentrated. Given deteriorating public support in France, Mali will not be the last of the Sahel countries to ask the French to leave.
How happy these publics will be with their own governments remains to be seen. Part of why the public accepted the 2020 Mali coup was because the previous government was seen as weak and unable to stop the violence. The same rationale was behind the coup in January of this year in neighboring Burkina Faso. Yet the rule of military leaders – or, as in Togo, long-running states of emergency – doesn’t appear to be ameliorating or ending the violence.
In their place, countries are looking for new political alliances. Mali has already welcomed the presence of Russian mercenaries – although the government insists they are mere army trainers. Last week, Benin admitted it was in talks with Rwanda – a country more than 3,000 kilometers away – for aid to stop the jihadists.
Taken together, the nimbleness of the insurgency and the uncertainty of political alliances contributes to a sense of drift, a sense that the countries are trying anything, piecemeal, just to end the violence. What is needed is a joined-up strategy, but in a region as vast as West Africa, there are simply too many places to hide. The militants can source weapons and materials in one country, gather in another, and plot attacks in a third.
Yet the same factors that have allowed the insurgency to spread also make the spread of the insurgency dangerous. The borders are long and porous, and more than half of the population of West Africa lives rurally. The instability and widespread hunger – across at least six countries of the region, millions are in need of help – means population movements. As the attacks get closer to the populated areas of the coast – and especially Nigeria, with a vast population of more than 200 million – the possibility for destabilizing population movements increases.
Against that backdrop, extending a state of emergency is more of a political sticking plaster over a grievous wound. But with few options, the countries of the region are simply bracing themselves for more attacks.
yndication Bureau ________________
Faisal Al Yafai is currently writing a book on the Middle East and is a frequent commentator on international TV news networks. He has worked for news outlets such as The Guardian and the BBC, and reported on the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. Twitter: @FaisalAlYafai
Four Straight Years of Nonstop Street Protest in Haiti
A cycle of protests began in Haiti in July 2018, and—despite the pandemic—has carried on since then. The core reason for the protest in 2018 was that in March of that year the government of Venezuela—due to the illegal sanctions imposed by the United States—could no longer ship discounted oil to Haiti through the PetroCaribe scheme. Fuel prices soared by up to 50 percent. On August 14, 2018, filmmaker Gilbert Mirambeau Jr. tweeted a photograph of himself blindfolded and holding a sign that read, “Kot Kòb Petwo Karibe a???” (Where did the PetroCaribe money go?). He reflected the popular sentiment in the country that the money from the scheme had been looted by the Haitian elite, whose grip on the country had been secured by two coups d’état against the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (once in 1991 and again in 2004). Rising oil prices made life unlivable for the vast majority of the people, whose protests created a crisis of political legitimacy for the Haitian elite.
In recent weeks, the streets of Haiti have once again been occupied by large marches and roadblocks, with the mood on edge. Banks and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—including Catholic charities—faced the wrath of the protesters, who painted “Down with [the] USA” on buildings that they ransacked and burned. The Creole word dechoukaj or uprooting—that was first used in the democracy movements in 1986—has come to define these protests. The government has blamed the violence on gangs such as G9 led by the former Haitian police officer Jimmy “Babekyou” (Barbecue) Chérizier. These gangs are indeed part of the protest movement, but they do not define it.
The government of Haiti—led by acting President Ariel Henry—decided to raise fuel prices during this crisis, which provoked a protest from the transport unions. Jacques Anderson Desroches, president of the Fós Sendikal pou Sove Ayiti, told the Haitian Times, “If the state does not resolve to put an end to the liberalization of the oil market in favor of the oil companies and take control of it,” nothing good will come of it. “[O]therwise,” he said, “all the measures taken by Ariel Henry will be cosmetic measures.” On September 26, trade union associations called for a strike, which paralyzed the country, including the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince.
The United Nations (UN) evacuated its nonessential staff from the country. UN Special Representative Helen La Lime told the UN Security Council that Haiti was paralyzed by “[a]n economic crisis, a gang crisis, and a political crisis” that have “converged into a humanitarian catastrophe.” Legitimacy for the United Nations in Haiti is limited, given the sexual abuse scandals that have wracked the UN peacekeeping missions in Haiti, and the political mandate of the United Nations that Haitian people see as oriented to protecting the corrupt elite that does the bidding of the West.
The current President Ariel Henry was installed to his post by the “Core Group” (made up of six countries, this group is led by the United States, the European Union, the UN, and the Organization of American States). Henry became the president after the still-unsolved murder of the unpopular President Jovenel Moïse (thus far, the only clarity is that Moïse was killed by Colombian mercenaries and Haitian Americans). The UN’s La Lime told the Security Council in February that the “national investigation into his [Moïse’s] murder has stalled, a situation that fuels rumors and exacerbates both suspicion and mistrust within the country.”
An understanding of the current cycle of protests is not possible without looking clearly at four developments in Haiti’s recent past. First, the destabilization of the country after the second coup against Aristide in 2004, which took place right after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010, led to the dismantling of the Haitian state. The Core Group of countries took advantage of these serious problems in Haiti to import onto the island a wide range of Western NGOs, which seemed to substitute for the Haitian state. The NGOs soon provided 80 percent of the public services. They “frittered” considerable amounts of the relief and aid money that had come into the country after the earthquake. Weakened state institutions have meant that the government has few tools to deal with this unresolved crisis.
Second, the illegal U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuela crushed the PetroCaribe scheme, which had provided Haiti with concessionary oil sales and $2 billion in profits between 2008 and 2016 that was meant for the Haitian state but vanished into the bank accounts of the elite.
Third, in 2009, the Haitian parliament tried to increase minimum wages on the island to $5 per day, but the U.S. government intervened on behalf of major textile and apparel companies to block the bill. David Lindwall, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Port-au-Prince, said that the Haitian attempt to raise the minimum wage “did not take economic reality into account” but was merely an attempt to appease “the unemployed and underpaid masses.” The bill was defeated due to U.S. government pressure. These “unemployed and underpaid masses” are now on the streets being characterized as “gangs” by the Core Group.
Fourth, the acting President Ariel Henry likes to say that he is a neurosurgeon and not a career politician. However, in the summer of 2000, Henry was part of the group that created the Convergence Démocratique (CD), set up to call for the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Aristide. The CD was set up in Haiti by the International Republican Institute, a political arm of the U.S. Republican Party, and by the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy. Henry’s call for calm on September 19, 2022, resulted in the setting up of more barricades and in the intensification of the protest movement. His ear is bent more to Washington than to Petit-Goâve, a town on the northern coast that is the epicenter of the rebellion.
Waves of Invasions
At the UN, Haiti’s Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus said, “[T]his dilemma can only be solved with the effective support of our partners.” To many close observers of the situation unfolding in Haiti, the phrase “effective support” sounds like another military intervention by the Western powers. Indeed, the Washington Post editorial called for “muscular action by outside actors.” Ever since the Haitian Revolution, which ended in 1804, Haiti has faced waves of invasions (including a long U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1930 and a U.S.-backed dictatorship from 1957 to 1986). These invasions have prevented the island nation from securing its sovereignty and have prevented its people from building dignified lives. Another invasion, whether by U.S. troops or the United Nations peacekeeping forces, will only deepen the crisis.
At the United Nations General Assembly session on September 21, U.S. President Joe Biden said that his government continues “to stand with our neighbor in Haiti.” What this means is best understood in a new Amnesty International report that documents the racist abuse faced by Haitian asylum seekers in the United States. The United States and the Core Group might stand with people like Ariel Henry, but they do not seem to stand with the Haitian people, including those who have fled to the United States.
Options for the Haitian people will come from the entry of trade unions into the protest wave. Whether the unions and the community organizations—including student groups that have reemerged as key actors in the country—will be able to drive a dynamic change out of the anger being witnessed on the streets remains to be seen.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.
South Africa Is on a Knife Edge as Xenophobia Escalates
Xenophobia is a global crisis, but in South Africa, it takes a particularly violent form. The day-to-day accumulation of insult and harassment from within the state and society periodically mutates into open-street violence in which people are beaten, hacked and burned to death. If there is a useful point of global comparison, it may be with the communal riots that rip Indian cities apart from time to time.
The state has tended to stand down while a neighborhood is roiled with xenophobic violence. When it does move in, after the destruction, removal of people from their homes and killing have stopped, it usually arrives to arrest migrants rather than the perpetrators of the attacks. It is overwhelmingly impoverished and working-class African and Asian migrants who must face this pincer movement from the mob and the police.
The severity of the situation in South Africa first came to global attention in May 2008 when xenophobic violence, sometimes intersecting with ethnic sentiment, took 62 lives. At the time, the country was ruled by Thabo Mbeki, a man with deep and genuine Pan-African commitments. But by the end of 2007, Jacob Zuma’s path to the presidency was clear, and the ethnic chauvinism he had introduced into the public sphere was rampant. The limited social support offered by the state was increasingly understood to be tied to identities such as ethnicity, nationality and claims to be part of long-established communities.
By the time that Zuma took the presidency in May 2009, it was common for party officials in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal to tell impoverished people that they had not received houses, or other entitlements, because of an “influx” of “foreigners” or people “from other provinces“—a euphemism for ethnic identity. There were cases where people, seeking the approval of political authority, began to “clean” their communities themselves.
Now, almost 15 years since the 2008 attacks, the situation is much worse. Most South Africans have lived in a state of permanent crisis since the colonial capture of land, cattle, and autonomy. But for most young people, that permanent crisis no longer takes the form of the ruthless exploitation of labor under racial capitalism. Last year, youth unemployment hit 77.4 percent, the highest out of all G20 countries. As Achille Mbembe, the Cameroonian philosopher who writes from Johannesburg, argued in 2011, the intersection of race and capitalism has rendered people as “waste.”
The pain of young lives lived in permanent suspension is often turned inward. There is a massive heroin epidemic, depression and anxiety are pervasive, and rates of violence, much of it gendered, are terrifying.
In this crisis of sustained social abandonment, there are attempts, sometimes extraordinarily courageous, to build forms of politics around the affirmation of human dignity. They have often met serious repression, including assassination. But unsurprisingly, there are also attempts to build forms of popular politics around xenophobia, some of them with fascistic elements. Young people, mostly men, are summoned to the authority of a demagogic leader, given a rudimentary uniform in the form of a T-shirt and the opportunity to exercise some power in the name of “cleaning” society. Perversity is dressed up as virtue.
At the same time, all the major political parties, including the ruling African National Congress (ANC), have moved sharply to the right and have become increasingly xenophobic. In government, the ANC has always run a highly exclusionary migration regime and is now moving to end the permits, established more than 10 years ago, that gave around 178,000 Zimbabweans the right to live, work and study in South Africa.
Its rhetoric has also moved sharply to the right. The party’s spokesperson, Pule Mabe, recently declared “open season on all illegal foreign nationals,” adding, “we can no longer guarantee their safety.” The party’s policy conference in early August proposed “a well-coordinated strategy for tracking down illegal foreigners.” That strategy explicitly included the recommendation that “ANC branches must take the lead in this regard.”
Many analysts take the view that the ANC, which has already lost control of many of South Africa’s major cities, will not be able to win the next national election in 2024. As the party faces the prospect of losing power for the first time since the end of apartheid, the temptation to scapegoat migrants for its failures is escalating. Alarmingly, the new parties taking the political space opened by the rapid decline in support for the ANC are more or less uniformly forms of authoritarian populism centrally organized around xenophobia.
Former business mogul turned politician Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA party, which is making rapid electoral advances, mixes hardcore neoliberalism with xenophobia. In 2018, Mashaba staged a “citizen’s arrest” of a migrant and then tweeted, “We are [not] going to sit back and allow people like you to bring us Ebolas in the name of small business. Health of our people first. Our health facilities are already stretched to the limit.” This conflation of a vulnerable minority with disease evokes the horrors of historical forms of fascist mobilization.
Public speech from the state, government and most political parties routinely conflates documented and undocumented migrants as “illegal foreigners,” “illegal foreigners” with criminals, and, in recent days, following a horrific gang rape on the outskirts of a decaying mining town, rapists. When the police come under pressure to respond to concern about criminality, they frequently arrest migrants, often including people with papers rather than perpetrators of actual crimes.
The mass-based organizations of the left, with political identities rooted, to a significant extent, in the factory, the mine or the land occupation have often opposed the turn to xenophobia, and it is common for migrants to hold positions of leadership in these kinds of organizations. But while they can provide nodes of refuge, they lack the power to effectively oppose the rapidly worsening situation at the national level.
With no national force with the vision and power to offer an emancipatory alternative to the poisonous politics, sometimes with fascist elements, that turns neighbors against each other, the country is on a knife edge.
Richard Pithouse is an academic and journalist in South Africa. He is the coordinator of the Johannesburg, South Africa, office of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research; the director of the Forge, a cultural space; and the editor-at-large of Inkani Books.
Why Can’t Algeria Solve Europe’s Gas Woes?
European politicians have been scouring their neighborhood to find new gas supplies to replace those threatened by Russia. They have secured some promises in their tour that took them from Azerbaijan via the Gulf to Egypt and Israel. They have visited Algeria too – but Africa’s largest country and biggest gas producer remains a prickly partner.
Algeria exports gas via pipelines to Spain and Italy, and by tankers from two liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants. It has long played a critical role in Europe’s gas balance, as the third-largest supplier (after Russia and Norway), providing 10 percent of the continent’s imports.
Outgoing Italian prime minister Mario Draghi visited Algiers on July 18 and came back with a promise from President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to supply $4 billion worth of gas. State firm Sonatrach says it has delivered more than double the forecasted amount to Italy so far this year. The TransMed pipeline that links the countries via Tunisia has been out for maintenance; after its intended restart this week, flows will have to speed up significantly to reach the target.
Algeria achieved record gas output last year, with a leap to more than 100 billion cubic meters (bcm), a surprise after a period of stagnation since 1999 when production has wobbled between 80-90 bcm per year. The country consumes about half of its produced gas itself, and rising domestic use had been eating into exports, but the production boost saw exports at levels not hit since 2008.
This may have been a false dawn. The ability of Algeria to help Europe through its gas crisis – profiting handsomely in the process – is hampered by two factors: capacity, and politics.
After 2021’s record, gas exports fell sharply in the first half of 2022. While flows to Italy have risen a little, those via a pipeline to Spain and Morocco, and LNG supplied by ship, have all dropped. The culprit is a little puzzling. Supplies to Morocco have been cut off entirely following the expiry of the contract for the Gaz Maghreb Europe (GME) pipeline, and a major political bust-up between Algiers and Rabat over the disputed territory of Western Sahara and Morocco’s normalization with Israel.
GME runs on to Spain and, though its loss has partly been substituted by higher flows through another pipeline – the Medgaz line that runs directly under the Mediterranean from Algeria to Spain – this is not a complete replacement. Spain has begun supplying Morocco by running GME in reverse, irritating Algiers which does not want its gas circuitously reaching its rival. On July 24, Sonatrach reported that Medgaz suffered a breakdown in the Spanish leg of its subsea route, but Spanish operator Enagas denied this. The incident might have been intended as a warning.
Algeria could have directed the gas not going to Morocco and Spain to its LNG plants, which are running at only 40 percent or so of their capacity. Yet supplies from these also dropped. Domestic demand would have risen and, as Algeria’s oil production ceiling under the OPEC+ deal rises, it may need to re-inject more of the produced gas to support oil output.
None of these factors seem fully sufficient to explain the drop, and with record-high European gas and LNG prices, Algeria has every incentive to maximize sales. It may be trying to put pressure on its customers to raise the prices in their contracts, and indeed it has signed a revised higher-priced deal with Engie of France.
So far, therefore, Algeria’s contribution to replacing Russia has largely been limited to cutting overall exports while switching supplies from Spain to Italy.
That shift is not a bad thing for European energy security: The Iberian Peninsula has surplus LNG import capacity and very limited connectivity with the rest of the continent, while Italy has typically obtained almost half its gas from Russia and a quarter from Algeria. But if Algeria could get back to the export levels of the first half of last year, another annual 10 bcm would be a helpful if not huge contribution to replacing 130 bcm of Russian gas.
Algiers, though, dances to no-one’s tune but its own. With high hydrocarbon prices, its shaky fiscal situation is improving, and it holds the upper hand in negotiations. It has strong relations with Russia, whose foreign minister Sergei Lavrov visited in May.
The country has long been accused of underinvestment, unattractive fiscal terms and painfully slow bureaucracy, hampering hydrocarbon sector development. But new deals have been signed since a new oil law was passed in 2019, notably a $4 billion oil project with ENI, France’s TotalEnergies and the US’s Occidental. Italy’s ENI has been particularly active, agreeing to take additional volumes of gas through the TransMed pipeline and to invest in boosting Algerian production.
At the start of July, Sonatrach announced a large discovery at its biggest gas field, Hassi R’mel, which will be developed speedily to add 3.65 bcm of annual production from November, very favorable timing with the European winter looming. But other major new additions won’t arrive until 2024, while Sonatrach continues to battle rising domestic demand and decline from maturing fields.
For Algeria to help alleviate the European gas crisis, diplomacy will have to continue, which might require some awkward concessions from Spain. European solidarity will be important to limit competition between Madrid and Rome. Gas distribution companies will probably have to bite the bullet on paying significantly higher prices.
On a more positive side, Europe can offer to help tackle the 8 bcm of Algerian gas that goes up in smoke each year – flared at the fields because of limited capacity to gather, process and transport it. It can save Algerian domestic gas by cooperating on Saharan solar power.
So, facing its own upstream constraints, non-aligned stance, and complex and opaque decision-making, Algeria is no savior for Europe’s gas needs. Still, with some intelligent diplomacy and investment, Europeans may still be able to coax some more much-needed energy from the Sahara.
Robin M. Mills is CEO of Qamar Energy, and author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis.
There’s a Nonsensical Propaganda Campaign to Make China Look Bad in Uganda
On November 25, 2021, an article appeared in Uganda’s national newspaper the Daily Monitor with the headline: “Uganda surrenders airport for China cash.” The article pointed to “toxic clauses” in the loan agreement signed by the Ugandan government with the Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China on March 31, 2015. The loan—worth $207 million at 2 percent interest—was for the expansion of the Entebbe International Airport—a project under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Work on the expansion of the airport began in May 2016.
The article in the Daily Monitor, which was written by Yasiin Mugerwa, said that the Chinese authorities were going to take control of the airport because of the failure of Uganda to pay off the loan. A few days after the Daily Monitor article, U.S. media company Bloomberg also ran a similar article on November 28 without providing any further details on this news development, as did other U.S. and international outlets. The story by the Daily Monitor, meanwhile, went viral on Twitter, WhatsApp, and beyond.
The story is not new. On October 28, the Ugandan Parliament Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authority and State Enterprises (COSASE) held a hearing on the loan with the Minister of Finance Matia Kasaija (member of parliament [MP] for Buyanja County) in attendance, according to NTV Uganda. Several members of parliament grilled Kasaija about the loan, with Nathan Itungo (MP from Kashari South) asking him if he and his department had been “doing due diligence” within the negotiating framework. Answering this question, Kasaija said, “I think we did, by looking at other agreements that have been signed along the same lines.” While explaining why the government went ahead with the loan agreement for the Entebbe International Airport, the finance minister said of the agreement that Uganda was looking at the “cheapest alternative, and we jumped on it.”
Joel Ssenyonyi, the chair of COSASE, said that many of the clauses in the loan agreement between Uganda and China’s Exim Bank would cause problems, since the termination of the contract based on the clauses would come “at a huge cost.” Kasaija apologized to the parliamentarians and said, “We should not have accepted some of the clauses.” On the fundamental point of the ownership of the airport, Dan Kimosho (MP, Kazo County) asked, “What happens to the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority [UCAA] and the Ugandan Airport if we fail to pay this money?” “I don’t think it’s at risk,” Kasaija said, adding that if there is a problem and the UCAA was unable to generate the revenue required to pay for the loan, “then the central government will step in.”
At no point did Kasaija or any of the other parliamentarians say that China would take over the Entebbe International Airport. The UCAA managers had pointed to 13 clauses that they said were onerous. These included the clauses that give the right to China’s Exim Bank to inspect the accounts of the UCAA and provide for any dispute resolution to go through the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC).
Neither of these two examples, nor the other clauses, are outside the bounds of normal trade practices. In terms of the clause allowing for CIETAC to be the main arbitration panel for the loan agreement, this would not have happened if the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) was allowed to operate.
Countries of the Global South have long complained about the effectiveness of using the dispute resolution mechanisms of the World Trade Organization—whose function has been compromised by the U.S. blocking of appointments to its appellate body. Meanwhile, U.S. firms continue to take refuge in the U.S. Trade Representative and the powers that stem from Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974, “which allowed the United States to take retaliatory action against nations whose trade practices it deemed unfair or discriminatory.”
On November 27, two days after the story was reported by the Daily Monitor, Vianney Luggya, spokesperson for the UCAA, wrote on his official Twitter account, “I wish to make it categorically clear that the allegation that Entebbe Airport has been given away for cash is false.” The government of Uganda, he wrote, “can’t give away such a national asset,” the country’s only international airport. “There isn’t an ounce of truth” in the story, he wrote, dismissing rumors regarding China taking over control of the airport. Luggya further tweeted that the UCAA controls the funds it deposited in the Stanbic Bank Uganda as part of the agreement and that the UCAA remains within the loan grace period of seven years. On his own personal Twitter account, Luggya further clarified that the seven-year “grace period ends in December 2022.”
Flooded with accusations, the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, posted a statement on its Twitter account on November 28. The embassy said that the story in the Daily Monitor “has no factual basis and is ill-intended only to distort the good relations that China enjoys with developing countries including Uganda. Not a single project in Africa has ever been ‘confiscated’ by China because of failing to pay Chinese loans. On the contrary, China firmly supports and is willing to continue our efforts to improve Africa’s capacity for home driven development.” The next day, on November 29, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin repeated the word “confiscated,” refuting allegations of China’s takeover of Entebbe International Airport and underlining the fact that China has not “taken over” any “China-Africa cooperation project” on the African continent due to nonpayment of loans.
A study by the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., shows that none of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative projects have been the author of debt distress; of the 68 BRI projects, only eight are in countries struggling with debt, but this struggle predates Chinese investment. Close studies of Chinese investment in the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota (published in the Atlantic) and in the African country of Djibouti (published in the Globe and Mail) show that there is no evidence of asset seizure in either of these cases.
In 2020, Uganda’s deputy head of mission to the embassy in China, Ambassador Henry Mayega, said, “China has been a very good development partner to many African countries especially Uganda and that’s why it gives us loans every time we are in need.” Mayega’s comment came at a time of great tension on and around the African continent regarding Chinese investments and relations with African countries. In 2000, the Chinese government, in partnership with several African states, set up the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). A few days after the Daily Monitor ran its story, FOCAC gathered in Dakar, Senegal, for its Eighth Ministerial Conference from November 29 to November 30. The news from Uganda threatened to overshadow the events across the African continent.
Nonetheless, China’s President Xi Jinping made two announcements that caught the eye: China will provide 1 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to the continent (600 million as donations and 400 million produced in joint ventures with certain African countries), and China will invest $40 billion in the African continent. The announcement of the vaccines comes just as Europe, the U.S. and several other nations shut their doors to Africa after fears and rumors that the COVID-19 variant Omicron—which was declared a variant of concern by WHO—originated from Botswana. This decision to initiate travel curbs against certain southern African countries was harshly criticized for its racism by Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija of the African Union’s African Vaccine Delivery Alliance.
The false story from Uganda did not derail the FOCAC meeting, but it has inflamed public opinion—particularly on Twitter—about Chinese investments.
This article was produced by Globetrotter to pubslish on Telegraf.
By Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.By Vijay Prashad
Omicron is a Wake Up Call for Global Vaccine Inequality
The discovery of a potentially more transmissible variant of COVID-19 in South Africa last week underlines the need for global cooperation in the fight against the pandemic. Scientists are still scrambling to determine the exact nature of the danger posed by the omicron variant, but that hasn’t stopped much of the world from isolating southern Africa through border closures and airline bans. These efforts amount to using a band-aid to stop a hemorrhage.
As long as access to vaccines is lopsided and large areas of the world don’t receive the adequate assistance needed to combat the spread of COVID-19, new variants and mutations will continue to plague the international community. Instead of isolating southern African nations, the rest of the world should use the emergence of the omicron variant as a catalyst to find new and constructive ways of working together in this prolonged battle against COVID-19.
It’s no coincidence that the latest variant emerged in South Africa. With millions of immunocompromised people suffering from other viruses such as HIV, South Africa is a perfect petri dish for the emergence of new variants. But this is nothing new. What’s remarkable is the speed at which South African scientists could identify the new variant, alert the international community, and begin working on sequencing the mutation. Thanks to South Africa’s swift surveillance of COVID-19 and the established scientific sector, the international community is in a much better position than during the early days of the last significant mutation with the delta variant.
Within hours of the announcement, the United Kingdom placed a travel ban on South Africa and other regions. South Africa is entering the height of its tourism season, driven heavily by British and European tourists. The travel ban was viewed with scorn and felt like a punishment for many South Africans. Even the New York Times noted that South Africa “put its sophisticated disease surveillance and research systems to good use, and quickly shared the results with the world, only to have its transparency repaid with damaging travel bans.”
Part of the dismay over the travel bans stems from the fact that Western nations haven’t done enough to protect the rest of the world against COVID-19. Vaccine manufacturers have resisted calls to open up the manufacturing of vaccines in emerging market countries like South Africa to speed up vaccination rates. Less than 7 per cent of the African continent is vaccinated.
Speaking on Sunday evening, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the issue of vaccine inequality head-on. “We have said that vaccine inequality not only costs lives and livelihoods in those countries that are denied access but that it also threatens global efforts to overcome the pandemic,” he said. “The emergence of the omicron variant should be a wake-up call to the world that vaccine inequality cannot be allowed to continue. Until everyone is vaccinated, everyone will be at risk.”
To be clear, this isn’t a new issue. Since vaccines hit the market, there have been repeated calls to open up manufacturing worldwide to improve access. But vaccine manufacturers and their supporters have resisted. In April, Bill Gates underscored his opposition to expanding the manufacturing of vaccines to developing nations because he felt that most countries didn’t have the technical capacity needed for the specialized vaccines. The primary issue appears to be financial as the technology transfer required to establish operations in countries like South Africa would cut into profits. This is slowly changing as companies like Pfizer have announced limited manufacturing partnerships around the world. But there is a long way to go. In one example this year, vaccines produced in South Africa by Johnson & Johnson were being exported to European nations as reserves.
Slowing down the appearance of new variants and getting a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t technically complicated since we know what steps need to be taken. Vaccination efforts in developing markets need to be ramped up significantly, and the best way to help this effort is to expand vaccine manufacturing to more countries. If western countries and pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to take these steps, new variants such as omicron will continue to leap onto the international scene and jeopardize global efforts to contain the virus.
With its quick discovery of the omicron variant, South Africa has proven to be a vital partner in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of prematurely isolating the country, the international community should use this event to engage South Africa more fully and establish a new base of vaccine manufacturing for Africa in the country. No country or group of countries can fight this pandemic by itself, and no number of travel bans will ultimately prevent the virus from moving around the world. More than ever, we need to embrace the spirit of cooperation to ensure that we can put the pandemic behind us. (Syndication Bureau)
By Joseph Dana is the senior editor of Exponential View, a weekly newsletter about technology and its impact on society. He was formerly the editor-in-chief of emerge85, a lab exploring change in emerging markets and its global impact.
Vodafone’s booming M-Pesa shines a light on valuable Africa fintechs
Vodafone has reported surging growth at its African mobile money platform M-Pesa as the telecoms group and its rivals look at ways of unlocking the value of fast-growing financial fintechs on the continent.
The UK company said that the number of transactions conducted over the mobile payments system shot up 44 per cent in the three months to June to 4.5bn, with €63bn of funds transferred over it over during that time.
M-Pesa, which is named after the Swahili word for money, was launched in Kenya more than a decade ago as a basic money transfer system that worked over basic feature phones. It quickly expanded to other countries and has become a fundamental part of the African economic system, with customers using it to pay wages, buy insurance and pay utility bills in the smartphone era.
Fifty per cent of Kenya’s gross domestic product is now carried over M-Pesa according to the country’s central bank, Vodafone chief executive Nick Read said on Friday.
The service, which has more than 40m users across seven African countries, accounts for between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of GDP in some other markets and will soon launch in countries like Ethiopia where Vodafone does not have a telecoms network.
The rising value of fintech companies in Europe and Africa has alerted Vodafone to the hidden value of M-Pesa on its balance sheet. Having split out its towers business this year, with Vantage Towers now listed in Germany at a €15bn market valuation, it is now separating out its financial services business into legally separate entities to “highlight the size and scale of that business” according to Read.
Other companies have already started to act. Airtel Africa sold a stake in its smaller mobile money service to Mastercard this year for $100m which valued the fintech platform at $2.6bn, while South Africa’s MTN has said it is open to spinning off its mobile money service to boost its value.
However Vodafone intends to keep investing in M-Pesa, saying that the service is still in the “early stages” of its development and that the growth of the business is not being constrained by being part of the wider telecoms group.
But over time it will consider bringing in new partners, selling a stake or acquiring other businesses, according to Read. It has already partnered with China’s Alibaba to offer a “super app” offering a range of ecommerce services in South Africa.
His comments came as Vodafone reported better than expected first-quarter results. The group reported service revenue growth of 3.3 per cent thanks to a 56 per cent increase in roaming revenue, as travel restrictions eased during the quarter.
Overall revenue increased by 5 per cent to €11.1bn. Shares rose 2.5 per cent to 119p in early trading.
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