The Chairman of the Alliance for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (ASDA), Dr Prosper Ladislas Agbesi, has called on the leadership of the ECOWAS Sub-region and the international community to step into the political situation in Benin and bring order in the interest of the people.
To this end, he suggested the establishment of a government of National Unity so as to return the country to true democracy.
Dr. Agbesi – a leading opposition political figure and the presidential Candidate of the Alliance for New Congress (ANC) in the 2016 elections told journalists in an interview that, President Patrice Tolon, has failed the people and so must step aside for new elections to bring the country back its former glory.
He has given the incumbent president up to 90 days to resign because the people of Benin have demonstrated clearly that they do not want him as their president. He said security has failed in the country and businesses are suffering, coupled with the rising bad image of the country internationally, are good reasons for any president who truly cares for his people to take a decent bow for a more competent person to take over and help the people.
“He has been a president for only three years but the people have demonstrated clearly that they are not comfortable with him. By the constitution of Benin, he is not our president. He is creating fear in the country. Many people have gone on exile because they are in fear,” he stated.
Dr. Agbesi was at pain that a country which was once seen as a leading democracy in Africa could be reduced to an almost one party state, where opposition parties do not have a representation even in parliament. He said there are evidence that President Patrice Tolon has become very unpopular in the country, for which reason he is making moves to change the constitution through strange and unconventional means.
About a month to the recent parliamentary elections in Benin, the Electoral Commission of that country promulgated a new law that disqualified all other political parties excerpt the President’s party. This led to huge apathy with only a fraction of the people turning up to vote on the Election Day.
The electoral authorities ruled in March that only two parties - both loyal to President Patrice Talon - met the requirements to take part. New electoral laws meant a party had to pay about $424,000 (£328,000) to field a list for the 83-seat parliament.
“So we are saying that you can’t have a country that excludes the opposition in decision making. Less than 10 percent of the population voted in the parliamentary elections and so it is not a representation of the people,” he stated.
Dr Ladislas Prosper Agbesi, Executive Chairman, Pan African Business Forum
According to Dr Agbesi, for causing the abuse of the democratic rights of the people of Benin, President Tolon must resign from office immediately. He called on the ECOWAS not to recognise him as the President of Benin. He also urged the formation of a government of unity which would include all leading political figures who have gone on exile because of intimidation from President Tolon.
“I want ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations to take serious sanctions against this man. I am giving him 90 days to resign. I want the EU to take serious actions against him because the people are not happy with him,” Dr. Agbesi stated.
Among others, Dr Agbesi accused President Tolon of being in an alliance with terrorists groups in the sub-region, which according to him is one of the reasons he does not want to leave the country.
“He wants to bring the terrorists to come for our oil. If we don’t take the country away from him, Benin will soon become a centre of terrorists. The international community must do something quickly to take the country away from him. It is very important for the UN and ECOWAS to do something quickly before it becomes worse. “We don’t want our country to become a base for terrorists and that is what this man wants to do. That is why we have to take the country from him now,” he stated.
Benin has witnessed post-election violence in recent times with a group of armed soldiers in an uneasy standoff with unarmed civilians on the streets of the capital – Cotonou. Security forces have been put on high alert following days of post-election violence.
This was after the parliamentary election that took place in April this year but without any of the opposition parties contesting. Military men allegedly scattered demonstrations when the members of the opposition called for the annulment of the parliamentary election.
More than 2000 cases of Ebola have been recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since last August. Now, despite authorities’ efforts – such as screening millions of travellers moving between the DRC and its neighbours – the disease has spread.
The World Health Organisation announced on 12 June that a five-year-old boy had died in Uganda after testing positive for Ebola. A day later, his grandmother died. It’s believed he contracted Ebola when they attended the funeral of his grandfather (who died of Ebola) in the DRC. The Conversation Africa’s Natasha Joseph asked Professor Mosoka Fallah to explain the implications.
There have now been two Ebola deaths in Uganda. Do we know anything more about these cases?
We now know that a family of 14 travelled from the DRC to Uganda. Most of them crossed at the formal border, but five evaded the main port of entry. Instead they crossed over informally. Those five arrived with symptoms that included diarrhoea and bleeding. This implies a period of illness in the DRC and that they were most likely symptomatic while travelling.
It appears they knowingly evaded the official check point that would have monitored their temperature and physical signs to pick them up as possible Ebola cases.
In some ways this is a replica of the cross-border import and export of Ebola cases between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone that were hit by the 2014 outbreak. Many borders between countries in the region are porous: people are in fact much more likely to cross into a neighbouring country without even going through a formal border crossing.
People cross for all sorts of reasons. One of them is funeral rites. The spread of the cases from Guinea to Liberia and eventually to Sierra Leone centred around funeral rites.
Authorities have worked hard to keep Ebola from spreading beyond the DRC. Does the spread mean they need to do more, or do things differently?
The response teams from both the DRC and Uganda must be commended for preventing the mass cross-border export of Ebola cases given the complex nature of the current outbreak.
There are a lot more informal crossings than the formal ones. The surveillance system for scanning people who are crossing into Uganda are at these formal crossings. This isn’t always foolproof. When I was working in Liberia during the West African epidemic between 2014 and 2016, we found that some people would take antipyretic medications to avoid being detected at the formal border crossings. These drugs bring fevers down so that scanners don’t detect a high temperature.
You may wonder why people would do this. The reality is that people across geographical boundaries don’t have any physical boundaries in their minds. When they are in the DRC and fall ill, they will do what anyone would: seek support from their relatives and friends, some of whom are in border towns.
All of this means that health authorities’ interventions must be strategic. They cannot physically monitor all of the informal porous borders between these countries.
What they need to do now is to mobilise all of the towns and villages that share border points with the regions of DRC that are at high risk for the export of Ebola. These villages and towns can physically monitor their individual crossing points. The local leaders and chiefs can keep a visitor log and identify a common building to keep new visitors from the DRC for observation. These logs should be reported to the regional response team daily.
The visitors can then be tracked back to their village of origin to investigate any linkage to a cluster of cases. Coordinating visitors’ movements across the multiple borders will be the greatest strategic intervention. If possible, mobile application can be deployed to local youths to enter these data for real time reporting and coordination.
This strategy was employed in Liberia during the latter part of the Ebola crisis in the region and was critical in preventing the cross-border import of cases. Even within Liberia some counties – sub-regional division – did this to prevent the import of cases from Monrovia or neighbouring counties. When Lofa county went to zero in November of 2014, it was able to maintain that status by using these methods.
What is being done now to try and ensure the cases in Uganda do not lead to more Ebola infections?
Health workers are tracking the cases, finding out who the five people came in contact with and then taking them to a treatment centre immediately. From the recent situation report from Uganda, they have tracked down 98 contacts which is very impressive. As the average number of contacts per case is 10-12. But they have gone beyond that average.
These are very critical response steps in any epidemic. The surveillance team has to enter the mind of a typical villager from the DRC who knows they’re infected and is trying to escape to relatives in Uganda. They will have to figure out whether the infected people visited traditional healers or local medicine stores. How long were they in Uganda before they were picked up? In this way they’ll be able to identify all the contacts and monitor them.
Ebola is a very difficult disease to contain because of human social and behavioural factors. But it can be easily contained if 100% of the infected people’s contacts are identified and monitored and if cases are quickly removed into treatment units. The sooner you are treated, the higher your chances of surviving Ebola. And the more survivors there are, the more the community will trust response workers.
On Monday, June 10, Rwanda announced that it would reopen its border with Uganda to cargo trucks for 12 days.
The border crossing at Katuna (Gatuna in Rwanda) has been closed since February 26, with Rwandan authorities initially putting the decision down to construction.
However, over the intervening three months, bellicose rhetoric from both sides made it clear that the border troubles were a symptom of a far more serious issue.
Despite months of increased tension and thinly veiled threats of military action, Rwanda Revenue Authority Commissioner General Pascal Bizimana Ruganintwali and the country’s ambassador to Uganda, Frank Mugambage, kept up the somewhat insulting pretence of construction being behind the closure.
Mr Mugambage told Uganda’s Daily Monitor that the two-week opening to heavy trucks was in order “to test the grounds of the constructed one-stop border point at Gatuna.” Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Richard Sezibera told senators on Monday that once the road is tested, trade would resume normally, “… but we don’t know when the Ugandan side will complete construction of the post …”
However, even as possible steps towards normalisation begin, Rwandan authorities continue to decry the alleged mistreatment of their citizens in Uganda and have said that Rwandans will still not be permitted to cross the border.
“That issue [Rwandans being allowed to travel to Uganda] will be solved when the issue of illegal arrest, harassment and torture of Rwandans in Uganda will have been solved by Ugandan authorities,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe told Reuters on Monday.
For their part, the Ugandan first family has shown that it is also wary of its members crossing over to Rwanda.
According to ChimpReports, three of President Yoweri Museveni’s grandchildren were pulled from basketball teams participating in the Africa Basketball League (FIBA) U16 tournament taking place in Kigali.
President Paul Kagame and Mr Museveni sat together at the inauguration of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on May 25 – sparking speculation over whether there was a thaw in their relations.
However, that meeting came just as news broke that Rwandan soldiers had crossed the border and shot dead a Rwandan smuggler and a Ugandan civilian who had tried to intervene on his behalf.
The Ugandans made a show of returning the body of the Rwandan by inviting diplomats to attend the handover. That incident, it seemed, threatened to turn a cold standoff hot.
And yet, two weeks later, it seems normalisation rather than escalation may be on the cards.
As it is unclear what prompted the Rwandans to reconsider their closure of the border, it is too early to declare that matters will return to normal.
As long as the current leaders, with their long history of rocky relations, remain at the helms of their respective autocratic states, relations between the two countries will be vulnerable to such periods of instability.
The South African government believes that the business processing industry is key to job creation. And the sector has indeed created thousands of jobs, in particular for the country’s youth – a group that bears a disproportionate share of joblessness.
But unlike in India, the growth of South Africa’s business process outsourcing sector has not generated the kind of jobs that offer workers the chance of progressing up the career ladder. In South Africa, workers tend to get stuck in the same, low-level and poorly paid jobs with very few prospects of promotion or career development. Their working conditions are also generally poor.
South Africa’s outsourcing industry grew significantly between 1997, when it hosted an estimated 185 contact centre operations, to 2010, when the figure was well over 1000. More recent data isn’t available. But data from 2017 estimated that 228 642 people were employed in the sector.
Most business process services jobs such as in the call and contact centres are taken up by young workers. In the context of the country’s high youth unemployment of more than 52%, government sees the sector as one vehicle for absorbing young workers. However, the sector’s failure to create opportunities for career advancement is proving a trap for young people.
Upgrading technology and processes
The sector is always changing, upgrading its technologies and processes. But do these changes translate into positive impacts for employees? We set out to answer this question in our new research article. We wanted to know whether the upgrading by firms contributed to social upgrading: that is, improvements in wages, working conditions, workers’ freedom of association and bargaining power.
We found that upgrading by firms could lead to social upgrading in the form of improvements in livelihood opportunities. But our research also found that the upgrading by firms led to intense workplace monitoring, insecure employment relations, a lack of career opportunities and adverse physical and psychological impacts.
Our findings suggest that policy makers must ensure working conditions in contact centres are regulated for workers’ well-being.
A stressful environment
Workers view contact or call centres as a good entry point into formal employment as well as a good way to earn at least some income.
But they are also often overcrowded spaces. One person told us they and their colleagues felt like “packed sardines” in their tiny cubicles. The working environment was described variously as “stressful” “strenuous” “demotivating” and “frustrating”.
Contact centre firms have strict workplace controls. Worker performance is carefully quantified and measured based on sales targets or how many calls workers make. Their work quality, specifically how they interact with customers, is also measured.
And the introduction of various technologies, like predictive dialling and automated customer-relationships management tools, worsen employee stress. This is because workers have to juggle more systems and technologies while responding to customer queries and complaints.
Contact centre jobs are rarely stable and secure. Firms adopt flexible employment structures, a mix of permanent and temporary workers. To keep costs down, they prefer to hire workers through labour agencies and contractors. However, this often results in the exploitation of workers.
This flexibility makes workers vulnerable. Union representation remains low among call centre workers. Workers are often fired without the option of arbitration or settlement, affecting their future career prospects. BPESA, the industry association, estimated that in 2016 the industry’s attrition rates stood at about 37.6%, compared to India’s 30%.
Lack of labour mobility
Another problem with this flexible, precarious environment is that there’s little room for agents’ internal progression within a firm. This is largely because of a high volume of temporary and part-time employees hired through labour agencies or contractors.
This stands in contrast to India, where contact centre workers have a greater chance of achieving upward labour mobility. This is due to India’s position as the world’s leading player in outsourced services. India’s bigger business processing outsourcing industry enables workers to bargain for promotions and higher incomes.
Job creation in South Africa has slowed down since 2000, and employment is becoming more skill intensive. The business processing industry is also showing signs of economic upgrading. The unskilled and semi-skilled workforce, therefore, faces limited employment opportunities.
Youth, particularly black South Africans, struggle to secure meaningful employment in the local labour markets. Those who find work in contact centres have less hope for career progression. While the average tenure of agents in call centres is around two years, we met a few workers who were agents for more than five years in the industry and asked them why they were still working in the sector. One agent replied that they had no choice but to continue to work and to hope that working conditions would eventually improve.
Recommendations for policy makers
The South African government needs to rethink its reliance on job incentives for employment generation in the business process outsourcing sector. Incentives have generated some jobs. But the questionable working conditions in the contact centres can have detrimental long-term impacts on workers.
Without adequate job opportunities generated elsewhere in the local labour markets, contact centre workers face constrained labour mobility, risk of long-term unemployment and poverty.
The state, in partnership with the industry and the education sector, should also step up skills training provision (technical and soft skills) for the new workforce to be better suited to the demands of the contemporary labour markets.
High unemployment and the prevalence of low-paid work, primarily in the informal sector, can affect young work seekers’ material, psychological and social well-being.
To avoid the real potential for an erosion of working standards and systemic exploitation that comes with some of the jobs in the business process outsourcing sector the government must ensure that it has the institutional capacity to monitor working conditions in contact centres.
On Wednesday the 29th of May 2019, the Federal Republic of Nigeria again swore in President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term in office. For many Nigerians, the administration’s return to power presents an opportunity for it to consolidate many of its reform agenda.
Muhammadu Buhari GCFR is a Nigerian politician currently serving as the President of Nigeria, in office since 2015. He is a retired major general in the Nigerian Army and previously served as the nation's head of state from 31 December 1983 to 27 August 1985, after taking power in a military coup d'état.
This piece argues that given the multifarious challenges that the new Nigerian Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) already faces, i.e, from Nigeria’s status as a developing country, the commission can take advantage of the institutional openings presented by the new Nigerian regime, to advance its objectives.
Importantly, beyond the technical issues of the necessity of a competition culture, and resources, for the efficacy of the new Nigerian competition law, the broader administrative law context of Nigeria is also relevant. Here, the newly re-inaugurated Nigerian administration presents some key opportunities, the Nigerian agency can utilize.
Specifically, the generally accepted denominators of a successful competition law are the relevant social norms of competition; the requisite resources to sustain or galvanise the framework, when it is introduced, and the appropriate legal structures to interface with the enacted law to actualise the law’s objectives.
For example, concerning the social norms, the relevant social practices that priorities the acceptability of ‘competition’, as a market value, and necessitates its inclusion in the relevant markets, contribute highly to the success of a competition law. In the key jurisdictions where the law has flourished, the broad-based social acceptance of ‘competition’, as a desirable social value, and the norm by which the market ought to be regulated, greatly advances the purposes of the jurisdictions.
In the US, for example, the country’s anti-trust law was originally inaugurated on, and continues to be sustained by, a social acceptance of competition over the grip of ‘cartels’. Similarly, in other jurisdictions, the success of the regimes draws from the broad-based social acceptance of ‘competition’, i.e., over other forms of monopolistic tendencies, especially, by the relevant societal actors.
Concerning resources, the availability of the requisite human and financial resources, for the enforcement of a competition law, forms the bedrock of the efficacy of the law. Similarly, the appropriate legal framework refers to the complimentary ancillary rules and procedures that will assist the enforcer of a country’s competition law achieve its aim. A good example is the existence of plea bargaining in the US. However, beyond the above ‘technical’ requirements, for a competition law, other societal components are also relevant. They include the overall, broader, societal ‘space’ within which the adopted law of a country will operate, and the absence of corruption to ensure that the introduced law will be free of hijack and distortion.
The relevant broader social space or ‘culture’ refers to the broader social perceptions that guide the general attitudes of citizens towards the laws of a state (or how the citizens perceive the overall legitimacy of a state’s laws to be), and the absence of corruption refers to the bedrock or institutional ‘normalcy’, of a state, that guarantees the long-term success of its laws or frameworks.
In Nigeria, the condition of the above parameters, before the ascension of the current government, is documented. Especially, within previous regimes, a pervasive and institutionalised dissatisfaction, with the government, and the process of governing, existed in Nigeria.
A 2012 report submitted to the United States Congress by the Secretary of State John Kerry has alleged massive corruption at all levels of the Nigerian government.
Also, a concretised and largely unchallenged, grand, form of corruption was also the norm. The first (disaffection) flowed from the absence of genuine and targeted pro-poor programs, in the previous administrations (or the failures of the same where they existed), and the latter (corruption) arose from the complicity of the governments, in the vice of corruption, coupled with the manifest lack of punishment for corrupt figures where they were discovered.
However, with the current administration (while by no means perfect), a huge chunk of the regime’s popularity has arisen from its demonstrated willingness to interrogate the above status quo. Specifically, two areas where the government has been successful, include its pro-poor social agenda and the regime’s war on corruption.
In the first case, for example, following the regime’s inauguration, in 2015, the administration introduced various social measures to combat the almost institutionalised sense of inequality in Nigeria. Examples of measures introduced by the regime include the Nigerian Social Investment Program (N-SIP), consisting of the N-Power program; the Home-Grown School Feeding program, and the Conditional Cash Transfer scheme meant to assist petty traders, university graduates, NCE holders and less-privileged Nigerians.
Other schemes also include the Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan—that established the Nigerian Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council, constituted of the government and key private sector representatives at the highest levels of the country; agriculture sectoral initiatives—including the Nigerian Anchor Borrower’s program, operated by the Central Bank of Nigeria and kicked off to assist subsistent and industrial farmers improve their quality of living and reduce Nigeria’s dependency on imports, and the Special Presidential Committee on key commodities, set up to effectively strategise the Nigerian government’s efforts in the area. The government has also embarked on a wide range of infrastructural developments to foster a sense of inclusion amongst Nigerians and improve their lots.
In addition to the above, the current administration has also been aggressive against corruption; with the country’s anti-corruption agency recording at least nine hundred and forty-three anti-corruption cases between 2015- 2018. Particularly, during the period, erstwhile ‘powerful’ and ‘untouchable’ entities in Nigeria have been arrested, with some currently serving jail terms. The list includes serving senators of the federal republic of Nigeria; past governors of states and federal ministers; a serving chief justice of the federation; different judges; the chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and the heads of various governmental parastatals.
Other measures that have been also put in place by the administration to combat the menace of corruption in Nigeria include, the implementation of a Treasury Single Account (TSA); a whistleblowing policy; an Efficiency Unit of the government, and an Integrated Payroll Personnel System (IPPIS), implemented across the various governmental MDAs, to enhance the efficiency of the government and remove unjustified payroll entries from the government’s fiscal registers.
Admittedly, the above measures by the current Nigerian administration hardly touch directly on the technical prerequisites for the success of a competition law. But they open up significant opportunities which the new Nigerian competition law commission can utilise to advance its objectives.
Especially, the success of a competition law is informed by the political, social, cultural and institutional fertility of the forum into which the law is introduced. Furthermore, in Nigeria, owing from the nation’s ostentatious status as a developing country, the country already faces significant drawbacks, in its ability to operationalise a competition law. Therefore, both facts make the above ‘successes’ of the current Nigerian administration relevant.
The Nigerian agency can adopt the following measures to advance its objectives.
First, the agency can take advantage of the current good will of many Nigerians, to advance the formative message of the importance of a competition law for Nigeria. Particularly, the current Nigeran administration’s social programs have reduced (not eliminated) the previous, characteristic, suspicion of many Nigerians towards the government. This reality presents a distinct opportunity for the competition agency to position itself as a socially inclusive organisation, working in line with the Nigerian Federal Government, to better the welfare of Nigerians. A successful utilisation of the strategy, by the commission, will reduce its resource burdens.
For example, in the face of the current widespread social acceptance by Nigerians, more Nigerians will be willing to voluntarily obey the competition law, as espoused by the agency, and Nigerians will also be willing to distribute the information of the commission, thereby reducing its overall costs. Here, the agency can achieve the objective by recruiting popular Nigerian (entertainment) figures and community leaders to share the message of social and economic inclusion, through competition, and the commission can also take advantage of the prime role religion plays in the Nigerian society.
Second, the Nigerian competition commission can also utilise the current federal government’s ‘war’ on corruption to advances its mission. Specifically, the commission can couch anti-competitive practices as a form of corruption that disadvantages Nigerians.
Further still, the commission can also carefully select cases to prosecute, relying on the currently reduced chances of ‘hijack’ by corrupt judges on appeal, in Nigeria, to get its message out. (A similar strategy has been successfully adopted by the Nigerian EFCC, a comparable law enforcement agency). The competition commission can also take advantage of the anti-corruption policies of the current federal government and lobby for the extension of the same to anti-competitive practices. One such key policy is the Nigerian whistleblowers’ policy, set up by the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Finance (FMF), in December 2016. A key component of the whistleblowers’ policy is the Nigerian federal government’s attempt to undermine the secrecy that ordinarily advantages corruption in Nigeria, including by providing financial rewards (parts of the recovered booty) to informants.
Therefore, by relying on the already functioning Federal Government of Nigeria’s policy on whistleblowing, and especially its provision for financial rewards to whistleblowers, the Nigerian competition commission can integrate an otherwise problematically developed competition law tool, and leapfrog certain advanced jurisdictions (including the United States of America).
Competition law reform is a complicated form of legal engineering and the analyses typically focus on the existence of technical prerequisites for the success of regimes. However, in developing countries, issues beyond the above technical analyses are also relevant. In the contexts, interrogating broader questions of the overall societal and institutional ‘space’ of a competition law is crucial. This piece has highlighted specific opportunities that currently exist under the present Nigerian administration. The opportunities are non-traditional, but they are significant, and the Nigerian agency will be better off if it utilises them.
The writer Dr Bob Enofe is an international researcher in International and Comparative Competition Law