Sep 23, 2017

The University of Portsmouth is helping to tackle air pollution and its harmful effects in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Researchers from the University’s Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries are part of the AIR (Action for Interdisciplinary Air Pollution Research) Network that has received funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Global Challenges Research Fund Partnership Award.

The AIR Network is one of 12 Partnership Awards that have received over £2 million to bring together arts and humanities and medical research to address issues of public health in developing countries.

The AIR network, led by Dr Cressida Bowyer, Research Fellow (Enterprise and Innovation) at the University of Portsmouth, will develop an interdisciplinary research partnership of African and European researchers and African community members. The long-term aim is to create innovative solutions to air pollution and its effects on human health in low-resource settings in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Air pollution is a significant contributor to respiratory and cardiovascular disease and is recognised as a major global health concern. The World Health Organisation estimates that outdoor and indoor air pollution causes 6.5 million deaths every year1. Particulate matter (PM) is the mostly invisible particles in the air, including ash, smoke, soot, dust and fumes.

Every breath a person takes contains PM and PM is the type of air pollution that most commonly causes ill health. In the developing world, exposure to indoor pollution, due to cooking, lighting and heating using cheap and dirty fuels, contributes to 4.3 million deaths a year. Outdoor and indoor PM concentrations are particularly high in Africa’s informal settlements, which are often located close to roads and industry. In Africa, fine PM is associated with 920,000 premature deaths a year and causes chronic lung disease in adults (mainly women) and pneumonia in children2.

The AIR team will visit informal settlements in Nairobi and work with local communities to gain understanding of the concerns and challenges that residents face with regard to air pollution. A mixture of methods will be used to engage and communicate, including theatre, visual arts, mobile phones, games and music. Researchers will explore opportunities to co-create viable, sustainable and culturally relevant interventions to reduce exposure to PM. By the end of the 18-month project, the AIR network will have identified a future programme of work, including specific initiatives to work with citizens to improve public health and to identify and apply for further funding.

The project is led by the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York. The network comprises of 15 partners from a wide range of disciplines sharing £169,000. Dr Bowyer is a Co-Investigator while Professor Joan Farrer (Associate Dean for Enterprise and Innovation in CCI) and Professor Anoop Chauhan (Director of Research, Portsmouth Hospital Trust) sit on the advisory panel.

Sep 23, 2017

TSTV which stands for Telcom Satellite TV, is here in Nigeria to battle with DSTV. It is coming prepared with “Pay-As-You-Consume” plan which every other operator said was not possible in Nigeria before now.

“Pay-As-You-Consume” plan already praised for its simplicity will allow subscribers of TSTV pay for only programmes watched.

DSTV, no doubt, has served Nigerians for a very long period of time. But, TSTV’s entrance is a test of strength and will prove if DSTV has been receptive to the yearnings of subscribers. DSTV shows live English Premier League matches, which gave it mirage in the market over the years, TSTV has promised to deliver same too. You can also enjoy Live La Liga and Champions League matches on TSTV.

TSTV is partnering Europe-based television station, ABS Global, to launch into the Nigerian Broadcasting Service a Direct-to-Home (DTH) satellite TV from October 1, 2017, with a message centered on ‘Buy Naija and Grow the Naira’ and pay as you use (PAYU) subscription plan.

When fully launched, the pay TV satellite would cover all sub-Saharan African countries and would provide over 200 TV channels to their audience.

Bright Echefu, managing director of TSTV, during the signing of the multi-transponder agreement with their ABS partner disclosed that their services would offer viewers the experience of HD and SD video, internet services, broadband, TV and radio at a very affordable rate. According to him, “what makes the project unique is that it would start with 100 channels of local, regional and international in Yoruba, Igbo Hausa, Ghanaian, Sierra Leonean, Liberian Languages among others. It would also provide news, entertainment, education content”.

He argued that TSTV has the right content and premium product to satisfy the growing demand of Nigeria. “It would assist ABS take Nollywood and Sport to great height. Their sport channels is the bomb! EPL, La liga and Champion League is amazing!”

Highlighting on the technology, Echefu said that the station is based on the HBB TV tech, which is a combination of satellite and internet service for TV service. TSTv will run on 4.5g network every subscriber will get 20G of data for $8.4 monthly, the data can also be used for video calls conferences with camera and wifi.

The TSTV decoder will have 50GB hard disk to record TV programs and a pause/play function. “With TSTV, you don't need to pay subscription monthly or periodically. You pay as you consume. “It is the first Nigerian TV to launch a Pay-as-you-use so you can pause your subscription whenever you are traveling. It is just $14 for the decoder and dish and subscription prices ranges from $.60c, $1.4c, and $8.4 respectively”.

TStv Africa aims to cover the 36 States in Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), but will launch first in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Owerri and Kano. TSTv will shows Live Sports like Premier League, UEFA Champions League, Europa League and so much more. Some Sport Channels on TSTV Africa are bein Sport 1-10, Fox Sport HD, and Ts Sports.

Meanwhile 

Pay-TV service provider, MultiChoice Nigeria, has dismissed fresh reports saying it is about to make its services available via the Pay-Per-View model. In a statement issued in Lagos, the company said reports currently circulating and suggesting that it is about launching Pay-Per-View are unfounded.

“MultiChoice wishes to correct the news currently being circulated and states that at no time was it announced that a Pay Per View service was about to be launched,” said the statement.

The company explained that before the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor boxing fight, it explained to journalists at a media briefing that premium subscribers on its DStv platform would watch the fight as part of their package, while subscribers to pay television services in the USA would need to pay an additional US$99 on Pay per view basis to access the fight.

“During the briefing, it was clarified that Pay Per View is a pay television service whereby subscribers of a particular television provider can purchase additional sporting events to view over and above their normal subscription package and charges.

Furthermore, it was explained at the briefing that this service does not currently exist in Nigeria or anywhere else in Africa at the moment, but is being used in the United States and the United Kingdom,” the company explained. It added that should it decide to offer a new service in the future, the media and its subscribers will be directly informed.

 

Credit: PM News , Nigeria CommunicationsWeek

Sep 22, 2017

Floods as well as droughts and heatwaves are increasing and will continue to do so in Africa and South Asia. Farmers and governments need to adapt to this changing climate regime. But adaptation requires decisions to be made under high uncertainty, often with incomplete knowledge. This makes planning and investing in it difficult.

There is an increasing demand for short-term climate information like weather advisories. They are used most commonly to help people decide when to sow or irrigate their crops. For their part, seasonal forecasts are used for decision making by governments and NGOs, and by some farmers. But long-term information, going from seasonal forecasts to decadal climate projections, isn’t being used for planning. This includes anticipating and preventing disasters.

There is increasing evidence from across many African and South Asian countries that contextual, timely climate information, helps farmers manage the risks they face. This is particularly true when its integrated with other information such as disease outbreaks or market prices and demand. The information can guide decisions on which crops to grow, when to plant them, what seeds to use, how to market the produce, and how to divide resources between farming and other livelihoods.

But there’s less demand for long-term climate information. This is primarily because it tends to be highly uncertain and the scale of long-term climate projections tends to be too coarse. Also, policymakers find it difficult to justify investment and action based on what might happen far into the future. And there is typically a lack of institutional capacity to deal with long-term climate risks.

Other barriers to the use of climate information include: mismatches between personal or traditional beliefs and what climate information suggests, the availability of useful information at the right time, how it’s communicated and to whom, and inadequate capacity to interpret provided information.

To overcome these problems, climate information providers must develop services tailored for different needs. This requires local, national, regional and international institutions to work together. They must also work closely with vulnerable communities so that relevant climate information can be co-developed.

Notable exceptions

A number of initiatives in India and Africa illustrate the ingredients needed for the successful uptake and use of climate information. The Adaptation Learning Programme in Ghana, Niger and Kenya integrates national meteorological information with local rain data and traditional forecast knowledge. And in India, the Watershed Organisation Trust’s innovative advisories are crop specific and include nutrient, water, pest and disease management recommendations.

What makes these initiatives successful is that they:

For long term climate information to be used decision makers need to trust and understand the information. In addition, it must be tailored to the local context, fit for purpose and available in time. There must also be relevant governance and institutional structures in place and an emphasis on the socio-economic value in subsequent decision making.

Benefits of short-term actions

Short-term actions that farmers take to cope with weather can help them adapt to long-term change. When people see progress, they learn how to plan. They may change their behaviour, restructure their systems and learn from extreme events like hurricane Harvey.

  1. Behavioural shifts: For example, in Western Kenya, at the start of each rainfall season, seasonal forecast information is jointly produced by the Kenya Meteorological Services, sector experts and indigenous knowledge forecasters to help communities plan for rainfall extremes. Climate projections that demonstrate a warming trend can motivate people to start growing temperature tolerant crop varieties.

  2. Restructuring the system: For example, in India, national investments in the mid-2000s helped develop a robust system of climate information services. The system produced forecasts, trained extension staff and held field demonstrations through regional agriculture universities. These investments slowly recognised the importance of climate information to manage risk. Forecasts are improving and the private sector sees the value it gets from investing in climate information delivery. Climate information is increasingly being used in adaptation initiatives.

  3. Sudden change: high impact extreme events like Hurricane Harvey or flooding in Mumbai can motivate swift action to set up infrastructure, increase investment and build capacity. Once in place, these initiatives can lead to longer term change. For example, in India, the super cyclone in Odisha in 1999, which killed almost 10,000 people, led to better early warning systems. It changed the way people thought and behaved. When cyclone Phailin hit the Odisha coast in 2016, the death toll was drastically reduced to 45 people, with lower losses to property.

As climate continues to change there is an increasing need for long-term information to be incorporated into decision making. When this information is tailored to local contexts it can help people adapt.

 

Dian Spear, Southern Africa lead, Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions, University of Cape Town and Chandni Singh, Research Consultant, Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sep 22, 2017

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. So, what’s my point here? The point is we can’t be conned twice the same way in 10 years and blame the conmen. It won’t be amnesia but sheer idiocy.

Look around! Does everything that’s happening in Zimbabwe look familiar? It should because it’s happening all over again. If you have not realized, the very loud signs of the pre-2008 period are illuminating so brightly in the dark, and we really have to be blind not to see them. It’s happening all over again, the bank queues, cash shortages, some filling station queues, some goods fading out of the shelves in the supermarkets, a rampant parallel market and so forth. The tale-tell signs are all over the place. The frightening part is that it’s happening at a time when we don’t even have our own currency.

Ignore the clutter as well as sideshows and dig deeper, you start seeing the frightening reality. Let’s look at a typical example: Econet Wireless Limited, a Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) listed company declared a 0.386 cents dividend per share amounting to $10 million for the first quarter ended 31 May 2017. To my knowledge, this is the first time the company has declared a quarterly dividend since the death of the Zimbabwe dollar. The question is – how does this listed company, which was clamoring for tariff increases just a few months ago afford such a quarterly dividend? Add to that the reality that quarterly dividends are very rare in Zimbabwe.

If you peel the veil and even dig deeper, you will discover that early last year, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe collected daily revenues of around $2 million dollars a day. Today, the figure has grown three to five-fold to between $6 million to $9 million a day. How is this possible when in January, it earned the wrath of Zimbabweans after it tried to effect a tariff increase? Miracle money? The answer is partly yes. Its miracle money because the government has been creating money from thin air at a time the economy is declining. I will come back to that later.

The Econet scenario is found across all mobile networks. This is because when the cash shortage started, smart dealers quickly realized that the most enduring cash source was the airtime business. As such, they would transfer an RTGS balance to a mobile operator, get airtime, sell it at cost on the street for cash, flog that cash on the parallel market, make massive returns and repeat the cycle. This is how some airtime vendors are able to sell airtime at less than it’s face value. Clever, isn’t it? It’s an arbitrage opportunity created by clueless policy makers and fortune seekers jump on it. Mobile operators have found themselves with massive liquid bank balances. Since they can’t pay foreign suppliers with it, what better way to use it than reward their local shareholders!

Recently, a friend reminded me of how we used to apply the Old Mutual Implied Rate during the hyperinflation era. It is basically based on purchasing power parity – the same way the Big Mac Index published by The Economist does. If you don’t know, here is how it works. Old Mutual is listed on the ZSE, Johannesburg Stock Exchange and London Stock Exchange (LSE). The shares are fungible and should theoretically have the same price. As of now, the price of Old Mutual shares on the LSE is £1.96 (or $2.64) per share. That would be the theoretical price of the same shares in Zimbabwe. However, the current price for Old Mutual shares on the ZSE is $7.72.

So instead of trading for around $2.64, the fungible shares are available in Zimbabwe at 292% more. In other words, you pay almost three times more for Old Mutual Shares in Zimbabwe than you would in the UK. What does that tell you? It simply means the currency we use in Zimbabwe, whatever we call it is no longer the US dollar (USD). That local unit has depreciated three times against the real USD. This helps to explain why the revenues for Econet in my example about have gone up threefold. To explain this using two sides of the same coin, the heads is inflation and the tails is currency depreciation.

The above examples simply show that what we call a dollar in Zimbabwe are not equivalent to the real USD. The USD on the parallel market is currently trading at a 50 percent premium. Put differently, our local unit is 50% less valuable than the real USD. If you compare this rate and the fundamentals I have shown above, it’s clear the worst is yet to happen and the local unit will be getting severe battering. You can see this everywhere, from the massive rally on the ZSE not supported by any improvement in business to price increases taking place in the supermarkets.

So, what really happened? On one hand there is a temptation by laymen to bash bond-notes. On the other, naïve folks in our midst gullibly thought bond notes would solve the cash problem. It’s understandable, but when they were introduced, bond notes were an aspirin to a body afflicted by a dangerous virus. Mangudya was trying a wrong solution to a wrong problem after a wrong diagnosis. Part of the problem is that besides Mangudya and the deputy governors, the rest of the team at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is essentially the same team Gono had.

Why are we back where we were ten years ago? How did we fall in the same ugly pit one more time? Why did we not have cash problems from 2009-2013? Why did the cash problem start from the time Zanu PF took sole control of government? The answers must be pretty obvious from the way I have framed my questions. Simply put: left to its own devices, ZANU PF started creating money with reckless abandon.

To reflect on this let us take a step back. Remember in 2009, all civil servants were paid $100. In fact, due to hard currency shortages, they were paid using vouchers which they redeemed at banks. That was a sign that USD reserves were thin. At that time, civil servants were estimated at 130 000. Over the years, both the number of civil servants and their salaries have increased in multiples. For example, President Mugabe earned $1750 in 2010. He revealed in April 2014 that his salary had increased to $4000 per month, a more than 200% increase. In 2015, he complained that his new salary of $12000 was too little. At that point it had increased by 685%.

We also know that Minister Patrick Chinamasa budgeted for a salary increase for the President and his deputies in February 2017. At this point you should be getting the gist of my argument. Between 2010 and 2015, Zimbabwe economic growth averaged no more than 5% per year. That’s significantly far less than the growth in multiples of salaries of politicians and civil servants. Apply the same math to the private sector and you get a terrible picture. Since Zimbabwe only earns United States dollars from exporting goods and services as well as foreign direct investment and other minor inflows, apply the same math to the growth in earnings by locals vis-à-vis growth in exports and you discover a shockingly gloomy picture.

During the government of national unity, Tendai Biti used to rein in expenditure and take a more austere approach to balance the budget. This restricted the local creation of money – keeping it in close tandem with exports. Still the country had a negative balance of trade and a current account deficit, but it was manageable. Once ZANU PF took sole control of government all gates were opened. The government went on an expenditure spree, buying luxury cars, flying to every meeting they could and awarding salary increases among other things. They think money grows on trees. Even though Chinamasa was faced with the reality given that numbers don’t lie, President Mugabe kept telling him to find the money.

For example, flanked by Jonathan Moyo and George Charamba at a press conference on 13 April 2015 at Munhumutapa Building, Chinamasa announced that the government was suspending the payment of bonuses. This of course was informed by the reality of the situation. A few days later, Mugabe publicly trashed Chinamasa at an Independence Day celebration. Naive civil servants celebrated Mugabe’s move, but they didn’t realise that such a move would invite the current problems.

Rampant spending of money took place in 2014. From that time, Chinamasa started running large budget deficits. Government was funding the reckless spending by creating money. How did they do so? They created IOUs, borrowing extensively in the local market through instruments like treasury bills, assuming old debts such as the $1 billion RBZ debt, and downright creation of digital balances wired via the RTGS system. This was just on the part of government – meanwhile banks were also creating money through lending (Note: assumption is that the reader understands how banks create money). All this money created locally could not match the real United States dollars generated through the exports of goods and services. From this basis alone and from that point on, the country was no longer using proper United States dollars.

The symptoms started showing in March 2014 when the government failed to pay its workers on time. It was the start of serial shifting of pay dates which has gotten chronic over the years. In the first quarter of 2015, the Government failed to remit civil servants deductions for payments like medical aid. It was at that point that Chinamasa announced the scrapping of bonuses which Mugabe promptly reversed. The worse the problem became, the more government created money through borrowing, worsening the economic challenge and creating a vicious cycle.

As things got worse, citizens became disenchanted, and by July 2016 when the “This Flag” movement called for a successful shutdown, the government had its back to the wall, especially after civil servants heeded the stayaway. From that time on, more local money was created to take care of this problem. The consequence was that the cash shortage that had started in December 2015 became more pronounced as created local balances could not match actual United States dollars created through exports, foreign direct investment, diaspora remittances and other avenues.

That Zimbabwe is still using the United States Dollar as currency is pure fiction. Zimbabwe abandoned the USD as currency way back in 2013 after the elections. The government did it nicodemously when we all weren’t looking. This was partly driven by greed, partly by ZANU PF’s cluelessness and partly by the party’s perpetual electoral mode – it campaigns more than it governs.

What does this all mean? It simply means that we are back on the same road as we were from 2006 to 2008. The ghosts of shortages and inflation are creeping in. For the first time, the state-controlled Herald admitted as much about this headache. All Mangudya and his principals can do is just patch holes and react the same way Gono did, albeit with less subterfuge. That my friends, is what we are facing. There is no point in sugarcoating reality because there is no Sugarcandy Mountain anywhere near.

Robert Mugabe is the only President with the unique distinction of battering two different currencies in his lifetime and within a space of fifteen years. He did not just ruin the Zimbabwe dollar, but also tore apart the United States dollar as we knew it 2009 to 2013. So what needs to be done? It is beyond the scope of this article. But we must deal with the fundamentals.

We have to make Zimbabwe attract national and international capital, re-kit our industries and produce for export, reopen redeemable parastatals and close the irredeemable ones, trim the public service, invest in infrastructure and transform our work ethic completely for the better. The present government has proven, not once, but twice that they are clueless and cannot address the fundamentals. In its current configuration, the government will never change our trajectory. Serious inflation is coming and so are all the problems we have experienced before.

 

The author is a former banker and a current equity investor in small start-up companies in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa. He holds a business postgraduate qualification from an Ivy League university in the USA, where he carried out research on code driven versus regulated corporate governance issues in the late 90s. He can be contacted on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sep 21, 2017

The formation of the BRICS – the bloc made of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – was supposed to be the harbinger for a new approach to global economic governance. The leading emerging markets and developing countries were becoming major players in the global economy. And they expected to play a commensurate governance role.

BRICS leaders have now been meeting annually for nine years. They recently met for the ninth BRICS Summit in Xiamen, China. They have positioned themselves as a force for transforming global economic governance so that it’s more responsive to the concerns of developing economies. They are seeking a more just and equitable global economy.

The question is: how effective have they been in reforming global economic governance and the fairness of the global economy?

The honest answer is that as a group, BRICS hasn’t been an effective force at all. This is for a number of reasons.

What’s not happened

The following examples illustrate the point.

At least formally the G20, which consists of 20 major economies including the five in BRICs, has supplanted the G7, made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, as the premier forum for global economic governance. But the agenda in these meetings is still largely set by the most powerful countries which now include China but not the other BRICS.

The IMF and World Bank have both changed their voting arrangements to give a louder voice to developing economies and emerging economies. This has particularly benefited China, India and Brazil. But BRICS hasn’t supported South Africa’s call for a third African seat on the board of the IMF. This has left Africa as the most underrepresented region on the board.

BRICS countries, together with other G20 developing countries, have become more active participants in organisations responsible for developing international financial regulatory standards. This means that they now can participate in the writing of standards that guide the international financial system. But the system continues to be more responsive to the interests of the rich and powerful than those of the developing world.

New international financial institutions have been created, including the BRICS’ New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, which provides financial support for BRICS countries experiencing balance of payments problems. Unfortunately, the New Development Bank operates in a less transparent and less accountable way than other multilateral development banks. For example, it’s harder for outsiders to access information on the operational policies and practices of the bank than those of the World Bank or the African Development Bank. Unlike those other banks, there isn’t yet a mechanism to hold the New Development Bank accountable if it causes harm.

The New Development Bank also risks repeating the tragic mistakes of these other institutions, which for many years concentrated only on economic issues in their operational decision making. Following a number of scandals they began to pay more attention to the social, human rights and environmental impact of their operations.

Members of the New Development Bank seem to share this concern. The BRICS leaders have reiterated their commitment to achieving

sustainable development in its three dimensions - economic, social and environmental- in a balanced and integrated manner.

But it’s hard to see how they expect the bank to meet this commitment if it continues to place more emphasis on speed in project implementation than on identifying and managing the adverse environmental, human rights and social effects of its projects. To fulfil their commitment to promote a more just and equitable global economy the BRICS will need to up their game.

How to fix the problem

Achieving a just and equitable international economic order requires governments to take seriously their commitment to protect and promote human rights as set out in the UN Charter and other human rights treaties.

The starting point is a commitment to respect and promote the rights of each individual affected by each project, programme or policy that governments undertake or support. This requires developing a good system to forecast the impact of a project on the environment, society as well as human rights. And to have a plan to manage them.

Another element is accountability. Any person adversely affected by a project should have access to a mechanism that can provide them with an effective remedy.

Finally, the relevant decision makers must be able to show how their proposed activity is using the maximum available human and financial resources to fulfil the human rights of all the people affected by their decisions. This suggests that the relevant decision makers bear the burden of explaining why the proposed allocations are the most feasible. This includes governments, international organisations as well as private parties.

There are reasons to think the BRICS leaders could be persuaded to adopt a human rights based approach to making global economic governance more democratic and responsive to the needs of developing countries and for a more just, equitable and sustainable global economy. They, and their colleagues in other developing countries, are governing societies with continuing, and some cases worsening poverty, inequality, unemployment and environmental degradation levels. And they don’t seem to have an effective strategy for meeting this challenge.

 

Danny Bradlow, SARCHI Professor of International Development Law and African Economic Relations, University of Pretoria

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sep 20, 2017

Oil rose on Wednesday, set for its largest third-quarter gain in 13 years, after the Iraqi oil minister said OPEC and its partners were considering extending or deepening supply cuts to erode an existing global surplus.

Brent crude futures rose 29 cents to $55.43 a barrel by 0800 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 42 cents at $49.90 a barrel. The oil price is on course for a rise of 15.5 percent this quarter, which would make this year's performance the strongest for the third quarter since 2004.

"An improving macro-economic backdrop should spur oil demand growth over the next couple of quarters and if OPEC increases its adherence to production cuts, higher prices will come," ANZ Research said in a note."All things being equal, we still expect oil prices to test new highs (for 2017) by the end of the year." The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers are mulling a range of options, including an extension of cuts, but it is premature to decide on what to do beyond March, when the agreement expires, Iraqi oil minister Jabar al-Luaibi told an energy conference on Tuesday.

OPEC and producers including Russia have agreed to reduce output by about 1.8 million barrels per day until March 2018 to reduce global oil inventories and support prices.

Some producers think the pact should be extended for three or four months, others want it to run until the end of 2018, while some, including Ecuador and Iraq, think there should be another round of supply cuts, al-Luaibi said.

But analysts doubt that such an extension would have much of an impact on the overall oil market. "I can't see the market tightening unless OPEC cuts output further next year," Commerzbank strategist Carsten Fritsch said. Georgi Slavov, head of research at commodities brokerage Marex Spectron said he did not expect demand for crude oil to rise significantly in the final quarter of this year, which meant supply would have to be restricted even more tightly.

U.S. crude stocks rose last week while gasoline and distillate stocks decreased, according to the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday. Crude inventories rose by 1.4 million barrels in the week to Sept. 15 to 470.3 million, compared with expectations for an increase of 3.5 million barrels.

The U.S. Department of Energy releases official data on inventories and refinery activity later on Wednesday.

 

Sep 20, 2017

The Cedi may have relatively held its own against the US dollar for the greater part of this year, but against the Euro and Great Britain’s pound sterling, the cedi’s performance so far has been very woeful – a situation that would bring misery rather than relief to importers.

In the beginning of the year, the Euro was being sold at GH¢4.3755 on the interbank market --where the banks trade among themselves. As at close of trading on Monday, September 18, the Euro’s value was GH¢5.2703, about 90 pesewas extra than it began the year.

The cedi’s struggle against the Euro means that it has so far depreciated about 17 percent against the European Monetary Unit. The worsening performance means that, an importer who exchanged €1,000 for GH¢4, 3755 in the beginning of the year, will now have to part ways with GH¢5, 2703 for the same €1,000.

The local currency’s performance against the Great Britain’s pound sterling is somewhat better compared to the Euro but not any impressive. The cedi’s year-to-date depreciation against the pound on the interbank market is about 14 percent.

The announcement of Brexit and its attendant uncertainties forced the pound to some lows against some major trading currencies across the world. But with the dust surrounding the Brexit beginning to settle, the sterling is regaining its strength and the cedi clearly seems no match despite the cedi’s gains made during the heat of Brexit’s announcement.

On the interbank market as at Monday, September 18, the pound was selling at GH¢5.9749, up from the GH¢5.1591 it was selling at the commencement of the year. The increment represents approximately a 13.7 percent depreciation in the local currency. For an importer of goods from the UK, the exchange rate for £1,000 at the beginning of the year was GH¢5, 1591. But the same £1,000 pound now will exchange for GH¢5, 9749.

As at September 18, the cedi has depreciated against the dollar by 4.5 percent compared to the 4.1 percent it did same period last year.

Not all gloom

According to the UK-Ghana Chamber of Commerce, trade volumes between Ghana and the UK is a little over a billion bounds leaning towards more imports than exports for the West African country.

Nevertheless, while importers from the UK or the 16-member European Union will be hard-hit by the pound and euro fall, exporters will be looking to cash in on the windfall. The development between the cedi and two major currencies will mean that exporters will now be earning more cedis for the same proceeds.

For instance, an artifact exporter to the UK or the EU earning £1,000 or euro, would be getting more for the same amount of pound or euro than he was getting in the beginning of the year. Also, for Ghanaians resident in the UK and the EU, the development will mean that their remittances into the country will fetch more local currency than before.

According to DMA Global, a UK-based payments consultancy firm, formal remittances from UK to Ghana is about US$272 million as at 2015.

Sep 20, 2017

China is transforming its sources of energy domestically in a bid to reverse decades of environmental pollution. But the switch to renewable energy has brought about a conundrum: what to do with the jobs and industries that have no future in this new system?

Export them. Several African countries are accepting the poisoned chalice of China’s subsidised development through the construction of outdated, dirty coal plants.

Kenya is one. Its coastline is a national asset for fisheries, tourism, a growing population and economic development. But Amu Coal – a consortium of Kenyan and Chinese energy and investment firms – is set to start building a coal plant on the only part that is untouched by industrial development. The plant is planned to be some 20 kilometres from the town of Lamu on the mainland coast, at the mouth of Dodori Creek.

Lamu Town - A Unesco World Heritage Site. Shutterstock

Quite apart from the unfavourable economic and financing aspects for generating energy from coal, the plant may be Kenya’s single largest pollution source.

The problems should be set out in the Environment and Social Impact Assessment study required by Kenya’s Environment Act and vetted through the National Environment Management Authority. But three key issues are omitted or glossed over by the study. Any one of them should be cause for the environment authority, other arms of the Kenyan government and certainly the public to oppose the coal plant.

Thankfully, opposition is growing.

Key issues against plant

The first is a classic Industrial Revolution, Victorian issue. Toxic pollution. Coal releases a range of toxic substances into the environment. These go into the atmosphere, rain, groundwater, and seawater – and then to flora, fauna and people. These substances are barely mentioned in the assessment study. There are also no detailed estimates on the amounts that could be released and how they could be reduced by mitigating actions. The coal intended for use – initially to be imported from South Africa, and classified as “bituminous”, releases large amounts of toxins, particularly if improperly burned.

The impact study also doesn’t clearly state the full size of the mountain of coal residue left behind after burning –- almost 4km long by 1km wide and 25 metres high. No credible plan for disposing of the waste is presented.

Second is Kenya’s contribution to global carbon dioxide emissions. Under the Paris Agreement on climate change the Jubilee government committed to reduce these by 30% by 2030. The impact study dismisses the carbon emissions from the plant as negligible on a global scale, at only 0.024% of global emissions. But what it attempts to hide is that the emissions of the coal plant alone will double Kenya’s energy sector’s entire CO2 emissions. This at the same time that citizens, businesses and the government are investing in efforts to reduce their carbon footprints, through – for example through wind, solar and geothermal power generation.

Cars parked under solar panels at Africa’s largest solar carport in Nairobi’s Garden City shopping mall. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The third reason is a chimera of the above –- climate change and toxic pollution combined. It is reasonably certain that sea levels will rise due to climate change. Estimates suggest this could be in the order of half to one metre by the end of this century, and very possibly more. The toxic waste mountain left by the plant will be on Kenya’s flattest shoreline, built on sand. Its base will be maybe 2-3 metres above sea level, and tens to 100m from the shoreline. This is the most vulnerable part of Kenya’s coast where sea level rises, and yet the massive toxic dump is to be placed there.

Part of the impact assessment argues that “the area is remote” so few people will be affected by pollution. Quite apart from the flawed logic that it’s okay to pollute natural wilderness areas, if plans for a major urban development under the LAPSSET project – Eastern Africa’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure project bringing together Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan – are concluded, there will be a city of over one million people in the area by 2050.

The report contains nothing about exposure of this number of people to toxic waste. Even the Strategic Environment Assessment for the LAPSSET project, conducted in the last few years, doesn’t include the coal plant in its assessment. The logic is that the plant is “not part of LAPSSET” yet even the simplest understanding of the purpose of both impact assessments and strategic environment assessments is to consider all interacting threats, and particularly the biggest ones, to the environment and people.

Improved standards are undoubtedly needed in Kenya’s Environment Impact Assessment sector. The country will develop, by hook or by crook, with or without a vision for 2030. Strengthening environment and social impact assessment as a tool to facilitate the right sort of development – where currently it’s viewed by business and most government authorities as a pesky bureaucratic step at best – will be one of the single most significant steps the government can take to protect and grow the natural and social assets that secure, healthy and equitable development is founded on.

 

David Obura, Adjunct Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sep 19, 2017

If you’re familiar with mafia movies then you’re familiar with extortion – the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats. Extortion has been around for centuries – well before “The Godfather” or “Goodfellas.

” Even cyber extortion, which extends this criminal activity into the digital world, isn’t new. What is new, however, is the wide variety of methods that are used by the bad guys to get their money.Alastair Paterson

Three main tactics are behind cyber extortion: the threat of distributed denial of service (DDoS), the threat of data compromise and ransomware. DDoS attacks are one of the most popular means to facilitate extortion. These types of attacks typically target business-critical websites in order to increase the likelihood of payment, usually via Bitcoin (BTC), and can have crippling effects on organizations. In certain cases, such as when targeting hosting providers, the threat actor may add more pressure to pay by using the negative publicity associated with service downtime as a threat.

A second method of extortion involves the potential release of compromised data. This method is dependent on the fact that the target’s data has already been compromised. The threat of its release to the public domain is used as blackmail in order to extort money from the affected entity.

A third type of extortion, and the one most often in the news as of late, is ransomware – malicious software (malware) that restricts access to the computer system it has infected. The malware demands that a ransom be paid before restoring access to affected resources. Ransomware can prevent access to many features of a victim’s machine, including files, applications and the operating system itself. Because ransomware is an ever-evolving threat that can be more challenging to address than other cyber extortion tactics, let’s take a closer look at how it works and how to prevent and mitigate it.

At a high-level, the ransomware process is fairly standard. Files are encrypted and the attackers, who hold the decryption key, will only allow the target to decrypt the files after the required BTC ransom is paid. Specific details of the attack, however, will depend on the variant.

Until recently ransomware has been delivered most commonly via drive-by-downloads from exploit kits, or through spam emails that either contain malicious attachments or encourage recipients to visit websites hosting malicious content. But we see that starting to change with threat actors using more targeted methods to achieve their objective, such as spear-phishing emails purporting to be from a job applicant or including the name, job title and job-relevant information of the recipient. The disclosure that some organizations are paying the fee to unencrypt data likely provides further motivation for these types of attacks. In fact, when the actor estimates there’s a high likelihood of payment of the ransom fee they invest in more reconnaissance which can further increase the likelihood of infection.

As ransomware becomes big business, research on the dark web reveals a number of services being advertised to make it easy for beginners with low technical understanding to execute ransomware attacks with success. Everything they need is available on a USB stick for $1,200 or they can take advantage of a hosted service in return for 5 percent commission on the ransom payments received.
So how can you combat cyber extortion? Cyber situational awareness can give you greater insights into the tools and processes used by actors that employ DDoS-based extortion and compromised data release extortion. Advanced knowledge of the typical demands of a threat actor and their capabilities can help you make difficult decisions if presented with such a scenario and help you prevent future attacks.

Mitigating ransomware threats is more complex. It requires a combination of technical and process controls and company-wide engagement – from employees, to executives, to IT security teams. Cyber situational awareness can help you understand the infection vectors of the malware and apply the appropriate security controls to mitigate the risk of infection.

This includes insights you can use to raise staff awareness of how ransomware attacks occur and help you devise technical and procedural controls to prevent infection and to develop ransomware response procedures in the case of infection. Of course ensuring that backups are maintained and are separate from the network can increase resilience to such attacks. In addition, several decryption tools have been released but, in the cat and mouse game between ransomware and such tools, their effectiveness tends to be short-lived; ransomware developers are continuously developing encryption methods to evade them.

As defenders, staying up-to-date with the latest trends and innovation can be hard, but it is essential in order to effectively prevent and mitigate the effects of extortion on your business. With cyber situational awareness you can learn about the actors involved in extortion and their tactics, tools and motivations. With this knowledge you can more effectively align your defenses and make better decisions in the face of an attack.

 

By Alastair Paterson, CEO and Co-Founder of Digital Shadows

Sep 19, 2017

In January 1983 Robert Mugabe’s government launched a massive security clampdown in Matabeleland. It was led by a North Korean-trained, almost exclusively chiShona-speaking army unit known as the Fifth Brigade. They committed thousands of atrocities, including murders, gang rapes and mass torture.

Mugabe’s government called the operation Gukurahundi. This is chiShona for “the rain that washes away the chaff (from the last harvest), before the spring rains”.

It is estimated that between 10 000 and 20 000 unarmed civilians died at the hands of Fifth Brigade.

An analysis by the author of official British and US government communications relevant to the Matabeleland Massacres has shed new light on the British Government’s wilful blindness to Operation Gukurahundi, including its diplomatic and military team on the ground in Zimbabwe during the atrocities. The information was obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests to various British government ministries and offices and to the US Department of State.

The unique dataset provides minutes of meetings and other relevant communications between the British High Commission in Harare, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s office, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence in London, as well as the US Department of State and the US Embassy in Harare.

The brutalities

The attacks’ ramifications continue to be felt by survivors and their families. The children born of rape at the hands of the Fifth Brigade face ongoing discrimination and generally find themselves in hopeless situations.

The catalogue of brutalities committed by the Fifth Brigade include:

  • One man learned that his child was abducted from school by the Fifth Brigade and forced to catch poisonous black scorpions with his bare hands. He was stung and died before being buried in a shallow grave (interview with survivor TH, 2017). His only “crime” was to be Ndebele.

  • Entire families were herded into grass-roofed huts, which were then set alight (interview with survivor AN, 2017).

  • In Mkhonyeni a pregnant woman “was bayoneted open to kill the baby”. Also, “pregnant girls were bayoneted to death by 5th Brigade in Tsholotsho”, killing the unborn babies.

  • Young Ndebele men between the ages of 16-40 were particularly vulnerable. They were frequently targeted and killed or forced to perform demeaning public sex acts.

Unique dataset

The data provides a unique insight into the British government’s role in Gukurahundi. It also establishes what information was available to the British government about the persistent and relentless atrocities; what the British diplomatic approach was in response to this knowledge; and what the British government’s rationale was for such policies.

The data evidences, for example, that the British Foreign and Commonwealth offices were aware that:

there was much talk – and evidence – of widespread brutality by the Fifth Brigade towards [Ndeble] villagers.

In a cable forwarded to the US embassy in Maputo and Dar es Salaam, then-US Secretary of State George Shultz stated:

what we are addressing is not simply a bad policy choice by the GOZ [Government of Zimbabwe] to deal with a difficult security situation in a section of their country. What is involved is the very fundamental issue of relations between the two parties, between the Ndebele and the Shona.

The West German ambassador to Zimbabwe, Richard Ellerkmann, thought it “ominous” that “Mugabe, in his latest speech in Manicaland, had used the Shona equivalent of ‘wipe out’ with reference to the Ndebele people, not just ZAPU people, if they didn’t stop supporting the dissidents”.

However, “most poignant for Ellerkmann was the remark of a German Jewish refugee in Bulawayo who said the situation reminded him of how the Nazis treated Jews in the 1930s”. (Cable American Embassy, Harare to Secretary of State Washington DC, 11 Mar. 1983).

There could be no doubt in the minds of the British that Gukurahundi was Zimbabwean government policy. On 7 March 1983 Roland “Tiny” Rowland, a British businessman and chief executive of the Lonrho conglomerate with heavy economic commitments in Zimbabwe, met Mugabe. The documents indicate he subsequently reported to the American ambassador in Harare that he was convinced Mugabe was:

fully aware of what is happening in Matabeleland and it is Government policy. Mnangagwa (Zimbabwean Minister of State Security) is fully aware and he was in the meeting when they discussed the situation in detail.

The author’s analysis provides clear evidence that the British diplomatic and military teams in Harare during Gukurahundi were consistent in their efforts to minimise the magnitude of Fifth Brigade’s atrocities.

The remains of a victim of the massacre. Anonymous/Supplied by author

It is indisputable that this is the general theme of the available cables that were forwarded from the British High Commission in Harare to London during the period analysed.

The analysis also clearly proves that, even when in receipt of solid intelligence, the UK government’s response was to wilfully turn a “blind eye” to the victims of these gross abuses. Instead, the British government’s approach appears to be have been influenced solely by consideration for the white people who were in the affected regions but were not affected by the violence.

Rationale for realpolitik

The rationale for such naked realpolitik is multi-layered. It is expressed clearly in numerous communications between Harare and London. One cables notes that:

Zimbabwe is important to us primarily because of major British and western economic and strategic interests in southern Africa, and Zimbabwe’s pivotal position there. Other important interests are investment (£800 million) and trade (£120 million exports in 1982), Lancaster House prestige, and the need to avoid a mass white exodus. Zimbabwe offers scope to influence the outcome of the agonising South Africa problem; and is a bulwark against Soviet inroads… Zimbabwe’s scale facilitates effective external influence on the outcome of the Zimbabwe experiment, despite occasional Zimbabwean perversity.

One can but assume that “occasional Zimbabwean perversity” refers to Gukurahundi.

Accountability

In a more general sense it is quite clear that, apart from the immediate perpetrators, external bystanders also have to be held accountable at least to some extent for the unbridled atrocities that took place in Zimbabwe.

With the end of Mugabe’s long reign drawing ever closer, it is imperative that the international community help develop strategies to help Zimbabweans address the prevailing impunity and lack of accountability for the crimes of Gukurahundi. That is critical for the establishment of truth, justice, and accountability for the victims, survivors and their families.

 

Hazel Cameron, Lecturer of International Relations, University of St Andrews

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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