PowerChina-constructed Mali Gouina hydropower station completed

Alleviating electricity shortages in West Africa

BEIJING, Feb. 10, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — A news report by haiwainet.cn:

On December 3, 2022, the inauguration of the Gouina Hydropower Station, which is owned and managed by the Organization for the Development of the Senegal River (OMVS), financed by the Export-Import Bank of China, and constructed by PowerChina, was held in the Diamou area of the Kayes region.

The inauguration was co-chaired by Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga, Acting Prime Minister of the Republic of Mali. He warmly congratulated the successful completion of the Gouina hydropower station, thanks to the Chinese government and the Chinese Embassy in Mali for their strong support for the power construction in Mali and even West Africa. He also thanked PowerChina for its contribution to the project implementation.

The Gouina Hydropower Station falls along the Senegal River in Mali. The dam is 19 meters high, with a total length of 1317 meters and a storage capacity of 136 million cubic meters. It took 6 years to complete the construction. According to PowerChina, the Gouina Hydropower Station is one of the largest construction projects invested by Chinese companies in Mali.

As a large-scale infrastructure project in the area involved in the “Belt and Road” initiative, once operational, the station is expected to generate about 621 million kilowatt-hours of power. It will form a cascade reservoir and stations with Manantali and Felou hydropower stations, contributing to a continuous and stable power grid covering a large region. The grid will overcome power shortages in Mali and boost local industrial and social and economic development. Besides Mali, the grid will send power to Senegal and Mauritania in West Africa, which will improve local people’s quality of life.

In 2003, the Mali office of PowerChina was officially established, and PowerChina’s first bridge project entered the Mali market. In 2009, PowerChina acquired the Felou Hydropower Station under the framework of OMVS through IOB. Up to now, PowerChina has set up six regional headquarters, 453 branches in more than 120 countries around the world.

EU Summit: Talk but No Big Decisions on Ukraine, Migration

After a European Union summit ending February 10 that offered strong support for Ukraine — and calls for stronger measures against illegal migration — the bloc is now challenged to act on its rhetoric. But on both Ukraine and migration, European member states are not marching in complete lockstep.

EU membership, fighter jets and fences counted among the top three buzzwords of a summit, featuring the standing-ovation presence of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and talks about curbing a sharp influx of so-called “irregular migrants” from places like Africa.

Zelenskyy got a rousing welcome from European members of parliament and leaders, as he reiterated calls for more weapons and for fast-tracking his country’s EU membership application.

Ukraine’s leader also called for more EU sanctions against Russia — which European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said will shortly become reality.

“First, we will impose sanctions on a number of political and military leaders,” she said. “But also, dear Volodymyr, we listened very carefully to your messages when we visited you last week in Kyiv – we will target [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s propagandists, because their lies are poisoning the public space in Russia and abroad.”

Despite the show of unity, there does not appear more movement on speeding up Ukraine’s accession into the bloc. And while Zelenskyy said some EU countries appeared receptive to sending fighter jets, it is unclear how much support that proposal has within the bloc, with many nations fearing an escalation in the Ukraine conflict.

Speaking to reporters, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin appeared open to the idea.

When asked if she would rule out fighter jets, Marin responded, “I don’t want to rule out anything in this stage.”

Europe’s traditional heavyweights — France and Germany — were less receptive. French President Emmanuel Macron said he does not rule out sending fighter jets to Ukraine, but that it does not correspond to today’s needs.

In terms of overall weapons deliveries, timing is critical, said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior analyst at the German Marshall Fund policy institute.

“It is clear, or appears to be clear, that Russian government is determined to push an offensive around the one-year anniversary of the invasion — and hopefully from their point of view before lots of the new western heavy weaponry arrives. And of course, Ukraine has previously said it is their intention to launch their own counter-offensive,” Kirkegaard said.

EU divisions were also apparent on another hot-button issue: migration. European border agency Frontex says last year’s number of so-called irregular migrant crossings into the bloc — 330,000 — was the highest since its 2016 migrant crisis. Many more were asylum-seekers, although EU officials suggest many of those do not merit refugee status.

While the bloc is moving toward tougher policies to curb migration, countries are divided over methods to do it, and whether to use EU funds to build fences — a concept that was largely dismissed not so long ago.

Source: Voice of America

US, China Compete for Africa’s Rare Earth Minerals

South Africa hosted the world’s biggest mining investment conference this week, with industry experts in attendance saying the U.S. and China are in a race for the critical minerals — such as cobalt and lithium — that will likely power the projected transition to clean energy.

African countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo have some of the largest deposits of these resources, but China currently dominates the supply chain as well as their refinement and the U.S. wants to reduce its reliance on the Asian giant.

In his remarks at the mining conference in Cape Town this week, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose Fernandez hinted at this saying, “I don’t need to remind you of what happens when the supply chain breaks down or when we depend on a single supplier. We lived it during the COVID pandemic, and this is a vulnerability that we need to solve together.”

Fernandez — who did not mention China by name — noted that electric vehicles are expected to command half the global market by 2030 and that demand for lithium is expected to increase 42-fold by 2040. China is responsible for some 80 percent of the world’s lithium refining.

Tony Carroll, the director of Acorus Capital and an international adviser to the conference known as the Africa Mining Indaba, told VOA the session came at a critical time for the West.

The Chinese made it a “priority to corner the market for critical minerals about two decades ago and supported that strategy with massive public diplomacy and infrastructure investments into Africa — most of which [came] via long-term debt. The West woke up to this strategy too late and have been scrambling ever since,” he said.

Rare earth minerals are essential for electric vehicle production and expanding the production of green technologies. However, their extraction can come at an environmental or social cost to African countries that have big deposits.

Fernandez echoed remarks made by Pope Francis on his recent trip to Congo denouncing “economic colonialism” in Africa, which could be seen as a swipe at Beijing. He also assured African countries the United States would respect “environmental, social, and governance standards.”

“While late to the game, the U.S. has awakened with more ambition in mining and processing and building alliances with like-minded partners,” said Carroll, who is also an adjunct professor in the African studies program at Johns Hopkins University.

A first-time sponsor of the Mining Indaba this year was Chinese company Zijin, one of the largest mining groups in the world with interests in lithium, copper and other metals.

Asked for comment by VOA on whether China is now in a race for rare earth metals with the U.S., as well as other questions about Chinese mining interests in Africa, the PR manager of South Africa Zijin Platinum said the CEO was unable to respond before the deadline for this article.

African governments are now trying to get the best deals for their people. Namibia’s Mines Minister Tom Alweendo told Reuters at the Cape Town conference that his country is insisting that all lithium mined in Namibia has to be processed in the country.

Similarly, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi, who was one of the key speakers at the mining conference, has been demanding better terms from China for several years. China sources the majority of its cobalt from DRC, which produces some 70 percent of the world’s total.

Despite its vast mineral resources, Congo is one of the world’s least developed countries and Tshisekedi said in January it hadn’t benefited from a $6.2 billion minerals-for-infrastructure contract with China signed by his predecessor.

“The Chinese, they’ve made a lot of money and made a lot of profit from this contract,” Tshisekedi told Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “The Democratic Republic of Congo has derived no benefit from it. There’s nothing tangible, no positive impact, I’d say, for our population.”

“Now our need is simply to re-balance things in a way that it becomes win-win,” he added.

There are signs Tshisekedi could be moving toward the West.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden organized the Minerals Security Partnership last year as a way of diversifying supply chains. Partners include Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the European Union. At its first meeting last year, the DRC was one of the non-partner nations in attendance.

Then at Biden’s U.S.-Africa Summit in December, the DRC and Zambia inked a deal with the U.S. to jointly develop the supply chain for electric vehicle batteries.

“Dependency on China for rare earths is viewed with alarm,” said Jay Truesdale, CEO of the risk advisory firm Veracity Worldwide, and a speaker at the Indaba. “Given that Beijing has the means to severely restrict access to these minerals, in the event of a geopolitical crisis it could choose to use its market dominance to cripple non-Chinese manufacturers in such sectors as electronics, automotive manufacturing, aerospace, and renewable energy.”

Besides the rising tensions between China and the West in Africa, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will also force mining companies to make hard decisions, Truesdale said.

“The war in Ukraine has placed greater scrutiny on Russian mining activities across the continent. Russia benefits from a lack of transparency and weak governance where its mining companies operate. African governments are now more closely observing how Moscow trades promises of greater security for deeper access to mineral resources and the state capture that can result,” he told VOA.

Source: Voice of America

Following Attacks On Their Democracies, Biden Hosts Brazil’s Lula

U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Brazil’s newly installed leftist president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to the White House on Friday, seeking to strengthen relations with the South American nation following attacks on their respective democracies.

“Both our nations’ strong democracy has been tested of late, very much tested, and our institutions are put in jeopardy. But both in the United States and Brazil democracy prevailed,” Biden said, affirming the U.S. “unwavering support for Brazil’s democracy.”

“We’re the two largest democracies in the hemisphere. Brazil and United States stand together,” Biden said. “We reject political violence, and we put great value in our democratic institutions.”

The Brazilian leader, commonly known as Lula, took office after narrowly defeating then-President Jair Bolsonaro, in an October run-off election. A week after Lula’s inauguration, on Jan. 8, thousands of Bolsonaro’s supporters stormed the capital and trashed main government buildings, demanding that the election results be overturned. The attack echoed the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, by supporters of former President Donald Trump who would not accept that Biden had won the November 2020 election.

Referring to his predecessor, Lula said that Brazil had been “isolated from the world itself for four years.” He said that Bolsonaro “despised international relations” and consumed “fake news in the morning, afternoon and at night.”

“Sounds familiar,” Biden quipped, in an apparent reference to Trump.

Following the Brasilia attack, Biden immediately spoke with Lula to condemn the storming and to invite him to the White House for “in-depth consultations.” The pair will work together to promote inclusion and democratic values in the region and around the world, particularly in the lead-up to a March 2023 Summit for Democracy, a senior Biden administration official said in a statement.

Confronting insurrection attempts has given the two presidents something in common.

“Of course, this creates a good narrative for them to say together regarding democracy and the values of democracy and the strength of institutions,” Thiago de Araga~o told VOA. De Araga~o is the director of strategy at consulting firm Arko Advice and non-resident senior associate of the Americas Program at the Center for International Studies.

Biden did not comment publicly on the uncomfortable fact that Bolsonaro remains in the United States following his electoral loss.

De Araga~o said Bolsonaro is “just this guy in Florida, trying to make a noise with the audience that he has,” with little impact on the Biden-Lula meeting.

Renewing ties

The Biden administration’s relations with Brazil were cool under Bolsonaro, and Washington is looking to renew ties to address common challenges, including combating climate change and managing irregular migration.

Brazil is a migration route for Africans who enter the country to get to Mexico, then cross the border to the U.S.

“We welcome President Lula’s ideas and perspectives on how we can get at the root causes of all migration in this hemisphere,” John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications said Friday during a briefing.

Washington is also seeking to bolster its relationship with the biggest economy in Latin America, one that has a huge commercial dependency on Beijing. Brazil is part of the BRICS informal bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which accounts for more than a quarter of the world’s gross domestic product and about 40% of the world’s population.

It will be difficult for Biden to expect Lula to be an ally against Chinese influence in Latin America, said de Araga~o. “I don’t see Lula being an active player pro-China, but Lula’s neutrality and Brazil’s neutrality in their approach toward China is a win for China and a defeat for the U.S.”

Brazil has also taken a neutral stance on the war in Ukraine. Both Lula and Bolsonaro have been very strategic in attempting to assign equal blame to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Bruna Santos, senior adviser at the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute. “This has created a sense of neutrality, whether done ignorantly or deliberately,” she told VOA.

Russia supplies a quarter of Brazil’s fertilizers, and Western sanctions meant to punish Moscow for its invasion have threatened that supply. The historic relationship of Brazil’s Workers Party with the Soviet Communist Party before the end of the Soviet Union also inhibits Brazilian leaders from taking a stronger position to support Zelenskyy.

Climate change

Lula pledged that his administration would return Brazil to its climate priorities, including the “fight for the preservation of the Amazon rainforest” and reaching zero deforestation by 2030, following his predecessor’s policies that “would send people to deforest, would send illegal gold diggers entering the Indigenous reserves.”

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest fell in January from a year earlier, satellite data showed Friday, in the first monthly figures under Lula.

Following Bolsonaro’s disengagement from the fight against climate change, an endorsement from Biden will strengthen Lula’s effort to return Brazil to its environmental diplomacy.

Washington is reportedly considering contributing toward a multilateral fund aimed at fighting Amazon deforestation. The Brazilian-administered Amazon Fund, supported mainly by Norway and Germany, was reactivated by Environment Minister Marina Silva the day she took office last month, after being frozen since 2019 under Bolsonaro.

Source: Voice of America

Conservationists Skeptical of India’s African Cheetah Introduction Plan

The Indian government’s plan to introduce African cheetahs into the wild in India after relocating them from the African continent has been criticized by many conservationists who call the idea “ecologically and scientifically flawed.”

Last month, South Africa signed an agreement to send dozens of African cheetahs to India over the next decade. The first batch of 12 cheetahs, seven males and five females, is expected this month, according to the agreement.

They will be released into India’s Kuno National Park (KNP) in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, where eight African cheetahs are living.

“Following the import of the 12 cheetahs in February, the plan is to translocate a further 12 annually for the next eight to 10 years,” said a statement issued by the Indian government the last week of January.

The first batch of eight African cheetahs was airlifted from Namibia and released in the park in September 2022, marking the beginning of the Indian government’s ambitious Cheetah Introduction Project (CIP) to reintroduce the big cats to India.

Asiatic cheetahs in India became extinct over seven decades ago.

When the first group of African cheetahs arrived, S.P. Yadav, head of Project Tiger, said that the extinction of the cheetah in the country was a massive loss of biodiversity.

“It is our moral and ethical responsibility to bring back the cheetah to India,” he said.

‘Ecologically unsound project’

However, conservationists are divided over the Indian government’s current plan to introduce African cheetahs in India.

In an opinion piece published in Nature Ecology and Evolution in October, a group of wildlife scientists from India, South Africa and other countries said that India’s current Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India (APICI) — a plan prepared by CIP experts — was “ecologically unsound, costly and may serve as a distraction rather than help global cheetah and other science-based conservation efforts.”

The CIP of the Indian government estimates that a maximum of 21 cheetahs can reside in the 748-square-kilometer KNP.

Wildlife biologist Ravi Chellam, one of the authors of the opinion piece, told VOA that the KNP is too small to host a viable population of the big cats.

“Average cheetah density in the best of the habitats in Africa is 1 per 100 square kilometers. Based on an extrapolation using the density data from Africa, science informs us that seven to eight cheetahs, to a maximum of 10 cheetahs can reside within the 748-square-kilometer KNP,” Chellam said.

“With an area of only 748 square kilometers, KNP is just too small to host a viable population — estimated at about 50 adults — of the introduced cheetahs.”

Echoing Chellam’s views, South Africa-based large carnivore expert Michael G.L. Mills said that the KNP is not suitable for India’s cheetah action plan.

“The range quality is also important for maintaining a viable cheetah population, with a need for open or semi-open habitat, with sufficient, suitable wild prey, free from anthropogenic (made by humans) pressure and free-ranging dogs,” Mills told VOA.

Mills said Kuno National Park, which is 748 square kilometers in area, is unfenced, harbors about 500 feral cattle and is surrounded by a forested landscape with 169 human settlements is not the size and quality to permit self-sustaining and genetically viable cheetah populations. Nor are other landscapes, he said.

“Adopting such a speculative and unscientific approach, as seems to be the case in this venture, will likely lead to human-cheetah conflicts, death of the introduced cheetahs or both, and will undermine other science-based species recovery efforts for the cheetah, both within India and globally,” Mills added.

‘Cheetahs will do very well’

However, experts involved in India’s cheetah program disagree.

Yadvendradev Jhala, dean of the Wildlife Institute of India and lead scientist of the CIP, said that he “totally disagrees” with those who are critical of the APICI action plan.

“The cheetah reintroduction project is about the restoration of functional ecosystems. I am amazed to see how learned wildlife biologists could be blind or, choose to be blind, to the conservation importance of this project,” Jhala told VOA, noting that the real challenge begins when cheetahs are released as free ranging.

Since they were translocated to India five months ago, all eight cheetahs are still in fenced enclosures at the KNP to help them acclimatize to their new home.

“Their survival will depend on how safe the national park and its surroundings are made from poachers and their snares,” Jhala said. “As a species, the cheetah from Africa will adapt and do very well in the Indian habitat, climate and with predators and prey.”

Conservationist M.K. Ranjitsinh, a member of a court-appointed committee advising the government on the cheetah introduction project, said that apart from the KNP, there are three other sites being readied where African cheetahs would be introduced.

“All the selected sites, including KNP, do have sufficient prey base, as of now, to support a certain number of cheetahs and what we hope to do is to conserve the areas so that the prey base goes up,” Ranjitsinh told VOA.

“Scientists have found that these sites have the potential presently and in the future. We are prepared to take a few losses, which are bound to happen in any translocation and any reintroduction of this kind.”

According to the estimate by the APICI, with the introduction of around 100 African cheetahs over the next decade, after 15 years, the KNP is expected to have an established population of 21 cheetahs.

Conservationist Chellam said, “Twenty-one cheetahs just doesn’t constitute a viable population. As a result, there is no question of the introduced African cheetahs playing any other larger conservation role in India.”

Source: Voice of America