Macron finds his feet on the international stage

French President Emmanuel Macron. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2018

Macron finds his feet on the international stage

LONDON: He may have entered the Elysée with almost no diplomatic experience, but Emmanuel Macron has hit the floor running with his foreign policy.
Ahead of his meeting with Theresa May Thursday, the French president “played a blinder” as one UK newspaper put it, by offering to allow the Bayeux Tapestry to be displayed in Britain.
The 11th century work — which depicts the Norman Conquest of England — has not left France in 950 years. But the 40-year-old Macron appears to have little time for the constraints of tradition.
A day later, Britain had offered to pay £44.5 million ($62 million) to help France bring in new measures to tackle migrants trying to cross into the UK from the French port Calais.
Coincidence or another Macron masterstroke?
While Angela Merkel has been distracted by domestic political problems, Macron has positioned himself as the main European voice on the international stage. And he seems to be enjoying the limelight.
In the Middle East, Macron swept into the UAE in November for the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi. He visited Saudi Arabia amid tension over the future of Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
When he hosted Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris last month, he was not afraid to condemn Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, calling it a “threat to peace.”
He angered Italy when he hosted a meeting in Paris between the two main Libyan powerbroker on either side of the country’s war. But the symbolism of a handshake between Khalifa Haftar and Fayez Al Sarraj, overshadowed grumblings that Macron’s meeting was distracting from UN and European efforts to resolve the conflict.
Perhaps Macron’s biggest diplomatic coup since he took office in May was hosting a major climate summit in December to reinvigorate international efforts against global warming after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord.
He has also been praised for his role in helping set up a new force among north African countries to tackle extremist militants in the Sahel.
But some have accused Macron of being the master of the diplomatic gesture but failing to back this up with substantial policy.
On his recent visit to China, Macron started proceedings by presenting a horse to his host, Xi Jinping, called Vesuvius.
Macron’s move to boost France’s standing on the international stage has played well domestically. A survey for French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche in December found 52 percent of those asked were satisfied with Macron, compared to 40 percent in August.


Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

Updated 14 November 2019

Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

  • At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks
  • More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding
MOGADISHU, Somalia: Ahmed Sabrie woke up to find his house half-submerged in fast-rising flood waters.

Frightened and confused, he herded his sleepy family members onto the roof of their home in central Somalia as scores of thousands of people in the town, Beledweyne, scrambled for their lives. Clinging to an electric power pylon by the edge of their roof, the family watched as their possessions were washed away.

“I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help but I could only fight for the survival of my family,” the 38-year-old Sabrie, the father of four, recalled.

As one of his children, unfed, wailed the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them.

Authorities have not yet said how many people died in the Somalia flooding last month, the country’s worst in recent history and the latest reminder that the Horn of Africa nation must prepare for the extremes expected to come with a changing climate.

At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks. Local officials have said at least 22 people in all are presumed dead and that toll could rise.

“This is a catastrophic situation,” Mayor Safiyo Sheikh Ali said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who visited the town and waded through submerged areas, called the devastation “beyond our capacity” and pleaded for more help from aid groups.

With no proper emergency response plan for natural disasters, local rescuers used rickety wooden dhows to reach trapped people while helicopters provided by the United Nations plucked people from rooftops. African Union and Somali forces have joined the rescue operations and the Somali government airlifted food.

“Many people are still trapped in their submerged houses and we have no capacity and enough equipment to cover all areas,” said Abdirashakur Ahmed, a local official helping to coordinate rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to still be stuck.

With more heavy rains and flash flooding expected, officials warned thousands of displaced people against returning too quickly to their homes.

More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Beledweyne town was the worst affected. Several thousand people were sheltering under trees or in tents.

“Floods have destroyed more than three-quarters of Beledweyne and submerged many surrounding villages,” said Victor Moses, the NRC’s country director.

Aid groups said farms, infrastructure and roads in some areas were destroyed. The destruction of farmland near rivers is expected to contribute to a hunger crisis.

The possibility of further damage from heavy rains in the coming days remains a concern, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Parts of the Lower Juba, Gedo and Bay regions, where IOM has supported displaced populations for years, have been affected. Many displaced people were stranded without food, latrines or shelter.

“In Baidoa, people have moved to high ground where they are in immediate need of support,” said Nasir Arush, the minister for humanitarian and disaster management for South West State.

Survivors like Sabrie now must struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We’re alive, which I am thankful to Allah for, but this flood disaster wreaked havoc on both our livelihoods and households so I see a tough road ahead of us,” he said from a makeshift shelter built on higher ground outside town.