The European Union has imposed asset freezes on six Russian firms involved in the construction of a new road-and-rail bridge.
The bridge which links Russia to the annexed Crimean peninsula is said to be illegal.
Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 during an uprising which toppled Ukraine’s pro-Russian president.
The West condemned the move as an illegal annexation and imposed sanctions on Moscow.
The 3.6 billion dollars bridge across the Kerch strait, part of which was unveiled by Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in May, has drawn strong rebukes from the EU which says it is a further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
The six companies cited in Tuesday’s statement from the Council of the European Union include construction firms PJSC Mostotrest and CJSC VAD.
“The firms will have their assets in the EU frozen and EU persons and entities will not be able to make funds available to them.
“Through their actions they supported the consolidation of Russia’s control over the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula, which in turn further undermines the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” the council said.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said he welcomed the additional sanctions.
“Important warning also for European businesses not to go down same slippery slope,” Klimkin wrote on Twitter.
The other companies targeted are engineering firms GPSM and Zaliv Shipyard, and construction groups SGM and Stroygazmontazh Most OOO.
Malaysia’s civil aviation chief has resigned on Tuesday, the country’s civil aviation authority said, after a report, released on Monday failed to determine why Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared.
Azharuddin Abd Rahman’s resignation goes into effect in 14 days, the statement said.
In the Tuesday statement, Azharuddin said: “Over the past four years, I have tried my level best to assist in the search for MH370.
“And I am ever resolute in finding answers we all seek towards this unfortunate tragedy as we owe it to the families and loved ones.”
The report said authorities could not “determine with any certainty” why MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.
The report highlighted lapses by Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control (KLATC), saying they “did not comply with established procedures.”
KLATC had failed to alert Vietnamese authorities that they were handing over communication with MH370 to Ho Chi Minh air traffic control, and did not continue to monitor the progress of the plane after the transfer of control.
The report ruled out any mechanical anomalies with the plane, together with any possibility that the pilot was incompetent or suffering from mental issues.
In a televised news conference, Malaysia’s newly appointed transport minister on Tuesday said the government had formed a committee to further investigate and take on action towards misconduct from the report findings.
The disappearance of MH370 remains one of the world’s baffling aviation mysteries, when it vanished shortly after departing Malaysia for Beijing on March 8, 2014, while carrying 239 passengers and crew members onboard.
The mysterious disappearance sparked an international search that involved the governments of 26 countries, led by Australia, China and Malaysia.
Malaysia has said it will consider resuming the search if credible evidence on the plane’s whereabouts is found.
Source: Bloomberg News
The African integration project took several major steps this year. One of them was the African Union’s adoption of a protocol on the free movement of people. The move has been widely welcomed.
The free movement of Africans between African countries could unquestionably facilitate growth. Allowing freer movement would encourage trade, tourism and investment between African countries. And it would allow students to study in other African countries and Africans with suitable skills to find rewarding jobs.
Opening up borders has been shown to have positive affects in other parts of the world. For example, growth of many Asian countries is significantly attributable to the liberalising of inter-Asian relationships including through an agreement between Southeast Asian countries that promotes freer mobility for workers.
Some African countries have recognised the benefits of ensuring free movement of people. Seychelles, Mauritius and Rwanda have liberalised their visa requirements. One effect is that there’s been a significant rise in inward tourist arrivals from other African countries. And the removal of visa and even passport requirements within regional trading blocs in both East and West Africa are widely believed to have led to increased economic activity.
But there are major obstacles that need to be cleared before the ambition of free movement across the continent can be achieved. The biggest is posed by concerns raised by the continent’s major economies like South Africa and countries in North Africa where unemployment rates are high and there are fears that increased immigration could contribute to increasing domestic tensions.
There are also concerns that if not well managed the free movement could worsen brain drain for poorer countries. Because of these concerns, among others, only 30 countries have signed the protocol. This is much lower than the 44 that have signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
The AU recognises the lack of readiness of many domestic and continental arrangements that would allow the immediate full implementation of the protocol. Some countries have population registration and passport systems which lack integrity, some have weak border management, and some have poor security intelligence.
Because of this, implementation has been divided into three phases: right of entry and abolition of visa requirements; right of residence; and right of establishment (which includes investment and setting up a business).
Phases 2 and 3 will not be implemented until the implementation of the first phase has been reviewed.
But many countries, especially the richer ones, are reluctant even to enter phase one without some conditions being met.
The key concerns are around the absence of inter-state cooperation measures on immigration procedures, border management, education systems and mutual recognition of qualifications, common standards for working conditions, and access to or portability of social security benefits.
South Africa, in particular, has issues with a range of the requirements. A memo of the South African Department of Home Affairs identifies 12 preconditions for the implementation of the protocol. Some of them are unrealistically idealistic such as the condition of “peace, security and stability on the continent”.
But about half of the preconditions seem quite reasonable and understandable. They include civil registration systems and bilateral return agreements. Civil registration systems critical; South Africa is one of the few countries on the continent that has a comprehensive ID system.
Home Affairs position is very cautious. It advises against even adopting Phase 1 of the protocol – the right of entry and abolition of visas for fellow Africans – until certain conditions are met. It is imperative, it argues, to improve population registration systems, establish integrated border management systems, enter into bilateral return agreements and strengthen law enforcement at national level across Africa before Phase 1 is supported.
South Africa, they argue, is not alone in adopting this stance. Other countries with similar concerns include many of the North African countries and one or two other richer African countries. Like South Africa, most North African countries have relatively high unemployment rates and fear a backlash from citizens. In situations of unemployment and inequality, disadvantaged citizens can end up blaming ‘foreigners’ for their predicament, resulting in tensions than can lead to xenophobia.
It’s unlikely that the Protocol will make progress unless fears are addressed. So, how can the AU get the laggards on board?
One suggestion is that the AU sets up a technical committee to address the issues raised and to come up with proposed solutions.
A stronger African coordination around population registration, leading ultimately to an African ID or an African standard ID would be a neat way to address these technical issues. The technical committee could focus first on the obstacles to implementing Phase 1. Once that hurdle is crossed it could move on to Phase 2, and eventually to Phase 3.
The technical committee must be well-resourced with officials and experts, both to achieve its objectives and to ensure that the richer countries believe the committee will make progress with or without them. They will not want to be left out.
This article is based on a talk given by the author at the Post-Tana Forum in Gaborone.
The value of loans from Chinese lenders to energy and infrastructure projects in Africa almost trebled between 2016 and 2017, from USD 3bn to USD 8.8bn, with policy lenders China Development Bank and China Exim particularly active in helping bridge Africa's infrastructure gap.
Almost half of the total USD 19bn of Chinese outbound loans poured into infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa since 2014 were made last year (2017). Notably, Chinese lenders accounted for more than 40% of all infrastructure finance in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017 and its policy banks made more the four fifths of lending by Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) in the region.
Chinese commercial and policy bank lending for infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa totalled USD 3.6bn in 2014, USD 3.4bn in 2015 and USD 3bn in 2016, before spiking almost 300% to USD 8.8bn in 2017, driven by a series of large power projects across Africa.
The trends are revealed by new research from global law firm Baker McKenzie and IJGlobal, the leading trade publication for infrastructure projects, as leaders from the BRICS bloc - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - meet in Johannesburg this week for their annual summit. Data is drawn exclusively from fully financed projects and excludes recent announcements of government funding commitments.
Speaking from the BRICS Energy event, which preceded the BRICS Summit, Kieran Whyte, Head of Energy, Mining and Infrastructure at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg said the rising impact of Chinese policy lending in Africa is increasingly visible.
“Chinese president Xi Jinping’s recent tour of African countries ahead of the Summit is proof of the increasing interdependence of the maturing but still fast growing Chinese economy and developing economies in Africa,” says Whyte.
“This is much more sophisticated outbound lending than the cliché about China investing in African minerals and rail to get commodities to China to feed manufacturing – the data clearly shows Chinese lending predominantly shifting towards African power projects,” he says.
“All countries need power generation, transmission and distribution assets which are reliable and meet demand; without this, wider development is a distant dream," said Jon Whiteaker, editor of IJGlobal. "It is little surprise then that the power sector has grown to be by far the biggest recipient of Chinese policy lending in Africa. The US government may have recently jump-started its Power Africa programme, but it has increasingly been Chinese lenders which African and Middle Eastern countries have turned to get power projects financed.”
Globally, infrastructure deals featuring significant Chinese financing have risen more than threefold since 2012, driven among other things by China's Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), going from 31 deals in 2012 to 105 deals in 2017. The BRI is a world scale Chinese development strategy that combines the creation of a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and a Silk Road Economic Belt.
Whyte explains that this shift towards power is because China is comfortable operating in the energy sector and is aware power acts as a catalyst for the growth of other sectors in Africa, providing foundations for long term economic development.
"It's also true that in terms of infrastructure development, many of China’s construction companies are world leaders in the power sector and Chinese goods and equipment are used in the construction process, which further benefits China's economy,” he says.
Whyte adds that as one of South Africa’s largest trading partners, China plays an important role in infrastructure investment in that country. At the BRICS Summit Energy event this week, China pledged to invest USD 14.7bn in South Africa and to grant loans to state owned enterprises Eskom and Transnet.
Against the background of a geopolitical shift in trade relations, China has noted that it is looking to work with African countries in a participative and inclusive way,
Another recent report by Baker McKenzie and Silk Road Associates; Belt & Road: Opportunities & Risks - the prospects and perils of building China's New Silk Road details how key opportunities in Africa with regards to the Belt & Road Initiative will be transactions related to major projects in the power and infrastructure sector and related financing.
Recent examples of large power deals in Africa where at least 50% of the finance was provided by Chinese lenders include:
While European DFIs increasingly focus only on lending to renewable energy projects in Africa, coal is still an essential part of energy baseload and vital in a region where grid capacity is almost non-existent and almost two-thirds still live without ready access to power.
The African countries seeing most Chinese lending are Kenya and Nigeria, which alone have swallowed up almost 40% of the USD 19bn of lending to projects in sub-Saharan Africa since 2014. However, Chinese banks have been active lenders to infrastructure projects in 19 different countries in the past four years. Chinese policy lending is also set to widen, with Senegal recently becoming the first West African country to sign up to supporting the BRI.
Infrastructure projects in Ethiopia have received USD 1,8bn since 2014, Kenyan projects USD 4,8 bn, Mozambique infra deals USD 1,6bn and Nigerian projects USD 5bn from Chinese lenders. South African infrastructure projects have received USD 2,2 bn from Chinese lenders since 2014, Zambia has received USD 1.5bn and Zimbabwe has seen USD 1.3bn in loans from Chinese policy lenders since 2014.
The power sector in sub-Saharan Africa has received USD 17,5 bn in loans from Chinese lenders since 2014 (USD 8,8 bn of this amount was in 2017). The oil and gas sector has received USD 3,2 bn (USD 1,7 bn in 2017) and the transport sector in sub-Saharan Africa received USD 5,5 bn from Chinese lenders since 2014 (with USD 500 million received in 2017).
Whyte notes that for investors in Africa, “A big attraction of China’s Belt & Road Initiative for both African governments and project sponsors is that it assists the speed of project implementation. Project stakeholders advise that the whole process is a lot quicker than other options. Chinese policy lenders assist in providing liquidity and contribute to the speed of implementation of projects in Africa, which is necessary for Africa to participate in the roll-out of the fourth industrial revolution and the global energy transition,” he adds.
A South African High Court on Monday overturned a decision by the government to grant Zimbabwe’s former first lady Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity after she was accused of whipping Gabriella Engels with an electric cord.
Delivering his judgement on Monday, Judge Bashier Vally stated that the decision by the former Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, to grant Mrs Mugabe diplomatic immunity was inconsistent with the South African Constitution and should therefore be set aside.
“It is declared that the decision of the minister of August 19, 2017, in terms of the diplomatic immunities to recognise Dr Grace Mugabe immunities is inconsistent with the Constitution of South Africa. The decision is reviewed and set aside,” the judgment stated.
The former minster explained in court that Mrs Mugabe automatically qualified for immunity from prosecution by virtue of her status as the wife of a head of state.
She also argued that not awarding Mrs Mugabe diplomatic immunity might have serious implications for relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Engels filed a court application challenging the government’s decision last August.
Mrs Mugabe returned to Zimbabwe immediately after South Africa granted her diplomatic immunity, allowing her to evade prosecution for assault and causing a row in South Africa where the opposition Democratic Alliance also challenged the ruling.
Mrs Mugabe denied assaulting Engels with an electric cable, saying an “intoxicated and unhinged” Engels had attacked her with a knife.
South African advocacy group Afriforum, which represented Engels, dismissed the allegations as lies.
According to Engels, an irate Mrs Mugabe burst into the room where she was waiting with two friends in a Johannesburg luxury hotel suite to meet one of Mugabe’s sons last August, and started attacking her with an electric cable.
Photographs taken by Engels’ mother soon after the incident showed gashes to the model’s head and bruising on her thighs.
Willie Spies, a lawyer for Afriforum, said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should now take action to prosecute Mrs Mugabe and seek her extradition from Zimbabwe to South Africa.
Spies said if the NPA failed to take action, Afriforum would start proceedings against Mrs Mugabe.
“The ball is in their court now,” Spies said, adding that Afriforum had argued that Grace Mugabe committed the attack on Engles while she was on a private visit to South Africa and therefore did not qualify for diplomatic immunity.
NPA spokeswoman Phindi Mjnonondwana said the case was still in the hands of the police and had not yet been sent to the NPA for action.
However, NPA spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku said South Africa and Zimbabwe had previously cooperated on extraditing suspects from one country to the other.
Following the judgement, International Relations and Cooperation Department under Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said they were still studying the judgment.
The news from the South African court came as former president Mugabe (94), accompanied by his wife and daughter Mrs Bona Chikore, cast his vote at Mhofu Primary School in Highfield township, the first election that does not include his name on the ballot paper since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980.