Press Review CW 22/2023: Setting the course
Press Review 26 May 2023 to 2 June 2023

Somalia introduces direct universal suffrage and presidential system

On Sunday, an agreement was signed in Somalia between the government and representatives of the federal states that initiates the overhaul of the political system. According to the agreement, the long-discussed but never implemented universal direct suffrage is to be introduced in Somalia in 2024. In addition, the agreement provides for a transition from the previous parliamentary system to a presidential system and the introduction of a uniform presidential electoral law. Accordingly, a single presidential ticket in which voters choose both the president and vice-president is said to be introduced, effectively abolishing the office of prime minister. The agreement is the result of a four-day meeting of the National Consultative Council (NCC) attended by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre and regional state leaders. Direct suffrage on the principle of “one person, one vote” is to be applied for the first time in the local elections in June 2024 and shortly afterwards in November in the regional parliamentary and presidential elections, thus replacing the indirect clan electoral system that has been active since dictator Siad Barré seized power in 1969. Until now, important political offices such as that of prime minister or president were awarded according to a complicated clan proportional representation system, which led to decades of power struggles with accompanying political unrest and instability, which, according to experts, favoured the radical Islamist al-Shabab insurgency in recent years. In the semi-autonomous Northern Somali state of Puntland, the direct voting system was already used in the local district council elections on Thursday. Although there were significant security incidents during the vote, according to regional electoral commissions, the United Nations and the African Union welcomed the implementation of universal direct suffrage in Puntland, calling it a “historic vote”. Several neighbouring countries also expressed similar positive views. The electoral reform is welcomed among broad parts of the Somali population, as it meets the demands for greater and more direct democratic participation of citizens. At the same time, the agreement raises hopes for an end to the ongoing political crisis that has repeatedly blocked elections in the country (Press Review week 20/2022). However, there are also critical voices, including former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (2009 – 2012), former prime ministers as well as Puntland’s president, Saïd Abdullahi Deni, who had already withdrawn from the NCC last year. They criticise the lack of inclusion of the autonomous region of Somaliland in the negotiations and the introduction of the presidential system, which would not have been up for discussion in earlier talks on electoral reforms. Furthermore, they warn that the changes to the electoral law could grant term extensions to regional heads of government, whose term was originally supposed to end in a few months.

Renegotiation of economic relations between DR Congo and China

In the future, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and China plan to regularly review their cooperation in the mining sector for compliance with mutual interests and upgrade the bilateral relationship between the DRC and China to a comprehensive strategic cooperation partnership, which is the highest level of China’s bilateral relations. This was announced by President Xi Jinping and his Congolese counterpart Félix Tshisekedi during a joint statement in Beijing last Friday. Xi also pledged support for DR Congo’s efforts to restore peace and security in the East of the country and announced plans to intensify exchanges between the two armies. The DR Congo government is fighting M23 rebels in the region (Press Review week 46/2022). Tshisekedi traveled to China from the 24 to 29 May to push for a renegotiation of mining contracts in order to achieve better conditions for his country. These renegotiations particularly  focus on a contract regarding the Chinese-Congolese joint venture Sicomines that was signed by his predecessor Joseph Kabila with China in 2008. While the Chinese construction company Sinohydro and the railroad company China Railways hold a total of  68% of the joint venture, the Congolese state-owned mining company Gécamines holds 32%. Originally, the deal called for Sicomines to receive mining rights for mineral resources with an export value of 90 billion US dollars – an estimated 10.6 million tons of copper and 630,000 tons of cobalt – and for the Chinese side to finance investments in DR Congo’s infrastructure worth 9 billion US dollars in return. However, after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised concerns about Congo’s resulting foreign debt burden, the investment amount was reduced to 6.5 billion US dollars. Yet, the contract is increasingly met with criticism in the DR Congo. In February of this year, the Congolese Audit Office Inspection Générale des Finances criticised the fact that the compensation for the copper and cobalt reserves brought in was inadequate. According to the report, Chinese companies mined minerals worth around 10 billion US dollars, but in return implemented infrastructure projects worth only around 822 million US dollars. Beijing and Sicomines, however, reject the criticism, calling the General Accounting Office’s report biased. Meanwhile, President Xi on Friday pledged to accelerate the agreed infrastructure projects and further strengthen cooperation in the mining sector. In particular, he said, the Chinese private sector should be encouraged to invest in developing the value chain for new energy batteries in the DRC. However, this would require improving the local business environment and providing greater protection for the rights of Chinese companies operating in the country. A conclusion to these negotiations could not be reached during Tshisekedi’s Beijing visit. Negotiations would continue and a new agreement should be signed by the end of the year, according to Congolese officials in Beijing. As an exporter of copper, uranium and cobalt, the DRC is strategically important to China’s transition to green energy: the country supplies more than 60 percent of the cobalt it needs, a key component in batteries for electric vehicles and electronics. According to China Customs, trade with the DRC totaled 21.9 billion US dollars in 2022, an increase of 51.7 percent from the previous year.

In other news

On Tuesday, Hadja Idrissa Bah, founder and president of the Club des jeunes filles leaders de Guinée, was awarded the Prix Liberté 2023 in Caen, France. With the Club des jeunes filles leaders de Guinée, which she founded in 2016, the 23-year-old campaigns for the protection and promotion of the rights of girls and young women and, together with the now more than 500 members aged between 10 and 25, fights against female genital mutilation and forced marriage in her home country Guinea. The Prix Liberté is awarded annually by the Normandy region to a person or organisation engaged in the fight for freedom and is endowed with €25,000.

Event notice

Under the umbrella theme “Climate Images: What we (could) sense & know”, SAABA-education curates the exhibition #ensemble-2: #ClimateImages #ChangingClimate and shows over 70 artworks by 38 artists from sub-Saharan Africa. The artists are the winners of the #ensemble-2 art competition, who have captured everyday impressions and realities of the African continent against the backdrop of climate change in their artworks. On display are images from the genres of painting, graphics and photography – both online and offline: The online 3-D exhibition started on Thursday and is accessible free of charge around the clock. From 2 July to the end of August, the artworks will also be exhibited in Berlin-Moabit on the outer fence of the Heilandskirche, Turmstrasse. The exhibitions are accompanied by a side programme consisting of discourse evenings and public discussions on the topics of climate justice, Africa and decolonisation.

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