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Somalia: My Nostalgic, Childhood Visit to Grandma’s Village

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By Ahmed Said

 

At twelve noon, the old man whispers to himself as he counts his prayers with a rosary. He strokes his goatee beard, streaked with grey. He hitches up his sarong and sits under a shady tree on a mat made from a deerskin. On the mountains behind him, I see a mirage as the sun bakes the scenery. He is a popular imam among the villagers. They hold him in great reverence throughout the village, which is located twenty miles west of Erigavo, Somalia.

I see my grandma sharpening a big knife. For the past three months, this knife has been handy for my grandma. She uses it for countless purposes, from cutting fresh little sticks off the acacia trees to slaughtering animals for a feast. She chews on the tip of one of those sticks to make it soft enough to brush her teeth. I watch the rolling eyes of this restrained ram as its ears wiggle and listen to the clatter of the sharpening. Two women lay the ram on its back, one holds the front legs, and the other holds the rear ones, and grandma walks calmly towards the ram, grabs the chin, presses the head down and slits the throat, and blood gushes out on the steep ground and runs down to the outsole of her shoes. The ram’s eyes do not move now, and they stare at the sky, motionless.

This is Ismael. He seems to have done enough physical exercise, not in an urban gym, but by tending the camels, drinking camel milk, and running around in the bush from dawn to dusk. His bones are thick, and his muscles are strong. He is a real nomad and can walk miles and miles without breaking a sweat. Look at me. I’m a city boy who barely walks a mile a day. And grandma sends me to fetch firewood with this boy. Look at him. He walks well, but to me, his steps are so fast. I have to keep up with his unusual pace where he zigzags, jumps over thorny cactuses, changes direction unexpectedly, and avoids clear paths. As I chase him, I cough because of the dust strewn in my face by his stamping feet. Sandy grains are in my eyes and my vision is blurry. It takes us five miles to arrive at a place where firewood abound. I sit to rest, panting, cleaning my teary eyes with a handkerchief. Not only does he scale a tree like a monkey, he gathers some firewood, breaking every dry branch there with the swift blows of his axe and tossing it down. For him, a village life is a walk in the park.

I tie a firewood load into a bunch and heave it to my back. The Ismael’s load is three times bigger than mine. He walks swiftly and disappears from view with a lightning speed. With resting intervals, I reach home forty minutes later than him, with my feet blistering and my nose bleeding slightly. I fling the firewood away from my back to the ground and descend to a sitting position. I pull off my sturdy boots, and something smell ammonia.

The women start a three-stone fires in three different spots, and the flames lick the enormous cooking pots whose outer form dark and hardened flakes from years of use. I sit there wreathing in a haze of clouds of smoke, trying to strike up a conversation with this girl in her teen years.

“How can you guys cook all this meat without messing up something in the process?” I dub my nose.

“What makes you think we will cook all the meat?” she swaggers past me, putting more firewood into the fire.

“I’m just asking,” tears roll down from my eyes.

“Please don’t trip,” she says as I get up suddenly.

“What?,” I step back, stumbling over a head.

“That belongs to the second ram,” she explains. “I am Sophia, by the way.”

“I’m Ahmed,” I glance at the ram head, freaked.

Two muscled men dig a square hole in the ground and use it as an underground oven to cook lamb stuffed with rice. Look at them. They are in a perfect shape. They fight off lions and hyenas at night when these predatory carnivores attack the herds, Ismael tells me. One of them is wearing an eye patch. His name is Hussein. His back has scars that resemble the shape of the African continent, his left fingers suffer from physical deformity. The other man has a silky dress and a black shirt on. He wiggles the white-faced Seiko watch on his wrist into place, checking the time repeatedly as he flips the meat. He yawns and I glimpse that he is missing all his lateral incisors. His name is Hassan, and he is in love with the imam’s daughter. Her name is Amina. Despite Hassan’s declared love, Amina was not forthcoming with being in love with Hassan.

“How did he afford that watch?” I ask curiously.

“He sold a bull last year to buy that watch and a new wardrobe,” Ismael answers.

“By the way, one day Amina told him to remove all his lateral incisors to prove his love,” he adds.

“Wow, poor man!” I yell softly.

“Probably, she said that jokingly,” Ismael smiles.

“Love is a strange thing,” I check my broken shoelaces.

“You know nothing about love,” he raises his voice. “You are barely sixteen.”

“You know more than me about how love works in this village,” I blow my nose.

“Anyway, the wedding is tonight, and I am two years older than you,” he puts peanuts into his mouth.

“ Whatever,” my eyes settle on a Billy goat flirting with a goat.

My mouth waters with the delicious sight of the meat and the rice, readied on those big stainless still plates. The women pour the soup into several glass jars as well. Sophia hands me the largest plate for the imam. As I walk towards the tree, I see six meditative men with the imam. Each man is sitting on his own deer-skin mat and holds a rosary. My hands shake with the weight which propelled me to put the plate hastily in front of the closest man, the imam. He opens his eyes, nodding. Then, I hear thuds under the nose of each man. I feel amazed at the synchronization of the women for bringing the brimming plates and placing them down at the same time. And the rest of the food, from tropical fruits to freshly squeezed juices, keeps traveling on its way to the tree as if carried by ant colonies.

At nine o’clock pm, everyone gets engrossed in the wedding’s climax. The groom and the bride wear exquisite traditional dresses. Sophia gazes at me, blushing, and I gaze back at her, feigning shyness. I virtualize the two of us in those dresses. Maybe she envisages that too. Many villagers attend the event and enjoy the feast. Out of the blue, a lion purrs in midair and attacks the imam. Hussein lifts his spear and hurls it at the beast, killing it. The imam sustains slight injuries. Hussein becomes the hero of the night, takes off his shirt in celebration with his continent-shaped scars showing.

I am in a school uniform, heading to the kitchen for breakfast. It is a beautiful morning. After a few months in the village, everything looks tidier than the village, and my sense of smell detects the difference. All the city scents lingering in the air are rich and exotic in a novel way. The people are gentler and more polite. But I remember the innocence and lack of political correctness of the village people. Unlike the city people who seem to harbor grudges, they get everything off their chest. And in my mind’s eye, I see Sophia’s face as she waives at me goodbye. I look forward to a second visit next year when school is closed.


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OPINION

Changing the Political Paradigm and Salvaging the Nigerian Nation

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By Dr Usman Muhammad Bugaje

Today, no one can doubt the fact that the last twenty five years of democracy in Nigeria have been, sadly, some would say predictably, tragic! In the last quarter century, poverty has more than doubled, with the North paying a higher toll. By the last count the North accounts for 87% percent of the poverty burden in the country. To underscore the point, while Lagos State has less than 10% poverty incidence, Zamfara State has over 90% poverty incidence. Some of the consequences of poverty is poor nutrition, which means stunted mental growth for our children; which means that our children may never develop mentally to compete favorable with their peers in other part of the country. Currently nine states of the North alone shoulder more than 50% of the malnutrition burden of the country. Without investment in health and education we unwittingly destroy our human capital, aggravate social inequality and thus shut the door to peace, development or indeed any future in the competitive environment of the 21st century.

In the last quarter century, insecurity has increased perhaps ten fold, again with the North bearing nearly 90% of the insecurity brunt. Not less than 50,000 people have been killed while over 2.5 million have been displaced in the Northeast and may be more than that in the Northwest and the Northcentral. This also means that large number of schools have been closed throwing hundreds of thousands of children out of school. The rural banditry, the famer-harder clashes, the religious and ethnic clashes have killed only God knows what, since we don’t keep records. We can add to this the urban violence unleashed by an increasing army of jobless youths driven by psychotropic drugs. With the eminent failure of the security forces to deal with bandits, what will happen when they are done with the rural areas and they come into the city? Who will be there to protect us? It is not so much the quantum of death as the trauma inflicted on a whole generation, many of whom have been permanently impoverished as they have sold every asset to free their family members from captivity. The bestiality, the barbarism and the impunity is unprecedented, not even in DR Congo, Liberian or Somalian conflicts. Evidently, our political leaders have no idea of how to stop the raging insecurity, which is irredeemably, if gradually, consuming the whole country.

In the last quarter century, critical national institutions, like the civil-service, the police, the Judiciary, the legislature, INEC, the political parties, etc., have been so run down that today no one believes in them or looks at them with any respect. This is not to say that you wont find a few shining examples of good character in them, but they would be too few to make any difference or redeem the image of these institutions. Just recall the 2019 gubernatorial elections of Kogi and Bayelsa where the police leadership admitted to being overpowered by thousands of fake police and made no arrests, much less, prosecution thereafter; where political parties organized barbaric and unprecedented violence leading to burning of people alive; and where INEC kept fumbling, bumbling and tried changing the whether by changing the forecast. This was to be a rehearsal for 2023. The recent election litigations also exposed the rot and the absence of leadership in the judiciary. Take the legislature, look at the budget for the NASS renovation, nearly five times the sum which built the original edifice. Perhaps not surprising, because if a senator could assaulted a woman in a sex shop and go back to the senate to take his seat with no reprimand or qualms, a sense of shame and moral consciousness may be too much to expect. The 10th NASS inaugurated in June this year has already shown that we aren’t seeing nothing yet; the decay and decadence is simply beyond belief. These institutions are the very pillars that support a modern nation state to survive and thrive. With the current depth of institutional decay this country cannot but sink and today these institutions stand only as evidence of the level of decadence that our country has fallen into.

In the last quarter century, the growth of corruption has become phenomenal, with every new government surpassing the other previous government not only in quantum but also in audacity and style. An increasing number of civil servants, politicians and their teeming accomplices in the private sector are looting mind-boggling sums without any consequences. Someone who stole more than what ASSU demanded to fix the universities for which it embarked in months of strike, the longest in recent world history, is still walking the street, taking traditional tittles and sharing his pictures in the new regalia in the social media. Other revelations are even more startling and still unfolding. And amazingly, the politicians under whose watch all these happened, far from being ashamed of themselves, are brandishing their new found wealth, including special suvs, and private jets in this pool of poverty and misery. They appear to be oblivious of the broken infrastructure, roads and electricity in particular and the total destruction of public education and health care. When a ruling party installs a leadership whose face has gone viral collecting and pocketing dollars, we no longer need any more evidence that corruption has not only taken over our politics but it has also taken charge of all the institutions of the State including the legislature and the judiciary. Can we, in all honesty, say that we have a country that can solve the problems of insecurity, infrastructure and grow the economy to provide jobs? The message to the youth is fairly clear, don’t waste time in school, after all you can forge certificates, what is important today is make the money by any means possible and connect to the power brokers and once in office amass as much as you can, thereafter you can always buy your way.

In the last quarter century, Nigeria has only been going down the drain, inevitably and irredeemably: the 2022 UNESCO report puts the number of out-of-school-children in Nigeria at 20m, and the World Education Blog reports that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school-children in the world. Another resent report from an African blog reports that Nigeria has the largest population without electricity, in Africa. The recent COP28  shows that Nigeria has the largest per capita delegation. While our leaders were enjoying themselves at the COP28, the Nigerian armed forces were killing innocent citizens, leaving the bandits to freely move about unleashing terror, trepidation and trauma. I am not sure of what happened to the typographical errors in the judiciary, while waiting, another unthinkable event stole the show of shame, the empty budget box in the NASS. I asked an old Senator for an interpretation and he said, it means the budget has already been approved even before presentation (ala presidential Yacht), which now obviates the need for any paperwork.  Apparently this had been paid for by the executive, by installments, and the new anthem stands as evidence of the total submission of the legislative arm to the mighty executive. May God save us the ordinary folks. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, our country is becoming a joke! And the world may not take us seriously anymore. And this cannot be allowed to continue!

One could go on, but the point has been sufficiently made, that our democracy is not working, that our rouge political culture is inimical to development and our ‘cash and carry’ political paradigm has set us up on a dangerous trajectory that is stampeding us to implosion and possible extinction. This political paradigm with its rouge political culture and empty political rhetoric, has calibrated our political parties and processes to favor crooks and clowns. We now have to ask ourselves some existential questions: with this mediocrity and reckless irresponsibility how can we survive as a modern nation state, much less thrive in the competitive environment of the 21st century?  Is this the kind of future we want for ourselves and our posterity? To be sure, what future is there for a nation where the youth make up 65% of our population and where our political leaders have neither the idea nor the disposition, much less the competence to provide jobs? Indeed what hope is there for a country whose political parties have become cartels for looting the public treasury? With the political parties calibrated to produce the worst of us as leaders, what hope is there that we can find leaders who will have the conscience, the competence and the courage to get us out of here?

So what to do? The current trajectory means that we have no future as a nation and we don’t need a soothsayer or some sophisticated analysis to see that we are heading to some implosion and eventual extinction. We must find a way of changing this trajectory and making sure that the new trajectory salvages the nation. In deciding what to do and how to do it, we must tarry a little, reflect and examine the issues carefully, establish a correct etiology, diagnosis and prognosis before prescribing a way out. It is tempting to pour out dozen things that are wrong with our democracy and that need to be corrected. Based on this partial diagnosis we have seen how many electoral reforms have been carried out and how these reforms have been rendered impotent. One clear lesson is that the potency of reforms are not so much in the reforms themselves as in the leadership to implement it. If we look back from Greek antiquity, the ancient Asian kingdoms, through the Roman period to our contemporary times, countries that recovered from catastrophes, survived and thrived have done so primarily because of leadership. The story of Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, China itself and Rwanda, all prove the point that, what really matters for countries to change their trajectory, survive and thrive, is leadership. In these examples some of the leadership that did the magic emerged out of gradual incremental process of reform and some came through a revolution. Lest we get caught in the chicken and egg quandary, the point here is to stop ‘beating about the bush’ and focus on leadership recruitment process.

In other words, we are where we are in Nigeria and will remain so because our leadership recruitment mechanism is not only flawed but it has been gradually, if imperceptibly, calibrated to bring forth as leaders our worst, not our best. Our leadership recruitment process does not appear to have any criteria at all, opening the flood gate for all manners of people to contest. what appears to be a criteria in the constitution in terms of age and educational qualification is actually a criteria for eligibility. What is still missing is a criteria for suitability. It is important that we distinguish eligibility from suitability. Our political culture promotes only money and violence, not competence and character. Today you can only make the list of candidates for election either because you have money to throw around or you have a connection to those who own the party. Parties are known by the moneybags that fund them and own them and not by their content. Indeed our political parties today have no content, no conscience and no courage. Primary elections and general elections are openly purchased with money, such kinds of money as only the criminal elements can possess and spend. In other words, we have to fix the broken leadership recruitment mechanism in the political parties such that the more knowledgeable, the more competent and the more conscientious emerge as leaders. Thus replace the current expediency with some form of meritocracy. Contemporary China today is a product of meritocracy, so as Singapore and the Nordic countries with their consensual style of politics. In the 21st century, knowledge is the greatest capital, there is no way to make any positive progress without prioritizing knowledge. The next question is how to go about doing this? For me there are three clear inextricably linked processes.

A New Narrative – National Consensus

It is my considered opinion that absence of a national consensus among Nigerian elite, as to which country they want to build and where they want their country to be in the next few decades is what created the vacuum which has now been occupied by pedestrians and people of easy virtue who have taken over and predictably made a mess of the country. The elite, have focused more on our differences than our common corporate interest and the future of our only country. Elite spend time and energy on what divides us, each claiming to be marginalized, unable to see the futility of this infatuation. Admittedly we came together by British imperial fiat and come from different cultures and perspectives, but so are many countries, indeed the world itself is full of such diversities. We have continued to emotionalize and weaponize these differences in national discourse. We have detained the whole country at some cross road, unable to move in any direction for we don’t seem to agree in which direction to go. And as the old line goes, ‘no winds are favourable until one knows to which port one is sailing.’

Rwanda is one evidence, if evidence is needed, that no matter the challenge, once there is elite consensus and a commensurate leadership, recovery can be soonest. In spite of going through the horror of the worst genocide in Africa and the poor resources available, within barely two decades, Rwanda is not just able to survive but it is one of the most thriving African countries today. Diversity cannot be the problem, for Somalia, the most homogenous of any country on earth, would not be in the turmoil it is today. If religious harmony was essential to progress the Southern Sudan would not be in the turmoil it is today. We need to remember that today our country is already over 200m and by UN projection we shall be 300m in 2030 and well over 400m in 2050, which will make us the third most populated country in the world after India and China. A responsible elite will be worried about how to provide education and health, infrastructure and jobs for this teeming population. If we ignore this and continue abusing each other in the social media, the gathering storm will soon sweep all of us away, and expose the folly of our complacency. Sometime we behave like the American housewife in Gore Vidal’s book.[1] What is being suggested here is that ‘rather than curse the darkness, let us light a candle.’ This should immediately create a new narrative and the national discourse will be constructive. Let us use existing platforms or construct a new platform that will bring the elite together and discuss about where exactly we want to take our country in the next one or two decades and beyond. We must avoid a government national conference because they will fill it up with mercenaries who will work towards a predetermined script. Our peers in other parts of the world have done so at times of crises and have salvaged their countries, I don’t see why we can’t do it.

A New Paradigm

The current paradigm firmly located in a political culture that is defined primarily by money and violence and has no respect for knowledge or character, if anything it has aversion for anything decent and proper. Its frame of reference is a tribal and regional merry-go-round which appear to be driven by a fear of tribal or regional domination. In this paradigm a candidate that stands a better chance to win is a candidate with humongous amount of money, a capacity to unleash terror and violence in campaigns or election day and one who could instigate ethnic or religious emotions in his favor. So in this paradigm elections are not a contest of ideas or capacity and competence to deliver on development, rather the contest is that of thuggery and manipulations among crooks and criminals. Decent and competent people are to stay away from the arena, hopefully to be invited after government has been sworn in, not for their ideas or decency but for the optics and so that civil society can have someone to speak to. The captains of this looting industry have become so rich and have acquired so much private coercive powers, more powerful that the State coercive powers and ready to braggingly deploy these arsenals to defend their positions and fortunes. What is the chance of a new paradigm in these frightening atmosphere? That of snowball in a furnace, you would say. That was exactly what Alberto Fujimori, the pharaoh of Peru (1990-2000) also thought. But as we now know, the empire Fujimori built, just like that of the Shah of Iran, collapsed like a house of cards in a matter of weeks.

History is replete with these human follies and we have seen how they all ended up. History has shown that these kind of contraptions are not sustainable. It has also shown that the seemingly insignificant but sustained engagement is what eventually succeeds. So instead of daily agonizing over what we read in the social media, we should start organizing. The general rule is that in the real world nobody gives what you deserve; you only get what you negotiate for; and the currency for that negotiation is power. The good news is that power has many sources; it is not only political or economic; power can also be intellectual, it can be moral and it can also be demographic. In a democracy, demographic power can be very potent. We should be able to leverage other sources of power to engage our politics and create a new political paradigm. Time and space will not allow for details. The starting point is to push for a clear criteria for suitability in our leadership recruitment process. The current paradigm will find this demand unsettling and it will block it with all its strength so let us not try pushing it into the constitution for now, the current law makers will not agree. Rather, we can flood a chosen political party, use our demographics to take it over and re-calibrate it to prioritize the criteria we need, mobilize and contest election and win a few States and seats in the legislature  and build up gradually to the national seat and bring about the changes we deem necessary. We may even start a new political party. A fall back is to wait for the second wave of End-SARS as an entry point. Perhaps we should remind ourselves what Plato of Greek antiquity said, if you don’t want to go through the pains of being in politics, then you must be ready to endure the pain of being ruled by someone who is far inferior.

A New Trajectory

A new trajectory should start with a new thinking, a new awakening and a new direction. Post-independence, we have so far tried the British parliamentary system and now the American system, which we are realizing is problematic. The Americans themselves are complaining, especially after it threw up Trump. Why must we keep trying someone else political system, whose history, culture, values and ethos are not only different from ours but are also out of harmony with our own socio-cultural values? Why should we remain in the orbit of the same west that terrorized our population, enslaved us and stole our wealth? After all we are supposed to be independent and every year we celebrate this independence. We need to be reminded that European imperialism was able to overpower our forces because of their superior technology, courtesy of the industrial revolution of 18th century, which was triggered by the European renaissance of the 16th and 17th century. But who created the renaissance in Europe? A major force was an African movement, the Murabitun (Al-Moravids) which took over Spain in the 11th century, set up universities and woke up Europe from slumber when it was in its Dark Ages. For nearly five centuries the Andalus was driving the intellectual, social and political development in Europe. If we know our real history and our worth we have no reason to continue to idolize Europe and labor under this mental colonization.

For the avoidance of doubt I am not against sharing and gaining knowledge and wisdom from anywhere in the world. May be we need to look at China. China is leading the world in science and technology without having to learn English, without having to run a democratic system of governance and without having to defer to the West. It is the West now that is learning Chinese and listening to the Chinese. I can’t see how we can solve our problems when we remain in the orbit of the West without any self-worth. There is no better evidence of this than the fact that we continue to practice American system of government even as we keep complaining that it is expensive, it is not working, it has brought us all the troubles we are contending with today. Our political scientists should go back to the drawing board. In the last two decades they have been asking us to deepen our democracy and all I see is that we are deepening our troubles while the politicians are deepening their pockets. We have to be more creative and design a system that works for us.

Just to be sure, this is not anti-western stance rather it is a call for mental liberation and pragmatism. Let us first look inwards and shop around picking form anywhere, including the west, what works for us. This way we can build a truly independent nation which can craft its own trajectory and rise to the greatness that Nigeria appears to be destined. This way we can we can re-design our new future and give new hope to the teeming youth of this country who for now have nothing to look up to. This way, we would be living up to our responsibility of salvaging our country from the grip of crooks who are enriching the west with our wealth while keeping us irredeemably impoverished and pushing us continuously into the Hobbesian state of nature “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

[1] Gore Vidal (D. 2012), one of the best American writers and a public intellectual, was involved in the anti-communist campaign of 60’s and 70’s; he used go round American cities giving lecture against communism. He reported that in one of the lectures, a lady raised her hand and was given a chance to ask a question. She said she had two questions: one, as a house wife how can she fight communism? Her second question was: What is communism? Thus she was ready to fight what she did not even know. Too many times we fight what we don’t even understand. A tragic human folly.

Dr Usman M Bugaje is a distinguished Nigerian intellectual.


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OPINION

Here’s what Russia can offer Africa

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By  Ivan Timofeev

What kind of world do we live in today? We are currently in transition between the unipolar system that existed for a brief moment after the end of the Cold War and the new multipolar reality on the horizon. Russia’s diplomatic service is among the main proponents of this course.

If we take a closer look at what is happening around us, we will see that the multipolar world in many ways is already taking shape. And the key to explaining how it is manifesting itself is to look at the concept from the perspective of different spheres, such as general life and the functioning of states and societies.

It is not just a question of security. There are also economic, demographic and investment issues. In discussions with our foreign colleagues, especially Westerners, I often hear skeptical voices telling me that Africa cannot be considered a pole of the world order, even in the long term.

After all, we are accustomed to associating this status with nuclear powers and large economies.  However, Africa is rapidly becoming such a pole. If we look at it from the perspective of the multidimensionality and diversity of the region, we see huge demographic potential and enormous prospects for economic growth. This is visible to experienced observers: Africanists know and study the region’s trends. But what has gone unnoticed by the general public is that African countries are slowly but surely addressing quality of life issues and building sustainable and highly functional state institutions.

In terms of economic growth, demography and stability, there is no doubt that the African continent and individual countries are rapidly moving towards claiming their own significant place in the new multipolar world.

It is no secret that relations between Russia and the West are currently in a deep crisis. When we discuss our relations with the countries of the African continent, this issue inevitably comes up. Africans often learn about us through Western intermediaries. And, of course, this narrative has deteriorated considerably over the past year and a half.

Yes, there are also the problems of economic sanctions, which frighten entrepreneurs and  make financial transactions more difficult. But we see another paradox. When Russia’s relations with the West were improving, our presence in Africa and our interest in the region were declining. In the 1990s and early 2000s, objectively speaking, we lost much of the advantages we had in our relations with the countries of the African continent.

Conversely, as our relations with the West declined, our interest in the continent increased. I wouldn’t say there’s any hard and fast correlation here, it’s just the way things are. Nevertheless, the crisis in relations with the West stimulates our movement to the South and to the East. The development of Russia’s relations with the countries of the African continent is becoming one of the priorities of the government. This means it will also attract the activity of civil society and business.

What can we offer Africa? Let us think of foreign policy as part of an investment portfolio. In an investment portfolio we can have stocks, bonds, currency. But every investment portfolio has some kind of insurance asset. It can be gold, it can be real estate, it can be a very reliable non-combustible asset. So Russia for African countries in their foreign policy investment portfolio is exactly that insurance asset. True, such an asset usually does not occupy a dominant position in the portfolio, but in the event of a crisis, it’s the asset that can save the investor.

This is the answer in a word: Russia can offer Africa sovereignty. I am talking about independent capabilities in the field of information security, artificial intelligence, military-technical cooperation and in the field of green technologies.

Russia is not asking for anything in return for this sovereignty. If we take the American discourse on democracy, we see that this has its own price. The democratic facade promoted by our Western partners becomes an object of “political hacking.” In other words, Russia is just sharing what it has learned with its friends on the African continent.

Of course, we have a lot of homework to do ourselves. This includes raising the standard of our African studies. We have brilliant schools such as RUDN University (Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia), the Institute of African Studies, MGIMO, and the St Petersburg School of African Studies. But in the conditions of our turn to the South, there should be dozens of such schools, not just a few.

There is also work to be done in terms of the investment climate, comfortable education in Russia for students from Africa, and more flexible business opportunities.

Ivan Timofeev is RIAC Director of Programs, RIAC Member, Head of “Contemporary State” program at Valdai Discussion Club, RIAC member.


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OPINION

Libya: What does the Future Hold?

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The future of Libya is one of economic renewal and diversification. With political stability comes the promise of investment and intra-African trade.

Internal conflict has dogged Libya’s economy since the first civil war in 2011, triggered by the Arab Spring. And while recent years have seen the cultivation of hard-fought stability, no final settlement has been achieved. There are still multiple factions still vying to govern Libya. Yet, all seem interested in establishing peace and reinvesting in infrastructure as well as recovering from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Furthermore, as elections approach, all parties are willing to accept democracy, ratified by an external source. Certainly, the recent conflicts that have arisen in Libya have been comparatively minor and are usually solved in hours and days instead of months, with government officials arriving on the scene to facilitate open communication. Despite the difference in viewpoints, all parties are therefore committed to fostering a period of growth and prosperity, founded on democracy and peace.

Responding to global challenges

But Libya has also had to contend with evolving global challenges, such as the current war in Ukraine. The sanctions placed on Russia have impacted Libya’s agricultural sectors, resulting in a 10 to 20% shortfall in wheat and seed imports. This has been somewhat mitigated by both replacement imports of grain, minimising disruption, and by an increase in oil revenue. While Libya’s oil export capabilities remain below their peak, oil export prices have almost doubled since the beginning of the conflict, boosting revenue. This has allowed Libya to bridge the revenue gap it was experiencing within the oil sector. Meanwhile, the relative fiscal freedom afforded by the additional income has allowed necessary investments to be made into the country’s infrastructure, which is further aiding recovery.

Can Libya afford to rely on oil alone?

However, some headwinds are approaching. Europe is focusing on sustainable development and using renewable energy sources, in a bid to decrease carbon emissions and fossil fuel reliance, slowly reducing its use of hydrocarbons in favour of green energy. Given that the oil sector currently accounts for around 98% of Libyan Government revenues , decreasing European reliance on fossil fuels in the coming decades could pose a significant threat to Libya’s recovery.

Libya as a conduit for trade

Europe is not the only market for Libya’s oil, however. The country’s geographic and political links to a rapidly developing Africa mean that there will be demand for oil from the emerging and industrialising economies to the south. This trade with Africa is built on historically positive relationships, helped in part by Libya’s previous commitment to promoting African unity.

 Libya also has the potential to forge a key role in Arab-African trade, due to its membership to the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA). Although the country is not a member of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), it offers a promising link between Africa and the Middle East. By maintaining positive relationships with both African and Middle Eastern nations, Libya can support and benefit from AfCFTA initiatives.

One such initiative is the drive to formalise undocumented cross-border trade, which is estimated by the African Import Export Bank at between 15% to 40% of all African trade . By formalising intracontinental trade, Libya can then support African nations in their bid to be viewed as viable trading partners with the rest of the globe, as well as reducing smuggling and stabilising trade routes. And by improving trade links between Africa and the Middle East, Libya can also act as a conduit for African and European trade, in part due to its entrepôt location.

Looking ahead

That said, a key focus for Libya’s future will be diversifying away from fossil fuels. Of course, oil will remain a staple for years to come. But the future cannot be ignored, and Libya needs to diversify. One sector on the rise is tourism, utilising its extensive coastline and rich cultural history. Further diversification is also possible via both agriculture and solar power. Infrastructure development will be important for both, with an urgent need to upgrade roads, railways, and ports.

As peace and stability become embedded, however, Libya can attract investment, particularly from Europe. These investments will need to be facilitated by specialist banks who will continue to support the Libyan economy as it develops. Indeed, FDI and diversification are the route to prolonged and sustainable growth in Libya. And in this respect, the prospects are promising.


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