Transaqua Garners Support From Former Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi.

November 19. 2020

Support for Transaqua, a transformative mega infrastructure water project for Africa, continues to grow as reported below by movisol.org. Transaqua envisions transferring 50-100 billion of cubic meters of water yearly from the super wet Congo River Basin to the arid Lake Chad Basin via a 2,400 kilometer canal. When constructed, Transaqua will create a super economic zone that will affect a dozen African nations. Presently Italy and China are the only two non-African nations supporting Transaqua. The Lake Chad Basin Commission has not yet initiated a process to secure a contract for a feasibility study of Transaqua, despite support for it at an international conference held in Abuja in February 2018. I have campaigned for Transaqua for decades, and personally know that President Muhammadu Buhari is behind this project.  

Former EU Commission President and former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called for a major international effort, involving China, to build the Transaqua infrastructure to replenish Lake Chad. Prodi spoke at the final roundtable of a seminar dedicated to Lake Chad and sponsored by the Turin Center of African Studies Nov. 9-13.

Prodi, who had previously served as UN special envoy for the Sahel and had publicly declared that the Transaqua water-transfer program was too expensive, appears to have changed his mind and dedicated his pre-recorded video intervention entirely to an endorsement of Transaqua as the only solution for Lake Chad, calling for a concerted international effort to build the Italian-born project. Prodi accurately described Transaqua as an integrated water, energy, and transport infrastructure which will take only 5% of the Congo River, building dams on its tributaries and bringing water to Lake Chad through a navigable canal. The only mistake he made was to speak about the Ubangi River, the largest tributary of the Congo, instead of the Ubangi basin, whose water will be collected by Transaqua through the Central African Republic section of the waterway.

Since the political and economic hurdles are big, the international community at the highest level must be involved, Prodi said, calling for the UN, the EU, and the African Union to join forces to finance and build the project. And China: The New Silk Road, Prodi said, has a problem, namely, it has been so far a Chinese project. Let us involve China in something, let us involve China in building Transaqua.

Prodi’s presentation, in Italian with English subtitles took place at the “Water diplomacy and a culture of sustainability. The basin of Lake Chad,” at the can be followed here: Roundtable Discussion on Lake Chad

Andrea Mangano, a veteran of the Bonifica team that developed the original Transaqua idea presents in English, an overview of the Transaqua project and the conditions in the Lake Chad Basin. I urge everyone to watch this video.:

For more on Transaqua, read my earlier postInterview With Lawrence Freeman: The Time is Now For TRANSAQUA-to Save Lake Chad and Transform Africa

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

 

Ouattara Elected President: Cote d’Ivoire Poised for Progress

Ballot of the four presidential candidates
President Ouattara and wife after voting

Lawrence Freeman

November 12, 2020

On October 31, Alassane Dramane Ouattara was re-elected President of Cote d’Ivoire. The official vote for President Ouattara was 3,031,483, which was 94.5% of total votes cast, with 53.9% of registered voters participating. Observers for both the African Union and Economic Community of West African States validated the legitimacy of the election process. On November 9, he was sworn in for his third term as president of Cote d’Ivoire.

In the days leading up to the election, scores of widely circulated stories, with frightening headlines predicting “chaos, a dangerous election, civil war,” attempted to create the narrative that this election could potentially experience a repeat of the violent conflict that caused thousands of deaths in 2010-2011. This blatantly false storyline, spread by major news outlets in Britain, France, and the U.S., that was intended to create fear and inflame the emotions of the population; never materialized. There were acts of civil disobedience and conflicts in a few outlying districts. However, in Abidjan, the country’s port city, where 20% of the population resides, there was no evidence of any kind of violence and the city remained calm.

I was very pleased to witness hundreds of Ivorians peacefully standing in long lines waiting to vote, in Treichville, a poor section of Abidjan. This was one of the several polling centers I visited. As I walked around several voting locations, I observed a professional orderly voting procedure.

Ivorians at Treichville lining up to vote

Stability for the nation of Cote d’Ivoire following this election is not only important for 25 million Ivorians but is vital for all of West Africa and the Sahel. Cote d’Ivoire’s bordering neighbors, Mali, and Burkina Faso are being destabilized from attacks by violent extremists.

Cote d’Ivoire, a potential economic hub in West Africa, is already exporting energy to several nations in the region and transporting goods from its port via rail to landlocked Niger and Burkina Faso. With the modernized Abidjan port, Cote d’Ivoire offers a vital gateway for development in West Africa.

Respect Cote d’Ivoire’s Sovereignty  

It is universally recognized that President Ouattara, who was president from 2011-2020, created an economic recovery from the previous ten years of 2000-2010. In that period, referred to as the ‘lost decade,” Cote d’Ivoire was governed by President Laurent Gbagbo, and racked by a protracted and bloody civil war.

Originally, President Ouattara announced in March of this year that he would not run for office again. He threw his support behind the then Prime Minister, Gon Coulibaly, who unexpectedly died of a heart attack in July, compelling President Ouattara to reverse his decision.

Ivorians in Abidjan waiting to cast their votes in the presidential election

In an article published on Oct 28, in Modern Ghana, More than meets the eye, Mamadou Haidara, ambassador to the U.S., explains President Ouattara’s reasoning to seek the presidency again:

“This extraordinary circumstance left a major political party with the difficult task of identifying, vetting and putting forward an alternative candidate in a matter of days or weeks — an unrealistic timetable in any country, and especially so in this young and still somewhat fragile democracy…

“Confronted with this unforeseen predicament, President Ouattara’s decision to seek another term in office was the only viable path forward for his party and his country.” 

The nation’s Constitutional Council ruled on September 14, that in accordance with Cote d’Ivoire new constitution of 2016, it was permissible for President Ouattara to seek a third term. United States ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, Richard Bell supporting the nation’s sovereign authority to conduct its election, responded in an interview  published in Fraternite Matin (October 17-18):

“Question: Of the 44 candidates, only 4 were deemed eligible to take part in the election. Do you have a comment on this situation?

Amb Bell: There are a lot of applicants who weren’t successful. I think the Constitutional Council ruled that they did not meet the criteria. In any country, there must be someone who decides. Who says the law in this country? There has to be a clear answer to this question. In Côte d’Ivoire, for questions of this kind, I believe that it is the Constitutional Council which decides. The United States respects the sovereignty of Côte d’Ivoire. I therefore find it hard to see my government contradicting what is said by the highest Ivorian authority.”

A voter registering to vote

 Destabilization Launched

Those seeking to destabilize Cote d’Ivoire, seized the ruling by the Constitutional Council to allow President Ouattara to seek a bid for a third term as a gambit to destabilize the nation.

In addition to the 78 year old President Ouattara, from the Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace party (RHDP), the Constitutional Council approved three other candidates to compete for the office of president.

  • Henri Konan Bedie, Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI), 86 years old, a former president Cote d’Ivoire from 1993-1999, before he was couped. He initiated ethnic conflicts when he introduced the notion that to be a “true” Ivorian both parents had to be Ivorian.
  • Pascal Affi N’Guessan, Popular Front Party (FPI), 67 years old, a former prime minister from 2000-2003 under President Gbagbo.
  • Kouadio Koana Bertin, running as an Independent, 52 years old, a former youth leader of the PDCI, who competed for president in 2015.

On October 15, candidates Bedie and N’Guessan, fearing they would lose, called on their supporters to boycott the election, in preparation to create the conditions to destabilize Cote d’Ivoire immediately following the vote. This calculated action, a mere 16 days before this critical election, which would impact the nation’s future, was intended to prepare the groundwork for a campaign to “delegitimize” the presidential election. Right on cue, as part of their scheme, Bedie, and N’Guessan, who received .99% and 1.66% of the vote respectively, characterized the election as illegal and illegitimate, as they had planned. The duo then nonsensically called for the creation of a “council of national transition.” In effect, these defeated candidates, who claim to support democracy, are advocating for the disenfranchisement of millions of Ivorians, who endured the heat and long lines to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Democracy at the ballot box

Sedition

N’Gueesan was arrested on November 7, and Bedi is under house arrest for calling for the formation of an unlawful-none-elected government. This may not seem serious to those unfamiliar with Cote d’Ivoire’s history of elections. However, Ivorians memories are deeply scarred from the violence that followed the 2010 presidential election, when President Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave the presidential palace after being defeated by President Ouattara. From December 2010 into March 2011, heavy fighting between opposing armies in Abidjan killed three-thousand people and displaced upwards of one million. For a young, emerging nation, recalling the horrors from a decade earlier, the actions of N’Ggueesan and Bedie are threatening to Ivorian society and its elected government.

Joining the opposition coalition that is attempting to overthrow the elected government of Cote d’Ivoire is Guillaume Soro. He served as prime minister under President Gbagbo from 2007 to 2012, and President of the National Assembly from 2012 to 2019, during  Ouattara ‘s presidency. He previously was an ally of President Ouattara and led the rebel forces against then President Gbagbo. It is important to recognize that prior to the election, Soro confirmed the opposition’s game plan, telling Le Monde, a major French newspaper:

“We have succeeded (sic) in discrediting the electoral process and in giving ourselves the means not to recognize Mr. Ouattara as President of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire after October 31.”

Soro, who was disqualified from running for president by the Constitutional Council for embezzlement and money laundering, is residing in Belgium after being found guilty in absentia. On November 4, four days after President Ouattara’s victory, Soro called for armed mutiny against President Ouattara. He posted on his face book an appeal for a military coup. He wrote:

Turning now to our security and Defense forces…I’m asking you to disobey illegal orders and join the national transitional council…We cannot out of fear, allow dictatorship in Ivory Coast by Alassane Ouattara.”      

Bedie also failed when he tried to enlist the support of the U.S. to join his effort to subvert the election. On November 2, the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan issued the following statement:

“The United States Ambassador did not meet the candidate Bédié this weekend. The United States respects constitutional order in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, which President Ouattara still leads, and urges all to respect constitutional order and avoid violence.”

Showing international observer proof he voted with blue ink on his finger

 Time to Move Forward

With the election over, now is the time for Cote d’Ivoire to unite around the goals of fulfilling the nation’s potential, industrializing its economy, and providing for the wellbeing of all its people.

President Ouattara, in his acceptance speech on November 9, committed himself to resolving the country’s conflict:

“I would like to reaffirm my availability today, as I did yesterday, for a sincere and constructive dialogue with the opposition, while respecting the constitutional order.

 “I would like to invite my elder, President Henri KONAN BEDIE, President of PDCI-RDA, to a meeting in the next few days for a frank and sincere dialogue in order to restore confidence.

 “I ask all our fellow citizens, in a surge of peace of minds and hearts, to work to maintain and strengthen peace throughout our country. We have so much to do together, to build and consolidate our Nation.

“The time for electoral competition has passed.  Now is the time for action.  And for me, action is the “Côte d’Ivoire Solidaire” Project for which I was elected, and which will accelerate the economic and social transformation of our country, through more inclusive growth.”

President Ouattara’s administration has outlined in its Strategic Plan-2030, a vision for a prosperous and inclusive Cote d’Ivoire. Key goals of this plan include; reducing poverty from 39% to 20%, increasing life expectancy from 57 to 67 years of age, creating 8 million new jobs, and reducing child mortality by 40%.

It is in the interest of all Ivorians to move beyond this contentious election and work together to achieve a stable and blossoming nation. With peace, stability, and the right policies, Cote d’Ivoire, a lovely cultural melting pot of many nationalities, is capable of becoming an engine of growth for West Africa.

(The authored visited Cote d’Ivoire from October 23-Novemebr 3, 2020)

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

 

 

Water Transfer With Transaqua Will Bring Peace & Development to Lake Chad Basin

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The multi-nation Transaqua water infrastructure project can reverse the shrinking of Lake Chad and bring stability to the region and transform Africa. (picture courtesy of https://menafn.com/

October 1, 2020

This article from {MENAFIN}, The Key to Peace in the Lake Chad Area is Water Not Military Action, excerpted below, makes an important contribution for the need to construct the Transaqua inter-basin water transfer project. The Abuja-2018 conference referred to in this article adopted Transaqua as the preferred solution to refurbish Lake Chad. I was a key speaker at the conference in Abuja and have been advocating for Transaqua for over 20 years. There will be no end to instability in the region until poverty is eliminated by transforming the economy. There is no lesser solution. We need bold resolute leaders to aggressively push forward for a feasibility study of Transaqua. Too much time has been wasted and too many lives have been lost due to inaction in the Lake Chad Basin.

Excerpts:

“Lake Chad is an extremely shallow water body in the Sahel. It was once the world’s sixth largest inland water body with an open water area of 25,000 km2 in the 1960s, it shrunk dramatically at the beginning of the 1970s and reduced to less than 2,000 km2 during the 1980s, decreasing by more than 90% its area. It is one of the largest lakes in Africa. It is an endorheic lake – meaning that it doesn’t drain towards the ocean…

“The Lake Chad region, however, is one of the most unstable in the world. According to the 2020 Global Terrorism Index report , countries of the region are among the 10 least peaceful countries in Africa…

“The study found that loss of livelihoods has promoted criminality, easy recruitment by terrorist groups, and migration to urban centres. This has also led to violence and crime in cities and towns. Management of the shrinking lake has caused conflicts among the states that depend on it and this has made it more difficult for them to collectively fight insecurity in the region. The lake is central to regional stability. To achieve peace, countries should focus on reviving the water body rather than on military activities…

“Loss of the traditional means of livelihood leads to widespread poverty and food insecurity. A 2017 report estimated there were about 10.7 million inhabitants of Lake Chad Region in need of humanitarian services…

“Further, Boko Haram has capitalised on the loss of livelihoods and economic woes to recruit people into its ranks. It either appeals to the poor ideologically or directly uses economic incentives…

“The Lake Chad Basin Commission has identified the need to replenish the water body. There was a plan to build a dam and canals to pump water from the Congo River to the Chari River, Central African Republic and then on to Lake Chad [Transaqua]. It was first mooted in 1982 by the Italian engineering company Bonifica Spa, and discussed at the International Conference on Lake Chad in Abuja in 2018. Major challenges to this plan include funding, resistance from environmental campaigners and peaceful conditions in which to carry it out.”

Read The Key to Peace in the Lake Chad Area is Water Not Military Action

Read my earlier posts: Interview With Lawrence Freeman: The Time is Now For TRANSAQUA-to Save Lake Chad and Transform Africa

Save Lake Chad With Transaqua: Franklin Roosevelt and Kwame Nkrumah Would Concur

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

Mali’s Future Depends on Development of the Sahel

The northern two-thirds of Mali is in the desert. It is completely underdeveloped, and it is in this desolate region that the violent extremists are based

August 4, 2020

The letter below was sent on September 1, 2020 to the Bureau of African Affairs, Department of State. The letter does not express my full thoughts about what precipitated the coup and the polices necessary to ensure future of Mali. However, as a long standing member of the Mali Affinity Group, and fierce defender of Mali’s sovereignty, I support much of letter’s content.

A Way Forward for Mali

Background

After several months of daily massive anti-government demonstrations in the streets of Mali’s capital city, Bamako, the Malian military intervened during the week of August 17 to remove President Keita and his government. While there appears to be broad and intense popular support for the military’s move, it violates the constitution and international law. In response, the West African community (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the United States, and the European Union condemned the military’s actions and it triggered the suspension of economic and military assistance from donor governments, as well as from the international financial institutions. While in the custody of the military, President Keita tendered his resignation, and has been allowed to return to his personal residence.

The ECOWAS mediator delegation, headed by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, had been working to end Mali’s internal political crisis for several weeks before the military takeover. This delegation is continuing to speak to the leaders of the military takeover, and to the different political factions, with the objective of returning the nation to civilian rule as soon as possible, through a brief transition, and new democratic elections.

The leaders of the military takeover are talking about a three year transition, revealing their total distrust of the Malian political elites. Such a long period of military rule is clearly unacceptable for a number of reasons, including the temptation to institute permanent military rule, as in the corrupt military dictatorship of General Moussa Traore, 1968-1991.

Here is what we recommend for U.S. policy toward the Republic of Mali at this time.

Recommendations

  • Continue to recognize and support the ECOWAS mediating mission as the lead international group to assist the Malians to establish an expeditious return to
    democratic government.
  •  Engage all stakeholders to implement the terms of the Algiers Accords without delay.
  • Through the U.S. Embassy Defense Attaché, encourage the Malian military commanders to immediately bring in civilian political persons to share planning and
    implementation of the transition. (N.B. The head of the military takeover group is Colonel Assimi Goita, who trained in the United States with American Special
    Forces.)
  •  Encourage a mixed civilian and military transition of no more than one year, followed by the organization of elections. The process should include civilian political
    leaders who are domestically or international known and respected for their democratic commitment to good governance, transparency, and free and fair elections
  • Provide assistance to American democracy institutions such as IRI and NDI to immediately send personnel to Mali to assist in the preparation of free and fair elections and reforms, and engage with civil society to address grievances around the political process with a special focus on combating corruption.
  • Inform the Malian takeover military leadership that economic and military assistance will be restored as soon as it is clear that the government is under civilian  control, and that preparations for elections are well advanced.
  • Consult closely with the French Foreign Ministry, and the French military to encourage continued support in the fight against “jihadist” terrorists in the north of Mali.
  • Begin to plan significant economic development projects for the north in order to deal with the socioeconomic causes of the insurgency.

_________________________________________________________________________________

In my brief interview below with CGTN, I discuss the effects on Mali of the the Western organized regime change against Muammar al Gaddafi in October 2011. The 2012 coup in Mali as well as the recent coup, have as their immediate cause, the destruction of Libya led by President Obama and his immediate circle of advisors. However, it is the failure over decades to develop the Sahel with basic infrastructure in rail, roads, water, and electricity that has systematically affected the Sahel, creating the conditions for the growth of violent extremism. The imposed underdevelopment of the African continent is the underlying cause for the majority of political and economic hardships that plague Africa today. 

Watch my interview below that begins at 11 minutes 40 seconds and ends at 14 minutes.   

 

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed: Debt Cancellation for the World to Survive

Coronavirus testing supplies being unloaded at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in March.
Credit…Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Lawrence Freeman

May 1, 2020

Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has made an audacious salient call for debt cancellation for low income countries. It was published in the Opinion section of the April 30, New York Times, Why the Global Debt of Poor Nations Must Be Canceled, (printed in full below). PM Abiy is correct, debt cancellation is absolutely necessary to save lives and for developing nations to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. To compel a nation like Ethiopia to spend almost half of its revenue on debt service, while its people are suffering from a perfect storm of Desert Locust swarms, food insufficiency, and a weak healthcare infrastructure, is immoral if not criminal. PM Abiy wrote:

“At the very least, the suspension of debt payments should last not just until the end of 2020 but rather until well after the pandemic is truly over. It should involve not just debt suspension but debt cancellation…

“These steps need to be taken with a sense of urgency. The resources freed up will save lives and livelihoods in the short term, bring back hope and dynamism to low-income economies in the medium term and enable them to continue as the engines of sustainable global prosperity in the long term.

“In 2019, 64 countries, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, spent more on servicing external debt than on health. Ethiopia spends twice as much on paying off external debt as on health. We spend 47 percent of our merchandise export revenue on debt servicing…

“The dilemma Ethiopia faces is stark: Do we continue to pay toward debt or redirect resources to save lives and livelihoods?”

PM Abiy’s analysis of the urgent need for the cancellation of debt service is relevant to the exacerbating effect of COVID-19 in Africa’s rising food insecurity.

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Smoked fish produced in Ghana is sold all over the country and in neighboring Togo – as long as transport routes and borders can remain open for the movement of food to markets. Credit Jane Hahn/Oxfam America

COVID-19 Worsens Food Crisis

In the month from March 30 to April 30, COVID-19 cases in Africa rose from 4,760 to 37,296-800% increase, and the total of deaths from 146 to 1,619-1,100% increase.  Experts are legitimately concerned, that millions more may die from hunger and poverty as a result of the needed efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Closing borders, stay at home orders, loss of income, interruption of supply chains, and disruption of traditional animal migration cycles inauspiciously contribute to amplifying food insecurity.

“If the pandemic worsens, as many as 50 million more people could face a food crisis in the [Sahel} region,” according to Coumba Sow, Food and Agricultural Organization Resilience Coordinator for West Africa in her interview: FAO: COVID19: 50 Million in Sahel Could Face Food Crisis. Coumba Sow reports that across West Africa, 11 million people need immediate food assistance and that this number could rise to 17 million in the period from June to August. She says that it is “crucial to anticipate COVID-19’s impacts on agriculture, food security and the lives of vulnerable women and children. Ensuring that food systems and food supply chains are maintained is one of the most important action to take at national and regional levels.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) projects that the number of people facing acute food insecurity could rise from 135 million to 265 million in 2020 as a result of COVID-19.  According to the WFP, five of the countries that had the worst food crisis in 2019 were located in Africa; Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Arif Husain, economist for the WFP said: “COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are hanging by a thread. It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat it they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock—like COVID-19 to push them over the edge.”

Mauritanian herders (Courtesy of UN-FAO)

 A New Financial Architecture Required

While debt cancellation is essential, international and federal mechanisms are required to issue i.e. create new lines of credit to build up nation-wide advanced healthcare infrastructure, which all African nations lack. This endeavor should be part of a much larger undertaking to place African nations on a path to become developed industrialized economies.  I discuss the importance of emerging nations  to generate physical economic wealth in my earlier article: World Needs New Economic Platform to Fight COVID-19. Trillions of dollars of new credit must become accessible for African nations to address the dearth of infrastructure in energy, roads, railroads, and healthcare, that is literally killing Africans, every day. Successful transformation of African nations requires an urgent focus on nurturing combined manufacturing-agricultural processing industries. Speaking at a Johns Hopkins webinar on April 22, Gyude Moore, former Liberian Minster of Public Works (2014-2018) emphasized that creating manufacturing jobs is essential to transitioning to a more developed economy.

What has been glaringly brought to the surface by the combined COVID-19 pandemic and the malnourishment of Africa’s population is; that the global economic-political system of the last five decades has failed. A new financial architecture is compulsory to save lives and put civilization on the trajectory of progress. This new financial architecture should encompass the following essential missions in Africa:

  • Cancellation of debt
  • New credit generation for physical economic growth
  • Massive investment in hard infrastructure
  • Urgent mobilization to establish modern health infrastructure
  • Significant upgrading of manufacturing and agricultural sectors

It is unacceptable in the twenty-first century for every nation not to be equipped with advanced modern healthcare infrastructure.  One of the most egregious defects of globalization is that nations have become dependent on imported food from thousands of miles away because it is somehow construed to be cheaper than producing food at home.

Nations exist to foster the continuation of a human culture moored to the conception that human life is sacred. There is no equivalency between servicing debt and safeguarding human life.  Money really has no intrinsic value. Banks are mere servicing bureaus of an economy.  Governments legitimately create credit to generate future physical wealth to benefit their citizens. When borrowing or lending arrangements fail to benefit society then they should be restructured or cancelled. Such financial reorganizations have been achieved many times throughout history.

PM Abiy has brought to the attention of the world, a profound underlying principle that should govern all national and international policy: the promotion of human life is supreme, monetary instruments are not.

Delaying the repayments to the Group of 20 is not enough.

By rime Minister of Ethiopia. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 2019

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — On April 15, Group of 20 countries offered temporary relief to some of the world’s lowest-income countries by suspending debt repayments until the end of the year. It is a step in the right direction and provides an opportunity to redirect financial resources toward dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

But if the world is to survive the punishing fallout of the pandemic and ensure that the economies of countries like mine bounce back, this initiative needs to be even more ambitious.

At the very least, the suspension of debt payments should last not just until the end of 2020 but rather until well after the pandemic is truly over. It should involve not just debt suspension but debt cancellation. Global creditors need to waive both official bilateral and commercial debt for low-income countries.

These steps need to be taken with a sense of urgency. The resources freed up will save lives and livelihoods in the short term, bring back hope and dynamism to low-income economies in the medium term and enable them to continue as the engines of sustainable global prosperity in the long term.

In 2019, 64 countries, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, spent more on servicing external debt than on health. Ethiopia spends twice as much on paying off external debt as on health. We spend 47 percent of our merchandise export revenue on debt servicing. The International Monetary Fund described Ethiopia as being at high risk of external debt distress.

The dilemma Ethiopia faces is stark: Do we continue to pay toward debt or redirect resources to save lives and livelihoods? Lives lost during the pandemic cannot be recovered; imperiled livelihoods cost more and take longer to recover.

Immediate and forceful action on debt will prevent a humanitarian disaster today and shore up our economy for tomorrow. We need to immediately divert resources from servicing debt toward responding adequately to the pandemic. We need to impede a temporary health crisis from turning into a chronic financial meltdown that could last for years, even decades.

Ethiopia must spend an extra $3 billion by the end of 2020 to address the consequences of the pandemic, while our balance of payments is set to deteriorate. Increasing health care spending is essential, irrespective of debt levels, but we have less money on hand, and much of it is due to creditors.

A moratorium on bilateral and commercial debt payments for the rest of this year will save Ethiopia $1.7 billion. Extending the moratorium till the end of 2022 would save an additional $3.5 billion.

Low income countries can use the financial resources freed up by cancellation or further deferment of debt repayments to invest in our battle against the pandemic, from providing necessary medical care to our citizens to ameliorating our financial difficulties.

In October, the I.M.F. reported that the five fastest-growing economies in the world were in sub-Saharan Africa, which includes Ethiopia. In early April, the World Bank reported that sub-Saharan Africa would face its first region wide recession in over 25 years and the region’s economy could shrink by as much as 5.1 percent.

This is not a result of bad policies, mismanagement or any other ill typically associated with developing economies. The recession will be the product of the coronavirus outbreak.

Preventing or at least minimizing the recession is critical to maintaining years of hard-won economic gains across the continent. The current moratorium in bilateral debt collection until the end of the year will help, but it won’t be enough, given the gravity of the challenge we face.

The moratorium must be extended until the coronavirus health emergency is over or canceled altogether. The creditors need to do this unconditionally.

Official bilateral creditors are no longer the principal source of external debt financing for many developing countries. Private-sector creditors, including investment banks and sovereign funds, are. They should play their part in the effort to rescue African economies from permanent paralysis with a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility. It would help avoid widespread sovereign defaults and chaos in the market.

And it would be morally indefensible if resources freed up from a moratorium in bilateral debt collections were to be used to pay private creditors instead of saving lives.

Most of our countries managed to borrow funds on the back of solid economic performance and highly promising and evidence-based development programs and trajectories. Nobody foresaw this promise being derailed by a once-in-a-century event such as the coronavirus pandemic.

Under these circumstances, there is no room for traditional arguments such as moral hazard. Low-income countries are seeking relief not because we squandered the money but because we need the resources to save lives and livelihoods.

It is in everybody’s enlightened self-interest that the borrowers be allowed breathing space to get back to relative health. The benefits of rehabilitation of the economies of the hardest-hit countries will be shared by all of us, just as the consequences of neglect will harm all of us.

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

 

 

End Threat of Locust Plague: Transform the Desert

End Locust Plagues: Transform the Desert

February 20, 2020

Lawrence Freeman

Today the food supply of East Africa is threatened by a locust swarm that is ravaging crops in several nations. The Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is an extremely destructive pest that is found from West Africa, east across the African continent to the Middle East, India, and Asia.

A Desert Locust upsurge can grow into a swarm, and under the right conditions develop into a plague, affecting two or more regions with concentrated locust infestations. When locust swarms grow and migrate, they endanger the food supply of dozens of nations that comprise a large portion of the earth’s surface. The 1986-1989 plague is reported to have affected over 40 nations destroying crops in the Sahel, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and southwestern Asia.

In 2016, the World Metrological Organization (WMO), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO), released a report, Weather and Desert Locusts, documenting that the invasion area of the Desert Locusts extends to 30 million square kilometers, over 11.5 million square miles-almost the size of the entire African continent.

The international community must initiate a full scale military style operation to support African nations with resources and personnel, if we are to prevent thousands of more Africans from starvation. Africa, Arabia, India, Pakistan cannot afford a new plague; we have the power to act now to prevent such a catastrophe.

Now is also the opportune time for civilization to confront the more difficult task of “eliminating” desert conditions that spawn the locust. Many initiatives and water infrastructure projects exist to begin the greening of the Sahel.

East Africa’s Food Supply at Risk

A swarm of these deadly locusts can reach several billion, covering an area of 200 by 120 kilometers. Each locust consumes its weight daily in food-2grams, resulting in a loss of hundreds of thousands of tons of food meant to feed the population. According to the United Nations’ (FAO), “each square kilometer of swarm can include 40 to 80 million locusts and eat as much food as 35,000 people.”

The swarms are active in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and have spread to Uganda, and South Sudan. It is estimated that 11 million people are already considered food insecure in this region of Africa. According to the U.N., this new invasion of locust swarms could cause food insecurity to an additional 20 million Africans. The UN reports that the swarms are the largest that Somalia, and Ethiopia have experienced in a quarter of a century. Kenya has not faced this severe of an incursion in 70 years. Somalia has declared a national emergency, in response to the Desert Locust invasion, as has Pakistan. Already, 71,000 acres of farmland in Ethiopia and Somalia have been destroyed.

Keith Cressman, senior forecaster for the FAO, reported that the swarms have moved across the border into Tanzania and Uganda. He said: “Action taken in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya – as well as Pakistan – will now determine what happens next. If the current upsurge crosses more borders and infests more regions, devastating more crops, it could be declared a ‘plague’.”

The Uganda government has responded appropriately to the threat to their food supply by deploying the military to assist in spraying of pesticides.

Desert Locust invade Ethiopia (Courtesy TESFANEWS)

Emergency Action Required

The U.N. has asked for $76 million in immediate aid. So far just under $20 million is in hand, including $10 million released from the U.N. emergency relief fund and $3.8 million from FAO. The United States originally agreed to contribute $800,000, and the European Union 1 million Euros. However, even with a pledge of $8 million to fight the locust incursion, announced by Secretary of State, Mike Pampeo during his recent visit to Ethiopia, the total is barely more than a third of the funds requested. The international community is being dangerously shortsighted, if not morally criminal, by allowing the locust swarms to exacerbate existing food shortages.

Dominique Burgeon, the FAO’s emergency and resilience director warned that without aerial spraying the current surge can turn into a plague, “and when you have a plague, it takes years to control.”  Mark Lowcock, the UN’s top humanitarian official, told ambassadors at a UN briefing last week: “We are running out of time. We do have a chance to nip this problem in the bud, but that’s not what we are doing at the moment.”

It is imperative the aerial and ground spraying be expanded immediately, and all necessary resources be provided. African nations lack the adequate number of planes necessary, most having less than a handful that can be deployed to combat the swarm. According to The New Humanitarian, the five planes that Kenya deployed to break up the swarms initially faced a shortage of the insecticide, fenitrothion. They report that the Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Somalia, Maud Ali Hassan said, “We are lacking all resources, including the expertise to prevent a humanitarian disaster.”

In addition to the full complement of aerial and ground spraying that must include a sufficient number of planes, insecticide, and four wheel drive vehicles to reach remote areas, which the locust infected nations lack, Cressman raises the possible deployment of drone technology.

Ultra Low Volume spraying with insecticides produces a mist with droplets that has proved effective in killing this deadly pest.

In his article, Preventing the spread of desert locust swarms, Cressman writes: “The operational use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – also known as drones – could potentially overcome these limitations in many affected nations. In the field, UAVs could be used to automatically collect high-resolution imagery of green, vegetated areas potentially affected by locusts”

Civilian satellite imaging is being employed. However, advanced imagery is needed to locate more precisely infested and breeding areas. This requires that African nations have access to imagery from military satellites, which would also necessitate that their technicians be properly trained to interpret the data.

The application of electron magnetic pulses and other electromagnetic devices to emit tuned frequencies specifically aimed at killing the locusts should also be utilized in this war against these lethal pests.

An all-out war against the spread of locusts, using all available technologies is required to save the food supply of African nations already suffering from nutrition deficiency. The cost cannot be a factor for inaction. Whether it is $80 million, $100 million or several hundred million dollars: this is a small price to pay to prevent another plague. Compare this relatively minor cost to the obscene amounts of money-billions of dollars-being spent on the US Presidential primaries. The Desert Locust assault on humanity can be arrested, if we act now, with full force!

Transform the Desert

Desert Locusts “are always present somewhere in the deserts between Mauritania and India…ready to mate when conditions are favorable. Eggs are usually laid in areas of bare sandy soil and require previous rainfall,” according to the report, Weather and Desert Locusts.

Since the sands, dry heat, and winds of African deserts create propitious conditions for the breeding and migration of desert locust, why not eliminate-i.e. transform the desert?

Contrary to popular beliefs, the Sahel and Sahara Deserts are not the natural-pristine state of North Africa. The desert was created millions of years ago when the African Plate migrated north, cut off the Tethys Sea and crashed into what is now known as Europe. The Sahara Desert was originally under water. The Sahara also alters itself, from three million square miles of arid sand into a tropical climate with lush vegetation, and waters filled with whales, and hippopotami. This occurs every 20-25,000 years in accordance with the cycle of rotation of our planet’s axis, known as the earth’s wobble. Given that the most recent drying up of the Sahara occurred approximately 5,500  years ago, the rains are not expected to return for another 15-20,000 years. However, we cannot afford to sit by idly for thousands of years suffering the harsh conditions of the desert.

Humankind was fashioned to intervene on our universe, to improve its condition, to enhance the biosphere in which we exist. The concept of the physical universe, that includes the lawful intervention of human creativity, was conceived as the “Noosphere” by the great Ukrainian geologist and scientist of the twentieth century, Vladimir Vernadsky.

The Sahara Desert has been an impediment for Africa’s development throughout hundreds of thousands of years. More recently, this uninhibited desolate expanse of land has become home to numerous violent extremist organizations that have challenged the sovereignty of Mali, and Nigeria’s Borno State.  Military only responses have so far failed to dislodge the terrorists from his region.

Think Big, Bold and in the Future

The physical universe is organized to respond to “noetic” intervention, i.e. humankind’s powers of reason. We should not be sitting on the sidelines watching disasters occur, but rather preventing so called natural catastrophes.

With sufficient density of infrastructure, functioning farms, towns, and cities, can replace mountains of desert sand. Deserts have been conquered in other parts of the world. An East-West railroad across sub-Saharan Africa from the Indian to Atlantic Ocean, which should have been built decades ago, would have already modified the Sahel and Sahara. It would be accompanied by a new platform of energy, trade, and industry that would revolutionize the economies of East and West Africa. A rail link across the Sahara, connecting this newly built East-West railroad to the nations of the Maghreb, and ultimately to Europe, would join the economies of the sub-continent to those of the Eurasian land mass. Sand would be supplanted by concrete and steel.

The desert can be converted into arable land by introducing moisture to this arid territory. Once there is continual penetration of water into the sand, vegetation and growth will occur, eventually altering transpiration cycles. This will cause a change in the volume, and patterns of rainfall.  Tree transpiration is the process by which water is carried through the tree from the roots to small pores on the underside of leaves and released into the atmosphere by evaporation. Trees consuming carbon dioxide and releasing moisture and oxygen, are the “best friends” of human beings and the environment.

Transaqua, a transnational infrastructure project to replenish the shrinking Sahelian Lake Chad to its previous area of 25,000 square kilometers, has been endorsed by the Nigerian government, and is awaiting a feasibility study.  Expanding Lake Chad with an annual flow of billions of cubic meters of water would affect climatic conditions across the Lake Chad Basin, and increase transpiration.

It is also necessary to aggressively move forward with the Pan African Great Green Wall Project (PAGGW), which  focuses on greening a strip of land of 15 km. wide and about 8,000 km. long that  will affect 20 nations including Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. PAGGW was adopted by the African Union in 2007 and ratified by member countries in 2010.

Another transnational infrastructure project that complements the Great Green Wall is the Trans Africa Pipeline (TAP). It is the first permanent solution to end devastating drought and increasing desertification across the Sahel region of northern Africa.

TAP is an 8,000 km. long freshwater pipeline that will provide clean, potable drinking water to 28-30 million people in 11 countries of the African Sahel. TAP will construct large-scale desalination plants on the west and east coasts of Africa. Regional tank farms and pumping stations for water storage and distribution would cross the Sahel for the management of the water source, which in turn can create upwards of 280,000 jobs across the Sahel.

The Trans Africa Water Pipeline has an agreement with the Pan African Great Green Wall Initiative, and both together can address 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals, but all member states and relevant stakeholders are needed to bring both projects to fruition.

We cannot impotently watch a pest, a mere insect, damage our human environment, when we have the means to defeat it.

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

 

Interview with Lawrence Freeman: U.S. Deployment of Armed Drones in Niger is not the Solution; Long Term Strategy Missing

Below are excerpts from an interview with RT TV on the recent agreement between the U.S. and Niger to allow armed drone missions in the Sahel.   

  Africa affairs analyst Lawrence K Freeman says that drone strikes alone will be unlikely to change the region’s jihadist landscape, which is being driven by more than just a handful of key operatives.

   “So, this is a big problem for the Niger government, for West Africa, and for all of Africa – [that Niger] is now allowing the US to carry out these kind of military attacks,” Freeman told RT. “What is missing from this, is a strategy.
   “There has not been a strategy now for many, many years through several presidential administrations, including the current one.”
   “The thinking in Washington is that by taking out key figures in the terrorist chain of command, this will help bring down the whole network. This approach has worked against some militant groups in the past but is unlikely to work here, Freeman said.
   “The Sahara Desert itself, which goes all the way up to the Mediterranean, this is larger than the US. The Sahel desert stretches from the east end to the end of Africa. It is impossible to patrol all these areas. Therefore, you might pick off a few people here and there, which is useful, but you’re not going to stop the problem of terrorism.”
  “If you take northern Mali, Niger, Chad – I have been in Chad, I have been in northern Nigeria – these places are totally undeveloped. Therefore, they are perfect further bases for Boko Haram, for al-Qaeda, for ISIS (Islamic State) and others to operate, recruit and establish bases.