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Theresa May to spend aid money on insurance against disasters in Africa

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Anushka Asthana and Patrick Wintour

Theresa May is planning to spend tens of millions of pounds of aid funding on buying premiums with British insurance companies to help cover the costs of natural disasters in African countries, such as severe drought.
The prime minister believes that buying up private insurance policies in the UK, in a break from more traditional forms of aid spending, could reduce the need for expensive direct humanitarian support in the future.

A senior Downing Street official said the plan was to spend £30m over four years on the initiative, after which the companies would be able to continue working directly with African countries, opening up the opportunity to make a profit.

Oxfam’s senior policy adviser, Max Lawson, said that “harnessing the resources of the insurance industry is an interesting idea”, but said it must be judged on any benefits for poor countries and not the City of London.

The prime minister could face a backlash from critics of Britain’s aid budget in the UK, who believe that more should be done to help uninsured people at home facing flooding or other crises.

May laid out the plans at the G20 summit in Hamburg as part of a £200m package that aims to boost economic growth within African countries in order to make them less dependent on aid.

“We must not forget that progress in Africa benefits the UK at home. Our international aid work is helping to build Britain’s trading partners of the future, creating real alternatives to mass migration, and enhancing our security,” she said.

May added that it was also about a “moral responsibility” to meet the humanitarian needs of the poorest people on the planet, adding: “This is the future of aid, delivering value for money for the taxpayer.”

The prime minister was trying to echo Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who has made her Compact with Africa the centrepiece of the two-day summit, rivalling Tony Blair’s drop the debt theme at the G8 in Gleaneagles, Scotland in 2005.

The aim is to boost private investment in a select group of African countries in the hope that they can act as the pioneers of a wider growth drive across the continent.

The German initiative warns: “By 2050 an estimated 2.5 billion people will live on the continent, almost twice as many as there are now. By 2030, approximately 440 million people will be looking for work.” Yet African economic growth has been slowing, partly due to a fall in commodity prices.
The German government argued: “Only $130bn (£100bn) a year would be enough to expand African infrastructure – roughly equivalent to the total amount of public aid for the continent.”

The Merkel plan has a self-serving element, since Germany is concerned that unless Africa, with its fast-growing youthful population, finds new jobs, many of the new generation will follow the path of hundreds of thousands of Africans struggling across the Mediterranean into Italy.

May also warned that 20m jobs needed to be created in Africa every year until 2035 to absorb new entrants into the labour force, arguing that failure to provide work meant “destabilising migratory patterns will persist – with extremist causes and criminality more likely to thrive”.

The package includes the new London Centre for Global Disaster Protection, which will aim to “use world-leading UK expertise and innovation to help developing countries strengthen disaster planning and use insurance to provide more cost-effective, rapid and reliable finance in emergencies, such as the severe drought in east Africa”.

Downing Street added: “This will reduce the need for expensive humanitarian aid, reassure private investors and help people rebuild their lives. Insurance protection built through this centre could provide £2bn when crises hit to ensure that the high costs of disasters aren’t borne by people or businesses, trapping them in cycles of poverty.”

The government said a further £60m was about building up a “robust and transparent financial sector” to attract more investment. “This paves the way for a strong partnership with the City of London, creating more opportunities for London to become the finance hub for Africa.”

Max Lawson of Oxfam said stimulating growth could help the fight against poverty. “But it is important to recognise that growing economies will not automatically provide people with enough food to eat or life-saving medicines – especially as Africa is home to some of the most unequal countries on Earth. We urge the government to set out in practical terms how it will ensure those who most need our help will reap the benefits of this initiative.”

He also stressed the need to tackle climate change.

Labour MP Stephen Doughty agreed that global warming threatened the lives of millions, but called the prime minister weak in the face of Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement. “She has no intention to stand up to the US president’s selfish agenda on climate change and global poverty,” he said.

Doughty welcomed support for development in African economies, but said it must not be at the expense of investment in strong public health and education systems.

Briefing Room

UPDATE: Somali authorities say troops rescue 32 children from “terrorist school”

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MOGADISHU, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Somali authorities said troops stormed a school run by al Shabaab on Thursday night and rescued 32 children who had been taken as recruits by the Islamist militant group.

“The 32 children are safe and the government is looking after them. It is unfortunate that terrorists are recruiting children to their twisted ideology,” Abdirahman Omar Osman, information minister for the Somali federal government, told Reuters on Friday.

“It showed how desperate the terrorists are, as they are losing the war and people are rejecting terror.”

Al Shabaab said government forces, accompanied by drones, had attacked the school in Middle Shabelle region. It said four children and a teacher were killed.

The Somali government said no children were killed in the rescue.

“They kidnapped the rest of the students,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military spokesman.

“Human Rights Watch is responsible for the deaths of the students and their teacher because it pointed fingers at them,” he added.

In a report this week, the New York-based rights group said that since September 2017, al Shabaab had ordered village elders, teachers in Islamic religious schools, and rural communities to hand over hundreds of children as young as eight.

The U.S. Africa Command said it had carried out an air strike on Thursday against al Shabaab targets 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Somalia’s port city of Kismayo, killing four militants. U.S. forces regularly launch such aerial assaults.

The al Shabaab militia, linked to al Qaeda, is fighting to topple the U.N.-backed Somali government and establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islam’s sharia law.

Somalia has been plagued by conflict since the early 1990s, when clan-based warlords overthrew authoritarian ruler Mohamed Siad Barre then turned on each other.

In recent years, regional administrations headed by the Mogadishu-based federal government have emerged, and African Union peacekeepers supporting Somali troops have gradually clawed back territory from the Islamist insurgents.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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Briefing Room

Somalia welcomes 41 nationals released from Indian jails, more to follow

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The Federal Government of Somalia on Friday welcomed home forty-one nationals who had been in Indian jails for piracy related offences.

The returnees were welcomed at the Mogadishu International Airport by Prime Minister Ali Hassan Khayre and other government officials.

A Voice of America journalist, Harun Maruf said the former detainees were released after negotiations between the two countries.

He added that: “They were part of 120 Somalis arrested by India navy after being suspected of involvement in piracy acts, some have served their jail terms.” Two of them are said to have died in prison.

The Prime Minister later wrote on Twitter that the government will continue to do all it takes to return Somalis languishing in jails outside the country. Reports indicate that 77 others will be freed in the coming months.

The Somali government in 2017 secured the release of over twenty of its nationals held in neighbouring Ethiopia’s jails.

The government was also instrumental in the release of a top Somali journalist who was jailed in Ethiopia.

The Mohammed Abdullahi Farmaajo government, however, attracted public outrage by handing over a Somali national to the Ethiopian government.

A move that was slammed by Somalis and by human rights groups who claimed Mogadishu had virtually handed him over to be tortured.

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Briefing Room

US wary of Islamic extremism growth in Africa

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PENTAGON — With the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate almost completely retaken in Iraq and Syria, many American leaders are concerned the group might try to create a new hub elsewhere.

Islamic extremism creeps up in impoverished, politically disillusioned populations with masses of young, unemployed Muslims, and these conditions can be seen across the African continent.

“Africa is going to be the spot; it’s going to be the hot spot,” Congressman Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a hearing last month.

In a letter sent to congressional leaders on Monday detailing counter-extremism efforts, President Donald Trump said his administration had placed a “particular focus” on the U.S. Central and Africa Commands’ areas of responsibility.

While tens of thousands of American troops are deployed to the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where U.S. Central Command oversees military operations, the entire African continent has less than half the number of American troops deployed in the single country of Afghanistan.

But increases in terrorist activity are among the reasons why American military presence has grown rapidly on the continent, from 3,200 military personnel in 2009 to some 6,500 military personnel today.

The bulk of U.S. military personnel in Africa, some 4,000 Americans, are based in Djibouti, home to the United States’ only military base on the continent. The second-largest concentration is in the Lake Chad Basin, where some 1,300 U.S. military personnel work in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad to help strengthen local militaries and counter Boko Haram, al-Qaida, Islamic State and other extremist groups. About 500 U.S. military personnel are based in Somalia, where al-Shabaab terrorists are battling the U.N.-backed Somali government and Islamic State operates in mountainous areas of Puntland.

John Campbell, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007, is critical of the United States’ policy toward Africa.

“There is African concern that the U.S. approach is becoming rather more militarized, or more concerned with military and security issues than had been the case in the past,” he told VOA.

Campbell said he believes that the main thrust of American effort on the continent should be on the “root causes” of extremism — poor governance and lack of economic development. But this effort will likely prove more difficult if the State Department’s budget is slashed, as proposed by the Trump administration.

Ripe for recruitment

Africa’s growing young, male population is ripe for recruitment, Africa Command’s senior enlisted leader, Command Chief Master Sergeant Ramon Colon-Lopez told VOA in an exclusive interview.

“When you have no options and here comes an extremist that is offering you a motorbike and a bride, what do you think you’re going to do? Your family’s starving, you can’t provide for them and somebody’s giving you an option,” he said.

The Trump administration this year changed rules governing U.Smilitary operations in the area, expanding the ability to strike al-Shabab and IS fighters in the war-torn country of Somalia. The change allowed offensive strikes against the terrorists rather than limiting attacks to defending African allies and their American advisers on the ground. This matches a similar expansion of strike authorities this year against the Taliban in Afghanistan, where under President Barack Obama, the Taliban had to be in close proximity to Afghan National Security Forces before they could be targeted.

The new authorities have led to an increase in strikes in Somalia. The latest of the more than 30 U.S. strikes across the west African country this year came on Tuesday, taking out what U.S. military officials said was an al-Shabab car bomb planned for use in an attack in the capital, Mogadishu.

Colon-Lopez said the new authorities have “definitely” helped the counter-terrorism mission in Africa.

The U.S. has also used air strikes this year to target IS militants in Libya. Just last month, the U.S. and Niger reached an agreement permitting armed American military drones for use against jihadist terrorist groups in the African nation, according to a U.S. official. It is still unclear whether the drones in Niger will be used to carry out targeted strikes or solely as a defensive measure.

Special operations forces

In the past decade, Africa has also seen a vast expansion of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF), elite military units that are specifically trained and use special weapons, and tactics.

In 2006, Special Operations Forces made up just 1 percent of U.S. military personnel. Today, there are about 1,200 Special Operations Forces deployed to Africa, or about 15 percent of the total deployed force, a U.S. military official told VOA on the condition of anonymity.

Their jobs range from short-term training to long-term partnering with African military units that place American troops in potentially dangerous locations.

That’s what happened in Niger in October, when four American soldiers died in an IS ambush, and in May, when a U.S. Navy SEAL died aiding Somali security forces against al-Shabaab.

“I worry about the outposts that have U.S. military members that are getting after this threat,” Colon-Lopez said. “I worry about them because we can see what happened out there when the enemy decides to overpower the United States of America.”

The number of times that U.S. troops are exposed to danger in Africa are rare, a U.S. military official told VOA, adding that Special Operations Forces limit their involvement with local partners because of the strong desire to find “African solutions to African problems.”

“Our role is more like preventative medicine in Africa than emergency surgery,” the military official said.

However, if the security need grows in the coming months, more Americans troops could find themselves in dangerous situations across the continent.

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