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Africa is Not Poor, We Are Stealing Its Wealth
May 27, 2017 | 0 Comments

ANALYSIS

By Nick Dearden*

Africa is poor, but we can try to help its people.

It’s a simple statement, repeated through a thousand images, newspaper stories and charity appeals each year, so that it takes on the weight of truth. When we read it, we reinforce assumptions and stories about Africa that we’ve heard throughout our lives. We reconfirm our image of Africa.

Try something different. Africa is rich, but we steal its wealth.

That’s the essence of a report (pdf) from several campaign groups released today. Based on a set of new figures, it finds that sub-Saharan Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world to the tune of more than $41bn. Sure, there’s money going in: around $161bn a year in the form of loans, remittances (those working outside Africa and sending money back home), and aid.

But there’s also $203bn leaving the continent. Some of this is direct, such as $68bn in mainly dodged taxes. Essentially multinational corporations “steal” much of this – legally – by pretending they are really generating their wealth in tax havens. These so-called “illicit financial flows” amount to around 6.1 per cent of the continent’s entire gross domestic product (GDP) – or three times what Africa receives in aid.

Then there’s the $30bn that these corporations “repatriate” – profits they make in Africa but send back to their home country, or elsewhere, to enjoy their wealth. The City of London is awash with profits extracted from the land and labour of Africa.

There are also more indirect means by which we pull wealth out of Africa. Today’s report estimates that $29bn a year is being stolen from Africa in illegal logging, fishing and trade in wildlife. $36bn is owed to Africa as a result of the damage that climate change will cause to their societies and economies as they are unable to use fossil fuels to develop in the way that Europe did. Our climate crisis was not caused by Africa, but Africans will feel the effect more than most others. Needless to say, the funds are not currently forthcoming.

In fact, even this assessment is enormously generous, because it assumes that all of the wealth flowing into Africa is benefitting the people of that continent. But loans to governments and the private sector (at more than $50bn) can turn into unpayable and odious debt.

 Ghana is losing 30 per cent of its government revenue to debt repayments, paying loans which were often made speculatively, based on high commodity prices, and carrying whopping rates of interest. One particularly odious aluminium smelter in Mozambique, built with loans and aid money, is currently costing the country £21 for every £1 that the Mozambique government received. British aid, which is used to set up private schools and health centres, can undermine the creation of decent public services, which is why such private schools are being closed down in Uganda and Kenya. Of course, some Africans have benefitted from this economy. There are now around 165,000 very rich Africans, with combined holdings of $860bn. But, given the way the economy works, where do these people mainly keep their wealth? In tax havens. A 2014 estimate suggests that rich Africans were holding a massive $500bn in tax havens. Africa’s people are effectively robbed of wealth by an economy that enables a tiny minority of Africans to get rich by allowing wealth to flow out of Africa.

So what is the answer? Western governments would like to be seen as generous beneficiaries, doing what they can to “help those unable to help themselves”. But the first task is to stop perpetuating the harm they are doing. Governments need to stop forcing African governments to open up their economy to privatisation, and their markets to unfair competition.

If African countries are to benefit from foreign investment, they must be allowed to – even helped to – legally regulate that investment and the corporations that often bring it. And they might want to think about not putting their faith in the extractives sector. With few exceptions, countries with abundant mineral wealth experience poorer democracy, weaker economic growth, and worse development. To prevent tax dodging, governments must stop prevaricating on action to address tax havens. No country should tolerate companies with subsidiaries based in tax havens operating in their country.

Aid is tiny, and the very least it can do, if spent well, is to return some of Africa’s looted wealth. We should see it both as a form of reparations and redistribution, just as the tax system allows us to redistribute wealth from the richest to the poorest within individual societies. The same should be expected from the global “society”.

To even begin to embark on such an ambitious programme, we must change the way we talk and think about Africa. It’s not about making people feel guilty, but correctly diagnosing a problem in order to provide a solution. We are not, currently, “helping” Africa. Africa is rich. Let’s stop making it poorer.

*Allafrica/Al Jazeera.Nick Dearden is the director of UK campaigning organisation Global Justice Now. He was previously the director of Jubilee Debt Campaign.

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Ethiopia’s Tedros wins WHO race, first African to get top job
May 23, 2017 | 0 Comments

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former health minister and foreign minister, received more than half the votes in the third round.

Ethiopia’s Tedros wins on third ballot

* Offers more geographical representation of WHO jobs

By Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles*

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

GENEVA, May 23 (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus won the race to be the next head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday, becoming the first African to lead the United Nations agency.

The former health minister and foreign minister received more than half the votes in the first round and eventually won a decisive third-round election to beat Britain’s David Nabarro to the job.

“It’s a victory day for Ethiopia and for Africa,” Ethiopia’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva Negash Kebret Botora told Reuters before Tedros, as he is widely known, was to take the floor at the WHO’s annual ministerial assembly.

Six candidates had stood to take the helm at the WHO, which is tasked with combating outbreaks and chronic diseases.

The job has never before been earned through a competitive election and health officials from all over the globe thronged the assembly hall in the U.N.’s Geneva headquarters where voting took place behind closed doors.

Tedros will begin his five-year term after Margaret Chan, a former Hong Kong health director, steps down after 10 years on June 30. Chan leaves a mixed legacy, after WHO’s slow response to West Africa’s Ebola epidemic in 2013-2016, which killed 11,300 people.

In a last pitch before voting began, Tedros had appealed to ministers by promising to represent their interests and to ensure more countries got top jobs at the Geneva-based WHO.

“I will listen to you. I was one of you. I was in your shoes and I can understand you better,” Tedros told the ministers. “I know what it takes to strengthen the frontlines of healthcare and innovate around the constraints.”

Tedros was widely seen as having the support of about 50 African votes, but questions about his role in restricting human rights and Ethiopia’s cover-up of a cholera outbreak surfaced late in the race, threatening to tarnish his appeal.

Nabarro, a WHO insider who has worked for 40 years in international public health, had pitched himself as a “global candidate”.

Chan, in a speech on Monday, urged ministers to tackle inequalities as a “guiding ethical principle”.

“Scientific evidence is the bedrock of policy. Protect it. No one knows whether evidence will retain its persuasive power in what many now describe as a post-truth world,” she said.

*Reuters

 

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JASON LOVES AFRICA
May 14, 2017 | 0 Comments

-With Wheel to Africa, a young American and his friends highlight the importance of people-to-people engagement in US-Africa relations.

Support for a noble cause:Ambassador Arouna with Jason and his young friends collecting bikes to send to Africa

Support for a noble cause:Ambassador Arouna with Jason and his young friends collecting bikes to send to Africa

Today Saturday, May 13, 2017, I pulled up into Bethesda Library Parking lot on Arlington road.  Bethesda is an affluent Maryland town in the suburb of Washington DC the nation capital.  I am here to meet Jason a college rising sophomore in African studies who spent summers in Africa, mainly Tanzania and Ghana. Jason and his friends under the guidance of his parents are collecting bikes to ship to Africa as part of the Wheel To Africa Initiative.

As soon as entered the parking lot I was greeted by a jubilant and grinning group of kids happy to see the two bikes attached on the back of my car. I could not help but to reminisce, back to the day… I mean, way back when I received my first bike as a child and how happy it felt then. Thinking about it, I am sure it is probably a fair statement to say that, these kids look as happy as the people who will soon be receiving these bikes in the continent of Africa.

Upon getting out of my vehicle, I met and greeted Jason Kohn the young men who initiated today’s event, his parents, and a few of his friends, all passionate about Africa. I introduced myself and we talked about their initiative and their passion for Africa while some of the kids unloaded the two bikes I donated and stacked them against dozens of others bikes neatly arranged on the asphalt. I spent few more minutes’ chit-chatting before saying goodbye, and got into my car.  While I was putting the key in the ignition to start the car, I murmured to myself, “Jason loves Africa… so does America” before driving off…

In today’s America where most in the international development community are wondering about the Trump administration stance on Africa, Jason and his friends with their good deeds remind us, this simple fact; before there was a government, there are people and there lies the answer.

A strong and stable relationship between the United States and Africa is undoubtedly at the center of the Trump overall foreign relations. Washington’s support to the security of the continent, especially as part of the global war on terrorism is probably an essential part of “making America great again” US foreign policy, however many non-governmental or “people-to-people” interactions such as trade and cultural exchanges as well as initiatives such as Jason’s are paramount. This dependence is expected to remain unchanged in the foreseeable future.

As history teaches us, whether it be slavery, the rise of African Nationalism, or the Cold War, America and the African continent have a complicated history full of contradictions, but ultimately the strength of the relationship lies in people-to-people engagement on both continents.

About Wheel To Africa:

During a vacation in Africa with his mother, 10-year-old Winston Duncan was struck by the distances that people had to walk to find food, water, and medical care. It was then that he decided that he needed to find a way to help

His answer: Collect bikes, because “everyone has an old bike”!

In Africa, a bike is a lifeline to survival for many people. It is often their only means to access food and water, markets, education, and jobs. Winston’s passion has motivated family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances to organize annual drives across three states

*Omar Arouna is the immediate past Ambassador of the Republic of Benin to the United States of America. He answers regularly present to initiatives that touch on US-Africa Relations and is President & CEO GlobalSpecialty, LLC.

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French election: What Emmanuel Macron’s win means for Africa
May 10, 2017 | 0 Comments

Emmanuel Macron’s decisive win in the French presidential election has not only spurred enthusiasm in Europe. Across Africa, where France retains huge influence in its former colonies, his election has been celebrated in the hope that it will usher in a radical change in France’s African policy. The BBC’s Lamine Konkobo looks at what that change might look like.

Africa’s ‘Ode to Joy’ moment

It was a very powerful, if subtle, symbol.

On Sunday evening, as supporters of Emmanuel Macron gathered at the Louvre’s Esplanade in central Paris waiting for their champion to arrive and address them, the podium was turned for about 15 minutes into a gigantic dance floor by one of Ivory Coast’s most famous bands.

Magic System took to the stage, flooding the Parisian night with rhythms and dance moves not often heard and seen in this part of town.

Mr Macron had originally taken to the stage to the European anthem Ode to Joy for his victory speech but for African audiences watching on television, this was their Ode to Joy moment.

It was a nod to Africa; a nod that reflected the positive message of openness and universalism which has underlined Macron’s winning campaign.

Magic System, Ivorian musical bandImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionTop Ivory Coast band Magic System performed at Mr Macron’s victory party

It could also be seen as one in the eye for defeated far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who must have felt repulsed by such a cultural invasion.

If the sight of Magic System at the Louvre was refreshing for Africans, that is not why the French presidential contest was closely watched across Africa.

Mr Macron is expected to deliver on issues of far greater importance in respect of the continent.

Fighting Islamist militancy

Mr Macron has said little on his African policy on the campaign trail, because Africa was not a decisive topic that could give him the votes he needed to win.

However, from the little he said about the continent, it appears that fighting Islamist militancy will be prominent on his African agenda.

French soldiers of the anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane sit on a vehicle in Gao, MaliImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThere are about 4,000 French troops fighting Islamist militancy in Africa

He was elected while France was under a state of emergency following a series of Islamist attacks in recent years, some of which were carried out by people with African links.

But while on the campaign trail, he made it clear that he realised that France was not the only country affected:

“Africa is struggling more and more with terrorism,” he told Jeune Afrique.

“We saw it in Bamako [Mali], in Ouagadougou [Burkina Faso] and in Grand Bassam [Ivory Cost].”

Islamist militants targeted hotels in all these places last year, killing many people, including foreign tourists.

“Everyone should get involved in the fight against terrorism,” he said.

France has deployed about 4,000 troops in the Sahel region of Africa as part of the anti-terrorism Barkhane operation.

The president-elect has no plan of withdrawing these troops in the foreseeable future.

On the military front, France’s policy in Africa under Mr Macron will be more of the same.

On aid, trade and development

There is a famous saying that nations have no permanent friends but only permanent interests.

Street scene from Chateau Rouge, ParisImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionFrance has a large population with African roots

Mr Macron has been elected to serve France’s interests and he will do so in his relationship with Africa, political analyst Serge Theophile Balima told the BBC.

“Macron is a neo-liberal who believes in businesses and trade,” Mr Balima says.

“He will do his utmost to open Africa to a maximum of French businesses. That is obvious.”

However, the new president believes that partnership with the continent will be more beneficial if Africa is strong.

As a candidate, he vowed to lobby the G20 at its July summit in Germany to support economic development in African countries.

In more clearer terms he has pledged to channel to Africa most of France’s foreign aid, which he intends to increase to 0.7% of his country’s GDP.

However, Mr Macron comes to power at a time when a growing movement of economists and political leaders have been pushing for a major reform they view as more empowering than aid.

A woman displays several 10,000 CFAImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMr Macron says African countries have to decide whether they want to keep the CFA currency

One sign of France’s continued influence over its former colonies is the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro with the financial backing of the French treasury.

While some see it as a guarantee of financial stability, others attack it as a colonial relic.

Critics say true economic development for the 14 African countries can only be achieved if they shake off the CFA currency.

Some argue that in exchange for the “luxury” of the guarantee provided by the French treasury, the African countries channel more money to France than they receive in aid.

Ms Le Pen said that if elected, she would drop the link. While no previous French president has ever expressed a willingness to let go of the CFA, Mr Macron says the decision to move away from it is for African countries to take.

Breaking from antiquated politics

France’s African policy has come under attack from pro-democracy activists since the 1990 Baule conference, at which former President Francois Mitterand issued a call for African countries to embrace democracy, following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Family picture of African heads of state posing with their French counterpart Francois MitterandImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionAnalysts say Mr Macron brings hope as he represents a break from an old generation of political leaders

Critics have consistently railed against what they perceive as a form of hypocrisy.

They say France has repeatedly used anti-democratic means on the continent to further dictatorships or overthrow unfriendly governments if they serve French interests, while openly extolling democratic values.

The system of personal networks which backed these controversial practices is pejoratively referred to as “Francafrique”.

The times are long gone when a French commando unit would fly parachutes in broad daylight into an African capital to restore a deposed head of state.

But Francafrique is not totally dead.

Mr Macron says he will finally kill it off.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy with two African heads of stateImage copyrightCORBIS
Image captionFormer French presidents including Nicolas Sarkozy had vowed to ended “Francafrique” but failed to deliver

He says he will defend and respect fundamental democratic principles everywhere in Africa, working with the African Union and regional organisations.

But how will he deliver where his predecessors failed to meet similar promises?

“I think he is in a position to bring that end,” analyst Mr Balima told the BBC.

“First of all, he is young. He does not belong to the old generation. He has few friends in the Mafiosi circles in Francophone Africa.”

“When meeting African heads of state, some will be embarrassed to speak to this man who could be their son.”

African leaders will no longer benefit from the former era’s complicity, Mr Balima says.

“A head of state in a situation of bad governance… could not count on Macron to mobilise the French army to quash a rebellion in a military barracks.”

If Mr Macron delivers on that promise, he would indeed turn a page that has been a source of much acrimony in French-African relations.

Addressing wounds from the past

And how France should remember its colonial legacy is closely related to the issue of whether it still pursues a neo-colonial policy in Africa.

Right-leaning French political leaders have long maintained that colonisation was not only about forced labour, exploitation and mass graves but that colonised countries also benefited.

French solidiers round up indigenous Algerians during colonial warImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe new French president does not shy away from apologising for the stains in his country’s history

In 2005, under President Jacques Chirac, a provision enshrining that patriotic view in law was passed. However, it was repealed a year later as a result of an outcry in France as well as in some of its former colonies and overseas territories.

Nicholas Sarkozy, as a candidate and later on as president, often complained about being tired of endlessly apologising for his country’s past transgressions.

Unlike those politicians on the right, Mr Macron considers that recognising the wrongs France did in its past interaction with African people is crucial in redefining the type of dialogue necessary for the new relationship with the continent.

As a candidate on a visit to Algeria, he stirred a controversy by branding as a crime against humanity France’s colonial war in Algeria.

While that statement was condemned by Ms Le Pen and her supporters, it was well received across the whole of French-speaking Africa.

Immigration

What was strikingly different between Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen was how the two approached immigration.

Ms Le Pen’s closed-border proposition was that she “has love for the Africans but only if they are at home in Africa”, while Mr Macron has defended a policy of immigration that should be defined by France’s needs.

In other words, under President Macron, there would be no reason to stop an African from coming to France if they have skills that are useful to the country’s economy.

Since the 1970s, waves of migrants from North Africa and then former colonies south of the Sahara have found their way into France, playing a role in various sectors of the country’s economy.

Marine Le Pen, defeated French presidential candidateImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionUnlike Marine Le Pen, Mr Macron believes France stands to gain from immigration

Mr Macron does not say he will make immigration from Africa easier. But nor will he obsess about tightening immigration control to stem a real or supposed flow of migrants from Africa.

“That is part of the dynamics of [his] liberalism,” Mr Balima told the BBC.

The president-elect has said he would encourage foreign students and those with useful skills to move to France.

With Mr Macron’s liberal attitude to immigration, isn’t there a fear that Africa might end up losing its best talents?

Not really, says Mr Balima. “There will always be enough manpower within Africa for the development of Africa.”

*BBC

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Nigeria’s Buhari Meets With 82 Freed Chibok Girls
May 7, 2017 | 0 Comments
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (left) addresses 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls during a meeting with them in Abuja, Nigeria, May 7, 2017. (Source - @MBuhari)

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (left) addresses 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls during a meeting with them in Abuja, Nigeria, May 7, 2017. (Source – @MBuhari)

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari met Sunday with the 82 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped three years ago by Boko Haram extremists and released Saturday in Nigeria’s troubled northeast.

Video of the meeting in the capital, Abuja, showed Buhari addressing his subdued guests, telling them that “no human being should go through this kind of ordeal.” He also promised that his office will “personally supervise…those entrusted with your welfare.”

Details of the girls’ path to freedom were not clear Sunday. But their release Saturday came after protracted negotiations with Boko Haram envoys that included provisions to free the girls in exchange for the release of captured Boko Haram commanders. The Associated Press reported earlier Sunday that five Boko Haram commanders were set free in the exchange.

Sunday’s meeting between the girls and the president capped an intense 24 hours that saw the young women taken under military protection near the border with Cameroon, and later brought to the capital in military helicopters.

On arrival in Abuja, they underwent medical screening and were united with family members ahead of the presidential greeting.

An earlier presidential statement said Buhari is optimistic about gaining the release of 113 Chibok girls still thought to be held by Boko Haram. The statement also praised security and military agencies for their roles in bringing the girls to safety, and it thanked the Swiss government, which sponsored negotiations leading to the releases.

Kidnapping sparked international uproar

Authorities say 276 girls were kidnapped from a government-run girls’ secondary school in Chibok on April 14, 2014. Nearly 60 girls who escaped during the first hours said their abductors forced them from dormitories into trucks that headed into the bush.

Days later, a widely distributed video purported to show about 100 of the missing girls. Boko Haram claimed the captives had converted to Islam, and said they would only be released in exchange for militants held by the Nigerian government.

At the time, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau vowed to sell the girls as slave brides.

The abductions triggered an international outcry, including condemnation from the United Nations Security Council. Then-U.S. first lady Michelle Obama co-launched a media campaign to gain the girls’ release.

 

First girls released last year

There was no sign of the Chibok schoolgirls for more than two years, until one girl — by then a mother with an infant — turned up last May. Two other girls made their way to government controlled areas later in the year, and a group of 21 captives was released in October.

Nigerian Defense Minister Manir Dan Ali told VOA’s Hausa service last month it might take years to find all of the Chibok girls. He spoke as grieving families marked the third anniversary of the girls’ disappearance, and as government troops searched known Boko Haram hideouts in the Sambisa forest — a vast area extending into three states in Nigeria’s northeast.

Boko Haram, whose declared aim is to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million during its 8-year insurgency.

FILE-In this file photo taken from video released by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network, May 12, 2014, shows missing girls abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok.

FILE-In this file photo taken from video released by Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorist network, May 12, 2014, shows missing girls abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok.

Boko Haram’s other victims

U.N. officials have stressed that the Chibok girls are not Boko Haram’s only victims.

The militants have seized at least 2,000 other girls and boys since 2014. Many of those captives were used as cooks, sex slaves, fighters and even suicide bombers, according to Amnesty International.

Boko Haram has increased its use of children as suicide bombers in the Lake Chad region, where 27 such attacks were recorded during the first three months of this year, three times as many as during the same period in 2016, according to the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

*VOA

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Nigeria Chibok girls: At least 80 freed by Boko Haram
May 6, 2017 | 0 Comments
Some of the girls pictured in May 2014, shortly after their kidnapping

Some of the girls pictured in May 2014, shortly after their kidnapping

Islamist militants of the Boko Haram group have released at least 80 schoolgirls from a group of 276 they abducted in north-eastern Nigeria three years ago, officials say.

The release reportedly came after talks with the government, though few details are confirmed.

The abduction of the so-called “Chibok girls” triggered a global outcry and sparked a huge social media campaign.

Before the latest release, about 195 of the girls were still missing.

Sources told the BBC that the young women were now in the custody of the Nigerian army.

They were brought by road convoy from a remote area to an army base in Banki near the Cameroon border.

The BBC’s Stephanie Hegarty in Lagos says that many families in Chibok will be rejoicing at this latest news, but more than 100 of the girls taken have yet to be returned.

Christian pastor Enoch Mark, whose two daughters were among those kidnapped, told Agence France-Presse: “This is good news to us. We have been waiting for this day. We hope the remaining girls will soon be released.” It was unclear whether his daughters had been freed.

A military source told the agency the freed girls would be flown to Borno’s state capital of Maiduguri on Sunday.

After the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok was raided in April 2014, more than 50 girls quickly escaped and Boko Haram then freed another 21 last October, after negotiations with the Red Cross.

The campaign for the return of the girls drew the support of then US First Lady Michelle Obama and many Hollywood stars.

Last month, President Muhammadu Buhari said the government remained “in constant touch through negotiations, through local intelligence to secure the release of the remaining girls and other abducted persons unharmed”.

Map of Nigeria
Twenty-one girls were released last OctoberImage copyrightAFP
Image captionTwenty-one girls were released last October

Many of the Chibok girls were Christian, but were encouraged to convert to Islam and to marry their kidnappers during their time in captivity.

Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of other people during its eight-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in north-eastern Nigeria.

More than 30,000 others have been killed, the government says, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee from their homes.


Boko Haram at a glance:

  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education – Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, hundreds abducted, including hundreds of schoolgirls
  • Seized large area in north-east Nigeria, where it declared caliphate
  • Joined so-called Islamic State, now calls itself IS’s “West African province”
  • Regional force has now retaken most of the captured territory
  • Group split in August after rival leaders emerged

*BBC

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We Will Champion Case For Stronger US-Africa Business Ties With Trump Administration- Florizelle Liser, President & CEO Corporate Council on Africa
May 6, 2017 | 0 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L

When it comes to business relations and trade between Africa and the USA, there are few people around with depth of knowledge and wealth of experience of Florizelle Liser, President & CEO of the Washington, DC, based Corporate Council of Africa-CCA.

For over ten years, she served with the office of the US Trade Representative including a stint as its representative for Africa prior to departure from Government last year. Appointed by the Bush Administration, she served through the Obama years and even out of government, her professional life continues to circle around issues of Trade with Africa as she serves as the first female President of the CCA.

Though she served in the Asia Pacific Region, and Latin America, in the course of her career, it is not until I moved to the African Region that I thought my true calling had been found, said Florizelle in a recent interview at the CCA headquarters. With a combination of her experience, and the great work done by her Predecessor Steve Hayes, Florizelle Liser is confident that the CCA is on course to write the next great chapter of US-Africa Trade relations.

The start of Florizelle’s leadership of the CCA coincided with the arrival of the Donald Administration whose African policy is still in a state of flux, but if there is one thing she is bent on doing, it is to make sure that the momentum on US-Africa Trade relations is sustained. Citing a litany of programs from the Bush and Obama Administrations that facilitated growing business ties, Florizelle said the CCA will be leading the charge in making the case to the Trump Administration on why corporate ties between the US and Africa should be a priority.

While the corporate background of President Trump may help him see the great opportunities and partnerships that abound in Africa, the broader perceptions Americans have about Africa need to change, Florizelle said.  For a continent with all sorts of negative stereotypes, people will be surprised to know that in South Africa alone, there are over 800 U.S companies, there will be surprised to know that there are African companies doing so well in the continent to the extent that there are also setting up shore in the US as well , said Florizelle.

The Administration and the broader American public needs to get the message that if businesses are going to Africa, it is because of profit, it is because of a more enabling environment, and the growing interest of Africans to partner with US businesses, Florizelle said.

In her new role as CEO of the CCA, one of her first major events will be the 11th biennial US-Africa Business Summit that takes place in Washington, DC, from June 13-16. The Forums alternate between the US and Africa, said Florizelle and Washington is excited to host it again after the 2015 summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This will be a great opportunity for the CCA membership to interact with Trump Administration Officials. We have invited Officials from the most senior levels of the US Administration, Florizelle said, as she expresses optimisms for positive interactions between CCA members, African leaders and those who could be key actors in shaping the Administration’s policies on Africa.

 It has been 5-months now, since your appointment as CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa.  In what shape did you meet the CCA, and what has changed so far under your leadership?

Florie Liser: First of all, I have actually been here 3-months, and I was telling people up until probably this week that I have been here 6-weeks, 10-weeks.  When I got too far, I had to change it to months.  So, now I am saying that I have been here 3-months.  I started on January 23rd and I am delighted that I had the confidence of the full board that unanimously made me the CEO.  I am the first woman CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa, but I do not think that they chose me for that.  I think that one of the things that I bring to the table is my long-standing expertise and experience in terms of US-Africa trade and investment and I think the second thing that I bring to the table is the array of relationships that I have both here in the United States and across the continent.  And I’ve been very, very fortunate; very blessed to have been exposed to many, many stakeholders who have shared the vision that I have, which is that the economic relationship between the US and Africa is an important one, a vital one.  And that in this new job, the Corporate Council on Africa, is going to build on the 17-years that Steve Hayes was here.

I   commend him for the excellent leadership that he had of CCA.  But now, I believe that we want to build on CCA’s strengths.  I think that we are one of the most successful organizations focused on US-Africa business engagement.  We are the only ones in my view that are focused solely on Africa.  Other organizations have Africa as one of the areas that there are focused on, but we are solely focused on Africa.

In addition, we have, I think in terms of our successes, also been able to bring together numerous businesses from across the continent.  We have African members first, and we have not only large members of companies that are mega companies, but over 50% of our members are small and medium-size businesses as well.  And I think that, that sort of breadth of engagement also makes us a bit unique, because we are not solely focused on what is best for US businesses.  And of course, we are strong advocates for US businesses, but I think we are probably well-suited and best situated to promote mutually beneficial relationships between US and African businesses.

We held last year I think you know; a US-Africa business summit where we had more than 1400 participants and over 600 companies that attended.  This was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  And actually, I was there.   I was there wearing my previous hat.  In addition, last year we had 6-trade missions, we hosted a range of very senior officials from Africa who came here, including the president of Mozambique, high-level trade delegation from Nigeria and so again, I think that we stand on our past and our history, but we also have a vision for the future.

And one of the things that we will be faced with now as I’m coming into leadership here, is how we work with the new US administration to make sure that the issues of US-Africa economic engagement are a priority for them.  We hope that we can make the case for expanding and enhancing the US-Africa business relationship.  And so, the issues will not only be, for example, Peace, Security, Counterterrorism, which are all very important, and in fact security is one of our core issues here.

We have 10-issue areas, as you know, which go from agribusiness, to health, security, trade, infrastructure, finance, energy, and power, etc.  But, one of the things that we will definitely want the new administration to recognize is that US businesses are in Africa because it’s profitable.  Because it is a critical part of their bottom lines as businesses.  And CCA is, and plans to be a very strong voice for US businesses who are engaged in the Continent, and also for African businesses which are expanding regionally and also some of them who are investing in the United States.  You know, it’s not one way and a lot of times people lose sight of or lose track of the fact that there are African businesses that are so successful that they are investing in the United States.    We have our upcoming US-Africa Business Summit in June and it will be our 11th biennial meeting.  We see that upcoming summit as one of the first opportunities for high-level officials from Africa, as well as CEOs, and US CEOs to meet with various people from the Trump administration.  And we have a theme which sort of reflects part of what I was saying.

We will get back to specifics of some the issues you raised as the interview proceeds.  Prior to your appointment, you serve with the office of US assistant trade representative for what?  Over 10-years?

Yeah.

Including a stint as Assistant as Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa?

Right.

How is this background helping you at the CCA?

So, you know; it’s such a natural progression to come from there, because the major role of the Assistant US trade representative for Africa was for us to promote US-Africa trade and investment.  That was my major responsibility and I did it for 13-years actually.  From 2003 until I left the US government at the end of December of 2016. Though I had worked in other regions of the world like the Asia-Pacific region, and Latin America, when I moved to the African region, I thought, wow, this was my dream job. I had studied Africa, when I was in graduate school, and visited Africa, a number of times, even in other positions.  And so, this was really an incredible opportunity for me, on a hands-on basis, to promote US-Africa trade and investment.  So, I worked with African heads of state, and ministers of trade and finance and those in charge of investment promotion on the African side as well as US businesses that will come in to ask questions about where they should go and issues that they had working in different countries.  I worked with members of Congress, and I had the privilege of working under a number of administrations. I was actually put in that position under the Bush administration, and then continued through succeeding administrations.  And I think that job was a perfect platform for me to come now and work here at CCA to continue doing really a lot of things that I’ve been passionate about for so long.

With this unique experience, in the government and now with the CCA, which is a private entity, you are in a good position to offer an assessment of business ties Between the USA and Africa.  At what point are we?  Where are things at the moment?  What is working?  And what is not working and what needs to be done to make things better?

First, I think, the average American citizen would be surprised at the number of US companies that are operating in Africa.  There are thousands and thousands of them there.  I think, in South Africa alone, there are almost 800 US companies that are there.  And so, we are all across the continent.  Our business is all across the continent in a range of sectors.  We are not just in extractive.  Although obviously, we have a huge stake in the extractive industries, we are also in telecommunications, manufacturing, and retail. We could go down the list of CCA members and beyond who are there.

Now, what has changed?  Even though many US companies have been in Africa for some time, the landscape has changed and is changing in Africa.  You know, where there were many conflicts in the past – there are only a small handful of conflicts today.  Where in the past there were governance and leadership issues, today, there are only a small number of countries where we could say that we have concerns about governance.  Where it was difficult to identify where opportunities were maybe more than a decade ago, I think today, many more US companies are aware of the opportunities in Africa.  It has the highest rate of return on investment there and the opportunities for joint ventures are probably endless.

These are economies that are growing more rapidly than most economies in the world, they have a burgeoning middle class, and disposable income is rising rapidly.  They have a youth bulge, which also has implications for the kinds of products and services that are desired on the continent, and there is a strong interest on the part of Africans to actually partner with Americans.  Therefore, a lot has changed.

Now, what is not working?  What is still difficult in many countries, is the doing business atmosphere.  The environment for quickly getting into a country, getting your operating licenses, being able to get access to the right partnerships.  These are things, which again, a number of countries in Africa are working on.  There are some who have done great in terms of the World Bank doing business scores that are rapidly rising.  But, I think anyone who goes to Africa also knows that there are some difficulties in navigating the African market.  Whenever US businesses would come in to talk to me before a trip, and they think, “well, we’re going to go there for a week and we’re going to close X deal!”  And I think, emm… I do not think that is going to happen.  And so, US businesses will still find sometimes that it takes a little bit too long to get things moving and solidify some of these partnerships.

But, because the benefits are so great, because the opportunities are so wide.  I think many of them realize, “okay, it’s going to take more than one trip.”  It may actually take me numerous trips and it might even take up to a year or more, but I am not going to run away, I am not going to lose this opportunity because I am impatient.   So, yes, I think there are ways that things could operate more smoothly, more efficiently, more effectively in Africa, and I think many US businesses would say that.  But again, the opportunities are enormous and so I think businesses are buckling down and trying to find a way forward.  Even if it is a little bit tough sometimes, even if it takes a little longer sometimes than they want.

 As we speak, there is a new administration in the USA, the Administration of President Donald Trump and people do not yet know the direction of its African policy.  From your experience in government, and signals you have seen, what should Africa expect?  Could his business background be a silver lining for business ties between USA and Africa? 

I mean, clearly it could.  Obviously, he is a businessman, he understands the benefits of doing business, not just here in the US, but across the world.  Because he is not just operating in the US.  He has operated in many places.  In fact, I was in Lesotho in November and someone was sharing with me that they thought there was a factory there that was even producing some products for one of the Trump product lines, yeah.  I did not get a chance to visit the factory, so I cannot definitively say it is true, but I had heard that.

So, what could this mean for the US-Africa business relationship – to have a businessman in the White House?  It could mean a lot.  But right now, it appears that those who our new President is looking to are largely in the area of military expertise, and people who when they look through the particular lens that they have-I’m not saying that’s a Bad lens, but, when they look through the lens that they have, they see Africa in a particular way.  And those issues such as security issues, counterterrorism issues, issues of peace, and conflict resolution; because that’s their sort of area of expertise, I think whenever they put on their lenses to look at Africa as well as other parts of the world, they see it through that lens.

I think one of the things that will be very important to do will be to help Trump Administration Officials and the President himself to take that lens off, and to put on the lens that many of our businesses and members of CCA have.  Which as I said earlier, is there are in Africa because Africa is a profitable place to be.  Everybody else in the world is scrambling to be first in Africa and to have access to what that market provides. we hope that with a strong voice from CCA as well as our members, that we can push that point, and hopefully have a Trump Administration which in short order will be talking about progress in pursuing on the business relationship with Africa.  And again, as a businessman, we are hopeful that President Trump and his Administration will do that.

I think some of them may already be leaning in that direction.  I know Secretary Ross of the Department of Commerce, mentioned Africa in his confirmation remarks, I believe, he talked about the fact that you really could not ignore Africa as a continent, and opportunities there. I understand last week, just last week that a number of the Finance Ministers and Energy Ministers that were here met with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.  So, I was very encouraged by that and we are hoping for a robust US -Africa economic and business relationship.

As you mentioned in your last answer, “there is a growing competition for business opportunities in Africa,” you have the Chinese, you have Japanese, Indians, in addition to the traditional European countries all expressing interest.  How do you make the case for US business in Africa?  Why should African countries prefer or pick US businesses as partners as opposed to all these other partners trying to get in?

I actually do not think they should just choose us.  I think that the Africans are fairly savvy now.  This is not like the olden days where people just moved in and told Africans what to do, and treated them as if they were children.  The Africans are mature, they should not allow countries to just come in, or businesses from different countries just come in and sort of dictate.  I think that there is so much to be done there and so many opportunities that the key I think, will be to manage who can work with them most effectively, in which areas.

Just as an example, it could be that you know, to actually physically build out the hard infrastructure in Africa, perhaps which is something that the Chinese can do best.  But then, if you look at the engineering side of it, maybe that’s something that US businesses actually can provide for or someone was telling me of an example of where in a particular country, they were saying that the locomotives were being provided by the Chinese, but the engines were being provided by the US.

What you’re finding is that Africans are not, I think been forced to choose should I pick the Chinese or the American, should I pick the Americans or the French, should I pick the Indians or you know, I think what they’re doing and I think it’s a wise thing to do, is looking at what are the different partnerships we can have with different countries?

I think, what the US business brings to the table about why Africans really like working with Americans is first, I think many Americans go in with high-quality products and services.  Therefore, the value for dollar is there. You may get something cheaper from someone else that is fine.  And I’m not just speaking of Chinese, but you may get a product cheaper, but what do you get with the US is in terms of the quality of the product.

The second thing is, I think US companies are also valued for the fact that we are working with people on maintenance.  We are not just going to come in initially sell you a product or provide a service and then not build in to that relationship, what it is, what’s required to maintain it, you know.  So, what is the point of a road and three years later, it is falling apart, or getting equipment that would not last? What is the point of having, equipment and you know two years later, it is breaking down.  Maybe you would have been better off buying what would last for longer.  I think we do that.

The other thing is the partnerships.  I think that we; our US companies, we are very interested in transferring skills and technology to our African partners.  That is not to say that others do not do it, but I think we are particularly good at those transfers of skills and technology.   The kind of partnerships we then have with our African partners are a reflection of that.  So, those are some of the reasons actually, we hear back from the Africans about why they like working with us.  We treat them as partners; we do not bring them in at the lowest levels of the business and leave them there.  And to be frank, I visited a lot of factories built and run by others, we won’t say who, where if they left, even though the majority of the workers in the factory were African, the Africans actually would not know what to do to keep the business going.  They were not brought in to understand the entire value chain and what has to happen from point A to point Z to keep the business running.  And I think that, that is something that I think Americans; when we come in, we bring people in and we have them as full partners in knowing all the aspects of the businesses that we partner with.

From June 13-16, the CCA will be hosting the 2017 US-Africa Business Summit; can you shed some light on this?

 CEO Florizelle Liser with PAV's Ajong Mbapndah L at the CCA Office in Washington,DC

CEO Florizelle Liser with PAV’s Ajong Mbapndah L at the CCA Office in Washington,DC

Yes, this will be our 11th Summit.  We have been having these summits both here in the US and in Africa.  In fact, we alternate back and forth.  So, we have them every other year.  They are biennial, the last one was in Ethiopia, we had over 1400 participants over 600 companies, I think over 37 countries represented there from across the continent, and it was quite successful.  This year it is going to be in the US and we wanted it here.  We were glad it was our turn to host.  Because, we thought with the new US Administration coming in, this was going to be an excellent opportunity to bring together all of our stakeholders, our members, and many beyond our members to actually come together and to talk about the US stake in Africa, and the partnerships working with Africa.

Over the years, we have had probably over 40 heads of state.  We hope we will get a few; these are tough times because you know there are a lot of competing interests.  The G-20  is coming up.  I think the Africa program it actually happens almost on the same time frame in Berlin, but you know, we are hoping we will.  However, if we do not, we will have lots of high-level Officials, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Energy, Health, Agriculture, and so forth. We will also have some doing business in whatever country as a part of it.  Some sessions will be on doing business in Ghana, doing business in Ethiopia, or wherever as a part of it.

We are also planning to have an event on the Hill.  We have been invited to have an event on the Hill, where we will be having a dialogue with key members of Congress, both from the Senate and the House and from both parties. The hill is so important especially right now.  They have always been important, and will always be important. We hope to have a good turnout of both US and African businesses, and CEOs covering a wide range of issues, core issues, all of CCA’s core issues will be touched on during the summit.  So, we’re inviting, I hope all those who read this article will hear about this summit and will register, and come and be a part of it.  Be that active voice that is needed right now, so that the US Administration can hear from all of us.

You mention the new US administration, and this will be the first summit that is taking place under the new leadership.  First, what level of participation do you expect from them?  Secondly, it was reported in March that there was an African Trade meeting out in California, where there were no Africans because of visa issues.  The Africans who were supposed to turn out were never granted visas to come for the summit.  Is the CCA concerned about this development?

Well, I think first of all, you asked who has been invited; we have invited practically all of the highest-level people from the Administration, who we think have a stake in Africa. So, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Energy, we’re still waiting though for some other people to come into key positions throughout the Administration.  So, again, at the lower levels, or some of the more prominent folks that we would normally engage with are not even there yet.  But, we expect to have participation from a number of US Agencies.  We are also having a session that will be about engagement with Agencies of the US Government.  And we’re getting all of the highest-level people that are there, from the Department of Commerce, to OPIC, EXIM Bank, the US Trade Representative’s office where I came from; to come and be on a panel that will talk about our programs across those different government agencies and institution.  MCC will be a part of it, people who do work on power Africa will be there as well.  So, we think we’ll have a very good discussion of what the US ship brings to the table under this Administration, as well as others.

In terms of the visa issue, of course, you know we have to be a bit concerned that, that happens.  I don’t know the particulars of why that happened with the California conference, but what we’ve done is, we’ve talked to State Department and we’re going to be working with the State Department to let them know which Africans have been invited and also you know, as people register for the conference from different African countries, we will be sending that information to State Department so that they are aware of these people who will need visas.

And then CCA for our African partners who are coming from the private sector, we will be providing them with visa letters.  So, a letter of invitation, which is often needed for getting your visa. We will do that, and we have kind of broadly let people know that.  And as I said, we’re just going to work with the powers that be here to facilitate getting our African delegations into the summit.  That is the best that we can do, and we are going to hope for the best and hope that it will be positive.

Prior to leaving the USTR, you work with two Presidents one Republican, one Democrat. How have you seen the evolution of US-Africa business relations over the years? Who did more? Was it the republicans or was it the democrats?  

Well you know, that’s a great question and I love that question.  Now, my experience you know is that under President Bush, a lot of really incredible programs were launched. so we can talk about PEPFAR, to work on HIV-AIDS,  we can talk about the Millennium Challenge Corporation, that was set up and provides grants to build infrastructure in Africa, there was a program on malaria and girls’ education and so forth.  Then you get to the Obama administration, and he also launched some really effective programs like Power Africa, Trade Africa, YALI, and so on, but here is what I would say that distinguishes them.  I think that the trend has been more to move from initiatives the US has with Africa that are more, could more be described as aid, and development assistance to initiatives that are really more focused on trade and business engagement.  And so, I very much think that is the trend.  My expectation under the Trump Administration is, it will continue moving in that direction.

Another Program that I did not mention, that was very important under President Obama, was the President’s Advisory Council on doing business in Africa; we call it the PAC – DBIA.  Very focused on the doing business relationship, the economic relationship, and that one had CEOs from different US businesses there. We are looking to see now, whether under the Trump Administration that would continue, one would hope it would.

He gets it, he is a businessperson, and we expect that to continue that way.  But, I think the major sort of trend has been that we recognize that yes, aid is important, development assistance is important, but what is most important, what has probably more of a sustainable impact on Africa is private sector driven partnerships and relationships.  Public-private partnerships pushed by and supported by the private sectors on both sides. Power Africa is a good example of that, Trade Africa is a good example of that.

So, that is my experience and let me just say, that’s not to say that we should not give aid.  We definitely should, we have some countries in Africa right now that are facing famines , we want to make sure that we provide that kind of assistance and relief, but I remember from many years ago, they talked about how if Africa was able to increase its share of world trade by just one percentage point; at the time, they had 2% of world trade  Now, they have about 3%, but the movement of 1% additional trade would actually generate every year, three times the amount that Africa gets in aid from everybody in the world.  Just 1 percentage point of trade.

And I use that example, it is an old one.  It came from the old Blair report that came out, Oh, my gosh!  More than a decade ago.  But, the reason I use that is, because it shows you the power of trade and economic engagement.  That no matter how much aid you have, if you are generating your economic growth through private sector investment, through greater trade, the production of value-added products on the continent, the creation of jobs that come from investment and from trade, you can do way more with that, than you can with the aid – yeah.

Last question Ms. Florie, you have spent a huge part of your career working on Africa, and I believe that you have done a lot of travel, different countries, and different people

I have! I have!

What are some of the changes that you have seen? 

Yeah, well, even when I first started going to Africa, and it wasn’t a surprise to me, but you know, the pictures that you see of Africa here in the United States, the ‘Image’ I should say, of Africa here in the United States, is definitely not what is going on in the continent.

I went to cities that were vibrant, or growing metropolises even a decade, decade and a half ago, but you do not see those pictures on TV.  You see children with big bellies and flies in their eyes and, so Americans typically don’t have the vision of Africa that it is.I’ve been to factories that are producing everything from eyeglasses, and toys, and an apparel and footwear and you know, inputs for automobiles and automobiles themselves that are being produced in Africa.

African countries have the potential to do what China has done says Forizelle Liser

African countries have the potential to do what China has done says Forizelle Liser

When I see those thousands and thousands of workers in factories all across Africa, producing pepper sauces and all sorts of value-added agricultural products.  And I’ve been to cut flower farms, and just you know, it’s incredible places where they’re packing green beans and shipping them to the US and Europe.  The image I get is of an Africa that is a part of the global economy, that plays an important role in global value chains and how that Africa is critical to how everybody else is developing in the world too.  We need Africa to be a manufacturing floor, we need Africa’s labor.  Africa is going to contribute more to the global workforce in the next 20 years than any other region of the world.  And you know, FDI into Africa is increasing rapidly.

As I said earlier, the rate of return on investments is increasing rapidly.  Africa is a place now where people who are institutional investors you know, from the state of California or you know, people with pension plans here in the US, where firefighters and policemen and their money is being invested in Africa to their benefit.  And that’s an Africa that I see today and the potential of an Africa today that even 10 years ago, we did not see.  People were not putting their 401(k)s investments into Africa that kind of way 10 years ago, so the potential of Africa to be a fully integrated partner into the global economy is something that I can actually see it.  And you know, or read about it and so you know when I hear you know different fans talking about.  Oh yes, you know were to be investing these hundreds of millions or we have a call out and you know, the call has been filled in terms of you know, the investment bonds and so forth that are being issued.  You’re like wow!

This is what Africa is about today, I’ve been to stock markets in Ghana, in South Africa, in Botswana, and so I look at Africa and I see an Africa which, and let me end on this note, you know; “they are now where China was maybe 30 years ago,” And, if they continue in this direction, to me they have the potential to, not as one single economy because clearly they’re not, but then you know we have the concept of free trade area that’s been launched and where you know, 10 years from now, for sure, maybe we will be looking at it all as one large African market and economy.

I see them as having the potential in individual countries to do what China has done in terms of manufacturing, in terms of investment, in terms of business partnerships, companies that are present there, South Africa, Boeing just opened up an office in South Africa and Kenya, GE has an office in Kenya.

I mean we are seeing a lot of US business engagement there. There is a reason why they are going there.  They are not just going to Africa and setting up offices and businesses and investing there because they want to do good.  And they do, do a lot of good things, a lot of for corporate social responsibility in Africa, but are actually there to do well.  And so, the opportunity for mutually beneficial relationships between US and African businesses in all sorts of sectors and is a part of the global economy is really kind of the vision that everyone has for Africa now.  It is certainly not my vision, but I can personally attest to it.

Ms. Florie Liser, thank you very much for talking to Pan African visions!

Thank you for having me!

 

 

 

 

 

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Congo inks $5.6 million lobbying deal amid election strife
May 2, 2017 | 0 Comments

BY MEGAN R. WILSON*

Joseph Kabila

Joseph Kabila

The Democratic Republic of Congo is spending millions on a coordinated lobbying campaign aimed at the United States amid rising tensions over the future of its leader, Joseph Kabila.

The country signed a $5.6 million contract with Mer Security and Communication Systems, an Israel-based security consulting firm, according to new disclosure forms released by the Justice Department. The contract is large even by the standards of foreign lobbying, which is a lucrative niche.

While the contract appears to cover mostly advisory services — in addition to organizing a trip to Washington for the country’s special envoy to the United States — forms say that Mer Security “will hire/has hired U.S. entities to set up meetings with senior U.S. administration officials and key policy makers in various Congressional committees.”

The firm did not immediately respond to questions from The Hill, including which other firms it had hired. There are no other new registrations with the Justice Department for the work.

Kabila, the president of the DRC, refused to step down from power after his second five-year term ended in December.

The country’s constitution does not allow presidents to serve for more than two terms, but a high court determined that he could stay in office until a new president was elected.

The government, however, has repeatedly pushed back elections, citing incomplete voter rolls and high costs. Last year, Kabila allies and opposition forces signed an agreement that elections must be held by the end of 2017, but that pact appears fragile.

Protests against Kabila have ended with dozens dead, and new rules ban any groups larger than 10 people from congregating in one place. The ongoing conflicts have turned Congo’s capital city, Kinshasa, into a “ghost town,” NPR reported.

Mer Security and Communication Systems will be advising Congo’s government on “political concerns regarding African security issues” and the policy issues surrounding “the appointment of a special envoy from the DRC to the United States,” according to disclosure forms signed by the firm’s chief executive, Omer Laviv, dated April 26.

The contract is with Raymond Tshibanda, the former minister of foreign affairs of Congo, and documents list him as the special envoy to the United States.

During lobbying meetings set up by other firms, Mer will “provide briefings to meeting participants, based on its discussions with the DRC government,” the documents say.

While Kabila has installed a member of the opposition party to serve as prime minister, the move was decried by critics who say the unilateral appointment choice, Bruno Tshibala, is no longer a member of the opposition alliance and does not represent their views.

The stakes are high for Congo, as there has not been a peaceful transition of power in the country since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

The Obama administration passed several waves of targeted sanctions on the country, and the Trump administration appears to be taking a tough stance as well.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is calling for cuts to its peacekeeping budget due to Kabila’s actions.

“The U.N. peacekeeping mission is mandated to partner with the government,” she told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “In other words, the U.N. is aiding a government that is inflicting predatory behavior against its own people. We should have the decency and common sense to end this.”

Haley’s speech, at the end of March, came the day after the U.N. confirmed that two U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo had been found dead in shallow graves. One was American, the other from Sweden.

“Obviously, all U.N. peacekeepers, everywhere they go, work with authorities on the ground. That does not mean that we support those figures or those parties,” said a U.N. spokeswoman.

The Democratic Republic of Congo had most recently been represented by BGR Group, a primarily Republican firm. The contract, which lasted from September 2016 through January 2017, was worth $875,000.

*The Hill

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The region in Niger quietly piloting a Boko Haram amnesty
April 27, 2017 | 0 Comments

BY EDWARD RACKLEY*

The bold experiment is proving attractive, but comes fraught with dangers.

Across Diffa region, around 150 Boko Haram fighters have surrendered since late-2016. Credit: Roland

Across Diffa region, around 150 Boko Haram fighters have surrendered since late-2016. Credit: Roland

In mid-December 2016, in rural Diffa region on Niger’s southern border with Nigeria, fourteen men gave themselves up to authorities. The group said that they were former fighters of Boko Haram and that they had abandoned their weapons in the bush.

News of this impromptu surrender from the Islamist militant group responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and millions of displacements came as a surprise to most in the area. But not to regional authorities.

Since late last year, they had been quietly testing a tactic of asking families whose children have joined Boko Haram to spread word of an amnesty. If they surrendered, fighters were told, they would be pardoned and assisted in rejoining their communities.

Before then, the main regional response to the brutal Islamist militant group had been military. This has had some successes in weakening the combatants, and the last major Boko Haram attack in Niger in which civilians were killed was in September 2016. But in Nigeria, where the group originated, and beyond, gruesome assaults, abductions, and bombings of schools and markets continued.

To those in Diffa, these attacks have been shocking. But more distressing to many has been the rate of voluntary conscription amongst Niger’s youth. Imams and village chiefs return to one question: “What about this savagery is attractive to our young?” Families and leaders tussle with this issue, but many simply refuse to countenance that those who join Boko Haram from Niger are truly radicalised.

It was with this belief in mind – as well as an awareness of the limits of a ground war – that the experimental amnesty plan was hatched last year. The exact details of the “secret messaging” campaign are unclear, but local leaders express pride in their initiative, which they say is ongoing, and follow it closely.

As the prefect of Maïné-Soroa told me, “Governor [of Diffa Region] Dan Dano calls every night to ask how many Boko have surrendered.”

As of late-March, the number stood at nearly 150 across Diffa.

Planning ahead

In terms of numbers, the amnesty scheme has so far proven to be effective. The logic behind it is also clear. Uganda’s use of a similar strategy to entice defections from the Lord’s Resistance Army in the early-2000s is widely believed to have weakened rebel ranks. And Diffa’s experiment comes at a time when Boko Haram is already facing factional splintering and other difficulties.

[Making sense of Boko Haram’s different factions: Who, how and why?]

As a locally-designed and -executed initiative, it is also impressive and promising. Often when disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) schemes are implemented, they are imported internationally with little local ownership. But this is not the case with Diffa, and other regions facing the same problem are watching the bold experiment closely.

However, while local leaders are buoyed by progress so far, not everyone is convinced.

Some believe that the policy is a distraction from tackling the longer-term push factors – such as poverty and a weak state – that lead youth to join Boko Haram in the first place. Meanwhile others worry that funds from other more widely beneficial development projects will be re-directed to rehabilitating former combatants.

As Niger’s Minister of Justice Marou Amadou says of ex-Boko Haram fighters, “it costs us money to house them, to feed them”.

For his part, Governor Dano says he is not yet seeking funds to help manage the growing caseload. His intent is to pilot the idea and, if it proves tenable, to seek support where it is needed. But this more reactive approach also brings with it certain risks.

At present, anticipated needs only cover the Goudoumaria reintegration centre where vocational training and de-radicalisation programmes are to take place over a two-year period. As in combatant DDR programmes elsewhere, external partners will be involved.

However, if defector numbers spike with no clear plan or resources already in place, the programme could stall. Frustrations could escalate and deserters may revolt or even re-mobilise. This has happened in many other DDR programmes where logistics and planning were slow or inadequate.

Local suspicion

Another serious challenge to the amnesty comes from the fact that, at a grassroots level, many local communities in Niger are not yet on board with the idea. They view the deserters with suspicion and hostility.

Unlike in Uganda, there is currently no legal framework for Diffa’s amnesty initiative, meaning there is no official process by which ex-combatants can gain legal status as pardoned deserters. Moreover, some worry that those surrendering are being planted by Boko Haram.

Dano concedes that processing the defectors will take time, but insists there are measures in place to determine threat levels.

“We cross-reference their stories, their claim to a certain village and family, by visiting those places and confirming details. We try to learn more about them, when they left and if witnesses saw them attacking villages here,” he says. He also suggests that those who are genuinely radicalised will simply ignore the offer of an amnesty.

In order to drive support for the initiative, Dano along with local prefects and leaders have been appearing before the public. But from all reports, these are purely declaratory rather than responsive exercises.

This could pose a serious problem. If local leadership fails to convince the population, it could undermine the whole endeavour. After all, it is ultimately victims – more so than ex-combatants or state officials – whose buy-in is essential for an amnesty to be effective. For reconciliation and reinsertion of former fighters to be possible, communities must be prepared to accept them back into their lives.

Yet there are currently no participatory approaches being adopted to more closely involve communities, and many simply see the amnesty as impunity. Furthermore, popular sentiment may harden as word spreads that deserters could be rewarded with vocational training and livelihoods assistance while innocent, traumatised communities get nothing.

“We think we are diminishing the ranks of BH with this amnesty effort, but now what are we doing with the defectors?” asks Minister Amadou. “We aren’t prosecuting them – none of this is good for us.”

The price of peace?

The challenges and risks of Diffa’s pilot amnesty are thus clear to see. Trying to pardon and rehabilitate former fighters under volatile and uncertain circumstances comes fraught with dangers, especially if the initiatives are not carefully and thoroughly financed and planned.

Meanwhile, if local communities remain resistant to the idea, the policy could result in deepening resentment, hostility and suspicion.

However, as Boko Haram continues to terrorise Niger and the Lake Chad region, local authorities insist that the risks of continuing with a predominantly military approach are similarly grave.

“We cannot become Nigeria”, says Dano.

Fighting Boko Haram may involve policies that are controversial to begin with, say local leaders, but they are ultimately necessary.

Asked how he justifies pardoning former Boko Haram militants and spending scarce funds on their rehabilitation to those in Diffa, the Maïné-Soroa prefect sighs. “I tell them such is the price we have to pay for peace”.

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Africa: Presidents Kagame, Deby, Conde and AU Commission Chair Call for Urgent Reforms
April 25, 2017 | 0 Comments

By Collins Mwai*

Presidents Kagame, Alpha Conde of Guinea (second-right) and Idriss Deby of Chad (right), and African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat in Conakry, Guinea, yesterday, during their meeting on the implementation of the AU reforms. The leaders jointly called for urgency in the implementation of the African Union reforms adopted in January this year in readiness for the rapid changes in the global context. Photo: Village Urugwiro/The New Times

Presidents Paul Kagame, Alpha Conde of Guinea, and Idriss Deby of Chad, and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, yesterday, called for urgency in the implementation of the African Union reforms adopted in January this year in readiness for the rapid changes in the global context.

The Heads of State and AU Commission chairperson were meeting in Conakry, Guinea, to discuss the institutional reform of the African Union, at the invitation of President Conde the current Chairperson of the African Union.

President Kagame has been leading the reform process following the mandate given during the African Union Summit held in Kigali last July.

Speaking on the need for implementation, Kagame said the reforms were urgent, especially at a time when the African continent ought to be united in the face of changes on the global level.

“The basis for the urgency of these measures is clear. The global context is changing rapidly. Standing united, with a common vision of our continent’s interests and aspirations, we can bend the trail of history in Africa’s favour,” he said.

In the build-up to the next summit, Kagame said the priorities include implementation of the decision to finance the union with a levy on imports.

 “First, we need to accelerate the decision to finance the African Union with a levy on eligible imports. Everything else flows from this and we cannot afford to get bogged down. The second priority is to move quickly with those reforms which can be implemented right away,” he said.

While sitting in Kigali in July last year, the African Union summit adopted a new formula to finance the African Union.

How it is planned

Under the formula, countries are to make their contributions through a 0.2 per cent levy on eligible imports, which would raise about $1.2 billion every year.

The levy will be collected by tax collection authorities of member states and channeled through their central banks.

For the continent to walk the talk in the implementation of the reforms, Kagame said it needs to have a common viewpoint when engaging with external partners.

“One example is speaking with one voice when Africa as a whole engages with external partners. Nobody benefits from the confusion inherent in the current method of doing business,” the President said.

Kagame also pointed to a mechanism to ensure that countries comply with decisions adopted by the Union as a key reform that can be implemented without delay.

“Another example is to agree on a binding mechanism to ensure that member states are held accountable for respecting key African Union decisions, such as the ones on financing and institutional reform,” the President said.

He called on nations to capitalise on the mood for change and prioritise the reforms.

“The mood for change is already there and we have a clear roadmap. Let’s capitalise on it, prioritise the next steps, and keep up the good momentum,” he said

Another reform adopted is for the African Union to focus on key priorities with continental scope and to empower Regional Economic Communities to take the lead on regional issues.

Other key reforms emphasised by the President include realigning AU institutions to deliver on its key priorities, connecting the African Union more to citizens for them to have a stake in its work, and managing the business of the AU more efficiently and effectively with particular focus on how summits are conducted and how personnel are selected.

Next month, officials from the AU Commission, led by the Chairperson, as well as Foreign Affairs ministers and permanent representatives of member states are expected to convene in Kigali for an extensive briefing on the reforms implementation.

*Allafrica/The New Times

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World Malaria Day 2017: millions of bednets reach remote and high-risk areas of Chad as rainy season looms
April 25, 2017 | 0 Comments

24 April 2017, Geneva—13 million people will soon receive long-lasting insecticide treated bednets in some of the hardest to reach and conflict-affected regions of Chad. As regional insecurity continues to affect population movements in the country, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) launched the massive distribution campaign to help reach the most vulnerable. Distributions began in January, with UNDP and partners striving to ensure people have the means to protect themselves before the rainy season, which normally runs from July to November.

“The conflicts in neighbouring countries and the ensuing crisis in the Lake Chad region, means there are millions of people in high risk areas who lack easy access to health clinics and malaria prevention tools such as insecticide treated bednets. Together with the Government of Chad, UNDP is concentrating its efforts on vulnerable groups, with a specific focus on reaching pregnant women and children,” said Carol Flore-Smereczniak, UNDP Country Director.

Malaria is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Chad, with over 97 percent of the population at risk. Of the 800,000 confirmed cases reported in 2016, more than 44 percent are children under the age of five and nine percent are pregnant women. Additionally, nomads, fishermen and Lake Chad islanders face increased risk of contracting malaria, as do 600,000 refugees, returnees and Internally Displaced People in the Eastern, Western and Southern regions of the country.

The mass bed net campaign has included distributing nets across more than 4000 sites and 2 million households. 25,000 people from local communities have also been recruited and trained to help identify those most in need and the most effective distribution locations. The challenging context, including an infrastructure gap, has required a collaborative approach, with UNDP working closely with partners including the World Food Programme (WFP).

“Our field presence and logistical expertise enable us, in partnership with UNDP, to support the Chadian government in its fight against malaria. Through this major campaign, nearly 7 million mosquito nets will be delivered to the most remote areas,” said Mary Ellen McGroarty, WFP Country Director.

 The distribution of bednets is  supported by a mass communications campaign to ensure people understand how to correctly use the bednets and to dispel any myths or rumours about the benefits and safety of sleeping under the nets. The campaign uses a diverse range of high and low-tech communications channels to reach the different populations, ranging from town criers and theatre to mobile SMS and radio spots.

The UNDP-managed Global Fund grant for malaria in Chad will run until June 2018 and is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Health, WHO, UNICEF, WFP and national and international civil society organizations.  The overall objective of the programme is to achieve a reduction of 50 percent in both malaria morbidity and mortality. Malaria prevention is critical to ensuring human development and progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 3: ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being and other health-related SDG targets.

*UNDP

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Africa: New AU Chief Puts Peace Back On the Agenda
April 24, 2017 | 0 Comments

Moussa Faki Mahamat – African Union Chair. Source -the Guardian

Moussa Faki Mahamat – African Union Chair. Source -the Guardian

The scene is not a familiar one at the African Union (AU): the AU Commission (AUC) chairperson, in shirtsleeves, walking in the blazing sun down an unpaved alley in a war-torn country. Yet this picture of Moussa Faki Mahamat, the new AUC chairperson, on a visit to South Sudan, is probably the first of many.

Mahamat last month visited South Sudan and Somalia, two of the worst war zones the AU has had to cope with in the past few years. He was accompanied by Smaïl Chergui, the AUC Commissioner for Peace and Security. He also met with politicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali.

Mahamat’s predecessor, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, was criticised in some quarters for not paying enough attention to burning crises on the continent. She rarely travelled to conflict zones. Mahamat has been travelling to hotspots and meeting with leaders about solving conflicts.

Four days after his January inauguration in Addis Ababa, Chad’s former foreign minister left for neighbouring Somalia where he met with newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmajo’ Mohamed. Somalia is the location of the AU’s main peacekeeping effort, where the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) is fighting al-Shabaab.

While in Mogadishu, Mahamat laid a wreath for the unknown soldier – an overdue gesture for the countless African soldiers who have died in battle in Somalia this past decade. Shortly afterwards he travelled to Nairobi to attend a special summit organised by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) about the future of Somali refugees.

A day after the Nairobi meeting, on 27 March, he was in South Sudan where civil war has been raging since December 2013, with no end in sight. The AU Peace and Security Department posted pictures on Twitter of Mahamat holding a baby in Ganyiel in South Sudan’s Unity State, where famine has been declared. The UN reports that 5.8 million South Sudanese require food aid.

The UN has also warned that genocide could occur in South Sudan if no political solution is found soon. Refugees streaming over the border to Uganda in the past few weeks have told horrific tales of ethnic cleansing and killings based on tribal affiliation.

Mahamat might have been thinking about this as he sat with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame in Kigali on 8 April to commemorate the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Then, Africa said ‘never again’. In fact, the very AUC that the Chadian diplomat is now heading, is tasked with intervening in crises on the continent and preventing things from escalating to such an extent that lives are threatened on a massive scale.

 Besides the crises in Somalia and South Sudan, several African countries are still battling with terrorist threats. Last week, on 10 April, the foreign minister of Mali, Abdoulaye Diop, spoke to AU ambassadors in Addis Ababa during a meeting of the Peace and Security Council on the new plans to fight terrorism in the Sahel. These efforts are led by the G5 Sahel countries (Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania).

The G5 Sahel is planning a joint intervention force similar to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram. Mahamat also knows these battles very well. Boko Haram has been in his backyard for years. Chad in fact plays an important role in the regional offensive against the terror group. The MNJTF, headquartered in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, has made a lot of progress and has weakened Boko Haram.

Back in his office in Addis Ababa, the AUC chief will soon be reminded that when it comes to solving Africa’s conflicts, the AU’s hands are tied on many levels. Firstly, the AUC – with its representatives from 55 member states – remains a highly bureaucratic institution with huge organisational problems. Mahamat and his new team, including his deputy and eight commissioners, are charged with implementing new reforms at the AU, adopted by heads of state at their 28th summit in January.

 Secondly, financial constraints still plague the AU. The new financial structure that was adopted in July last year by heads of state, which will see 0.2% of African imports taxed to finance the AUC, is only being put into place very slowly. For now, the AU programmes and especially peace support operations are almost fully funded by outside institutions like the European Union.

Finally, nothing can be done about peace and security without the cooperation of the AU’s member states. Time and again, AU peace efforts have faltered because states are unwilling to acknowledge the AU’s role and responsibility in the internal affairs of member states and/or have not been willing to provide the resources to back its plans.

One of the reasons that the peace efforts in South Sudan have failed is the lack of coordination and commitment by countries in the region, some of whom have taken sides in the conflict.

The AU has vowed to silence the guns by 2020. Mahamat said in his election campaign for the AUC’s top job that he speaks fluent French, English and Arabic and has a lot of experience in diplomacy. Those skills will have to be put into practice to convince African leaders and belligerents to cooperate in the interest of peace and security.

*ISS/AllAfrica.Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant

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