By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Several reports have already appeared on aspects of cultural dimensions of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
Admittedly, BRICS has broadened its scope of operations and activities, indicating its strength and the level of its development. As already known, Russia has passed on the BRICS Chairmanship to India, which officially starts January 2021. That, however, Kester Kenn Klomegah from Modern Diplomacy contacted to know a few more detailed developments in the cultural directions of BRICS.
Elena Marinina, Co-Chair of the International Cultural Exchange Group of the BRICS Civil Forum, Deputy CEO of the Roscongress Foundation and Director of the Innosocium Foundation, discusses the question of cultural diversities among BRICS members, the various initiatives that were adopted during the last interactive working session, and combined efforts to pave the way forward with the Association of NGOs as part of BRICS. Here are the interview excerpts:
How do you assess the importance and the results of the online roundtable discussions on “International Cultural Cooperation for Strengthening BRICS Unity” moderated from Moscow?
A lot of serious preparatory work went into the roundtable at the BRICS Civil Forum. The International Cultural Exchange Working Group collected recommendations and initiatives from representatives of various public organizations and institutions, foundations, and socially-oriented businesses of the five BRICS countries. All of these recommendations and initiatives were presented during the roundtable, given a serious and balanced assessment.
Cultural exchanges, protecting the cultural heritage of our countries, getting young people involved in the culture of BRICS countries, and developing tourism are the priority focuses that formed the basis of our draft communiqué that was presented to the heads of state at the BRICS Summit under the presidency of the Russian Federation. All the members of the working group, which included more than 30 representatives of the alliance’s member states, agreed that we should join efforts to develop sustainable cultural cooperation between BRICS countries.
It is crucial that all the recommendations are very clear, whether it is the establishment of the BRICS Advanced Thinking and Research Centre or an internship programme for the different activities of young professionals, holding the annual BRICS Literature Fair, or the creation of a general register of cultural, architectural, and landscape monuments of BRICS member states with their subsequent inclusion in the World Heritage List. In other words, we not only outlined paths for further cultural cooperation between our countries, but also identified specific projects that will establish this cooperation.
Of course, we must also keep in mind that many of the projects that have been announced overlap with the competencies of other working groups, which once again demonstrates the diversity and breadth of the coverage of such a phenomenon as a culture. Along with the economy, culture is the foundation on which countries build relations.
In your opinion as a member of the BRICS Working Group on Culture, do you agree that there are some diversities in culture among the group? Russia, India and China are geographically close, Brazil and South Africa a bit distant – but do this present any challenges in realizing fully the expected tourism and cultural dimension of BRICS?
The vision of man and the world is truly distinct for different nations, and sometimes even the exact opposite in some ways. If we are talking about culture, uniformity is unacceptable even within a single country. The main thing that unites the representatives of BRICS countries, though, is the desire to speak from a unified position on the global development of civil society and the establishment of global socio-cultural architecture, and in this regard, the diversity of the cultural codes of BRICS is more of a unique advantage than a disadvantage. We understand this very well in Russia. As a multinational, multicultural, and multilingual country, Russia is always open to dialogue with other peoples. We see the same approach from our foreign partners.
We are already actively collaborating with representatives of BRICS member countries as part of the events of the Roscongress Foundation’s social platform – the Innosocium Foundation. For example, we recently launched the BRICS Women’s Business Alliance, whose agenda not only covers economic issues, but also cross-cultural exchange and the implementation of joint projects in creative industries and education. The upcoming Eurasian Women’s Forum, which will be held in September 2021 in St. Petersburg, will feature a discussion platform on women’s involvement in the creative economy. As the organizers of Russian Creativity Week, we are also looking forward to seeing creative representatives from BRICS countries at our event in Moscow in summer 2021.
As for tourism, the deterrent today is not so much the geographical position of countries as it is the closure of borders due to the pandemic. However, this is a temporary factor. The final recommendations of the International Cultural Exchange Working Group are designed for a longer horizon and contain a wide range of measures that aim to develop the tourism potential of BRICS countries. This primarily includes the BRICS Cultural Tourism project, which seeks to consider the possibility of direct communication between BRICS nations, simplify the visa procedure for citizens of BRICS countries, open guide schools, and develop tourism routes in the group’s countries. We are also planning to hold the annual five-nation ‘BRICS – Our Common Home’ Cultural Festival, the ‘Great BRICS Cities’ project, various championships, and several other interesting initiatives.
One thing I am definitely certain of is that with all the differences in lifestyle, mentality, and traditions, as we travel or communicate and learn about the culture of another country, we are building a policy of intercultural relations and erecting a big BRICS house brick by brick, where common moral values will shape its foundation.
Could you discuss some of the initiatives that were presented during the meeting? What initiatives presented by Russia, the Chair of BRICS 2020? What were the reactions of your colleagues from Brazil, India, China and South Africa?
First of all, I would like to remind you that the BRICS Civil Forum itself was launched in 2015 based on an initiative put forward during the Russian presidency in order to convey the priorities of society and present civil initiatives to the leaders of the five countries. Over the past years, this format has proven to be useful and effective for cooperation between the public organizations of the association’s countries.
The 2020 BRICS Civil Forum came up with public initiatives for healthcare during the pandemic as well as social equality and addressed issues concerning the environment and climate change, the development of green energy, civil rights and freedoms, in addition to the role of education and science in human development. As I already mentioned, we devoted great attention to getting young people involved in the culture of BRICS countries, developing cultural exchanges through literature and art, and protecting cultural heritage as the basis for international cooperation and tourism.
In addition, as part of the cultural focus of the BRICS Civil Forum, Russia presented a number of projects dedicated to the 75th anniversary of victory in World War II. These projects include an initiative to establish the ‘World Day of War Veterans’ under a UN resolution, the international project ‘Libraries as Witnesses of the Great Victory’ based on the materials of the national libraries and archives of BRICS countries, and the five-nation literary and historical project ‘BRICS Peoples: Dedicated to War Heroes’.
All these initiatives were included in the final recommendations and not only garnered broad support from our colleagues in BRICS, but also from participants who were invited from other countries in Europe and Asia. We had a comprehensive exchange of views and engaged in fruitful and interesting work.
Taking advantage of this opportunity, we also invited the working group members to the second Russian Creativity Week Festival and Forum in Moscow in summer 2021, which the Innosocium Foundation is organizing jointly with the Russian Cultural Centre. The event was held for the first time in September 2020 and immediately received international recognition, as evidenced both by the scale of foreign participants as well as their active involvement in the event’s programme.
Now judging from the discussion, what could be the best way to systematize and to combine efforts in implementing all these new initiatives and recommendations arrived at the Civil BRICS 2020? In your view, how do you also see the way forward for the Association of NGOs as part of BRICS?
The institutionalization of cultural ties is a key part of our draft communiqué. During the meetings, many Russian and international members of the working group from the five nations advocated for the creation of a ‘Union (Association) of BRICS Non-Governmental Organizations’ and the formation of a single network of BRICS NPOs. I am certain that this will enable us to engage in a clear and properly coordinated manner, hold a constructive dialogue with the leaders of states and governments, and jointly implement the proposals and initiatives that received support at the BRICS Civil Forum.
New US Travel Rules Excludes Foreigners Vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Local and foreign media have stepped up reports about rising COVID-19 infections in Russia. While the reports indicated high deaths in the country, the other highlighted new trends that are noticeably appearing there.
Interestingly, directors at the Russian tourism and travel agencies say that many Russians are lining up for vaccine tourism in Serbia, Bulgaria and Germany and a few other foreign countries.
These Russians aim at getting foreign vaccines including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
Here are a few facts about Russian vaccines.
Russia’s Sputnik V was the first officially registered coronavirus vaccine on August 11, 2020. Russia is using four vaccines for mass vaccination for COVID-19. These are Sputnik V and Sputnik Light developed by the Russian Health Ministry’s Gamaleya Center.
EpiVacCorona developed by the Vector Center of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), and CoviVac developed by the Chumakov Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Clinical trials of the EpiVacCorona vaccine on teens aged from 15 to 17 might begin in the near future.
China has a 1.3 billion population and has given the two billionth vaccine by the end of August, the United States has 380 million and has vaccinated 60% of its population. In Europe, the vaccination rate is high at an appreciable level.
Overall, Russia with an estimated 146 million people has Europe’s highest death toll from the pandemic, nearly 210,000 people as of September 30, according to various authentic sources including the National Coronavirus Task Force.
More than 42 million Russians have received both components of a coronavirus vaccine, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova.
“The number of citizens who have received the first component of a vaccine has topped 44 million, and more than 37 million people have completed a full vaccination course,” Golikova said.
She gave an assurance back in July that once the population have been immunized with at least the first component of a two-shot vaccine, herd immunity to COVID-19, or at least an 80% vaccination rate, should be reached by November 1.
Even though Russia boasted of creating the world’s first coronavirus vaccines, vaccination is very low. Critics have principally blamed a botched vaccine rollout and mixed messages the authorities have been sending about the outbreak.
In addition, coronavirus antibody tests are popular in Russia and some observers suggest this contributes to the low vaccination numbers.
Western health experts say the antibody tests are unreliable either for diagnosing COVID-19 or assessing immunity to it. The antibodies that these tests look for can only serve as evidence of a past infection. Scientists say it’s still unclear what level of antibodies indicates that a person has protection from the virus and for how long.
Russia has registered Sputnik V in more than 150 foreign countries. The World Health Organization is yet to register this vaccine. For its registration, it must necessarily pass through approved procedures, so far Russia has ignored them, according to reports.
There have also been several debates after the World Health Organization paused its review process of the Sputnik V vaccine over concerns about its manufacturing process, and few other technical reasons. While some talked about politicizing the vaccine registration, others have faced facts of observing recognized international rules for certifying medical products as such vaccines.
During the first week of October, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko has reiterated or repeated assertively that a certain package of documents was needed to continue the process for the approval of the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V by the World Health Organization. The final approval is expected towards the end of 2021.
Still, one of the problems with registration is unfair competition in the global market. For instance, Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov said in an interview with the Rossiya-24 television channel on October 5: “I think it is an element of competition. Until Pfizer covers a certain part of the market, it is pure economics.”
On the other side, Pyotr Ilyichev, Director for International Organization at the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, told Interfax News Agency, for instance, that World Health Organization has been playing politics around Russian vaccine especially when it is needed in most parts of the world.
“The world is facing an acute shortage of vaccines for the novel coronavirus infection. In certain regions, for instance in African countries, less than 2% of the population has been vaccinated. The Russian vaccine is in demand, and the UN stands ready to buy it,” he told Interfax.
“However, certification in the WHO is a complex, multi-step process, which was developed in the past in line with Western countries’ standards. It requires time and serious efforts from our producers. We hope that this process will be successfully finalized in the near future,” Ilyichev said.
Chairman of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky has described as discriminatory a decision reported by foreign media that the United States, under its new consular rules, would deny entry for foreigners immunized with the Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V.
“Thus, the U.S. will blatantly embark on a path of ‘vaccine discrimination.’ There are absolutely no grounds for such decisions. The efficacy and safety of the Sputnik V vaccine have been confirmed not only by specialists but also by its use in practice,” Slutsky said on Telegram.
He cited an article in The Washington Post saying that from November the United States may begin denying entry to foreigners vaccinated with Sputnik V.
It means that if such additional border measures are adopted, foreigners seeking entry to the United States will have to be immunized with vaccines approved for use either by American authorities or the World Health Organization.
According to an article published in The Washington Post, for the first time since the pandemic began, the United States intends to loosen entry restrictions for foreigners vaccinated against COVID-19.
The new rules, which enter into force in November, will not apply to Russians vaccinated with Sputnik V and citizens of other countries using this Russian vaccine.
Under the new rules, foreigners will enter the United States only if they are immunized with vaccines approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. Russia’s Sputnik V is yet to be approved by the World Health Organization and is not recognized by the United States.
Airtel Money, Flutterwave to Explore East African Markets
By Adedapo Adesanya
Airtel Money has announced a partnership with an African payments company, Flutterwave, to expand the former’s services to East African markets.
Through the partnership, businesses integrating Flutterwave in Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda will be able to receive payments from Airtel Money customers and make bulk payments into Airtel Money wallets, thanks to Airtel Money’s proprietary fintech platforms.
The new services will go live subject to regulatory approvals in the respective countries and reach Airtel Money’s 19.2 million customers in East Africa.
This is coming after a month after the fintech company announced a mobile money partnership with MTN Group to integrate Flutterwave in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia to receive payments via MTN Mobile Money (MoMo).
According to the company in a statement, the partnership will positively increase mobile money usage and penetration in Africa and improve local economies and livelihoods, as well as create opportunities for individuals and businesses across the continent.
Speaking on the development, Airtel Mobile Commerce BV CEO, Mr Vimal Kumar Ambat commented: “Airtel Money is committed to bridging the digital divide and enhancing financial and digital inclusion for millions of businesses across sub-Saharan Africa. Our partnership with Flutterwave will help to empower even more customers through simple and accessible payments services, using the latest technologies, that support business innovation and boost local economies.”
On his part, Flutterwave founder and CEO, Mr Olugbenga Agboola, stated that, “Our business goal is to continue to support African businesses digitise their payments methods and introduce them to a world of opportunities that come with digitisation.
“We are excited to have partnered with Airtel Money to further advance local businesses payment methods which will allow them to increasingly provide more services to their customers, grow their customer base and revenue.”
The development of Mobile Money in Africa has been nothing but remarkable and commendable with approximately 144 mobile money providers operating in Africa, with M-Pesa having over 50 million users and MTN MoMo having over 48.9 million users.
Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates show that Africa has more digital financial services users than any other region in the world, accounting for nearly half of the 700 million individual users globally.
COVID-19 has also triggered a widespread shift in the adoption of mobile money services, with the GSMA reporting a 12.7 per cent increase in the number of registered global mobile money accounts in 2020.
As the trend continues its upward spike, this partnership further responds to the growing dominance of cashless societies across the sub-Saharan region and the need to penetrate digital innovation deeper into communities across Africa.
Libya Finally Kicks Off Construction of Oil Refinery Project
By Sodeinde Temidayo David
Libya, one of Africa top crude oil exporters, has announced the commencement of the construction of a refinery in the south zone of the country.
This was revealed after a cabinet meeting in the country where it was revealed that the refinery project was originally planned in 1980.
The refinery is aimed to produce cooking gas and also produce 8,000 cylinders per day, jet fuel and other products, including 1.4 million litres of petrol per day and 1.1 million litres of diesel in a day.
Libyan Prime Minister, Mr Abdelhamid Dbeibah, announcing in the ceremony at the country’s capital, Tripoli, noted that the project is in association with the country’s oil company, National Oil Corp (NOC).
He further disclosed the importance of the project to the country’s growth, adding that the financial coverage was ready, with specifications and technical designs also ready with Libya’s state oil company.
According to the Chairman of NOC, Mr Mustafa Sanalla, the project will cost between $500 million and $600 million and become operational within three years, with an expected annual income of $75 million.
The refinery will be built near Al-Charara, a major oil field in the Oubari region of Libya, which produces an average of 300,000 barrels of oil a day.
First announced in the early 1980s, the project for a refinery in southern Libya had been put on hold for years before being revived in 2017.
Libya, which has the most abundant oil reserves in Africa, has been trying to emerge from a decade of chaos since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s government in 2011.
Libya was gripped by violence and political turmoil in the aftermath of the NATO-backed uprising against Kadhafi.
In recent years, the country has been split between two rival administrations backed by foreign powers and myriad militias but the recent ceasefire has helped return some level of peace to the country which has allowed its export crude.
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