Category Archives: Uncategorized

Controversy around ZIDRES law points to potential risks for investors in the agroindustrial sector in Colombia

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

A number of members of Congress have taken out a lawsuit against the recent passing of the Zidres law (Spanish abbreviation: developing agricultural areas of interest for rural, social and economic development), underlining the potential significant challenges that this recent economic initiative will face in Colombia. Since early conversations around the law in Congress, NGOs such as Oxfam, CODHES,  the Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, and others have voiced their outright opposition to its passing. However, Zidres is a key focus of the current government and its aims to increase investment in rural regions, particularly profiting on the likely signatory of the peace process with the FARC later this year.

One of the key elements of the law, and what is causing the most controversy, is that to fulfil its requirements, companies will have to present their projects to the Ministry of Agriculture. However, it is the companies themselves who are responsible for taking into account considerations around sustainable environmental issues, security, and the participation of local communities and individual landowners in the zones that they are keen to develop. Companies will have to navigate the complex legal challenges around who has the property rights for the areas included in any project proposals, in ways that may contradict or endanger already existing local and regional land claims or usages. Three points are worth keeping in mind to understand the potential risks posed by these projects.

  • Firstly, the legal model aims to implement initiatives that would create partnerships between companies and local communities, whereby the latter would then have a stake in the project by working on it, receiving technical training and access to credit to buy land. However,  based on this provision it also underlines that local communities could end up losing their autonomy to such companies, who would have executive control over the projects and by defacto the land they operate on.
  • Secondly, the law lays out that territory considered to be national property and marked as wasteland, can be used within these economic projects on the condition that the land rights remain with the state and are not transferred to the company who develops the project on the land. However, those against the law argue that this contingency allows companies – including foreign investors – access to the rights of large of swathes of national lands. The law also states that local communities could gain access to land rights on these “wasteland” areas, and reclaim the rights to them. Moreover, local communities who take part in the initiative can incorporate their land rights into the project, if they want to. At a practical level, such processes over land rights are not only deeply confusing to navigate, but open the door for possible processes of land accumulation. This is particularly problematic in rural Colombia and was one of the key drivers of the 50-year armed conflict. As such this controversial element of the law presents significant political and social tensions, both at a local and federal level.
  • Thirdly, all projects from the Zidres law are likely to be in areas with heightened social and political tensions. According to the Colombian Notary and Registry office, the lands that can be used in the project will be distributed across 5 regions: La Guajira, Chocó, Norte de Santander, la Orinoquía y la Amazonía. This is another challenge as these are critical areas in current conflicts between local communities, varying other factions and the complex dynamics of the internal armed conflict. This is highlighted by an analysis study carried out by Verdad Abierta using data from the UN and other social organisations in the country. The study outlines that guerrilla groups and criminal organisations have a presence in all these regions, and there are already claims for collective land redistribution under the “local farmer/community reserve zones” and other areas of agricultural production for self-consumption. The new law does not explicitly recognise such zones, and opens them for future project development. This could cause significant tensions for companies when entering the local market, and is likely to create operational challenges as local organisations, and armed groups, react with hostility to their arrival.

    “What to watch out for”

At its core the Zidres law offers the potential for national and multinational companies to invest in a number of agroindustrial projects across the country. However, it is crucial that companies and organisations interested in participating in these joint initiatives move with care, carrying out thorough due diligence at a local level into the potential impacts any investment could have in these regions. Though the law has been declared unconstitutional, the national government under President Santos has underlined their commitment to pushing forward with the initiatives to tackle agroindustrial development in the country.

In the context of the expected signatory of the peace process between the government and the FARC later this year and the changing rural environment to one of post-conflict, it’s important that foreign companies looking to invest in opportunities in rural Colombia monitor two key areas. On the one hand, it is paramount to develop good relations with communities and local organisations that live and work in the project regions. Each community has a different historical and social claim and use of the land. It is important to respect social and political processes behind them to not put these communities in a vulnerable position, which would likely only hinder any long-term progress of the project.

On the other hand, companies must be fully aware of the illicit activities of armed groups in the region. Some may attempt to use the land rights issues to increase their property titles and then make financial gains by re-selling this land, or offer services that could put pressure on local communities living in these regions. In particular, future investors will have to carry out significant due diligence at a local level to understand the dynamics armed groups may play in any future investment, and ensure they are fully compliant with international and Colombian laws, to protect their ability to operate in a peaceful environment.

Tagged as:

WHO Declares Zika Virus a Global Health Emergency

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

The World Health Organization on February 1 declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus an international health emergency due to its links to thousands of birth defects. WHO Director Margaret Chan said that coordinated action was needed to improve detection and expedite work on a vaccine and better diagnostics for the disease. The UN agency is concerned about a surge in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to be born with small heads and underdeveloped brains. Chan said it was strongly suspected that Zika causes microcephaly.

This is the fourth time that the World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency since such procedures were put in place in 2007. Emergency declarations are meant as international SOS and usually brings more money and action to address the outbreak, as well as prompting research into possible treatments and vaccines.

The United Nations health agency said the Zika infection was spreading rapidly and could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas. According to the Pan American Health Organization, the virus has spread in 24 nations and regions in the Americas.

On January 15, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised pregnant woman to postpone travel to more than dozen countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean to avoid infection with the virus. The agency raised the alert level for travellers to Haiti, El Salvador, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Venezuela.

Brazil is experiencing the largest known outbreak of Zika. On January 21, Brazilian health authorities said that the number of babies with microcephaly since October had reached nearly 4.000. The Health Ministry said that the surge was caused by the outbreak of Zika virus. On February 4, President Dilma Rousseff declared war on mosquitoes responsible for spreading the virus. Dilma announced that 220.000 members of the armed forces would go door to door to help to battle the mosquitoes.

Zika virus was first identified in monkeys in Uganda in 1947. The first human case was detected in Nigeria in 1954 and there have been further outbreaks in Africa, East Asia and the Pacific Islands. The most common symptoms of Zika virus are mild fever, conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes), headache, joint pain and rash. There is no vaccine or drug treatment so patients are advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Tagged as: , , ,

Islamic Extremists Increase Tempo of Attacks Across Africa

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

In recent months, the number of deadly attacks carried out by Islamic extremists has increased across Africa, which has prompted questions about the resurgence of armed groups that operate in the region.

Recent Attacks

  • 21 January 2016 – Al-Shabaab fighters stormed and took over a beachfront restaurant in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. When the siege was over, more than 20 people had been killed in the attack.
  • 15 January 2016 – Gunmen stormed a café popular with foreigners in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. They fired at people and set the café ablaze and then attacked a nearby hotel. At least thirty people were killed after a more than 12-hour siege. The North African branch of al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility, stating that fighters from al-Murabitoun, an affiliated terror group, had carried out the assault.
  • 15 January 2016 – Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked an African Union (AU) base in Somalia, killing an unknown number of Kenyan peacekeepers. Al-Shabaab has since claimed that it killed about 100 Kenyans, adding that they had also captured several soldiers. Kenyan authorities have not released a death toll. Kenya has provided a major contingent to the AU force that is fighting al-Shabaab and assisting the elected government of Somalia.
  • 28 December 2015 – Boko Haram Islamic extremists struck a city and a town in northeastern Nigeria with rocket-propelled grenades and multiple suicide bombers. At least eighty people were killed in Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno.
  • 20 November 2015 – Islamic extrmeists seized dozens of hostages at the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako. At least twenty people were killed along with two gunmen during the more than seven-hour siege. AQIM and al-Murabitoun claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was their first joint attack.
Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Burkina Faso and Mali to Work to Counter Threat of Terrorism in Region

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

In the wake of Friday’s deadly terrorist attack in Burkina Faso, the West African country and neighbouring Mali have agreed to work together to counter the growing threat of Islamic militants in West Africa by sharing intelligence and conducting joint security patrols.

According to officials, the prime ministers of Mali and Burkina Faso met on Sunday, just two days after al-Qaeda militants seized the Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou, opened fire on a restaurant and attacked another hotel nearby, killing at least 28 people from at least seven countries and wounding fifty others. The assault, which was claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) just hours later, follows a similar raid that occurred in November 2015 on a luxury hotel in the Malian capital Bamako. That attack resulted in the death of twenty people, including citizens from China, Russia and the United States. In a statement on the attack in Burkina Faso, AQIM identified three attackers and called the targeted hotel and surrounding areas “one of the most dangerous dens of global espionage in the west of the African continent,” warning that “this blessed operation is but a drop in the sea of global jihad.”

On Sunday, Burkina Faso’s prime minister Paul Kaba Thieba disclosed that “there is a very strong political will on the part of the two states to combine our efforts to fight terrorism.” Thieba and his Malian counterpart Modibo Keita visited the outside of the Splendid Hotel on Sunday, where bullet holes and a charred exterior offered reminders of Friday evening’s attack. Tight security was in place around the hotel while inside, Burkinabe and French security officials were conducting an investigation. Security forces in Burkina Faso retook the 146-room hotel on Saturday after firefights with militants, at least three of whom were killed. Survivors have since reported that militants targeted white victims at the hotel and at the restaurant, both of which were popular among westerners.

According to provisional figures released by the Burkinabe government, amongst the dead were eight Burkinabe’s, four Canadians, three Ukrainians, two Portuguese, two French, two Swiss and one Dutch citizen. Seven bodies are yet to be identified and the list is subject to change. On Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated that six Canadians had been killed. Also on Sunday, Italy’s foreign ministry reported that a nine-year-old Italian boy and his mother were killed in the assault on Cappuccino, the restaurant attacked opposite the Splendid Hotel. The boy and his mother were the son and wife of the restaurant owner.

While the exact details of the cooperation between Burkina Faso and Mali currently remain unclear, patrols and the sharing of intelligence mark an intent by the two countries to prevent the spread of militancy as AQIM and others expand operations in the region beyond their usual reach. While over the past several years, Islamic militants have used northern Mali as a base, recently, they have staged a number of attacks in other parts of the country, moving further south and prompting concerns that they are expanding their area of operation. Burkina Faso’s authorities are now concerned that its long desert border with Mali could become a transit point for militants.

Tagged as: ,

Belmokhtar: “The Uncatchable” Jihadist

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, whose jihadists have claimed an assault on a luxury hotel in Mali in late November, shot to global notoriety when his militants carried out an assault on an Algerian gas field two years ago. Long known as “The Uncatchable,” international militaries have tried to catch him on numerous occasions. Despite several reports of his death, it is evident that Belmokhtar remains alive and continues to have the capabilities of carrying out deadly attacks across the Sahelian region.

In mid-November 2015, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian revealed that United States bombers as recently as June were sent out to target the elusive 43-year-old Algerian born and bred in the country’s desert hinterland. Washington has pledged a reward of US $5 million on his head. Of all the jihadist leaders in the Sahel region that straddles the southern Sahara, it is Belmokhtar’s photo that features on the wall of the French army commander’s office in Gao, which is located in northern Mali. Colonel Luc Laine has stated that “it reminds me that he exist and wants to do me harm.”

A source within the Malian intelligence services has disclosed that “Mokhtar Belmokhtar is the backbone of all jihadists.” He was behind the 2013 attack on the In Amenas natural gas complex in the remote south region of Algeria, in which 39 hostages and 29 Islamists were killed. In May of this year, he reaffirmed that his group, al-Murabitoun, remained loyal to al-Qaeda, effectively denying allegiance, which was paid to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group by another of the movement’s leaders.

Born in 1972, in the ancient desert city of Ghardai, which is located 600 kilometres (370 miles) south of the Algerian capital, Belmokhtar stated in a rare 2007 interview that he was drawn away from home by his fascination with the exploits of the mujahedeen who were combating the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan. He had joined the in 1991, when he was barely 19 years old. He claims that it was in Afghanistan that he lost his eye when it was hit by shrapnel. He also states that it was there that he made his first contacts with al-Qaeda. He later joined al-Qaeda’s ranks and would eventually rise to a senior position.

Now nicknamed Lawar (The One-Eyed), Belmokhtar returned to Algeria in 1993, just a year after the government sparked a civil war by cancelling an election, which the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win. At this point, he joined the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which conducted a violent camping of civilian massacres in its battle against the government. During the violence, the group would sometimes wipe out entire villages. His knowledge of the nearly lawless “Grey Zone” of southern Algeria, northern Mali and neighbouring Niger effectively enabled him to thrive in the region.

In 1998, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) broke away from the GIA. Belmokhtar, who had now gained the nickname “The Uncatchable” by a former chief of French intelligence, opted to go with them. Nine years later, the GSPC formally adopted to the jihadist ideology of Osama bin Laden and renamed itself al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – effectively becoming al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch. Since then, AQIM has managed to create a tight network across the sub-Sahara Sahel zone. They are comfortable operating in the harsh desert terrain and have been able to finance their operations through the making of millions of dollars from the ransoms of European hostages.

In 2012, when a Tuareg rebellion opened the way for a jihadist takeover of northern Mali, officials reported that Belmoktar purchases weapons in Libya, adding that he was twice seen at the side of Iyad Ghaly, the Tuareg head of Ansar Dine jihadists, in Gao and Timbuktu. There have been conflicting reports about his departure from al-Qaeda, with some reports stating that he was pushed out as one of AQIM’s top two leaders in northern Mali for what one regional security official said were his “continued divisive activities despite several warnings.” Other reports have suggested that he separated from AQIM in a bid to form another terror group that would further its spread in Africa. In January 2013, a group calling itself the “Signatories in Blood,” and led by Belmokhtar, claimed responsibility for the Algiers gas field assault. The attack occurred just a few days after France launched a military operation aimed at helping Malian troops in the north stem a jihadist invasion.

In May 2013, just two months after he was reportedly killed by Chadian troops in Mali, he claimed responsibility for deadly attacks against Nigeria’s army in Agadez and against French firm Areva, which mines uranium in Niger. Al-Murabitoun was formed months later, in August, when his “Signatories in Blood” group joined forces with another regional jihadist group, MUJAO. In March, the group claimed its first deadly attack against westerners in Bamako. Five people were killed in that attack.

Just days after the 20 November attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, al-Murabitoun claimed responsibility, stating “this blessed operation comes as a response to the assaults of the Crusaders on our people, our sanctities, and our mujahideen brothers in Mali.”

Tagged as: , ,