Category: African News

African travelers could be required to pay a $15,000 bond to enter the U.S. – CBS News

Prospective tourists and visitors from more than 20 countries, mostly in Africa, could pay as much as a $15,000 bond to obtain a U.S. visa under a new rule from the Trump administration. 

The requirements unveiled on Tuesday, the State Department said, are designed to send “a message” to certain nations to encourage their citizens to abide by the conditions of their U.S. visas. The State Department said it selected countries whose citizens have high rates of remaining in the U.S. after their visas have expired. 

Under the six-month pilot program starting December 24, U.S. consular officials could start requiring applicants for B-1 and B-2 visas who hail from the selected countries to pay a $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 bond, according to the temporary final rule issued by the State Department.

“The Pilot Program is designed to apply to nationals of specified countries with high overstay rates to serve as a diplomatic tool to encourage foreign governments to take all appropriate actions to ensure their nationals timely depart the United States after making temporary visits,” the rule states.

Of the 23 countries subject to the new rules, 15 are African. They are Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Libya, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe and Sudan.

Visa-seekers from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Iran, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Syria and Yemen could also be required to pay the bonds.

The State Department said the pilot program will allow it to gauge its ability to post, process and discharge bonds.

It is unclear if the incoming Democratic administration of Joe Biden will change or suspend the visa bond rules. Mr. Biden has vowed to overturn many of President Trump’s immigration policies, which collectively have restricted avenues for people abroad to come to the U.S., both permanently and on a temporary basis.

According to Tuesday’s rule, the number of cases expected to be affected by the new rules is “relatively small” since bonds will only be required for visa-seekers from the designated countries who have been granted a waiver that allows them to enter the U.S. The pilot program will not apply to student visa seekers or immigrants.

The rule instructs consular officers to typically require a $10,000 bond, unless they determine that it should be $5,000 because the visa applicant would not be able to pay the standard amount. Officers can also raise it to $15,000 if they deem a $10,000 bond would not be sufficient to ensure that the petitioner will depart the U.S. before the visa expires.

Consular officials could analyze the visa seeker’s travel purpose, job, income, skills and education to make these determinations.

Those subject to Tuesday’s rules could be eligible for a waiver if consular officials conclude that their cases raise “significant” national or humanitarian interest.

Visa-holders who post bonds are entitled to a full refund, along with accrued interest, if they fully comply with the terms of their stay in the U.S.


Read More

Africa’s largest Covid treatment clinical trial launched by 13-country network – The Guardian

A network of 13 African countries has joined forces with global researchers to launch the largest clinical trial of potential Covid-19 treatments on the continent.

The Anticov study, involving Antwerp’s Institute of Tropical Medicine and international research institutions, aims to identify treatments that can be used to treat mild and moderate cases of Covid-19 early and prevent spikes in hospitalisation that could overwhelm fragile and already overburdened health systems in Africa.

The clinical trial will be carried out at 19 sites in 13 countries and led by doctors from African countries. The initiative emerged after calls for responses to the coronavirus better tailored to the developing world and the challenges of often underfunded healthcare systems.

“There is a need for large clinical trials in Africa for Covid-19 to answer research questions that are specific to an African context,” said Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“African countries have mounted an impressive response so far to Covid-19 and now is the time to prepare for future waves of the disease. It will help answer one of our most pressing questions: with limited intensive care facilities in Africa – can we treat people for Covid-19 earlier and stop our hospitals from being overwhelmed?”

The study will test the efficacy of treatments in 2,000 to 3,000 mild-to-moderate patients in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Sudan, and Uganda, with the aim of identifying treatments that can prevent progression of coronavirus to severe disease and also limit transmission.

The study will be an adaptive platform trial, an innovative type of clinical trial pioneered for cancer drugs that allows for several treatments to be simultaneously tested. Adaptive platform trials enable rapid decisions to be made, including adding, continuing, or stopping treatment arms based on ongoing analysis of results.

“The Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, has been working closely with its partners in Ethiopia for many years now,” said Prof Dr Johan Van Griensven, from the institute.

“Together with more than 10 other African countries, we are able to investigate whether Covid-19 patients with mild symptoms who receive early treatment experience less serious complications,” he said. “This strategy is necessary in order not to overburden the fragile health system, as hospitals with sufficient staff and intensive care units are sparse in African countries.”

New treatments will be added to the trial as evidence of their potential for mild-to-moderate cases emerges.

Initially, Anticov will focus on drugs where large-scale randomised clinical trials could provide missing efficacy data in mild-to-moderate patients. The trial will begin testing, against a control arm, the HIV antiretroviral combination lopinavir-ritonavir and the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which remains the standard of care for Covid-19 today in numerous African countries.


Read More

Who is al-Qaeda’s new North Africa chief? – Al Jazeera English

The new leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a well-known veteran among the armed groups wreaking havoc in North Africa but experts say it is unclear what path he will chart to assert his authority.

Abu Obaida Yusuf al-Annabi, an Algerian national born in 1969, replaced Abdelmalek Droukdel following his killing by French forces in Mali last June, according to the SITE monitoring group.

Al-Annabi was already head of AQIM’s Council of Dignitaries and “was also one of its media chiefs”, said Laurence Bindner, co-founder of the JOS Project that analyses armed group’s propaganda online.

“He’s the one who pledged allegiance in the group’s name to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the main al-Qaeda chief, in 2011. And he’s authored several of its main statements in recent years,” said Bindner.

The United States placed al-Annabi, who is thought to still be based in Algeria, on its “terrorism” watch list in 2015, a move followed by the United Nations the following year.

His group has claimed responsibility for attacks on troops and civilians across the Sahel region, including a 2016 strike on a hotel and restaurant in Burkina Faso that killed 30 people, mainly Westerners.

But al-Annabi’s legitimacy as the head of AQIM might not be clear-cut, particularly among more recent and younger recruits.

“Annabi is better known, to me at least, as a propagandist and pseudo-cleric than as an operational figure,” said Alex Thurston, a political scientist at the University of Cincinnati who focuses on Islam in northwest Africa.

“Tapping someone without the same operational background as Droukdel … would seem to me to be a sign of a weak bench,” he said, describing AQMI as “an organisation fighting for relevance and lacking in charismatic authority”.

Group infighting

Analysts at the Counter Extremism Project say al-Annabi’s relations with his predecessor may have been tense, another potential sign of strategic divisions in the ranks.

That, in turn, could complicate AQIM’s relationships with Iyad Ag Ghaly, the Malian Tuareg who leads the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, a nominal ally of the armed group.

A video grab shows Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters [AQIM via AFP]

While Ghaly has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, he has like other affiliates in the world significant autonomy – and whether al-Annabi allows this to continue will determine how the armed group evolves in the coming years.

“There have always been tensions between fighters on the ground in northern Mali, and an extremely isolated AQIM emir in Algeria,” said Elie Tenenbaum, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations.

He said al-Annabi’s first moves would be key in determining how he wants to position his group, at a time when al-Qaeda affiliates are facing off against ISIL (ISIS) fighters also jockeying for influence.

“Is he going to name new chiefs for the katibas [combat units]” south of the Algerian border, Tenenbaum asked.

“Will he be tempted to place his own people there? Will he modify the links with AQIM’s local allies?”

Prisoner exchange

It also remains to be seen how Annabi will approach the negotiations sought by Mali’s government, which are fiercely opposed by France as it tries to help Sahel governments stave off the armed group’s threats.

In a rare interview with France 24 television last year, al-Annabi made clear his wish to see AQIM prisoners freed as part of talks to liberate Sophie Petronin, a French hostage seized in Mali in 2016.

Petronin was freed in October just as Mali’s authorities released some 200 prisoners.

Tenenbaum said for the Malian government, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims “appears today as the group it can talk to” – a position that could strengthen Ghaly’s hand in the fight against ISIL.

That means infighting among the armed groups is unlikely to abate anytime soon.

“The time of reconciliation has passed and no longer seems to be on the agenda,” Tenenbaum said.


Read More

NYC’s first African-American mayor, David Dinkins, has died – The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — David Dinkins, who broke barriers as New York City’s first African-American mayor, but was doomed to a single term by a soaring murder rate, stubborn unemployment and his mishandling of a riot in Brooklyn, has died. He was 93.

Dinkins died Monday, the New York City Police Department confirmed. The department said officers were called to the former mayor’s home in the evening. Initial indications were that he died of natural causes.

Dinkins’ death came just weeks after the death of his wife, Joyce, who died in October at the age of 89.

Dinkins, a calm and courtly figure with a penchant for tennis and formal wear, was a dramatic shift from both his predecessor, Ed Koch, and his successor, Rudolph Giuliani — two combative and often abrasive politicians in a city with a world-class reputation for impatience and rudeness.


In his inaugural address, he spoke lovingly of New York as a “gorgeous mosaic of race and religious faith, of national origin and sexual orientation, of individuals whose families arrived yesterday and generations ago, coming through Ellis Island or Kennedy Airport or on buses bound for the Port Authority.”

But the city he inherited had an ugly side, too.

AIDS, guns and crack cocaine killed thousands of people each year. Unemployment soared. Homelessness was rampant. The city faced a $1.5 billion budget deficit.

Dinkins’ low-key, considered approach quickly came to be perceived as a flaw. Critics said he was too soft and too slow.

“Dave, Do Something!” screamed one New York Post headline in 1990, Dinkins’ first year in office.

Dinkins did a lot at City Hall. He raised taxes to hire thousands of police officers. He spent billions of dollars revitalizing neglected housing. His administration got the Walt Disney Corp. to invest in the cleanup of then-seedy Times Square.

In recent years, he’s gotten more credit for those accomplishments, credit that Mayor Bill de Blasio said he should have always had. De Blasio, who worked in Dinkins’ administration, named Manhattan’s Municipal Building after the former mayor in October 2015.

“The example Mayor David Dinkins set for all of us shines brighter than the most powerful lighthouse imaginable,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who herself shattered barriers as the state’s first Black woman elected to statewide office.

“I was honored to have him hold the bible at my inaugurations because I, and others, stand on his shoulders,” she said.

Results from his accomplishments, however, didn’t come fast enough to earn Dinkins a second term.

After beating Giuliani by only 47,000 votes out of 1.75 million cast in 1989, Dinkins lost a rematch by roughly the same margin in 1993.

Political historians often trace the defeat to Dinkins’ handling of the Crown Heights riot in Brooklyn in 1991.

The violence began after a black 7-year-old boy was accidentally killed by a car in the motorcade of an Orthodox Jewish religious leader. During the three days of anti-Jewish rioting by young black men that followed, a rabbinical student was fatally stabbed. Nearly 190 people were hurt.


A state report issued in 1993, an election year, cleared Dinkins of the persistently repeated charge that he intentionally held back police in the first days of the violence, but criticized him for not stepping up as a leader.

In a 2013 memoir, Dinkins accused the police department of letting the disturbance get out of hand, and also took a share of the blame, on the grounds that “the buck stopped with me.” But he bitterly blamed his election defeat on prejudice: “I think it was just racism, pure and simple.”

Born in Trenton, New Jersey, on July 10, 1927, Dinkins moved with his mother to Harlem when his parents divorced, but returned to his hometown to attend high school. There, he learned an early lesson in discrimination: Blacks were not allowed to use the school swimming pool.

During a hitch in the Marine Corps as a young man, a Southern bus driver barred him from boarding a segregated bus because the section for blacks was filled.

“And I was in my country’s uniform!” Dinkins recounted years later.

While attending Howard University, the historically black university in Washington, D.C., Dinkins said he gained admission to segregated movie theaters by wearing a turban and faking a foreign accent.

Back in New York with a degree in mathematics, Dinkins married his college sweetheart, Joyce Burrows, in 1953. His father-in-law, a power in local Democratic politics, channeled Dinkins into a Harlem political club. Dinkins paid his dues as a Democratic functionary while earning a law degree from Brooklyn Law School, and then went into private practice.

He got elected to the state Assembly in 1965, became the first black president of the city’s Board of Elections in 1972 and went on to serve as Manhattan borough president.

Dinkins’ election as mayor in 1989 came after two racially charged cases that took place under Koch: the rape of a white jogger in Central Park and the bias murder of a black teenager in Bensonhurst.

Dinkins defeated Koch, 50 percent to 42 percent, in the Democratic primary. But in a city where party registration was 5-to-1 Democratic, Dinkins barely scraped by the Republican Giuliani in the general election, capturing only 30 percent of the white vote.

His administration had one early high note: Newly freed Nelson Mandela made New York City his first stop in the U.S. in 1990. Dinkins had been a longtime, outspoken critic of apartheid in South Africa.

In that same year, though, Dinkins was criticized for his handling of a black-led boycott of Korean-operated grocery stores in Brooklyn. Critics contended Dinkins waited too long to intervene. He ultimately ended up crossing the boycott line to shop at the stores — but only after Koch did.

During Dinkins’ tenure, the city’s finances were in rough shape because of a recession that cost New York 357,000 private-sector jobs in his first three years in office.

Meanwhile, the city’s murder toll soared to an all-time high, with a record 2,245 homicides during his first year as mayor. There were 8,340 New Yorkers killed during the Dinkins administration — the bloodiest four-year stretch since the New York Police Department began keeping statistics in 1963.

In the last years of his administration, record-high homicides began a decline that continued for decades. In the first year of the Giuliani administration, murders fell from 1,946 to 1,561.

One of Dinkins’ last acts in 1993 was to sign an agreement with the United States Tennis Association that gave the organization a 99-year lease on city land in Queens in return for building a tennis complex. That deal guaranteed that the U.S. Open would remain in New York City for decades.

After leaving office, Dinkins was a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

He had a pacemaker inserted in August 2008, and underwent an emergency appendectomy in October 2007. He also was hospitalized in March 1992 for a bacterial infection that stemmed from an abscess on the wall of his large intestine. He was treated with antibiotics and recovered in a week.

Dinkins is survived by his son, David Jr., daughter, Donna and two grandchildren.


Associated Press Writer David B. Caruso and former Associated Press Writer Larry McShane contributed to this report.


Read More

Zambia becomes Africa’s first coronavirus-era default: What happens now? – CNBC

CHONGWE (ZAMBIA), Nov. 13, 2020 (Xinhua) — Zambian President Edgar Lungu delivers a speech at the launch of blueberry export to China in Chongwe, Zambia, on Nov. 13, 2020. Zambia on Friday flagged off its inaugural export of fresh blueberries to China, becoming the first country in southern Africa to enter the huge Chinese market.

Xinhua/Martin Mbangweta via Getty Images

Zambia last week opted to bow out of a $42.5 million eurobond repayment, becoming the first African nation to default on its debt in the Covid-19 era.

On Wednesday, Fitch Ratings downgraded a key rating for Zambia from CC to Restricted Default. S&P Global Ratings had already reduced its equivalent rating to Selective Default ahead of the expiry of a 30-day grace period and a creditor meeting on Nov. 13, citing the Zambian government’s assertion that it “will not make debt service payments.”

Fitch also withdrew ratings on Zambia’s two remaining eurobonds, on the assumption that either missed repayments or a new restructuring plan would also see these fall into default. Eurobonds are debt instruments denominated in a currency other than that of the issuer.

The country’s debt profile has been spiraling in recent years owing to issues predating the pandemic, leaving creditors wrangling over who should take losses on loans.

Zambia is Africa’s second-largest copper producer, and as copper prices have plummeted over the past three years, servicing repayments on its estimated $11 billion debt pile has become increasingly difficult.

The country last issued a eurobond in 2015, before its debt starting spiraling out of control, with many of the country’s infrastructure projects financed by Chinese loans as part of Beijing’s sweeping Belt & Road initiative.

BEIJING, CHINA – MARCH 30: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (2nd-R) meets Zambia’s President Edgar Chagwa Lungu (2nd-L) at the Great Hall of the People on March 30, 2015 in Beijing, China.

Feng Li-Pool/Getty Images

As such, eurobond investors had sought greater clarity from the government over Zambia’s Chinese debt obligations, concerned that further debt financing will be used to pay off China before themselves.

All eyes are now on a potential International Monetary Fund bailout package, and NKC African Economics Senior Financial Economist Irmgard Erasmus said the IMF would play a crucial role in any negotiations.

“We believe an orderly process towards a bond swap agreement will require the mediating role of the IMF in its capacity as policy linchpin, which in turn rests upon the assumption that the Fund will support Zambia under a formal Extended Credit Facility (ECF) programme,” Erasmus wrote in a note Thursday.

“The absence of this linchpin risks a prolonged, acrimonious restructuring process which will be accompanied by a protracted growth shock.”

An IMF delegation is scheduled to travel to Zambia early next month, but Erasmus suggested the fund was likely to demand greater progress on Zambia’s liability management before offering a formal bailout program.

‘No easy way out’

Robert Besseling, executive director of risk consultancy EXX Africa, said there was no guarantee that Zambia would be able to quickly restructure its eurobonds or other debt instruments.

“There’s no easy way out here really. I mean Zambia needs to continue to balance the priorities of international bonds versus commercial credits, versus Chinese project finance loans and World Bank, AfDB (African Development Bank) loans and see which ones are the most important,” Besseling told CNBC via telephone from Johannesburg Friday.

Besseling also noted that Zambia had made a repayment on a World Bank loan two days before defaulting on the eurobond, indicating where the government’s priorities lie. He suggested that Chinese commercial and international bonds would likely fall to the bottom of the pecking order and experience a series of defaults from Zambia.

“You’ll see that the repayments on the development finance institutions’ loans, like the World Bank and the AfDB, are likely to be continued, because this all needs to be taken into the political context of elections next year,” he said.

“The World Bank is providing huge development funding which is important for the government to continue because that has an actual impact on people’s lives and will be an electoral advantage for them.”

A man wearing a face mask selects clothes at a market in Lusaka, capital of Zambia, on Aug. 18, 2020. Zambia’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have continued rising, with the total number close to the 10,000 mark.

Xinhua/Martin Mbangweta via Getty Images

Zambians will head to the polls in August 2021, with President Edgar Lungu seeking a third term and expected face stiff competition from the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND).

Besseling projected a “gradual, managed lead up” to the elections, with the government prioritizing paying back development financing loans. But he added that Lungu’s ruling Patriotic Front would likely reach out to the IMF should it win re-election, at a time when the more “unpalatable” conditions that will likely be imposed by the Fund are seen as a worthwhile sacrifice to shore up the economy.


Read More

CAF President Ahmad Ahmad Banned for Five Years by FIFA – The New York Times

FIFA on Monday barred the top official in African soccer from the sport for five years, upending the leadership of one of its six regional confederations only months before a presidential election and offering a new reminder that corruption continues to plague global soccer even at its most senior levels.

The punishment of the official, Ahmad Ahmad, who had been the president of the Confederation of African Football and a FIFA vice president since 2017, was related to his conduct from 2017 to 2019, according to a statement released by FIFA’s ethics body. Ahmad was found guilty of breaching four separate articles of the organization’s ethics code, its statement said, including abuse of office, misappropriation of funds and rules concerning the offering and acceptance of gifts.

His ban will disqualify him from standing for a new term early next year, but Ahmad escaped with a shorter ban than another African official who was deemed to have violated one of the same rules.

The decision was announced more than a year after FIFA received complaints of wrongdoing by Ahmad, and 17 months after he was arrested and questioned by French investigators about corruption allegations related to an apparel contract. In its statement, FIFA said part of its investigation into Ahmad’s conduct in office was linked to that deal. Ethics investigators also looked into the financing of a pilgrimage trip for a number of African officials to the Saudi Arabian holy city of Mecca.

Ahmad’s ban means five of FIFA’s six global confederations have had to replace leaders accused of ethical violations since 2015, when a sprawling U.S. Department of Justice indictment revealed widespread corruption in the Americas and the Caribbean. FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, swept to power a year later, pledging to rid the organization of the culture of corruption that had stained its image and brought down his predecessor.

Ahmad had been one of the new breed of leaders that arrived in the wake of the scandals. With the backing of Infantino, who spent significant political capital lobbying on behalf of the then little known politician from a soccer backwater, Madagascar, Ahmad ousted Issa Hayatou, a towering figure in African soccer who had ruled the sport on the continent — and wielded great influence as a top FIFA executive — for more than two decades.

ImageFIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, left, with Ahmad Ahmad, a onetime ally who became embroiled in misconduct allegations.
Credit…Sumaya Hisham/Reuters

But under Ahmad’s leadership, CAF soon plunged into regular bouts of chaos and infighting. The problems peaked in 2019 when Ahmad fired the organization’s most senior administrator, the secretary general Amr Fahmy, and other top executives. Fahmy, who died of cancer this year, was among the officials who had provided FIFA with evidence against Ahmad; the accusations included not only financial misdeeds but claims of sexual harassment made by female staff members and consultants.

Ahmad called the allegations an effort to smear his reputation, and later denied wrongdoing in the French corruption investigation.

Ahmad did not respond to a request for a comment about his ban, which he can appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He is currently on medical leave after contracting the coronavirus.

Ahmad’s departure leaves four candidates to replace him when CAF holds its presidential elections on March 12. Until then, the organization will be run by its senior vice president, Constant Omari of Congo, who faces his own ethics investigation over a television deal that he and Ahmad revised in a way that appeared to have benefited CAF’s broadcast partners at a cost of millions of dollars to African soccer.

Ahmad is also implicated in that investigation and could face further penalties as a result. In addition to his five-year ban, FIFA also fined Ahmed about $220,000.

FIFA ethics investigators are also looking into the conduct of other African officials. Leaked emails and documents have shown how some regional soccer leaders sought to receive payments from CAF to be routed into their private bank accounts instead of through their federations, and an audit completed earlier this year could not account for millions of dollars in development funds.

The 55-page report, completed by consultants from PwC, said “potential elements of mismanagement and possible abuse of power were found in key areas of finance and operations.” It provided yet another reminder of the challenges of reforming the governance of world soccer, which was rocked in 2015 when the United States filed a sweeping indictment that laid out in vivid detail accusations of decades of corruption and wrongdoing by some of the sport’s most senior administrators.

As the leadership crisis in Africa worsened last year, FIFA took the extraordinary step of effectively taking temporary charge of CAF’s management. It sent Fatma Samoura, its secretary general and Infantino’s top deputy, to supervise the organization’s operations at its headquarters in Cairo. That relationship ended abruptly in February, when CAF’s leadership opted against extending FIFA’s presence.

For Infantino, the ban of Ahmad, his onetime ally, is embarrassing, but it also presents an opportunity to find a new and reliable partner in Africa, a region that he has aggressively tried to cultivate.

As well as dispatching Samoura to CAF, he also sent Mario Gallavotti, one of his most trusted advisers, to help restructure operations and plot a path for further development. Last December, Infantino floated the idea of a new 20-team Pan-African club tournament that he said could generate as much as $200 million in annual revenue, a sum that he argued might allow some of Africa’s top clubs to keep top talent in the region. Those plans have appeared to have stalled since CAF told FIFA’s emissaries to leave and the coronavirus crippled global sports.


Read More

Nigeria’s richest plough money into Africa’s biggest economy – Financial Times

Nigeria’s billionaires and big businesses are ploughing money into Africa’s largest economy even as foreign investors shy away from a country in the midst of its second recession in five years.

Banking-to-power millionaire Tony Elumelu said he was set to close a $1bn oil block deal soon, while flour-and-cement billionaire Abdulsamad Rabiu’s Bua Group is to build a multi-billion-dollar 200,000 barrel a day oil refinery in oil rich Akwa Ibom state.

That project will compete against a $12bn 650,000 barrel a day mega-refinery being built by Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote on the outskirts of Lagos. Food Concepts, the company that owns Chicken Republic, the country’s biggest fast-food chain, will open another 30 restaurants by the end of the year.

“You would think at a time like this, rational investment behaviour would be to slow down . . . but we are even investing more,” said Transcorp chairman Mr Elumelu, noting that Transcorp Power was to invest $300m in a state-owned power plant. 

Home-grown entrepreneurs’ confidence contrasts with the caution of overseas investors. Foreign direct investment into Nigeria this year trails Ghana, a country with an economy and population one-seventh the size. FDI was just $148.6m in the three months to June, down about a third from a year earlier. Portfolio investors have also fled, seeking safe havens amid global turmoil — inflows fell to $385.3m during the period, down 91 per cent from a year earlier.

The economic picture is dire. GDP contracted 6.1 per cent in the second quarter and 3.62 per cent in the third quarter, while unemployment and inflation are soaring and food prices are rising. Small local investors are not investing in the way bigger players are, evidence of a broader lack of confidence, said Amaka Anku, head of the Africa practice at Washington-based consultancy Eurasia Group. “You can’t get foreigners to invest when domestic investors are wary,” she said.

Still, local investors “understand the way this economy works, we know that these temporary challenges will pass”, said Mr Elumelu, who is also chairman of the pan-African United Bank for Africa. “Some foreign investors . . . at this point, might not be too willing and excited to invest. But the local, indigenous investors . . . no one is slowing down at all.”

Tony Elumelu: ‘[Local investors] understand the way this economy works, we know that these temporary challenges will pass’ © Pius Utomi/AFP via Getty

Aliko Dangote’s group is expected to benefit from Nigeria’s efforts to bolster domestic fuel production © Justin Chin/Bloomberg

Moves to boost domestic production have favoured some local companies, analysts say. Nigeria’s central bank has banned importers of fuel — along with rolled steel sheets, cement and rice, among dozens of other products — from accessing foreign exchange via official channels as part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s effort to bolster domestic production. That will give the Dangote Group and Bua “a captive Nigerian energy market at their mercy”, said Ose Anenih, of Abuja-based Eagle Badger Consulting.

The government’s power-purchasing agreements with projects such as the Azura Power Plant and Transcorp make such investments “virtually risk-free”, he said.

But Mr Anenih warned that these types of investments were not the sort that build an economy or create the environment for sustained, long-term investment that Nigeria needs.

“In essence, the only investors in Nigeria appear to be those that are full of patriotic hope, or have received assurances that their investments will be protected,” he said. “If history has taught us anything it is that blind faith and crony capitalism are a recipe for economic disaster.”

The latest big investments come as companies have had difficulty accessing US dollars amid a widespread currency crunch brought on by the oil price crash as the coronavirus pandemic hit global demand.

While even Dangote has struggled to access dollars for its refinery, Devakumar Edwin, group managing director, said its local knowledge made it confident about investing in such a complex project. “This project would have dragged on and on for somebody who is coming as a foreign investor,” he said.

“They’re all looking at Africa as a bigger risk — and Nigeria especially as a bigger risk. They’re worried about policies, challenges, community issues,” he said. “Whereas . . . we [have] been in this construction business of factories for 30 years, we know the rules, [and] how we can mitigate the risk and manage the challenges.”

The administration has been seen by some as hostile to the private sector, imposing $10bn in penalties on MTN, the country’s largest mobile carrier, in 2018, a move seen as overzealous and based on a technicality. But the Covid-19 pandemic and wider economic crisis had instilled a “sense of urgency and a renewed vigour and a better sense of policy formulation” in Mr Buhari’s government, Mr Edwin said.

Line chart of Foreign direct investment ($bn) showing Investment in Nigeria slides

The government has said it would remove a fuel subsidy, reform the tariff for electricity and fast-track a petroleum industries reform bill that has been in the works for two decades.

Yet these moves are tentative, and Nigeria has been on the cusp of big reforms before, only for the execution and implementation to fall flat. 

As SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based consultancy, put it in a recent note, for many companies the uncertainty continues, and they “may make alternative plans anticipating another extended delay to reforms that have become all too frequent”.


Read More

Al-Qaeda in North Africa appoints new leader after killing – Al Jazeera English

Algerian Abu Obaida Yusuf al-Annabi has been on the US ‘international terrorist’ blacklist since September 2015.

The al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group has chosen a new leader to replace Abdelmalek Droukdel, who was killed in June by French forces, the SITE monitoring group reported.

Algerian Abu Obaida Yusuf al-Annabi, head of AQIM’s “Council of Dignitaries”, was named as Droukdel’s successor, SITE said.

AQIM displayed the body of its former leader for the first time in a video, it added on Saturday.

Al-Annabi has been on the US’s “international terrorist” blacklist since September 2015, according to the Counter Extremism Project.

He has regularly appeared in the group’s propaganda videos, and in 2013 demanded that Muslims retaliate against France’s intervention in Mali.

AQIM also confirmed the death of Swiss national Beatrice Stoeckli, who was abducted in Timbuktu while working as a missionary in 2016.

It blamed her death on an attempt by “French crusaders” to free her.

AQIM emerged from a group started in the late 1990s by Algerian fighters who, in 2007, pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

The group has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on troops and civilians across the Sahel region, including a 2016 attack on an upmarket hotel and restaurant in Burkina Faso that killed 30 people, mainly Westerners.

France has more than 5,000 troops deployed in its “anti-jihadist” Barkhane force in the Sahel.


Read More

Renowned artist Esther Mahlangu urges Africans to hold on to their traditions – The Guardian

One of Africa’s best-known artists has made an impassioned appeal for governments and communities across the continent to preserve their traditions and culture in the face of globalisation.

Esther Mahlangu, 85, said that she was worried young people in Africa were losing a sense of their roots.

“I am surprised that people are running away from their own culture. Our culture is good,” she told the Guardian. “The importance of our culture is to know where they are coming from. The children, the grandchildren must know which roots they are coming from. If the young children don’t learn from the elders, then everything will vanish.”

Mahlangu’s pioneering use of the crafts of her Ndebele people of south-eastern Africa has brought her huge success on the world’s art markets, shown and sold from Australia to New York, and she continues to travel and exhibit widely. Her work has been seen by millions of people on British Airways planes, vodka bottles and billboards.

Musicians including Usher, Alicia Keys and John Legend as well as Oprah Winfrey are among collectors.

Born in 1935 on a farm in Middelburg, a small town in the South African province of Mpumalanga, Mahlangu learned to paint at the age of 10, taught by her mother and grandmother.

Homestead by Esther Mahlangu

Homestead by Esther Mahlangu. Photograph: Esther Mahlangu

Traditionally, Ndebele women painted colourful geometric patterns on the outside of their homes, often representing important events such as weddings.

Mahlangu began painting other objects and canvas, and used bright acrylic paints in place of muted, monochromatic traditional natural colours.

“She was the first person to reimagine Ndebele designs on different platforms. She has been painting now for 70 years and has had a major impact globally. Ninety-five per cent of her work is with international collectors,” said Craig Mark, the director of the Melrose Gallery in Johannesburg, where Mahlangu has a rare solo show this month.

“For a long time she was seen in South Africa as a traditional Ndebele artist. It is only recently that she has been recognised here for her real importance as a global contemporary artist … She is almost a global pop icon brand in her own right,” Mark said.

Esther Mahlangu at her home in Mabhoko village, Mpumalanga

Esther Mahlangu at her home in Mabhoko village, Mpumalanga. Photograph: Gulshan Khan/AFP/Getty Images

After years working in provincial cultural museums in South Africa under the repressive and racist apartheid regime, Mahlangu’s breakthrough came when her work was shown in Paris at the Pompidou Centre in 1989. Two years later she was commissioned to repaint a BMW car in Germany. Accolades and honours have piled up ever since. She has represented South Africa overseas as a cultural ambassador, and received commissions varying from the inside of the Market Theatre in Johannesburg to the interior décor for a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Art from across the African continent has enjoyed a surge of international interest in recent years, with works newly visible in art shows, featured in the specialist media and sought after by major institutions.

Abstract by Esther Mahlangu.

Abstract by Esther Mahlangu. Photograph: Esther Mahlangu

The boom has fuelled a wave of new institution. In Cape Town, on one of the world’s most recognisable waterfronts, a vast new art museum, the biggest in Africa, opened in 2017. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa has already been described as “Africa’s Tate Modern”. There are also new museums in Marrakech and Lagos.

But there is limited public funding for artists or the cultural sector from governments, and the Covid-19 pandemic has reduced support for artists still further.

Mahlangu returns frequently to her home in Mpumalanga where she has founded a school where girls and young women from the local community are taught to paint in the traditional way.

Esther Mahlangu outside her home in Mpumalanga.

Esther Mahlangu outside her home in Mpumalanga. Photograph: Gulshan Khan/AFP/Getty Images

“I have taught them and I love to do that. But there should be more support for artists from governments. They need to promote African art and culture around the world. That would be a very good thing. That way it won’t vanish,” she said.

Mahlangu, who always appears in public in traditional Ndebele clothes and jewellery, said that she intended to carry on working and travelling despite her age.

“All the cities I visit, I love them all equally. I am going to carry on working and going around the world,” she said.


Read More

If Ethiopia descends into chaos, it could take the Horn of Africa with it – The Guardian

The Ethiopian army’s assault on Tigray province marks a serious backwards step by the country’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who has been feted internationally as a moderniser and Nobel peace prize winner. Abiy calls it a “law enforcement operation” – but he risks being blamed for an expanding refugee emergency and a burgeoning region-wide crisis.

An even bigger fear is the break-up of Ethiopia itself in a Libyan or Yugoslav-type implosion. The country comprises more than 80 ethnic groups, of which Abiy’s Oromo is the largest, followed by the Amhara. Ethnic Somalis and Tigrayans represent about 6% each in a population of about 110 million. Ethiopia’s federal governance structure was already under strain before this latest explosion.

While it’s easy to point the finger at Abiy, Tigray’s leadership – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front – is just as much at fault for allowing political rivalries to degenerate into violence. Tigrayans dominated Ethiopia’s politics in the decades following the 1991 overthrow of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Soviet-backed Marxist dictatorship.

But after the death in 2012 of Meles Zenawi, an authoritarian leader who achieved impressive economic advances, the TPLF lost its grip on power. Since Abiy took over in 2018, Tigray’s leaders have complained of being marginalised and victimised. A lethal attack this month on a federal army base in Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, triggered the intervention.

The fighting has brought predictable US and EU calls for an immediate cessation amid concerns that Ethiopia’s democracy as well as its territorial integrity are at stake. Elections, already postponed due to the pandemic, are due next year. But neither side is listening. Such deafness reflects the west’s declining influence and neglect of the Horn of Africa. This is the geopolitical backdrop to the Tigray emergency.

Interviewed in Addis Ababa in 2008, Meles told me he welcomed British and other foreign assistance but spoke passionately about Ethiopians’ right to set their own path. “We believe democracy cannot be imposed from outside in any society… Each sovereign nation has to make its own decisions and have its own criteria as to how they govern themselves,” he said.

In rejecting outside calls to cease fire, Abiy likewise stresses self-determination. He argues he is trying to build a shared national identity and common citizenship transcending the ethnic politics which, his supporters say, have held Ethiopia back. Abiy’s critics say this is shorthand for a new dictatorship of the centre.

If Abiy’s approach is proven wrong, the mistake will be his own. Analysts suggest the offensive is unlikely to bring the swift victory he predicts, partly because the national army comprises many Tigrayans and other minorities that could follow the TPLF’s example. The longer it goes on, the more probable that instability will spread within Ethiopia and beyond its borders.

The Amhara region adjacent to Tigray was reportedly bombed last week. Neighbouring Eritrea has also come under fire. Its president, the reclusive dictator Isaias Afwerki, is said to be backing Addis Ababa out of enmity for the Tigrayans who led a war against Eritrea that took 20 years to settle. This was the peace-making feat that helped win Abiy his Nobel prize.

Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 2019.

Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, receives the Nobel peace prize in Oslo in 2019. Photograph: Håkon Mosvold Larsen/AP

Sudan, to the west, only now emerging from the turmoil that followed last year’s revolution, has meanwhile become the unhappy recipient of tens of thousands of fleeing refugees. The UN warned last week of a “full-scale humanitarian crisis”. For its part, South Sudan is in a state of permanent upheaval. Both countries might easily be tipped into renewed chaos.

Yet perhaps the biggest regional concern is Somalia, to the east, where an Islamist insurgency, grinding poverty and warring factions have long rendered the country almost ungovernable. Meles repeatedly warned of an Islamist threat to the Horn of Africa. In 2007 he controversially sent 10,000 Ethiopian troops to crush what he termed “Somalia’s Taliban”.

Ethiopian forces are still there. But now 3,000 soldiers are reportedly being withdrawn to join the Tigray offensive. Worries about a consequent power vacuum that could be filled by the Islamist group, al-Shabaab, or Islamic State, which is also present, have been compounded by Donald Trump’s sudden decision to reduce US military involvement.

Trump’s move has nothing to do with a careful evaluation of current threat levels or Somalis’ best interests and everything to do with securing his America First legacy. Although US special forces will remain in Kenya and Djibouti, 700 American soldiers conducting counter-terrorism missions and training inside Somalia are expected to be recalled.

Analysts warn the withdrawals could jeopardise elections due in Somalia next year, viewed as a vital step towards normality, while boosting al-Shabaab. The group already controls large rural areas. It frequently attacks security and civilian targets in Somalia and Kenya despite US-led drone strikes and raids. Six people died last week when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Mogadishu restaurant.

Reduced American commitment may accelerate another worrying trend: an ongoing competition among Gulf states for strategic influence and resources across the Horn. Fierce rivals Qatar and the UAE have interests in Somalia and Eritrea. Turkey has also increased its involvement in line with its post-Arab Spring interventions in Libya and Syria. It recently donated armoured personnel carriers to the Somali government. Meanwhile, Russia is planning a naval base at Port Sudan.

As events rapidly unfold in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and in war-torn Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden, the US, UK and European states are increasingly sidelined. They seem able to tolerate any amount of human suffering at a distance. But if region-wide turmoil increases refugee and migrant outflows and extends the reach of the terrorists, they may come to rue their role as passive spectators.


Read More