By Adedapo Adesanya
French cement maker, Lafarge, has pleaded guilty in the United States to supporting the Islamic State and other terror groups and agreed to a $777.8 million penalty for payments it made to keep a factory running in Syria after war broke out in 2011.
The cement manufacturer, bought by Switzerland’s Holcim in 2015, said its behaviour had been in “flagrant violation” of Lafarge’s code of conduct.
Lafarge also said it “deeply regretted” the events and “accepted responsibility for the individual executives involved”.
The firm opened its plant in Jalabiya near the Turkish border in 2010 following a $680 million investment.
US prosecutors said that Lafarge’s Syrian subsidiary had paid Islamic State and another terror group, al Nusra Front, the equivalent of $5.92 million to protect staff at the plant as the country’s civil war intensified, but executives likened the arrangements to paying “taxes”, the company said.
Lafarge eventually evacuated the plant in September 2014, when Islamic State took control of the town and the factory but before its departure, the deals helped the company do $70.3 million in sales, prosecutors said.
Lafarge had previously admitted bribes were paid after an internal investigation, but US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said that the company’s actions “reflect corporate crime that has reached a new low and a very dark place.”
She added that, “Business with terrorists cannot be business as usual.”
In a statement, Lafarge’s new owner Holcim said none of the conduct involved Holcim, “which has never operated in Syria.”
It added that former Lafarge executives involved in the bribery had concealed it from Holcim, as well as external auditors.
Eric Olsen, who was CEO between 2015 and 2017, stepped down from his role following an investigation into Lafarge’s activities in Syria.
The Department of Justice said that senior executives at Lafarge were involved in the arrangements and aware they risked running afoul of authorities.
Executives had attempted to require Islamic State not to include the name “Lafarge” on documents memorializing and implementing their agreements, and many involved in the scheme also used personal email addresses, rather than their corporate email addresses, to carry out the conspiracy, the Department said.
Lafarge executives also backdated the termination agreement to August 18, 2014, a date shortly after the United Nations Security Council had issued a resolution calling on member states to prohibit doing business with Islamic State, to falsely suggest that negotiations with Islamic State had not occurred after the UN resolution, the Department said.
The dealings by Lafarge were eventually made public in 2016 on a website run by a Syrian opposition group.
Breon Peace, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York – where the case was brought – said the conduct “by a Western corporation was appalling and has no precedent or justification.”
“The defendants paid millions of dollars [to Islamic State], a terrorist group that otherwise operated on a shoestring budget, millions of dollars that [Islamic State] could use to recruit members, wage war against governments, and conduct brutal terrorist attacks worldwide, including against U.S. citizens,” he said at a press conference announcing the guilty plea.
Lafarge also faces charges of complicity in crimes against humanity in France over its activities in Syria, but the company denies the claims.
Russia-Africa Summit: Sergey Lavrov Undertakes Assessment Tour
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
Behind lofty summit declarations, several bilateral agreements and thousands of decade-old undelivered pledges, Russia has been stacked due to the “special military operations” it began in late February in Ukraine. It has achieved little these few years after the symbolic summit held in 2019. With preparations for the next African leaders’ summit, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to undertake two African tours during the first quarter of 2023.
At the heat of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and within the context of the current geopolitical and economic changes, Lavrov made a snapshot trip to four African countries from July 24-28 this year. The four African countries on that travel agenda: are Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo.
In January-February 2023, Lavrov will first focus on North Africa. Why is Maghreb a strategic region for Russia? It is true that despite the appearance of competition between Europe and the United States, between Russia and China, as well as the Gulf States, Russia has intensified its relations aims at raising its influence in the Maghreb.
Worth noting that Egypt already has significant strategic and economic ties with Russia. With the geographical location of Egypt, Lavrov’s frequent visits there have some tacit implications. Last July trip, for instance, concretely aimed at explaining the perspectives for Russia’s actions in neighbouring Ukraine to frame-shape its geo-strategic posture in the region and solicit support from the entire Arab world. It followed US President Joe Biden’s official visit to the Middle East. Biden visited Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia.
Reports from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs this week indicated that Lavrov plans to undertake two “coordinated working visits” and the first trip will focus on the Arab-speaking North African region popularly referred to as Maghreb. For several decades, the Maghreb region has been a multifaceted conflict region, in fact, one of the most volatile geopolitical frontiers, which includes Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. This vast area inhabited by some 120 million people – 80 per cent of them in Algeria, Egypt and Morocco – is landlocked between the huge Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert.
Historically, Russia has had long-standing good political relations not only in the North but also with sub-Saharan Africa down to Southern Africa since Soviet times, providing tremendous support for liberation movements that culminated in decolonization and, ultimately, the rise of the economies in Africa. The continent is rife with rivalry and competition, attracting foreign players, especially at this time of emerging new global order.
According to official reports, Russia is interested in expanding multifaceted cooperation and making feverish attempts for a collaborative mechanism to upgrade its relations. It seeks to work closely in developing a new architecture necessary for participating in development projects, and promote infrastructure, trade and other viable economic ties. It held the first Russia-Africa summit three years ago, signed many bilateral agreements and issued an impressive joint declaration as a roadmap for future directions.
On the agenda for the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg, there are matters relating to building a new global architecture in the context of strengthening multi-polarity and international security, food and energy security, healthcare and humanitarian cooperation, education, science and culture.
With rafts of sanctions imposed on Russia, it becomes expedient for both Russia and Africa to find alternative ways of collaboration (between Russia and Africa) that do not rely on Western currencies or sanctions policy. Of course, illegal sanctions imposed on Russia continue to have a negative impact on foreign economic relations, necessitating an urgent reconfiguration of strategies for pushing further cooperation.
The reports always note that Africa is one of the most important and fastest-growing regions for Russian producers. Moscow understands the significance of engaging and achieving sustainable development there. For example, Russia faces the challenge of promoting the creation of a reliable infrastructure for the production and transportation of African energy products and the development of domestic markets. It faces the challenge of setting its economic influence in the continent admirably.
However, in November 2021, a policy document titled the ‘Situation Analytical Report’ presented at the premises of TASS News Agency was very critical of Russia’s current policy towards Africa. While the number of high-level meetings has increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are few definitive results from such meetings, according to that authoritative report researched and put together by 25 Russian policy experts headed by Professor Sergey Karaganov, Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.
The report pointed to the lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa. For the past three decades, Russia has played very little role in Africa’s infrastructure, agriculture and industry. Many bilateral agreements at the top and high political levels have still not been implemented. A lot more important issues have received little attention since the first African leaders’ summit was held in Sochi.
Our monitoring shows that the Russian business community hardly pays attention to the significance to, and makes little effort to leverage the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people.
Nevertheless, Russia brings little to the continent, especially in the economic sectors that badly need investment. 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.
Of course, Russia aims at restoring and regaining part of its Soviet-era influence but has problems with planning and tackling its set tasks and 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 dream considering a multifaceted partnership with Africa.
Russia’s Cultural Diplomacy in Multipolar World: Perspectives and Challenges for Africa
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
After careful research to find the meaning and implications of the term “multipolar world” often used these days, the free dictionary and englopedia offer insights as a system of world order in which the majority of leading global powers coordinate and commonly agree on economic, political and cultural influence and acceptable directions.
Both dictionaries further explain that countries have multipolar approaches to foreign policy. Participating countries necessarily conceive multiple centres of power or influence in the world and have a multipolar approach to foreign policy. A multipolar world could mean various differences in thoughts, views and ideas regarding anything in particular that different people desire to do across the world.
It appears from several reports that China and Russia intend to lead the new world order. Speeches from both sides are extremely critical of “based rules and regulations” given by the United States and Europe. The United States’ global dictatorship might end so that the unipolar would then become a multi-polar world, in which democracy could actually thrive.
In practical terms and in order to lead a multipolar system requires an outward, broad and integrative approach. While China, to a large extent, has portrayed this practical approach which is readily seen around the world, Russia’s method is full of slogans and highly limited. With the emerging new global order, China appears more open and integrative than Russia. Despite the fact that it madly advocates for creating and ultimate establishment of this multipolar world, Russia exits significantly from the global stage, thus isolating itself and further contributing towards its own “cancel culture” instead of the opposite.
Whether people like it or not, the United States will conveniently operate within the emerging multipolar system. It has the instruments to operate within the framework of multilateralism and an integrative multicultural environment. The United States is and remains an “indispensable” power. Russia and a few of its allies in this evolutionary process, without adopting cautious steps and strategic approach, will definitely remain “dispensable” in the end.
In order to deepen our understanding of the emerging multipolar world, it is useful to make comparisons. The United States’ new strategy acknowledges that Africa will shape the future – not just the future of the African people but of the world. And as such deals with civil society, women and the youth, which it refers to as the megaphone of governance. These have an influence on policies and processes engaging policy-makers.
It further works in various directions closely with the African Union, and one more new direction is the African diaspora. The United States has the largest African diaspora with social inroads and business inter-linkages and a hugely significant impact on developments inside Africa. In contrast, Russia has grossly ignored the African diaspora and even those African professional specialists it has indeed trained from Soviet times to and currently. In the emerging new multipolar world, to overlook these would be a sad mistake from a policy perspective.
Russians seriously brush aside the relevance and the role of culture, for that matter, soft power in foreign policy while advocating for this emerging new order. Examining, in broad terms, all aspects of culture that basically includes continuing the struggle for self-determination, for creating the grounded opportunity to live in peace and preserving one’s valuable traditions. Language, of course, plays its unifying role.
Some contradictions and different interpretations might exist. On the other hand, there are divergent views and different perceptions relating to the current geopolitical changes, but frankly speaking, the study of foreign languages, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and the emerging interest in the Chinese and Russian languages, has been a long part of people’s lives, especially those who hope to move across borders and dream to have smooth interactions with other nationals from different countries around the world.
For the past three decades since the collapse of the Soviet era, Russian language studies have been low, for example, among the African population, primarily due to a lack of overwhelming interest and adequate motivation, and a lack of consistent interactive cultural activities by Russian authorities, experts at the Africa Studies Institute frequently say, and warmheartedly admit that things have slow with Russia’s return to Africa.
Most Africans prefer to study foreign languages to ensure smooth participation in interstate activities such as trade and in order to maintain relationships with people abroad. Foreign countries, for example, Britain, the United States, European countries and now China, are their traditional favourites. There are always interactive programmes and cultural activities throughout the year operated by foreign missions and NGOs.
Interpreted from different perspectives, Russia has not been a major economic giant in Africa compared to Western and European countries and China. Due to this historical truth, Africans have little interest in studying the Russian language and its culture. The Russian language itself does not sound attractive in terms of its economic opportunity, and therefore, Africans prefer to study languages that readily offer opportunities. China is making huge contributions to the continent, and this has made Africans see the need to understand the language in order to have better interaction with them.
The obvious worst-case scenario is that the Russian government has not created the necessary conditions and reasons to study the language simply because it has little influence in the continent. Besides that, the trade and commercial links between Russia and Africa are quite negligible, so there is no desperate demand for the Russian language for businessmen. Admittedly, Russia is not a welcoming holiday destination for African elites and the middle class, which is twice the total population of Russia and constitutes 40% of the 1.3 billion population of Africa. Travel and tourism is an increasingly huge business, and the unique geographical landscapes and changing attractiveness of Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi – are unknown to the African elite and the growing middle class.
With the current evolving political and cultural processes, the West and Europe will still have a strong classical grip on Africa, influencing everything first from culture and tourism and moving onward to politics and economics. Perhaps, Russia has to play the correct strategic openness and welcome African travellers, tourists and visitors. Closing doors in these critical times might negatively distract Africa’s support for Russia.
The worrying tendency is that Rossotrudnichestvo, an agency under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, pays little attention to educational and cultural questions in Africa, compared to its assertive counterparts – USAID, Alliance Française de France, The Goethe Institute, British Council, Instituto Cervantes that operate throughout the world.
Another Russian organization – Russkiy Mir Foundation, which is directly responsible for promoting the Russian language and culture abroad, does extremely little in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, cultural officers work in all 38 Russian embassies in Africa.
Russia appears quite removed from Africa’s development issues, it is only mentioned in limited areas like weapons and military equipment supplies to French-speaking West Africa. Nowadays, China is being viewed as a strong strategic partner in Africa, given its (China’s) strong footprints in diverse economic sectors. China has more than 20 Confucius Centers and a party school in Africa. Western and European, and China support civil society, youth programmes and women’s issues – these are completely not on Russia’s radar.
Russia allegedly allows its own ‘cancel culture’ and significantly not by the United States and its European allies. In practical terms, creating a multipolar system deals largely with cultural and social orientation, it deals with public perceptions through openness and friendliness. At this new historical reawakening stage, Russia has reviewed itself and tried to focus on building relations, both with substance, trustful and refined approach and strategically engaging with civil society, youth organizations and non-state institutions in Africa.
By and large, Russia has to intensify its people-to-people connections, soft power and cultural diplomacy with Africa. There is a huge cultural gap in new thinking, working with young professionals and associations to promote people-to-people diplomacy through business links, cultural exchanges and competitions. As Russia charts loudly for the multipolar system, this has to reflect in its current foreign policy and approach, especially towards the developing world, in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Late October, during the final plenary session of the 19th meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, the focus was on matters related to the changing geopolitics and civilisation diversity, the new world order and its future developments. Under the theme, A Post-Hegemonic World: Justice and Security for Everyone, the four-day-long interactive meeting brought academic experts and researchers, politicians, diplomats and economists from Russia and 40 foreign countries.
President Vladimir Putin discussed, at considerable length, so many controversial questions. According to him, classic liberal ideology itself today has changed beyond recognition. They predicted the end of the United States’ global dominance but fell short in proposing an appropriate Russian template – the principles and mechanisms – for realizing the lofty idea and approach to establishing a multipolar world.
Putin did not say anything about Russia becoming a power but awarded that position to China. Giants like China, India and Indonesia with large populations are showing economic growth; in Africa, large countries – some of them with a population of 200 million – are emerging and making progress, as well as countries in Latin America.
According to him, Russia still has friends around the world. He mentioned that in Central America and Africa, Russian flags are flying everywhere. “There are flags in European countries and in the United States too; we have many supporters there. By the way, a large proportion of the US population adheres to traditional values, and they are with us, we know this,” he added in his assertive conversation at the Valdai gathering.
Putin, along the line, argued that the support for multipolar order largely exists in the global south. Russia is not the enemy and has never had any evil intentions as regards the European countries and the United States. He appreciated Africa’s struggle for independence and against colonialism. These absolutely unique relations were forged during the years when the Soviet Union and Russia supported African countries in their fight for freedom.
In this context and in relation to Africa, Natalia Zaiser, Founder of the African Business Initiative Union, apparently talked about the new historical stage need to establish new or different institutions of international partnership.
Her series of questions to Putin: “Mr President, what is your vision of a new international partnership institution? Which basis of parities is Russia ready to offer at the international level? Which mechanisms, tools and personalities are needed to acquire new allies, partners and friends, not at a declarative level but at the level of unquestionable responsibility in terms of agreements? Do you think we should also change or build up other approaches within the future international partnership?”
Putin’s answer was: “We must, and we can focus on cooperation, primarily, with countries which have sovereignty in taking fundamental decisions. This is my first point. My second point is that we need to reach a consensus on each of these decisions. Third, we need to secure a balance of interests. Part of which institutions can we do this? Of course, these are primarily universal international organizations, and number one is with the United Nations.”
EU, IFC Launch €25m Fund to Rebuild Ukraine
By Adedapo Adesanya
A new agreement between the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Ukraine’s Energy Efficiency Fund will channel up to €25 million in EU funds to help homeowners’ associations restore war-damaged residential buildings, the organisations announced on Monday.
The effort will support Ukrainian families amid the ongoing war and boost the resilience of Ukraine’s residential sector. Since February 24, the conflict in Ukraine has substantially damaged or destroyed the homes of 2.4 million Ukrainians, according to the Ministry for Communities and Territories Development of Ukraine.
The Kyiv School of Economics estimates that the total number of the affected housing stock in Ukraine is up to 136,000 buildings or 40 per cent of the total number of residential buildings, including almost 16,000 multi-apartment buildings. As it stands, there is not enough public and private financing to rebuild the sector.
IFC will support the Energy Efficiency Fund’s Restoration Program by channelling the EU grants to homeowners’ associations across Ukraine, covering the costs of restoring multifamily buildings that did not suffer structural damage.
The programme will cover the replacement of windows, doors, roofs, and walls, among other elements, and IFC will also help the Fund with a pipeline of reconstruction projects as well as support beneficiaries with the application process.
A €5 million pilot phase is being rolled out in Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Sumy, and Chernihiv, larger cities in northern and central Ukraine that have come under increased attacks over the last two months.
Speaking on this, Mr Yehor Farenyuk, director of the state-owned Energy Efficiency Fund, said, “This programme launched by the Energy Efficiency Fund provides vital support to homeowners’ associations to help them restore buildings damaged by Russia’s military aggression.
“This is substantial support for many war-affected Ukrainians since the program will cover 100 per cent of the cost of all construction materials and work. We are very grateful to our partners — the EU and IFC — for their engagement and support, and we hope to continue our fruitful cooperation in this area.
“Rebuilding efforts in war-torn Ukraine cannot and should not be stalled,” said Ms Rana Karadsheh, IFC’s Regional Director for Europe. “We are grateful to the EU for their ongoing assistance, enabling us to provide vital support to Ukraine during these challenging times. We are committed to supporting Ukrainians and their efforts to restore residential and other economic sectors devastated by the war.
“The EU stands with Ukraine as it fights off Russia’s aggression and supports its people. We are happy to join forces with our trusted partners Ukraine’s Energy Efficiency Fund and IFC to help rebuild Ukrainian’s homes that were destroyed by Russia,” said Ms Katarína Mathernová, Deputy Director General of the Directorate General for Neighbourhood & Enlargement Negotiations and Head of the Support Group for Ukraine at the European Commission.”
Since October 2019, the original Ukraine Energy Efficiency Fund Program, led by IFC in partnership with the EU, has channelled grants worth nearly €15 million into energy-efficient renovations of 229 residential buildings in Ukraine, of which 109 are fully completed, with the remaining 120 projects continuing to implement the energy efficiency modernizations amid the war.
As part of IFC’s broader response to the war in Ukraine, in October, IFC launched another €25 million EU-supported programme to help municipalities to renovate municipally owned buildings to host internally displaced people.
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