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President Robert Mugabe’s government announced a late Monday afternoon deal to hand its employees $180 million in 2016 bonuses, only just managing to head off a planned strike.
With an election due next year, the Mugabe government is keen to keep a lid on passions, at whatever cost.
As news of the bonus deal broke, statutory pension fund National Social Security Authority (NSSA) announced the government had given it treasury bills worth $181 million, primarily to clear arrears for the three years when the state could not remit its contributions to the fund as an employer. It is no secret that government has been struggling to meet payroll and, equally, not surprising that it has defaulted on its employees’ pension contributions and medical insurance.
Last year, it took government six months to eventually pay off all 2015 government bonuses. Even so, this came at a price as government defaulted on the June payroll, triggering a civil servants’ strike that was seized upon by some anti-government activists to create the biggest protest against Mugabe in recent years.
The situation is similar this year, with payments staggered over five months to August. There are compelling arguments against the payment of automatic bonuses to a bloated workforce of a government whose fiscal position is, at best, fragile. But that’s not an argument a wasteful government which splurges on luxury cars and avoidable foreign travel can make.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who has fought a losing battle to at least suspend the bonuses over the past two years, put on a brave face on Monday as he told reporters “government will certainly mobilise the resources.”
Recent history points to one obvious source of funding: paper. Government paper.
Money on trees. Literally.
As it has done with reckless abandon since 2012, government will issue treasury bills, mop up cash from the domestic financial market and crowd out the productive sector, as Chinamasa himself admitted during his 2016 mid-term budget statement. At the time, the Treasury chief had also warned about a runaway budget deficit as government was a third into $1.2 billion budget deficit for the year.
For a government which had virtually no domestic debt between 2009 and 2011, the explosion of local borrowings from around $300 million in 2012 to $3.7 billion by October 2016 is alarming.
The bulk of the debt is in the form of government paper which, according to central bank governor John Mangudya, currently stands at $2.1 billion. Analysts have criticised the government for going into overdrive with its treasury bill issues, worsening a liquidity crisis that has hobbled the economy.
Not that government will listen to any advice to curb its appetite to spend, or institute the necessary reforms that will see it moving away from the current ridiculous situation where 97 cents out of every dollar the state raises go towards employment costs. Last year, Mugabe’s Cabinet publicly rebuked Chinamasa for proposing 25,000 job cuts and suspending bonuses among other cost-reduction measures which he said would save $355 million over two years.
As Zimbabwe heads to next year’s election, government’s instinct will be to spend more, not less. And, over the years, Mugabe has shown that he is not averse to making bold, costly promises to segments of the electorate he views integral to his electoral ambitions. But there are limits to kicking the can down the road each time you’re faced with difficult decisions.
This is why Zimbabwe’s current path to financial ruin is worryingly familiar.
The economic meltdown which reached its peak in 2008 was the outcome of a series of poor decisions — price controls, unrestrained money printing — by a government which insists on turning economic orthodoxy on its head.
- The Source
The world’s leading legal tender bullion gold coin, the Krugerrand, this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, marking a critical milestone in South Africa’s beneficiation of its precious metals since gold was first discovered on a Transvaal farm, Langlaagte, on the Witwatersrand in 1886.
The Krugerrand is the most widely held and actively traded bullion coin in the world. It was developed as a gold investment coin and its face value is denominated in ounces of pure gold.
“The Krugerrand has come a long way, and actually tells a beautiful story about South Africa’s endeavours to add more value to its precious metals for the export markets,” says Richard Collocott, Executive Head of Marketing at Rand Refinery, the sole supplier of bullion Krugerrands to primary distributors in South Africa and internationally.
“Since its launch in 1967, more than 53 million ounces of gold have been sold in the form of Krugerrands. Legitimately so, the Krugerrand has been credited as being the trailblazer in the gold bullion coin industry.”
The Krugerrand was the first gold coin in the world to be denominated in ounces of pure gold. It was first only produced as a 1oz gold coin. Recognising an opportunity in the market, fractionals of a ½oz, ¼oz and 1/10oz were added in 1980. Krugerrands are 22 carat coins, containing 11/12 24 carat gold and 1/12 copper. As a traditional alloy used in gold coins that serve as currency, copper hardens the coins, enhancing their durability and strength.
“The success of the Krugerrand shows it is possible to add value to our precious metals if we develop local capabilities and channel resources towards achieving these goals. It will take time and huge investment but it is something worth pursuing,” says Praveen Baijnath, the Chief Executive of Rand Refinery.
In the early days of South Africa’s gold mining, the crude bullion produced had to be shipped to London for refining. The concept of a local refinery had been considered for several years but only in 1920 were concrete steps taken with the launch of Rand Refinery. Now the largest integrated single-site precious metals refining and smelting complex in the world, Rand Refinery has since 1920 refined nearly 50 000 tons of gold – almost a third of all the gold mined worldwide. The Krugerrand, which it manufactures in partnership with the South African Mint, is one of the most precious products it’s ever produced.
As part of its socio-economic upliftment and sustainable development initiatives, Rand Refinery has established three key projects that seek to benefit communities: the Gold Zone, Intsika Skills Beneficiation Project and Ekurhuleni Jewellery Project.
The Gold Zone, located within Rand Refinery’s Germiston precinct, aims to become a major hub for precious metals fabrication in South Africa for global export, while at the same time assisting local communities with skills development. The Intsika Skills Beneficiation Project provides jewellery design and manufacturing training to formerly unemployed young black women over an 18 month period.
The Ekurhuleni Jewellery Project is a Small to Medium Manufacturing Enterprise / Black Economic Empowerment incubator for qualified young black jewellery manufacturers. In partnership with government, Rand Refinery provides funding, workshops as well as access to precious metals to enable these young entrepreneurs to start their own businesses in a secure and enabling environment.
South Africa is home to precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum, and since the 1990s government has been pushing hard for the beneficiation of these metals in the country in order to extract more value. Mineral beneficiation involves the transformation of a primary material to a more finished product, which has a higher export sales value. The Krugerrand is the most visible form of beneficiation of South Africa’s gold.
Beneficiation has become one of the major drivers in advancing the empowerment of historically disadvantaged communities in South Africa. Government has also used beneficiation as an opportunity for the development of new entrepreneurs in big and small mining industries.
Adebayo Shittu, minister of Communications, has commiserated with the family of Mrs. Florence Omatule Seriki, founder and CEO of Omatek Ventures Ltd and the nation’s ICT community on the sudden death of the frontline indigenous computer manufacturer.
On his part, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, former executive vice chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) described her as a woman of uncommon intellect and courage. Also, The Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) described her demise as an irreparable loss to the Seriki family, the nation’s ICT community and the country at large. The Minister said that Mrs. Seriki died when the nation most needed her wealth of experience to boost ICT development in the area of manufacturing and assemblage of computers, equipment and accessories.
According to him, her death is a monumental loss to the nation especially at this period that the government is courting the ICT sector as the next mainstay of the economy.
His words,” Honestly speaking, the Nigerian ICT community will greatly miss her considering her huge contributions to the development of computer hardware and accessories. In fact, Mrs. Seriki, a team player, was a front liner who paved the way for other indigenous manufacturers of computers in Nigeria and Africa. “It is worthy of note that her contributions transcend beyond the shores of Nigeria with a big factory in Ghana, as Omatek brand of computers is an household name in many African countries”.
He was optimistic that her demise will not wane down the growth and influence of the company in ICT development, stressing that “what she lived for should be upheld”. While the Minister prayed for the repose of the soul of the deceased, adding that God will give the members of her immediate family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
Ndukwe while reacting to the news of her demise, said that “I join all the members of the ICT family to mourn the untimely passing of an Amazon. A woman of uncommon intellect and courage. She was a great ally during the days of telecommunications liberalization/deregulation. May her soul respect in peace” On their part, the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) said they mourn, with heavy heart, the passing of Mrs. Florence Seriki, a major player in the IT industry.
The Society described her as an acclaimed IT Amazon in her own right; she was a dogged entrepreneur, pacesetter and industrialist who made giants strides in the sector.
“Mrs. Seriki was the Immediate Past President of the Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN) and was a member of the NCS National Executive Council for several years.
“She was a fellow of NCS, Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers and the Institute of Directors. “Mrs. Florence Seriki was honoured with Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) national honour in recognition of her contributions to national development. Based on her exploits in the tech sector, she emerged as the 2015 Information Technology (IT) Personality of the Year.
“Her passing is a huge loss to the IT community. May God comfort her family and loved ones she left behind. May her soul rest in peace.
Seriki was born in Lagos to the Udebu family from Ebu in Delta State. She had her secondary education at the Reagan Memorial Baptist Secondary School, Sabo, Yaba between 1975 and 1980. History of the school still has it that she put up a superlative academic performance all through her stay. She then proceeded to the Federal School of Science, Lagos (F.S.S) for her A levels. Again, she emerged as the best overall student in lower six form. She proceeded to the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife). She graduated in Chemical Engineering.
In 1993, during the CTO exhibition (organized by the commercial section of the American Embassy in Nigeria), Florence took a bold step to launch the Omatek brand of Computers. This, which is actually the first attempt of its kind in Nigeria, became widely accepted and used as a result of its quality and ruggedness.
Early in 2003, she took another giant stride opening a factory in Lagos. The factory has turned out to be the very first in Africa to produce Nigerian made Computer Cases, Speakers, Keyboards and Mouse from completely knocked down (CKD). The factory produced made in Nigeria Omatek Computers, Notebooks and Servers with all its components made in Nigeria.
Florence expanded the business when she established Omatek Ghana as part of her vision towards making Omatek a pan African company. She also opened another arm of the business in Singapore as part of efforts to engage in effective research and development for the business. According to a statement signed by Dr. Timothy Farinre, chairman, Omatek Ventures Plc, during her lifetime, every day was a challenge - a challenge she enjoyed and with these challenges she grew both personally and technically.
“But equally important, she thoroughly enjoyed working with her professional colleagues. Through her experience, Omatek grew to become a very relaxed atmosphere, which also helped her staff to performing at their best. “Her work was part of her self-fulfillment. The other part is of course more personal, be it about spending time with friends and family, or pursuing her hobbies. Her job gives her the flexibility to enjoy that just as much.
“Naturally, her university education provided her with the basics, which she applied in her job. But she learnt new things almost everyday due to her wide travel experience. She did not pursue these things because she was thinking about her career, but because it was fun and an adventure she didn't want to miss”, he said.
Florence was talented, innovative, hardworking and a consumate achiever. She won over 150 awards during her lifetime. Married to Olalekan Seriki, a successful architect, Florence Seriki is blessed with three children, a boy and two lovely girls.
Many Kenyan social media users are worried that the government will shut down the internet during August’s general election. Kenya’s Communications Authority has attempted to reassure voters that this is unlikely. However, fears that internet freedoms could be at risk are not unfounded.
The list of African countries that have blocked access to social media during elections and other politically sensitive periods is growing.
Countries like Ethiopia, Madagascar and Tanzania, have introduced cybercrime legislation that threatens freedom of expression. Elsewhere, social media users, including journalists, have been prosecuted under existing legislation for content they have shared online. Such actions are often justified in terms of preserving peace and security because social media does offer a potential platform for the dissemination of hate speech and incitement to violence.
This is particularly problematic in contexts where political candidates draw on ethnic or religious differences to mobilise support. The role played by incendiary text messages in the violence around Kenya’s 2007 elections, for example, is often evoked as a reminder of the potential dangers of unregulated mass communication. In South Sudan, the ongoing conflict has been fuelled by online rumours and hate speech. Some even blamed a ‘false’ Facebook post for causing 150 deaths.
In parts of Africa, social media provides a tool for terrorist groups to recruit and communicate with their followers.
However, government claims that social media is dangerous and shouldn’t always be taken at face value. New forms of communication are shaking up political competition across Africa as elsewhere. This has worrying implications for regimes that hope to cling to power.
The list of African countries blocking access to social media during elections is growing. Shutterstock
Alternative source of news
Social media provides new ways of rapidly sharing information with large numbers of people. In the past a joke poking fun at a political leader might have been shared with a few friends. Today it could reach thousands. Blogs and platforms, such as WhatsApp, have become major sources of news for many internet users. They sometimes inform what’s reported in the ‘traditional’ media.
Jokes aside, government violations of electoral procedures or other human rights violations can be exposed online.
Social media has played a role in empowering civil society and helps opposition movements to organise in some of Africa’s most authoritarian countries. The internet also gives localised political issues a global audience. This was the case during recent protests in Ethiopia, when opponents of the regime in the diaspora were able to engage through social media.
However, increased online communication also offers new opportunities for government surveillance and censorship. Internet shutdowns and ‘cybercrime’ prosecutions that target critics of leaders are tools with which to close down political space. In countries such as Tanzania, restrictions on online debate have been accompanied by complementary offline measures. These include a ban on political rallies and prosecutions of opposition members of parliament for sedition.
Standing up to the state
In the face of government censorship, citizens have attempted to resist restrictions on their internet freedom. For example, in 2016, many Ugandans undermined attempts to block social media by using virtual private networks (VPNs) to connect.
Mobile network operators may face questions about whether they can do more to stand up to governments in future. Challenging restrictive legislation in court may also prove successful. In Kenya, for example, a legal provision relating to ‘improper’ use of a telecommunications device was declared unconstitutional.
However, in neighbouring Tanzania an attempt to challenge the Cybercrime Act was dismissed. These are certainly not issues that only affect African countries. Between June 2015 and July 2016 there were 81 short-term disruptions to internet access in 19 countries. They included India, Turkey and Vietnam.
Globally, the growth of social media has stimulated debate about where to draw the line between protecting freedom of speech and giving a voice to hatred and extremism. Last year’s presidential campaign in the United States generated concerns about the role of social media in spreading ‘fake news’ with important political consequences.
These debates are urgent in parts of Africa.
In 2017, elections are due in a number of countries that have recent histories of electoral violence. Here, ethnic and regional divisions have in the past been manipulated by political candidates. There’s therefore a need to consider how to ensure social media isn’t used to incite violence or spread dangerous rumours. The question remains as to how governments can be prevented from seizing the opportunity to restrict citizens’ rights.