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Editors' Picks

Time to crack the whip on illicit financial flows in Africa

In the last 50 years Africa has lost more than $1 trillion in illicit financial flows which include criminal activities like drug and human trafficking, animal poaching, theft of oil, corruption and unethical business practices by multinationals.

The figure as recently quantified by African Union’s high level panel on illicit financial flows indicate that on average Africa loses more than $50 billion dollars every year to this illegal flows, denying the continent the much needed capital to tackle some of its most biting problems like poverty and underdevelopment.

In fact according to the Africa Development Bank, Africa needs approximately $50 billion each year to address its infrastructure needs, money it would easily find if such illicit flows were nipped in the bud.

Multinationals have been accused of fanning the unethical behaviour, from the timber sales in Mozambique and Liberia, the mineral production in DR Congo and export of crude oil in Nigeria. At the heart of this, is transfer pricing and profit shifting which ensures that these companies are able to hide revenues therefore absconding their fiduciary duty of paying taxes.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki who chairs the African Union panel on illicit financial flows captured it aptly when addressing Pan African parliament.

“The information available to us has convinced our panel that large commercial corporations are by far the biggest culprits of illicit outflows, followed by organized crime. We are also convinced that corrupt practices in Africa are facilitating these outflows, apart from and in addition to the related problem of weak governance capacity.”

The tough economic times and the changing global geopolitics mean that donor countries are scaling back funding to African countries. This therefore portends that Africa has to look inwards to finance its needs, which it comfortably can.

But it has to make some bold and unpopular decisions including strengthening institutions that can track where these resources are being lost, and passing tough legislation to net and severely punish offenders, irrespective of their stature. It also calls on African leaders to pile pressure on their international partners to assist in this war. Most of the illicit finances end up in havens like Panama and British Islands.

Nigeria’s president Muhammad Buhari made one such bold step when he visited former British Prime Minister David Cameron and urged him to assist him recover money that had left Nigeria illegally and was stashed in UK.

It is indeed a war that requires concerted effort, but one that Africa should be willing to actively take up for the sake of its people.

Human rights concerns rising in Hungary (again)

„Border hunters“ are the latest anti-immigration initiative carried out by the conservative government of Hungary.

After a six-month special course, up to 3,000 Hungarian police and army units will soon start monitoring Hungary’s borders (especially with Serbia and Croatia) to strengthen immigration control. This marks the boundary of the Schengen zone, where hundreds of thousands of migrants have entered Hungary since 2015, most fleeing persecution or conflict such as the Syrian civil war. Although the majority have gone to other European Union countries, the nationalist government of Viktor Orbán remains steadfast in its aim to stop the migrant flow.

Besides from totally disregarding international laws on the rights of asylum seekers, Hungary’s move is “deeply inhumane”, as warned by Amnesty International.

After erecting an impenetrable fence along the Southern border, the Hungarian parliament has now passed a package of amendments that tighten existing asylum regulations, which will allow systematic detentions in container camps. According to the new law, Hungary will be able to immediately send back migrants to the other side of the border and can even charge migrants to cover their detention costs.

The new Hungarian measures further damage migrants’ prospects, since they have a strong psychological impact on those in aid seeking European support. Earlier, Budapest had rejected the refugee quotas imposed by the European Commission. This time, Brussels must demonstrate to the Hungarian government that such measures will have consequences.

POCs don't destroy civilisations, crazy politicians do

I am what people call a ‚person of colour‘. My parents were Indian immigrants to the UK in the 70s, and I grew up in Britain, and now live in Germany. Hence the label – if I was born in India, I guess I’d be called Punjabi, or a Jat, or a Sikh, or something. First born son. 

OK, so POC it is. A morally-neutral but still weird-sounding term to describe me and others in a socio-political context. How do POCs vote, what do POCs buy, what generational differences exist in POC communities etc. This is all kind of OK – the obvious things annoy of course, why the hell am I a POC, what is a white person then, a non-POC? An antiPOC? Maybe just a P. But that’s a matter for the ‚best language for an imperfect world‘ debate. I don’t want to get involved in that. 

Instead, I want to say, as a POC, one of the most unbelievably infuriating things to see and hear, is to be blamed for the downfall of an entire civilisation, and watch on the sidelines as those very same people doing the blaming (nonPOC) take apart that civilisation brick by brick. 

Take Steve King, for instance. The Republican congressman for Iowa tweeted support for Geert Wilders, yesterday: “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilisation with someone else’s babies.”

OK, let’s pretend for a second we’re ok with the word civilisation. Let’s be ok with the weirdly cutesy-wutesy phrasing of someone who clearly has white supremacy on the mind. The weird thing about this is actually the word ‚restore‘. Restored to what? Restored to the time before multiculturalism, of course. Restored by whom? NonPOCs like Steve King. 

This is a seriously telling insight into the mind of the extreme-right wing (Steve King is also a fan of Le Pen, has made known his support of AfD, he’s so predictable it’s pointless to say he probably/ definitely likes to go as Hitler for Halloween because you know, everyone feels it’s ok on this day! aah hahah ahah…): They really do ideologically believe that when they act rashly, threaten to destroy the EU, tear up social-securities, stir-up hate – that they’re doing God’s work. I mean, up until recently, I thought a lot of what they said and did was merely hot-air, pragmatically blown across this and that political landscape to get attention and votes (I’m sure some of it still is). 

But now I think I’m actually taking seriously the view that these people really believe that: a) Destroying the political landscape and replacing it with an ethno-national state is a good thing, and b) it is POCs that are destroying the state and communities etc. It’s really kinda annoying. 

I used to think that racism was my problem: I’m brown, right. But then I realised that it’s a white problem – in this society at least. I mean, I’m not the one losing sleep about whether my house gets robbed by some POC or my daughter marries some POC etc. I don’t have dinners where my main topic is, really guys, come on, what do we really think? In the same way, homophobia is a heterosexual problem, and sexism a man’s problem. Even if we should prioritise the victims, the complexes exist in the mind of the perpetrator. And even something does come about, where there are no more POCs in Europe, and the great days are returned, and everyone eats turkey on Christmas day in the magical castle, the world will have been destroyed to get there, and it won’t have been destroyed by a POC. 

Still a long walk for the African girl child

Africa has been billed a continent of opportunities. A land bestowed with natural resources and teeming with a young population driving innovation and growth. Yet it remains a continent where the drivers of its economic, social and cultural growth still remains unsung. As the World marks the International Women’s Day, it is worth pausing and reflecting on the journey of the African girl child and women, and the space of this constituency in the global geopolitics.

While governments across the continent have committed resources and nations enacted legislation to protect and spearhead the sacrosanct rights of the girl child, the African girl has to still surmount numerous odds.

From the kidnapping of Chibok girls by Nigeria Islamists Boko Haram, to forced marriages of underage girls and female genital mutilation in majority of the countries, it is a tough call being a girl in Africa.

Yet Africa continue to celebrate women of outstanding stature, those who have broken the ceiling and captured the world attention for their brazen and selfless acts. From coming up with groundbreaking innovation, offering refuge to children of war and leading some of the largest institutions in the continent, the African women deserves Vulcan salute because in most cases the playing field has not been levelled to their advantage.

It is worth celebrating African queens like Liberia President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Environmentalist and Nobel peace prize laureate the Late Wangari Maathai, Malawi Chief Theresa Inkosi Kachindamoto working to end early girl marriages, Morocco’s Aicha Ech Channa who houses neglected single mothers and Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya a champion for girls‘ education and an avid campaigner against female genital mutilation in Kenya among other stars. It is their courage and missionary zeal that is inspiring a new set of modern day female leaders who are shaping the course of the continent.

An African adage goes, “educating a woman is educating a whole world,” a statement that has passed the litmus test if the number of African girls making global headlines for phenomenal activities is anything to go by.

Africa owes its girl child a fair world, free from discrimination, violence and access to education if it is to rise and compete in the global arena. Happy International Women’s Day to all daughters of Africa and all corners of the earth. The world celebrates you.

Brexit deepens divisions in Northern Ireland

As the Brexit storm swirls across the British Isles, much focus has been paid to the growing demands for Scottish independence, but another region of the United Kingdom that voted to stay in the European Union, Northern Ireland, remains largely forgotten and may represent the hardest challenge for the withdrawal from the EU.

Last week’s snap election, held after the dissolving of the Northern Irish Assembly at Stormont, showed the historic divisions in the territory, that has been stained by decades of armed conflict, reinforced by the Brexit vote. After 20 years of relatively stability and peace, the threat of returning border controls between the two Irelands has sparked fears of increased sectarianism and outbreaks of violence.

While nationalist parties, who support the reunification of Ireland, experienced a surge in popularity in the election held the 2nd of March, the unionists lost their symbolic majority that they have enjoyed since the province was created. With the Democratic Unionist Party (28 seats) and Sinn Fein (27), Stormont is now as divided as ever, putting the power-sharing agreement is at risk. The two main parties do not see eye to eye on many issues, with the nationalist Sinn Fein warning that Irish unity has never left their agenda.

In a territory that vastly relies on EU aid, the brutal result for unionism can easily be linked to Northern Irish voters’ dissatisfaction with the UK’s leaving the EU. The open border with the Republic of Ireland inside the European Union was a key aspect of the successful peace process, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Now, strong fears abound over the hardening of the border, which has reawakened the memories of the long decades of ‘Troubles’, which savagely tore Northern Irish society apart and took the lives of 3,500 people. Not only harming the countless businesses that operate across the border, a hard border presents a psychological blow to those who dream of a united Ireland and to the strongly and historically linked border communities.

The management of the border with the Republic of Ireland could become one of the main implications of Brexit. To ensure the peaceful coexistence of the Protestant (Unionist) and Catholic (Nationalist) communities in Northern Ireland and to prevent any flare-ups of conflicts, this issue must become a priority for Westminster.

The neverending story has a new chapter

There’s something oddly familiar about writing about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It’s a sadly unending tale, and one where the act of talking about it is as divisive (sometimes astonishingly so) as the story itself. 

Whenever we get close to something like a resolution in Israel and Palestine, whenever there seems to be some kind of hope, there’s new grievance, new pain, new conflict. The last eight years cannot be said to be positive for the conflict (indeed, Obama escalated the military capability of the Israelis), but there is always some hope when a new American regime enters power. Oh yeah, another unavoidable element to this conflict: American involvement is just as vital to consider as the story itself. 

When Trump replaced Obama, we all knew that the story would continue. And indeed, it did. The ultra-conservative Netanyahu took advantage of the new President’s desire to bolster Israel against Palestine (as well as his general antipathy towards Muslims), and suddenly new settlements were announced. 

Well, while we have a general sense of where this is all headed, we still can’t say anything of substance regarding the new chapter in this conflict, until something of actual political significance takes place i.e. a summit (which, in the long history of the conflict, is how time-frames have been developed and defined). 

But if we want to talk about a renewal of the eighties and nineties, and a time when talking about Israel is once again a dangerous political thing to do, then that looks pretty appropriate. We’re now again at the stage where British universities (to take one example) are possibly silencing critics of Israel. 

The University of Manchester has been very peculiar in measuring and monitoring an event which is critical of Israel – although the event has been allowed to go ahead, with a limited time frame, and a restriction on the academic who could take charge of it. 

This is different from the ’no-platforming‘ protests which happen across the world. When a person is ’no-platformed‘, they face a grassroots protest which is designed to challenge the amplification and legitimisation of their views; it is not a challenge to free speech. When an institution or power gets involved, and decides to monitor the activities of the grassroots at their base (when that organisation poses no threat to the physical safety of others and explicitly condones hate, hate-speech and violence) then that is something else. 

It recalls an earlier state of play when groups and academics could be subject to institutional intervention for holding non-aggressive, critical views. While the right cries foul over non-platforming, political correctness and the destruction of free-speech, the real problems are institutional ones – which puts power firmly against the ability to speak out. 

Watch this space. 

Pakistan and alienation of its own citizens

The provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkwa in Pakistan this week approved a resolution condemning racial profiling of a certain ethnicity in the country. It blamed the country’s biggest Punjab province– which has been dominating the country’s politics and the powerful army since its inception in 1947, for singling out the ethnic Pashtunes as ‘terrorists’ and launching a nation-wide persecution campaign.

Pakistan lost its western flank in 1971 when the ethnic Bengalis leveled similar allegations of racial profiling and persecution, and went on to have an independent state Bangladesh for themselves. The Islamabad government needs to learn a lesson from that, and take steps that would bring different segments of this diverse society closer rather than dividing it.

The provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkwa has threatened to ban the entry of residents of Punjab if the persecution of Pashtunes continued.

In the wake of resurge militant attacks, the government of Pakistan allowed the military to launch yet another operation within the country last month with clear focus on Punjab. The law enforcement agencies have been given sweeping powers. This operation was launched after a string of terrorist attacks in various parts of the country that claimed over 90 lives. But, the racial profiling in the backdrop of this operation is quite

disturbing. There have been reports about police harassing Pashtune laborers, hotels denying them stay and the government turning a blind eye towards all this.

Prior to the latest attacks, the country was going through a rather peaceful period, but the Talibanization and militant attacks are not a new phenomenon in Pakistan.

Painting all Pashtunes as terrorists despite the fact that they have bore the brunt of militancy for decades also provides opportunities to extremist groups in other parts of the country to get away with their crimes. Groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Punjabi Taliban are declared militant groups with headquarters and leadership present in Punjab itself.

Instead of causing more hatred by racially profiling its own people, the military and civilian leadership should address the loopholes in security and intelligence services besides shunning the longstanding policy of differentiating between ‘the good and the bad’ militants.

South Africa’s xenophobic attacks slamming the brakes on a United Africa

The current spate of attacks in South Africa targeting African immigrants is threatening to spiral out of control as ransacking of shops and harassing of foreigners continue unabated.

“The Mamelodi Concerned Residents” that has become the face of the current xenophobic attacks have carried daring attacks on businesses run by foreigners in what they claim is venting anger on non-South Africans, predominantly Nigerians, Zimbabweans and Somalis who, have settled in the Rainbow republic and taken over the locals’ jobs.

The attacks have rekindled memories of similar attacks that have always taken an ugly twist. In 2015 seven people died as a result of the same, with the 2008 ones being the bloodiest, having claimed 60 lives and displaced over 50,000 people. South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma has, as before, condemned the attacks. “We are not a xenophobic country. At the same time, we cannot close our eyes to the concerns of the communities that most of the crimes such as drug dealing, prostitution and human trafficking are allegedly perpetuated by foreign nationals.” He said in a statement.

But this statement is one among many critics feel do nothing to address the root cause of this mayhem. For a country that is home to over two million foreigners and one that prides itself in tolerance, diversity, co-existence and being a beacon of civility in the continent, such regrettable acts not only paint it in bad light, but will always inspire retaliatory attacks.

Already in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, protesters have attacked South Africa telecommunication company MTN’s office to protest attacks on their nationals. The Nigerian government on the other hand has summoned the South African ambassador to express their discontent over the attacks.

To have foreigners live in constant fear while in another African country is regrettable and flies in the face of the United African resolve that is now being actualized with the introduction of a United African passport and key resolutions that will open borders for Africans to move freely and do business together.

No African country can claim to make it on its own as past experiences have shown. Any attempts to attack foreigners should be met with the requisite force, with the responsible governments moving beyond rhetoric to prove to the rest of Africa that they are committed to a borderless Africa that embraces coexistence.

Accommodating foreigners will be every government’s litmus test and for South Africa, the herculean task now is to shed off the xenophobic country tag while proving to the rest of the continent that it indeed embraces the ideals of one African people.

Political blockade wont stop Catalan referendum

The Spanish state is playing its last card in trying to prevent the referendum on self-determination, announced by the Catalan government for this year. One by one, several Catalan pro-independence leaders have been called to the Spanish courts, accused of criminal disobedience for holding a symbolic independence referendum in 2014. First to face trial was the current president of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Focadell, then came the former president of the Generalitat, Artur Mas and finally this Monday was the turn of Francesc Homs, former spokesman of the Catalan Government.

However, the incumbent conservative Popular Party government strategy of politicising the courts has faced sharp criticism. By simply transferring the burning issue of Catalan independence to the courtroom whilst infringing on the separation of powers, PP´s policy is subsequently adding fuel to the fire rather than quelling Catalan demands for self-determination.

In recent years, unprecedented demonstrations have regularly taken place all over Catalonia reflecting a heightening of the pro-independence voice. Tensions between Madrid and Barcelona have become more and more strained over the topic of independence in the past decade, mostly because of the capital’s actions. Initially, the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia was banned in 2006 because it defined Catalonia as a nation. Furthermore, President Mariano Rajoy has refused to negotiate the revision of the fiscal pact requested by the Catalans and continuously blocks requests for a referendum on independence.

A growing segment of Spanish society has understood that a referendum is inevitable. Recently, some parts of PSOE (Socialist Party) joined Podemos (a newly-created anti-austerity party) and regional parties in supporting this request. The ruling conservative Popular Party must recognise that ignoring the Catalan pro-independence social outcry is and will be impossible. Whether in favour of self-determination or not, it becomes more evident as each day passes the key is to allow democratic participation as citizens exercise their right to vote and voice their opinion in an independence referendum.