Slovakia PM Assassination Attempt Sparks Journalists’ Safety Fears

Editors’ Choice, Europe, Featured, Freedom of Expression, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations

Freedom of Expression

Camera crews wait outside the Slovak parliament building in Bratislava days after the attempted assassination of PM Robert Fico. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

Camera crews wait outside the Slovak parliament building in Bratislava days after the attempted assassination of PM Robert Fico. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

BRATISLAVA, May 24 2024 (IPS) – Fears for the safety of journalists in Slovakia are growing in the wake of an assassination attempt on the country’s prime minister, which some politicians are blaming in part on local independent media.

Relations between some media and members of the governing coalition, led by Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party, have become increasingly tense since the government came to power in October last year.


And immediately after Fico was shot and seriously injured on May 15, as he greeted members of the public after a government meeting, senior members of coalition parties linked the attack to critical coverage of Fico and accused outlets of spreading hate against him.

The 71-year-old man who shot the prime minister is thought to have had a political motive for his attack.

Since then, there have been calls from some other politicians and heads of media organizations to stop trying to apportion blame for the attack on any group so as to defuse tensions in society.

But senior figures from governing coalition parties have continued to attack the media for what they see as their role in fomenting anger towards the government and provoking the tragedy.

Journalists in Slovakia, and press freedom watchdogs, worry this is increasing the risk reporters could also become targets of a violent attack.

“Journalists are in no way responsible for this, and blaming them is only fueling the fires and increasing the likelihood of another violent incident,” Oliver Money-Kyrle, Head of European Advocacy and Programmes at the International Press Institute (IPI), told IPS.

For many years, Fico and his Smer party, who have been in power for much of the last 18 years in Slovakia, have publicly attacked individual media, and specific journalists in some cases, for their critical reporting of the various governments he has led.

When Jan Kuciak, a reporter investigating alleged corruption by people close to Fico’s government, and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, were murdered in 2018, critics said Fico’s rhetoric towards journalists had contributed to creating an atmosphere in society in which those behind the killings believed they could act with impunity.

Fico was forced to step down as PM not long after the murders, following massive public protests against his government.

But since returning to power, he and other members of the ruling coalition have repeatedly attacked journalists they see as critical of the government and his party has refused to communicate with certain newspapers and broadcasters.

The government has also pushed through legislation that media freedom organizations and members of the European Commission have warned could severely restrict independent media and press freedom.

Some journalists at major news outlets have been regularly receiving death threats and facing horrific online harassment for years, but others have said they have become increasingly worried for their safety in recent months, and that those concerns have been exacerbated now in the wake of Fico’s shooting.

Many believe that years of aggressive, derogatory rhetoric against them has made them a target for hate among some parts of a society with widespread distrust of media—a recent survey showed only 37 percent of Slovaks trust the media.

Since the assassination attempt, some newsrooms have taken extra security measures and the government has said it will also be providing extra protection for groups which could be facing an elevated safety risk, including media.

While this has been welcomed by media rights organizations, they have said politicians must take the lead in reducing tensions in society and lessening immediate safety risks for journalists.

“The way to de-escalate the situation is that political hate speech against media must stop,” Pavol Szalai, head of the EU/Balkans desk at RSF at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told IPS.

In the immediate hours after the shooting, some ministers appeared to be pushing to calm the situation.  At a press conference, Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok appealed “to the public, to journalists, and to all politicians to stop spreading hatred”.

Meanwhile, dozens of editors from print and broadcast media issued a joint statement publicly condemning the attack on the prime minister and calling for politicians and media to come together to calm tensions.

However, even days after the shooting, senior government figures continued to attack specific media or play down the seriousness  of comments made by colleagues just after the shooting, including  labelling media as “disgusting pigs”.

The Slovak government did not respond to questions on journalists’ safety from IPS.

But beyond putting journalists at increased risk, it is feared that the assassination attempt may also worsen what research has shown is significantly worsening media freedom in the country.

The government recently approved legislation – which is expected to be passed in parliament within weeks that will see the country’s public broadcaster, RTVS, completely overhauled and, critics say, effectively under control of the government.

Ominously, the leader of the governing coalition Slovak National Party (SNS), Andrej Danko, warned after Fico was shot that there would “be changes to the media” now.

And on May 19, speaking on the TA3 private news channel, he said he was planning to propose legislation that would set new regulations governing journalistic ethics, relations between journalists and politicians, and what politicians would be obliged to “put up with” from journalists.

Beata Balogova, Editor in Chief of the Sme daily newspaper, one of the news outlets in the country regularly criticized by government politicians, told international media that the government could now introduce “brutal measures against the media.”

Local journalists say any repressive measures would make an already difficult job even harder.

“I haven’t thought about how things could get more difficult for us to do our work in the future because it’s already very hard. It’s so difficult to gather news with political parties refusing to speak to us. [More restrictions] certainly wouldn’t make things easier,” Michaela Terenzani, an editor at Sme, told IPS.

She added, though, that it was difficult to predict what would happen in the coming days and weeks.

“At the moment, we are all just getting over the shock and trying to get on with our work as best we can. This is a major moment in Slovakia’s history and we will have to see what happens with relations between the media and politicians. Everyone is calling for calm, and I hope that is what we get,” she said.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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North Macedonia Turns Back the Clock

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Economy & Trade, Europe, Featured, Headlines, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Credit: Robert Atanasovski/AFP via Getty Images

LONDON, May 23 2024 (IPS) – The old guard is back in North Macedonia, as the former ruling party – the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) – returns to parliamentary and presidential power.


Long the country’s dominant political force, the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE had been out of power since 2016. But this month, the political alliance it leads came first in the parliamentary election, taking 58 of 120 seats. In the presidential election runoff, its candidate triumphed with 61 per cent of the vote. In both cases the centre-left, pro-Europe Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), which had led the governing coalition and held the presidency, came a distant second. In parliament, its political alliance lost 28 of its 46 seats with only 14 per cent of the vote.

VMRO-DPMNE made its way back to office by harnessing widespread public frustration over the country’s attempt to join the European Union (EU), which has moved slowly, been dogged by controversy and forced the government to make numerous compromises. SDSM stood on a platform of rapid constitutional reform to accelerate progress, but VMRO-DPMNE, while claiming to support EU membership, opposes further changes. Its return signals a turn away from Europe, and a likely worsening of civil society conditions.

Rocky road towards the EU

North Macedonia has been an official candidate to join the EU since 2005. Negotiations are always lengthy, but North Macedonia’s road has been particularly bumpy. Before it could begin formal negotiations, it had to change the country’s name. Any existing EU member can block a non-member’s accession, and Greece stood in the way. The country shared its name with a region of Greece, which the Greek government saw as implying a territorial claim.

The hugely controversial issue brought extensive protests as name-change negotiations reached their conclusion in 2018. A referendum intended to approve the change failed when a boycott left turnout well below the level required; VMRO-DPMNE urged its supporters to reject the deal. The referendum was non-binding, and parliament went on to change the constitution regardless in January 2019.

Then Bulgaria intervened. The Bulgarian government insists its North Macedonian counterpart must do more to prevent the spread of anti-Bulgarian sentiments and protect the rights of the country’s Bulgarian minority. This heated issue, inflamed by much disinformation, helped force a political crisis in Bulgaria in 2022 when the government collapsed.

The two sides finally struck a deal to allow North Macedonia to begin EU negotiations in July 2022, but disputes still flare. In 2023 Bulgaria’s parliament warned it could halt the process again. North Macedonia’s outgoing government failed to win the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to change the constitution to recognise the Bulgarian minority.

Relations with Bulgaria played their part in the campaign. Some think the government has gone too far in compromising, and VMRO-DPMNE characterised the SDSM-led government’s actions as a surrender.

As a consequence of all the delays and compromises, public support for joining the EU has fallen.

A troubling return

VMRO-DPMNE led the government for a decade from 2006 to 2016, with Nikola Gruevski prime minister throughout. The party also held the presidency, a less powerful role, from 2009 to 2019.

Gruevski and his party fell from grace in 2016 amid allegations that he and many more of his party’s politicians were involved in a wiretapping scandal affecting over 20,000 people. Mass protests followed. VMRO-DPMNE still came first in the 2016 parliamentary election but couldn’t form a coalition, so power passed to an SDSM-led government. SDSM retained power in the 2020 election, and its candidate won the presidency in 2019.

Gruevski’s fall was swift. In 2018, he was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption, but he fled to Hungary, where the government of his authoritarian friend Viktor Orbán granted him political asylum. Further convictions followed, including a seven-year sentence for money laundering and illegal acquisition of property.

From exile, Gruevski has continued to criticise the government that replaced him. And while relations with VMRO-DPMNE’s current leader are hostile, ideologically VMRO-DPMNE still carries his fingerprints and the networks Gruevski developed among supportive media, the private sector and criminal groups remain. Under Gruevski, the party took a nationalist, pro-Russia and anti-west direction, promoting identity politics that hark back to the ancient Macedonian Empire.

For civil society, this makes the results concerning news. Conditions deteriorated during VMRO-DPMNE’s decade in power. The party’s identity politics fuelled a polarised environment. Nationalist groups physically attacked several journalists. Civil society leaders were among those subjected to illegal surveillance. Using the same tactics as Orbán, the government hurled abuse at civil society groups receiving funding from Open Society Foundations, accusing them of colluding with foreign governments. It subjected critical organisations to financial audits and raided their offices.

The election was held in an atmosphere of intense polarisation and proliferating disinformation, some originating in Russia, which doesn’t want any more countries joining the EU. There’s now a risk of a return to the politics of division, which would bring a resumption of attacks on civil society and independent media. VMRO-DPMNE has already made clear it’s looking for confrontation. New president Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova upset Greece by using North Macedonia’s old name during her inauguration ceremony.

The EU impasse wasn’t the only reason voters were unhappy. People haven’t seen any progress in combating corruption or improving economic conditions and public services. In country after country, there’s a broader pattern of electoral volatility as voters, unhappy with the performance of incumbents in difficult economic conditions, shop around for anything that looks different. Populist and nationalist parties – even long-established ones such as VMRO-DPMNE – are doing best at making an emotional connection with voters’ anger, offering deceptively simple answers and promising change.

For civil society, that means there’s now work to be done in depolarising the debate, building consensus and defending civic freedoms: a tall order, but a vital one, for which it’ll need a lot of support.

Andrew Firmin is CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.

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Panama’s Elections: Has Impunity Prevailed?

Civil Society, Climate Change, Crime & Justice, Economy & Trade, Education, Featured, Headlines, Labour, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Credit: Johan Ordoñez/AFP via Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, May 21 2024 (IPS) – Regional experts called it Panama’s most important election since the 1989 US invasion that deposed de facto president General Manuel Noriega. Panamanians went to the polls amid high inflation and unemployment, with a stagnating economy. Endemic corruption was also high on their long list of concerns, along with access to water, education and a collapsing social security system.


The winner, conservative lawyer José Raúl Mulino, was a stand-in for former president Ricardo Martinelli, disqualified from running due to a money laundering conviction. Martinelli remains popular regardless and managed to transfer his popularity to his less charismatic substitute. For those who backed Mulino, nostalgia for the economic stability and growth that marked Martinelli’s pro-business administration seemed to outweigh his proven record of corruption.

On the face of it, the election results seemed to demonstrate the primacy of economic considerations in voters’ minds, with hopes for growth trumping corruption fatigue. But that’s not the whole story.

Free, fair and uncertain

On 5 May, Panamanians went to the polls to elect a president and vice-president, 71 National Assembly members, 20 Central American Parliament deputies and local representatives.

The elections were undoubtedly clean and transparent, with integrity guaranteed by the participation of civil society in the National Scrutiny Board. Results were announced quickly and all losing candidates accepted them. But the pre-voting context was far less straightforward. Until the very last minute the now president-elect wasn’t sure he’d be allowed to run.

Mulino served as security minister in Martinelli’s government between 2009 and 2014. Ten years later, largely unknown to the electorate, he entered the race as Martinelli’s running mate for Achieving Goals (Realizando Metas, RM), a party Martinelli founded in 2021.

In July 2023, Martinelli was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to 10 years in prison, making him ineligible to run. He appealed, but the Electoral Tribunal didn’t make a final decision on his disqualification until March. To avoid jail, he sought asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy in Panama City. Mulino took his place, but his presidential candidacy was also challenged. For two months, he became the centre of attention as the Electoral Tribunal and Supreme Court debated whether he could ran. The positive court ruling came on 3 May, just two days before voting. Mulino also received a lot of help from Martinelli, who campaigned for him online while holed up in the Nicaraguan embassy.

A fragmented vote

Eight candidates contested the presidency, a five-year position with no possibility of a second consecutive term. With no runoff, a fragmented vote was likely to produce a winner with far less than half the vote. Mulino’s winning total of 34.2 per cent wasn’t unusual: two previous presidents received similarly low shares, including the outgoing centre-left president, Laurentino Cortizo of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD).

Mulino’s closest competitor, on 24.6 per cent, was Ricardo Lombana, a centre-right anti-corruption outsider. In third place was Martin Torrijos, another former president and Martinelli’s immediate predecessor, now distanced from his original party, the PRD, and running on the ticket of the Christian democratic People’s Party (Partido Popular, PP). Fourth was Rómulo Roux, of the centre-right Democratic Change (Cambio Democrático, CD), the party Martinelli founded and used as a vehicle for the presidency, but which he abandoned in 2020 amid leadership disputes.

The parties that once dominated the political landscape fared badly. The Panameñista Party didn’t even have a presidential candidate; instead, its leader joined Roux as his running mate. The PRD, which led three of the last six governments, fell below six per cent.

Independents on the rise

In 1998, Martinelli’s CD was the first to challenge the dominance of traditional parties. Later changes to the electoral law allowed independent candidates to stand. Their growing prominence reflects widespread dissatisfaction with traditional parties and the political class.

In the 5 May congressional elections, independent candidates won more seats than any political party – 20, up from just five. Mulino’s new RM party took 14 seats. The PRD lost a whopping 22, retaining only 13. The new composition of the National Assembly speaks of a thirst for renewal that doesn’t match the choice for corruption and impunity the presidential results might suggest.

Spotlight on the economy

For the three decades before the pandemic, the Panamanian economy grew by around six per cent a year, helped by income from the Panama Canal and construction and mining booms. But then challenges started piling up. The economy slowed down. Jobs disappeared. Inflation rose.

Activity in the Panama Canal has been severely affected by the impacts of climate change, with a drop in water levels. Drought has also reduced access to drinking water in some regions. Meanwhile an unprecedented rise in the numbers of migrants travelling through the Darién Gap, the treacherous stretch of jungle at the border with Colombia, has stretched the resources of the humanitarian assistance system.

Mulino campaigned on promises to improve the economy by attracting investment, developing infrastructure and creating jobs. He pledged to improve access to safe water and promised to ‘shut down’ the Darién Gap.

Mulino’s voters may have accepted the bargain he appeared to offer – prosperity in exchange for impunity – but many more people voted against him than for. He was able to win because the vote against was so fragmented. The number of independents who entered Congress is just one of many indicators of widespread dissatisfaction with politicians like him.

Mulino will have to deliver on his promises to attract investment and create jobs. He’ll need to reduce inequalities and deal with growing insecurity, the situation in the Darién Gap and a pensions system on the brink of insolvency. Last but not least, he’ll need to strengthen institutions and tackle corruption – which begs the question of what he’ll do about Martinelli.

The challenges are many and great, and Mulino won’t have anything close to a legislative majority. The National Assembly is so fragmented that a high-level deal with one or two parties won’t be enough. Mulino seemed to recognise this on election night when he called for national unity and said he was open to dialogue and consensus. This was a first step in the direction he should keep following.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.

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Billions will Vote this Year – LGBTIQ+ People Must not be Excluded

Civil Society, Democracy, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, LGBTQ, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

UNDP is working in all regions of the world to integrate LGBTIQ+ people and issues in development efforts. Credit: UNDP Dominican Republic

UNITED NATIONS, May 20 2024 (IPS) – This year has been called the ‘super election’ year, with 3.7 billion people potentially going to the polls. This historic political moment is also an opportunity to reflect on what these billions of voter experiences will look like. Who will vote, who can run for office and who might be excluded from the political process?


It goes without saying and is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone should have the right to participate in the political processes in their country, and huge strides have been made in recent years to recognize and advocate for LGBTIQ+ rights. But the reality for LGBTIQ+ people is often very different.

Because despite progress, one third of countries maintain laws that make same-sex relationships illegal. For the LGBTIQ+ people living in these countries, what is their experience with elections, as voters or as candidates?

Consider the transgender person who faces harassment whenever they leave their home and is ultimately excluded from their community. Or the LGBTIQ+ groups that are receiving constant online hate because of a wave of social media disinformation. To what extent are they free to express their political views, without fear of discrimination, hate speech or even physical violence?

These experiences do not exist in a vacuum. They are the result of a vast swathe of anti-LGBTIQ+ laws and policies, which in some countries are continuing to gather momentum, compounded by the pervasive stigma and discrimination many LGBTIQ+ people face in their everyday lives.

And they directly impact our political processes by silencing people, limiting the extent to which they can have a voice in their societies and in the decisions which affect them, and entrenching structural discrimination.

UNDP has been working for decades to help break these barriers and to strengthen laws, policies and programmes that respect the human rights of all individuals. This demands we work with a broad range of global partners and advocates, recognizing that LGBTIQ+ people are a diverse group and face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

But with estimates suggesting about half of the global population may vote this year, it does throw into sharp focus the need to ensure that the people determining the leadership and political direction of their countries, truly reflects the full diversity of the world we live in.

We have reason to be hopeful that they will. Because with the steadfast support of partners like Luxembourg, UNDP has been supporting global efforts, including LGBTIQ+ organizations and activists, to help transform LGBTIQ+ rights.

For instance, last October, UNDP launched its global publication ‘Inclusive Democracies: A guide to strengthening the participation of LGBTI+ persons in political and electoral processes,’ in a jointly cohosted event with the LGBTI intergroup of the European Parliament.

Its aim is to provide policymakers, electoral management bodies, legislators, civil society and other stakeholders a clear set of tools to work towards a more equal exercise of civic and political rights, freedom of expression and association, and access to public services. The publication, informed by UNDP’s work globally, includes best practices from over 80 countries, mainly from the Global South.

At the same time, UNDP is working in 72 countries and all regions of the world to integrate LGBTIQ+ people and issues in development efforts.

This includes working with young key populations in Southern Africa – which includes young gay men and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people – to help challenge some of the negative stereotypes appearing in mainstream media, and to change the negative narratives.

Support has focused on organizing media skills training for young people to build their journalistic skills and enhance the use of digital platforms for advocacy on issues affecting them.

But digital platforms also have the power to do great harm, and LGBTIQ+ individuals often face disproportionate online harassment, posing a threat to their equal political participation. With support from Luxembourg, UNDP has been able to prioritize combating dangerous online speech that targets individuals based on gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

For example, the Cabo Verde Free and Equal Campaign, part of UNDP’s efforts, focuses on fighting gender stereotypes and eliminating prejudices through legal and communication channels.

The global efforts to address LGBTIQ+ rights are having an impact. The recent HIV Policy Lab report – produced jointly by Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute, UNDP and the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) shows a clear and ongoing trend toward decriminalization of consensual same-sex sex around the world, with more countries removing punitive laws in 2022 than in any single year in the past 25 years.

These advances are part of a collective effort, because building inclusive and equitable societies means building a coalition of partners. At UNDP, the importance of partners like Luxembourg in helping to fund this vital work, and shining a light on the injustices LGBTIQ+ people face, is never underestimated.

This is important because investments in human rights are investments in our societies. And thanks to Luxembourg and our core donors, UNDP has been able to help people, whoever and wherever they are, to have a voice in shaping their societies.

This year, the stakes have never been higher. The decisions made in the elections taking place will set the course for how societies develop, and to what extent human rights are respected. Which is why we must also use this moment to recognize our partners and to renew our commitments to the LGBTIQ+ community.

The world’s attention will be focused on the election winners and losers. But the outcome is only one piece of the puzzle. Ensuring the political processes taking place are inclusive, credible and peaceful is how we ultimately build a world where everyone can vote, anyone can run for office, and most importantly, where no one will be silenced.

Ulrika Modeer is UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, UNDP; Christophe Schiltz is Director General, Directorate for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Defence, Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Luxembourg

Source: UNDP

IPS UN Bureau

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Waddey, Acheson launch new law firm

VOL. 48 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 17, 2024

Updated 7:10PM

Waddey Acheson, a new law firm based in Nashville, has been launched with a focus on intellectual property, artificial intelligence and high-stakes litigation.

Jack Waddey, a registered patent attorney, brings over 50 years of experience to the firm. He has secured hundreds of patents and trademarks for clients and served as a mediator since 1998, the firm reports.

The Georgetown Law School graduate was previously a partner at Willis & White, Hooker & Waddey, Waddey Lundin & Newport and Waller Landsen Dortch Davis. He also was founding partner at Waddey-Patterson, an associate with Arent Fox and senior affiliate counsel at Holland Knight.

Chanelle Acheson, also a founding partner of Waddey Acheson, has a background in high-stakes litigation and experience as a Marine Corps officer. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado, the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, and Harvard Law School.

Bradley’s Bahou chairs Tennessee Bar’s AI task force

Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP Nashville partner A.J. Bahou has been appointed to serve as chair of the Tennessee Bar Association’s newly established artificial intelligence task force.

Bahou, an experienced technology and AI attorney, will lead the task force’s efforts to explore the intersection of AI and the legal profession by driving initiatives to ensure that Tennessee attorneys are well-equipped to navigate the evolving landscape of AI technology.

Bahou helped form Bradley’s AI team in 2023, drawing on his background and practice focused on the relationship between law and technology. His practice includes intellectual property, data privacy and cybersecurity.

EO Nashville announces new class of members

EO Nashville, which marks 30 years of serving and championing Nashville’s entrepreneur community in 2024, has 19 new members. They are:

• Carey Bringle, Peg Leg Porker

• Garrison Coley, Home and Office Transitions

• Brian Eby, Think LLP

• Robert Erickson, Massive Mission

• Brian Fuente, Aero Build, LLC & The Aero Bar, LLC

• Amy Goldstein, Nashville Psych

• James Jamieson, EvidenceCare, Inc.

• Jessica Loseke, Midwest Barrel Co.

• Justin Lowe, Centric Architecture Inc.

• Tina McGill, MMAS CPA P.C.

• Scarlett Mulligan, Novus Behavioral Health

• Leslie Murphy, Murphy Maude Interiors

• Julie Podewitz, Grow Your Occupancy

• Chad Polk, CDP Architecture, LLC

• William Powell, Office Furniture and Related Services

• Ke Qin, Paros Group

• Samahria Richie, Two Sisters Maid to Clean

• Phillip Steen, Nashville Sports League

• Mark Stoner, Ashbusters Chimney Service

EO Nashville is the largest EO chapter in the country and the third-largest in the world with 355 members averaging $12.2 million in sales and employing over 15,000 individuals. The Nashville chapter was recognized at the EO Global Leadership Conference for having the most members added in 2023 and is the second-highest in new membership of female entrepreneurs.

CFMT names Marchetti Karim, vice presidents

Adnan Karim joins the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee as vice president of community impact, and Katie Marchetti has joined as vice president of philanthropic services.

Karim brings a background spanning over 14 years in the social impact sector. His journey began in New York City, where he dedicated himself to improving educational outcomes for some of the nation’s most marginalized communities. As a vital member of City Year, and later as a program manager, Karim spearheaded initiatives that enhanced literacy and math skills among at-risk students while cultivating environments rich in social and emotional learning and service.

His commitment to service learning and community empowerment continued at buildOn, where he led transformative programs across 16 high schools in New York City’s South Bronx and Brooklyn as program director. He eventually served as the organization’s inaugural director of foundation relations and later as chief program officer in the United States.

His leadership helped extend educational programs nationwide and supported the construction of schools in economically challenged regions worldwide, including Nepal and Malawi. Karim most recently served as managing director of human rights education at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

He is a Nashville native and a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and New York University.

Marchetti, who has more than two decades of expertise in international finance and law, played significant roles in global financial hubs across the US and Europe, culminating in a 15-year tenure in London. Her most recent role was as managing director and chief growth officer at a Nashville-based private equity startup.

In addition to her professional endeavors, Marchetti’s holds board memberships at Fisk University and Think Tennessee. She also co-founding Voices for a Safer Tennessee and works with Reshma Saujani’s Moms First initiative.

Fair joins leadership at Nashville General

Nashville General Hospital has added Alecia Malin Fair, DrPH, to the executive team as chief population health and research officer. Malin Fair, who has more than 30 years of experience working in health education and promotion within diverse communities, will focus on patient-centered wellness programs that reach underserved communities.

Malin Fair’s experience includes evaluating AIDS education programs in Western New York adolescents, community-engaged childhood obesity prevention in rural South Carolina middle school students, psychosocial health beliefs and health disparity factors impeding medically underserved women in Nashville and resolving abnormal mammograms. Recently, she led a national precision medicine project engaging a cohort of diverse study participants underrepresented in research to support the design, implementation and governance of the program.

Malin Fair will also oversee NGH’s Congregational Health & Education Network, which launched in 2017, is a 501(c)(3) faith-based initiative with a primary focus on reducing health disparities among Nashville’s African American community through education attainment, access to health care and health literacy. By partnering community health workers with churches to reach people where they are, CHEN seeks to address social determinants of health that disproportionately affect communities of color.

Java Medical Group adds to executive team

Java Medical Group, which partners with rural hospitals nationwide to ensure quality patient care and improve financial performance, has added Ray Burns as chief compliance officer and Alison Morris as chief administrative officer.

Burns leads the implementation and oversight of compliance programs, bringing more than three decades of health care and compliance experience to the company. He previously served as director of compliance for Emergency Care Partners, LLC in Pensacola, Florida. Burns earned his master’s degree in health care administration from St. Joseph’s University and bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Morris oversees the administrative functions and streamlines and optimizes the company’s operations. Morris also leads the strategic implementation of technology to drive value and efficiency for the company. She holds a degree in business administration from Aquinas College.

Forbes honors Alexander of KraftCPAs as top CPA

Forbes has chosen Vic Alexander of KraftCPAs PLLC for its inaugural America’s Top 200 CPAs list.

Alexander, who has been chief manager of the firm since 1993, was one of two from Tennessee chosen for the Top 200 CPAs list and the only one from Middle Tennessee.

Forbes compiled its list through independent nominations. Nominees were rated on criteria such as expertise, innovation, thought leadership, experience, and service to the community and to their profession, as well as responses to selected questions.

REED promotes Binner to agency president

REED, a full-service public relations and marketing agency, has promoted Macey Cleary Binner, longtime employee and business development lead, from vice president to the newly created role of president.

Collaborating closely with CEO Lauren Reed Williams and the leadership team, Binner will guide all aspects of the organization’s growth to advance the agency’s commitment to being a data-driven PR agency with long-term clients.

Binner, a graduate of Auburn University, joined REED in 2016. After holding coordinator, manager and supervisor positions, Binner was promoted to a leadership role in 2022 as an agency vice president. Her duties included managing new business leads and REED’s growth trajectory. She secured nearly two dozen new clients in 2023, including one of the firm’s biggest accounts to date. As a result, REED experienced a 40% growth in revenue for 2023.

Binner was named a 2023 Rising Star by PRNEWS.

LDA Engineering names Daniel president

LDA Engineering has announced that Zack Daniel, PE, has joined as its new president.

Daniel is joining LDA from his leadership position at national engineering firm, CDM Smith, where he held various positions including client service leader for the firm servicing clients throughout Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas. He rose through the ranks of shareholder, advancing from associate to principal to vice president.

Daniel’s deep industry involvement extends to his recent recognition as the alumnus of the year for the Herff College of Engineering Civil Engineering Department at his alma mater, the University of Memphis.

He is past chair of the Kentucky Tennessee American Water Works Association and recipient of its highest honor, the George Warren Fuller Award.

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Strengthening U.S -African Partnership Horizons

The Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) held the U.S.-Africa business summit in Dallas, Texas, on May 6-9 with the theme “U.S.-Africa Business: Partnering for Sustainable Success” that gathered a number of African leaders, senior U.S. and African government officials, and corporate business executives to review performance, discuss existing challenges and chart future pathways into the commercial spheres across Africa.

While it aims at forging strategic partnerships and exploring investment opportunities, the participants gain important insights from industry experts and business thought leaders. Principally the Texas summit hosted the largest African diaspora population of any state in the United States. And Dallas, as the location of headquarters and major business operations for a large number of Fortune 1000 firms, was the ideal location to facilitate the exchange of ideas and strategies that will shape the future of U.S.-Africa business relations and private sector-led economic growth both in the United States and on the African continent.

Speeches and discussions were delivered successfully. Among the African leaders who delivered speeches included President Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi of the Republic of Botswana, President Faure Gnassingbé of the Republic of Togo, and Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera of the Republic of Malawi. The presence of large numbers of African leaders and representatives, in fact, underscored the importance of the summit as a platform for high-level discussions and economic partnerships between the United States and Africa.

Dr. Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana, has made a strong case for Botswana as a top investment destination, citing the country’s stability, progressive policies, and strategic initiatives promoting economic growth and sustainability.

The Botswana leader spoke during the ‘Doing Business in Botswana’ session in Dallas, Texas. Addressing a strong audience of potential investors, and summit attendees, President Masisi outlined Botswana’s strategic priorities under the ‘Reset Agenda,’ which aims for significant post-pandemic recovery and sustainable development. He emphasized vital areas such as digitization, value-chain development, and green energy, highlighting the country’s commitment to digital innovation and boosting key economic sectors such as agriculture, tourism, and mining.

President Masisi also called for enhanced women’s role in trade during the summit’s panel session, organized by the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) in partnership with the United States Department of Commerce Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP), the Africa Women and Youth Empowerment Group (AWYEG), and the Corporate Council on Africa.

President Masisi pointed out women’s significant economic contributions, particularly through informal cross-border trade valued at $17.6 billion. In spite of their contributions, women frequently face exploitation and violence, with little protection. To address these challenges, Botswana’s head of state emphasized the importance of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is expected to boost Africa’s income by $450 billion by 2035 and significantly increase intra-African exports.

Standard Bank, the leading bank and financial services group in Africa, championed the vital role of global trade, economic development and robust partnerships at the opening of a power-packed U.S.-Africa business summit. With Texas as an international business hub and home of a large and vibrant African diaspora community, the event carries significant weight for Dallas, a gateway to global markets and cross-cultural connections.

“Trade and investment are economic lifelines, and this meeting links immense potential in Africa with the powerhouse market of the United States,” said Anne Aliker, Standard Bank’s Group Head, Corporate and Investment Banking, Client Coverage. “Both offer abundant growth opportunities, leveraging Africa’s markets and resources while providing avenues for U.S. businesses to diversify.”

African countries’ effective participation in the ever-evolving international trade landscape is central to boosting the continent’s development. While African exports of goods and services have registered faster growth in the past decade, the volumes remain low, stagnant and heavily skewed toward primary goods.

Aliker said the policymakers must broaden their perspective beyond conventional methods to engage actively in today’s broad markets. Although Africa has about 18% of the world’s population, it has only about 2.9% of global GDP and only 2.2% of world exports. Africa exported $38.1 billion worth of goods to the U.S. and imported U.S. goods worth $28.6 billion in 2023, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Trade is deeply rooted in Africa’s history and essential for its future development. We’re committed to using our position, presence and insight to inform and grow the continent’s trade ecosystem,” she said.

Discussions over the reauthorization of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a cornerstone of U.S. efforts to cultivate deeper economic relations with sub-Saharan Africa, allowing countries there export certain products to the U.S. duty-free. Last July, the Biden administration reported facilitating more than 900 deals across 47 African countries since 2021, for an estimated $22 billion in two-way trade and investment. Also, the U.S. private sector sealed investment deals exceeding $8.6 billion.

Fielding questions on the sidelines, Jonathan Stember says the growth potential in Africa is considerable and it is imperative for the US to rethink its business mindset and strategy towards Africa. As prominent figure in both political and corporate campaigns on a global scale for over 25 years, Jonathan Stember says there are broad areas of win-win partnerships and cooperation between US firms and entities and Africa.

Creating a reliable partnership, whether in Africa or globally, mirrors the challenges inherent in any business endeavor—it demands dedication and perseverance. Mutual trust is key for success among all parties involved. Communication, a fundamental aspect of human interaction, plays a crucial role in nurturing these partnerships. Our efforts have resulted in the establishment of bridges that facilitate connections between Africa and the U.S., fostering mutual growth and understanding. Africa presents an array of prospects spanning technology, youth empowerment, food security, trade and commerce, and the establishment of sustainable economies.

During the business sessions, CCA was proud to partner with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to celebrate its 20th anniversary and highlight MCC’s $10.4 billion U.S. government investment in infrastructure across more than 24 African countries. From power projects to roads, ports, education, ICT, health and more —MCC’s 42 country-driven development programs address binding constraints to economic growth. A high-level event celebrating MCC’s 20th anniversary featured the distinguished guests, including President George W. Bush and other notable U.S. government and African leaders.

MCC has worked side-by-side with partner countries to deliver on priorities that promote entrepreneurialism, private sector business investment and job creation for two decades. MCC’s anniversary event promises to set the tone for the summit, showcasing government and private sector commitment to partnership, U.S.-Africa trade, investment, business, and sustainable economic development.

U.S.-Africa business summit served as a platform for African and U.S. private sector and government representatives to engage at the highest levels on a range of issues impacting the U.S.-Africa economic relationship. The sessions focused on key sectors including agribusiness, energy, health, infrastructure, security, trade facilitation, ICT, creative industries, and finance.

The participants networked with key private sector and government officials, explored new business opportunities, interacted with potential business partners, and forged new business deals. In addition, the gathering also served as an opportunity to shape and advocate for effective U.S.-Africa trade and investment policies. Over the last 30 years, CCA has hosted more than 50 U.S. and African Heads of State and over 15,000 participants at its summits.

One distinguishing feature in U.S.-African relations is the Global Development Alliance (GDA) is USAID’s premier model for public-private partnerships. Its connectivity and support for the African-American diaspora in immeasurable. According to World Bank Statistics, remittance inflows to sub-Saharan Africa soared from $49 billion in 2021 to an estimated $68 billion. Beyond remittances, Africa stands to benefit largely from the input of its diaspora considered as progressive in the United States.

Over the years, African leaders have been engaging with their diaspora, especially those excelling in sports, academia, business, science, technology, engineering and other significant fields that the continent needs to optimize its diverse potentials and to meet development priorities. These professionals primarily leverage into various sectors, act as bridges between the United States and Africa. President Joe Biden has created the African Diaspora Advisory Council as part of the presidency. It has been working closely together to deepen and fortify America’s strategic partnerships with African diaspora, and in the interests of sustaining a meaningful stability between Africa and the United States.

Until today,  the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) continues to run various educational and training programs including short professional courses, conferences and seminars for Africans. It has a number of other economic development programs, like the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs program. Now, since its inception in 2019, this program has provided more than 5,400 women throughout Africa with the training and networks that they need to start and to scale small businesses.

The United States is not only the undisputed leader of the free world, but also home to the most dynamic African diaspora. The African diaspora ranks amongst the most educated immigrant group and is found excelling and making invaluable contributions in all sectors of life-business, medicine, healthcare, engineering, transportation and more. The contribution of the African diaspora is not negligible, we see more of them appointed to senior government positions by President Joe Biden.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai also told the gathering there about the necessity to establish more investment, in addition to market access. The duty-free access for nearly 40 African countries has boosted development, fostered more equitable and sustainable growth in Africa. The AGOA offered promise as a “stepping stone to address regional and global challenges” with Africa’s young and entrepreneurial population. The future is Africa, and engaging with this continent is the key to prosperity for all of us, according to Katherine Tai.

The last 2023 business summit was a tremendous success which took place in Botswana. The participants – most importantly – private sector corporate executives looked at Africa and the United States engaging in strategic dialogue on the key issues and opportunities driving U.S.-Africa trade, investment, and commercial engagement. “The pace of engagement with Africa by President Biden and his Cabinet Secretaries is unprecedented, especially the strong focus on supporting private sector trade and investment deals. There can be no mistaking the strength of President Biden and his Administration’s commitment to and engagement with Africa,” says Corporate Council on Africa chairperson Florie Liser.

The Texas business summit was organized by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) in conjunction with the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which is an independent U.S. Government agency that partners with developing countries to reduce poverty through economic growth. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency and Foreign Affairs’ Africa Department offered its full-fledged support.

The Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) is the leading U.S. business association focused solely on connecting business interests in Africa. According its reports, the CCA was established in 1993, and has been pivotal in promoting business and investment between Africa and the United States, serving as a trusted intermediary for over three decades. Its primary mission is to strengthen commercial relations between Africa and the United States of America.

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