The African Union announced Thursday the suspension with immediate effect of Gabon, where soldiers overthrew President Ali Bongo Ondimba on Wednesday.
The continental organization "strongly condemns the takeover of power by the military in the Republic of Gabon", announced the AU in a press release published on X (formerly Twitter).
The organization's Peace and Security Council "decides to immediately suspend Gabon's participation in all activities of the AU, its organs and institutions" , the press release continued.
The meeting was chaired by the Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union, the Nigerian Bankole Adeoye, and the current holder of the rotating presidency of the council, the Burundian Willy Nyamitwe.
On Wednesday, the chairperson of the African Union commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, "strongly" condemned what he described as "the attempted coup" in the oil-rich central African country Gabon. which had been run for over 55 years by the Bongo family.
Putschist soldiers announced on Wednesday that they had "put an end to the regime in place" in Gabon and had placed President Ali Bongo Ondimba, in power for 14 years, under house arrest, just after the official announcement of his victory in the presidential election held on Saturday.
Moussa Faki Mahamat also called on the Gabonese army and security forces “to guarantee the physical integrity” of Ali Bongo Ondimba. Africa News
The move by the British home secretary Suella Braverman to impose visa restrictions on people from Dominica, Honduras, Namibia, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu has reflected again the tendency to employ a sledgehammer to crack a nut when managing immigration and border security.
In July, Braverman expressed concerns about the way Dominica and Vanuatu administer their citizenship by investment (CBI) schemes – so-called golden visas – citizenship in exchange for financial inputs in the host country.
According to her, these two Commonwealth countries have been conferring citizenship on individuals recognised as security risks to the UK. Braverman failed to identify these dangerous people.
Her decision has been met with scepticism. Critics contend that the numbers involved in these countries are scarcely large enough to warrant such measures. The move appears to disproportionately target black and brown-majority nations, raising concerns again about the justice in Britain’s immigration policies.
Against a backdrop of anti-migrant sentiment, the step aligns with the UK government’s normalising of restrictive immigration policies, distracting from the cost-of-living crisis, public transport strikes, NHS issues and economic inequality. The focus on externalising immigration challenges ignores migration as an issue that requires a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach.
It also prompts a closer examination of citizenship by investment schemes. Transparency International, a global civil society organisation that campaigns against corruption, has previously highlighted problems in Europe, stating: “Golden passport and visa schemes have turned EU citizenship and residency rights into a luxury good: with enough money, anyone can buy in.
It adds: “This is a particularly attractive prospect for criminals and the corrupt – and numerous scandals have proven they are taking advantage. These EU golden passport and visa schemes are not about genuine investment or migration – but about serving corrupt interests.”
The problem is insidious in the Caribbean, which has become a magnet for members of super-rich elites from the US and Europe seeking to take advantage of vulnerable nations to satisfy their need to create more wealth at the expense of the climate crisis, human rights and equality.
Golden visas have gained traction in Caribbean islands, especially those heavily dependant on tourism and foreign direct investment.
Advocates argue that CBIs can stimulate economic growth, create jobs and benefit local economies and infrastructure. Attracting overseas investment can provide valuable sources of funding for public services and development, benefiting both citizen and immigrant, and countries can diversify beyond tourism and agriculture. But they come with their own set of challenges.
They often require property investment, which can bolster real estate markets but exacerbate wealth inequality, catapulting house prices beyond the reach of local people. Providing privileges to the wealthy deepens the divide between elites and locals.
Citizenship scheme income helps to support hospitality, infrastructure, banking and youth development projects
This is especially true for countries belonging to the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States – Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Reports from the International Monetary Fund show CBIs contributed nearly 30% of GDP for Dominica and 25% for St Kitts and Nevis in 2022. Citizenship scheme income helps to support hospitality, infrastructure, banking and youth development projects. CBI revenues have been pivotal in aiding these countries during Covid.
However, without robust background checks and enhanced due diligence, the risk of corruption, money laundering and illicit activities increases. The rush to attract foreign investments can make economies more vulnerable to external economic shocks and national security concerns.
A report last year by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project highlighted one of the best-known firms enabling these passport sales, Henley & Partners, whose chairman Christian Kälin has been dubbed the “Passport King”. The report illustrated the number of CBI applicants from countries including Russia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Armenia and Nigeria attempting to gain citizenship in Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis.
Golden visa holders are often subject to tax in the host country. Income, property and other taxes bring other revenue streams. Tax evaders have ingeniously employed CBIs to obscure financial misconduct. Essentially, these individuals exploit tax havens to evade their obligations, relying on the host’s cooperation to reduce discovery risk. A key complicating factor is the acquisition of foreign citizenship as a safeguard against detection, a strategy favoured by the wealthiest tax evaders.
CBIs wield a transformative influence, redefining tax evasion in two ways: by reducing detection, thereby curtailing potential penalties from high-tax jurisdictions, and disrupting the international framework of tax information exchange, diverting potential revenue. This allows countries offering golden visas a discreet influence over global tax information-sharing initiatives.
The privileges conferred by investment visas vary significantly from country to country and even within programmes in the same nation. Generally, golden visas are premised on a significant financial investment, but specific rights and limitations can differ. Some convey rights to work, start a business or give access to services such as healthcare and education. Caribbean nations need to strike a balance between attracting investment and safeguarding their interests
Some countries require a period of residency before granting voting rights, while others might not offer them at all to golden visa holders. This has led to controversy in the Caribbean where there have been allegations of using citizenship by investment for electoral manipulation.
The retired supervisor of elections in St Kitts and Nevis, Elvin Bailey, expressed concern that CBI holders were being allowed to vote. It has also been reported that a large number of Indian nationals, who are also Commonwealth citizens, and Chinese nationals, have been granted CBIs in St Kitts and Nevis that confer voting rights and ultimately allegiance to whichever administration dispenses these visas. Some were found to be involved in corruption and criminal activities.
Caribbean nations need to strike a balance between attracting investment and safeguarding their interests. In implementing robust procedures, including criminal background and funding source checks, they can ensure that those seeking these visas are genuinely contributing to society, and maintain the credibility of schemes.
Braverman’s approach to immigration raises questions about the UK’s commitment to equitable policies. Meanwhile, the Caribbean’s investment visa programmes offer economic opportunities but need to to address due diligence concerns related to inequality, alongside fraud, tax evasion and national security.
As the world grapples with issues of migration, corruption and governance, it becomes paramount for countries to wield more nuanced approaches to immigration, not the blunt force of sledgehammers.
• Kenneth Mohammed is a Caribbean analyst with a focus on corruption. By Kenneth Mohammed, Guardian
Kenya is still facing environmental governance and conservation challenges that the late Prof Wangari Maathai battled throughout her professional life, including illegal logging of public forests.
"The obstacles of governance in the environment sector are still rife, as it was during her time. We have seen illegal logging spiral in the forestry sector, forest fires, pollution, and failure in the waste management sector amongst others," Environment, Climate Change and Forestry Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya outlined.
She said her Ministry was taking proactive measures to overcome the challenges including the recent recruitment of 2,700 rangers to help deal with the problem of illegal forest activities and deployment of ultra-modern forest fire management technologies.
She spoke during the official opening of the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi's Upper Kabete Campus. The Institute, whose construction commenced in 2016, was established by the Government to advance the legacy of the 2004 Kenyan Nobel Laureate Prof Wangari Maathai. The institute was handed over to the University of Nairobi in May 2019.
Tuya emphasized the ongoing challenges in environmental governance, echoing the issues that Prof. Maathai tirelessly addressed during her lifetime.
"The obstacles of governance in the environment sector are still rife, as it was during her time. We have seen illegal logging spiral in the forestry sector, forest fires, pollution, and failure in the waste management sector amongst others," CS Tuya outlined.
To combat these issues, she announced that her Ministry had taken proactive measures, including the recruitment of 2,700 rangers and the deployment of modern forest fire management technologies.
During her address, CS Tuya expressed gratitude to the various partners who supported the construction of the institute, including the African Union, the African Development Bank, the Clinton Global Initiative and Danida.
"I am informed that the institute aims to carry forward Prof Maathai’s legacy by promoting research, education, and community engagement in the field of environmental governance, cultures of peace, climate adaptation, sustainable development, and conservation," she added.
CS Tuya also highlighted the need for research into the nexus of environment, conflict, and peace, citing the increasing evidence that environmental and climate factors are becoming critical drivers of insecurity, particularly in Africa.
She provided insights into ongoing climate action programs in her Ministry, including a 15 billion national tree planting and ecosystem restoration initiative, sustainable waste management efforts, and the forthcoming inaugural Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi.
"The late Professor Wangari Maathai led Kenyans and the world to plant trees and to build strong nature-based livelihoods, especially for women and youth at the community and grassroots level," CS Tuya said. "In this coming short rain period between September and December 2023, we are planning to lead the country in planting and growing 500 million seedlings, and we would like to welcome each and every Kenyan to join us in this program."
The Africa Climate Summit, scheduled for next week, was also a point of discussion. CS Tuya emphasized that this event would provide a platform for Africa to showcase its climate change adaptation, resilience, and mitigation potential.
Other speakers at the launch included Dr. Vijoo Rattansi, acting Vice Chancellor Prof. Julius Ogengo, and Chair of Council Prof. Amukowa Anangwe. Dr. Rattansi acknowledged Prof. Maathai's pioneering efforts in climate action long before it became a global priority.
"The late Prof Wangari Maathai holds a special place in our hearts; first and foremost, as our member and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, for the obstacles that she overcame, whether personally or politically, to secure her place in our nation's history as an agent of change," Dr. Rattansi said.
Prof Ogengo expressed gratitude to the government and partners for their support in establishing the institute. He noted that the Wangari Maathai Institute would not only institutionalize the legacy of the departed Nobel Laureate but also serve as a center of excellence in advanced environmental education.
"The University of Nairobi is grateful for the Government’s commitment to institutionalize the legacy of Prof Wangari Mathaai and foster the positive ethics, values, and practices that defined her life," Prof Ogengo said.
The opening of the Wangari Maathai Institute signifies a significant step towards addressing Kenya's environmental challenges and honouring the enduring legacy of a remarkable environmentalist and Nobel laureate. By Mactilda Mbenywe, The Standard
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