Nov 28, 2020

Botswana, home to nearly half of Africa’s wild elephants, is preparing to repatriate thousands of the giant mammals to neighboring Angola to reduce overpopulation and conflict with farmers.

The country is home to more than 130,000 elephants, the world’s largest population in the wild.

But tens of thousands are refugees from Angola’s decades-long civil war, which ended in 2002.

             Vegetation is destroyed by elephants along the Botswana-Namibia border. (Mqondisi Dube/VOA)

Conservationists like Elephants Without Borders’ Mike Chase, said Botswana’s elephant population has grown too big, leading to conflicts with farmers and shortages of food and water.

"So, a way to release this bottleneck, this compression, is creating safe corridors for elephants to move through, to repopulate and recolonize southeast Angola, where there are not so many elephants," Chase said.

To enable that, Angola has agreed to remove left over landmines from the war and, along with Botswana, fences that are blocking elephant migration.

            A sign shows a kilometer wide elephant corridor leading into Namibia and subsequently, Angola. (Mqondisi Dube/VOA)

Wildlife management expert Erik Verreynne said the movement of the animals is still low.

"We still get reports of poaching incidents in Angola, we know the landmines are still an issue although they are working to try and get them out," Verreyne said. "I don’t know, what I do know is that it is important that we open up these corridors."

Botswana is part of the Kavango-Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area (KAZA), a five-country partnership to conserve shared natural resources.

The group’s executive director, Nyambe Nyambe, said the partnership’s goal is the free movement of wildlife within the region.

"The long-term survival of elephants hinges on ensuring that we secure and reconnect wildlife corridors on a trans-boundary scale," Nyambe said. "When it comes to what the partner states are doing in terms of supporting particularly Angola, the wildlife dispersal areas are all contributing towards that process."

Botswana’s president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, has said his government is more than willing to work with neighbors to open the borders for elephant migration and better manage their numbers.

           Elephant dung covers the flood plains of the Chobe river which separates Botswana and Namibia. (Mqondisi Dube/VOA)
VOA

The global economy faces profound uncertainties, particularly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, faith in the efficacy of international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been weakened by a power struggle between China and the US.

As the process for appointing a new head of the organisation moves into its final phase, it’s worth considering what front runner Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could bring to the complex role of managing an international organisation, including designing and implementing reforms.

The WTO describes itself as a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements. A key objective of the WTO is the liberalisation of trade for the mutual benefit of its members. This concept has become a divisive issue as a result of the perceived imbalances in the rights and obligations of members and the perceived uneven distribution of the gains from trade.

Okonjo-Iweala would be in a position to use her multifaceted experiences to energise the WTO’s 164 members to work harder to achieve the value of the multilateral trade systems. Given her experience in being able to diplomatically manage people and institutions resistant to change, she could also provide the impetus for member countries to overcome the challenges that have paralysed the trade organisation for years.

Okonjo-Iweala has gained acute negotiation skills from her experiences in negotiating with institutions and countries, as she did when she negotiated for Nigeria’s debts relief.

In addition, Okonjo-Iweala has held top positions in several international bodies, including corporates as well as not for profit organisations. Her ability to serve in senior positions in these disparate cultural settings means that she will be able to navigate the complex terrain of an organisation that has a mandate to serve the interests of 164 member states.

Her international exposure also means that she has developed an extensive network across the globe which she is bound to call on in the WTO job.

In addition, Okonjo-Iweala has a proven track record in carrying out successful reforms both at the World Bank and as the finance minister in Nigeria. Carrying out these reforms would have required negotiating with various constituencies.

The early days

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was born to a royal family of Chukwuka and Kamene Okonjo on 13 June 1954, in Delta State, Nigeria. Her parents were both professors at the University of Ibadan. She completed secondary school at the International School Ibadan and St. Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan. The young Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala proceeded to Harvard University. She graduated in 1977 with honours in economics. She went on to complete a PhD in regional economics and development at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Okonjo-Iweala’s professional life points to decades in the thick of economic policy – global as well as local.

She worked for many years at the World Bank where she started as an intern. After gaining her PhD she returned to the bank to work as a development economist. She was to spend 25 years at the institution, rising to the position of vice president.

Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low income countries during the 2008-2009 food and financial crises. For example, as managing director of the World Bank from 2007 to 2011, she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia.

In 2010, she was chair of the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest credit for the poorest countries in the world.

In 2012 she became the first female and black candidate to contest for the presidency of World Bank Group. She lost to Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College.

Having worked for about 25 years in the World Bank, negotiating and pushing for progressive agreement and development, Okonjo-Iweala has developed keenly honed negotiation skills.

In addition, she is an outsider to the WTO who offers the comprehensive skills and experience needed to shake up the organisation and bring progress to world trade. Her African origin places her on political neutral ground, enabling her, among other things, to objectively mediate issues between China and US.

These skills and traits also mean that she’s in a strong position to build a trade institution where there is greater trust among its members.

Her service to Nigeria

In 2003, she was appointed Nigeria’s minister of finance by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. She became the first female finance minister and had several reforms to her credit.

As minister of finance in Nigeria, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that led to the wiping out of $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of $18 billion.

She had several battles with powerful political interests in Nigeria. She slashed the number of agencies in the country. She drastically cut fuel subsidies in a subsidy scheme that was enmeshed in a difficult web of corruption that made the country lose $6.8bn over a three-year period.

Okonjo-Iweala introduced practical economic reforms which changed the worldview of Nigeria as seemingly hopeless and comatose. She turned around the largest economy in Africa.

Nigeria, for the first time in history, had electronic financial management reforms. She also introduced macroeconomic reforms and many policy strategies like a medium term expenditure framework and medium term budgeting.

For a brief period in 2006, Okonjo-Iweala served as Nigeria’s first female minister of foreign affairs. After resigning from government she set up a research organisation, NOI Polls.

In 2011 she was reappointed as minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy by the then President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan. She served in the position until 2015. In that time, Nigeria’s economic growth rate remained at an average of 6% per annum.

Under her leadership, Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics rebased the gross domestic productfor the time first in 24 years. This saw Nigeria emerge as the largest economy in Africa. She took a lot of heat for the government’s decision to remove the fuel subsidy. Protests ensued and the policy was reversed.

I have no doubt in my mind that Okonjo-Iweala would be an exemplary leader of the global trade organisation because she would balance policies between the advanced economies and developing ones to achieve sustainable global economic growth and development.The Conversation

 

Ezebuilo Ukwueze, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics, Nsukka, University of Nigeria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the major source of some of the minerals used to manufacture components in household appliances, mobile phones, electric vehicles and jewellery.

The mineral extraction industry is the backbone of the Congolese economy. Copper and cobalt, which is a by-product of copper, accounts for 85% of the country’s exports. Because of the huge mineral deposits available in the country, it is often the only sourcing option for companies.

Cobalt is an essential mineral for the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, laptops and smart phones. It offers the highest energy density and is key for boosting battery life.

The Katanga region in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to more than half of the world’s cobalt resources, and over 70% of the current cobalt production worldwide takes place in the country. Demand for cobalt is projected to surge fourfold by 2030 in pace with the electric vehicle boom.

However, mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo is risky because of the prevalence of artisanal small-scale mining. Artisanal mining is often carried out by hand, using basic equipment. It’s a largely informal and labour-intensive activity on which more than two million Congolese miners depend for income.

And this mining method comes with major human rights risks such as child labour and dangerous working conditions. Fatal accidents in unsafe tunnels occur frequently. And there are detailed reports such as the one by Amnesty International on the prevalence of child labour in these operations.

Because artisanal miners frequently extract cobalt illegally on industrial mining sites, human rights issues cannot be excluded from industrial production. Artisanally mined cobalt also often gets mixed with the industrial production when it is sold to intermediaries in the open market. Typically, it is then shipped to refineries in China for further processing and then sold to battery manufacturers around the world. In this complex supply chain, separating, tracking and tracing artisanally mined cobalt is almost impossible.

International human rights organisations have flagged human rights abuses, putting pressure on multinational corporations that buy Congolese cobalt. In response to these pressures, some automotive and electronics companies are currently not sourcing cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo because they want to avoid tainting their brand image.

But that strategy won’t work for long, as no other country will be able to satisfy the rising demand for cobalt. The production of other cobalt-exporting countries such as Russia, Canada, Australia and the Philippines accounts for less than 5% of the global production.

How companies in the cobalt supply chain can source responsible cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid these human rights risks is a question worth exploring. We address this question in a recent study, in which we suggest companies should acknowledge the need for common standards for responsibly mined cobalt.

Common standards

Currently, there is no common understanding of what “responsible” artisanal cobalt should entail. The quest for responsible mineral sourcing is not a cobalt-specific challenge. The Congolese mining code establishes certain basic standards such as the prohibition of miners under the age of 18. There are also requirements to register as an artisanal miner and become a member of a mining cooperative.

One approach towards common standards is to mount “artisanal and small-scale mining formalisation projects”. The few existing projects establish rules for the mining site that are defined and enforced by the project partners. These usually consist of cooperatives, mine operators and buyers.

One of us visited two active formalisation projects in Kolwezi in Katanga province. Based on the observations during the September 2019 visit, we believe that formalisation is a viable path to making artisanal mining safe and fair.

Formalisation works because operational measures are put in place to mitigate safety risks. For example, the extraction is supervised by mining engineers. Also, the project site is fenced off and has exit and entry controls. This ensures that no underage, pregnant or drunk miners can work on site.

But for formalisation projects to yield “responsible” artisanal cobalt, common standards and consistent enforcement are necessary. Currently, formalisation means different things in different sites.

National standards for mine safety exist, but they need to be enforced uniformly. Where current standards fall short of reassuring buyers, further measures need to be developed by a consortium of the key players. This should involve mining cooperatives, concession holders, the government, civil society organisations, and other companies along the battery supply chain.

The 2018 amendments to the mining code introduced a legal basis for the subcontracting of artisanal miners by industrial mining companies. In January 2020, the Congolese government created an entity that will oversee artisanal and small-scale mining activities. These are positive steps.

The development of artisanal mining standards through a process involving key players needs to build on and strengthen these existing national laws and strategies. Furthermore, private actors should support government efforts by identifying parameters and means of evaluation to ensure the consistent enforcement of these standards. A discussion about responsible sourcing strategies and practices is indispensable for all brands that care about the human rights implications of their operations.

The way forward

To illustrate how a multi-stakeholder discussion over responsible sourcing standards translates into practice, we can examine tunnel construction to extract the ores underground at artisanal and small-scale mining sites.

The first issue is whether tunnels should be allowed at all or whether responsible artisanal cobalt should take place exclusively from open pits. Open pits are considered significantly safer. If only open pits are considered responsible, who will pay for the earth-moving machines needed to create open pits?

If tunnels are allowed, how deep can they be? While relevant mining regulations limit tunnel depth to 30 metres and tunnel inclination to 15%, international buyers of cobalt do not consider this safe.

Given that horizontal tunnel construction is particularly dangerous, should horizontal tunnels be banned entirely from sites? If tunnels are permitted, should miners receive training on construction safety, and if so, who will pay for these programmes?

These processes and regulations must be standardised and widely adopted. Only when this happens will automotive and electronics companies be reassured that they are not contributing to human rights violations. And only then will they feel confident buying Congolese cobalt.The Conversation

 

Dorothee Baumann-Pauly, Adjunct Professor and Director of the Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights, Université de Genève and Serra Cremer Iyi, Researcher, Université de Genève

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Nov 26, 2020

Universal Music UK has announced the launch of 0207 Def Jam, a new frontline label and the UK home of the iconic Def Jam Recordings label, with a stellar cast of execs including the appointment of highly respected industry executives and Ghanaian London-born twin brothers, Alec and Alex Boateng as co-Presidents.

0207 Def Jam, which takes the first part of its name and inspiration from a telephone code in London as a nod to the music, culture and art the UK is famed for, is partnering with the legendary Def Jam label which has shaped and propelled cutting-edge hip hop culture around the world for over 35 years.

Alongside his brother, Alex takes the helm after 10 years at Universal Music UK, most recently as president of Island Records’ first Urban Division which has played an instrumental role in shaping the current and sustained trajectory of UK Black music.

After taking the role in 2018 he oversaw UK campaigns for Drake, Tiwa Savage, Buju Banton, Nav, Giggs, Unknown T, Ray BLK, M Huncho, Tekno and Miraa May whilst also spearheading the campaigns for George The Poet’s debut book release, British film, The Intent 2 and UK based clothing brand/label Lizzy. 

Alex is a member of Universal Music’s Task Force for Meaningful Change, which was created as a driving force for inclusion and social justice. He joined Universal Music in 2010 in a digital role at Island Records before going on to hold positions in marketing and A&R, a period which included campaign launches for Tinchy Stryder, Drake, The Weeknd, Nicki Minaj as well as A&R for artists including JP Cooper, Sean Paul, Jessie J, Dizzee Rascal, Donae'o and Big Shaq. He started his music career balancing a marketing degree with DJing, multiple shifts at radio and running his own marketing and promotions company with his then BBC 1Xtra colleague G Money, moving on to consulting roles with Atlantic Records, Polydor and AATW. 

Alec joins 0207 Def Jam after seven years at Warner Music, most recently as co-head of A&R at Atlantic, where he collected a clutch of industry awards and played a pivotal role in the commercial and cultural success of acts who have defined their era, including the emergence through to her chart-topping dominance of Jess Glynne, the revolutionary rise of Stormzy, Burna Boy’s rapid ascent to global superstar as well as the likes of WSTRN, Rita Ora, Kojo Funds, Stalk Ashley, Preditah and many more. A seasoned broadcaster, he also spent over a decade at BBC 1Xtra where he hosted the breakfast show for several years and a series of other specialist shows with a focus on breaking new British music. Alec remembers a passionate deep-rooted love of music as a child, evolving into DJing and leading the award-winning UK mixtape team Split Mics before halting university after he was headhunted to cut his teeth in A&R. First, he worked with Ministry of Sound and then began operating his own co-owned music company alongside the late industry lawyer Richard Antwi. Together, they oversaw a plethora of success with Wretch 32 and worked with artists such as Popcaan and Gyptian amongst many others.

Alex’s former Island colleague Amy Tettey will be joining the team as managing director after 11 years, the past four as finance director, at the Universal Music label where she worked across the entire roster of Island artists including everyone from Amy Winehouse to Drake and Dizzee Rascal to Giggs. Alongside Amy, Jacqueline Eyewe and Char Grant join as marketing director and A&R director respectively. Jacqueline - previously senior marketing manager at Atlantic where she spearheaded the marketing of Black music - has been deeply rooted in contemporary Black music and culture for the last decade. She joined Atlantic in 2015 where she has worked with artists including Stormzy, Burna Boy, Lizzo, WSTRN, Kehlani and Cardi B. Char, whose 10-year career has been immersed in artist development and management as well as songwriting, joins from BMG Music Publishing where she has published the likes of Giggs, Ghetts and producers P2J, TSB and AOD.

Alec and Alex report to Universal Music UK Chairman & CEO David Joseph. He says, “Bringing the Boateng brothers together at 0207 Def Jam is an important moment in British culture. Alec and Alex have always done things their own way with success always quick to follow. They have already assembled an exceptionally talented top team with a clear vision for this exciting new chapter in the history of one of the world’s most famous labels”.

Jeff Harleston, interim Chairman & CEO, Def Jam Recordings said, “It is a perfect fit having Alex and Alec at the helm of 0207 Def Jam. Their creativity, artist relationships, and connection with culture are all key elements that have made Def Jam such an important label for over 35 years. I have no doubt that Alex, Alec and their team will only make the label and the brand even stronger.”

Alec Boateng, co-President of 0207 Def Jam says, “Music, art and artists really, really matter. I’m super excited to play a leadership role in this brilliant new space we’re creating for amazing music and talent to live and evolve. A space which will support both our teams and our artists to be the best version of themselves.”

Alex Boateng, co-President of 0207 Def Jam says, “Especially in these times, this is a real privilege. I'm proud our collective journey now includes partnering a legendary label with a style that only London and the UK can provide. Looking forward to watching and guiding where the music and art takes the journey next.”

Nov 25, 2020

Widespread economic uncertainty has characterized most of 2020, a situation that has impacted traditional habits like holiday spending. A comparison between this year’s holiday spending and 2019 shows a great disparity.

Data presented by Buy Shares indicates that an average of 48% of global consumers plans to significantly cut their holiday spending in 2020 compared to 2019. The data from selected thirteen countries shows that Indonesian consumers at 71% will spend less in 2020 compared to last year. Elsewhere an average of 13.46% of the countries plans to spend more in 2020 than last year. Chinese consumers rank top at 29% among countries planning to spend more this year.

The Buy Shares research also overviewed the shopping period people in the United States look forward to as of November 2020. Christmas holiday ranks top at 30%, followed by Black Friday at 23%. Fathers Day ranks the least at 7%.

Holiday Spending

Coronavirus’ role in changing holiday spending

Traditionally, the holiday season is characterized by big sales, big crowds, and big profits. Most stores usually rely on strong fourth-quarter sales to hit their yearly targets as they look forward to future growth. However, this year’s spending will be less overall due to the economic uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

The less spending comes as most consumers lost their jobs and faced pay cuts as employers struggled to remain afloat in the course of the health crisis. Some consumers have been saving more to pay debts, while those on stimulus paychecks cannot sustain daily needs and holiday spending.

However, some consumers will opt to be patient for normalcy to return before spending their usual amount. The current travel and gathering restrictions mean that the tradition of holiday shopping has changed. Therefore, a section of consumers would rather wait for the perfect moment to keep the traditional alive.

Despite China being the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, shoppers from the country plan to spend more. After imposing lockdowns initially, the country has made significant leaps towards returning to normalcy with people resuming routine economic activities. Consumers have had enough time to recover lost resources hence more allocation to holiday spending. Notably, China has outshined most countries in handling the pandemic.

From the data, most Americans consider Christmas as their favorite holiday. During the season, most people get time to interact with family after a whole year. With the country’s coronavirus pandemic hitting new heights, most people are looking forward to Christmas, hoping that a vaccine will be available. Already, authorities are warning against traveling for Thanksgiving, leaving Christmas as the perfect season to look forward to.

Changing holiday shopping behaviors

It is worth mentioning as one effect of the coronavirus, most retailers moved their services online. As a result, consumers began shopping for the holiday earlier after retailers unveiled offers and promotions to encourage early shopping. Early shopping means that during the holiday season, they will not spend as expected.

Some of the offers saw most items discounted. The early shopping was meant to avoid long-minute logistic challenges, especially for retailers without complex e-commerce structures. The call for early shopping has been escalated, with most countries recording a second coronavirus pandemic wave. Notably, consumers who plan to travel during the holiday season might channel the money to online shopping as authorities continue to discourage travel.

However, consumers have spent more time building their digital capabilities with improved apps and online shopping experiences. Brands focus on strong digital offerings like intuitive mobile browsing, simple payment options, chatbots, and accurate, personalized recommendations.

Nov 24, 2020

Located 65kms east of Lagos, in the immediate vicinity of upcoming Lekki Deep Sea Port, the Lagos Free Zone aims to enhance the ease of doing business in Nigeria.

Lagos Free Zone (LFZ), the first privately owned special economic zone in Nigeria with an integrated deep sea port, is home to several reputable global brands. Located 65kms east of Lagos, in the immediate vicinity of upcoming Lekki Deep Sea Port, the Lagos Free Zone aims to enhance the ease of doing business in Nigeria.

Developed by the Singapore based Tolaram Group, the LFZ, reflects their more than four decades of commitment to doing business in Nigeria, says Tejaswi Avasarala, General Manager, Strategic Marketing, Lagos Free Zone, who was speaking ahead of the 6th annual West Africa Property Investment (WAPI) Virtual Summit taking place this week (25-26 November 2020).

Regarded as the only premier regional real estate investment and development conference that provides access to more than 600 local and international decision makers, this year’s WAPI Virtual edition will provide attendees with unique content, networking opportunities and a platform to showcase projects and services to an international audience.

With currently more than 15 operational entities, the 830-hectare (ha) LFZ site will eventually host more than 100 businesses and provide more than 50,000 residents with a place to live, work and play, and will offer real estate investors and developers with appealing prospects.

“We are convinced that Nigeria bears immense growth opportunity and will continue to be a formidable growth engine amongst the emerging market economies. While there are some challenges that are typical of emerging markets, the government has taken steps in the right direction that have resulted in tangible improvement in the ease of doing business in the country over the past 5 years,” said Tejaswi.

In addition to the industrial manufacturing and port-based logistics cluster at LFZ, there are opportunities in the area of commercial developments such as multi-tiered housing, office spaces, business and leisure hotels as well as healthcare and educational projects which are extremely exciting and deliver on the LFZ’s objective of enhancing the ease of doing business in Nigeria.

This effort, as Tejaswi added, begins by providing business and developers with access to un-encroached, secured and developed land in the immediate vicinity of the deepest sea port in Nigeria, which is expected to start commercial operations by the end of 2022.

While the new deep sea port solves a lot of historical challenges of the country’s existing shallow and congested ports, investors at Lagos Free Zone would also enjoy access to reliable plug-and-play infrastructure such as access to power, gas, trunk infrastructure, ready-built facilities such as warehouses and standard design factories.

A perspective, which WAPI host Kfir Rusin shares. “The development of the Lagos Free Zone is an exciting development for the Nigerian economy and the industry as whole, as it will unlock new development opportunities for real estate investors and developers across the value chain. In what has been an extraordinary year, West Africa’s real estate leaders have demonstrated their resilience and their willingness to adapt and innovate to ensure returns in challenging conditions.

We believe that the future is bright and mega projects such as the LFZ, which is attracting world class tenants such as Kellogg (USA), Colgate (USA), Indofoods (Indonesia), Arla Foods (Denmark), BASF (Germany) and others is evidence that there are significant opportunities in the market, and we look forward to this week’s discussions.”

Just three weeks into his official campaign for the Ugandan presidency, Ugandan musician and parliamentarian Robert Kyagulanyi (better known by his stage name Bobi Wine) has already been arrested twice.

The first came just minutes after his formal nomination in the capital Kampala. Footage streamed by his party showed police smashing the windows of the stationary vehicle Wine and his associates were occupying.

Wine was arrested again while campaigning in Luuka district last week. Protests in a number of Ugandan cities have since broken out and, in an unprecedented move, most other opposition presidential candidates suspended their campaigns until he was released. At least 49 people have been killed in those protests, which already makes this election bloodier than the last one in 2016.

The official reason for both of these arrests was that the police had evidence that Wine was planning illegal rallies with numbers exceeding Covid-19 restrictions.

However, most observers suspect it has more to do with the uncompromising stance he has taken against the incumbent regime of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. In the blistering speech he gave at his nomination, Wine accused Museveni of crimes ranging from corruption to dictatorship. At one point in the speech, he listed Uganda’s main ethnic groups one-by-one, naming the ways that each have been betrayed by Museveni who has ruled for 34 years.

This is not the first time that Wine has clashed with the police. His 2018 arrest made headlines when he and other politicians were severely beaten in custody and his driver was shot dead by police.

It is also highly unlikely that this latest arrest will be Wine’s last before the January 2021 poll. As has been seen in the past, Uganda’s campaign periods are routinely marred by acts of state intimidation and pressure against opposition candidates and their supporters.

Wine’s confrontational and defiant approach suggests that more pressure from security forces is inevitable. While this much is predictable, the Wine candidacy still raises a number of questions that are difficult to answer.

Leading the opposition

Wine has already achieved something which few observers thought possible: wrestling the platform of primary opposition candidate away from his longtime ally Kizza Besigye.

Besigye’s position as Museveni’s leading antagonist had become as embedded in Ugandan politics as the Museveni presidency itself. After splitting from the regime in 1999, Besigye has been runner-up in four straight elections, winning between 26% and 37% in official tallies.

Every time he has stood, the question of who should lead the scattered opposition has been passionately debated. On each occasion, Besigye refused to give way.

While other prominent opposition candidates have stood, they have not come close to Besigye’s vote share – something which has bolstered the case for his candidacy in each subsequent election.

When it became clear last year that Wine wanted to seek the presidency himself, a clash between the two was imminent. The new parliamentarian had succeeded in captivating the young, educated voters and activists that had powered Besigye’s success. But few observers (ourselves included) believed that Besigye’s de facto opposition leader mantle would be effectively threatened.

Besigye saw it differently, and declared in October 2020 that he would not be running. It is difficult to ascertain the precise reasons for his decision, but the perception that Wine’s political star had eclipsed his own is likely to have contributed in some way.

In numerous by-elections over the past two years, Wine’s endorsed candidates have fared far better than Besigye’s. Opposition activists had placed unprecedented pressure on Besigye’s men to give Wine an open pathway.

The youth demographic

Political change is a complicated subject in Uganda. Young and educated opposition supporters yearn for a post-Museveni era. The youth are a growing piece of the demographic pie.

The ability to travel easily and improved media access means that they are no longer a small and irrelevant constituency confined to Kampala. Increasingly, young opposition supporters are present and active in regional municipalities around the country. They are also well networked in the countryside and are carrying their anti-Museveni message to the most remote areas.

Nevertheless, it is important not to overstate the scale of opposition support in Uganda.

Although it is often ignored in international media coverage, Museveni and his National Resistance Movement remain popular across large swathes of the country. Older, rural voters in particular often regard regime change as a hauntingly perilous idea. These voters are more likely to link political change with a return to the years of chaos and bloodshed that preceded Museveni’s inauguration in 1986 – something the regime will doubtless assert explicitly in the coming months.

This generation gap – which maps onto the urban-rural divide to some extent – is becoming the most salient political division in the country. Within towns, villages and even family units, the question of national political change is linked to the frustrations of younger voters. The youth feel that they do not have the pathway to build their livelihoods that their parents enjoyed during Uganda’s post-1986 economic recovery. The country’s rapidly expanding education system has also led many of them to expect well-paying jobs that are in short supply.

Conversely, older citizens may regularly castigate these younger voters as lazy or idle troublemakers, and fear that they do not understand the risks of the change that they are demanding.

It is the growing importance of this demographic terrain which has also made the question of opposition leadership so interesting. Because whilst Wine has crafted himself as an unapologetic champion of the frustrated youth, Besigye’s candidacy had benefited from being able to build a bridge between the old and the young. His earlier years as a Museveni ally has made him less threatening as an opposition candidate to some.

New coronavirus excuse

But questions of opposition leadership often take attention away from the deeper authoritarian realities of Museveni’s Uganda. It is not the case that the Museveni regime terrorises, bribes and rigs its way to victory in the crudest sense. But persistent state interventions substantially tilt the playing field to the point that it is effectively impossible for the opposition to organise and campaign.

The latest feature of this double standard are the campaigning restrictions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, which appear to be enforced more consistently on the opposition than on the ruling party candidates. As a result, all opposition campaigning has to be done online only.

It is no coincidence, then, that recent months have also seen a systematic state-led media crackdown. Following the imposition of the COVID-19 lockdown in late March, the authorities have escalated their targeting of journalists, arresting newspaper, radio and TV journalists across the country.

The Social Media Monitoring Centre has heightened its surveillance of social media usage. And in September, the government issued a public notice that all “online publishers and broadcasters” had to apply for a licence to continue uploading content.

Ironically, Wine’s candidature may greatly benefit from a shift to virtual campaigning, even in the context of a wider media crackdown. He doesn’t have a formal campaign infrastructure, relying instead on both new and traditional media.

The January elections will almost certainly result in a Museveni victory. However, the inevitability of the overall result should not blind us to the fact that the country’s politics are changing, even if the regime does not.The Conversation

 

Richard Vokes, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Western Australia and Sam Wilkins, Lecturer, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Nov 23, 2020

Forces of Ethiopia’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have destroyed an airport in the town of Axum, state-affiliated Fana broadcaster said on Monday, after federal troops gave them a three-day deadline to surrender.

TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters the ultimatum was a cover for the government forces to regroup after what he described as defeats on three fronts.

There was no immediate response from either side to the other’s comments, and Reuters could not confirm the latest statements. Claims by all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet communication has been down.

 

- Reuters

Nov 22, 2020

Uganda’s presidential candidate Bobi Wine has been released on bail, local media reported, as police said the death toll in clashes triggered by his arrest earlier this week hit 37.

Wine, who was charged with actions likely to spread the novel coronavirus, is expected to appear back in court on December 18, the Daily Monitor reported on Friday.

The 38-year-old pop star and politician, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was arrested on Wednesday while campaigning in eastern Uganda for the January 14 general elections.

He was charged with holding mass rallies in violation of restrictions on gatherings imposed by the government to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Earlier on Friday, authorities deployed the military across the capital Kampala and surrounding areas to help the police disperse protesters. The security forces have arrested hundreds, and used live bullets, tear gas and water cannon in efforts to quell the unrest.

“Thirty-seven bodies have been counted so far,” police pathologist Moses Byaruhanga told the Reuters news agency.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said the arrested protesters were involved in violence, including targeting members of the public who do not support Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) party.

“What we have seen in the last few days, that is violence, vandalism, looting, intimidation and threats, are crimes that were being committed [against] people who are not pro-NUP. This is not something that we can tolerate.”

Uganda, a nation of 42 million people, is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on January 14, with Wine emerging as a serious threat to veteran President Yoweri Museveni, 76, who aims to extend his rule to at least 40 years.

Wine has amassed a large following among the Ugandan youth, attracted by his bold criticism of the government, often in his song’s lyrics.

Al Jazeera’s Malcom Webb, reporting from Nairobi, said court proceedings may interfere with Wine’s campaign rallies, as could a limit of 200 people set on public gatherings set by Uganda’s health ministry and electoral commission as part of COVID-19 restrictions.

“If that is going to be enforced, from here on it’s going to be very difficult for any of the candidates to hold meaningful rallies – especially in urban areas, where they tend to attract significantly larger crowds,” Webb said.

He said four other opposition presidential candidates have suspended their election campaigns in protest at what they say is unfair treatment of Bobi Wine.

“This election is nearly two months away, ” Webb said.

“We’re waiting to see what, if any, campaigning will actually be able to go ahead between now and then,” Webb said.

 

SOURCE : AL JAZEERA

Nov 20, 2020

Mrs. Vicenta Balbi just gave up on paying for her internet service.

“Look at this, look at the bill,” she says. “It never worked, so now they’re charging in dollars. But who can pay for this?”

Her internet provider, a private company offering an alternative to the service offered by the state, charges her monthly for both cable TV and internet. Every first day of the month, the bill shows up on her inbox, along with a reminder that, to her, sort of sounds like a threat: “Remember to pay on the first three days of the month, to avoid penalties and service shutdown.”

“Well, they’re gonna cancel my service,” she says. “I understand that inflation makes everything more expensive, but I can’t take price leaps like this. I either buy meat, or I pay for the internet.”

And she’s certainly fuming. After months of a steady (and expected) rise, the fee for the cable-and-internet combo that she normally pays rose by 100% between the months of September and October, without any warning from the cable company. All the planning she had done for the month is useless now—and it’s not only this service that’s becoming harder to pay.

Mrs. Balbi is, for the Venezuelan context, privileged. A middle-class retired woman in her early seventies, she mainly survives on the money her son sends her from London—£50 every couple of weeks, which helps her quite a bit when she turns them into dollars or the official local currency, bolivars. That exchange, though, takes time and it’s exposed to the very unstable (and ruthless) nature of the black market Venezuelan dollar.

Right now—literally as you read these words—Venezuela is going through a hyperinflationary explosion, already in an out-of-control-inflation context that’s been two years long, so far. A look into Monitor Dólar, one of the most popular websites among Venezuelans tracking the value of goods and services in local currency, will tell you all you need about today’s economic reality.

The difference on the dollar value between October and November means a huge spike of all prices on the street.

Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

This is in a country that rules its economy according to this black market rate while most of the population has no access to hard currency. While many are charging in greenbacks for their work, all public workers (like teachers) are paid in bolivars. The minimum wage, mind you, is 436,140 bolivars—its real value is less than a dollar.

The effects of this savage dynamic are described frankly by Mrs. Balbi.

“Well, I think it’s great that (my cable company) charges in dollars,” she says, “but then they’re gonna have to wait until I get my remittances, and I turn them into bolivars. I’ll first go to the store and buy my medicines and my food, then I have to pay for rent and power. I have to do this as quickly as I can, because a delayed day can be an important difference in prices. Then, if I can, I’ll pay for the internet.”

And listening to her, you can only wonder: What if you don’t get remittances?

A Sick Game of Economic Abuse

“The main feature of the Venezuelan black market, regarding dollars, is the presence of a huge actor (the state) that gets the biggest amount of dollars into the economy although, until very recently, it employed an official exchange rate that was disconnected from reality, with a discretionary selection of who would get cheaper dollars and who wouldn’t—a practice that gave way to the black market distortions and shady businesses we have in Venezuela.”

For Daniel Urdaneta, economist from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, MSc in Economics (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile), CFA Charterholder and contributing author at Caracas Chronicles, the savage tides of the Venezuelan economy are explainable through offer-and-demand principles, and what happens when these precepts get distorted.

The basics: In practice, there isn’t a single price of the dollar; there are multiple offers around a reference price and both buyers and sellers have negotiations where the big factor is the urgency that buyers have for dollars (immediacy raises the price).

The evolution of the exchange rate over time is truly about how many bolivars there are flowing in the economy and how many dollars are available for sale in the local market. “In Venezuela,” Urdaneta says, “a savage policy of printing banknotes began as a way for the government to deal with fiscal deficit—the Central Bank prints money to satisfy debts.

“These particular explosions of the black market dollar in short time spans come as a consequence of the government moving from a fantasy exchange rate to one that’s much more closer to the black market rate. They realized that if you raise the price of the dollar, you can earn more bolivars to help you cover the deficit. But when PDVSA has debts and no bolivars to satisfy them, it’s back to the money-printing machine.”

These particular explosions of the black market dollar in short time spans come as a consequence of the government moving from a fantasy exchange rate to one that’s much more closer to the black market rate.

This is a lot of money that enters PDVSA and is then used to pay contractors and other associates, who are getting a lot of bolivars with little value by themselves. “The contractors end up buying dollars with this money, and that’s a hard pressure they’re applying on the dollar price.”

Urdaneta paints the picture of an economy susceptible to abuse: “This is amplified when you have individuals with privileged information on when these bolivar payments will be done and when there will be a peak in dollar demand, so they strategically diminish the dollars offered at the right time. The result is a savage spike on the dollar price. Whenever these spikes happen, the market eventually reestablishes itself after the possibility of pushing buyers disappears. It’s a cycle that repeats itself again and again.”

For Urdaneta, hyperinflation in Venezuela comes down to three points:

“The local offers of good and services went to hell after years of price controls and expropriations, and the Dutch disease—a lesser offer means higher prices; then you have over ten years of chavismo spending way more than what it gets, and just printing money to cover the gap; then there’s the crash of oil prices of 2014, and a Venezuela isolating itself away from the rest of the world—all of this predates the American sanctions, by the way.”

A Very Fragile Bubble

The theory and the details just described are a bit away from Melissa Azuaje*, a 31-year-old working in customer service for a gambling site on the internet.

Melissa describes herself as part of the precious “bubble,” those Venezuelans with a steady supply of hard currency that gives way to exclusive options in day-to-day Venezuela. Her wage of $250 comes once a month, and in bitcoins.

“I have to exchange those for bolivars and dollars,” she says, “although getting dollars has gotten hard recently. 2020 has complicated things, because my mom is the typical housewife and my dad, who used to work at the restaurant of a Caracas hotel, has gone out of a job ever since the quarantine began in March. So now I take care of myself and my parents. Almost all of my money goes away in food.”

“We have the pension money that my parents get, that isn’t much, but it’s a tiny push at the store. But if I have to buy something for myself, money is taken away from our food budget.”

A resident of middle-class Bello Monte, in Caracas, Melissa says she usually surfs the Venezuelan economy with more or less skill, working in a trade that’s almost untouched by the lockdown measures (even before the quarantine, she worked from home).

The spikes of the dollar and their direct effect on the inflation are throwing a wrench on her personal economy, where “you have your spending all planned out, and tomorrow the inflation screws everything up.”

“The food I can afford right now isn’t even all of the food we need,” she says. “We have the pension money that my parents get, that isn’t much, but it’s a tiny push at the store. But if I have to buy something for myself, money is taken away from our food budget—although I do buy things for myself. Sometimes you just have no choice. I just bought new glasses, for example, which is something I needed. That purchase took away from expenditures on food and services, particularly now.”

So how can you consider yourself in a bubble?

“Well, I live in a good place, and I can buy meat, which many people can’t—my neighbor, for example, buys meat occasionally and he makes do with what he can. I can pay for the services. When the month is ending, I do feel the strain, but this year has been very mean on most Venezuelans, and I’ve been able to do okay. Last month, I bought several things I needed—underwear, nail polish, an iron, stuff that people may criticize, but I refuse to see all my money go on food. Most people out there can’t allow themselves the luxury of buying toys for their nephews for next Christmas, you know?”

Venezuelans today live in a reality of a predictable (disillusioned) political arena, and a completely anarchic, unforeseeable economy. The apparent stability that the nation experienced in the last couple of months of 2019 are a bitter memory while prices soar from a day to the next, punishing everyone but the most privileged among the privileged. And it’s all happening at once: citizens don’t know when the next power cut is going to be (or how long it’ll last), whether their next paycheck will be enough to cover for basic food items, or what they’ll do if the somewhat distant promise of coronavirus becomes a sore emergency. Right now, for example, there’s another shortage of fuel across the country and nobody to tell when the lines at gas stations will end.

There’s an evident wrongdoer, apparently indifferent to the woes on the street.

“That narrative of how the black market dollar is controlled in Venezuela by a bunch of guys at a Home Depot or a club of oligarchic businessmen doesn’t stand the minimum smell test,” Urdaneta says. “Who brings the dollars in and decides their price of sale and even the buyers of those dollars, if not the government?”

 

Read More: Caracas Chronicles

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