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The Balancing Act of Diplomacy: How Russia Struggles to Appear on Africa’s Horizon

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Russia Africa

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

As popularly known to African leaders, Russia has thousands of decade-old undelivered pledges and several bilateral agreements signed with individual countries, yet to be implemented, in the continent.

In addition, during the previous years, there has been an unprecedented huge number of “working visits” by state officials both ways, to Africa and to the Russian Federation.

In an authoritative policy report presented last November titled Situation Analytical Report and prepared by 25 Russian policy experts, it was noted that Russia’s Africa policy is roughly divided into four periods, previously after the Soviet’s collapse in 1991. After the first summit held in October 2019, Russia’s relations with Africa have entered its fifth stage.

According to that report, “the intensification of political contacts is only with a focus on making them demonstrative.” Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa needs to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries. The number of high-level meetings has increased but the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are few definitive results from such meetings. Next, there has been a lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.

Despite the above objective criticisms or better still the research findings, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s trip to four African countries on 24-27 July still has considerable geopolitical significance and some implications. The four African countries on his travel agenda were Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo.

In a pre-departure interview with local Russian media, Lavrov shared reflections on the prospects for Russia-African relations within the context of the current geopolitical and economic changes, fearing isolation with tough sanctions after Russia’s February 24 “special military operation” in Ukraine.

He unreservedly used, at least, the media platform to clarify Russia’s view of the war and attract allies outside the West, and rejected the West’s accusations that Russia is responsible for the current global economic crisis and instability.

Reports said African countries are among those most affected by the ripples of the war. There are, however, other natural causes such as long seasonal droughts that complicated the situation in Africa.

Lavrov reiterated an assurance that Russian grain “commitments” would be fulfilled and offered nothing more to cushion the effects of the cost-of-living crisis. In a contrast, at least, the United States offered a $1.3 billion package to help tackle hunger in Africa’s Horn.

It is a historical fact that Russia’s ties with Africa declined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The official transcripts made available after Lavrov’s meetings in Egypt offered little, much has already been said about developments in the North African and Arab world, especially those including Libya, Syria and Yemen, as well as the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts.

With the geographical location of Egypt, Lavrov’s visit has tacit implications. It followed US President Joe Biden’s first visit to the Middle East, during which he visited Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia. Biden also took part in a summit of the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in addition to Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

Lavrov’s efforts toward building non-Western ties at this crucial time are highly commendable, especially with the Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and representatives from the organization’s 22 member states. Egypt has significant strategic and economic ties with Russia. There are two major projects namely the building of nuclear plants, the contract signed back in 2015 and the construction of an industrial zone has been on the planning table these several years.

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union, Russia continues efforts in search of possible collaboration and opportunities for cooperation in the past years.

For the first time in the Republic of Congo, Lavrov delivered a special message from President Vladimir Putin to the Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, at his residence in Oyo, a town 400 kilometres north of the capital, Brazzaville. Kremlin records show that Sassou-Nguesso, who has been in power since 1979, last visited Moscow in May 2019 and before that in November 2012.

The Congolese leader during his visit apparently asked for Russia’s greater engagement and assistance in bringing total peace and stability in Central Africa comprising the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Cameroon and Chad.

This presents a considerable interest especially its “military-technical cooperation” to further crash French domination similar to the Republic of Mali in West Africa.

Interviews made by this author confirmed that Russia would send more military experts from Wagner Group to DRC through the Central African Republic.

An insider at the Congo’s Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed the special message relates to an official invitation for Congolese President Sassou-Nguesso to visit Moscow.

Understanding the political developments and much talked about transition (better to describe it as hereditary succession) of the regime from President Yoweri Museveni to his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, unquestionably brings Lavrov to Uganda. For Museveni, drawing closer to Russia sends a critical message about the motives for relations between Uganda and Russia.

With Foreign Minister of Uganda Jeje Odongo in the city of Entebbe, Lavrov in the same traditional rhetoric mentioned “the implementation of joint projects in oil refining, energy, transport infrastructure and agricultural production.”

It was decided to focus on practical efforts to move the above areas of focus forward in the course of an Intergovernmental Russian-Ugandan Commission on Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation meeting in October.

Interesting to recall that during President Vladimir Putin’s meeting on December 11, 2012, President Museveni said “Moscow is a kind of Mecca for free movements in Africa. Muslims visit Mecca as a religious ritual, while Moscow is a kind of centre that helps various liberation movements.” Later in October 2019, Museveni expressed appreciation for the Africa–Russia meeting.

“It is good to say at this meeting a few areas which we could look at. Number one is defence and security. We have supported building an army by buying good Russian equipment, aircraft, tanks, and so on. We want to buy more. We have been paying cash in the past, cash, cash, cash. What I propose is that you supply and we pay. That would be some sort of supply that would make us build faster because now we pay cash like for this Sukhoi jet, we paid cash,” Museveni said during the conversation told Putin.

Lavrov displays his passion for historical references. In many of his speeches during the four-nation tour, he repeatedly stressed that it’s imperative for African leaders to support its “special military operation” in Ukraine, repeated all the Soviet assistance to Africa and the perspectives for the future of Russia-African relations. But most essentially, Lavrov has to understand that little has been achieved, both the long period before and after the first Russia-Africa summit held in October 2019.

In Ethiopia where the African Union headquarters is located, and representatives of African countries are based, Russia is vying to normalize an international order and frame-shape its geostrategic posture in this capital city.

Whether 25 of Africa’s 54 states abstained or did not vote to condemn Russia at the UN General Assembly resolution in March, Africans are overwhelmingly pragmatic. Most of them displayed neutrality, creating the basis for accepting whatever investment and development finance from the United States, the European Union, the Asian region, Russia and China, from every other region of the world.

For external players including Russia eyeing Africa, Museveni’s thought-provoking explanation of “neutrality” during the media conference re-emphasizes the best classic diplomacy of pragmatism. “We don’t believe in being enemies of somebody’s enemy,” Museveni told Lavrov. Uganda is set to assume the chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement, a global body created during the Cold War by countries that wanted to escape being drifted into the geopolitical and ideological rivalry between Western powers and Communists.

Lavrov, however, informed about broadening African issues in the “new version of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept against the background of the waning of the Western direction” and his will objectively increase the share of the African direction in the work of the Foreign Ministry. Relating to the next summit, scheduled for mid-2023, “a serious package of documents that will contain almost all significant agreements” is being prepared, he said.

Lavrov with his Ethiopian counterpart Demeke Mekonnnen and the African Union leadership in Addis Ababa have agreed on additional documents paving the way to a more efficient dialogue in the area of defence sales and contracts.

Still on Ethiopia, Russia’s state-run nuclear corporation Rosatom and Ethiopia’s Ministry of Innovation and Technology signed a roadmap on cooperation in projects to build a nuclear power plant and a nuclear research centre in the republic. In addition, other bilateral issues, including joint energy and infrastructure projects, and education were discussed.

“We have good traditions in the sphere of military and technical cooperation. Today, we confirmed our readiness to implement new plans in this sphere, including taking into account the interests of our Ethiopian friends in ensuring their defensive ability,” the Russian top diplomat said.

“Russia is ready to continue providing assistance to Ethiopia in training its domestic specialists in various spheres,” he added and finally explaining that Moscow was ready to develop both bilateral humanitarian and cultural contacts and cooperation in the sphere of education with Addis Ababa.

According to Lavrov, Russia has had long-standing good relations with Africa since the days of the Soviet Union which pioneered movements that culminated in decolonization. It provided assistance to the national liberation movements and then to the restoration of independent states and the rise of their economies in Africa. An undeniable fact is that many external players have also had long-term relations and continue bolstering political, economic and social ties in the continent.

In his Op-Ed article, Lavrov argues: “We have been rebuilding our positions for many years now. The Africans are reciprocating. They are interested in having us. It is good to see that our African friends have a similar understanding with Russia.” The point is that Moscow is desirous to widen and deepen its presence in the continent. On the other hand, the Maghreb and African countries are, in terms of reciprocity, keen to strengthen relations with Moscow, but will avoid taking sides in the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Lavrov has successfully ended his meetings and talks in Africa. Now, the basic significant issue in its current relations is still the fact that Russia has thousands of decade-old undelivered pledges and several bilateral agreements signed with individual countries in the continent, while in the previous years there has been an unprecedented huge number of “working visits” to Africa. The development of a comprehensive partnership with African countries remains among the top priorities of Russia’s foreign policy, Moscow is open to its further build-up, Lavrov said in an Op-Ed article for the African media, and originally published on the ministry’s website.

Steven Gruzd, the Head of the Russia-Africa Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), told Fox News Digital. “Africa’s leaders must realize that they might be used as props in the grand geopolitical theatre being led by these big powers.” Moscow opposes a unipolar world based only on Western interests and pursues Africa to condemn sanctions imposed against Russia.

He believes that this diplomatic jockeying risks casting African countries “as pawns in a grand chess game” and African countries have to steer clear of taking sides. However, many African countries are wary of losing Western aid and trade ties should they go all in with the Kremlin.

“They need to be very clear about the risks and rewards of these meetings”, added Gruzd. “Most do not want to have to choose between Russia and the West and will try to maintain relationships with both sides. This is definitely a Russian move to show they are not isolated, and what better way to do it than Minister Lavrov smiling and shaking hands with African presidents and foreign ministers?”

In the context of rebuilding post-Soviet relations and now attempting at creating a new model of the global order which it hopes to lead after exiting from international organizations. In order to head an emerging global order, Russia needs to be more open, and make more inroads into the civil society, rather than close (isolate) itself from “non-Western friends” during this fast-changing crucial period – in Asia, Africa and Latin America. For instance, Africa is ready as it holds huge opportunities in various sectors for reliable, genuine and committed investors. It offers a very profitable investment destination.

Despite criticisms, China has built an exemplary distinctive economic power in Africa. Besides China, Africa is largely benefitting from the European Union and Western aid flows, and economic and trade ties. Russia plays very little role in Africa’s infrastructure, agriculture and industry, and makes little effort in leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Our monitoring shows that the Russian business community hardly pays attention to the significance of AfCFTA which provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people.

Substantively, Russia brings little to the continent, especially in the economic sectors that badly need investment. Of course, Russia basks in restoring and regaining part of its Soviet-era influence, but has problems with planning and tackling its set tasks, a lack of confidence in fulfilling its policy targets. The most important aspect is how to make strategic efforts more practical, more consistent and more effective with African countries. Without these fundamental factors, it would therefore be an illusionary step to partnering with Africa.

Some policy experts have classified three directions for external partners dealing with Africa: (i) active engagement, (ii) sitting on the sideline and observing, and (iii) being a passive player. From all indications, African leaders have political sympathy and most often express either support or a neutral position for Russia. But at the same time, African leaders are very pragmatic, indiscriminately dealing with external players with adequate funds to invest in different economic sectors. Africa is in a globalized world. It is, generally, beneficial for Africa as it could take whatever is offered from either East or West, North or South.

In stark contrast to key global players for instance the United States, China and the European Union and many others, Russia has limitations. For Russia to regain a part of its Soviet-era influence, it has to address its own policy approach, this time shifting towards new paradigms – to implement some of the decade-old pledges and promises, and those bilateral agreements; secondly to promote development-oriented policies and how to make these strategic efforts more practical, more consistent, more effective and most admirably result-oriented with African countries.

Perhaps, reviewing or revisiting the school geography, Russia is not only by far the world’s largest country, surface-wise, but arguably also by far the wealthiest in terms of natural resources. Thus, the question is – what else could be Russia’s standing blocks in building its economic power, by investing in the needed sustainable development (not humanitarian aid), in Africa?

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Australia Begins Process to Introduce Central Bank Digital Currency

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australia central bank digital currency

By Adedapo Adesanya

As more countries gravitate towards a digital currency, Australia joined the cadre as it announced the beginning of a collaborative effort to review the case for a central bank digital currency (CBDC) in the country.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Treasury, and other agencies will oversee the research effort designed to explore the potential economic benefits of introducing such a currency in Australia, the RBA said in a statement Tuesday. The project is expected to run for about a year.

Speaking on this, the RBA’s Deputy Governor Michele Bullock said the work “is an important next step in our research on CBDC. We are looking forward to engaging with a wide range of industry participants to better understand the potential benefits a CBDC could bring to Australia.”

The central bank reiterated the research comes in the context of Australia already having “relatively modern and well-functioning payment and settlement systems.”

The RBA is collaborating with the Digital Finance Cooperative Research Centre in the project, while Treasury is participating as a member of the steering committee. The work will involve the development of a “limited-scale pilot that will operate in a ringfenced environment for a period of time.”

Over the course of the next 12 months, interested industry participants will be invited to develop specific use cases that demonstrate how the digital currency could be used to provide innovative and value-added payment and settlement services to households and businesses, the RBA added.

A report on the findings, including an assessment of the various use cases developed, will be published at the conclusion.

Central banks worldwide are acting swiftly to ensure they don’t fall behind as money edges toward its biggest reinvention in centuries with alternative concepts like cryptocurrencies taking hold.

Nigeria is one of the countries at the forefront of a CBDC with the introduction of the eNaira in 2021 with the Digital Euro still under investigation phase while Jamaica began its own testing phase in May. China’s Digital Yuan has been in testing since 2020.

Blockchain technology, as well as events like the coronavirus pandemic, are among the forces pushing consumers to go cashless.

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Mozambique Risks Economic Stability Over Russian Oil

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Mozambique Risks Economic Stability

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

Mozambique risks destabilizing its economy and further losing western development finance if it goes ahead to purchase sanctioned oil from Russia.

With the return of western development finance institutions such International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the USAID, and currently showing tremendous support for sustainable development projects and programmes, Mozambique would have to stay focused and stay clear of the complexities and contradictions of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Mozambique needs to seriously concentrate on and pursue its plans of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG), extracted from the Coral South field, off the coast of Palma district, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, possibly starting this October. It marks an economic turning point and opens a new chapter for its revenue sources.

According to our research, Mozambique will become the first country in East Africa to export LNG. It will be produced on a floating platform, belonging to a consortium led by the Italian energy company, Eni. The platform, built in a Korean shipyard, arrived in Mozambican waters in January and is now anchored in Area Four of the Rovuma Basin, some 40 kilometres from the mainland.

This is the first deep-water platform in the world to operate at a water depth of about two thousand meters. The Coral South project is expected to produce 3.4 million tons of LNG per year over its estimated 25-year lifespan.

A second project is planned for Area One of the Rovuma Basin, where the operator is the French company TotalEnergies. The planned LNG plants for this project, are onshore, in the Afungi Peninsula of the Palma district. The jihadists seized Palma town in March 2021, and TotalEnergies withdrew all of its staff from the district. Subsequently, the Mozambican defence and security forces and their Rwandan allies drove the terrorists out of both Palma and the neighbouring district of Mocimboa da Praia.

The current global economic situation is changing, and competition and rivalry for markets are also at their height. During the past months, Russia has cut its export of gas as a reciprocal action against European Union members and has redirected its search for new clients in the Asian region. It has already offered discounted prices to China and India, and now looking beyond Africa.

United States Special Envoy to the United Nations, Thomas-Greenfield, has made one point clear in her speeches with African leaders that “African nations are free to buy grain from Russia but could face consequences if they trade in U.S.-sanctioned commodities such as oil from Russia.”

“Countries can buy Russian agricultural products, including fertilizer and wheat,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. But she added that “if a country decides to engage with Russia, where there are sanctions, then they are breaking those sanctions. We caution countries not to break those sanctions because then … they stand the chance of having actions taken against them.”

Russian Ambassador to Mozambique, Alexander Surikov, after a meeting with the Confederation of Economic Associations of Mozambique (CTA), had proposed that the Mozambican authorities could buy Russian oil in roubles after Moscow presented the option to Maputo. Ambassador Surikov further expressed Russian companies’ continuing interest in investing in Mozambique. Likewise, the possibility was raised of Russia opening a bank in Mozambique focused on supporting bilateral trade and investment.

Russia previously had a VTB bank in Maputo, later involved in opaque deals. It was a financial scandal involving three fraudulent security-linked companies, and two banks – Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia, relating to illicit loan guarantees issued by the government under former President Armando Guebuza. Until today, it is popularly referred to as the “Hidden Debts” scandal involving US$2.7 billion (€2.3 million), the financial scandal that happened in 2013.

In the aftermath, financial institutions exited, projects were abandoned and this southern African country has struggled to rebound economically. Now they are returning with new financial assistance programmes that would promote sustainable and inclusive growth and long-term macroeconomic stability.

In the context of the current cereal crisis, one other issue that the ambassador raised was how Mozambican companies could have direct access to Russian wheat suppliers. In this regard, it was not clear how Russian wheat would enter the market and how it would be paid for because Mozambique uses principally the US dollar in its foreign transactions, and Russia cannot conduct transactions using the US currency due to the sanctions imposed following the invasion of Ukraine.

“The rouble and the medical are worthy currencies that do not need the benevolence of some other countries that control the international system,” the Russian diplomat explained, adding that Moscow wanted to strengthen cooperation with Maputo.

Nonetheless, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy of Mozambique, Carlos Zacarias, admittedly the possibility of buying Russian oil in roubles. “I am sure that we will study and verify the feasibility of this offer from Russia. If it is viable, for sure Russian oil will be acquired in roubles,” Carlos Zacarias said.

Mozambique’s receptivity to the Russian proposal stems from the fact that the world is experiencing a peculiar moment, characterized by great volatility in oil prices on the international market as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Mozambique was among the countries that abstained on two resolutions that were voted on by the General Assembly of the United Nations, one condemning Russia for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine as a consequence of the war and the other suspending Moscow from the Human Rights Council.

The Mozambican Liberation Front (Frelimo, the ruling party) was an ally of Moscow during the time of the former USSR and received military support during the struggle against Portuguese colonialism and economic aid after independence in 1975.

Mozambique and Russia have admirable political relations. Mozambique has to focus on trade and economic development with external partners. According to data provided by CTA, the annual volume of economic transactions between Mozambique and Russia is estimated to be, at least, US$100 million (€98.5 million at current exchange rates).

Experts aptly point to the fact that there is a tremendous opportunity window for Mozambique. With partners including ExxonMobil Corp., China National Petroleum Corp. and Mozambican state-owned Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos, Mozambique has to move towards its own energy development. These past few years, experts have also reiterated adopting a suitable mechanism, mapping out strategies and utilizing financial support for sustainable development.

Mozambique has considerable gas resources and the right decision is to move toward both an onshore concept and an offshore concept. The ultimate goal has to establish connectivity between its resource exploration and national development. The idea is to foster economic relations based on its domestic development priorities. And consequently, it has to determine influential external investment partners ready to invest funds and, in practical terms, committed to supporting sustainable development in the country.

The Mozambique LNG offshore project, valued at around $20 billion, aims to extract about 13.12 million tonnes of recoverable gas over 25 years and generate profits of US$60.8 billion, half of which will go to the Mozambican state.

The process to achieve this task has started and would generate 14,000 possible jobs in phases – first creating 5,000 jobs for Mozambicans in the construction phase and 1,200 in the operational phase, with a plan to train 2,500 technicians and so forth. These projects also have a great capacity to create indirect jobs, with foreign labour decreasing throughout the project and Mozambican labour increasing. Most of these jobs are expected to be provided by contractors and subcontractors.

Several corporate projects came to a halt due to armed insurgency in 2017 in Cabo Delgado province. The entry of foreign troops to support Mozambican forces in mid-2021 has improved the security situation. Since July 2021, an offensive by government troops was fixed, with the support of Rwandans and later by the Standby Joint Force consisting of forces from members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Cabo Delgado province, located in northern Mozambique, is rich in natural gas. Although the gas from the three projects approved so far has a destination, Mozambique has proven reserves of over 180 trillion cubic feet, according to data from the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy. With an approximate population of 30 million, Mozambique is endowed with natural resources. It is a member of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union.

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ECOWAS Creates Committee as Nigeria Cries Foul Over Recruitment

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ECOWAS Court

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament has appointed an independent ad-hoc committee to investigate allegations of recruitment malpractice at the parliament.

This is as it also directed the suspension of the ongoing recruitment exercises, pending the outcome of the investigation by the independent panel.

Nigeria had raised worry earlier and even threatened to withdraw its membership of ECOWAS if the regional body does not suspend the ongoing recruitment exercise as recently directed in the 2022 First Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja.

Nigerian representatives at the parliament had issued the threat when some principal officers in the regional bloc defiled the directives and embarked on the alleged illegal recruitment of their relatives and cronies.

Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Mr Sidie Mohamed Tunis in a statement said having received written complaints from the 1st Deputy Speaker, Honourable Ahmed Idris Wase, and the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the ECOWAS Commission, Ambassador Musa Sani Nuhu, concerning the ongoing recruitment exercise at the ECOWAS Parliament, had appointed an Independent Adhoc Committee to investigate allegations of marginalization and malpractice against Nigerian candidates in the ongoing recruitment process.

The action of the Speaker is in conformity to Rule thirty-three (33) and thirty-four (34) of the Rules of Procedures of the Parliament which provides that a Special Committee may be set up to address specific matters.

The Speaker, in response to pressing emergencies, can set up an Adhoc committee, in consultation with the Bureau, and inform Parliament at its next session.

The ad-hoc committee would be headed by Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, the Chairman of the Committee on Administration, Finance, and Budget.

Other Members of the Committee include Lynda Chuba Ikpeazu – Nigeria; Fatoumatta Njai – The Gambia; Amadou Djibo Ali – Niger; Kounon Nahou Agbandao -Togo.

Others are, Caramo Camara -Guinea Bissau; Moussokora Chantal Fanny – Cote d’ Ivoire and Mr Arboncana Oumarou Dicko – Clerk to the Committee.

The terms of Reference of the team are Investigate allegations of inappropriate conduct in the ongoing recruitment process at the ECOWAS Parliament; Investigate allegations of marginalization of Nigerian Candidates in the current recruitment process; Investigate and determine if indeed the plenary adopted any Resolution concerning the subject matter (Recruitment of Staff), using normal parliamentary procedure.

It was disclosed that “In the execution of its mandate, the Committee shall be granted access to all documents relating to the recruitment exercise and work with the Advisory Committee on Recruitment and Promotions at the ECOWAS Parliament, to under-study and review the exercise. The Adhoc Committee would be guided by the provisions of the Supplementary Act and the ECOWAS Staff Regulations.

“The work of the ad-hoc Committee is expected to commence on 22nd August 2022 and its findings are expected to be reported to the Speaker in one week, following which a Bureau meeting will be convened to consider the report for onward submission to the Plenary.

“The ECOWAS Parliament, under the leadership of Right Honourable Dr Sidie Mohamed Tunis, affirms its stern commitment to fair labour practices and is devoted to upholding and protecting the rights of all Citizens of the Community to aspire for positions in any Community Institution, in line with the provisions of the ECOWAS Staff Regulations and all related Protocols.”

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