AU summit overshadowed by ‘security failings’ in Sahel after attacks

Members of the Mauritanian security forces guard the area close to the Mourabitoune International Conference Center where the African Union (AU) summit is taking place on July 2, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 02 July 2018
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AU summit overshadowed by ‘security failings’ in Sahel after attacks

  • Macron landed Monday afternoon for an exceptional appearance at an African Union (AU) summit
  • The summit was overshadowed by security issues after Islamist militant hammered two fragile Sahel states in successive attacks

NOUAKCHOTT: French President Emmanuel Macron joined African leaders gathered in the Mauritanian capital on Monday for the final day of a summit overshadowed by security issues after Islamist militant hammered two fragile Sahel states in successive attacks.
Macron landed Monday afternoon for an exceptional appearance at an African Union (AU) summit. He is expected to discuss hurdles facing a five-nation French-backed anti-terror unit, the “G5 Sahel” force.
“Our thoughts are with our Malian friends after tragic and cowardly attacks,” Macron said. “Several French soldiers were injured and are being evacuated. The first victims are Malian civilians.”
As the summit opened on Sunday, a bomb aimed at French soldiers in Mali’s troubled north killed four civilians and injured over 20 people. Four soldiers were among the wounded.
In Niger, Boko Haram insurgents targeted a military position in the southeast, killing 10 soldiers — a reminder of the peril that Nigeria’s notorious jihadists pose to neighboring countries.
On Friday, a suicide bombing hit the headquarters of the G5 Sahel in central Mali, fueling concerns about its ability to tackle jihadist groups roaming the region.
It was the first attack on the headquarters of the five-nation force, set up with French backing in 2017 to fight jihadist insurgents and criminal groups in the vast and unstable Sahel region.
The G5 Sahel leaders — from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — met Sunday to prepare for talks with Macron.
“We won’t let Mali fall apart, we will assume our responsibilities,” Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita told France 24 on Monday.
Apparently linking insecurity in the Sahel to the migrant crisis shaking European politics, he warned: “If the Sahel falls to terrorist threats, the shores of the Mediterranean will be overwhelmed.”
Separately, the summit also decided to create a body, based in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, to help coordinate national policies on migration.
“These attacks should strengthen our determination to fight terrorism to ensure our populations’ security,” Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, told AFP on the sidelines of the summit.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, hosting the gathering of more than 40 heads of state and government, said Friday’s bombing “hit (at) the heart” of security in the Sahel and lashed out at a lack of international help.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, have claimed both Friday’s attack on the G5 Sahel base and Sunday’s on French troops.
The G5 aims to have a total of 5,000 troops from the five nations but has faced funding problems and lack of equipment.
It is intended to operate alongside France’s 4,000 troops in the troubled “tri-border” area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, and alongside the UN’s 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
Aziz said the G5 was a “sovereign initiative” of Sahel states that face not only security problems but drought, poverty, unemployment and trafficking.
The string of attacks in the vast Sahel region hijacked a summit agenda meant to focus on free trade, funding and corruption.
Currently, African countries only conduct about 16 percent of their business with each other, the smallest amount of intra-regional trade compared to Latin America, Asia, North America and Europe.
In March, 44 nations signed a pact in March to create the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) — billed as the world’s largest in terms of participating countries.
Five new countries signed the agreement on Sunday: Burundi, Lesotho, Namibia, Sierra Leone and South Africa, one of the continent’s economic heavyweights and notable CFTA absentee until then.
The fruit of two years of negotiations, the CFTA is one of the AU’s flagship projects for greater African integration.
If all 55 AU members eventually sign up, it will create a bloc with a cumulative GDP of $2.5 trillion (two trillion euros) and cover a market of 1.2 billion people.


Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

Updated 6 min 8 sec ago

Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the vice president talks about her frosty relationship with Duterte and the need to ensure OFW rights

MANILA: She is one of his most vocal critics, while he never misses an opportunity to mock her in public speeches across the Philippines.

But when it comes to upholding the sanctity of their office, both President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo ensure they bring a finely scripted civility to the table.

“I do not meet him often. I do not get invited to functions in the presidential palace, but I get invited to military events. I try as much as I can to attend ... and I see the president there. Our meetings have always been cordial. The president has been very civil when we see each other,” Robredo said in an exclusive interview with Arab News in Manila.

Robredo was elected separately to Duterte and was not his running mate. Amid rumors that she is the obvious choice to take on the mantle once Duterte finishes his term, Robredo says that she is not ready to rule out the idea just yet.

“I do not rule it out completely only because of what happened during the last two elections where I ruled out running for Congress and I ruled out running for the vice-presidency, and I had to eat my words after that,” she said, adding that as far as the Philippines is concerned, it’s all about “destiny.”

“Our history has shown that a lot of people have aspired for the presidency, but have not been successful. And we have had a lot of presidents who won the elections where they had not prepared as much as the other candidates. It is something that will be given to you if it is really meant for you. So there is no point in preparing for it at this point,” she said.

In recent years, Robredo and Duterte have had a frosty relationship over issues ranging from the government’s controversial war on drugs to the Philippines ties with China.

Recently, Robredo called out Duterte for his “shoot, but don’t kill” orders.

The president made his comments on Thursday during the inauguration of the Bataan government center and business hub dubbed “The Bunker,” urging Filipinos to “shoot but not kill” public officials who were demanding money in exchange for their services and vowing to defend any person who attacked a corrupt official.

The statement drew flak from several rights organizations and, most significantly, from the vice president herself.

“I do not agree with killings per se, whether they are against drug addicts or corrupt officials. We have laws; we have the judicial system, and we should make sure that we have a strong judicial system, safe from political intrusion and corruption,” she said.

Robredo also explained why she has been at loggerheads with Duterte over his stance on the South China Sea.

Last week, she described as “reckless” his suggestion that he would consider bypassing an arbitration ruling — in favor of the Philippines — over a territorial dispute with China in order to finalize an energy pact with Beijing.

“I have always been vocal about statements by the president, which may be interpreted in a manner that would be against the constitution. It has been the reason of some friction between us. There has been a lot of confusion as far as the seriousness of the president’s remarks is concerned. Whenever he makes controversial statements, some officials around him try to correct those statements,” she said, adding that her retorts have “been a source of criticism from many of the president’s supporters.”

Adding to their constant tug-of-war is the issue of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and sending manpower to countries in the Middle East.

The issue intensified with the murder of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait last year. A Syrian woman, one of Demafelis’ employers, was found guilty of her murder this month.

Following the incident, the Philippines placed a ban on sending workers to Kuwait.

Duterte lifted the ban after Demafelis’ killer was tried, and there have been efforts to negotiate the terms and conditions of labor contracts by both the countries.

“The issues in Kuwait became a little too unbearable and we entered into a memorandum of agreement last year ... it was a reaction to many of the complaints that overseas Filipinos in Kuwait have. Some say that their passports are being confiscated by employers as soon as they reach Kuwait, and there are complaints about the working conditions, hours, etc,” Robredo said.

However, the agreement was a “short-term” initiative and a more formal bilateral agreement would have been “better in the sense that both countries will be made accountable,” she said.

“This is our desire not just in Kuwait, but also in many other parts of the Middle East, and in Saudi Arabia for example, where most of our Filipino workers are. There has been a UN convention on the protection of the rights of overseas workers — migrant workers — but, unfortunately, most of the countries hosting our migrant workers are not signatories to that convention yet,” she said.

Robredo described the agreement a “work in progress,” saying “it is something that we have been working on for several years.”

The Philippines signed two agreements with Saudi Arabia — the first in 2015, and another two years later —  on labor contracts and recruitment.

According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, the Kingdom continued to be the top destination for OFWs until May this year, with an estimated 2.3 million Filipinos working there.

Remittances from the period totalled P235.9 billion ($4.5 billion), up from P205.2 billion a year earlier.

“It is our desire that the countries hosting our migrant workers will be signatories to the UN convention because at the very least, the basic rights of our workers will be protected. It is something that not just our Foreign Affairs Department is working on, but our Labor Department as well,” she said, adding that this and a few other issues are subjects on which she and the president agree.

In June this year, when both Robredo and Duterte entered the final stretch of their six-year terms, the vice president said that she wanted a “better working relationship” with the president.

It is a sentiment that she voiced strongly while talking to Arab News as well.

“I think if our meetings are to be the gauge of our relationship, we are OK. It is just that there have been a lot of side remarks, issues and criticisms outside of our meetings that I think complicates the relationship,” she said.