By Kester Kenn Klomegah
On July 14, 2018, Russian President, Mr Vladimir Putin, warmly received two African leaders, Gabonese Ali Bongo Ondimba and Sudanese Omar al-Bashir, within the framework of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The two were on a three-day working visit part of which was to attend in the FIFA World Cup final match between France and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Together 12 presidents, prime ministers and many high-ranking representatives of foreign states attended the final match.
While meeting them separately in the Kremlin, Putin reaffirmed Russia’s role in and support for solving endless conflicts specifically in Central African Republic (CAR) and in Sudan, and other regional conflicts in parts of Africa. The meetings were also to consolidate the existing diplomatic relations.
Despite its significant mineral deposits and other resources, such as uranium reserves, crude oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, lumber and as well as significantly large arable land, the CAR is among the ten poorest countries in the world.
Nearly 90% is among the most impoverished of the estimated population of around 4.6 million as of 2016. CAR has been engulfed in political and ethnic conflict.
“There is naturally a lot of work to do for us, including the regional settlement in Central Africa. We know that Gabon takes the most active part in this, making a significant contribution to this joint work,” he stressed at the meeting with Ali Bongo.
In this context, Gabon is now chairing the Economic Community of Central African States and this community or regional organization is directly involved in settling the conflict in the Central African Republic.
Gabon bordered by Equitorial Guinea to the west, Cameroon to the north and Republic of Congo on the east and south, and the Gulf of Guinea to the west. Since its independence from France in 1960, Gabon has had three presidents.
Abundant petroleum and foreign private investment have helped make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in sub-Sahara Africa. Gabon’s economy is dominated by oil. Oil revenues constitute roughly 46% of the government’s budget, 43% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and 81% of exports.
During the meeting, Ali Bongo argued that “Russia is a huge country, which has enormous capabilities and which can, of course, contribute a lot to the continent. Everyone talks about Africa today, from most various angles. The continent is rich in resources, and we observe how many major states fight each other to gain access to these resources.”
From above statement, Ali Bongo was encouraging the Kremlin authorities, flex muscles to face risks and high competition, in order to raise Russia’s economic profile on the continent to match with its global status. As already known, African countries have seriously adopted “economic diplomacy” and are looking to find pragmatic solutions to issues relating to infrastructure development, foreign trade and investment cooperation.
The transcript posted to Kremlin official website did not say anything about oil business, but understandably, Russia seeks to cooperate in this sphere.
The Kremlin press service said that trade between Russia and Gabon doubled in 2017 to $47.7 (from $29.1 in 2016). Last October, Russia’s oil giant Rosneft signed a profile protocol of understanding with Gabon’s Oil and Hydrocarbon Ministry.
In June 2017, Zarubezhneft and the Gabonese oil company signed a Memorandum of Understanding – a framework agreement on key aspects of cooperation, including joint exploration of deposits and construction of oil and gas facilities in Gabon.
In his discussion with Putin, Al-Bashir noted that Russia and Sudan relations really demonstrated positive dynamics. “As for the economic sphere, we are developing a programme to share information and opinions on how we can develop these relations. Russian companies, including those producing mineral resources, actively work in Sudan. There will also be a meeting devoted to the agricultural sphere in September,” the Sudanese leader said.
Sudanese leader hopes to start tourist exchanges soon. He also encourages the participation of Russian oil and gas companies so that they would work in Sudan.
There are positive shifts in the military-technical sphere and in military cooperation. “We see big exchanges between specialists of Russia and Sudan. A big number of Russian specialists work in our country and this is why we highly praise the role that your country plays in preparing Sudanese military personnel,” Al-Bashir told Putin.
In fact, Putin and Al-Bashir last met and had a comprehensive business discussion November 2017 in Sochi. According to Kremlin website, the two sides have signed agreements and memos of understanding in the field of oil, gold mining, the peaceful use of nuclear power, higher education, external relations and agriculture.
In Sochi, Al-Bashir affirmed that Sudan is opening its doors for all countries and companies to invest in the country, indicating that Russian, Chinese and Arab companies are now operating in Sudan.
Interestingly, Al-Bashir has offered to help Russia in Africa. “Sudan has extensive ties in Africa and can help Russia develop relations with African countries. Sudan may become Russian’s key to Africa. We are a member of the African Union,” he promised Putin.
“We have great relations with all African nations and we are ready to help. We are also interested in developing relations with BRICS,” he concluded assertively. The BRICS group of emerging economies comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. South Africa will host a summit of BRICS countries on July 26-27.
Despite the fact that bilateral relations between Russia and with both Gabon and Sudan still below expectation, the three leaders Putin, Ali Bongo and Al-Bashir in their separate discussions expressed high optimism to take practical effective steps working towards its growth and sustainability.
It is worthy to note that Africa, indeed, has emerged as a playground for foreign powers especially Asian powers including China, India and Japan; each with its economic interests in the region and trying to expand its influence in strategic ways. In principle, all three leaders (Putin, Ali Bongo and Al-Bashir) have agreed that relations, in anyway, be developed in all directions between their individual states and Russia. *Kester Kenn Klomegah writes about Russia, Africa and BRICS.
COVID-19 Vaccines Sales Thriving on Dark Web—Kaspersky
By Adedapo Adesanya
Cybersecurity giant, Kaspersky, has warned that scammers have started selling unverified COVID-19 vaccines on the dark market.
It noted that the entire globe is currently undergoing one of the largest and most complex vaccination campaigns in history and, not surprisingly, scammers and sellers have been eager to make a profit off the process.
Kaspersky researchers examined 15 different marketplaces on the Darknet and found advertisements for three major COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Moderna.
According to the report, the majority of sellers came from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America (USA) and the prices per dose ranged from $250 to $1,200, with an average cost of about $500.
The cybersecurity outfit noted that communications are made via encrypted messaging apps like Wickr and Telegram, while payments are requested in the form of cryptocurrency, primarily Bitcoin.
Kaspersky warned that the majority of these underground sellers have made between 100-500 transactions, indicating that they’ve been completing sales but what exactly Darknet users are purchasing remains unclear.
The company noted, “With the information available to Kaspersky experts, it’s impossible to tell how many of the doses of the vaccine being advertised online are actual doses (many medical facilities have found themselves with leftover doses and how many advertisements are a scam.
“Even if you did receive something in the mail, most likely what you would receive would not be an effective, valid dose. More importantly, obtaining such doses is illegal.”
Speaking on this, Mr Dmitry Galov, a security expert at Kaspersky said, “You can find just about anything on the Darknet, so it’s not surprising sellers there would attempt to capitalise on the vaccination campaign. Over the past year, there have been a whole host of scams exploiting the COVID-19 topic, and many of them have been successful.
“Right now, not only are people selling vaccine doses, but they’re also selling vaccination records – pieces of paper that can help you travel freely.
“It’s important for users to be cautious of any “deal” related to the pandemic, and, of course, it’s never a good idea to buy a vaccine off the Darknet,” he added.
Kaspersky offered that people stay safe from scammers at the time of COVID, noting that experts recommend: “Never buy products – including vaccine doses – on the Darknet.
“If you see an advertisement for something related to COVID, look carefully at the URLs of the sites that you visit. If just one letter looks out of place, or if the usual .com has been replaced with .com.tk or something along those lines, your gut should tell you it’s phishing. Never enter personal information on such a site.
“Pay attention to grammar and layout on both the sites you visits and the emails you receive. If something smells phishy, it probably is.”
Kaspersky is a global cybersecurity company founded in 1997. Kaspersky’s deep threat intelligence and security expertise are constantly transforming into innovative security solutions and services to protect businesses, critical infrastructure, governments and consumers around the globe.
The company’s comprehensive security portfolio includes leading endpoint protection and a number of specialized security solutions and services to fight sophisticated and evolving digital threats.
Ghana, UK Sign $1.6bn Bilateral Trade Deal
By Adedapo Adesanya
Ghana and the United Kingdom have signed a trade agreement worth $1.6 billion in one of the latest bilateral deals since Britain exited the European Union (EU).
In an agreement signed yesterday, the terms will allow duty-free and quota-free access for Ghana to the UK market and preferential tariff reductions for UK exporters to the Ghanaian market.
It means Ghanian products such as bananas, tinned tuna and cocoa can be exported to Britain without tariffs.
Before the UK left the European trade bloc, Britain set up UK Economic Partnerships with 16 African countries so it could continue deals it already had while it was in the EU.
They are the same pacts as what the EU offers Africa, which is African countries do not pay tariffs or duties on exports to the UK.
However, Ghana was exempted from that list, subjecting Ghanian importers to heavy tariffs and extra paperwork.
The UK government said Ghana’s largest exports to Britain include mineral fuels and oil, preparations of fish, fruit, cocoa and cocoa preparations.
“The agreement will enter into effect following the completion of relevant internal procedures required in both Ghana and the UK,” both governments said in the statement.
The UK has said it sees Africa’s potential and showed this when British Prime Minister, Mr Boris Johnson skipped the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos to host the UK-Africa investment summit in 2020 where deals worth almost $8 billion were announced.
The country showed its commitment by signing a trade deal with Egypt in December. The agreement will allow British businesses and consumers to benefit from continued preferential access to the market, which will help boost vital trade and investment.
In addition to securing trade, the UK noted that it will strengthen its relationship with Egypt and building co-operation on important issues including education, the environment and human rights.
The total trade on goods and services between the UK and Egypt was worth £3.5 billion in 2019, which the country says it will expand.
Critics have noted that despite this, the UK is likely to prioritise deals with the EU, United States, China, South Korea and Australia ahead of Africa.
UN Seeks $266m for East African Refugees
By Ahmed Rahma
The United Nations on Tuesday appealed for $266 million to help feed more than three million refugees and asylum seekers across East Africa, suffering extra hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in a joint statement stated that lockdowns and other measures to contain the contagion have made it more difficult for refugees to get food or earn money.
“We’ve never had such a terrible funding situation for refugees,” said WFP’s regional director for East Africa, Mr Michael Dunford, adding that $266 million was needed for the next six months just to cover refugees’ minimum needs.
The UNHCR estimates almost three-quarters of some 4.7 million refugees living in the 11 countries where it works in the region do not have enough to eat.
“The pandemic has been devastating for everyone, but for refugees even more so,” said UNHCR’s Clementine Nkweta-Salami. “Unless more funds are made available, thousands of refugees including children will not have enough to eat.”
She said refugees faced with food rationing and cash cuts are already turning to “negative coping strategies” including skipping meals, selling assets, child labour and increased domestic violence.
“There is often a desperation and a feeling of no alternative,” she said.
The funding shortfall has led the WFP to slash its monthly assistance for refugees by more than half in Rwanda, and make big cuts in countries including Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan.
“We are deeply concerned that if cuts continue, (refugees) will be faced with a very difficult decision: stay in the camps where food and nutrition security is deteriorating or consider risking going back when it is unsafe,” Mr Dunford said.
Facebook Partners German Media on News Contents
By Adedapo Adesanya
Popular social media giant, Facebook, will start showing news contents from numerous German publishers and media outlets on a dedicated part of its site from May.
In an online news conference, Mr Jesper Doub, the Director for News Partnerships in Europe said, “We’re going to invest about a billion dollars in Facebook News worldwide over the next three years.”
“Facebook News in Germany is part of that,” he added.
Although he didn’t specify how much individual publishers will be paid, he noted that it was important for publishers to partner with Facebook so that they can be remunerated for content linked to on the site.
He, however, clarified that the content does not have to be produced especially for Facebook.
“What’s important here is that content itself doesn’t end up on Facebook, but we put links to the publishers’ offerings,” Mr Doub stressed.
According to Facebook, partners so far include Germany’s Spiegel news magazine, the Funke Media Group and Hamburg-based publishing house Gruner + Jahr, which belongs to the Bertelsmann Group.
Mr Doub described Facebook News as “a long-term collaboration”, adding that, “We believe it will take several years before the product is really good.”
Facebook News was launched in the United States in 2020 and was recently introduced in the United Kingdom.
In Australia, Facebook agreed last week to support publishers of its choice after a tough battle with the government there about paying for content.
The row had briefly prompted Facebook to ban news content from its platform.
Ghana’s President, Wife Receive COVID-19 Vaccine
Ghana’s first citizen, Mr Nano Akufo-Addo and his wife, Mrs Rebecca Akufo, have received the COVID-19 vaccine, signifying the beginning of the vaccination in the country.
According to reports, the duo got vaccinated at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra, Ghana on Monday, March 1, 2021.
Before taking the shot, President said, “I decided to take it [the vaccine] publicly to clear all doubts and urge everyone to also accept the vaccine.”
“It’s important to state that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it. So, everybody in Ghana should feel comfortable about taking the vaccine. It is important that everybody at the end of the day is vaccinated. That is our objective,” Mr Akufo-Addo said.
The president called on Ghanaians not to be complacent but rather continue to observe the necessary safety protocols in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All the other protocols remain in place until we are satisfied that the virus finally disappears from Ghana,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, and his wife, Mrs Samira Bawumia, are also expected to be inoculated later in the day at a different health facility.
It is important to note that while vaccination commenced today in Ghana, Nigeria is yet to get her own vaccines.
Business Post earlier reported today that the federal government has opened a portal for the registration of vaccination in Nigeria. The African giant expects its vaccines on Tuesday. The type is the one produced by AstraZeneca and nearly 4 million doses are expected.
Okonjo-Iweala Resumes as WTO Director-General
By Ahmed Rahma
The newly-elected Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has assumed office today, March 1, 2021.
The former Nigerian finance minister, the first woman and African to be in that position, is the organisation’s seventh DG.
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, whose tenure as the DG will end on August 31, 2025, revealed her plans to work with other members of the organisation to restructure the global trade body.
“Some WTO rules and procedures also need to be revisited, including the procedure for appointing director-general,” she noted in her acceptance speech.
The new WTO boss added that the trade body’s rulebook needed to reflect 21st-century realities such as e-commerce, the digital economy, and the pandemic.
The lengthy selection process ended up with Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, who spent 25 years at the World Bank, to lead the body by the WTO’s 164 members on February 15.
The council’s consensus made her appointment possible.
The process was hampered by the United States’ objection under former President Donald Trump, despite the approval of council members in October 2020.
Her election has been described as a welcome development because of her experience at the World Bank. She is believed to be the right person to lead the WTO.
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