Analysts: Philippine Leader’s Inconsistent Policy on South China Sea Hurts Manila

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s mixed messages and “wild swings” in policy-making on the thorny South China Sea issue have cost Manila opportunities to make headway over its territorial claims in the waterway during his five years in power, analysts say.

But Duterte, 76, who is due to leave office next year because the Philippine constitution limits the presidency to a single term, has been mostly consistent in one regard, they say: Since entering the Malacañang Palace in June 2016, the president has brushed off calls for a more aggressive strategy against Beijing’s expansionism in the disputed sea by arguing that the Philippines could not risk going to war with the Asian superpower.

“Clearly, his handling of foreign policy is very personalistic and he thinks by being personally friendly and extolling personal friendships, he will be able to influence China’s behavior,” said Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines.

“It doesn’t work that way, of course, because we’ve seen how despite five years of this style, China has not actually eased up on its activities in the West Philippine Sea, and it only gives China an advantage because the mixed messaging plays into China’s narratives,” Batongbacal told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Manila refers to its claimed portions of the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte’s near-constant refrain since taking office that he “cannot go to war with China” started in 2016, the same year that a United Nations-backed tribunal invalidated Beijing’s claims to most of the sea. The ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague supported Manila’s sovereign rights to its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.

As president, Duterte’s relatively friendly rapport with China has marked a turnaround from his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, whose hardline stance antagonized Beijing, especially when his administration took the South China Sea dispute to the arbitration court and won.

Although the arbitral award came with no policing powers to force Beijing into compliance, Duterte could have capitalized on it to shore up international support and advance Manila’s interests, according to observers.

In a televised address on May 5, Duterte described the arbitral ruling as “just a piece of paper” that he would “throw in the wastebasket.”

Yet, it was only last September that the Philippine president, during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, came out with what appeared at the time to be a fundamental policy shift on the 2016 arbitral ruling.

“The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon,” Duterte told the world body, referring to the outcome of the case brought by the previous Philippine administration to the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration.

“We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” he said then in his most forceful public comments on record to date about the ruling.

Despite the ruling, Duterte, who once said that he “simply loves Xi Jinping,” has failed to restore Filipino fishermen’s full access to their traditional fishing grounds such as Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands.

Chinese government and fishing ships have restricted Filipinos’ access to those waters, causing as much as an 80 percent decline in their fishing haul, according to a Philippine fishermen’s organization.

Meanwhile, Sino-Philippine plans to jointly drill the seabed for oil and natural gas are at a standstill. When the two countries signed an oil and gas exploration memorandum during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2018, anti-China protesters took to the streets of Metropolitan Manila, accusing Duterte of “selling out the Philippines to China.”

“I think the current administration was not able to protect our national interest here,” Rommel Jude Ong, a retired Philippine Navy admiral now affiliated with the Ateneo School of Government in Manila, told BenarNews.

Duterte’s stance “doesn’t look good from the point of view of us as a nation-state. It’s as if we’ve given up and succumbed to a sense of defeatism,” Ong said. “In other words, defeatism became a policy in this administration.”

On May 17, 2021, Duterte imposed a gag order on members of his cabinet, telling them to stop making public statements on the maritime dispute and saying that only he and the presidential spokesman could publicly comment on the issue, after his foreign secretary had aimed profanity-laced comments at Beijing about Chinese ships intruding in the Philippine EEZ.

In an effort to dispel public criticism over his South China Sea efforts, Duterte invited veteran politician and ex-Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile to his nationally broadcast weekly cabinet meeting on May 17.

That night, Enrile told the president to ignore his critics and that time would show the public that Duterte did right on the territorial issue.

“Our approach there should be friendly, not hard and aggressive,” Enrile told Duterte.

No unified voice

Tensions between the Philippines and China took a new turn in late March, when a task force led by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. reported the presence of more than 200 suspected Chinese militia ships at Whitsun Reef within the Philippine EEZ.

The report caused a diplomatic storm between Manila and Beijing, which denied that the ships were manned by militia and insisted the waters were within Chinese territory.

In April, the Department of Foreign Affairs began filing daily diplomatic protests over Beijing’s refusal to move the ships from those waters.

Early that month, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana demanded that the Chinese ships leave at once. He said the Chinese ambassador, Huang Xilian, had “a lot of explaining to do” for the incident.

Later, Teodoro Locsin Jr., the foreign secretary, summoned Huang on April 13 over the ships’ “illegal lingering presence” in Philippine waters.

Also in April, the Chinese foreign ministry reiterated Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea.

“China enjoys sovereignty over the Nansha islands including Zhongye [Pag-asa] Island and Zhongsha islands including Huangyan Island [Scarborough Shoal] and their adjacent waters and exercises jurisdiction in relevant waters,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on April 26.

“We urge the relevant side to respect China’s sovereignty and rights and interests, and stop actions complicating the situation and escalating disputes.”

On May 11, Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque offered conciliatory remarks to Beijing, saying that critics were “making a big deal” about the Chinese ships. He claimed, erroneously, that Whitsun Reef lay beyond the Philippine EEZ.

When observers pointed to the apparent contradictions between Roque’s statement and those of the two secretaries, Lorenzana insisted that his comments reflected the president’s position. Locsin, for his part, had to apologize for an expletive-laden tweet directed at China over the issue of the Chinese ships massed in the EEZ.

As Duterte’s cabinet toned down the rhetoric on China following his gag order, Manila’s coast guard and fisheries bureau launched maritime exercises and patrols at Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys. Previously, the navy ordered more ships to patrol waters where the Chinese ships were spotted.

This marked a change in Duterte’s policy, because he had previously ordered the navy and the coast guard to refrain from patrolling waters where run-ins with Chinese ships could cause friction. He had also earlier ruled out joint maritime patrols with strategic allies.

The West Philippine Sea patrols are a welcome development, Batongbacal said, but while noting “lost opportunities” during Duterte’s term.

“It will not make up for the loss of credibility that we have suffered because of the wild swings in policy and it will not make up for the resources we lost in the last five years,” Batongbacal said.

Regional opportunity missed

Under Duterte, Manila has also missed an opportunity to unify the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) around the arbitral award, according to observers. Four of the ASEAN’s 10 member states – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam – have claims in the South China Sea.

Indonesia, another ASEAN member, does not regard itself as a party to maritime disputes in the sea, but Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the waterway that overlap Jakarta’s EEZ.

Analysts said the governments could have banded together and used Manila’s arbitral award to strengthen demands that Beijing respect their claims under international maritime law. The ASEAN members would have benefitted from a more stable environment in the South China Sea, where more than $5 trillion in global trade passes through yearly.

Instead, when the Philippines held the bloc’s rotating chairmanship in 2017, Duterte pushed for gentler wording toward China in that year’s collective statement from ASEAN, despite protests from the Vietnamese delegation.

Whether it was deliberate or not, the more recent moves by Lorenzana and Locsin have somehow forced Duterte’s administration to toughen its stance against Beijing, especially because the public approved of what the secretaries did.

“If this is sustained, at best it can return the Philippines to its proper policy path of seeking and exercising its rights under international law,” Batongbacal said. “The fact that it’s all being done only now makes it a lot harder for the Philippines to do so.”

Inconsistent, unfocused

In June 2019, Duterte said he had forged an agreement with Xi to allow Chinese boats to fish in the waters of Reed Bank in the Philippine EEZ, in exchange for Beijing allowing Filipinos to fish at Scarborough Shoal.

At the time, Filipinos were in an uproar after a Chinese ship rammed a Philippine fishing boat anchored at Reed Bank, marooning the 22-man crew who were rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.

Last month, Roque denied that a fishing deal existed between Manila and Beijing. He made the statement in the face of public outrage over the suspected Chinese militia ships spotted at Whitsun Reef and other Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea.

Roque has not responded to BenarNews requests for comment.

The territorial dispute was far down the list of Filipinos’ immediate concerns even before the COVID-19 pandemic left people here preoccupied with health safety and economic survival concerns.

“Our basic problem is that the West Philippine Sea is not a bread-and-butter issue to the general public,” Ong told BenarNews. “But the West Philippine Sea has the potential to be a plus factor in our economy, if properly defended and protected, and if development projects come in properly.”

“Your tactics on the ground depend on the higher strategy. If the strategic direction is flawed or problematic, then that would just cascade down to the tactical level – problematic,” he said. “So what’s the strategic direction here? There’s nothing written, unlike in other countries that have it on white paper, for a specified term or administration. Ours is just verbalized.”

Although some documents at the cabinet level “more or less” articulate Duterte’s policies on the South China Sea, Ong said, they likely did not result from any exhaustive consultations with experts or other officials.

“It’s all based on internal discussion within the palace probably, and there was no attempt at consensus … basically we just got surprised there were pronouncements in the media. It appeared as though policies were written during open press conferences,” Ong said.

Visiting Forces Agreement

Duterte, in the meantime, has a decision to make that could have far-reaching consequences on the Philippines’ security: the fate of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States.

After ordering the pact repealed in February 2020 and setting off a six-month countdown for removing American troops from Philippine soil, Duterte extended the VFA until mid-2021, amid reports of an increased Chinese presence in the South China Sea.

Duterte has dangled the defense pact before the new Biden administration, demanding more U.S. donations of defense hardware and, more recently, COVID-19 vaccines from his country’s longtime ally and former colonizer.

Repealing the VFA would be in Beijing’s interests because it would deprive Washington of a strategic foothold in the Indo-Pacific, analysts and observers said. In addition, it would leave Manila vulnerable to foreign aggression.

Manila’s 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with Washington ensures that its ally would come to its defense should it be attacked by a foreign aggressor in the Pacific, including the South China Sea. This, analysts say, is Manila’s ace card to deter any overt aggression from Beijing.

The VFA allows the U.S. military rotational access to Philippine territory, including to pre-position troops and assets. Scrapping it would hamper any activation of the MDT.

“Without the VFA, any assistance from the U.S. based on the MDT will have to come from somewhere else, maybe Guam or Japan, and that’s several days away,” Batongbacal said.

In 2019, then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that the Mutual Defense Treaty covered the South China Sea.

It was an assurance long sought by Manila, and which previous administrations had failed to exact from Washington.

Duterte’s supporters have cited such instances as evidence that his seemingly wayward hand in foreign policy belies a calculated, calibrated strategy – that there is a “method to his madness,” so to speak.

Ong and Batongbacal doubt it.

“It doesn’t have to be in such a way that I will communicate defeatism directed to an internal audience. There are ways of doing statecraft in such a way that does not demoralize the general public,” Ong said.

Conflicting statements have come from members of Duterte’s cabinet and from Duterte himself.

“All this is after the fact, when there was already confusion. That’s why I do not believe that it is a careful, calibrated and calculated policy,” Batongbacal told BenarNews.

“To me, it appears to be more improvised.”

Source: Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

Some 120 Celebrities Arrested, in Hiding Face Charges of ‘Defamation’ Against Myanmar Junta

Nearly 20 celebrities have been arrested and more than 100 are in hiding after taking part in anti-coup protests against Myanmar’s military junta, which seized power from the country’s democratically elected government on Feb. 1, according to family members and lawyers.

Film actors, directors, composers, singers, artist, and models are among those who joined demonstrations in February and March, offering their support to the nation’s Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) after the coup, which the military claims was justified, citing unproven allegations of voter fraud during the country’s November 2020 elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won an overwhelming majority in the ballot, but its leadership has since been placed under arrest.

Among 17 celebrities currently in detention, movie stars Pyay Ti Oo, Eindra Kyaw Zin, and May Toe Khing were charged Thursday under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which relates to “statements or rumors likely to cause members of the military to mutiny or fail in their duty,” according to their lawyers.

Model Paing Tagun and film actor Ye Taik were also arrested in April for joining the frontlines of protest marches and sit-ins and charged under 505(a). They are now being held in private cells at the country’s notorious Insein Prison.

State media on April 2 began publishing a series of photos and videos of artists accused of “inciting civil servants” to join the CDM and “inciting public outrage” on their social media accounts.

According to Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), in addition to Pyay Ti Oo, Eindra Kyaw Zin, and May Toe Khaing, film stars charged under 505(a) include Paing Tagun (also known as Sit Ko Paing), Ye Taik, Zin Waing, Thurein Lwin Lin Thit, Zarganar, Khin Min Khant, Po Po, Myo Thandar Tun, and Athen Cho Swe.

Film director Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and singer Saw Phoe Khwar were arrested and are currently held in Insein Prison, while actress Zhan Qi and director Kristina Qi—both U.S. citizens who had assisted the NLD with its election campaign, were arrested at Yangon Mingaladon Airport as they were about to leave for Thailand and placed under house arrest, the military said on April 22. Police did not provide arrest warrants at the time of their arrest, according to sources.

Arrest warrants have been issued for more than 100 artists, some of whom are in hiding and others who have since fled Myanmar or are taking refuge in remote regions under the control of the country’s ethnic armies.

Singer Novem Htoo, who is in hiding after being charged with defamation, said he would put aside his goals to join the fight against the military, regardless of where he ends up.

“It would be suffocating to live under a dictatorship—there would be very few opportunities,” he said.

“I support a federal system in which one can shape one’s own future through whatever opportunities become available. We must fight for it now … I believe it is better to revolt rather than live under a system where our dreams are crushed and nothing functions.”

A member of AAPP, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, said that most authoritarian regimes would think twice about arresting and punishing their country’s most popular celebrities.

“But now [in Myanmar], not only artists but the whole country is in prison,” the source said.

“People are now in a situation where they live in fear, wondering when they might be arrested, killed or have their belongings looted.”

According to the latest numbers from AAPP, 831 people have been killed in clashes and more than 4,300 people arrested in Myanmar since the Feb. 1 coup. Authorities have issued arrest warrants for more than 1,800 people, the group said.

New death in Demawso

Meanwhile, another day of fighting in a key hotspot led to another death in Myanmar’s Kayah state, as junta troops laid siege to villages in the beleaguered township of Demawso, according to sources.

Residents said that the military fired more than 120 rounds of heavy artillery in the attack that began Thursday night and lasted into the following day, sending thousands of people fleeing into the jungle.

They said that a 40-year-old man from the Aung Mingalar ward of Demawso’s Ngwedaung village was killed when a shell exploded on his home on Thursday.

“Actually, there was no fighting last night. The military just fired heavy weapons randomly at the villages,” he said.

“I first thought there was a clash in the market but later I found out there wasn’t. They were just firing at us with heavy weapons.”

Nearly four months after the military coup, angry residents in Kayah state organized into the Karenni People’s Defense Force (KPDF). Fighting between the KPDF and the junta’s security forces began on May 22, in Demawso, when the KPDF killed three police officers and occupied security posts in the region. Aid groups estimate that some 40,000 people have been displaced by the violence since then.

Palan, an aid worker from Demawso, told RFA the dead man’s body was retrieved after the shelling stopped on Friday morning. He claimed that the junta’s 102nd and 427th Battalions were responsible for firing the artillery on the township.

The KPDF said that the military is sending additional troops and ammunition to Kayah state, and that nearly 500 soldiers had arrived at the airport in the capital Loikaw on Friday morning to provide reinforcement to bases in the region.

Refugee situation dire

According to aid groups, people displaced by the fighting are in serious need of food and medicine.

One refugee, who declined to be named, told RFA that the situation in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) had become dire.

“There are newborn babies. There are elderly people. The jungle environment puts a strain on the health conditions of the weak, and obtaining food is very difficult,” the refugee said.

“There are more than 500 refugee camps where I am now. Together with those in other camps, there must be tens of thousands [of IDPs]. We need food and medicine.”

RFA reported that two civilian youths were killed by military troops on Thursday while attempting to retrieve food for refugees displaced by clashes between the junta and KPDF in Demawso township.

Calls seeking comment on the situation in Kayah state from Deputy Information Minister of the Military Council, General Zaw Min Tun, went unanswered Friday.

Source: Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

Wives of Jailed Cambodian Activists Petition US Embassy as Husbands Face Virus Outbreak

The wives of several Cambodian opposition activists jailed on “incitement” charges held a protest Friday demanding their release and petitioned the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh to intervene in their husbands’ cases, as a coronavirus outbreak has surged unabated through Cambodia’s prisons in recent weeks.

The group of women—known as the “Friday Wives” for their weekly rallies on behalf of their husbands from the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)—said that if the courts won’t drop the charges in their cases, authorities should at least allow them access to their family members during the outbreak so that they can monitor their health.

“There is an outbreak inside the prisons. I petitioned the [U.S] embassy so they are aware of the situation of our suffering because we have not been able to meet with our husbands over the past three months,” Prum Chantha, the wife of jailed CNRP activist Kak Komphear, told RFA’s Khmer Service.

During the protest, authorities in the capital Phnom Penh deployed about 50 guards to monitor the situation, who the wives said verbally abused them.

Nonetheless, Prum Chantha said that a U.S. official met with her and six other wives holding banners and photos of their jailed husbands in front of the embassy on Friday and agreed to accept their petition.

“We don’t know their situations. It is very dangerous; the prison has prevented us from accessing information about our family members. They don’t even allow us to talk over the telephone. They are intentionally abusing our rights,” she said.

The protest comes a day after Chhey Sreyvy, the wife of jailed CNRP activist Tun Nimol, told RFA that she received a phone call from a guard at her husband’s prison, informing her that he had been infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. She demanded that the government take responsibility for his sickness because of lax mitigation measures in detention, as well as for jailing “innocent people,” and demanded that he be released.

Hang Phary, wife of the jailed president of the lesser-known opposition Khmer Win Party, Soung Sophorn, also said Thursday that her husband had been infected with COVID-19 while in detention and urged the court to release him and other political prisoners during the outbreak.

Outbreak spreading through prisons

Kak Komphear and several other CNRP activists have been jailed in recent months on charges of “incitement to create social chaos” after voicing criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s leadership. Rights groups have said that the cases are a violation of their right to the freedom of expression and have also called for their release.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017 for its role in an alleged plot to overthrow the government. Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) easily won all 125 parliamentary seats in the country’s 2018 elections after removing the opposition party and spearheading a crackdown on NGOs and the independent media.

In addition to the legal injustice of what they believe are politically motivated cases, the wives say their husbands have been subjected to harsh conditions in detention and now face a life-threatening situation, as Cambodia struggles to contain a rapidly spreading new outbreak.

While the coronavirus made few inroads into Cambodia in 2020, the country’s latest outbreak in February has led to nearly 200 deaths and the number of people infected with COVID-19 has climbed to more than 28,000. The virus is running rampant through the country’s penal system, with at least 350 inmates of some 40,000 nationwide testing positive in three prisons in Phnom Penh, neighboring Kandal province, and the southwestern coastal city of Sihanoukville.

Seng Chanthorn, the wife of another jailed CNRP activist, told RFA that she is extremely concerned about her husband’s risk of infection because the cells in his prison are overcrowded and lacking in hygiene.

“I am calling on the court to maintain its independence [from the government],” she said.

“Please release my husband during the COVID-19 outbreak. I am very concerned, and I am asking the government to please reconsider the situation for those in jail and political prisoners who are innocent.”

Risks remain unaddressed

RFA was unable to reach General Department of Prisons spokesperson Nuth Savana for comment Friday, although he responded to concerns by international rights groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International over the risk of infection to inmates on Monday by saying that the government has “no plan” to release non-violent offenders or those eligible for bail in order to reduce overcrowding.

Soeung Senkaruna, spokesman for Cambodian rights group Adhoc, told RFA that the concerns of jailed activist family members are legitimate and urged the courts to consider releasing some inmates.

“The General Department of Prisons has promised to fix the issue, but we have not seen them do anything yet,” he said.

Friday’s protest comes days ahead of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman’s expected visit to Phnom Penh as part of an 11-day, multi-city trip that began on May 25 and will include planned stops in Brussels, Ankara, Jakarta, Bangkok, and Honolulu.

Source: Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

WFP Namibia Country Brief, April 2021

In Numbers

US$ 5.0 million six-month (May – October 2021) net funding requirements

Operational Updates

Zambezi Farmers’ Market Day WFP

Namibia held its 2021 first quarterly performance review in Katima Mulilo, Zambezi Region from 26-28 April 2021. The main objectives of the review were to assess the progress made, opportunities that exist, and challenges experienced, as well as lessons learnt during the implementation of the first quarter of 2021 Country Strategic Plan (CSP). The review was attended by WFP staff, external stakeholders, including the UN agencies such as FAO and UNFPA Country Representatives as well as senior government officials from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture (MoEAC), and the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reforms (MAWLR). Chief Regional Officers of Zambezi, Kavango East and Kavango West regions and a team of young professionals (WIZZ KIDS) from various fields also attended the meeting. The attendance of the external stakeholders provided an opportunity for WFP to reflect on external views on its technical assistance to the Government of Namibia to better support food and nutrition initiatives in the country. The platform also provided an opportunity for dialogue on potential game changers that could be integrated for improved impact in the current programmes and new insight on potential high-value initiatives. WFP intends to continue with this approach to enhance its accountability and forge strong partnerships with key stakeholders.

Support to Smallholder Farmers

Smallholder farmers are the backbone of numerous economies in Africa even though their potential is often not acknowledged. WFP, through its food system initiative, supported the Zambezi Farmers Market Day, which brought together producers and consumers in a family-friendly atmosphere. The objective of the market day was to support smallholder farmers in organizing themselves into cooperatives as well as to unlock market access including support services such as finance. Farmers networked among themselves as well as with the service providers and had the opportunity to showcase and sell their produce to the communities. The farmers’ market day served as a benchmark for the Government to replicate the event to other regions and to support similar initiatives organized for smallholder farmers. The Government has called upon WFP to provide technical support in this initiative.

Namibia School Feeding Programme

The Namibia school feeding programme remains one of Namibia’s key social protection safety nets programmes targeting the education sector. This programme was also prioritised in the second Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPPII) and will be expanded into secondary schools. In response to the severe drought, WFP supported an emergency school feeding programme for Kunene region. This support was provided through the procurement of dry take-home rations for 19 schools, targeting 3000 learners. The distribution of take-home rations will continue when schools reopens for the second term. To prepare for the implementation of the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP) pilot, a scoping assessment was undertaken in Kunene region. Training and HGSFP orientation workshop for MoEAC senior management was also provided. About 300,000 primary school children are expected to benefit from HGSFP.

Digital Transformation

WFP is supporting the Government’s digital transformation agenda to improve beneficiary registrations, distributions, reconciliation, and reporting for the Food Bank Programme. These system improvements have positively supported management and policy decision-making processes. Through improved capacity transfer, the Government has been able to manage system operations with minimal support from WFP. Going forward, WFP plans to support the Government in scaling up and expanding digitalization to more regions. Other activities include supporting integration to accommodate other new systems, including supporting the Government with new opportunities such as the “Basic Income Grant” that allows it to start on the digital transformation platform. To ensure success of this agenda, there is a need for strong partnerships with the private sector to support the digital transformation. A consultant will join the WFP team to undertake the system integration task. The consultant will work with OPM and MGEPESW in a tripartite agreement to review current systems, design, and deliver an integrated digital platform that caters for all the social safety net programmes delivered by Government.

Cash-Based Transfer

WFP is implementing the cash-based transfer (CBT) to 6,900 identified beneficiaries in Khomas and Omusati region. The objective of the intervention is to provide food assistance to foodinsecure households affected by shocks through CBT to increase their access to adequate food and nutrition during the aftermath of crises. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Poverty Eradication, Gender Equality and Social Welfare to facilitate the implementation of the fund to the beneficiaries is at an advanced stage of signing. The MoU will serve as a framework that will guide cooperation between WFP and the Government.

Cost of Hunger in Africa and Fill-the Nutrient Gap

WFP is implementing the Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) study and Fill the Nutrient (FNG) analysis as part of evidence-generation and analysis required to support hunger-related programming and policy formulation efficient. The preliminary results from the studies have been completed and the engagement with key national stakeholders is ongoing. The reports are expected to be finalized by July 2021.

Harambee Prosperity Plan 11

The Namibian Government has produced the second Harambee Prosperity Plan (HHP II) covering the period 2021-2025, following the expiry of the first Plan (HHP1) in 2020. HHP II is a mediumterm action plan of the Government that is geared towards economic recovery and inclusive growth, especially considering the current COVID-19 pandemic and other myriads of socioeconomic challenges facing the country. WFP will continue to support the Government in the implementation of its priority areas as highlighted in the country’s national development plans

Source: World Food Programme

Myanmar’s Youth Lose Their Dreams for the Future Amid Junta Crackdowns

Myanmar’s youth are being forced to give up their dreams of careers and a productive future as they resist an assault by the military on their country’s democracy and crackdowns on protests that have crippled thousands of civilians and killed hundreds, sources say.

Among those killed, Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing, 23, was shot dead by junta forces in the Hledan suburb of Yangon city on Feb. 28, his twin Koko Aung Htet Naing told RFA’s Myanmar Service, adding that his brother had once dreamed of becoming a network engineer.

“I haven’t watched the video of my brother’s death in Hledan yet because I don’t have the strength to do it,” Koko Aung Htet Naing said. “As his twin brother, I don’t want to know or see how he died, or how much he may have suffered. I don’t want to feel the emptiness in my heart.”

Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing was only one of the many young people killed in the early days of protests calling for Myanmar’s return to democracy after the Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Like others, he had dreams for his future, his brother said.

“He wanted to pursue advanced studies in the field of network engineering at some point, and he wanted to study abroad,” Koko Aung Htet Naing said, adding, “But his dreams were just dreams. Those dreams will never come true now.”

“This was a huge loss for me,” he brother said.

Other protesters in the anti-dictatorship movement, now commonly called the Spring Revolution, have also seen their futures destroyed following arrest and torture by junta forces, other sources told RFA.

Hlyan Phyo Aung, a 22-year-old student from Myanmar’s Magway city, suffered gunshot wounds to his right arm, which was later amputated above the wrist, during a protest rally on March 27, and is losing vision in one eye.

He has trouble now performing simple tasks, he said.

“In my imagination, I still think [my hand] is there. I think that I can curl up my fingers, but they’re not there anymore,” he said, adding, “Sometimes when I go to sleep at night I feel so sad: ‘Oh, my hand is gone?’ But during the operation, I didn’t even cry.”

An engineering student who had excelled in architecture, Hlyan Phyo Aung has now lost his dream of designing buildings, he said.

“I got the highest marks in my school in drawing and my major subjects, but now all I have left is charity work,” he said. “And not all the fingers on my left hand are good now, either. They stepped on my fingers and crushed my middle finger when they took off my ring.”

“Also, my eyes need an operation, as I can’t bear the light. It’s not okay to see only with one eye,” he added.

Hlyan Phyo Aung is currently being treated at a military hospital for rubber-bullet wounds to his arms and legs, and is facing charges of incitement to riot under Article 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, he said.

The Thailand-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) says that more than 4,300 people, most of them young, have been arrested in Myanmar since the military coup. Many have gone missing for months following their arrest, and some have been killed in custody with their bodies returned afterward to their families.

Others have escaped arrest and fled to areas outside of government control.

‘Things like in the past’

One, 19 years old, had planned to start a graphic design business when the military launched its coup, the young man said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“As a young person, my work is in social media, and I had planned to start my own company in six months. But now because of all the oppression I won’t be able to do that” he said.

“Things are now going to be like they were in the past when you had to fear even the tenth cousin of a senior military officer,” he said.

Though his future goals in life are unclear, his plans now are to fight against Myanmar’s military dictatorship to protect the country’s younger generation from suffering under oppression, he said.

Many of Myanmar’s most talented youth had big hopes before the coup, but now those hopes are gone, said Moe Thway, chairman of the pro-democracy youth movement Generation Wave. “Youths with all their dreams have turned to taking up arms without ever having wanted to,” he said.

“Myanmar has returned to military rule under which the army oppresses, tortures, and kills people,” he said, adding that international sanctions have been imposed to punish Myanmar’s ruling generals, and that some international companies have left the country.

“So we have lost a lot of business and educational opportunities,” he said. “In fact, we can say that the future of the country’s youth is uncertain and quickly disappearing.”

An activist who had been involved in earlier protest movements—the 1988 Democracy Movement, the 1996 student strike, and the 2007 Saffron Monk Uprising—expressed sorrow that now another generation of the country’s youth has been thrown into the fight in Myanmar for democracy and human rights.

“In the past, they only heard about the oppression, threats, brutal arrests, torture, and killings,” she said. “But now Generation Z is seeing all these things for real.”

“And while they face the prospect of arrests and of having no future, they are trying to win the Spring Revolution from wherever they are,” she said.

Source: Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036


NNA – Germany for the first time on Friday recognised it had committed genocide in Namibia during its colonial occupation, with Berlin promising financial support worth more than one billion euros to aid projects in the African nation.

German colonial settlers killed tens of thousands of indigenous Herero and Nama people in 1904-1908 massacres — labelled the first genocide of the 20th century by historians — poisoning relations between Namibia and Germany for years.

While Berlin had previously acknowledged that atrocities occurred at the hands of its colonial authorities, they have repeatedly refused to pay direct reparations.—AFP

Source: Nam News Network

Reparations for slavery and colonial abuses: how behavioural science can help

Germany has agreed to pay Namibia more than €1.1 billion (£940 million) in reparations for committing genocide during the colonial occupation of the country a century ago. It’s a landmark deal that will create a 30-year programme of investment in infrastructure, healthcare and training programmes in Namibia.

But it wasn’t easy reaching this agreement. Negotiations have been ongoing since 2015. Last year, Germany offered Namibia €10 million (£8.6 million) but the Namibian authorities rejected it.

And while the latest deal may set a precedent for the victims and descendents of victims of historic abuses seeking reparations payments – calls for which have grown in the last year in response to the Black Lives Matter movement – there are still many obstacles.

Alongside how to reach such agreements, one of the biggest questions is how to agree reparations in a way that helps heal society rather than causes further division. Behavioural science is a discipline that has made a study of how identity and emotion relate to money, so I believe the field has insights for the reparations issue.

Namibia’s rejection of Germany’s initial offer will come as no surprise to those familiar with the ultimatum game. In this experimental economics game, there are two players, G and N. G is arbitrarily given some money, say £10. N receives nothing. G must select how much, if any, of the cash to share with N. N can accept G’s offer or reject it. If N rejects then neither G nor N receive anything – both go home empty handed.

Economic theory offers a prediction: G offers N some tiny amount of wealth because N would be made materially better off by taking even a paltry sum of money rather than refusing it. That prediction has been refuted time and again and across cultures. In reality, N typically rejects the offer if it is only a small proportion of the initial endowment. The common sense that explains this result is reflected in everyday language when we talk of an offer as being “insultingly low”.

A minimum criterion for reparations is that they avoid being insultingly low by adequately recognising the harm caused. But there is also a balance to be struck in making sure reparations, which are inherently aimed at specific groups, don’t create more division by leaving out others who may have suffered harm in different ways.

Estimating harm

The first step then is to rigorously take account of the harms inflicted. That can be extremely difficult. Even where the historic record is unambiguous and agreed upon, there is rarely the data available to accurately assess the harms people have suffered.

To compound the issue, some harms are so difficult to assess for in the first place – for example, the emotional distress experienced by descendants – or so widespread – such as the pervasive legacy of racism in society – as to be uncountable. In the absence of data-based estimates, there is greater scope for subjectivity to sway the debate and hinder attempts to arrive at acceptable compensation.

Even where the data does allow accurate estimation of the causal impact of historic harms, the next question is how much money is required to compensate for them. This question is also very difficult to answer.

Canvassing public opinion is an option, but behavioural scientists often find people’s answers are incoherent. In public opinion experiments, the conclusion reached by legal scholar Cass Sunstein and psychologist and economics Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, is that people answer these questions by reporting their general attitudes rather than their considered evaluations of the specific situations.

So far the problems outlined have been technical: how to measure harm on a money scale. Now the substantial problems begin. How to divide the compensation across groups? There is a human tendency to overestimate one’s own burden relative to others’.

Ask two partners in a relationship what percentage of housework they do and, for the majority of couples, the answers will add up to a total that exceeds 100%. That violation of statistics occurs in a case where there is nothing at stake. Imagine how fraught things get when the stakes include large sums of money and issues of identity and victimhood. In this sense, any attempt simply to “compensate” for specific atrocities looks likely to provoke resentments among groups that have been differently harmed.

But there are other approaches. This month France launches a “memories and truth” commission to shed light on its acts during the Algerian war. If reparations are part of the process, philosopher Leif Wenar advocates that they should serve the function of improving future relations rather than of compensating for past wrongs.

The climate crisis offers former colonial powers an opportunity to make a positive contribution in this regard. Everyone agrees that global carbon emissions must reduce but the big question remains: who has to reduce their production and consumption? The countries that are most developed today got that way because they exploited the Earth’s resources and people in the past. A reasonable way to proceed is for developed countries to make sacrifices and give less-developed countries their turn.

Source: The Conversation Media Group Ltd

Africa 54

On this edition of Africa 54, DRC’s eastern city Goma orders compulsory evacuations amid warnings that another volcanic eruption, following one on Saturday, could occur with very little or no warning; Germany apologizes for its role in slaughter of Herero and Nama tribespeople in Namibia more than a century ago and officially described the massacre as genocide, for the first time.

A54 Sports: In the tournament’s most competitive game so far, Rwanda’s Patriots defeated Mozambique’s Ferroviàrio de Maputo 73-71 in the quarterfinals of the Basketball Africa League. Tunisia’s Union Sportive Monastirienne had an easier time with Senegal’s AS Douanes beating them 86-62 to punch their ticket into the semifinals in Kigali, Rwanda. Africa 54’s Jackson Mvunganyi recaps the highlights.

Source: Voice of America

Contact sports halted, as COVID-19 cases soar

The Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Kalumbi Shangula on Friday banned contact sport and reduced the number of spectators at sporting events from 100 to 50 following an upsurge of COVID-19 cases in Namibia.

Speaking during the occasion of the 28th COVID-19 briefing session at State House, Shangula said the new regulations will be enforced for a period of one month starting on 01 June until 30 June 2021.

“It is mandatory for the spectators to comply with public health measures at all times. Contact sports are prohibited,” Shangula explained.

This ban is expected to affect sporting activities such as football, rugby and cricket who had recently started actively engaging locally and internationally.

However Cricket Namibia Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Johan Muller said they will not be affected by the new regulations as their programme will resume only in August.

Namibia Premier Football League Director, Mabos Vries said matches scheduled for this weekend will continue as planned.

“The new regulations are kicking in on 01 June so we will then sit down and discuss with all the stakeholders and chart the way forward regarding football matches,” he said.

Namibia Rugby Union CEO Theo Grunewald said they are disappointed with the latest update, but noted that the most important thing was the wellbeing and safety of the players and the nation at large.

“The two matches against Zimbabwe scheduled for June are cancelled, we have however requested the Namibia Sports Commission to allow us to continue training, and they will get back to us on Wednesday. The national league will also stop from 01 June as per the government order,” he said.

Grunewald said the matches pencilled for the last week of May will go ahead as planned because the new regulations are only effective for the month of June.

The month of May saw Namibia recording 5 497 new COVID-19 cases with 152 COVID-19 deaths.

Shangula said the government had observed that members of the public were deliberately disobeying the regulations and putting everyone at risk.

“I must emphasise that the current surge in cases being experienced in Namibia is mainly fuelled by the fact that many of our people are not complying with the public health regulations especially when it comes to public gatherings,” Shangula stressed.

He called on Namibians to get vaccinated to reduce the risk of getting infected by COVID-19.

Source: Namibia Press Agency

Woman commits suicide at Sauyemwa

A 23-year-old woman allegedly committed suicide by hanging herself with a rope at Sauyemwa in Rundu on Thursday.

The Namibian Police Force (NamPol)’s crime investigations coordinator in the Kavango East Region, Deputy Commissioner Bonifatius Kanyetu, told Nampa on Friday that the incident happened at Sauyemwa informal settlement at around 15h00.

It is alleged that the young woman hanged herself with a rope in her brother’s bedroom and died instantly.

Kanyetu said no suicide note was left and no foul play is suspected.

In an unrelated incident on the same day, a 50-year-old man was arrested in the Ndonga Linena Constituency for being in possession of prohibited wildlife products.

The suspect was arrested with two elephant tusks during a search at a roadblock in the constituency at around 17h00.

The value of the tusks has not yet been determined.

He is expected to appear in the Rundu Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

Source: Namibia Press Agency

No secrecy in COVID-19 vaccine procurement process: Nangombe

Executive Director in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Ben Nangombe said there is no secrecy in the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

“What we need to take note of is that issues of strategy when dealing with our stakeholders should not be confused with secrecy or lack of transparency; we are committed and we do practice transparency but this is done at appropriate times,” said Nangombe.

He said this while responding to questions by the media during the 28th COVID-19 briefing in Windhoek on Friday.

He explained that reporting is done when specific milestones are reached, adding that this should be accorded respect otherwise they would not be running their institutions efficiently and effectively.

“In September last year after having gone through the initial budget of N.dollars 727 million we prepared an accountability report tabled before Cabinet and Cabinet had to go through this report and directed that the report be audited by the Office of the Auditor General, which was done. This is the process that was established and we are complying with this process, so there should not be any insinuation that we are practicing any secrecy,” he said.

Nangombe went on to say Namibia has spent about N.dollars 31.4 million on COVID-19 vaccines as well as on the vaccination process, including funding from development cooperation partners in the private sector and of this total, N.dollars 26.8 million has gone directly to the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

The ED further stated that Namibia is expecting to receive 150 000 doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in June and via the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Trust, Namibia is also expecting to receive 250 000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by August this year.

In addition to the 43 200 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine received on 21 May 2021, the country will further receive the remaining 40 800 doses in the coming months.

Regarding the Sputnik vaccine, Nangombe added that negotiations have proceeded well and Namibia may be getting this vaccine in about two months.

Source: Namibia Press Agency

Germany Says It Committed Genocide in Namibia During Colonial Rule

BERLIN – Germany for the first time on Friday recognized it had committed genocide in Namibia during its colonial occupation, with Berlin promising financial support worth more than one billion euros to aid projects in the African nation.

Namibia on Friday welcomed Germany’s acknowledgment it had committed genocide in the southwestern African country during its 20th century colonial occupation.

“The acceptance on the part of Germany that a genocide was committed is the first step in the right direction,” President Hage Geingob’s spokesperson Alfredo Hengari told AFP.

German colonial settlers killed tens of thousands of indigenous Herero and Nama people in 1904-08 massacres — labelled the first genocide of the 20th century by historians — poisoning relations between Namibia and Germany for years.

While Berlin had previously acknowledged that atrocities occurred at the hands of its colonial authorities, they have repeatedly refused to pay direct reparations.

“We will now officially refer to these events as what they are from today’s perspective: genocide,” said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in a statement.

He hailed the agreement after more than five years of negotiations with Namibia over events in the territory held by Berlin from 1884-1915.

“In light of the historical and moral responsibility of Germany, we will ask forgiveness from Namibia and the victims’ descendants” for the “atrocities” committed, Maas said.

In a “gesture to recognize the immense suffering inflicted on the victims”, the country will support the “reconstruction and the development” of Namibia via a financial program of $1.34 billion, he said.

The sum will be paid over 30 years, according to sources close to the negotiations, and must primarily benefit the descendants of the Herero and Nama.

However, he specified that the payment does not open the way to any “legal request for compensation.”

Rebellion, reprisals

Namibia was called German South West Africa during Berlin’s 1884-1915 rule, and then fell under South African rule for 75 years, before finally gaining independence in 1990.

Tensions boiled over in 1904 when the Herero — deprived of their livestock and land — rose up, followed shortly after by the Nama, in an insurrection crushed by German imperial troops.

In the Battle of Waterberg in August 1904 around 80,000 Herero, including women and children, fled and were pursued by German troops across what is now known as the Kalahari Desert. Only 15,000 survived.

German General Lothar von Trotha, sent to put down the rebellion, ordered the peoples’ extermination.

At least 60,000 Hereros and around 10,000 Namas were killed between 1904 and 1908.

Colonial soldiers carried out mass executions; exiled men, women, and children to the desert where thousands died of thirst; and established infamous concentration camps, such as the one on Shark Island.

‘Overcome the past’

The atrocities committed during colonization have poisoned relations between Berlin and Windhoek for years.

In 2015, the two countries started negotiating an agreement that would combine an official apology by Germany as well as development aid.

But in August last year, Namibia said that Germany’s offered reparations were unacceptable. No details of the offer were provided at the time.

President Hage Geingob had noted Berlin declined to accept the term “reparations,” as that word was also avoided during the country’s negotiations with Israel after the Holocaust.

But in an effort to ease reconciliation, in 2018 Germany returned the bones of members of the Herero and Nama tribes, with the then foreign minister Michelle Muentefering asking for “forgiveness from the bottom of my heart.”

Source: Voice of America

NBC strike called off

The industrial action by Namibian Broadcasting Cooperation (NBC) employees that lasted for about four weeks was called off on Wednesday.

A statement issued by NBC’s Director General, Stanley Similo announced the end of the strike, saying the development came after a great number of striking staff decided to abandon the strike and after NBC’s board chairperson, Lazarus Jacobs and Namibia Public Workers Union (NAPWU) Secretary General, Petrus Nevonga, met on Tuesday and agreed on terms, leading to the strike being called off as well as the cancellation of the court case lodged by NAPWU against the corporation.

NBC workers were demanding an eight per cent salary increment, permanent employment of all 133 contract employees, as well as a conducive working environment.

According to Similo, as part of the conditions of the agreement, the board is dealing with the matter of the contract employees, who are currently employed on a one-year contract.

“The NBC will now review and seek to have long-term employment secured for them,” said Similo.

In an interview with Nampa on Wednesday, representative of the NBC Work Place Union, Daniel Nadunya, said though not all demands made by the workers were met, the effect of the strike and the opportunity cost were calculated and the union felt it was prudent for the strike to be called off.

He further said that although the contract employees will now be employed on a permanent basis, this will be done without any additional benefits such as medical aid, housing and transport allowance or pension.

“The demand of the eight per cent salary increment was unfortunately not met and it is really unfortunate because as employees we all hoped that it would be met at least halfway,” he added.

Source: Namibia Press Agency

South demands spot at Africa’s elite table …Venaani, Malema go ballistic at PAP session

Opposition leaders McHenry Venaani and Julius Malema have called on the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) to grow some teeth in order to function effectively as an oversight body instead of a conglomeration of delegates from different countries.

They want the PAP to act as an oversight body that holds executives on the continent accountable.

Venaani also took issue with their West and North African counterparts over their perceived dominance over the PAP, African Union (AU) and other institutions on the continent.

They made the remarks at the ongoing PAN ordinary session in Midrand, South Africa where 120 new members are expected to be sworn in and new leadership elected.

The issue of Africa’s continued disunity along colonial lines – the Francophone (French-speaking) vs Anglophone (English-speaking) vs Lusophone (Portuguese speaking) countries – was a hot topic of discussion, with Namibia’s Venaani accusing the Anglophone and Francophone nations of using their numerical advantage to suppress their southern African counterparts.

He continued: “No leader can argue that a rule must first be adopted for it to be implemented. No person can argue that something good must first be enacted as law before it is implemented as good practice or policy.”

Venaani emphasised the need and the principle of rotation for the PAP presidency, saying it is not about sharing power, but uniting the continent.

“[There is] a disunity between the Western caucuses, especially led by languages, the Francophone and Anglophone are biggest problems and if we don’t harmonise those two groups, there won’t be unity,” he said.

This was met with resistance, with a female MP shouting in the background: “This is not correct. This shouldn’t be allowed. Point of order. Point of order. This is not true!”

The Popular Democratic Movement leader was unperturbed.

“If we want to have peace, we must have a principle of rotation of power. It can’t be you [leading] all the time and think that unity will come automatically. Give others a chance to lead the African Union too,” he said.

Malema, who leads South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) told MPs that, if they are concerned about the unity of the continent “and are not serving the interests of colonialists and imperialists, they will not have a difficulty with a principle that will unite Africans”.

The EFF leader went on during the live-streamed session yesterday: “Certain people think they have power over others. We must first understand the purpose of rotation, and if you have a problem with the candidate that southern Africa is presenting, for instance, you will rather say we agree with the rotation, and therefore we’ll suggest that the north must take it.”

The ultimate aim is for the PAP to be an institution with full legislative powers, whose members are elected by universal suffrage. But until such time, the PAP has consultative, advisory and budgetary oversight powers within the AU.

Source: Namibia Press Agency