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As various countries in Africa recover from previous crises and build solid reputations as good places to do business, the champions of past times are losing their luster. That is the case for South Africa, previously seen as a reliable business partner for global trade, but which has been causing more and more concern from international investors. The unexpected intervention of Port Elizabeth in an international territorial negotiation may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

On the Northwest Atlantic coast, between Morocco and Mauritania, lies Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. In 1967, Spain withdrew from the area, leaving it to its own fate. The desert strip remained inhabited by local communities, and Moroccan businesses which employ them. An armed separatist group, named the Polisario front, was created in 1973, which aimed at excluding Morocco from the land, making it a separate and sovereign nation. The United Nations classify Western Sahara as a “non-self-governing territory”, something the Polisario front would like to change.

The Saharawi people stretch across the area, all the way to the Algerian side of the border, where refugee camps are home to near 200 000 people, where NGOs decry the shortage of food, water, basic supplies and access to elementary services. Yet, there’s no lack of means, as Magnus Norell, Senior Policy Analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the European Foundation for Democracy, points out. “The newly presented report from the EU corruption watch-dog — OLAF — about embezzlement of funds from the EU to Polisario, comes as no real surprise for those of us who have followed the confluence between organized crime and terrorism in West Africa”, he explains. According to Norell, “OLAF shows how Polisario leadership, in cahoots with Algeria, has inflated the number of refugees in the camps in Tindouf in order to increase aid-money and supplies intended for the refugees. Furthermore, good-quality foodstuff like Canadian wheat for example, intended for the refugees were switched to lower-quality provisions, selling the higher quality goods on the open market.”

“Polisario has become even more entangled in various criminal activities, like smuggling and trafficking, says Norell. Even more worrying is the fact that militant Islamists have aggressively targeted the Tindouf-camps in efforts to recruit militants.” From this point of view, life seems better in the western part of the land, where Moroccan companies have heavily invested into the local mining economy, as well as in schools and proper housing conditions for workers.  However, the Polisario front claims that Saharawi people are being robbed of their natural resources and wish to gain complete economic control of the area. UN-held negotiations have been under way for years, and were recently reset in an attempt to find a solution to the dispute. The Polisario front therefore tried to find higher grounds for the negotiation.

Aware that phosphate ore from Western Sahara was transiting through the world on their way towards clients, the Polisario Front sent requests to several courts, hoping to have cargos seized, especially in April 2017. A Panamanian court temporarily held back a Vancouver-bound ship, but released it a few days later, as the case was for the United Nations to rule upon. But a local South African courthouse, in Port Elizabeth, did not declare itself incompetent and decided to judge the case on merits, despite the ongoing UN negotiation.

As a result, the Cherry Blossom, a Danish cargo boat, transporting 55 000 tons of phosphate on its way to New Zealand, has been held captive with 30 hapless sailors on board, for two months, with no solution in sight. The Moroccan government issued a formal complaint through its spokesman, M. El Khafi, describing the self-proclaimed competence of the local South African court as “contrary to international law”.

The Polisario front, on the other hand, celebrated its temporary victory and threatened with further legal action: “The reputational risk for ship owners and charterers is that which results from knowingly participating in the export of resources from a territory widely referred to as Africa’s last colony. This entails possible rejection of trade by parties interested in an end to the occupation of Western Sahara, including commercial enterprise and governments throughout Africa and elsewhere”, as was reported by the Western Sahara Resource Watch, an international NGO favorably inclined towards the Polisario Front and opposed to Morocco.

It’s hard to say whether this initiative could have happened at a worse time. South Africa was recently set back by Standard & Poor’s into the BB+ category, known as speculative, which recommends that investors avoid dealing in the area. In fact, South Africa has been losing speed for some time, while neighboring Tanzania, Mozambique and Rwanda proudly display soaring development rates. Half a century ago, South Africa held a unique geographical position in international trade, with harbor facilities unlike any other in the area. In other words, international business which wanted to deal in the area had little choice but to plant their flag in South Africa.

But things have changed, now that the entire area is developed. In response to the Cherry Blossom caper, businesses who fear being dragged into international dispute they hold no stakes or interest in, have simply decided to stop for refuelling in other countries, in order to secure their activities.  Following the arrest of the Cherry Blossom in South Africa, New Zealand now makes sure the cargo ships refuel safely: “Since the ship was detained in South Africa, Balance Agri Nutrients and their shippers have been finding ways of evading the legal tactics used by the Saharan campaigners.  They and their shippers made sure the carrier, Common Spirit, travelled to New Zealand via Cape Horn, and so avoided South African jurisdiction”, reported Eric Frykberg for RNZ.

South Africa didn’t need this: since 1980, the unemployment rate has more than doubled, hitting nearly one in four adults in 2016. The local currency has been in constant devaluation over that same period: when a rand could buy a dollar in 1980, with change to spare, nearly 16 are necessary to buy a green bill today. According to the IMF “Slow economic growth since 2008 has further aggravated unemployment, real disposable income is stagnant, and households are heavily indebted. […] Stress tests confirm the capital resilience of banks and insurance companies to severe shocks but illustrate a vulnerability to liquidity shortfalls.”, which is exactly what South Africa will likely experience, as businesses and investors avoid the area for fear of being held hostage. This is the price to pay for ludicrous political choices.

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USA

Jerusalem Issue Saw The United States Stand Alone

Manak Suri

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US Consulate in Jerusalem

2017 is a year Americans are unlikely to forget very easily and it’s all thanks to one man: Donald J. Trump. They welcomed the year 2017 amid deep controversy following the election of Mr. Trump as the 45th President of the USA. Since then, Mr. Trump has managed to maintain a spot in the headlines every now and then with a number of his decisions sparking several debates. Now, with the New Year looming large, Americans find their government alienated at the forefront of another controversy; the one that has followed the immensely criticized decision by the Trump government to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

On December 6, Mr. Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, also signalling the move of the United States Embassy to the hugely controversial city from Tel Aviv. “Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital”, he said of the decision. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.” One of the promises made by Trump as part of his campaign was to successfully broker a deal in the Middle East and bring an end to decades of conflict between Israel and Palestine. With the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he seems to be doing anything but fulfilling that promise.

Why is the issue of Jerusalem so contentious?

You may as well ask why the move is being given the attention that it has been receiving and what it means. To put it quite simply, the status of Jerusalem has remained unresolved in the context of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Till the Six-Day War in 1967 Jerusalem was controlled partly by Israel in the west and by Jordan in the east. During the war Israel occupied East Jerusalem, thereby obtaining complete control of the entire city. The Palestinians and the Arab world, along with many others in the international community recognized the move as an illegal occupation of East Jerusalem. Palestine also views East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Moreover, Old City in Jerusalem is an important religious site for Jews, Muslims as well as for Christians. Therefore, Jerusalem’s status has been a contentious issue both historically and religiously.

So where does the rest of the world stand?

What has followed since the decision of the United States is a demonstration by the rest of the world on how far they are willing to go against the US or anyone for that matter to condemn what they believe does not contribute to peace in the world. On December 18, 14 out of 15 members of the United Nations Security Council gave a green signal to a measure “expressing deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.” Quite obviously, the US was the only country to veto the measure following which Turkey and Yemen took it upon themselves to call for an emergency session of the 193 members strong United Nations General Assembly.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the US would be closely watching and “taking names” of those who voted against them. She went so far as to write to more than 180 countries that any vote in favour of the resolution would be taken personally by the President. Mr. Trump himself suggested withdrawal of billions of dollars of aid to countries who would vote against the US. “Let them vote against us; we’ll save a lot,” he said. “We don’t care.” Even right before the voting took place, Haley threatened that the US would cut funding to the UN over the vote. The talk may have swayed some countries to its side which barely amounted to anything. 128 member countries voted in favour of the resolution and only 9 voted against it. Any consolation that the US received from the vote was 35 abstentions from some of its allies. By not voting at all, they neither criticized the move by the US, nor did they voice their support for the US on the issue, if any.

What the measure explicitly says is that any changes to Jerusalem’s status “have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded.” In addition, it “calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem”, clearly targeting the US decision to move its embassy to the city.

How have the different parties involved reacted?

Ambassador Haley had the following to say of the result that saw the United States pretty much isolated on yet another international issue: “The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out in this assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.” She added, “We will remember it when, once again, we are called up to make the world’s largest contribution to the UN, and we will remember it when many countries come calling on us to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.” Regardless of the vote, Haley said the US Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem.

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine and Palestinian National Authority called Trump’s announcement a “crime” and expressed that he no longer desires the US to broker peace between them ad Israel. In addition, more than 50 countries with a majority of Muslim population signed a statement which declares that the United States has lost its role as a “sponsor of peace” in the Middle East region.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, thanked Mr. Trump for his stance on the issue as well as the other countries that voted against the resolution. Also rejecting the measure, Mr. Netanyahu released a statement saying that “Israel rejects the UN resolution and at the same time expresses satisfaction with the high number of countries that did not vote for the resolution.”

The issue remains one which needs to be closely watched to ascertain what the repercussions will be once the decisions and actions of the US, the countries in the Middle East, and Israel play out in their entirety. The United States has already made a move to reduce the contribution of the country to the UN budget. “We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked, said Nikki Haley of the step, adding that they would look at ways to increase the governing body’s efficiency while protecting their own interests at the same time. At the same time, Guatemala has followed in the United States’ steps by deciding to move their embassy to Jerusalem as well. As 2018 approaches, will this prove to be the new year resolution that remains in focus for more than just the first few weeks of the year? At least the Palestinians will hope so.

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India

India’s Victory at the International Court of Justice is the World’s Challenge to the Status Quo

Manak Suri

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flickr/romanboed

For the past week, both the Indian and British media have rigorously covered the story of the re-election of India’s justice Dalveer Bhandari to the bench of judges in the International Court of Justice on Tuesday, November 21. That the Indian judge retained his position on the bench was not the sole reason for the story’s extensive coverage; his reappointment combined with the fact that it happened at the expense of the United Kingdom’s spot on the bench is why the story is making so many rounds… and no, that many Indians may see it as some sort of a comeback against Britain’s 200 years of colonial rule over the country is not the reason why it matters. It matters because this is the first time since 1946 that the UK has no judge on the ICJ bench, and that signals possible changes in the way international bodies govern and are governed. So what does this mean for India, for the UK and for the world at large?

The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice or the ICJ was established in 1945 by the United Nations as its principal judicial branch and is located in The Hague, Netherlands. Its job is to settle legal disputes between states that are submitted to it and give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it. The court comprises of a total of 15 judges that are elected to 9 year terms by way of voting from both the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) separately. One third of the court is re-elected every three years, and no two judges of the same nationality may assume positions on the bench simultaneously. However, the rule that led to the deadlock between the candidates from India and UK is that a candidate must obtain an absolute majority in both the UNGA and the UNSC in order to be elected to the bench.

UN General Assembly vs UN Security Council: The Race in Numbers

On November 9 and November 13, in seven rounds of voting justice Bhandari secured between 110 and 121 votes from a total of 193 in the UNGA against figures between 68 and 79 secured by his British counterpart Sir Christopher Greenwood. However, among the UNSC, justice Bhandari lost out by 5 votes to 9 in favour of Sir Greenwood. In the face of uncertainty, the UK then pushed for a ‘joint conference’ under the rules of the court between the UNSC and the UNGA. Under the ‘joint conference’ three countries from each side then determine the name for the court. However, the rules do not mention the procedure to select these countries and understandably so, since the option was last invoked in 1921. Fearing not enough support from the council, criticism for invoking the charter, and harming its friendly as well as economic relations with India, the UK eventually chose to not follow through with the process and withdrew its candidature for the post. In the end, India secured the seat with a total of 183 votes out of 193 at the UNGA and all 15 at the UNSC.

There is More to the Victory than Meets the Eye

The result means different things for the parties involved and also for the balance of power and influence between countries. For the UK, there are hardly any positives to take away from this result amid already turbulent times. Many in the British media have viewed this loss as ‘a blow to British international prestige’ and the country’s acceptance of a diminishing role in global affairs. This was the UK’s second major defeat at the ICJ after it lost a vote by a margin of 94 to 15 countries in June when the UNGA voted in favour of referring the question of decolonisation and self-determination of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean to the ICJ, which is currently under its control. Many within and outside the country have also been quick to blame Brexit for the situation in which they find themselves today, arguing that the other states, especially the ones within the European Union would have been less willing to snub the UK had the UK chosen not to leave the alliance. In the face of defeat, British diplomats have continued to maintain that they are happy that their close friend India has won, but have also not been shy of hiding their natural disappointment at their own loss.

For India, their victory in having a judge win the contest in getting elected to the ICJ bench against a permanent member of the UNSC is more symbolic than anything else. It reinforces India’s image at the highest stage as a major emerging global player and its ability to bring in greater reforms that push for more involvement from developing countries and emerging economies. Also, having a judge on the ICJ bench gives India an edge over Pakistan in the case involving former Indian Navy Officer Kulbhushan Jadhav who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistan military court on the charges of espionage. True, a judge on the ICJ does not represent his/her country or their interests. However, as suggested by repeated criticism the court receives for being biased in favour of the states who appoint the judges, having a judge on the panel is certainly an asset for any country, no matter what the rules dictate on paper.

The most important takeaway from the whole episode far exceeds the ambitions of just the two countries and a race for a seat at the ICJ. India’s victory at the court reinforces the belief that power does not necessarily reside or has to reside with the ‘few global elite’, a sentiment which was expressed clearly when most member states of the UNGA backed India’s justice Bhandari to be re-elected against the choice of the permanent members or P5 of the UNSC. There seems to be an acknowledgment among the member states of the UN of the beginning of a change which sees an increasing shift in the balance of power away from the traditional powers of the world or the P5 – Britain, China, United States, Russia, and France. Of these countries, China was the only member to not have a judge on the ICJ between 1967 and 1985 till the final decision last week, when they were joined by the UK in the list. Last year, Russia was voted off the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the 2016 elections, France lost out on securing a position in the International Law Commission. While diplomats at the UN continue to maintain that there are no winners and losers here, that it is all part of a bigger picture, these developments undoubtedly mark diplomatic victories for the Group of 77 or the G77, a coalition of developing nations at the UN that have constantly pushed for an enhanced negotiating capacity. What remains to be seen is just to what extent they bring about a change in the status quo.

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Environment

Saving the Planet: Where Will We Finish in Our Race Against Climate Change?

Manak Suri

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global warming

2017 will go down as yet another year in history with landmark changes in global warming and climate change. As estimated by the 2017 Global Carbon Budget, global carbon emissions this year are on course to touch a record high level of 37 billion tonnes. Also, 2017 is set to be among three of the hottest years ever recorded, the United Nations revealed earlier this month. Further, 2017 is also slated to be the hottest year ever on record which has seen no intrusion from the El Nino effect that results in heat being released from the Pacific Ocean about once in every five years.

“These findings underline the rising risks to people, economies and the very fabric of life on Earth if we fail to get on track with the aims and ambitions of the Paris agreement,” Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Patricia Espinosa said of the situation ahead of the Bonn Climate Conference that took place earlier this month in Germany. Her sentiment is widely accepted and shared by the representatives of almost every country in the world, by environmental experts across the globe, by the media, by me and probably by you as well. However, in the blitz of repeated warnings and fresh facts nearly every week of every month, the only aspect that seems to be a regular is the lack of action on the issue especially on national and international levels, and that is concerning, considering the vigour with which promises are made by the leaders of some of the largest countries on the international stage. Thus, in the wake of fresh warnings by scientists on climate change, the developments in the recently concluded Bonn Conference do not seem as satisfactory when billed against these same warnings. Let’s have a look at each of the two.

A second warning: are you aware?

Starting July this year, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries have issued a global warning to humanity in a letter calling for a change in both attitude and action to save our planet and ourselves from our own recklessness. Titled ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’, the letter puts light on key issues that threaten our survival: shrinking freshwater resources and marine fisheries, an increase in the number of dead zones, declining proportion of forests, a decline in many vertebrate species, increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions across the world, and an increase in the human population towards unsustainable levels. The letter claims that with the current trends unchanged, many life forms will be extinct or headed towards extinction before the end of the century. However, it also credits humanity with one achievement of a decline in the presence of ozone depleting substances. The letter also lists the measures that are absolutely necessary to bring about the desired change. Some of these include restoration of forest areas, repopulating native species, reducing food waste and making dietary shifts towards plant based foods, and promoting education for women to reduce fertility rates. By the beginning of this month, the letter had received optimum attention from the media.

The movement, started by William Ripple of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, marks the 25th anniversary of the first “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’ that was issued by nearly 1,700 scientists. “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated,” reads the original letter from 1992 under the sub-heading “warning”. It is a sad reminder of how little we have progressed in 25 years in our duty to make our home planet remain the home planet for the generations to come.

Bonn Climate Change Conference: Does slow and steady win the race?

In the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, world leaders pledged to ensure that their countries would do their best to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in this century. Since then, a Donald Trump led United States has backed out of the agreement, and climate experts worldwide have sounded alarms claiming that the goal is extremely difficult to achieve going by the current trajectory of the countries that are major contributors of carbon emissions.

The Bonn Conference on climate change or the COP23 in Bonn, Germany was held from November 6 to November 17 to further the negotiations between the involved parties on how the agreement is supposed to pan out 2020 onwards. Some minor yet positive developments at the conference included continued participation from the US delegation signaling their involvement despite Trump’s decisions to take a different course, the launch of the Powering Past Coal Alliance led by the UK and Canada the members of which seek to phase out existing traditional coal power in their jurisdictions, and a long awaited agreement between the parties to work on issues linking climate change and agriculture. That’s about it.

Many of the difficult decisions and issues to be tackled have been relegated to the following year. Negotiations took place on establishing a “rulebook” to govern the processes required to be able to move in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The deadline for this task is the COP next year in Poland, and a draft of the implementation guidelines was to be ready by the end of the Bonn conference. However, a lot of disagreements between countries on issues such as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) have resulted in the requirements of additional sessions to finish the draft in time.

The tussle between the developed and developing countries over the issue of climate finance arose throughout the talks and remains largely unsettled, again requiring additional sessions for a consensus to be reached among the parties. Further, leaders of island nations were left frustrated due to delays by wealthy nations in compensating these countries which are most threatened by the effects of climate change. “This means life or death for us”, said Tommy Remengesau, the president of Palau, saying that the issue “is a moral question, and it requires a moral answer.” The pace with which developments are taking place make it quite evident that we are still far away from the goals set during the Paris Accord. With the current trends, we are more likely to end up with a rise in global temperatures of 3 degrees Celsius this century, the results of which may be catastrophic. In the meantime, the warnings will keep increasing. They will keep increasing till the point at which they become regrets, a transition which it’s possible that many may not even live to see. “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home”, wrote Ripple in his letter in his bid to make anyone who comes across his piece aware of where we’re headed. Perhaps change will come only when we are made aware, albeit painfully, of what it is that we are losing, or that which we may have already lost.

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