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Nepal is walking a tightrope between India and China | China



This year, amid a raging pandemic, a looming global economic crisis and devastating floods and landslides, the Himalayan nation of Nepal has been in political and diplomatic turmoil over its disputed border with its much larger neighbour, India. The dispute has deepened strains within the current government and reignited debate over the future of Nepal’s relations with India and China.

On May 8, India inaugurated a link road built in a disputed territory which falls near a strategic three-way junction with Nepal and China. Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who was already facing multiple domestic political challenges, adopted a defiant stance against New Delhi and deemed the new road an attack on Nepal’s sovereignty.

He issued a new map which places the disputed region within Nepal’s borders and swiftly passed it through both houses of the parliament. His ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) also pushed an amendment to the country’s citizenship law that requires foreign women marrying Nepali men (most of whom are Indian) to wait for seven years for naturalisation.

Oli’s nationalist stance earned him some much-needed support among the Nepalese public, but proved insufficient to silence his many critics who have long been demanding his resignation citing his failure to provide effective leadership at a time of crisis. Commentators and officials both in India and Nepal accused him of cynically using the border dispute to stir nationalist sentiment and outmanoeuvre his rivals in the NCP, or acting at China’s behest.

In response, Oli has claimed that his political rivals within the ruling party are “colluding with India to oust him from power”. His chief opponent in the NCP, former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal – commonly known as “Prachanda” – described the accusation as “neither politically correct nor diplomatically appropriate,” asserting that it was he, not India, who sought Oli’s resignation.

Rivalries within the NCP undoubtedly played a role in aggravating Nepal’s political crisis. Nevertheless, it is also impossible to deny the significant role Nepal’s two giant neighbours, India and China, have played in bringing about the turmoil.

All politics is local

In May, the Indian Army chief General MM Naravane went out of his way to suggest that Oli’s objection to India’s road construction was instigated by Beijing. Indian news outlets, particularly those close to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), relentlessly attacked Oli for his alleged pro-China and anti-India stance. One Indian channel directly warned Oli not to challenge India, a country on which “you depend so heavily”.

The Indian media has obsessively reported on the activities of the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi, even levelling tasteless allegations that the “model-like” envoy has “honey-trapped” Oli. She has indeed been active throughout the crisis, holding numerous meetings with senior Nepali political leaders. And China does appear to be standing by Oli in this dispute, but there is no evidence that Beijing is goading him into taking on New Delhi.

India too is by no means a mere bystander. Top Indian intelligence officials, according to a report in the Daily Pioneer, have been actively courting senior Nepali politicians. The Indian media’s relentless onslaught on Oli also gives weight to the 68-year-old leader’s accusations that India is actively working to topple his government. And so too does the recent past. India has brought down several governments in Kathmandu over the years.

Observers generally see Oli as supported by Beijing and Prachanda by New Delhi. There is, however, little publicly available evidence to support the claim that New Delhi is propping up Prachanda to replace Oli.

Prachanda has his own reasons for sparring with Oli. In 2018, the leftist parties of Oli and Prachanda merged. The two men have shared the post of chairman of the newly-formed NCP and reportedly agreed to alternate as prime minister over the course of the NCP’s five-year term in power, which is now at its halfway point. Last November, Prachanda reportedly accepted a revised deal that would give him control over the party while allowing Oli to continue as prime minister. Oli appears not to have held up his end of the bargain, hence Prachanda’s anger.

Even if Prachanda is indeed backed by New Delhi, the partnership is likely tactical and temporary. Prachanda has had a complicated relationship with India. India facilitated the integration of Nepal’s Maoist rebels – led by Prachanda – into the political fold in the mid-2000s, but also helped force Prachanda’s resignation as prime minister in 2009 after he took on the Nepal Army, a key lever of Indian influence.

Notably, Prachanda has not played the anti-Beijing card to gain the upper hand against Oli. In fact, he has also taken positions as of late that can be seen as pro-Beijing. While Oli supported the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) Nepal compact – which Washington says aims to increase the availability of electricity and lower the cost of transportation in the country – Prachanda opposed it, citing US statements linking the project to the Indo-Pacific Strategy, which is largely seen as a China containment policy.

Prachanda made a veiled reference to the MCC project in an address to the Chinese Communist Party last month, stating that any developmental assistance inconsistent with the country’s policy of non-alignment “can’t be accepted by any means.”

Indian heavy-handedness created opening for China

If Oli is forced to resign, it would not necessarily be an enduring setback for Beijing. As Nepali news editor Biswas Baral argues, the cohesion of the NCP is more important for Beijing than Oli’s survival. Furthermore, the NCP leadership is likely to sustain its desire for China to play a balancing role even after Oli’s departure, due to its deep-rooted fear of Indian dominance.

Over the decades, India has played a paternalistic role in Nepal, which has been helpful in many ways. However, New Delhi has also been heavy-handed and abusive in its dealings with its Himalayan neighbour, leveraging the landlocked country’s dependence on it for access to the sea. India is Nepal’s largest trade partner, accounting for 65 percent of its imports and 57 percent of its exports in 2017.

India has used connectivity as a coercive tool, blockading Nepal three times in the past 30 years – most recently in 2015 after a devastating earthquake. The blockade imposed by India on Nepal in 1989 was partly out of concerns over Nepal’s growing proximity to China. While China’s military sales to Nepal grew, India remained the predominant external power in the country.

India’s most recent blockade of Nepal has proved to be a strategic folly, stirring Nepali nationalism, which has had an anti-India strain. The blockade roughly coincided with China’s launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), giving Beijing an opportunity to step in and pledge large sums of aid and investment.

China’s massive investments in extending its domestic rail network toward its western and southwestern frontier amplify its efforts to reshape the region’s economic geography. Its drive to expand connectivity in the region, for example, provided Nepal with an alternative route to the sea.

In 2016, China and Nepal concluded a transport agreement that gives Kathmandu access to four Chinese eastern seaports. While India’s Calcutta port is closest to Nepal by distance, Chinese rail service to Tibet, which borders Nepal, provides it with maritime access that may be shorter in time and more competitive in cost than Calcutta.

In 2017, Nepal officially joined the Belt and Road Initiative, making clear to India, a lead opponent of the BRI, that it is now a country with options.

More money, more problems

There is, of course, a price to siding with China. Beijing is notorious for its unfair trade practices. And its economic partnerships with developing countries are often based on loans rather than grants. Many high-risk recipients of Chinese lending struggle to repay their debt to Beijing – a trend that has triggered accusations of “debt-trap diplomacy”.

Following their transport agreement, Beijing and Kathmandu are also in talks for building a trans-Himalayan railway linking Nepal to China’s domestic transport network, but the estimated $2.5bn cost of the project may eventually prove too expensive for Nepal. Should the project move forward on a loan basis, Kathmandu may struggle to generate the revenue-generating capacity to repay it, and the country could end up trading Indian dominance for Chinese.

Allying with Beijing also requires ritualistic professions of agreement on its “core interests” and policing of Chinese national migrants and refugees, such as Uighurs and Tibetans. Notably, Nepal recently backed China’s new national security law for Hong Kong.
Neither China nor India are benign, altruistic powers. Nepali leaders appear to be aware of that. Even if Prachanda comes to power with some help and support from New Delhi, he is unlikely to push away Beijing’s hand.

Whoever leads Nepal in the years to come will have to manage a geopolitical environment that is only growing in complexity. Today, Nepal is area of contestation not just between China and India, but also in the broader U.S.-China Cold War.

At first glance, Prachanda’s opposition to the USS MCC’s Nepal compact appears to make little sense. Washington is offering a $500m grant, not a loan, to Kathmandu to support the construction of a high-voltage electric power line and upgraded roads. But some Nepali observers fear that the power line project, which will link to India’s electric power grid, may increase Kathmandu’s dependence on New Delhi and harm its burgeoning trade partnerships with Beijing.

Nepal is between a rock and a hard place. It undoubtedly wants US support, but equally fears increasing Indian dominance and hence wants to keep China on its side for balance. To receive much needed aid and protection, it somehow needs to simultaneously satisfy these regional and global superpowers, who are all capable and willing to manipulate Kathmandu’s internal divisions and weaknesses for their own benefit. Such a difficult balancing act requires more than will. It requires political stability at home and consensus among domestic power brokers – all of which, unfortunately, have proven to be elusive in Nepal.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million



Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe




A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News




Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.

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