France sees ‘new step’ for Africa as key Summit opens

A Malian soldier stands guard next to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s portrait ahead of the France-Africa Summit in Bamako, Mali. (Reuters)
Updated 13 January 2017
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France sees ‘new step’ for Africa as key Summit opens

BAMAKO: France’s top diplomat Jean-Marc Ayrault struck a defiant tone at a Summit on Friday with foreign ministers from across Africa as he urged them to show confidence and hope despite the massive terror threat.
With the battle against extremists, the struggle to improve governance and the migrant crisis high on the agenda, ministers from at least 30 nations met in Mali’s capital Bamako ahead of heads of state due on Saturday.
Mali called on France four years ago to help force radicals out of key northern cities. To this day, 4,000 French troops remain in the country and across the Sahel region.
“(Choosing) Bamako as the venue is an act of confidence after the intervention,” Ayrault told journalists as the Summit opened. “Today, we are taking a new step.”
Ayrault urged African nations to deal with the security threats they face but also to look at how development was progressing — and, he said, “to talk about hope.”
Many of the nations taking part were once ruled by France, which in recent years has boosted its military involvement in the continent.
In a bid to help crush the militancy threat, France has trained more than 20,000 African soldiers every year since 2013, according to a French diplomatic source.
Between now and 2020, the number of French-trained troops is expected to reach 25,000 a year.
The training drive aims to minimize the need for direct military interventions in African conflicts, such as those launched in Mali and Central African Republic (CAR) in 2013.
However the situation in key nations such as Mali remains far from stable.
Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Alpha Barry said the militancy threat did not only impact security, but governance and the economy too.
“Terrorist groups operate in several countries,” Barry said. “If we want to attract investment... we have to work on peace and security for our nations.”
Heads of state and diplomats attending the talks will also discuss a string of recent political crises in African nations.
Among them is Gambia, where President Yahya Jammeh is seeking to stay in power after his Dec. 1 election defeat, despite pressure from his African peers.
Also on the agenda is unrest in Democratic Republic of Congo, where President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down has sparked a political crisis.
Analysts however are critical of the French government’s failure to follow through on pledges to scale down alliances with strongman leaders.
Though President Francois Hollande had vowed to put an end to Africa-linked practices branded by critics as neocolonial, the country’s involvement in the battle against militants has left his government deeply entrenched in the continent.
“The focus on security has made it necessary to maintain alliances with governments that don’t necessarily have good human rights records,” said researcher Philippe Hugon.
Hugon noted the examples of Chad, ruled by strongman Idriss Deby for nearly three decades, and of West African nations leading the fight against Boko Haram, but which are mired in corruption.
Leaders meeting in Bamako will also discuss the huge flow of migrants from Africa to Europe, a diplomatic source said.
While European nations have pledged to increase aid to Africa in hopes of stemming economic migration trends, France is expected to sharply up its own pledges at the Summit.


North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages -UN

Updated 20 September 2019

North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages -UN

  • South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme
  • Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, although a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people

SEOUL: North Korea’s crop production this year is expected to drop to its lowest level in five years, bringing serious shortages for 40 percent of the population, as a dry spell and poor irrigation hit an economy already reeling from sanctions over its weapons programs, the United Nations said on Thursday.
In its latest quarterly Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the poor harvest of the country’s main crops, rice and maize, means 10.1 million people are in urgent need of assistance.
“Below-average rains and low irrigation availability between mid-April and mid-July, a critical period for crop development, mainly affected the main season rice and maize crops,” the FAO said. The report, which covers cereal supply and demand around the world and identifies countries that need external food aid, didn’t disclose detailed estimates of production by volume.
North Korea has long struggled with food shortages and a dysfunctional state rationing system, and state media has in recent months warned of drought and other “persisting abnormal phenomena.”
The crops shortfall comes as the country bids to contain the spread of African swine fever in its pig herd, following confirmation of a first case in May.
The disease, fatal to pigs though not harmful to humans, has spread into Asia — including South Korea — since first being detected in China last year, resulting in large-scale culls and reduced production of pork, a staple meat across the region including in North Korea.
The FAO report followed earlier UN assessments this year that the isolated country’s food production last year fell to its lowest level in more than a decade amid a prolonged heatwave, typhoon and floods.
South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme (WFP). But its delivery has been delayed by Pyongyang’s lukewarm response amid stalled inter-Korean dialogue and denuclearization talks with the United States, Seoul officials said.
In July, the North’s official KCNA news agency said a campaign to mitigate the effects of drought was under way by digging canals and wells, installing pumps, and using people and vehicles to transport water.
But North Korea has told the United Nations to cut the number of its staff it deploys in the country for aid programs. citing the “politicization of UN assistance by hostile forces.”
Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, but observers said a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people.