Russia’s War in Ukraine Creates Ripple Effect in Africa

The disruption of Ukrainian agriculture caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is creating a shortage of commodities in African countries, like Kenya, that heavily rely on imported grain and products like fertilizer and irrigation equipment.   

To help meet the challenge, the U.S. government is working with Kenyan agricultural sector companies to strengthen the industry. Development agency USAID says it is critically important to invest in agriculture to reduce shocks that arise from external events.

David Gosney, the agency’s mission director in Kenya, said: “There will be more work, they will be able to capitalize new technologies in terms of seed and other productivity means and we already talked about solar agriculture irrigation and others which basically are critical factors which we are highlighting here.”

Kenyan fertilizer producers like David Auerback told VOA that his firm, Sanergy, would double organic fertilizer production. He was awarded $1.2 million to produce fertilizer for Kenyan farmers this year.  

”Being able to produce locally is very valuable,” he said. “Our organic fertilizer is increasing farmers’ crop yield by 30%. We are working with about 10,000 farmers and 1,000 agrovets in just about every county in Kenya and this support from USAID helps us accelerate our production so that we can reach all these farmers even faster.”

The United States announced grants worth around $5.1 million to agricultural sector companies Monday at an American Chamber of Commerce summit in Nairobi.

Moses Kuria, Kenya’s minister for trade and investment, told the forum that the two nations’ principles have been key to such collaborations.  

”It is a joint initiative because we are negotiating on the basis of shared values, the values we share on diversity, the value we share on climate change sustainability, the value we share on digital trade,” he said.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris has been on a weeklong visit to Africa. She has said America will increase investment in Africa and help spur economic growth in the region. Harris is the fifth top U.S. official to visit the continent this year. 

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Vatican Repudiates Colonial Era ‘Doctrine of Discovery’

The Vatican on Thursday formally repudiated the colonial-era “doctrine of discovery”, used centuries ago to justify European conquests of Africa and the Americas, saying “it is not part of Catholic Church teaching.”

The Vatican acknowledged in a statement from its culture and human development departments that papal documents from the 15th century were used by colonial powers to give legitimacy to their actions, which included slavery.

The departments specifically mentioned the papal bulls Dum Diversas (Until Different) from 1452, Romanus Pontifex (The Roman Pontiff) from 1455, and Inter Caetera (Among Other Things) from 1493.

“Historical research clearly demonstrates that the papal documents in question, written in a specific historical period and linked to political questions, have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith,” the departments said.

They said they “were manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers in order to justify immoral acts against indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities.”

The Vatican departments admitted that the bulls, which gave political cover to Spanish and Portuguese conquests in Africa and the Americas, “did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of indigenous peoples.”

“It is only just to recognize these errors, acknowledge the terrible effects of the assimilation policies and the pain experienced by indigenous peoples, and ask for pardon,” they said.

The Roman Catholic Church has long faced accusations of being complicit with colonial abuses committed by Western invaders and their descendants claiming to be spreading the Christian faith.

Argentine-born Pope Francis, the first pontiff from the Americas, has made several outreach gestures towards indigenous people. Last year, he travelled to Canada’s Arctic region to apologize for the oppression of the Inuit people.

In 2007, Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, published a book that condemned rich countries for having mercilessly “plundered and sacked” Africa and other poor regions, and for exporting to them the “cynicism of a world without God.”

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Latest in Ukraine: Turkey to Vote on Finland’s NATO Bid

New developments:     

Spain to send six Leopard tanks to Ukraine in April 
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba calls April rotating U.N. Security Council presidency held by Russia “a bad joke.” Kuleba tweeted the world “can’t be a safe place with Russia at UNSC.”  
Russia’s Federal Security Service says Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested on espionage charges. 

Turkey’s parliament is set to vote Thursday on Finland’s bid to join NATO. 

Finland and neighboring Sweden each broke with decades of nonalignment with their applications to join the military alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine last year. 

Since their accession bids were ratified at a NATO summit in July, NATO member states have gone through their own processes of giving final approval for Finland and Sweden. 

Hungary gave its approval to Finland on Monday, leaving only Turkey remaining in a process that must be unanimous among current NATO members. 

Both Finland and Sweden had their bids slowed as Turkey expressed concerns that the countries were too lenient toward groups that Turkey considers terror organizations.  Representatives from the three countries met earlier this month to resolve their outstanding issues, but Turkey has yet to indicate it will ultimately support Sweden’s bid. 

Sweden, and NATO leaders, have said Sweden has carried out a series of reforms to overcome Turkey’s concerns.  NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly said he expected both Finland and Sweden will become NATO members. 

Some material in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

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US Lawmakers Seek Assurances on Ukraine Aid Use

Since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, the United States has earmarked about $113 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine – making it one of the largest ever assistance packages approved by the US government. Investigators assured lawmakers Wednesday the money is being strictly monitored to ensure it is being used as Congress intended. VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson spoke with members of Congress about their concerns.
Camera: Saqib Ui Islam and Kateryna Lisunova

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Ukrainian Grain Lowers Prices, Triggers Protests in Poland, Bulgaria

Poland’s agriculture minister promised financial support from the government and the European Union and easier rules for constructing grain storage as he met Wednesday with farmers angered by falling grain prices.

Farmers in Poland blame the drop in prices on an inflow of huge amounts of Ukrainian grain that was supposed to go to Africa and the Middle East. Bulgarian farmers also staged a border protest Wednesday over the issue.

Poland and other countries in the region have offered to help transit Ukraine grain to third-country markets after Russia blocked traditional routes when it invaded Ukraine 13 months ago. The European Union, which borders Ukraine, has waived customs duties and import quotas to facilitate the transport — also through Romania and Bulgaria — to markets that had counted on the deliveries.

But farmers in transit countries say the promised out-channels are not working as planned. As a result, they argue, the grain stays, flooding their markets and bringing prices down — to their great loss — while fertilizer and energy costs are skyrocketing.

After a round of talks with farmer organizations, Poland’s Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk said they agreed on more than $277 million in compensation to farmers and traders who suffered financial losses and subsidies for companies transporting the grain to ports, to be shipped out of Poland.

The ministry also agreed to waive permission requirements for building small-sized grain storage facilities. But the farmers are expecting more talks and more support.

In Bulgaria, hundreds of farmers on Wednesday began a three-day blockade of the main checkpoints on the border with Romania to protest tariff-free imports of Ukrainian grain. They say about 40% of their crop from last year remains unsold amid huge supply, and there is no storage room just a few months ahead of the coming harvest.

They displayed banners reading: “Stop the genocide of agriculture” and “We want to be competitive farmers.”

Last week, Brussels offered a total of $61 million in compensation to affected farmers, of which Bulgaria would receive about $18 million and Poland about $32.5 million euros — amounts that protesters and some governments say are insufficient.

Daniela Dimitrova, regional leader of Bulgaria’s grain producers’ union, said Ukrainian imports make Bulgarian farmers noncompetitive.

“We stand in solidarity with Europe and its support for Ukraine, but the European Commission should look at each individual member state and make farmers competitive,” she said.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said grain from Ukraine was “destabilizing our market” and steps should be taken to urgently export it while reducing imports from Ukraine. He said the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, had regulations at its disposal to get the situation under control, as it was having negative effects also on other countries in the region.

“We do not agree for this grain to come to Poland’s and Romania’s markets in huge amounts and destabilize our markets,” Morawiecki told a news conference, while stressing that “transit is most welcome.”

At the start of the talks with farmers and grain exporters, Kowalczyk, the agriculture minister, blamed falling grain prices on a world-wide trend. He said that while more compensation funds could be expected from Brussels the main goal was to increase grain export and free space in silos ahead of this summer’s Polish harvest. He admitted that the original plan to transit grain through Poland did not go exactly as expected.

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Azerbaijani Student Reported Missing in Iran

An Azerbaijani student studying in Germany has disappeared after traveling to Iran to meet his girlfriend, according to his family.

Farid Safarli’s mother, who is currently in Iran searching for him, told VOA that Iranian law enforcement agencies have not given her any information about him.

“There was no information about Farid in the system of law enforcement agencies. Some agencies even refused to check the system,” Dilara Asgarova told VOA.

“They said that if Farid had committed a misdemeanor, there would have been information about him in the system. But information about felonies does not appear in the system. I asked what constitutes a felony? And they said espionage and other crimes. So, we have not been able to get any information about Farid so far.”

Asgarova said she has hired a lawyer in Iran to help her search.

According to the press service of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ministry was notified on March 9 that Farid Safarli, a citizen of Azerbaijan and a student at Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany, went to Iran on February 20 but his family has not heard from him since March 4.

Safarli’s mother said she knows her son’s phone was active on March 6 and 10.

“Farid’s phone was turned on at one point in time. His Telegram account showed that he was active. I called immediately, but no one picked up,” Asgarova told VOA.

Safarli met his girlfriend, who is an Iranian citizen, in Jena, Germany, where she was participating in a medical training program at a local university. She left for Iran after her training ended, his mother told VOA.

“After the training, she returned to Iran. Nevertheless, they maintained connection via phone calls. They decided to meet in Istanbul. Farid went to Istanbul, but she could not get her visa at the time. So, Farid went to Iran from Istanbul,” she said.

Asgarova, who earlier had traveled to Germany in her search for her son, said German police were able to get access to the information on Safarli’s laptop that she found in his apartment.

“They recovered phone numbers, photos, names, part of [the girlfriend’s] surname, workplace, just a lot of information about Farid’s girlfriend,” she said.

German police also confirmed with Pegasus Airlines that Safarli had not flown anywhere since arriving in Tehran last month.

“The police said that they received information from the airline company that Farid Safarli had not taken any flights out of Tehran. They sent a letter to the Iranian Embassy in Germany, inquiring about Farid. But the Iranian Embassy has not yet responded to the police.”

Asgarova, who then left for Iran, said she has received conflicting information from the staff of the hospital in Iran, where her son’s girlfriend was said to be working as an intern.

“First when I called them, they told me she had taken leave and had not gone to work for 20 days. Those 20 days coincide with the time my son went missing. But when I got to the hospital, the situation changed. They said she never worked there,” Asgarova told VOA.

The spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan, Aykhan Hajizada, told VOA that the ministry has sent a diplomatic note to the Iranian Embassy requesting information about the matter. But the embassy has not responded yet.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a note to the Iranian Embassy in our country in order to clarify the mentioned information and is currently waiting for a response from the other side,” he said.

Asgarova said she has appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, asking them to take more measures to ensure that İran responds to their diplomatic note.

“Maybe they can use the mediation of other countries. They should apply to international organizations. What if Iran stays silent forever? Are we going to sit and wait for their answer forever?” she asked.

“As a mother, I am very worried about the fate of my son. I am extremely worried. Maybe my son is in prison here in Tehran, a hundred meters away from me. But I can’t get any information from him. No one is giving me any information.”

International human rights groups for years have cataloged the Iranian government’s systematic use of enforced disappearances against thousands of people, often women, ethnic and religious minorities and others seen as a threat by the state. Some are freed after years of detention but others have been executed following sham trials.

This story originated in VOA’s Azerbaijani Service, with Parvana Bayramova contributing.

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Belgium Charges 7 People with Terrorism Offenses

Belgian authorities have charged seven people over “possible terrorist attacks,” federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The announcement came the day after prosecutors said they had detained eight people following raids on suspicion of planning an Islamist attack in Belgium.

In their latest statement, the prosecutors said four people had been charged with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group, preparing a terrorist offense, attempted assassination and intending to spread a message to incite the commission of a terrorist offense.

The four — three Belgians and one Turk — were all linked to a case in the city of Antwerp, the prosecutors said. They would appear before a court there on April 3, the statement said.

A further three people — two Belgians and one Bulgarian — were charged in a case in Brussels.

Two of them have been charged with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group.

The third person has been charged with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group, preparing a terrorist offense and spreading a message with the intention of inciting the commission of a terrorist offense, prosecutors said.

All three people charged in the Brussels case will appear before a court in the Belgian capital on April 3.

In their previous statement, prosecutors said police carried out raids late on Monday at five addresses in Brussels, Antwerp and in Eupen, a city near the German border, and detained five men, at least two of them suspected of planning an attack.

In a separate but linked investigation, police raided three other addresses in and near Brussels and detained three people, also on suspicion of planning an attack.

Belgium was the home to a number of the perpetrators of the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people, and Brussels was itself the target of twin bomb attacks at its airport and on its metro in March 2016, when 32 people were killed.

Brussels is home to European Union institutions and NATO.

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US Will Await European Investigations into Nord Stream Pipeline Blasts

U.S. officials said Tuesday they will await the findings of three independent European investigations into the September blasts that damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea. 

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters President Joe Biden is confident the probes will be as thorough as possible, and that they should provide a better sense of what happened. 

Kirby said last week the United States believes the blasts were an act of sabotage and that the U.S. was not involved in any way. 

A Russian resolution at the U.N. Security Council calling for an international investigation into the blasts failed to win support, earning three votes in favor, short of the nine needed for approval. 

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the United States and its allies had done everything possible to thwart an investigation, while U.S. envoy Robert Wood said it is Russia that is not interested in an impartial investigation. 

Between September 26 and 29, 2022, explosions caused four leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which run along the floor of the Baltic Sea, and which Russia uses to supply Europe with gas. 

VOA United Nations correspondent Margaret Besheer and VOA White House correspondent Paris Huang contributed to this report.  

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