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Nigeria and the lost opportunities by Sulaimon Olanrewaju

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Nigeria’s propensity for profligacy is legendary. It is this wastefulness, a by-product of corruption and incompetence, which has been responsible for the stunted development that has been the lot of our country.

The conception of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex in 1979 was hinged on two factors. The first was the understanding that the nation’s hope of industrialisation would be a mirage without a functional steel industry. The second was to make Nigeria one of the leading steel producing countries in the world and position it to earn revenue from it. So, the government of General Olusegun Obasanjo pursued the project with gusto and scheduled it for completion in 1986 at the cost of $650million. But 35 years after, and with over $5billion spent, the steel complex lies prostrate, though at a point it reached 99 per cent completion.

Embedded in the project is a thermal power plant with the capacity to generate 110 megawatts of electricity. But with the abandonment of the main project, the fate of the plant was already decided.

So, the non-completion of the Ajaokuta project did not only rob the country of the realisation of the industrialisation envisioned in 1979, and the expected revenue generation, it also denied the people of regular electricity supply. But beyond that, the neglect of the project has also been responsible for the depletion of our commonwealth as an estimated N4trillion was spent on the importation of steel between 1986 and 2020.

As saddening as these are, more depressing is the fact that the Russian company, which initially got the contract, TyajzPromExport (TPE), completed similar projects on schedule for many countries including China, South Korea and Brazil. So, the fault was not that of the company but ours.

But why should our leaders bother about the loss of additional revenue that the completion of the project would have meant since money flows ceaselessly from oil? With oil money readily available, who needs a steel project?

Also in 1979, the Federal Government, through the Ogun-Oshun River Basin Authority, established the Ikere Gorge Dam in Iseyin area of Oyo State to accomplish four things. One, generate 700 megawatts of electricity, two; supply potable water to Oke Ogun area of Oyo State, three; assist the farming population of the area with irrigation and four; create an environment for fishing business. The last two were meant to diversify the nation’s revenue sources.

Despite the humongous sums expended on construction and procurement, 42 years after, the project is a shadow of the dream that birthed it. Not a single watt of electricity has been generated by the dam, which covers 47 kilometres and is said to be the fourth largest in Africa, despite the acquisition of everything needed for it. At Ikere, the turbines which should have been generating electricity have been turned into local silos for conserving grains. Other associated activities are only carried out skeletally.

But nobody is raising any eyebrow over the waste since money from crude oil sales comes in regularly.

At Owode area of Ibadan, there is an expanse of land that runs into tens of acres. It was acquired by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for the purpose of constructing a staff quarters. Known as CBN Housing Estate, tens of completed buildings contained therein have been abandoned for almost 20 years. It is said that the CBN embarked on erecting the multibillion naira estate to ease the housing problem of its staff but that after its completion, the staff shunned it because of the monetisation policy of the Obasanjo administration. The most galling part of the whole scenario is that the leadership of the apex bank had completely forgotten about the project. It took a publication by the Nigerian Tribune for the apex bank leaders to remember they had an abandoned housing estate in Ibadan. Shortly after the publication, the leadership scurried to Ibadan to inspect the estate and made a promise to revamp it. But since then, over 10 years ago, nothing has happened to change the narrative. Now, the money put into the estate appears lost as exposure to the elements over the years has weakened the structures.

But why should the CBN worry about losing a few billions of Naira since it has more money than it needs?

The problem with the CBN is not different from that with the nation; we are endowed beyond our capacity to manage. And a mismatch between endowment and capacity never fails to result in frustration. Since over-endowment has stalled our development, should we ask God to block the excess blessings and leave us with just the little we have the capacity to handle? Since we are lagging behind countries which are not as endowed as we are, should we tell God to take away the blessings blocking our progress? Should we ask God to dry up our oil wells so that we can regain our capacity to think properly? Should we tell him to take away this curse disguised as a blessing?

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How South Africa, US elections could shape Tshisekedi’s bread in Kinshasa, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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The conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the future of the giant country, and that of President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa could be dramatically altered by two distant elections. The first is South Africa’s May election, and the second is the US presidential vote in November.

A region already in turmoil was plunged into a new crisis when the M23 rebels returned to war after a nine-year hiatus, blaming Kinshasa for reneging on the terms of the political settlement that ended the fighting over a decade ago and for the persecution of the Kinyarwanda-speaking people of the country. That persecution has, in recent months, become a full-on ethnic cleansing campaign.

The M23 has since had its tail high, with a string of military victories that have seen it capture swathes of territory. The long-running, largely ineffective UN peacekeeping force, Monusco, which failed to pacify the region, has begun a phased withdrawal, in the face of popular Congolese anger against it.

The East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) was bedevilled by the murkiness of Congolese politics and retreated at the end of 2023 after barely a year.

In Kinshasa, the war rhetoric and accusations and attacks against Rwanda for backing M23 — a charge Kigali denies — has reached fever-high, with President Tshisekedi threatening to march into Rwanda.

That has further inflamed sentiments against Congolese Tutsi, with daily reports and social media videos of lynchings. It also seems to have driven the Kinshasa government into a deeper alliance with FDLR, the largest of the 120 rebel groups in eastern DRC, which comprises elements blamed for the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994, and who fled and set up shop in eastern DRC after their defeat by the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).

 

In recent weeks, a force from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has stepped in to help the Kinshasa government. Anchored by South Africa, which plans to have nearly 3,000 troops, it is looking to defy an inescapable trend of the past 60 years: Every foreign force has, in the end, lost its shirt in Congo.

Two South African troops have already been lost in shelling of their camp by the M23, and the rebels are alleged to have shot at one of its helicopters.

The two main opposition parties in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), seen as a largely white party, and radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by Julius Malema, have both been very critical of South Africa’s return to the Congo war theatre. They argue that the South African Defence Forces is a shambles, and the money spent on the DRC intervention would be better invested back home in an economy with the highest unemployment in Africa.

Three months before the election, most polls and analyses project that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) could have its worst performance at the ballot since 1994, when it won power following the end of apartheid.

While it could still win the most votes, it will be less than 50 percent, which will force it to govern as a coalition with parties that oppose its DRC project. A South African withdrawal, or significant cutback, would all but collapse the mission unless Tanzania steps up to the plate.
That is unlikely — at least not until after the October 2025 election. Tanzania, after all, did not join the ill-fated EACRF mission.

A lot would then rest on the US position. The US has flip-flopped on the eastern DRC conflict, bouncing between criticising Rwanda for alleged support of the M23, scolding Kinshasa for aggravation, and playing mediator.

In recent weeks, though, it has cosied up to Tshisekedi, and even briefly whitewashed the FDLR, calling it simply a “negative force,” a move from its previous categorization of it as a terrorist organisation, which seemed to sweep its genocide credentials under the carpet.

Scrambling to stem the shock, the US representative at the United Nations in New York, quickly put the FDLR back into the “terrorist organisation” box.

Regional analysts in East Africa, and many people in Rwanda, think Washington’s posture in DRC is driven by the need to get a slice of its vast precious mineral resources.

They specifically point to the heavily US-backed Lobito Corridor, a 1,344-kilometre railway project linking the Angolan port of Lobito to DRC through Zambia, through several large mineral deposits.

It is also a foil to China’s Road and Belt and would checkmate rival Russia’s further advance towards Southern Africa through a Central African corridor.

Many opinion polls, most of them admittedly shabby, have former US President Donald Trump, who will be the Republican candidate, leading incumbent Democratic President Joe Biden. Trump is an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin and will dismantle many of Biden’s sanctions against Russia, imposed after it invaded Ukraine two years ago. He is unlikely to put a premium on the Lobito Corridor, as Biden has.

But, most of all, Trump, wearing his racist cap, didn’t—and won’t—give a hoot about Africa, and will not lose sleep over the DRC.

With the ANC humiliated at the polls and Biden defeated, the geopolitical dynamics that Tshisekedi has exploited against both M23 and Rwanda could disappear. He could be on the run. M23 would get a leg up and, if took most of eastern DRC, it could well finally seek autonomy.

Or Biden could win, as the more thoughtful American pollsters and commentators predict. And the ANC could lose.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3

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Strengthening the state in Somalia, By Chris Oberlack

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In Somalia, the decade-long partnership between the government, the World Bank, and the UN demonstrates how collaboration between humanitarian and development actors is critical to state-building and delivering tangible support to citizens.

Since the collapse of the state three decades ago, Somalia continues to face significant challenges, including high levels of conflict and violence, an unfinished political settlement, weak government institutions, recurrent crises, and significant levels of socioeconomic exclusion.

Today, over 70 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, and approximately a third require humanitarian assistance. In this context, an important factor in the success of this partnership has been the ability to maintain a shared strategic objective to build a more stable and visible state that delivers for Somalis, while strengthening resilience to overcome crises and helping the country address the drivers of fragility that undermine peace and development.

The partnership between the government, UN and World Bank provides support to those in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, while building the capacity of the state to administer and deliver predictable support across the country.

Joint priorities focus on strengthening human capital and enhancing resilience. The key challenge is how to strike the right balance between addressing the vast immediate needs today, and building sustainable country systems and institutions that can last for the long term.

Over the past decade, this partnership has evolved significantly. While many actors channelled short-term assistance outside of state institutions, since the adoption of a provisional constitution in 2012 this partnership deliberately focused on long-term support to Somali government institutions.

This helped pave the way for the debt relief process through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, which led to increased development assistance in 2020 through financing from the International Development Association (IDA).

However, the debt relief process coincided with a confluence of shocks – Covid-19, a desert locust outbreak, and heavy floods – that deepened socioeconomic challenges. IDA re-engagement therefore brought crucial development financing to Somalia to complement humanitarian assistance.

In addition, IDA grants enabled the Government to scale-up ‘people-centred’ support and strengthen the capacity, visibility, and presence of the state. Given that the majority of Somalia’s population has grown up without functioning state institutions, this approach has been important to help mend a fractured social contract.

In practice, this means that for several projects, IDA resources have been channelled through the Government to UN agencies and NGOs to deliver World Bank-financed operations. Through this unique approach, the Bank provides predictable development financing and strengthens the Government’s ability to manage a growing development portfolio and respond to shocks.

It leverages the operational presence and capacity of UN agencies to deliver assistance to communities on the ground. This partnership model, representing approximately a quarter of the World Bank’s $2.3 billion portfolio in Somalia, extends across six operations.

For example, the $418 million World Bank-funded “Baxnaano” Project has provided predictable cash transfers to 200,000 families in Somalia with the support of UN agencies. Through the project, WFP delivers emergency cash transfers in response to shocks and Unicef helps build social protection systems that are essential for direct government management of safety net programs in the future.

The Somalia Urban Resilience Project, in collaboration with United Nations Office for Project Services (Unops) and Internal Organisation for Migration (IOM), strengthens local government systems to support service delivery and resilient infrastructure in urban areas, including those hosting internally displaced people. Several other projects, ranging from crisis recovery to health and social protection, also use this operational partnership.

Though there have been challenges in operationalising this approach, collaboration across these sectors is critical to enhance the Government’s capacity to administer services for its citizens moving forward.

Through a joint liaison function, supported by the UN Partnership Facility under the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund and the World Bank’s Somalia Multi-Partner Fund, this partnership has also helped advance the strategic dialogue on shared priorities and ensure close coordination on security and political developments.

The experience in Somalia underscores how operational partnerships can advance the strategic vision to build a more capable state that delivers services for its citizens in a complex FCV context. While there is still a long way to go, the last decade and recent achievements, including the completion of the debt relief process, have shown that significant progress can be made if the Government and international partners align strategic priorities and financing.

Looking ahead, an approach anchored in government leadership and impact-driven partnerships must continue to support Somalia’s state-building journey.

Building on the lessons learned from this partnership – including as part of the World Bank’s new country strategy for Somalia – will be crucial to continue building government institutions, strengthening intergovernmental relations, enhancing resilience to crises, and providing access to basic services to millions of Somalis.

Importantly, this can also provide a roadmap for how governments, the World Bank, and the UN can come together to deliver in other fragile and conflict-affected settings.

Chris Oberlack is UN-World Bank Liaison Officer and Miguel de Corral is Senior Operations Officer, FCV Group, World Bank

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