Africa Financing Summit in Paris Ends With Calls for Funding, Vaccines

A Paris summit on supporting African nations hard-hit by COVID-19’s fallout wrapped up Tuesday with sweeping calls for massive financial and vaccination support for Africa — and a broader sea change in relations between donor nations and the continent. French President Emmanuel Macron called earlier for a new deal for Africa. Among the goals he and other leaders outlined were doubling COVID-19 vaccination targets for Africa by the end of 2021 under the COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme; persuading International Monetary Fund member states to triple so-called special drawing rights monetary reserves for Africa to $100 billion; and giving Africa the ability to produce and distribute COVID-19 shots at home.  Macron said this moment could be seized to respond to broader, long-standing — and, so far, unaddressed — challenges facing Africa. He said an economic and strategic new deal with Africa would not happen overnight, but the talks had triggered a new dynamic.  French President Emmanuel Macron holds a news conference with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, Senegal’s President Macky Sall and President of Congo Democratic Republic Felix Tshisekedi in Paris, May 18, 2021.The same message was heard from Senegal’s President Macky Sall. He said a paradigm shift is under way in Africa’s relationship with richer nations — from having programs imposed on it to co-constructing what is needed. That offers hope, he said, because Africans know their problems better than anyone.  More than a year in the making, this meeting — gathering leaders from Africa, Europe and global financial institutions — was backdropped by a series of bleak statistics on the pandemic’s toll on Africa. If the continent has been less hard hit by the pandemic than other places, it is suffering in many other ways, with tourism and other revenues drying up.  Africa’s economy is expected to grow just over 3 percent this year — about half the world average. It faces a nearly $300 billion spending shortfall over the next few years. Experts fear millions more Africans may tip into poverty — and less than 3 percent of Africans have been vaccinated against the virus.  There is no durable exit from the continent’s economic crisis, IMF Chief Kristalina Georgieva said, without beating the health crisis. She said ramping up the vaccination campaign will generate trillions of dollars in additional output benefiting not only Africa but also richer economies.  “We have worked on the pathway to accelerate the exit from the health crisis, and to sum it up, it would require 40 percent vaccinations of everyone everywhere by 2021 — that is very important for Africa — 60 percent vaccinations by the middle of 2022. And then we have a hope of turning this page,” Georgieva said.Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, who is also African Union chair, said having Africans manufacture and supply COVID-19 vaccines could help overcome the reluctance among some of being inoculated with foreign shots.He called for greater debt relief and market access for the continent — and for international financing to take into account its fight on terror. But he also said African governments need to do their share by establishing good governance, fighting corruption and supporting Africa’s youth.  Tuesday’s financing summit wraps up two days of high-level talks on Africa. On Monday, IMF members states agreed to clear billions of dollars Sudan owes the institution as part of broader support for Khartoum’s democratic transition, and Macron announced scrapping Sudan’s $5 billion debt to France.
 

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Macron Plans First Visit to Rwanda this Month

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday he would make his first visit to Rwanda at the end of this month, a possible breakthrough in relations overshadowed by France’s role during the 1994 genocide. “I confirm I am going to Rwanda at the end of the month. The visit will be one of politics and remembrance but also economic,” Macron said at the end of an Africa summit in Paris. He added he had agreed with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, whom he met on the sidelines of a summit meeting on Monday, “to write a new page in relations”. His visit will be the first trip by a French president since Nicolas Sarkozy visited the country in 2010. Kagame told journalists from the France 24 television channel and RFI radio Monday that Rwanda and France have a “good basis” to create a relationship after a landmark report acknowledged France bore overwhelming responsibilities over the 1994 genocide. “We are in the process of normalization,” he added. Macron moved to repair ties with Rwanda by commissioning a report by historians into the role of French troops in the genocide, in which about 800,000 people were killed.  It concluded in March that France had been “blind” to preparations for the massacres of members of the Tutsi ethnic group by the Hutu regime, which was backed by France. Kagame has in the past accused France of “participating” in the genocide, but he said he accepted the findings of the French commission that Paris was not complicit in the killings. “It’s not up to me to conclude that this is what they should have said,” Kagame said. “It is something that I can accommodate.”  

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Calls for Solutions Grow at UN Pledging Conference for Rohingya Refugees 

At the launch of this year’s Rohingya refugee donor’s conference, Bangladesh led a chorus of growing voices calling for durable solutions to resolve the ongoing crisis. New pledges have been rolling in, but U.N. agencies are expressing concern about donor fatigue. They worry they might not receive the $943 million they need to assist 1.4 million Rohingya refugees and the Bangladeshi communities hosting them in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh’s deputy minister of foreign affairs Shahriar Alam attends the 14th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Dec. 16, 2019 in Madrid, Spain.Last year, the U.N.’s $1 billion Joint Response Plan garnered only 60% of that amount. Bangladesh State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said the launch is the fourth annual appeal for the Rohingya temporarily sheltering in his country. He said he wondered how long the refugees can continue to suffer in overcrowded camps and how long the international community can sustain such massive humanitarian support. He said it is important to seek a permanent solution to the Rohingya refugee crisis to avoid repeating similar exercises every year. “All undertakings under the JRP (Joint Response Plan) or any other funding mechanism should be implemented given this overarching objective in mind,” Alam said. “The priority areas that have been identified in the JRP must be aligned with the core objective of preparing the Rohingyas for their return and any project, such as education or skill development, should be designed and implemented in ways that will help Rohingyas to integrate into their society on their return to Myanmar.”  The minister acknowledges this might not be the most propitious time for the Rohingya to return home. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi talks to the media during his visit to the Um Rakuba refugee camp on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, Sudan, Nov. 28, 2020.U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi agrees the military coup by Myanmar’s generals on February first precludes the safe and dignified return of the refugees. He said the UNHCR and other agencies are present in Rakhine State in Myanmar to create the conditions necessary for the refugees to return to their homes of origin. “Clearly this has not happened so far because besides the work that we do, more work, more action needs to be taken on the Myanmar side in terms of freedom of movement, access to services, ending the discrimination that has caused, in fact, the exodus of people into Bangladesh,” Grandi said.Meanwhile, High Commissioner Grandi said the Rohingya people must not be forgotten. He says the international community must continue to support the refugees as they have no other means of survival. He notes Rohingya continue to flee violence in Myanmar. He renews his appeal to neighboring countries, mainly India and Thailand, to keep their borders open and not to deport them back to a country where their lives are at risk.   

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Sudan’s Ruling Council Removes First Female Chief Justice, Accepts Attorney General’s Resignation

Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council removed Chief Justice Neimat Abdallah Mohamed Khair from the bench and accepted the resignation of Attorney General Taj Al Sir Al Hibir late on Monday, without offering an explanation for either decision.The moves come days after Sudanese soldiers shot and killed two protesters in Khartoum.Mohammed Al Fekki Suleiman, spokesperson of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, made the announcement during a press briefing shortly after the regular meeting of the council in Khartoum on Monday night.Suleiman said the chief justice’s position will remain vacant until the council appoints a replacement in accordance with the constitution.“The council shall approve the appointment of the chief justice, the Supreme Court judges, and the president and members of the Constitutional Court after their nomination by the High Judicial Council. Until the high judicial council is formed, the Sovereign Council shall appoint the chief justice. The same thing applies to the attorney general,” he said.Judge Khair was appointed Sudan’s first female chief justice in October 2019, six months after the Sudanese military removed Omar al-Bashir from power in response to months of mass pro-democracy demonstrations.Judge Khair was not immediately available for comment.Suleiman also said the Sovereign Council had accepted the resignation of Attorney General Al Hibir, noting Al Hibir indicated his desire to step down on at least three occasions.Al Hibir tells VOA’s South Sudan In Focus he resigned because he had not been given enough political space to work independently.More than 20 qualified public prosecutors were relieved from their posts earlier this month by a government committee tasked with removing elements of Bashir’s administration and recovering stolen funds, according to Al Hibir.That was a case of government agencies overstepping their boundaries, he told South Sudan in Focus.“It is a matter of independence of the attorney general’s office in terms of [interference] other unauthorized institutions and government agencies to terminate the tenure of office of prosecutors and chief prosecutors, [which] I think is not fair because it is a violation of a law that applies to these institutions,” he said.“If you cannot do justice for your own people, then you will not be able to do justice for the others. And even if [my resignation] was not accepted, I would have stayed at home,” he added.Mohammed Ali Fazari, editor in chief of the online English newspaper Khartoum Today, said he is not surprised to see Khair and Al Hibir forced out of their posts.Many families who lost relatives during the military’s crackdown on the Sudanese revolution two years ago believe both top officials failed to carry out justice for their loved ones, Fazari said.“Justice is one of the three pillars of the slogan of the Sudanese revolution; [it] has stumbled and faced a number of challenges due to the delay of main cases. There are so many criminal suspects still at large,” Fazri told South Sudan in Focus.Military commanders recently turned over the names of soldiers suspected of being involved in killing two protesters in Khartoum last week, who were marking the two-year anniversary of the Sudanese revolution.

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Pro-Democracy Activists Remanded Following Guilty Plea Over 2019 Protests

Six Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates have been remanded to custody after pleading guilty to their involvement in protests dating to October 2019. District Judge Amanda Woodcock ruled in the case of political figures Figo Chan, Avery Ng, Albert Ho, Sin Chung, Yeung Sum and Richard Tsoi on Tuesday, a day after they each admitted to one count of organizing an unauthorized assembly that took place more than 18 months ago, on China’s National Day. Overall, 10 opposition figures pleaded guilty, with four already in custody in separate cases, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai. Sentencing is due to take place on May 28.  Avery Ng, 44, among the six remanded, is secretary-general of the League of Social Democrats (LSD), Hong Kong’s most radical pro-democracy party. The politician spoke with VOA in a phone interview last week. Up until Tuesday, he was one of the few opposition leaders who had avoided substantial jail time following dozens of arrests by authorities in recent months. Following the 2019 anti-government protests, Beijing implemented a national security law in June last year in Hong Kong, limiting autonomy and making it easier for dissidents to be punished. The law carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Beijing recently approved electoral changes for the territory to ensure that “patriots” govern the city. According to Ng, it’s an attempt to “redefine democracy.” FILE – Hong Kong academic and activist Joseph Cheng observes a Kuomintang (KMT) rally ahead of the election in Taipei, Taiwan, January 9, 2020.“This raising of punishment comes rather suddenly and is very much in line with the changes in the political climate. It probably means many of the judges would like to toe the Beijing line,” he told VOA. Discussing his own party’s future, Ng admits he’s an “internal cautious optimist,” but the outlook is “uncertain.” “The only option for us is to remain on the streets and with the people,” Ng said. Cheng said he believes the LSD would like to serve as the “symbolic organization of defiance within the pro-democracy movement.” And although the trial for Ng and the remaining nine opposition figures has yet to be concluded, the activist says he is “mentally prepared” for prison and plans to spend his time by reading more. “I do not get time to read books when I’m outside protesting. Strategically you want to pick the books that are thick. You have certain quotas, six books per month,” Ng said. But once he is released, he wants to help advocate for the imprisoned protesters with fewer options in life. Australia-based Cheng endorsed Ng’s efforts. “He helps confirm the fact there are still many people with ideals, with a sense of commitment and a sense of sacrifice, even among the well-educated strata,” said Cheng. “He was a finance company director, he could earn a [high] monthly income, and he was willing to go to prison.” Ng said he believes Hong Kong’s income disparities, high housing prices and deep distrust of government will spur social unrest for “decades.” He predicts the city must develop a “democratic system” or dissolve into a “more controlled, more authoritarian, more Singapore, more Chinese, more surveillance” type of system. But for the immediate future, he believes Hong Kong will first see a “period of stagnation” after two years of political turmoil. “I think we are Chapter Two of Book 1 of a series of books,” said Ng. “We’ve got beaten down, and in the third act we will rise again, and then probably another sequel.” Whatever the future may hold for Hong Kong, Ng is content to be a part of it. “We’re in the middle of history,” he said.  

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Top US Diplomat Against Militarizing Arctic

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the global community Tuesday to avoid militarizing the Arctic region, one day after Russia warned the West against making territorial claims in the area. Blinken is in Reykjavik, Iceland, for talks on climate change and to take part in an Arctic Council ministerial meeting. The United States has previously accused Russia of requiring foreign ships to seek permission to pass through the region and to allow Russian maritime pilots to board the vessels while threating violence against noncompliant ships.  “We’ve seen Russia advance unlawful maritime claims, particularly its regulation of foreign vessels transiting the Northern Sea route, which are inconsistent with international law,” Blinken said at a joint media briefing with Iceland’s foreign minister. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir hold a meeting at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, May 18, 2021.Blinken’s remarks came a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Western countries not to claim rights to the Arctic. “It has been absolutely clear for everyone for a long time that this is our territory, this is our land,” Lavrov told reporters in Moscow. “We are responsible for ensuring our Arctic coast is safe.” As climate change accelerates the melting of the Arctic’s ice sheet, the Arctic becomes more accessible. In recent years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made Russia’s Arctic region a higher strategic priority, raising tensions with Arctic Council members over its investments in military infrastructure and mineral extraction. The U.S. State Department said earlier the leaders would discuss “the global community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the need for greater climate action, promoting women’s rights and equality, and Arctic security.”  Blinken lauded U.S. President Joe Biden’s return to the Paris climate agreement and resolve to fight combat climate change during a meeting with Icelandic President Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir.  Blinken also toured a geothermal plant in Reykjavik. Talks with RussiaOn the sidelines of the Arctic Council ministerial meeting Wednesday, Blinken will hold his first face-to-face encounter with Lavrov. The meeting comes at a time of heightened tension between the U.S. and Russia and will set the stage for a planned summit next month between U.S. President Joe Biden and Putin. The State Department said the meeting between Blinken and Lavrov is an opportunity to discuss building a “more predictable relationship with Russia” and “working on areas where we have mutual interests.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to employees at the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland, May 18, 2021.A senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Blinken that the Biden administration has made progress in its relationship with Russia with respect to reaching an agreement to extend the START nuclear weapons treaty, but that it has also faced areas of difficulties.  “We were able to do the extension of the important New START Treaty for five years right off the bat, but we also look at areas where Russia has behaved aggressively and undertaken malign efforts for which, as the president said, there will be a cost,” the official said.  The United States has recently been at odds with Russia over Moscow’s jailing of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, Russia’s buildup of military forces near Ukraine, and a cyberattack on the largest U.S. gas pipeline by hackers believed to be in Russia. Russia says its government was not involved in the cyberattack. It has accused the United States of trying to interfere in its domestic issues, including the jailing of Navalny. Trip to DenmarkBefore traveling to Iceland, Blinken was in Denmark, where he held talks about economic, security and climate issues, as well as the Biden administration’s ongoing push to boost ties with U.S. allies. “Looking forward to deepening our partnership on mutual goals, including combating the climate crisis, enhancing defense cooperation, ensuring energy security and partnering in the Arctic,” Blinken said after meeting with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.  Great visit today with @Statsmin Danish Prime Minister Frederiksen. Looking forward to deepening our partnership on mutual goals including combatting the climate crisis, enhancing defense cooperation, ensuring energy security, and partnering in the Arctic. pic.twitter.com/g5D9tRVGUn— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 17, 2021After the meeting, Frederiksen said the Biden administration is taking a different approach from the Trump administration.   “That means a desire for cooperation around the Arctic region, where changes are taking place,” she said.  Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said, “Today, America is back. … And let me tell you, America has been missed.” Blinken said the United States is determined “to reinvigorate its alliances and partnerships and also our engagement with international institutions.” The Biden administration has renewed emphasis on international organizations, including rejoining the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement and reengaging with the United Nations Human Rights Council. 
 

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Spain Says Flood of Migrants from Morocco is ‘Serious Crisis’  

Spain’s prime minister flew to the country’s North African enclave Tuesday to contain a migration crisis with neighboring Morocco after 6,000 migrants swam or walked over the border.    Spain deployed troops and extra police to repel crowds who were trying to get around security fences from Morocco into the tiny Spanish territory after a huge incursion of migrants the day before.    Videos emerged that appeared to show Moroccan soldiers opening security gates to let migrants through to the Spanish port city.    “This sudden arrival of irregular migrants is a serious crisis for Spain and Europe,” said Sanchez in a televised address to the nation before travelling to Ceuta and Melilla, another Spanish enclave bordering Morocco.    European Union leaders backed Spain, saying the mass incursion in Ceuta was a breach of the bloc’s borders.    European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas called for a “strong protection of our borders”.  Experts suggested this huge influx, which included entire families, was an attempt by Morocco to pressure Spain to alter its policy towards Western Sahara, the disputed territory to which Rabat lays claim.    Morocco and Spain have been mired in a diplomatic dispute over the presence in Spain of a Polisario Front leader, whose movement has fought for the independence of Western Sahara.    FILE – Brahim Ghali attends celebrations marking the 45th anniversary of the creation of the SARD, on Feb. 27, 2021, at a refugee camp, near Tindouf, Algeria.The leader, Brahim Ghali, is receiving treatment at a hospital in Logroño in northern Spain, after he was diagnosed with COVID-19.     The Polisario Front fought a long war against Morocco to win the independence of the disputed Western Saharan territory, which was a Spanish colony until 1975.    Rabat claims the territory as part of Morocco partly as it contains important deposits of phosphates but the Polisario Front has demanded an independence referendum.    Ignacio Cembrero, a Spanish journalist who writes frequently on Morocco, said Rabat had relaxed security measures on the border with Ceuta to try to force Madrid to change its stance on Western Sahara.  “The Moroccan foreign minister Naser Burita said in January that Rabat wanted Spain to change its policy to support Moroccan claims over Western Sahara. This is how it puts pressure on Madrid,” he told VOA.    Spain has long maintained a solution to the dispute can only come from an agreement brokered by the United Nations.    Moroccan Foreign Minister Naser Burita asked last week whether Spain wanted to “sacrifice relations with Morocco” by failing to inform Rabat of Ghali’s presence in Spain.      Analysts said it appeared Morocco was playing a familiar game by relaxing its border controls to prove a political point against its neighbor Spain.    “What has happened in Ceuta is another example of how Morocco plays with migration as a manner to pursue its own interests. The EU should not give ground faced with this pressure,” Estrella Galan, director of the non-profit Spanish Commission to Aid Refugees, told VOA.    Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya dismissed claims the arrival of thousands of Moroccans in Ceuta was linked to the row over Ghali.    “I cannot speak for Morocco, but what they told us a few hours ago, this afternoon, is that this is not due to the disagreement over Ghali,” she told Cadena Ser, a Spanish radio station. “Spain has been very clear and detailed about the [Ghali] case. It is simply a humanitarian issue.” 

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Uproar Forces Malawi Parliament to Confirm Anti-Corruption Chief 

Malawi lawmakers have taken a sudden U-turn and confirmed Martha Chizuma as the first woman to head the country’s anti-corruption bureau or ACB.  Lawmakers had rejected Chizuma for the post last week, raising accusations that the opposition scuttled the process for fear of being prosecuted for corruption during their time in power.  
Seventeen lawmakers on the Parliamentary Appointments Committee attended a special meeting Monday to review last week’s rejection of Martha Chizuma.    Thirteen lawmakers participated in voting, while four from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party walked out in protest of the new voting procedure.   Chizuma was then elected to lead the ACB with 12 in favor and one abstention.  Humphrey Mvula,  a social and political commentator based in Blantyre, says the boycott of opposition lawmakers confirms public views that Chizuma’s rejection last week was a calculated move to frustrate the fight against corruption.   “Otherwise, they had no reason to walk out. But these individuals may have been under strict instructions from their bosses that ‘we must not confirm Chizuma’ and possibly are afraid of Chizuma as a more determined ACB director and she will not spare them,” he said.During last week’s vote, half of the lawmakers on the committee gave her low marks after an assessment interview, and the aggregated result saw Chizuma scoring just 14.9 points out of a possible 25, below the minimum pass rate of 17.   This caused a public uproar, and Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera called on lawmakers to, in his words, put political and personal interests aside and do their part in accelerating the change Malawians have sought.  Parliament later passed a motion directing the committee to submit a detailed report on why it turned down Chizuma.     As an ombudsman, Chizuma investigated several recruitment procedures in government-owned institutions. She recently removed five top officials from posts at Malawi’s communications regulator, saying they were illegally employed during the administration of former president Peter Mutharika and the then-ruling Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP.  Mvula says he thinks Malawians are tired of corruption.  “And then that gives recipe Malawians who are looking for this vice to go away. And Chizuma is such a gallant person who so far, has shown that she will do it.  This is the time when most individuals will be afraid to indulge in corruption because as an ACB director she has an enabling law that will make sure that she will just not investigate but she will investigate and arrest,” he said.  Chizuma did not respond to VOA inquiries for an interview.    However, she told a radio station that her first job as ACB boss will be to restructure the institution.   “My first priority is look at the staff structure of ACB and to see who is where and if we have got enough staff. Because you need to have right people in right places for an institution to tick and that’s my experience from office of ombudsman. If you have wrong people it won’t work,” she said.     Government authorities say the confirmation of Chizuma will complement President Chakwera’s fight against graft.  

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