Uganda hosts the biggest number of separated children in the world.

By Aggrey Nyondwa

Recent statistics by the UNHCR indicate that Uganda now hosts 36,000 children who have arrived unaccompanied to the border, having been separated from their families due to conflict, killing and displacement – making it the country with the most ‘alone refugee children’ in the world.

As the country and aid agencies struggle to cope with the numbers of vulnerable children fleeing fighting in DR Congo and the ravages of war in South Sudan, anemic funding means that these children are not getting services which provide them with the material and emotional support that they need to deal with their losses.

Children are arriving in Uganda having witnessed the most appalling crimes, including the rape and murder of loved ones, the burning of their homes, sometimes having scattered to the four winds as militias arrive and with no clue as to what has happened to their parents.

The latest spike in child arrivals is from the DR Congo. There are now 13,000 separated children from that country living in refugee settlements in South Western Uganda. They join some 22,500 separated children from South Sudan who fled to the north, now in Bidibidi, Imvepi and other Refugee settlements in West Nile.

Sadly, when children cross without parents or relatives it increases their vulnerability, hence exposure to all sorts of sexual, psychological and emotional abuse. There have been major child protection concerns where cases of sexual abuse have been reported as the children cross to Uganda. Sexual and gender based violence also remains a big issue in refugee settlements and all these call for immediate protection attention and interventions.

Due to financial constraints, government and aid agencies are finding it hard to adequately address challenges faced by unaccompanied refugee children. Currently, aid agencies have resorted to finding refugee host families where such children are housed and the agency takes care of them from there. There is need to ensure that each child has people in their lives who can give them love and attention and who have the know-how and the resources to meet their individual needs, without compromising their safety.

Refugee children in Uganda are receiving child protection and education services which just aren’t good enough. Aid agencies, and the government are unable to meet minimum standards in humanitarian assistance because they don’t have enough money to hire and train enough case workers. Today one case worker is taking care of over 106 children instead of the international standard figure of 25.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), only 16% of the Refugee Response Plan budget is so far funded, leaving a huge gap to assist these refugees. Over the years, Uganda has been considered a model hosting nation with one of the friendliest refugee policies in the world. It is also one of the first countries to adopt the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) which emphasizes refugee self-reliance and resilience. The country today hosts over 1.3 million refugees, 774,000 (60%) of these are children. The international community must bridge this funding gap, lest Uganda‚ as hospitality and cutting-edge refugee policy frustrated.

With continued tribal clashes, grave violation of human rights by the different militia groups in the north eastern provinces of DRC, the monthly average Congolese refugee influx has more than doubled. Over 350,000 Congolese refugees currently stay in refugee settlements in south western Uganda, mainly in Kyaka II and Kyangwali Refugee Settlements. With constrained resources and almost no media coverage, this part of the response has become difficult for aid agencies, as challenges go unnoticed.

The government of Uganda and partner humanitarian agencies are working as much as they can, to support the refugee response; to have a presence in the lives of these vulnerable children and restore their hope through: early child development, child friendly spaces, peace building, early and vocational skills development, food security and livelihoods, and food assistance programming.

This is an appeal for more support and assistance to further extend and expand the assistance to South Western Uganda where the DR Congo refugee situation is rapidly growing and also reach and impact every single one of these separated and unaccompanied children, to save them the risk of being exploited and abused.

 

Aggrey Nyondwa Kikobera is Communications Coordinator, World Vision. Follow Aggrey on Twitter @AggreyNyondwa

Funding Cripples Refugee Children Protection Activities in Uganda.

By Aggrey Nyondwa

As the Uganda refugee crisis gradually continues to lose media attention, already underfunded services to protect children are being slashed. More than 1.3 million people found refuge in Uganda after fleeing violence and deprivation in neighbouring countries. 801,419 (61%) of these people are children under 18 whose lives have been destroyed by the wars and missteps of adults. Though they arrived in a country which has a great history of hospitality and where their basic needs are met; their psychological and emotional health is often neglected.

Recent statistics by the UNHCR indicate that Uganda now hosts over 36,000 children who have arrived unaccompanied, having been separated from their families due to conflict and fighting mostly in DR Congo and the ravages of war in South Sudan. This makes Uganda the country with the most ‘alone refugee children’ in the world. Anemic funding therefore, means that these vulnerable children are not getting services which provide them with the material and emotional support that they need to deal with their losses and trauma.

Child Friendly Spaces are safe spaces where communities and child protection actors create nurturing environments in which children can access free and structured play, recreation, leisure and learning activities. They provide educational and psychosocial support and other activities to restore a sense of normality and continuity. They are designed and operated in a participatory manner and serve a variety of age ranges. Every World Vision CFS also includes an Early Childhood Development (ECD) component for younger children. There is often additional, complementary programming like drama clubs or hygiene trainings happening at the spaces as well.

40 CFS currently funded by UNHCR and UNICEF will lose funding in January 2020. Today, 33,295 children regularly play and learn at these facilities. 63% of them are girls. Closing these down will be a big blow to our child protection efforts considering that the number of refugees in the country is expected to grow next year. Last year, over 90,000 new refugees arrived in Uganda and this means by the end of 2020 the number of refugees in the country will have grown to more than 1.5 Million.

Standard 18.1.7 in the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Emergencies provides that aid agencies should ensure that one case worker is in charge of overseeing well-being of 25 children (1:25), but given the current funding shortfalls, aid agencies find that One case worker looks after 99 children instead (1:99) which is below the minimum standard. Case management of vulnerable children does not and will not meet international minimum standards for child protection under the current rates of funding.

Child protection case workers are the foot soldiers in the fight against violence, neglect, abuse and exploitation of refugee children. From morning to evening, day-to-day, they visit vulnerable children to identify those at risk and monitor their well-being, ensure their access to critical services and provide psychosocial support services, letting them know that they are safe and cared for in Uganda. Right now, these children need adequate case management to protect them. As time passes, fewer children will require case management and normal government services will take over, but to achieve this transition, we need to lay a strong foundation that requires us to train, equip and empower local actors on issues of child protection and how to effectively utilise the CFSs.

In the Ugandan refugee response, we are failing to protect children. Not because we don’t know it’s important or because we don’t know how to help but because we don’t have enough resources to prevent and respond to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence against girls and boys. It will require everyone’s extra effort including the international community to support the hard work of those on ground to restore hope and a future for these children.

Magufuli, Magufulism, and Tanzanians Fading Hopes For Free and Fair Presidential Elections.

By Kalisa Aziz and Ssemanda Allawi.

Gearing up for its 6th general election since the restoration of multi-party politics in 1992, Tanzania should be abuzz with political campaigns and the usual hubbub seen in an African presidential election: Political rallies, mass gatherings, empty political promises, and the occasional catchy campaign songs. Not in 2020 but rather expect a landslide victory by president John Pombe Magufuli the Bulldozer, thanks to his unlevelled political playground writes DWC’s fellows Kalisa Aziz and Ssemanda Allawi.

One could blame Tanzania’s looming gloom on the Covid-19 global pandemic International Monetary Fund branded The Great Lockdwon but the reasoning would not stand for the United Republic of Tanzania. President John Pombe Magufuli, (one of the few presidents that refused to implement a lockdown of its state borders) recently declared the country 100% covid free and thus continues to cover up   the true extent of the Corona virus in his nation to the utter dismay and disbelief of the international health experts.

As the country prepares for elections scheduled for 28th October 2020 and with a total of 30 million registered voters so far and a cash infusion of 331 billion Tanzania shillings (142 million US dollars) from the coffers of the central government, the biggest issue facing the parliamentary and presidential elections is the sitting government itself. Despite not closing the country’s boarders as a measure of containing Covid-19, president John Pombe Magufuli known as “bulldozer” instead effectively shut down avenues of ensuring fundamental rights and political freedoms targeting his political opponent.

Declining Freedom of Expression and Media Intimidation in Tanzania.

In 1970s throughout 1980s, countries like Uganda, Kenya, DRC and Rwanda were under dictatorial leadership characterized by media censorship and intolerance to political dissent.  During this time, Tanzania was considered a model and most liberal country in the region. The country’s newspapers often carried cartoons with political messages which under president Magufuli today is slowly and steadily fading as the president is increasingly attacking freedom of expression.

The president armed with a majority in the house of parliament, has weaponised the laws of his nation and imposed repressive and restrictive legislation with very broad provisions. Critics contend that the purpose is to stifle dissent ahead of next week’s polls. Indeed, the country has passed several restrictive laws analysts argue are repressive and affect freedom of expression in Tanzania. Such legislations include among others;

  • Statistics Act

Perhaps the most commonly contested law is the Statistics Act that was amended in 2015. The act criminalises the publication of statistics without the approval of the government. The interference of government in collection of data was heavily criticised by the World Bank (WB) expressing “deep concern” because the act contravenes International standards and would compromise the reliability and dissemination of information from Tanzania. In a statement, WB noted:

The World Bank is deeply concerned about the recent amendments to Tanzania’s 2015 Statistics Act, which are out of line with international standards such as the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the African Charter on Statistics…”

The government has ridden the wave of the statistics act by having journalist arrested, suspended and fined for reporting on covid-19 or any other report that is critical of regime.

  • The 2020 Basic Rights and Duties of Enforcement Act.

On 10 June 2020, Tanzania’s National Assembly passed a restrictive law, the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments Act (No. 3) of 2020), which amended 13 laws. The law gravely undermining solidarity lawsuits requires an individual making a claim under the Basics rights and Enforcement Act to submit an affidavit showing that the violation of the Enforcement Act has affected the claimant personally. The overly broad wording limits civil society organizations’ ability to pursue legal aid and law-based activities where they have not been personally harmed. The ramifications of this law (intentional or otherwise) have been to silence those who either cannot afford the cost of litigation or who do not seek justice themselves for fear of reprisal. This law is a match stick to ignite the fire that is a human rights violation. The Tanzanian government has also tabled a bill that will prevent human rights defenders and organizations from filing lawsuits on behalf of, or for the benefit of, victims of human rights violations.

  • 2020 miscellaneous amendment act

The constitution now grants the government powers to suspend civil society organizations and political parties and interfere in their internal operations. Following this legislation, political rallies have been banned or interrupted with claims of concern over the spread of the Corona virus. Arrests have been made over bogus and tramped up charges against political rivals in key electoral districts in order to influence the vote in favour of incumbent members of parliament. The right to free speech and freedom of peaceful assembly have been completely ignored.

Just three weeks to polls, opposition leader Tindu Lissu’s political campaign was suspended for 7 days by the ethics committee of the National Electoral commission. This went on as Ruling party’s candidate traversed the country canvassing support.

In June 2020, Zitto Kabwe, leader of the opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT), was arrested along with eight senior officials for allegedly violating the blanket ban on gatherings and holding illegal assembly.

The government has not only reigned terror on the opposition but has also attacked the watchdog media that is responsible for protecting the rights of the citizens by reporting crimes committed against them. Under the guise of preventing the spread of false information to prevent vocal dissent and limit the reach of the opposition parties. The government has suspended or completely shutdown newspapers, radio and television stations. The complete disregard for media in Africa by incumbent leaders is per the course but Tanzania is taking it to a new level.

Currently ranked 124th in the world according to the 2020 annual freedom index by reporters without borders organisation, Tanzania has had a precipitous fall from the 80th position and all this in a period of 5 years since Magufuli took office. In June, The Tanzania Daima, an opposition-leaning Swahili newspaper had its operating licence withdrawn for apparently publishing false information against the government and reporting about government’s response to coronavirus.

Mwananchi Newspaper was suspended for six month and fined five million after the media group posted a photo of Tanzanian president in a crowded market which sparked a debate and criticized government handling of coronavirus.  In the same month, Tanzania Communication Regulatory (TCRA) suspended Kwanza online TV for 11 months for what government called “generating and disseminating biased, misleading and disruptive content.” The TV had shared US’ embassy heath alert on Instagram which questioned government’s failure to publish coronavirus figures in the country.  On 10th August, TCRA put Radio Free Africa on a three-month probation for airing a BBC interview with opposition presidential candidate. TCRA claimed the interview was not balanced.

There have also been reports of government blocking access to social media applications like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter that are fundamental to online activism. This regulation was passed by the CCM – controlled government in August. The regulation criminalises the organisation, planning or support of any form of demonstration on these online platforms.

A deeper search into the media’s relationship with Magufuli Regime reveals a much darker side. In 2017, Azory Gwanda, a freelance-investigative journalist working in rural Tanzania was abducted from his home while investigating mysterious killings in his community. To this day, his whereabouts are unknown. The Tanzanian government has not lifted a finger to investigate the circumstances of his disappearance. Once, the Foreign Minister referred to Gwanda as ‘dead’ but later recanted his statement after an outpouring of discontent from the citizens.

Not long after his death, an opposition member, Godfrey Luema a land’s rights defender also working in rural Tanzania was also murdered outside his home by assailants.

Another prominent victim of Magufuli’s authoritarian regime is Erick Kabendera an investigative journalist stationed in Dar es Salaam. Kabendera published several articles criticizing the government, it’s economy and its failure to weed out corrupt members of the executive. He was arrested in July 2019 and spent 7 months in custody. The charges brought against him were changed 3 times and the court never examining his case because the prosecution kept on requesting more time to prepare for ‘further investigation’.  The judicial branch’s inability to stand up to the big classroom bully that is the executive sent a rather loud, ominous and chilling message to journalists.

Just four days to general elections, the government issued a directive to mobile telephone providers suspending bulk messaging and bulk voice calling services in the country, a move many saw as the ruling party’s effort to frustrate opposition party by interrupting communication. A letter signed by Director General of Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority James Kilara; “Considering the adverse impact that abuse of bulk short messaging services or bulk voice calling services might have on the general elections, and in accordance with rule three of the second schedule in the Tanzania communication Regulatory Authority Act of the Laws of Tanzania, the authority hereby directs you to temporarily suspend offering of bulk short messaging and bulk voice calling from October 24 2020 to November 11 2020.”

In total, Tanzania has closed over 15 media outlets over the course of 4 years and constantly threatening to withhold state advertising from privately-owned media, the government has imposed a climate of fear in which self-censorship is growing.

Opposition candidates barred from campaigning.

Arguably, in Africa vote rigging and candidate are not new. In Tanzania, Magufuli and the CCM have shown that they are not above rigging an election. This follows a sharp decline in the popularity of the man himself and his cronies. President Magufuli presented himself as a humble servant of God and always preached the gospel of putting God first in all activities be it economic, political or judicial. He promised justice for all people regardless of political party and social standing but like all seasoned politicians produced nothing but smoke. Due to claims of tyrannical rule, his popularity sank to leading to a popularity vote of only 58% of the total voting population. Whispers of voter intimidation and rigging were not lost to the media.

During the local government elections of November 2019, CCM won 99% of seats which elicited an outpouring of discontent from Britain and the United States of America.

The incidences of human rights violations and political persecution, both documented and undocumented, over Magufuli’s first term are numerous. “Do not test me” were the menacing words Magufuli used when he banned rallies a few months into his presidency. This is the restrictive environment in which Tanzania’s October 28, 2020, presidential elections are to be held. The opposition party CHADEMA has borne the brunt of these brutalities. CHADEMA claims that they have been treated unfairly and are often not invited to seat at the table to discuss and/or debate key legislation affecting the citizens of Tanzania with the president often co-opting institutions and legislative committees.

Furthermore, the party members are in constant fear for the safety of their families and for their own lives. Under the current president, security forces have been accused of the murders of political rivals to the government including Daniel John, a local leader of the opposition political party, CHADEMA. He was found beaten to death in his car amidst a heated local election in the district.

In September 2017, Tindu Lissu – the chairman and flag bearer of CHADEMA was shot a total of 16 times at his home in Dodoma. He was later flown to Belgium for treatment and subsequently sought asylum there. To this day, no one has been tried for the attack on Tindu Lissu’s life.  He returned in July for the first time since to run for presidency.

The latest victim is Mbowe Freeman the current leader of opposition in the Tanzanian parliament and current party leader of CHADEMA. He was beaten coincidentally the day after announcing his intention to run against Magufuli.

There have also been claims of kidnapping, disappearances and torture of political opponents while in police custody. In addition to these brazen acts, parliamentary and local election candidates have been dubiously disqualified and voters openly bribed or threatened to vote CCM.

The lack of trust in government to hold free and fair elections by the citizens is quite clear and the natural and predictable outcome is protests, sporadic incidents of violence and localised disruption is likely in urban areas.

Due to the poor economy and civil unrest, a lot of human rights are being neglected and abused by the government. Cases of hunger, unemployment and political arrests are rising steeply. Amnesty international and the European Union have voiced their disappointment about the state of human rights in Tanzania directly caused by the election period. Amnesty International has reported on the effect of the newly enacted laws in Tanzania having a restrictive and repressive effect on the civil society. In 2019 the government of Tanzania passed laws that required NGOs to disclose their sources of funding which is a direct interference with the freedom of Association. This law was used and on 12 August 2020, where Tanzanian government froze bank accounts of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) which paralyzed their operation.  After blocking THRDC’s Coordinator, Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa was arrested by Tanzanian police to explain organization’s failure to submit its contractual agreements with donors to the State Treasury, citing 2018 regulations. Police later released him on a police bond, with two sureties each guaranteeing 200 million Tanzania shillings (USD 86206.90) which is too high for any ordinary Tanzanian. Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, urged Tanzanian authorities that in order to reverse the decline in civil freedoms in Tanzania, authorities ensure that civil society organisations carry out their work freely and independently without any fear of reprisals.

However, cries of strife by opposition parties, media and the international community are falling on the deaf ears of the sitting Tanzanian government. Magufuli, who took office in 2015 promised a crack down on corruption and weeding out bad elements from the system has often come under fire himself from human rights groups urged the country to hold itself above the rest and avoid insults and violence.

The opposition is indeed attempting an uphill climb of the Everest. The giant that is the CCM has unwavering support in rural areas where most voters reside and is running multimillion-dollar campaigns with enough air time which the opposition can never counter. This will allow Magufuli and the CCM to secure victory at the October polls. All the above, though is being paid for by the tax payer. The government is ringing the little man for all his worth just so the CCM party can have a majority in parliament come next week. The government has been criticized for its careless spending considering the global health and economic situation right

The incumbent leaders are only able to strut around because of the amendment’s tables in June of this year. Many of the amendments were written to protect the big wigs of the CCM from prosecution during the electoral season.

For example; Proposed amendments to the LAW REFORM (FATAL ACCIDENTS AND MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS) ACT, (CAP. 310) and to the BASIC RIGHTS AND DUTIES ENFORCEMENT ACT, (CAP. 3) similarly state that all suits against the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Speaker or Chief Justice cannot be brought against them directly but instead must be brought against the Attorney General. But by preventing individuals who hold these offices from being held directly accountable in a court of law, the amendments serve to erode accountability in the country for crimes committed during the election period. Experience from around the world shows that individual direct accountability is critical in ensuring great performance by leaders and also discourages wrong doing. The principle of equality ensures that every citizen regardless of political standing, be fought to justice and be held equally accountable for breaking the law. Despite president Magufuli having promised a free and fair elections for all political parties, these amendments reduce the possibility for holding specific groups directly responsible for their actions during this election process.

Indeed, with less than 24 hours to polls, president Magufuli has ensured unfavourable media coverage of elections by arresting journalists, finning and revoking licence to media outlets the government considers critical of the regime, requiring Foreign reporters to be supervised by selected government officials, banning local elections observers from monitoring polls,  and very restrictive laws to local groups and NGOs, one can confidently say that president Magufuli has already won Wednesday’s vote widely viewed as flawed and unfair.

 

 

 

 

US Presidential Debate. Here’s what you need to know about tonight’s showdown.

Kate Sullivan

Less than two weeks from Election Day, Joe Biden and President Trump are scheduled to appear onstage  9:00 p.m. ET for the final general election presidential debate of 2020.

The televised event may be the last opportunity for both candidates to reach a massive national audience before Nov. 3.

Here’s everything you need to know about the final debate:

  • The location: The debate will take place at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. It is scheduled to run from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ET without commercial breaks.
  • The topics: Debate moderator, NBC’s Kristen Welker, will bring six topics: “Fighting COVID-19,” “American Families,” “Race in America,” “Climate Change,” “National Security” and “Leadership.”
  • The debate structure: Each segment will last about 15 minutes, and the candidates will have two minutes to respond after the moderator opens each segment with a question. Welker will then use the rest of the time in the segment to facilitate further discussion on the topic.
  • How this debate is different: The Commission on Presidential Debates recently announced that Biden and Trump would have their microphones muted during portions of the debate. At the start of each of the six segments, each candidate will be given two minutes to answer an initial question, and during that portion, the opposing candidate’s microphone will be muted. The rule change was made after the first debate devolved into chaos, with Trump frequently interrupting and heckling Biden and the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News.Reporting by CNN’s reporter.

Why Africa Deserves a Permanent Seat on United Nations Security Council

When United Nations (UN) was founded in October 1945, only four African countries were part of this organization. Today, all 54 countries are member states of the UN.

Of the 193 member states, only China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States of America (USA) are the only permanent members of United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the organization’s highest decision-making body. This gives them more powers (veto) than the rest of all UN member states when it comes to decision making in the council.  including the entire African.

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Seven Years of China’s Belt and Road Initiative: How are Developing Countries Benefiting?

By Ssemanda Allawi.

In 2013 – seven years ago, Chinese president Xi Jinping gave a set of speeches where he announced the proposal of the now famous Belt Road Initiative (BRI). Xi delivered the first speech about BRI during his visit in Kazakhstan, elaborating his desire and vision of restoring the ancient silk road which offered routes from Peoples Republic of China, through Central Asia to the far Europe. In October, 2013 during his speech to Indonesian parliament, president Xi announced his maritime silk road concept to Indonesians to facilitate trade and ease movement of goods and services.

In the seven years of the project’s implementation, BRI has registered considerable achievements seeing over 29 International Organisations and over 71 countries sign or joining it. This means that more than a third of global GDP and more than two thirds of world’s population are part of the project!  This means that upon completion, the project will make the world’s largest market easy to access and traverse on both road and sea which are key in transportation and mobility of goods and services.

However, this is not without critics especially from some parts of western world with the U.S leading critics of the project with claims such as lack of transparency from Chinese authorities especially its financing while others branding the project is part of what they call China’s debt diplomacy.

However, research indicates that claims of lack of data on funding of the projects are largely wrong as a number of studies and research work  have given a clear view  of funding of this project.

Critics of China and BRI project in particular have often claimed the project is too expensive and will see developing countries fall in what they call China’s “debt diplomacy” with some western capitals branding the project Beijing’s debt trap. Many of critics have always cited Sri Lanka’s Hambantota which was leased to a Chinese firm for 99 years to help repay the country’s debts. The claims that Hambantota port was seized by China are also ambiguous considering the current state of the port if compared to how its state before the Chinese firm invested in it.

Washington has also been very critical of BRI project and generally China’s funding of infrastructure development in different parts of the world claiming that many of Beijing’s clients are  pariah states

However, some of these claims seem to be political with Washington screed of China’s growing relations with the rest of the world which they see as one way of antagonising U.S’ strategic interests. A case in point is citing Beijing’s growing relations with African state of Djibouti. In 2018, U.S’ top military commander in Africa, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser told U.S’ House Armed Services Committee that China’s state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings owning shares in Djibouti’s meant that U.S military could face “significant” consequences. Djibouti is one of many countries China considers part of its Belt Road Initiative.

In regard to Beijing’s infrastructure assistance going to undemocratic states, this is largely wrong. Most of Beijing’s borrowers are democracies with countries such as South Africa, Tanzania, Brazil, Kenya, and Tanzania. Other democratic countries that that have benefited from China’s infrastructure loans include United Kingdom (UK). China is a major investor in UK’s Hinkley Point Nuclear power plant in Somerset.

Therefore, despite critics of BRI, it can be argued that the project so far is a success. Indeed, in 2019, a study by World Bank entitled; “Belt and Road Economics: Opportunities and Risks of Transport Corridors” analysed transportation projects along the BRI routes and concluded that benefits to recipient countries and the entire world would benefit from the project. In Kenya for example, as a result of Belt Road Initiative project, the country built a 470 km railway line from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi to the coastal city of Mombasa which shortened travel time from 10 hours to five, created over 46,000 jobs and helped the country’s GDP by 1.5%.

Despite the study reporting more cases of policy impediments than infrastructure impediments – such as customs delays, bureaucracy, red tape, imports tariffs and corruption which increase trade costs, the study is a proof that BRI will play a significant role toward both social and economic development of the world.

From the above and findings of this study, it is evident that improving investment climate is a key complementary when it comes to supporting and investing in infrastructure sector. This can be realised through deep trade agreements such as the proposed Africa Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA). On Global scale, agreements such as BRI, AfCFTA and the recently reached trade liberalisation agreement between China and ASEAN, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and Japan can help to eliminate tariffs which sometimes are barriers of trade.

Therefore, critics of infrastructure development should not look at infrastructural development in lenses of competition but rather putting in place facilities to aid trade. In particular, those criticising BRI branding the project a debt trap or debt diplomacy should reconsider their exaggerated claims. For example, countries that do borrow funds from China have also on many occasions borrowed from the so-called traditional donors or World Bank, IMF as well as other private bond holders. This means these countries diversify their sources of finances and thinking that they are beholden to China is ignoring key and glaring facts.

However, whereas it is very hard to present facts of the so-called debt diplomacy, there are genuine concerns when it comes to debt sustainability especially to African countries. However, these concerns should not only be tied to borrowing from China but rather all relevant lenders. This is because, unlike domestic debt, foreign debt has to be serviced using exports and this way, there are clear limits that point at how much borrowing developing or poor countries may take and continue to thrive.

In addition, the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on global economies feared to cause recession has should serve as a warning that many developing countries may find it hard to sustain their debts. Almost all countries that were projected to continue with a positive economic growth curve before covid-19 now are IMF analysis shows these countries projections were negatively impacted by covid-19 which has caused negative impact on countries exports and affected their GDP growth and hence, raising questions if these countries can sustain their debts. Indeed, many of China’s clients in Africa are in debt distress.

Early this year, China joined G20 in offering developing countries debt relief as a way of helping countries affected by Covid-19 pandemic recover. Among countries to benefit from this plan include 40 from sub-Saharan region. Despite this effort, debt moratorium alone may not be a magic bullet for Africa and other developing countries. Debt restructuring or write-downs. The challenge is that such arrangements often are done through the Paris Club of which China is not a member. However, if China wants to write-down debts on some African countries and developing countries in general, it can since it has done it before

On the other hand, the US announced a new development finance institution, also known as U.S. Development Finance Corporation (USDFC) to compete with China in offering infrastructure funding to development countries.  Though this is a positive development, this initiate alone will not bring swiping changes. Most of developing countries prefer to use Chinese funding when it comes to infrastructure funding. Though they may look generous, traditional funders and their multinational banks prefer to fund sectors such as administration, social services and the so-called democracy promotion instead of funding the much-needed infrastructure programs. For example, at first 70% of World Bank’s funding went to infrastructure but has been reducing to recently 30% despite huge funding gaps in infrastructure sectors in developing countries.

It is important to note that developing countries are still faced with shortage of funding especially in infrastructure projects which are key for development. A study by World Bank and McKinsey Global Institute found that funding for infrastructure projects such as transport and electricity is lacking, noting that to ensure a socially inclusive development by 2030, there is need to spend more than $3.3 trillions annually of which 60% of this must go to developing countries in Africa. African Development Bank (ADB) on the other hand estimates that to meet demands of their growing population, replace aging infrastructure, African countries must spend between $130-$170 billion annually on infrastructure. Also, a 2017 study by World Bank “Why We Ned to Close the Infrastructure Gap in Sub-Saharan Africa” suggested that if these countries reduce funding gaps for infrastructure, the region’s GDP per capital will grow by 1.7% and hence. All the above shows that any infrastructure assistance to developing countries should not be underestimated and hence, the view that BRI project is a positive initiate for developing countries world over.

In conclusion therefore, as studies have indicated, BRI project has more benefits if compared with challenges it may bring. Instead of critiquing the project largely to Geo and Global politics, China’s critics especially the U.S should back the project and where possible embrace and support new trade agreements such as AfCFTA to improve trade and investment climate in developing countries than only negatively criticising funders that fund developing countries projects. Also, the U.S may champion calls to reform the The Bretton Woods institutions and offer attractive alternative funding to developing countries, reduce their anti-China rhetoric and instead participate with China whenever there are efforts to offer debt relief.

Damaging Lies: Sri Lankan Port Deal With China not a ‘Debt Trap’

By Ssemanda Allawi and Ntende Trevor

Damaging lies: Sri Lankan port deal with China not a ‘debt trap’

In December 2017 Sri Lankan government agreed to lease their major southern port Hambantota which was built by Chinese, a development that caused discussion with several analysts inventing the so-called China’s debt diplomacy while others referred to it as China’s debt trap with some critics claiming that China forced Sri Lankan government into this deal after Sri Lanka failed to pay what critics described as Chinese huge loans.

Since then, China’s critics have always given Sri Lanka as an example arguing that the country was forced to lease its port to pay back Chinese loans, a claim that lacks facts.

Indeed, Sri Lanka’s ministry of Finance’s chair of Public Private Partnership Unit Thilan Wijenighe confirmed that $1.131 billion loan from China was not spent in funding Hambantota port related activities but Sri Lankan government used these funds to boost then failing state reserves as a preparation not to default paying external debts Sri Lanka owed to several western entities.

Put differently, before leasing of Hambantota port, China accounted to just 10% of Sri Lanka’s external debt of which most of these loans are concessional with a long-term payment plans, while the other over 40% of other borrowings was from other ‘traditional’ development partners like World bank and with a short time recovery which distressed Sri Lanka government as opposed to Chinese concessional loans.

In particular, the $1.31 billon China loaned Sri Lanka through Export-Import Bank of China, 90% of this loan was concessional at 2% interest rate and was meant to be recovered in 15 – 20 years. Therefore, it is not logical that to argue that Sri Lanka was forced to lease the port to pay its debt when the loan still had over ten years to be recovered.

Indeed, Sri Lankan government later explained that it was only for commercial reasons that Sri Lanka Ports Authority decided lease 70% shares of its Hambantota port to a Hong Kong based China Merchants Port Holdings since Sri Lanka Ports Authority alone would not manage to make the port realise set economic targets. At the time Sri Lanka Ports Authority decided to lease its majority shares, the port was operating in loses.

Cars parked at Hambantota port, Sri Lanka. Courtesy photo.

Figures from Sri Lanka Ports Authority shows that before its takeover, Hambontata was making losing over $80 million annually and since the deal to was made with China Merchants Port Holdings, the loss reduced by a half in a period of one year and the port has been consolidating its roll on-roll off (RoRo) business doubling the number of vehicles that go through it

Africa and China Share Common Approach to Climate Change.

By David Monyae

Weather patterns across the globe are signalling that climate change will bring about catastrophic calamities to all of us.

Increasingly, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, rising sea levels, warming oceans, thawing permafrost, changing rain and snow patterns are adversely heart-rending.

Africa and China joined the rest of the world at the UN’s 75th anniversary last month to highlight the urgent need for global responses to climate change.

Prior to his address to the UN, President Cyril Ramaphosa warned the world must “swiftly reduce carbon emission and adapt to the effects of climate change, we will be facing one state of disaster after another for many years to come”.

President Xi Jinping of China avoided playing games demonstrated by his counterpart President Donald Trump on climate change.

Instead, he pledged that China will achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, a move that has been commended and welcomed all over the world.

Although there are many notable differences in appearance, style, and approach among Africans themselves, on one hand, and China, on the other, they share a common position on climate change. The reason Africa and China shared a common position at the UN on climate change is because it receives high priority within the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation.

At the Beijing Summit in 2018, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted the increased co-operation between Africa and China.

He furthermore noted how Africa and China are pursuing what he considered as the “two mutually compatible road maps”, thus, AU’s Agenda 2063 and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in pursuance of the Belt and Road Initiative.

It is in this context therefore that Africa and China committed themselves to being environmentally friendly in the construction of mega-projects across the continent.

There are also many lessons Africa can learn from China’s rapid rise. China is the only country in the world that has uplifted more than 700 million out of poverty in four decades.

While Africa aspires to follow some aspects of China’s development model, it ought to be mindful of the environmental impact of its development.

China achieved its development at a very high cost to the environment, but President Xi Jinping’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and setting clear targets of carbon neutrality by 2060 has made China a leading global champion on climate change along with the African continent.

It must be recognised that Africa is the smallest producer of CO2 emission yet it is one of the most affected by climate change. In recent years, Africa has had endless calamities caused by climate change.

East Africa experienced swarms of voracious desert locusts amid Covid-19, threatening food security.

The city of Cape Town was on the verge of reaching “Day Zero” in 2018 due to a lack of rainfall.

Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi are still recovering from Cyclone Idai.

Farther afield, Ethiopia and Egypt are facing simmering tensions over the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam on the Nile River.

Indeed, Africa should work with China and the rest of the world to prevent President Ramaphosa’s prophecy from becoming a reality.

 

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