France, Sahel allies at ‘turning point’ in war on militants: Macron

Soldiers stand guard at sunset as France's President and Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou (unseen) take part in a military ceremony at the Martyr Quarter on December 22, 2019, in Niamey, to pay homage to 71 Nigerien soldiers massacred in an attack on December 10 at the Inates military camp in the Sahel country's western Tillaberi region. (AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2019

France, Sahel allies at ‘turning point’ in war on militants: Macron

  • “The coming weeks will be absolutely decisive..." Macron said

NIAMEY: France and five allied Sahel countries have reached a “turning point” in their fight against militants, President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday, wrapping up a weekend visit to the troubled region.
“The coming weeks will be absolutely decisive in the fight we are waging against terrorism,” Macron said in the Niger capital Niamey, where he paid homage to 71 Nigerien soldiers killed in an militant attack earlier this month.
“We are at a turning point in this war,” he said.
France and the five Sahel countries hosting French troops had to “define the military, political and development goals of the next six, 12 and 18 months much more clearly” at a summit in southwestern France next month, he added.
Macron began his visit to the region in Ivory Coast on Friday, celebrating Christmas with French soldiers stationed there.
The role of former colonial power France in the region has come under the spotlight following a renewed militant insurgency that has raised questions about the effectiveness of French and UN troops there.
“We need the political conditions to accompany the military work we do,” he told the 4,500-strong French contingent in Ivory Coast.
In Niamey, he said: “I see opposition movements, groups, who denounce the French presence as a neo-colonial, imperialist.”
Complaining of a lack of “clear political condemnation of anti-French feelings,” Macron said he was loath to send soldiers to countries where their presence was not “clearly wanted.”
The leaders of the anti-jihadist G5 Sahel alliance grouping Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad are to meet in Pau, France, on January 13.
There, they would clarify the “political and strategic framework” of their operations, said Macron.
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou said the summit would “launch an appeal for international solidarity so that the Sahel and France are not alone in this fight.”
Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Saturday told French television the G5 leaders would deliver a message demanding a “respectable and respectful” relationship with France.
On Saturday, in a speech to the French community in Ivory Coast, Macron said 33 “terrorists” had been “neutralized” in neighboring Mali. A source close to the presidency confirmed that this meant they had been killed.
French soldiers also released two Malian gendarmes being held by militants, Macron said.
The operation involved teams of commandos and attack helicopters in the flashpoint city of Mopti in central Mali.
“This considerable success shows the commitment of our forces, the support that we bring to Mali, to the region and to our own security,” Macron said.
The French armed forces ministry in a statement said the Mopti military operation targeted a camp where militants had gathered in a densely wooded area and fighting continued into the morning.
French forces captured a stash of heavy weaponry, four vehicles, including one mounted with an anti-aircraft canon, and motorbikes.
But the successful Mali operation came just weeks after 13 French soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash as they hunted militants in the country’s north.
Last month’s crash was the biggest single-day loss for the French military in nearly four decades.
“We have had losses, we also have victories this morning thanks to the commitment of our soldiers and Operation Barkhane,” he said, referring to France’s military operation against  militants in the Sahel.
Despite a French troop presence and a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali, the conflict that erupted in 2012 has engulfed the center of the country and spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.


Cross-class marriage urged to tackle Indonesia poverty

Updated 21 February 2020

Cross-class marriage urged to tackle Indonesia poverty

  • Country ranks sixth among those with greatest wealth inequality: Oxfam

JAKARTA: A senior Indonesian minister has suggested that poor people should marry someone of higher social status to reduce poverty.

Muhadjir Effendy, the coordinating minister for human development and cultural affairs, told a meeting on the national health program in Jakarta on Wednesday that he would ask Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi — who also attended the meeting — to issue an edict recommending the move.

Effendy said that the edict could prevent the emergence of “new poor households” and provide Indonesia’s majority Muslim community with a new interpretation of the principle that one should marry a person with a compatible socioeconomic background for the sake of equivalence (kaf’ah) between prospective spouses.

The principle, he said, makes poor people marry among themselves and “automatically give birth to a new poor household.”

The minister on Thursday clarified that his intention with the “intermezzo” statement was to kick-start a social movement to break the cycle of poverty in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s poverty rate declined to below 10 percent for the first time in the country’s history, in September 2019, according to the latest data available from the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS).

The BPS sets the poverty line at $32.13 per person per month, or an average of $1.07 per day.

FASTFACT

President Joko Widodo frequently requests his ministers to come up with ideas to accelerate the anti-poverty programs and close the country’s income inequality gap.

President Joko Widodo frequently requests his ministers to come up with ideas to accelerate the implementation of poverty alleviation programs and close the country’s income inequality gap, which has widened over the past 20 years.

In September, the level of inequality in Indonesia measured by the Gini coefficient stood at 0.380, improving by 0.004 points from the previous year, according to the BPS. The index ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality.

An Oxfam report in 2017 showed that in the past two decades, the gap between the richest and the rest of the population in Indonesia had grown faster than in any other country in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is ranked sixth among the countries with greatest wealth inequality, according to the UK-based NGO.

Oxfam said that the four richest men in Indonesia have more wealth than the poorest 100 million people. Inequality is slowing down poverty reduction, dampening economic growth and threatening social cohesion, it said.

However, economists said that suggesting the poor pursue a Cinderella story to graduate from their low-socioeconomic status was not the solution that Indonesia needed to reduce poverty and tackle income inequality.

“How would the state manage such domestic affairs? Even parents could not choose for their children,” Enny Sri Hartati, a senior researcher at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef), told Arab News on Thursday.

Indef Deputy Director Eko Listiyanto said that there was no guarantee that Effendy’s proposal, if approved, would be effective in tackling poverty. “There is no urgency for such an edict . . . the root of the problem lies with the issuance of economic policies that widen inequality as they only benefit a small group in the society,” he said.

Listiyanto said that the government was unable to drive upward mobility as the majority of its policies revolved around populism rather than empowerment. He called on the government to stop making regulations that served only oligarchs.

“It would be better to improve the national education system to prepare the next generation for their economic leap. That move would be far more sustainable compared with issuing the marriage edict,” he said.

Pieter Abdullah Redjalam, research director of the Center of Reform on Economics (CORE) Indonesia, said that Effendy’s idea of a cross-class marriage edict showed that he was out of touch with reality.

“He seems to forget that there is a very wide gap between the poor and the rich,” Redjalam said. “The poor are generally trapped in the poverty cycle. They cannot go to school, so they stay poor.”

Redjalam echoed Listiyanto’s recommendation of opening access to and improving the quality of Indonesia’s education system to reduce poverty in the long term. “It is a shame if the former education minister does not understand that,” he said, referring to Effendy.