Choice and Opportunity for African Farmers Will Transform Africa

Groundnut farm in Torit, South Sudan. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS.

By Agnes Kalibata
NAIROBI, Dec 7 2020 – ’A hungry man is not a free man. He cannot focus on anything else but securing his next meal.’ So proclaimed the late Kofi Annan.

In 2003, Kofi Annan and a like-minded group of African leaders recognized hunger as a complex crisis on the continent.

They saw the eradication of hunger as not just an end in itself – but the first step towards sustainable development and progress, requiring the transformation of African agriculture.

In order to address this, three momentous events occurred at that time. In 2003, the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) was launched to provide a policy framework for the transformation of African agriculture.

We need African solutions to African problems. When an African farmer has access to better technology and finance, they see improved productivity, food security and income. Most of the big mistakes in development have happened when external actors have foisted their ideas and ideologies on the continent

In 2006, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the organization I lead, was established to turn these ideas into reality. We are founded on the belief that the only way to do this is at scale – and yet with a focus on the farmer.

And the Africa Fertilizer conference was held, to increase access to crop nourishment – identified as the weakest link in the farming chain.

These measures have reaped rewards.

Across Africa, we have directly reached millions of farmers with increased access to technology, investment in research, financial support or training.

Significant investment was put into access to inputs – especially improved seeds, and soil health management technologies.

For instance, we have helped establish over 110 African seed companies, with some 700,000 tonnes of seed now available to 20 million farmers. Countries like Ghana and Mali had no seed suppliers, and now have an average of six each.

Across our programme countries, a network of 30,000 agri-preneurs now serve farmers.

Healthy soil is fundamental to a productive global food system. However, many smallholder farmers do not have means to prevent or address soil degradation problems. As the world commemorates the World Soil Day, we are encouraged that our soil fertility management techniques are helping reverse decades of soil depletion wherever we work.

We have taken the lead in providing evidence to governments on the value and challenges of subsidies being used in agriculture. We advocate for national policies that benefit smallholder farmers. We support upgraded storage facilities, better market information systems, stronger farmers’ associations, and more credit for farmers and suppliers.

There is still much to do, however. There are approximately 45 million farmers on the continent – African governments and investors must reach all of them if we are to see an end to poverty and hunger.

There are also new challenges. Climate change has the potential to reverse the continent’s hard won gains.

Desertification threatens productive lands. Locusts, armyworm and diseases like the Maize Lethal Necrosis wipe out the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands. Currently, COVID-19 is pushing tens of millions more into malnutrition, while farmers see their choices diminished.

As a proud African, I share Kofi Annan’s optimism and conviction. Africa will prevail, it can eliminate poverty.

I know that a major way of making this happen is through smallholder farmers. I have personally seen smallholders change at scale in Rwanda when government puts its weight behind transformative programs.

As a catalyst for change, AGRA is on track. The eleven countries we support have all advanced in the last ten years through hard work and investment. With ten years to go to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, it is important now to reflect on progress, and positioning for future gains.

Inclusive agriculture transformation is not a quick fix. It requires a long-term focus. We estimate US $25-35 billion a year of investment is needed to transform the continent’s agriculture, while an unparalleled coalition for change is required.

Ultimately, we need African solutions to African problems. When an African farmer has access to better technology and finance, they see improved productivity, food security and income.

Most of the big mistakes in development have happened when external actors have foisted their ideas and ideologies on the continent. This is why AGRA focuses on its unique position as an African institution.

African farmers deserve the same opportunities enjoyed by farmers in Europe and North America. They do not want to be stuck with 40-year-old seed varieties. When given the chance, we have seen adoption rates of 90% of new seeds in countries like Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

On a recent visit to Kiambu in Kenya, women farmers explained to me how they are happy to spend more on seeds that mature in half the time, increasing yields.

In these difficult times, there has never been a greater need for agricultural transformation. Through COVID-19, our farmers have shown great resilience, and AGRA has been on hand to support this.

To achieve Kofi Annan’s vision, we certainly need further support and investment for farmers. We must also learn as we go forward and be humble.

Our focus must always be on the needs, capabilities and choices of smallholder farmers themselves – this must be our ‘North Star’ objective, for agriculture is nothing without the farmer.

 

Dr. Agnes Kalibata is the President of The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Food System’s Summit

Mexico Sticks to Natural Gas, Despite Socioenvironmental Impacts

"I use gas", announces a minibus driving along a street in Mexico City. Natural gas is becoming increasingly widely used as fuel for public transportation in Mexico, coming mainly from the United States where it is extracted through hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a technique that requires high volumes of water and toxic chemicals. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

“I use gas”, announces a minibus driving along a street in Mexico City. Natural gas is becoming increasingly widely used as fuel for public transportation in Mexico, coming mainly from the United States where it is extracted through hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a technique that requires high volumes of water and toxic chemicals. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
Mexico City, Dec 7 2020 – In his community of small farmers and ranchers in northern Mexico, Aristeo Benavides has witnessed the damage caused by the natural gas industry, which has penetrated collectively owned landholdings, altering local communities’ way of life and forms of production.

“They leave us nothing,” the farmer told IPS over the phone. “They tell us it’s for progress, but it’s their progress. We always lose out. When they drilled gas wells, they didn’t fence in the areas, they didn’t provide maintenance, the wells aren’t well cared for. There is a lot of underground water here that can be contaminated.”

Benavides lives 500 metres from the Los Ramones II Norte gas pipeline, which runs through five states and was sold in 2017 by the state oil company Pemex to two private entities: Infraestructura Energética Nova, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Sempra Energy, and BlackRock, a U.S. investment fund.

The community of Benavides Grande and Benavides Olivares, with an area of 65,000 hectares and some 6,000 inhabitants, covers five municipalities in the state of Nuevo León, about 750 km northeast of Mexico City.

The members of the community, whose spokesman is Benavides, have been fighting for years against what they consider harassment and invasion of their collectively owned land by the oil and gas industry, and have achieved some victories in the courts.

In the vicinity of their land, Pemex drilled two gas wells in 2013 using hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a drilling technique that requires large volumes of chemicals and water to extract natural gas embedded in deep shale.

Academics and environmental organisations opposed to fracking argue that it pollutes water tables, induces earthquakes and emits greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

In 2019, both wells experienced gas leaks, and the community demanded that Pemex seal them. “We talked to them several times, it took them a week to repair the leaks. And they haven’t come back to examine them. Besides, people steal gas from the pipeline, and a tragic accident could happen,” Benavides said.

Despite the social conflicts and environmental consequences, Mexico has stepped up the pace of the gasification of the country, laying pipelines and building power plants, supported by cheap imports from the United States and encouraged by the energy reform of 2013 that opened the industry to private national and international capital.

 This gas well drilled by means of fracking near the Benavides Grande and Benavides Olivares community in the state of Nuevo León in northeastern Mexico suffered a leak in 2019. CREDIT: Courtesy of Aristeo Benavides

This gas well drilled by means of fracking near the Benavides Grande and Benavides Olivares community in the state of Nuevo León in northeastern Mexico suffered a leak in 2019. CREDIT: Courtesy of Aristeo Benavides

In the northern state of Sonora, the Yaqui people, one of the 67 indigenous groups living in Mexico, managed to block the construction of the private El Oro-Guaymas gas pipeline since 2017, in a campaign that generated friction among native communities and left people wounded and dead, as well as causing material damage.

The construction project “was analyzed, a consultation for public input was held, the damage was assessed and work was done to repair and mitigate the effects,” Tomás Rojo, a Yaqui spokesman, told IPS by telephone from the community of Vícam. “Seven towns gave their approval, but one did not. They felt it was a risk, and I don’t think the company wants to commit violence against the people.”

In 2017, residents of the village of Loma de Bácum dug up pipes and prevented the completion of the 330-km-long mega-project, 18 of which run through that community.

In August, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador signed an agreement with the Yaquis to divert the route of the pipeline to skirt that area, making it possible to finish laying the pipeline.

Still an oil-producing country, but on the decline

Mexico is the world’s 12th largest oil producer and 17th largest natural gas producer. It ranks 20th in terms of proven oil reserves and 37th in proven natural gas deposits. But its position in the oil industry is declining due to the scarcity of easily extractable hydrocarbons.

An ad for household gas at a bus stop in Mexico City. The Mexican government promotes the exploitation, distribution and consumption of natural gas, despite the social conflicts and environmental impacts that the industry causes. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An ad for household gas at a bus stop in Mexico City. The Mexican government promotes the exploitation, distribution and consumption of natural gas, despite the social conflicts and environmental impacts that the industry causes. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Since he took office in December 2018, left-leaning President López Obrador has been promoting fossil fuels. But domestic gas production is on the decline, from 6,401 million cubic feet per day (mpcd) in 2015 to 4,853 in September, as the emphasis has been on crude oil.

Exports fell from 2,700 mpcd in 2015 to 1,000 in September, and imports from 1,415 mpcd in 2015 to 843 in September, because the state-owned Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) is burning fuel oil again.

A network of gas pipelines, with 27 state-owned and private lines covering 18,889 km, has been deployed for distribution throughout the vast territory of this country of 130 million people.

In addition, the CFE is building a section in the southeastern state of Yucatan, and three others are planned to carry the fuel to the south and southeast, while another three have been blocked by opposition from local communities.

The gas is received by 48 thermoelectric, combined-cycle plants – which burn gas to generate steam for electricity – and turbogas units, both state-owned and private. And another 10 combined-cycle plants are under construction.

Another indication of the emphasis on natural gas is the number of permits for transporting gas granted by the government’s Energy Regulatory Commission. There are 276 gas transport permits, of which 230 are already operational, 263 for transfer by pipeline (218 active) and 13 for semi-trailers (12 in operation).

All this is reflected in the public budget for the sector. In 2020, the CFE allocated more than 2.0 billion dollars to transport gas, and for 2021 it projects a total of 2.65 billion.

The construction of gas pipelines has generated conflicts with communities opposed to these mega-projects, as well as generating methane. The image is a screenshot taken by IPS from a video of the construction of the Los Ramones gas pipeline in Tamaulipas, in northeast Mexico. CREDIT: Video by the government of Tamaulipas

The construction of gas pipelines has generated conflicts with communities opposed to these mega-projects, as well as generating methane. The image is a screenshot taken by IPS from a video of the construction of the Los Ramones gas pipeline in Tamaulipas, in northeast Mexico. CREDIT: Video by the government of Tamaulipas

Natural gas consists primarily of methane, which is 86 times more powerful as an agent of global warming over a 20-year period than carbon dioxide (CO2). The National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change calculated a natural gas emission factor for six areas of Mexico of 2.27 kg of CO2/m3, although it is lower than the emission factors for coal and fuel oil.

Atmospheric problem

With more gas being sourced and flared, the country faces a growing problem with methane. In 2019, the country vented 4.48 billion m3, the ninth largest amount in the world.

In terms of intensity, the proportion reached 7.21 m3 per barrel of oil produced, higher than the previous record of 5.39 set in 2014, according to figures from the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership, promoted by the World Bank with the goal of eradicating routine flaring by 2030 and made up of 17 countries, 12 oil companies, the European Union and two financial institutions.

Fossil fuels are behind methane emissions. The International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation of the world’s largest consumers, estimated a total of 724,000 tons of methane from hydrocarbons – including 155,000 tons from gas – in 2019.

In addition, the López Obrador administration has kept fracking on its agenda, despite constant claims that it is not using the technique.

Sergio Sañudo, a professor in the biological and earth sciences departments at the private University of Southern California, told IPS that “there has been a setback under this government. Mexico continues to do the same old thing. It generates complete dependence on the United States, and when the U.S. closes the valve, what will Mexico do? Mexico ties itself to hydrocarbons and that serves as an outlet for the gas.”

The solution, he continued, lies in the United States abandoning fracking so that Mexico would not import more fuel and would promote renewable energy sources.

Benavides says his community is very aware of the climate crisis, because it has seen the changes. “There have been hailstorms, temperature changes, there is little rain,” he said. “These are things we haven’t seen before. For everything that happens, the earth will get back at us. For how many months did that gas go into the atmosphere, because of the leaks?”

Sañudo urged Mexico to distance itself from natural gas. “It is not a fuel for the energy transition to cleaner sources. It is not the panacea it was thought to be. It can no longer compete with renewables,” he argued.

Lopsided nature of global fashion industry and why change is needed

By Mostafiz Uddin
Dec 7 2020 (IPS-Partners)

The global apparel industry is broken and only urgent, drastic surgery can fix it. I am not talking about another initiative or another public relations exercise. I am talking about deep, systemic change to be agreed by all involved—by brands, by suppliers, governments, unions and NGOs.

Why do I think this? Let us look at the evidence. In the past week several news stories have made headlines around the world. All are interlinked and, together, they paint a picture of an industry which continues to serve one set of interests at the expense of another.

One story is when the latest lockdown ended in the UK, shoppers were said to be queuing in the middle of the night, in the freezing cold, in anticipation of fashion brands opening its doors. People are supposed to be struggling financially in the west, but the fast fashion industry marches onwards. The fashion brands and retailers have had a similarly positive response since reopening stores. Nothing seems to stand in their way.

Story number two concerns a company which I have worked with in the past—Arcadia, which owns British brands Top Man, Top Shop and Burton. Arcadia has this week gone into administration, as has department store, Debenhams. Both have been struggling for some time, and have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The potential bankruptcy of these two companies will hit hundreds of garment suppliers in Bangladesh. When the liquidators come to pay creditors, suppliers will be way down the list. Many will be lucky to receive anything at all and will take a massive financial hit.

They may complain but they also know that this is just how it is in our industry. In Bangladesh we are at the bottom of the food chain, just like our garment producing compatriots in India, Cambodia, Myanmar and so on.

Taken together both the stories illustrate the completely lopsided nature of the global fashion industry—and tell us why something has to change.

How can it be that in one part of the world, shoppers are queuing through the night to purchase clothing while in another part of the world the manufacturers are suffering by not receiving their legitimate payment. How has our industry reached this state of affairs? The very people who are bearing the brunt are the most vulnerable group of the fashion supply chain—workers.

Failure does not seem to be an option for many western retailers and department stores. In recent years, we have also seen the likes of Sears Corp, Peacocks and Forever 21 in administration or undergoing restructuring. Why? Because they were not making money. They restructure and in that process a lot of their debts with suppliers—yes, that’s people like me—are written off. Then they return and the whole process starts again.

Nobody should begrudge apparel brands and retailers for their success. But we need to think very carefully about how we can ensure the benefits of this success are shared right along the supply chain. If an industry has one part in which companies are making huge profits while in another part, workers are going hungry, something has clearly gone very wrong. Something is out of kilter.

This brings me to the final point relating to Arcadia. When a brand goes bust—as several have during this pandemic—it is always the suppliers and their workers who suffer the most.

We can all also see why retailers are struggling, and they have my sympathy (in some cases). What I fail to understand, however, is how there is not some kind of protection in place for workers when a major brand goes bust. For some time now, there have been calls for some kind of fund or pot which brands would pay into as a part of doing business with garment factories in Asia. This fund would be used to ensure workers are paid severance and legally owed wages in the case of insolvency.

This may sound extreme but we have already seen that brands simply cannot be trusted to protect the workers in their supply chains through voluntary codes of conduct. Yes, there are many brands and retailers who are not only trendsetters but also pioneers in global business in responsibility and practicing ethics as well as taking care of every member including workers. But there are also many who do not care—some of the more glaring examples we have seen during this Covid-19 pandemic.

As suppliers, we cannot depend on the goodwill of brands. It has become clear now that our industry needs binding legislation and supply chain regulation to hold brands to account for respecting human rights in their supply chain.

We cannot as an industry keep talking about things and saying this or that will change in the future. We have been saying these things for decades. Words are all well and good but, sadly for garment workers, they don’t put food on the table.

Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE).

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Biden’s Opportunity To End Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Time is running out fast. Thousands of jobs could be lost if the financial situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) doesn’t improve promptly, says Philippe Lazzarini, the organization’s commissioner-general. Credit: United Nations

By Alon Ben-Meir
NEW YORK, Dec 7 2020 – Recently I had an opportunity to brief a group of European diplomats and journalists on a variety of conflicts, with a focus on the Middle East. During the Q&A I was asked which of the region’s conflicts Biden should tackle first.

Without much hesitation I said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only because it is over seven decades old, but because it is an increasingly intractable, explosive, and destabilizing situation, which reverberates throughout the Mideast, and several regional powers are exploiting it to serve their own national interests, which sadly contributes to its endurance.

It is expected that Biden will support a two-state solution given his past position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, albeit a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians no longer believe that such an outcome remains viable.

I disagree with this belief: the Palestinians will never give up their right to establish an independent state of their own, and the one-state solution, which is being floated as an alternative, will never be accepted by the Israelis, because that would compromise the Jewish national identity of the state and undercut its democratic nature.

Due to the inter-dispersement of the Israeli and Palestinian populations, the two independent states, however, will have to fully collaborate in many areas, especially on security and economic development. This will lead to the establishment of the framework for a confederation, which will be the final outcome after several years of peace and reconciliation.

For Biden to succeed where his predecessors failed, he must repair the severe damage that Trump has inflicted on the entire peace process and restore the Palestinians’ confidence in a new negotiation that could, in fact, lead to a permanent solution.

To that end, he must take specific measures before the start of the talks and establish rules of engagements to which both sides must fully subscribe to demonstrate their commitment to reaching an agreement.

Preliminary Measures

Reestablish the PLO mission in DC: Biden should allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) to reestablish its mission in DC. This would immediately open a channel of communication which is central to the development of a dialogue between the US and the PA and to clear some of the initial hurdles before resuming the negotiations.

Resuming financial aid: It is essential that Biden restore the financial aid that the Palestinians had been receiving from the US. The Palestinian Authority is financially strapped and is in desperate need of assistance. The aid given should be monitored to ensure that the money is spent on specific program and projects.

Prohibiting territorial annexation: The Biden administration should inform the Israeli government that it will object to any further annexation of Palestinian territories. It will, however, keep the American embassy in Jerusalem and continue recognizing Jerusalem as its capital, leaving its final status to be negotiated.

Freezing settlement expansion: Given the intense controversy about the settlements and their adverse psychological and practical effect on the Palestinians, Biden should insist that Israel impose a temporary freeze on the expansion of settlements. This issue should top the negotiating agenda to allow for a later expansion of specific settlements in the context of land swaps.

Invite Hamas to participate: The Biden administration should invite Hamas to participate in the negotiations jointly with the PA or separately, provided they renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. If they refuse, they should be left to their own devices and continue to bear the burden of the blockade.

Appoint professional and unbiased mediators: Unlike Trump’s envoys who openly supported the settlements and paid little or no heed to the Palestinians’ aspirations, Biden’s envoys should be known for their integrity, professionalism, and understanding of the intricacies of the conflict, and be committed to a two-state solution.

Invite Arab and European observers: The Arab states and the EU are extremely vested in a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saudi and German officials will be ideal observers who can render significant help in their unique capacity as leading Arab and European powers.

Rules of engagement

Establishing the end game: No negotiations succeed unless the parties involved agree on the nature of their desired outcome. For the Palestinians it is establishing an independent Palestinian state, and for Israelis it is maintaining the security and independence of a democratic Jewish state. Before embarking on new negotiations, the Biden administration should insist that both sides unequivocally commit to a two-state outcome.

Acknowledging historical and psychological impediments: Both sides have paid little heed in the past to the need to understand each other’s historic experiences—the Holocaust for the Israelis and the Nakba (catastrophe) for the Palestinians—which they subconsciously use as protective shields. Acknowledging each other’s respective traumatic experiences would help mitigate the psychological impediments which continue to feed into the mutual distrust and hatred.

Ending public acrimony: No negotiations can be conducted in good faith in an atmosphere of mutual public acrimony, as had been the case in all prior peace talks. An integral part of any negotiating process is to build trust, which cannot be nurtured while denouncing each other publicly. Leaders on both sides must end acrimonious statements, as their respective publics will have no faith in negotiations under such an atmosphere.

Renouncing and preventing violence: Both sides must commit not only to renouncing violence but to doing everything in their power to prevent acts of violence against one another. To be sure, nothing is more disruptive to the negotiations than a wanton act of violence.

To that end, both sides need to fully collaborate on all security matters and send a clear massage, especially to extremists on both sides, that violence will not be tolerated and perpetrators will suffer severe consequences.

Delinking and “banking” agreed-upon issues: What will be necessary in future talks is to commit to “bank” any agreement reached on a specific issue, delink it from all others, and not subject it to renegotiations should the talks stall or collapse. This would prevent the resumption of negotiations from ground zero and allow for the building blocks that could eventually lead to an agreement.

In that regard, five critical issues—the settlements, Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, national security, and borders—have been hashed and rehashed ad nauseum in past negotiations. The Biden team should identify any common denominator on these issues to prevent renegotiating certain elements over which both sides have already agreed.

Establishing a process of reconciliation: The negotiating process must simultaneously be accompanied by a process of reconciliation. Both sides must initiate widespread people-to-people interactions to gradually mitigate the deep animosity and distrust between them which cannot simply be negotiated away.

Israelis and Palestinians should engage in many activities, including sports, performing arts, tourism, development projects, and student interactions, to foster trust and confidence that peaceful coexistence is possible.

Keeping the public informed: Given that both sides will be required to make significant concessions, it will be imperative to keep their respective publics informed about the progress being made in the negotiations to engender support.

Keeping the public in the dark, as was the practice in past, prevented the public from developing any vested interest in the negotiating process and its successful outcome.

The failure of both sides to agree in the past to establish and be governed by the above rules of engagement clearly suggests that neither side negotiated in good faith. The Biden administration must insist that Israelis and Palestinians accept the above rules if they want to resume the negotiations in earnest. Otherwise, the new talks will be nothing but an exercise in futility.

Sadly though, the current leaders in Israel and Palestine are not in a position to enter into serious negotiations, and must leave the political scene before Biden resumes new talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu is on record opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state; he is also facing three criminal charges of corruption, and in spite of his impressive accomplishments, he may well have outlived his usefulness.

President Abbas too has taken a hard position in connection with the settlements, Jerusalem, and the refugees, and it will be nearly impossible for him to make any significant concession and survive politically.

He is also “too comfortable” in his position and does not want to leave the political scene accused of having sold the Palestinian cause. In the interim, Biden should reiterate the US commitment to Israel’s national security and his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, giving a clear signal that only moderation will win the day.

The US remains the indispensable power that can bring both sides to an enduring peace, because no other power can exert the kind of influence needed to reach a breakthrough.

For the Biden administration to bring this about, it must play an active role by advancing its own ideas and put its foot down when necessary because neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians can have it only their way, and certainly not without direct US involvement.

As president, Biden has a momentous opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and both sides will do well to grasp the moment.

 


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A UN Power Monopoly That Cries Out for a Break

Ambassador Chowdhury presiding over a Security Council session. Credit: United Nations

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 7 2020 – Will four strong contenders for permanent seats in the UN Security Council (UNSC)– Germany, India, Japan and Brazil—help break the monopoly now being held by the big five, namely the US, UK, France, China and Russia?

But if they do eventually succeed in their attempts—after more than 20 years of foot-dragging — they have to put up with what is best described as “second-class citizenship”, because the five, veto-wielding permanent members (P5) have given no indications that any new comers to their ranks will be offered veto powers.

Still, African leaders have long insisted they will not accept any permanent memberships in the UNSC, the only UN body with powers to declare war and peace, without veto powers.

And rightly so, because it entrenches political discrimination at the highest levels in a world body which preaches the virtues of equality to the outside world but refuses to practice it in its own backyard.

Speaking on behalf of the 54-member African Union, and addressing a General Assembly debate back in November 2018, the representative of Sierra Leone made it unequivocally clear “Africa demands no less than two permanent seats, including the veto power, if it remains, and five non permanent seats”.

But that position has not changed—and the deadlock over the reform of the UNSC continues—and perhaps will continue during the rest of the lifetime of the 75-year-old United Nations.

With the appointment of two new envoys — Ambassador Joanna Wronecka of Poland and Ambassador Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani of Qatar as co-chairs– there is a renewed attempt to resume the stalled Intergovernmental Negotiations on UNSC reforms.

In an interview with IPS, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, a former President of the Security Council (March 2000 and June 2001) held out a bleak prospect: “As a pragmatic, realistic UN watcher and practitioner for nearly 50 years, I believe the painstaking efforts for the SC reform has no prospect for a meaningful achievement and the status quo ante is doomed to continue”.

Asked if the current attempt is just another exercise in political futility, he said any worthwhile initiative to revive the repeatedly stalled efforts for the “Security Council reform” generally creates a nice feel-good ambience full of expectation, full of hope of the otherwise most-attainable success, full of preparations to finally breaking the deadlock.

Such an ambience was perceived in every such occasion of resumption, but unfortunately it ended in coming to a grinding halt with the formal closer of that exercise, said Chowdhury, who was Permanent Representative Bangladesh to the UN (1996-2001) and UN Under-Secretary-General (2002-2007).

However, in the true UN tradition, he pointed out, the agenda-item stays on and every President of the General Assembly (PGA) hopes against hope of a breakthrough.

In fact, resuming that multi-stalled effort for a quarter of a century has given subsequent PGAs a sense of glory and an aura of leadership – and also, many of us a feeling of déjà vu.

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: Why do you think the exercise is doomed to fail?

Ambassador Chowdhury: What is the rationale basis for exploring “the possibility for the Intergovernmental Negotiations to start early in 2021 and to increase the number of meetings this session…”? Just for the cosmetics of the exercise because the “Security Council reform” is on the agenda of the General Assembly? It should be understood that the general membership of UN and all well-meaning, peace-loving people aware of global realities are not interested in the so-called reform of the Security Council.

There exist bigger challenges facing humanity which require more intense engagement of UN. The much-expected change in view of the Covid-19 pandemic has bypassed the needed change in the divisive negotiating atmosphere at the UN. It is still business as usual.

IPS: What are your thoughts on the expansion of membership of the Security Council?

Ambassador Chowdhury: If the past trends of the UNSC reform exercises are any guide, the reform is envisaging four tiers of Security Council membership – one, five permanent members with veto (known as P-5); two, new permanent members without veto; three, 2-year non-permanent members both existing 10 plus the new ones; and four, the rest of the UN membership who are not the Council members.

Such expansion would not help in any way except adding to lop-sidedness of UNSC work and satisfying the nationalistic aspirations of new permanent members. The lofty objective of the reform exercise to reflect the realities of the current expanded UN membership of 193 would lose all credibility if this is the intended outcome.

Also, it is absolutely fair to allocate two permanent seats to Africa as it is the largest regional group along with the fact that it did not have any permanent seat since the creation of the UN.

IPS: Do you think the closed, non-transparent decision-making by the Security Council is an area concern in the reform exercise?

Ambassador Chowdhury: By itself, the current SC decision making is not what the Charter had envisaged – role of P-5 occasionally joined by their “friendly” non-permanent members make a mockery of their responsibility for the maintenance of the international peace and security as the SC members.

The history of the Council decision-making makes it clear that its membership has been basically used for reflecting national perspectives and advancing the geo-strategic objectives of the P-5. Like many, I believe any meaningful reform of the Council has to start with the abolition of veto.

It is well-known to all keen UN watchers how the veto — or in most cases the threat of veto — has been used and abused during 75 years of UN’s existence to subvert the best interests of global peace and security.

IPS: In addition to the issue of expansion, the reform of the working methods is also being addressed. How this concern can be addressed properly?

Ambassador Chowdhury: Working methods reform would not work just readjusting the procedural functions – without changing the policy considerations, without coming out of the failed state-oriented security strategies and replacing those with more people-oriented human security-oriented strategies.

Reforming working methods without change of policy orientation would only be robotic in nature, without any focus on human dimensions of the Council’s actions.

IPS: Civil society has called, again and again, for an opportunity to present their thoughts on the SC reform. Is that deemed useful and necessary?

Ambassador Chowdhury: Though the “process is an intergovernmental one and thereby Member States-driven”, as PGA has reiterated, absence of civil society involvement would seriously undermine the role and contribution of “We the Peoples …”.

When civil society in general feels it has no role, no opportunity to share its points of view, I believe that such a narrow non-inclusive, non-participatory exercise is bound to fail. PGA himself has also asserted that “civil society is the pillar of democracy, and we must, after some time, find a way that civil society is (re)presented here”.

IPS: What are some of the biggest failures of the UNSC over the years?

Ambassador Chowdhury: I would not go into identifying the cases where the Security Council failed big — the global peace and security situation testifies for that. I would rather identify the reasons which caused those failures and would continue to do so in future, again and again.

Structural issues and leadership opportunities within the Council is a major impediment. P-5 is happy with the status quo – the way the Council works – because they have shaped it that way over the years to their advantage. All the substantive change initiatives have come from the 2-year tenure of non-permanent members.

The pro-active role and guidance of the Secretary-General to the Security Council, without being unduly mindful of P-5 “sensitivities,” can bring in marked change in the directions of the Council’s work. PGA has identified that “the Secretary-General is the engine and the transmission system”. After all, the Secretary-General has the moral authority and full mandate of the high office he holds.

IPS: Is big power rivalry, and protection of client states, one of the reasons for the frequent deadlocks in the UNSC over the years?

Ambassador Chowdhury: Not only big power rivalry has caused deadlocks, big power “collaboration” has also resulted in halting a positive initiative in the best interest of the Security Council from the non-permanent members. My own experience as the President of the Security Council in March 2000 explains that situation amply when I initiated the political and conceptual changes in the Council to recognize the equal participation and age-old contributions of women in global peace and security which finally resulted in the adoption of the most-widely acclaimed UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

Here, I would add that the only silver lining I find in the resumption of the reform negotiations is the fact that the two Co-Chairs (Ambassadors of Poland and Qatar) are both eminent women Permanent Representatives to the UN and, of course, fully qualified for this onerous and complicated responsibility.

 


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ViaTouch to Showcase and Demo Its Vicki AI Computer Vision Powered Smart Store of the Future at GITEX 2020

VICKI innovations include integration with the Etisalat eWallet app for QR code payments and COVID–19 protection by sanitizing products and surfaces with UV–C lighting

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 06, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — [GITEX 2020] San Diego–based ViaTouch Media, which is disrupting the retail shopping industry with its advanced software innovations, is demonstrating its VICKI AI Computer Vision powered smart store of the future at the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation (Etisalat) Stand Z1–A10–21, at GITEX 2020, held this week at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Show attendees can experience how VICKI can integrate QR code payments through the Etisalat payment platform. [Note to Editors – See VICKI in action video here.]

VICKI has three industry–leading advancements important to customer health and safety:

  • Inside surfaces and products in the kiosks are automatically sanitized with UV–C lighting after each customer visit. This is unique to VICKI and provides customers with the safest method of shopping.
  • She uses AI to dynamically interact, Alexa style, with the customer to offer product selections based on customer preferences and answer customer questions""all in a contactless environment.
  • Enables customers to access the kiosk in a contactless manner open the kiosk by using the Etisalat eWallet app.

Easy Shopping
VICKI customers can pay with credits cards, by scanning a QR code or use tap–to–pay like Apple Pay. By downloading the VICKI Rewards app, they can also participate in the rewards program, find a local VICKI smart store, manage their account and get receipts.

"The VICKI contactless kiosk, our AI Computer Vision powered smart store of the future, answers the need for consumers to still be able to see goods in person, and have interactive conversations while buying goods," said ViaTouch CEO Tom Murn. "It is the smart evolution of shopping, matching the mindset of consumers used to working with mobile devices and getting more information right away before making a decision. For product manufacturers it offers a means of maintaining and growing revenue by merchandising their products in a safe, secure medium""whether it's health & beauty products, electronics or food and beverages."

About ViaTouch and VICKI
Created by ViaTouch, the VICKI is the world's first AI Computer Vision driven, contactless retail environment. Powered by artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies, VICKI is the premier retail solution to leverage AI and Computer Vision at the point–of–sale (POS). Customers interacting with VICKI experience the future of contactless shopping – now – engaging with VICKI and sharing their preferences and product questions. It is safe, fast, customized and meets the expectations of 21st Century customers. For more information contact ViaTouch at 1–866–942–0804 or https://getvicki.com/contact_us.

Media Contact
Jennifer Spoerri
Gallagher PR
jennifer@gallagherpr.com
+1 415–577–0171


ViaTouch to Showcase and Demo Its Vicki AI Computer Vision Powered Smart Store of the Future at GITEX 2020

VICKI innovations include integration with the Etisalat eWallet app for QR code payments and COVID–19 protection by sanitizing products and surfaces with UV–C lighting

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 06, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — [GITEX 2020] San Diego–based ViaTouch Media, which is disrupting the retail shopping industry with its advanced software innovations, is demonstrating its VICKI AI Computer Vision powered smart store of the future at the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation (Etisalat) Stand Z1–A10–21, at GITEX 2020, held this week at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Show attendees can experience how VICKI can integrate QR code payments through the Etisalat payment platform. [Note to Editors – See VICKI in action video here.]

VICKI has three industry–leading advancements important to customer health and safety:

  • Inside surfaces and products in the kiosks are automatically sanitized with UV–C lighting after each customer visit. This is unique to VICKI and provides customers with the safest method of shopping.
  • She uses AI to dynamically interact, Alexa style, with the customer to offer product selections based on customer preferences and answer customer questions""all in a contactless environment.
  • Enables customers to access the kiosk in a contactless manner open the kiosk by using the Etisalat eWallet app.

Easy Shopping
VICKI customers can pay with credits cards, by scanning a QR code or use tap–to–pay like Apple Pay. By downloading the VICKI Rewards app, they can also participate in the rewards program, find a local VICKI smart store, manage their account and get receipts.

"The VICKI contactless kiosk, our AI Computer Vision powered smart store of the future, answers the need for consumers to still be able to see goods in person, and have interactive conversations while buying goods," said ViaTouch CEO Tom Murn. "It is the smart evolution of shopping, matching the mindset of consumers used to working with mobile devices and getting more information right away before making a decision. For product manufacturers it offers a means of maintaining and growing revenue by merchandising their products in a safe, secure medium""whether it's health & beauty products, electronics or food and beverages."

About ViaTouch and VICKI
Created by ViaTouch, the VICKI is the world's first AI Computer Vision driven, contactless retail environment. Powered by artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies, VICKI is the premier retail solution to leverage AI and Computer Vision at the point–of–sale (POS). Customers interacting with VICKI experience the future of contactless shopping – now – engaging with VICKI and sharing their preferences and product questions. It is safe, fast, customized and meets the expectations of 21st Century customers. For more information contact ViaTouch at 1–866–942–0804 or https://getvicki.com/contact_us.

Media Contact
Jennifer Spoerri
Gallagher PR
jennifer@gallagherpr.com
+1 415–577–0171


ViaTouch to Showcase and Demo Its Vicki AI Computer Vision Powered Smart Store of the Future at GITEX 2020

VICKI innovations include integration with the Etisalat eWallet app for QR code payments and COVID–19 protection by sanitizing products and surfaces with UV–C lighting

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 06, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — [GITEX 2020] San Diego–based ViaTouch Media, which is disrupting the retail shopping industry with its advanced software innovations, is demonstrating its VICKI AI Computer Vision powered smart store of the future at the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation (Etisalat) Stand Z1–A10–21, at GITEX 2020, held this week at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Show attendees can experience how VICKI can integrate QR code payments through the Etisalat payment platform. [Note to Editors – See VICKI in action video here.]

VICKI has three industry–leading advancements important to customer health and safety:

  • Inside surfaces and products in the kiosks are automatically sanitized with UV–C lighting after each customer visit. This is unique to VICKI and provides customers with the safest method of shopping.
  • She uses AI to dynamically interact, Alexa style, with the customer to offer product selections based on customer preferences and answer customer questions""all in a contactless environment.
  • Enables customers to access the kiosk in a contactless manner open the kiosk by using the Etisalat eWallet app.

Easy Shopping
VICKI customers can pay with credits cards, by scanning a QR code or use tap–to–pay like Apple Pay. By downloading the VICKI Rewards app, they can also participate in the rewards program, find a local VICKI smart store, manage their account and get receipts.

"The VICKI contactless kiosk, our AI Computer Vision powered smart store of the future, answers the need for consumers to still be able to see goods in person, and have interactive conversations while buying goods," said ViaTouch CEO Tom Murn. "It is the smart evolution of shopping, matching the mindset of consumers used to working with mobile devices and getting more information right away before making a decision. For product manufacturers it offers a means of maintaining and growing revenue by merchandising their products in a safe, secure medium""whether it's health & beauty products, electronics or food and beverages."

About ViaTouch and VICKI
Created by ViaTouch, the VICKI is the world's first AI Computer Vision driven, contactless retail environment. Powered by artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies, VICKI is the premier retail solution to leverage AI and Computer Vision at the point–of–sale (POS). Customers interacting with VICKI experience the future of contactless shopping – now – engaging with VICKI and sharing their preferences and product questions. It is safe, fast, customized and meets the expectations of 21st Century customers. For more information contact ViaTouch at 1–866–942–0804 or https://getvicki.com/contact_us.

Media Contact
Jennifer Spoerri
Gallagher PR
jennifer@gallagherpr.com
+1 415–577–0171