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SADC Scribe Calls for Scaling up Sustainable Development in Southern Africa

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SADC Executive Secretary Stargomena Lawrence Tax

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

Southern African Development Community (SADC), an organization made up of 16 member states, was established in 1980.

It has as its mission to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development through efficient, productive systems, deeper cooperation and integration, good governance and durable peace and security so that the region emerges as a competitive and effective player in international relations and the world economy.

In September 2013, Ms Lawrence Stargomena Tax began as the fourth Executive Secretary of the organization. According to the official information, her second term of office ends in August 2021.

As Executive Secretary, her key responsibilities include engaging all the members as an economic bloc, overseeing and implementing various programmes and projects in the Southern African region.

She has a diverse employment career, including holding a top position as the Permanent Secretary at the Tanzanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation from 2008 to 2013, thereafter appointed as the Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at the 33rd Summit of the Heads of State and Government held in Lilongwe, Malawi.

In this insightful and wide-ranging farewell interview with Kester Kenn Klomegah in May, Executive Secretary Lawrence Stargomena Tax discussed the most significant achievements and challenges in deepening cooperation and promoting socio-economic development as well as peace and security, and further makes suggestions for the future of Southern Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

What would you say, in a summarized assessment about your work, especially achievements and challenges, during your term of office as Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)?

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat is the Principal Executive Institution of SADC, and the SADC Executive Secretary leads the SADC Secretariat as mandated by Articles 14 and 15 of the Treaty establishing SADC.

Functions of the SADC Executive Secretary include overseeing: strategic planning for the Organisation; management, coordination and monitoring of SADC programmes; coordination and harmonization of policies and strategies; mobilization of resources; representation and promotion of SADC; and promotion of SADC regional integration and cooperation.

Achievements: SADC has recorded numerous achievements since its establishment, some of which were recorded during my term of office, from September 2013 to date 2021.

The functions of the Executive Secretary notwithstanding, the recorded milestones are a result of collective efforts by the Member States, the Secretariat, and other stakeholders, as well as teamwork by the staff of the secretariat.

Eight (8) years is quite a long time, as such several achievements and milestones were recorded during the eight years of my tenure in office, allow me to highlight some of the key ones as follows:

Consolidation of democracy, and sustenance of peace and security in the region. The SADC region remains stable and peaceful, notwithstanding, isolated challenges. This is attributed to solid systems and measures in place, such as our regional early warning, preventive and mediation mechanisms, which facilitate timely detection and re-dress of threats and challenges, and effective deployments of SADC electoral observation missions.

Examples during my tenure of office, include SADC preventive mission to the Kingdom of Lesotho, SADC peace and political support to the Democratic Republic of Congo, SADC mediation in Madagascar, SADC facilitation in Lesotho, and effective deployment of electoral observation Missions to the SADC Member States. To mitigate and address threats posed by cybercrime and terrorism, cybercrime and anti-terrorism strategy was adopted in 2016. The strategy is being implemented at regional and national levels.

In the historical-political space, the Southern African Liberation struggles were documented through the Hashim Mbita Publication, a publication that comprehensively and authentically documents the struggles in the three SADC languages, English, French and Portuguese. The Publication enables all, especially the youth to understand and appreciate the history and the Southern African Liberation.

Forging a long-term direction of SADC through the adoption of the SADC Vision 2050, which is transposed on the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2020-2030. Vision 2050 sets out the long-term aspirations of SADC over the next thirty (30) years, while the RISDP 2020-30 outlines a development trajectory for the Region for ten (10) years to 2030. Vision 2050 is based on a firm foundation of Peace, Security and Democratic Governance, and premised on three inter-related pillars, namely Industrial Development and Market Integration; Infrastructure Development in support of Regional Integration; and Social and Human Capital Development. This also goes hand in hand with frontloading of Industrialization that aims at transforming SADC economies technologically and economically. Industrialization remains SADC main economic integration agenda since April 2015, when the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063 was approved.

By addressing the supply-side constraints as part of the implementation of the SADC industrialization strategy, cross border trade continues to grow, and the business environment has been improving, where the cost of doing business has been declining steadily and gradually. In addition, values chains were profiled, specifically in three priority sectors, namely mineral beneficiation, pharmaceutical and agro-processing, and a number of value chains have been developed and are being implemented. The Industrialization Strategy has also recognized the private sector as a major player in SADC industrialization and regional integration as a whole.

The adoption of the SADC Simplified Trade Regime Framework in 2019, which has contributed to the enhancement of trade facilitation, and adoption of the SADC Financial Inclusion and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Strategy that has enhanced financial inclusion in the Member States. Ten Member States have so far developed financial inclusion strategies, and there has been an 8 per cent improvement in financial inclusion to a tune of 68 per cent.

Introduction and operationalization of the SADC Real Time Gross Settlement System (RTGS), a multi-currency platform, which went live in October 2018. All Member States except Comoros are participating in the SADC-RTGS and a total of 85 banks are participating in the system. The SADC-RTGS has enabled the Member States to settle payments among themselves in real-time compared to previously when it used to take several days for banks to process cross border transactions. As of December 2020, 1,995,355 transactions were settled in the System, representing the value of South African Rands (ZAR) 7.81 Trillion.

Approval of the establishment of the SADC Regional Development Fund in 2015 which aims at mobilizing funds for key infrastructure and industrialization projects.

Realization of targets set in the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP) that was approved in 2012, including the establishment of One-Stop Border Posts which entails joint control and management of border crossing activities by agents of the adjoining countries, using shared facilities, systems and streamlined procedure. These include:

One-Stop Border Posts at Chirundu Border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and Nakonde -Tunduma border between Tanzania and Zambia; a third One-Stop Border Post, about to be operationalised is at Kazungula Border between Botswana and Zambia, where the road-rail bridge has been completed.

Cross-border infrastructure projects, both hard and soft, that have facilitated assimilated, cost-effective, unified and efficient trans-national infrastructure networks and services were developed and are being implemented. These projects include cross-border transmission links in the several Member States using optical fibre technology, thereby, allowing landlocked Member States such as Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to connect to the submarine cables on either or both the east and west coast of Africa. Five (5) Member States (Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania) have achieved the 2025 SADC Broadband Target to cover 80% of their population, and eight (8) Member States, namely Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, have put in place National Broadband Plans or Strategies.

The installation and commissioning of more than 18300 Megawatts (MW) between 2014 and 2020 to meet the increasing power demand in the region. Connecting the remaining three (3) mainland Member States namely Angola, Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania to the Southern African Power Pool remains a priority, and to this effect, the Zambia-Tanzania Interconnector is at the construction phase.

The adoption of the Regional Water Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Flood Early Warning System in 2015. This has contributed to improvements in climate and weather forecasting, whereby a Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum has been established. The forum provides a platform for the Member States to review and discuss the socio-economic impacts and potential impacts of the climate outlook, including on food security, health, water and hydropower management, and disaster risk management.

The adoption of the SADC Disaster Preparedness and Response Strategy and Fund (2016-2030), which has contributed to the enhancement of regional disaster management and responses capacity.

A number of administrative milestones were also recorded during my tenure of office, including, institutional reforms, policy reviews, change management towards enhanced cooperate governance and effective delivery. Among others, the SADC Organization Structure was reviewed and streamlined in 2016 to deliver on the technological and economic transformation of the region, in line with the SADC Industrialization Strategy 2015-2063; and a number of policies and strategies, and guidelines were developed to enhance cooperate governance and change management.

As the first female Executive Secretary, since I joined the SADC Secretariat, Gender mainstreaming and Women empowerment were among the areas that I paid dedicated attention to. In this regard, all policies that were developed during my tenure mainstreamed gender and engendered women empowerment. A SADC Framework for Achieving Gender Parity in Political and Decision-Making positions was developed and provides strategies, and guidelines for strengthening the implementation of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in order to ensure that at least 50 per cent of all decision-making positions at all levels would be held by women by 2030, and progress is encouraging.

The Region also continued to intensify the fight against HIV and AIDS, TB and Malaria. To this effect, harmonized minimum standards for the prevention, treatment and management of the diseases were developed to promote health, through support for the control of communicable diseases; and preparedness, surveillance and responses during emergencies.

Here are the challenges: Challenges are expected in any organization, the most important thing is to address them timely and effectively. Challenges that I encouraged included:

A multi-cultural operating environment. This needed a high level of patience, and approaches that will facilitate inclusiveness and ownership. The challenges sometimes affected speed in terms of delivery, as one had to get a clear understanding of the issues at hand and devise appropriate problem-solving approaches.

Another problem is balancing diverse interests by the Member States. Sixteen (16) Member States is not a small number, each will have its own priorities and interests, which sometimes are not necessarily the same across the region or regional priorities. This needs one to be analytical and a quick thinker, applying negotiation and convincing skills.

The Region has also experienced a multiplicity of natural disasters with varying frequency and magnitude of impact, which sometimes occurred at an unprecedented scale, for example, Tropical Cyclone Idai with its devastating impacts, including loss of lives, displacement of people, and massive destruction to properties. In response, SADC strengthened the regional disaster preparedness and response coordination and resilience-building mechanisms, and more efforts are ongoing in this area.

The tail-end of my term of office encountered challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which still remains a major concern and a challenge globally, and in almost all SADC Member States. On the response side, SADC has exhibited determination, solidarity and has undertaken several coordinated regional responses and put in place various harmonized measures to fight the pandemic and mitigate its socio-economic impacts. These include regulations for facilitation of cross border movement of essential goods, services and transport, which were speedily developed and adopted, and were also harmonized at the Tripartite level bringing on board the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC).

These measures contributed to the containment of the spread of COVID-19 and facilitated the continuity of socio-economic activities and livelihood of SADC citizens. The SADC Secretariat also carried out an in-depth assessment of the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on SADC economies. The assessment revealed a number of sectoral impacts. Based on the assessment, measures to address the challenges have been put in place at national and regional levels, and at the SADC Secretariat.

Whereas the region has progressed in terms of its objectives, it is yet to achieve its ultimate goal of ensuring economic well-being, improvement of the standards of living and quality of life for the people of Southern Africa. Achieving this aspiration remains a challenge to be progressively tackled to the end.

The southern African region is unique in terms of stability and investment climate, but there are also differences in political culture, policies and approach toward development issues. How did you find “a common language” for all the 16 SADC leaders?

The common language of SADC revolves around basic tenets which include history, values and common agenda. Historically, the region has common principles and values. Dating back to the migration era, you will note that some of the parts of the SADC region are inhabited by the Bantu people who share some cultural similarities. Politically, the region united and stood in solidarity against colonialism a resolve that led to the liberation struggle that brought the Member States together (resulting in the formation of the Front Line States, then the Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference) to fight and break from colonialism.

In terms of values, SADC believes in mutual respect and equality. Although the Member States differ in size, wealth or development, they treat each other as equal sovereign states. Secondly, Member States make decisions through consensus, without anyone imposing on the other.

Lastly, SADC, like any other organization has a common agenda as spelt out in its Treaty, Article 5, which, among others, aims at promoting sustainable and equitable economic growth and social-economic development that will ensure poverty alleviation with the ultimate objective of its eradication, enhance the standard and quality of life of the people of Southern Africa and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration.” Based on the common agenda, a vision, and policies and strategies have been developed to guide the implementation and realization of the common agenda.

Therefore, notwithstanding some differences in political culture, national policies and approaches towards development issues, the history of the region, the shared principles and values embraced by the organization, and its common agenda have always enabled the Region and the Member States to find a common ground, language and interest as a region, that is for all the 16 SADC Member States and SADC Leaders.

You have always advocated for an increased economic partnership and for sustainable development in the region. Do you agree that there is still insufficiently developed infrastructure in the industrial sector and other sectors in the region? How can the situation, most probably, be improved in the long term?

SADC recognises that a seamless and robust infrastructural network will create the requisite capacity for sustained economic growth, industrialisation and development. Measures to enhance infrastructure in the industrial sector and other sectors are in place and being implemented as part of the SADC industrialization Strategy 2015-2063, and the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan of 2012. It should however be noted that while steady progress is being recorded, investments in these areas require substantial resources and partnership between Public and Private Sectors. Estimates by the African Development Bank (AfDB), published in its African Economic Outlook of 2018, reveal that Africa’s annual infrastructure requirements amount to $130bn – $170bn, with a financing gap in the range of $68bn–$108bn. SADC, therefore, invites investors from within and outside the region to partner in these strategic areas for mutual benefits.

SADC has also established the Project Preparation and Development Facility (PPDF). The purpose of the PPDF funding is to enhance delivery on infrastructure development in the SADC Region, by bringing projects to bankability and as such facilitate investments by the private sector and/or cooperating partners.

SADC is also in a process of operationalizing the SADC Regional Development Fund that will, among others, mobilize funds for key infrastructure and industrialization projects.

How do you assess the economic potential in the region? What foreign players have shown keen interest and/or already playing significant roles in SADC? Within the context of AfCFTA, what may further attract them?

The SADC region is endowed with diverse natural resources, including almost all of the key minerals for feed-stocks into regional manufacturing, agriculture, construction, power and other sectors.

The Region has been cooperating with both the private sector and international cooperation partners to implement its various policies and strategies to ensure that the region benefits from its own economic potential.  Entering into force of the AfCFTA provides an opportunity to SADC in collaboration with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC) to expedite the operationalization of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area as a necessary pillar for the AfCFTA, and thus expanded cross-border and international investments and trade.

In spite the degree of development complexities, you have SADC in your heart. Do you feel you have left something undone for the region? What are your last words, expert views and suggestions for ensuring sustainable social and economic growth in the region and for the future of SADC?

SADC is about cooperation and regional integration, and this is a continuous process, not an event. With the progress made, the gains need to be sustained, while at the same time accelerating and deepening integration progressively in areas that are either ongoing or yet to be embarked upon, including taking a bold decision and establishing the long-overdue SADC Customs Union and expeditiously operationalize the SADC Development Fund.

Here are my last words. I call upon SADC to remain focused and bring about the envisaged sustainable social and economic growth for the benefit of SADC citizens, in line with the trajectory set by SADC Vision 2050 and Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan 2020-30, as supported by the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap 2015 – 2063, and the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan 2012. Member States should continue implementing these initiatives.

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Interest in Netflix Stocks Jumps 131% After Oscar Nominations

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Interest in Netflix stocks

By Aduragbemi Omiyale

Interest in Netflix stocks went up by 131 per cent, with signing-up to the streaming platform increasing by 166 per cent after sweeping 15 nominations across numerous categories at the Academy Awards nomination announcement.

On January 24, 2023, Oscar nominations were released, and an analysis of Google search data by AskGamblers showed that Netflix sign-up exploded over to double the average search volume in one day, an unprecedented increase in movie fans looking to stream some of the most popular titles.

Netflix’s most nominated film is All Quiet on the Western Front, a German film set during World War I. The film was nominated nine times in categories such as Best Picture and Best Cinematography. Other feature-length titles from Netflix, such as Blonde, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio and The Sea Beast, also gained nominations, as well as two documentary short films.

“The Academy Awards are the pinnacle of the awards season, with many filmmakers and studios hoping for recognition from the Academy in this latest nomination announcement.

“With 15 nominations given to films produced by Netflix, it will be interesting to see if these searches translate into sign-ups to the platform and if Netflix will receive even more new customers if they win big during the ceremony in March,” a spokesperson for AskGamblers commented on the findings.

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Lavrov Yet to Begin Choosing between Illusions and Reality for Africa

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Sergey Lavrov Africa

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

In late January, four African countries – South Africa, Eswatini, Angola and Eritrea – officially hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He went visiting these African countries as part of laying the groundwork and testing the pulse ahead of the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit set for late July in St. Petersburg.

The first such summit was held in Sochi in October 2019 under the motto For Peace, Security and Development, attracting a large number of African representatives.

As Russia prepares to strengthen its overall corporate economic profile during the next African leaders’ summit, many Russian policy experts are questioning bilateral agreements that were signed, many of them largely remained unimplemented, with various African countries.

At the prestigious Moscow-based Institute for African Studies, well-experienced policy researchers such as Professors Vladimir Shubin and Alexandra Arkhangelskaya have argued that Russia needs to be more strategic in aligning its interests and be more proactive with instruments and mechanisms in promoting economic cooperation in order to reap the benefits of a fully-fledged bilateral partnership.

“The most significant positive sign is that Russia has moved away from its low-key strategy to vigorous relations, and authorities are seriously showing readiness to compete with other foreign players. But, Russia needs to find a strategy that really reflects the practical interests of Russian business and African development needs,” said Arkhangelskaya, who is also a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics.

Currently, the signs for Russia-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, important bilateral agreements signed – now it remains to be seen how these intentions and agreements entered into these years will be implemented in practice, she pointed out in an interview.

The revival of Russia-African relations has to be enhanced in all fields. Obstacles to the broadening of Russia-African relations have to be addressed more vigorously. These include, in particular, the lack of knowledge or information in Russia about the situation in Africa and vice versa, suggested Arkhangelskaya.

While answering questions from the “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin” television programme on December 25, 2022, Lavrov explained that Russia’s motto is the balance of interests. “This balance is the core of our foreign policy. It is the only approach that has prospects in international affairs,” he reiterated, so Russia should balance its interest (not to describe them as enemies) with other external players in Africa.

Lavrov has been in the ministerial seat these several years and, of course, seems to be up to the existing challenges and the comprehensive policy tasks in continental Africa. In Pretoria, Lavrov held discussions with South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor. While talking later about the Russia-Ukraine crisis at the media briefing, Lavrov said Moscow appreciated “the independent, well-balanced and considerate approach” taken by Pretoria. South Africa has refused to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia has been hit by unprecedentedly stringent sanctions and suffers from isolation.

South Africa has now assumed the chairmanship of the BRICS, a grouping that includes Brazil, Russia, India and China. It will, however, host joint maritime drills with Russia and China from February 17 to 27, off the port city of Durban and Richards Bay. Some experts say the BRICS grouping, especially in the emerging new geopolitical world, throws many challenges to the United States and European-led global governance structures.

In August 2023, South Africa will host the BRICS summit. In this context, the sides expressed confidence that Pretoria’s upcoming chairmanship of this group opened up new opportunities for its future development, including in the context of expanding the partnerships between the five BRICS countries and African states.

Currently, South Africa has little trade with Russia but champions a world view – favoured by China and Russia – that seeks to undo perceived U.S.-hegemony in favour of a “multipolar” world in which geopolitical power is more diffuse.

Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor called for greater economic cooperation between South Africa and Russia at the start of her meeting with Lavrov. “Our countries share growing economic bilateral relations both in terms of trade and investments,” she said. “It is my view that both countries can and must do more to develop and capitalize on opportunities to increase our cooperation in the economic sphere.”

Besides that, as indicated above, however, Lavrov mentioned peaceful space, high technology, smart cities, and nuclear energy as promising areas of collaboration with South Africa. Pretoria expresses readiness to collaborate, but the question is how to build a supply chain and financial services for collaborative projects in the face of Western sanctions imposed on Russia.

The two are members of BRICS, a grouping of major emerging economies, although they remain relatively insignificant markets for each other: Russia ranked as South Africa’s 33rd-largest trading partner in 2021, with two-way flows amounting to just $1.46 billion. In comparison, South Africa’s trade with the United States was $10.2 billion in 2021.

Reports have also pointed to the negative effects of Russia’s opaque transactions with South Africa under the Zuma administration. “There is a split in the South African establishment between the ruling ANC party and the opposition, which is fiercely against Russian-South African collaboration. There are fears that the country’s frenetic anti-Russian media campaign may gradually tip the scales against Moscow. Nonetheless, for the time being, South Africa is interested in broadening its foreign relations, particularly through the BRICS,” a Researcher at the Institute for International Studies at MGIMO, Maya Nikolskaya, told local Russian daily Kommersant.

Maya Nikolskaya underlined the fact that 2022 was generally not an easy year for Russian-African relations. The majority of African countries found themselves under tremendous pressure from the West. However, Moscow still has great potential in Africa: Russia is a major grain exporter, and in turn, “Moscow is interested in new sales markets, so building alternative value chains is in the interests of both parties,” the expert explained about Russia’s relations with South Africa.

On his second stopover in the Kingdom of Eswatini, Lavrov expressed deep wariness about the Western dominance and situations guided mostly by the orders of the former colonial powers. “We understand the painful feelings of the US and Europe, as the structure of international relations is changing, becoming multipolar, polycentric. We cannot change our Western friends and make them polite, behave democratically,” Lavrov said at a news conference following talks with the Kingdom of Eswatini’s top diplomat, Thulisile Dladla.

Reports indicated that the King of Eswatini Mswati III, has been invited to the Russia-Africa summit to be held this year in St. Petersburg. And Moscow plans to deepen its interaction with Eswatini in the area of Russian grain supplies, the construction of irrigation systems, energy and mineral resources mining. “We stated that efforts should be focused now on the economic sphere, which by its indicators so far lags far behind other areas of our cooperation, above all the excellent level of political dialogue,” the Russian top diplomat said.

About 50 Swazi nationals are receiving military education at Russian Defence Ministry colleges, further agreeing to step up cooperation in the field of security. Tongue-twisting Lavrov repackaged a long list of projects in nearly all sectors, including industry, agriculture, information communications technology, digital, education, culture and many others. With a small population of 1.2 million, Eswatini is a tiny landlocked country in Southern Africa.

During the media conference, he made references to his previous tour in Africa (Egypt, the Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Ethiopia) and also to the Arab League headquarters. He also discussed BRICS at length, particularly proposals for its expansion, as well as its role in the global economy, globalization and global finance. “BRICS is not planning to shut the door to the rest of the world. On the contrary, we would like to cooperate with all countries as much as possible, equally and based on a balance of interests. The BRICS countries’ approach to global affairs is winning the sympathy of more and more countries across the world, including in Asia, Africa and Latin America,” he asserted.

Wrapping his “business-as-usual” meetings in Eswatini, Lavrov referred to countries such as China, India, Turkey, et cetera that are emerging together as a new multipolar world. But these countries have good economic footprints in Africa. For Russia to recognizably play dominating role similar to China, India and Turkey, it has to make a complete departure from frequent rhetorics and work seriously on its economic policy dimensions in Africa.

The Kingdom of Eswatini, officially renamed from Swaziland in 2018, is a constitutional monarchy with the current constitution in force since February 8, 2006. The country is a member of the British-led Commonwealth. Eswatini, with an approximate population of 1,2 million (2021), is bordered by South Africa and Mozambique. It has had diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation since November 19, 1999.

Upon his arrival on January 24, Lavrov and his delegation were welcomed by his Angolan counterpart, Tete Antonio. On the next day, he held an in-depth discussion with President João Lourenço. According to the transcript, the focus was on the preparations for the next meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation and Trade in Luanda in late April. Both, however, outlined steps to advance strategic partnerships across all areas.

With Minister of External Relations Tete Antonio, there were questions relating to the launch of Angola’s AngoSat-2 satellite and which allows continuing cooperation in the peaceful exploration of outer space and other high-tech areas. Lavrov and Antonio have ultimately agreed to expedite the coordination of several new intergovernmental agreements, including those on the opening of cultural centres and on the nuclear power industry, humanitarian missions and merchant shipping.

Eritrea was Lavrov’s final working station. With an estimated population of 5.8 million, it is located on the Red Sea, in the Horn of Africa region of Eastern Africa. Russia and Eritrea have had diplomatic relations since May 1993. President Isaias Afwerki has ruled Eritrea with an iron fist since its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Eritrea was one of the countries that voted against a UN resolution condemning Russia over the situation in Ukraine in March 2022.

In April 2022, Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed made a visit to Moscow. Both Lavrov and Mohammed reaffirmed Russia’s strategic interest in making coordinated efforts aimed at building a logistics hub along the coastline. During their meeting, Lavrov promised Moscow’s contribution towards stronger stability and security in the Horn of Africa.

As far back in 2018, Lavrov spoke extensively about economic cooperation. According to him, Russia’s truck maker KAMAZ was already working in Eritrea, supplying its products to that country, as was Gazprombank Global Resources, which was building cooperation in the banking sector. In the same year, 2018, concrete talks were held to build a logistics centre at the port of Eritrea, which makes the world’s class logistics and services hub for maritime transportation through the Suez Canal and is definitely set to promote bilateral trade.

According to the transcript posted on the website, Lavrov said: “we cooperate in many diverse areas: natural resources, all types of energy engineering, including nuclear and hydroelectric energy, and new sources of energy, infrastructure in all its aspects, medicine, the social sphere, transport and many more.”

Still that same year, Eritrea was interested in opening a Russian language department at one of the universities in the capital of the country, Asmara. Lavrov further indicated: “We agreed to take extra measures to promote promising projects in the sphere of mining and infrastructure development and to supply specialized transport and agricultural equipment to Eritrea.”

As always, Lavrov’s discussions with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki focused on “strengthening bilateral relations as well as regional developments of interest to the two countries.” He, however, reaffirmed Russia’s unconditional commitment to fulfilling all of its obligations under export contracts to send critical food supplies to African countries in need, including under the package agreements reached with the participation of the United Nations.

Isaias Afwerki further listened carefully as Lavrov listed a huge number of proposals, including those relating to the economy, mining, information and communication technologies, agriculture, infrastructure projects, the possibilities of the sea and air ports of Massawa, as well as Russian proposals for the development of industry in Eritrea. “All these are topics for the upcoming consultations between our ministries of the economy. We agreed to start them soon and give them a regular character,” he convincingly assured.

In summary, Lavrov’s trip to Africa, which has become a renewed diplomatic battleground since the Ukraine war began, has taken him to Angola, Eswatini and South Africa. As previously, not a single development project was commissioned in any of those African countries he visited. It was the usual diplomatic niceties, “dating and promising,” but at least with a bouquet for the bride.

During his four-African country visit, Lavrov did not hold meetings with any youth and women groups, nor did he address a gathering of African entrepreneurs. He did not visit any Russian-funded project facility sites to first-hand assess developments and progress there, nor any educational establishment, especially those dealing with international relations. His meetings were state-centric and mostly office-centred. Throughout his speeches, not a single reference was made to the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). While exploring more opportunities, there was absolutely nothing on Covid-19 and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines or practical proposals to develop vaccines for other deadly diseases across Africa.

Lavrov left Moscow the next day after his three-hour media conference, summing up foreign policy achievements and the way forward on 18 January. During that conference, Africa only appeared at the bottom of the discussions. And yet Africa is considered “a priority” in Russia’s policy. Lavrov made a sketchy response about Africa and then reminded the gathering of the forthcoming summit planned for late July 2023. He, however, mentioned that there were drafted documents to reset cooperation mechanisms in this environment of sanctions and threats and in the context of geopolitical changes.

“There will be new trade and investment cooperation tools, logistics chains and payment arrangements. The change to transactions in national currencies is underway. This process is not a rapid one, but it is in progress and gaining momentum,” he told the gathering in quick remarks, then swiftly closed the media conference that day.

Nevertheless, African leaders are consistently asked to support Russia against Ukraine. Since the symbolic October 2019 gathering in Sochi, extremely little has happened. With high optimism and a high desire to strengthen its geopolitical influence, Russia has engaged in trading slogans, and many of its signed bilateral agreements have not been implemented, including all those from the first Russia-Africa summit. The summit fact files show that 92 agreements and contracts worth a total of $12.5 billion were signed, and before that, several pledges and promises were still undelivered.

Since his appointment in 2004 as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov has succeeded in building high-level political dialogues in Africa. But, his geopolitical lectures have largely overshadowed Russia’s achievements in Africa. Throughout these several years of his official working visits to Africa, unlike his Chinese counterparts, Lavrov hardly cuts ribbons marking the completion of development projects in Africa.

However, he needs simultaneously to understand how to approach development ideas inside Africa. These ideas could offer Russia hopes for raising its economic cooperation to a qualitatively new level and ultimately contribute to the building of sustainable relations with Africa. The new scramble for Africa is gaining momentum; therefore, Russians have to face the new geopolitical realities and their practical existing challenges. But in a nutshell, Russians seem to close their eyes to the fact that Africa’s roadmap is the African Union Agenda 2063.

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Participants to Explore Future of Alternative Energy Solutions at MEE

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Middle East Energy MEE alternative energy solutions

By Adedapo Adesanya

Middle East Energy, the leading energy industry event in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, will make its anticipated return to the Dubai World Trade Centre on March 7—9, 2023, to guide energy transition conversations across the globe.

The event, which is the 48th of its kind, is organised by Informa Markets, the leading global exhibitions organiser. It will bring together buyers and sellers from across different countries to explore the latest advancements in energy products and solutions.

The programme will provide opportunities to network with international energy suppliers, discover products and solutions that are changing the energy landscape, and build long-lasting business relationships.

Speaking on this, Mr Ade Yesufu, Exhibition Manager, Middle East Energy, said, “Over the years, Middle East Energy has supported the global energy community to find solutions that empower the rapid acceleration of electricity consumption across the Middle East and other parts of the world.

“This year, the aim is to advance the conversations in light of the current global reality and changes in the energy industry. This event also brings together the highest level of decision-makers and international partners to connect and discover innovative products and solutions that can deliver cleaner energy and supply sustainable power.”

With over 800 exhibiting companies representing 170 countries and a 20,000+ global audience, participants will explore insights on the future of alternative energy solutions that will help in delivering more efficient and effective power systems.

This edition of Middle East Energy will focus on five key product sections that are leading the way in the energy transition: Smart Solutions, Renewable & Clean Energy, Backup Generators & Critical Power, Transmission & Distribution, and Energy Consumption & Management.

Middle East Energy will also feature strategic conferences and content arenas focusing on the latest technologies and products to provide a platform for knowledge sharing, support relationship building, and uncover solutions to some of the most pressing challenges posed by the energy transition.

These include CEO roundtables, technical sessions, and the Intersolar Conference, which will bring together global policymakers, utilities, developers, financiers, and technology leaders across three days to create the blueprint for a successful energy transition across the Middle East and Africa.

The confirmed panellists include: Licypriya Kangujam, an 11-year-old climate activist; Mr Raphael Mworia, Commercial Director, KETRACO – Kenya Electricity Transmission Company Ltd; Mr Abraham Serem, Acting Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, KenGen – Kenya Electricity Generating Company; and Mr Abdulaziz Al Naim, CEO, Saudi Power Company;

Others include Dr Joseph Oketch, Director – Electricity and Renewable Energy, Energy & Petroleum Regulatory Authority, Kenya; Mrs Leila Benali, Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development, Kingdom of Morocco; Mr Azhar Hussain, Principal Investment Officer, International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Other conferences include The Technical Seminar, an interactive forum for the world’s leading energy experts and technical minds to discuss and explore the innovations and technologies driving the energy transition and Intersolar Middle East, a gathering of solar and renewable energy industry professionals in the MEA region to discuss the transformative dynamics of renewable energies around the world.

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