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Items filtered by date: Sunday, 03 June 2018

Ethiopia has started issuing visa online for tourists and other visitors across the world effective today (June 1). The Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, Fitsum Arega said "A relaxed visa regime will enhance both #Ethiopia's openness and will allow the country to harness the significant stopover transit traffic of @flyethiopian".

The online visa is seen as one of the most innovative services implemented in the area of freedom of movement but not many African countries have embraced electronic visa service. Online visa application service is regarded as an essential component of a modern, integrated visa management system, which enhances both security and convenience.

The Ethiopian Tourist eVISA was launched by the Main Department for Immigration and Nationality Affairs in Ethiopia in June 2017 but the service has only been open to a few countries (37 countries). The eVISA for Ethiopia now authorises tourists from across the world to apply for a tourist eVISA online. Once issued, the Ethiopian eVISA is valid for 30 or 90 days depending on the applicant's selection, according to ethiopiaonlinevisa website.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last month revealed that the country will "very soon" follow Rwanda's example allowing all Africans to travel to the country without visas. Ethiopia's move to relax its visa regime will open up the east African country to African visitors, and it will undoubtedly ease the free movement of African nationals and boost tourism.

Prime Minister Ahmed's plan was revealed during a state banquet which he hosted for Rwandan President Paul Kagame who was in Ethiopia last month on a three-day official visit. The two leaders held bilateral talks in Addis Ababa, and made a commitment to strengthen relationships in key sectors.

While Prime Minister Abiy did not give specific details of the plan to allow all Africans to travel to Ethiopia without visas, the proposal was warmly welcomed, seen by many observers as a laudable step to open Africa's borders. The policy will undoubtedly open up the east African country to African visitors, and it will ease the free movement of African nationals and boost trade and tourism.

Towards a more open Africa

The announcements by Prime Minister Abiy and his Chief of Staff Fitsum Arega are indeed laudable and demonstrates that African countries are beginning to act on the implementation of the African Union's (AU) 2063 Agenda for "a continent with seamless borders" to help facilitate the free movement of African citizens.

A number of African countries have in the past year started implementing the 30-day visa-on-arrival policy recommended by the AU, and these include Kenya, Ghana and Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe offers visas on arrival for SADC members and several international countries).

However, other countries have been slow in implementing the 30-day visa-on-arrival policy recommended by the AU. The visa policies of most African states remain restrictive, and the countries are inaccessible to African visitors.

The AU has appealed to countries to review their visa policies to "implement mechanisms allowing for the issuing of visas on arrival for citizens of Member States, with the possibility of a 30-day stay".

Credit: This is Africa

Published in Travel & Tourism

The United States' closest allies attacked the Trump administration on Friday for imposing tariffs on steel and aluminium imports and mounted challenges with the world's top trade body, fouling the mood at a G7 finance leaders meeting.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was the prime target of the criticism at the meeting of Group of Seven finance ministers and central bank governors in Canada, with the six other G7 member countries subject to the U.S. metals tariffs, which were imposed on national security grounds.

The tariffs also are complicating U.S. efforts to gain cooperation to challenge China's trade practices as U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrives in Beijing on Saturday for talks aimed at averting a U.S.-China trade war. Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, whose country's steel and aluminium producers have been paying the U.S. metals tariffs since March 23, called the U.S. action "deeply deplorable."

"This doesn't happen that often at G7 meetings, but it was U.S. against everyone else," Aso told reporters.

The European Union and Canada both filed challenges with the World Trade Organization. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement that the tariffs were "imposed under a false pretext of safeguarding U.S. national security."

At the G7 meeting in the Canadian ski resort of Whistler, British Columbia, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau said he expressed to Mnuchin "our absolute view that this is absurd that Canada could in any way be a security risk."

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire also said Mnuchin was clearly isolated at on the tariff issue, with the group devolved to a "G6 plus one" with the six expressing "total incomprehension" over the destabilising U.S. move.

"We must find a way to get out of this," German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told reporters. "That was said clearly by everyone and I think it was even taken on board" by Mnuchin.

Mnuchin, regarded as one of the more moderate trade voices in Trump's cabinet, said the issue may need to be resolved by G7 leaders at a summit next week in Charlevoix, Quebec, officials attending the meetings said.

The U.S. tariffs of 25 percent on imports of steel and 10 percent on aluminium were imposed early on Friday on Canada, Mexico and the European Union after they refused to accept steel and aluminium quotas in negotiations with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

TRUMP'S TWITTER TIRADE

Trump took to Twitter again on Friday to castigate Canada after his testy exchange with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday over rocky negotiations to update the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump tweeted that Canada had treated U.S. farmers "very poorly for a very long period of time." "Highly restrictive on Trade! They must open their markets and take down their trade barriers! They report a really high surplus on trade with us," he wrote.

Later on Friday, Trump told reporters that he might prefer separate trade deals with Canada and Mexico instead of a revamped NAFTA.

The White House said Trump told French President Emmanuel Macron of the need to "rebalance trade with Europe."

Trump's words followed swift responses to the tariffs by Canada, Mexico and the EU, which plan to retaliate with levies on billions of dollars of U.S. goods, including orange juice, whiskey, blue jeans and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Harley-Davidson's stock dropped about 1 percent on Friday, while shares of steelmakers U.S. Steel and AK Steel both rose 2.2 percent. The broader stock market rebounded on strong monthly jobs data.

Canada, the largest supplier of steel to the United States, said it will impose tariffs covering C$16.6 billion ($12.8 billion) on U.S. imports, including whiskey, orange juice, steel, aluminium and other products.

Mexico announced "equivalent" measures on a wide range of U.S. farm and industrial products, including pork legs, apples, grapes, cheese, steel and other goods.

The EU plans tariffs on U.S. exports running the gamut from canoes to "manicure or pedicure preparations."

"We are determined to protect the multilateral system," EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said of the WTO challenge. "We are expecting everybody to play by the rules.

CHINA COMPLICATIONS

The complaints came on the eve of a visit by Ross to China to try to secure long-term purchases of U.S. farm and energy commodities to help shrink the U.S. trade deficit. The U.S. team also wants to secure greater intellectual property protections and an end to Chinese subsidies that have contributed to overproduction of steel and aluminium.

Officials at the G7 meeting said the tariffs made it more difficult for the group to work together to confront China's trade practices, especially when Beijing, like most G7 members, supports the current WTO-based trade rules and the United States is seeking go around them. Le Maire asked Mnuchin, "How can you get the Chinese to respect international law if you don't?" one meeting participant said.

Mnuchin did not comment to reporters as he left the G7 meeting on Friday. The talks concluded on Saturday.

Eswar Prasad, trade professor at Cornell University and former head of the International Monetary Fund's China division, said that U.S. tariff actions are increasing perceptions that Washington is an unreliable trading partner.

"Rather than creating a common front to address widely held concerns about China's trading and economic practices, Trump has succeeded in alienating key U.S. allies and undercutting broader external pressure on China," he said.

For the EU, a decision on how far to push back will require agreement among the 28 member states that make up the world's biggest trade bloc. Germany, by far the biggest exporter to the United States, is keen to avoid a wider trade war, especially as the Trump administration has floated the prospect of tariffs on cars, which would potentially be devastating to German exporters.

Other EU countries such as France favour a more robust stance against what they see as American bullying.

 

Source: (Reuters)

Published in World

The Trump administration may soon claim as much as $1.7 billion (£1.2 billion) penalty from ZTE Corp, as it looks to punish and tighten control over the Chinese telecommunications company before allowing it back into business, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Commerce Department is also seeking unfettered site visits to verify U.S. components are being used as claimed by ZTE, and wants it to post calculations of the U.S. components in its products on a website, the people said.

China's No.2 telecommunications equipment maker has been crippled by a ban imposed in April on buying U.S. technology components for seven years for breaking an agreement reached after it was caught illegally shipping goods to Iran and North Korea.

The negotiations with ZTE come as U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross heads to Beijing this weekend for trade talks.

One source said Washington also wants ZTE to replace its board and executive team as soon as 30 days, but a deal still has not been finalised and the sources cautioned that the penalties were fluid and the terms could change. Representatives from the Commerce Department and ZTE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

American companies provide an estimated 25 percent to 30 percent of components in ZTE's equipment, which includes smartphones and gear to build telecommunications networks.

The company's status has become an important bargaining chip in high-level trade talks between China and Washington amid reports that if the United States eases up on ZTE, China will buy more American agricultural goods.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted last month that he told Commerce officials to find a way for ZTE to get back into business, later mentioning a $1.3 billion fine and changes to its board and top management as a way to penalise the company before allowing it back into business.

But ZTE's possible resuscitation has met strong resistance in Congress, where both Democrats and Trump's fellow Republicans have accused him of bowing to pressure from Beijing to help a company that has been labelled a threat to U.S. national security.

The company, which suspended major operations in May, desperately needs a deal to get back in business, with estimates it has lost over $3 billion since the April 15 ban on doing business with U.S. suppliers, a source familiar with the matter said last week.

PENALTY MAY BE LESS

The April ban came after the Shenzhen-based company admitted that while it dismissed four senior employees who had been involved in the original wrongdoing, it had not disciplined 35 others by either reducing their bonuses or reprimanding them, despite statements to the contrary, senior Commerce Department officials told Reuters at the time.

While it is expected the administration will claim a $1.7 billion penalty for ZTE, sources said that after breaking the figure down, ZTE will likely actually pay about $1 billion.

In addition, it will be asked to put $400 million in escrow, one of the people said.

In 2017, ZTE paid $892 million in civil and criminal penalties, with an additional $300 million suspended unless there were future violations. As part of a new deal, the $300 million would go into escrow in a U.S. bank, along with an extra $100 million, the person said.

Furthermore, the person said, the U.S. is expected to count $361 million in civil penalties that ZTE paid the Commerce Department last year in its $1.7 billion figure, even though that penalty was already collected as part of the $892 million. As part of any new agreement, the sources said, the U.S. wants ZTE to hire a new person to police its compliance. The compliance contractor would provide oversight along with an outside monitor who was retained as part of the March 2017 guilty plea.

The U.S. also wants its representatives to make site visits to check ZTE's claims about components without coordinating with Chinese government officials, as required by a non-public agreement between the countries, sources said.

Last year, ZTE paid over $2.3 billion to U.S. suppliers, a senior ZTE official told Reuters last month. Qualcomm, Broadcom Inc, and Intel Corp, as well as smaller optical component makers Acacia Communications and Oclaro Inc supply ZTE.

 

Published in World
Sunday, 03 June 2018 04:49

Dodgy mine mogul’s new Zim play

A central player in one of West Africa’s biggest corruption scandals is trying to make his comeback on the London Stock Exchange with a backdoor listing of mining assets in Zimbabwe.
 
Andrew Groves and his business partner, former England spin bowler Phil Edmonds, were accused of bribingLiberian officials to obtain lucrative mining concessions. In the wake of the Global Witness report, their company, Sable Mining, was forced off the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market.
 
Documents and emails leaked to Global Witness list bribes and questionable payments from Sable Mining to some of Liberia’s most powerful people totalling almost $1‑million.
 
It was not an isolated incident. After Liberia, Edmonds and Groves set their sights on a new prize: the Mount Nimba iron ore deposit in Guinea. To win it, Sable backed the election campaign that brought President Alpha Condé to power. They got close to his son, Alpha Mohammed Condé, paying for gifts and “consultancy services” to advance their business interests and to secure their permits.
 
In Liberia, the fallout from the report was extensive. Then-president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered an immediate inquiry and then British prime minister David Cameron wrote to her, saying Britain would co-operate to tackle corruption wherever it might occur.
 
The Liberian task force investigating the allegations filed criminal charges against numerous politicians, including the ruling party’s chairperson and the speaker of Parliament. Groves and Sable Mining were indicted on charges of bribery, criminal facilitation, criminal solicitation, criminal conspiracy and economic sabotage. In London, Sable’s shares collapsed as their investors and advisers pulled out.
 
Despite all this, Groves denies any wrongdoing.
 
Revival bid:
 
Now Groves is making his comeback. Sable Mining, renamed Consolidated Growth Holdings (CGH), is moving rapidly towards relisting its mining assets in Zimbabwe in a stock market manoeuvre known as a “reverse takeover”.
 
Within a month of President Emmerson Mnangagwa coming to power, Groves had inked a deal with Contango Holdings Plc, a cash shell floated on the London Stock Exchange only weeks earlier, according to a public announcement from the stock exchange.
 
Based on the limited information released by both companies, their plan is this: Contango will buy interests in a coal concession belonging to CGH in the northwest of Zimbabwe. In exchange, CGH will be given shares in Contango and the resulting entity will trade on the London Stock Exchange. It is known as a “back door to the market” because companies can avoid the regulatory scrutiny involved in a traditional initial public offering.
 
Groves has made a concerted effort to distance himself from his controversial past. Earlier this year, he issued a public statement announcing that all charges against him and Sable Mining had been “irrevocably dropped” after a “comprehensive review by the Liberian authorities”.
 
This is not true. Groves and Sable Mining were not cleared in a review because there was no review.
 
Fonati Koffa, who chaired the presidential task force investigating the allegations against Groves and who now heads Liberia’s House of Representatives judiciary committee, said: “This is a blatant and utter lie. There is no comprehensive investigation I am aware of that exonerated these people.
 
“We remained convinced of their complicity and guilt,” he continued. “I defy Sable Mining or whatever group they have morphed themselves into to produce such a report or the government official who conducted it.”
 
The reverse takeover is subject to listing approval in Britain. Groves’s misleading statement may be a ploy to clear his name ahead of the planned relisting.
 
“The UK authorities must now step up to the plate. Both AIM [the stock exchange’s Alternative Investment Market] and the Serious Fraud Office have been fully informed about these cases but are yet to take action,” said Daniel Balint-Kurti, head of investigations at Global Witness.
 
“The junior market has become a haven for rogue companies and now one of the most notorious of such companies hopes to clamber up on to the main London Stock Exchange.”
 
A spokesperson for Contango has denied that CGH and Contango have any connection other than the proposed transaction. “The fact that there are common investors/advisers is entirely coincidental,” she said in an email.
 
Nevertheless, Balint-Kurti says: “The authorities in Britain should pay attention. Edmonds’s and Groves’s bribery scheme was only part of a trail of trickery and intimidation stretching right across Africa, aided by secretive offshore companies.”
 
The Zimbabwe connection:
 
Contango says that it sees the proposed purchase of a near-term mine from CGH as its entry point into the Zimbabwean market, which is attracting international investor attention since the ousting last year of president Robert Mugabe.
 
But, like much else, details are thin on the ground.
 
CGH has an 80% interest in the Lubu coal project through Monaf Investments (Pvt) Ltd and a 49% shareholding in Liberation Mining (Pvt) Ltd, the company that holds the mining licence for the Lubimbi coal project. CGH’s interests are held by its wholly owned subsidiary, Somedon Investments, although the identity of its Zimbabwean shareholders has never been disclosed.
 
The companies were among the 20 entities awarded special grants by the government in 2010 to explore for coal. But eight years down the line, neither has started commercial operations.
 
The grant for the Lubu project was due to expire in January. In a report to Parliament last year, the then mines minister threatened to cancel further renewals of the licence because of the company’s nonperformance and failure to develop the project.
 
Announcing his plans to relist in London, Groves told Bloomberg that CGH’s priority would be coal and its Lubu asset. “I’d like to build it into a mid-tier mining company,” he said.
 
Contango’s spokesperson has said that Groves is not joining Contango and “he will have no involvement in Contango and/or its Zimbabwe business after the transaction”. She did admit that, as a shareholder, he stands to profit if the company prospers.
 
Groves also boasted in the interview of his local contacts, adding: “I’ve known Emmerson — the new president Emmerson Mnangagwa — for 15 years.”
 
This is a history that many members of the new government — including the president — may prefer to bury. One of Edmonds’s and Groves’s most successful companies, Central African Mineral and Exploration Company Plc (Camec), was entangled in a web of corruption, human rights violations and vote-rigging allegedly financed by lucrative mining deals in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
 
Billy Rautenbach, a major Camec shareholder, was accused by the United Nations of being a proxy for a network of military and political elites, led by Mnangagwa, that plundered the DRC’s mineral resources.
 
Camec was also accused of advancing a $100‑million unsecured loan to the Mugabe government ahead of the 2008 election. Groves maintains the loan was to pay off external creditors for agricultural supplies, but numerous sources say the money was used to finance Zanu-PF’s brutal crackdown on opposition supporters, during which 200 people were killed and 5 000 were beaten and tortured.
 
Having promised to revive Zimbabwe’s economy, which has been crippled by severe currency shortages, Mnangagwa is under pressure to deliver results. The mining sector has become a key driver in attracting foreign investment. Groves’s self-proclaimed familiarity with Mnangagwa suggests that the president may not be quite the new broom that he likes to claim he is.
 
But amid the dizzying reports of billion-dollar deals, familiar patterns of unaccountability, vested interests and opaque joint venture agreements are starting to emerge. The return of entrepreneurs such as Groves to the mining sector in Zimbabwe and to the stock market in London will be seen as a serious failure by authorities in both countries to tackle corruption, and brings their commitment to human rights into question.
 
Global Witness has called on British law enforcement agencies to take action and for the stock exchange to bar Groves and his companies for good. If things really have changed in Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe, then his government will do the same.
 
Credit: AfricanNews.com
Published in Opinion & Analysis
Just when it seemed Africa was left off Netflix’s plan for global content domination, the pioneers of binge-watching have hinted at plans to acquire more original content for the region.
 
Netflix is looking for a director of content acquisition for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. Based in Amsterdam, the new director will source local programming and acquire the global rights for shows and movies from the region. The Los Gatos, California company has had some success in licensing African shows intermittently to date but this role will require “a deep knowledge of the production landscape—both the creators and the distributors and the ability to identify appealing series and films early in the life cycle.”
 
Netflix’s success across the world has been driven in part by its focus on building local content as well as licensing popular Hollywood fare for markets around the world. The new role’s responsibilities signal a move toward deepening localized content including everything from local dramas stand-up comedy specials.
 
Despite optimism this means Netflix is taking the region more seriously, the entire continent of 54 countries is being lumped together with very different countries. Typically, multinational corporates and other international bodies put Middle East and North Africa as one region with Sub Saharan Africa as another. Of course, the successful candidate would work with a team, but they’d be responsible for a very broad region with disparate viewing cultures. That the new director’s office will be in Amsterdam speaks to multinationals’ unwillingness to establish a physical presence in Africa, even as they seek to build a customer base here.
 
Apart from juggling languages—Turkish, Arabic, French, English, Portuguese and more—there are political minefields hidden in plots. Netflix has clearly identified Turkey’s large local market with its soap operas and dramas exported to countries from Afghanistan to Chile. Yet, many of these shows also carry a political message, which may not go over well in the rest of the Middle East.
 
In Africa, Netflix’s acquired content is likely to skew toward Anglophone programming because South Africa and Nigeria have the most sophisticated and largest industries, respectively. This makes it easier to pick up quality content, but it likely underweights about the good portion of the continent’s viewers who speak French and Portuguese.
 
Keeping an eye on such a variety of TV screens could also overlook local shows that could blow-up with an international audience—like the Australian series The Let Down, which began as a Comedy Showroom project on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. This could make it difficult to identify the kind of sleeper-hits that have been breakout hits for Netflix.
 
For filmmakers and producers, Netflix’s focus on Africa will be a boon—even if that attention is divided. As the streaming service has expanded in Africa, it’s picked up films like the Nigerian box-office hit The Wedding Party, or Catching Feelings, a South African romcom. Thanks to Netflix’s disruption of the global television industry, stories about a chaotic wedding in Lagos or a crumbling marriage in Johannesburg will find a new audience.
 
Credit: BBC
Published in World
African central bank leaders are currently discussing whether to hold the yuan as part of their foreign reserves, highlighting the Chinese money’s rise as one of the world’s major reserve currencies.
 
Government officials from 14 African nations in eastern and southern Africa met on May 29 2018 in the Zimbabwean capital Harare to discuss sovereign reserve management, according to a report from the official China press agency Xinhua. The forum is being held by the Macroeconomic and Financial Management Institute of Eastern and Southern Africa (MEFMI), a regional establishment with members including Angola, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Tanzania. Besides strategizing on how to improve the weakened external positions of member nations during the global economic downturn, policymakers will also debate how to keep pace with large shifts in the global economy, where China has risen as a dominant and disruptive player.
 
“Most countries in the MEFMI region have loans or grants from China and it would only make economic sense to repay in renminbi (Chinese yuan),” MEFMI spokesperson Gladys Siwela-Jadagu said. “With China as the largest trading partner of over 130 countries, the main challenge for African countries is how to benefit from the new pattern of international commerce,” she added.
 
The move underscores China’s push to internationalize its currency in order to promote trade and investment, besides boosting its soft power. This is especially true in the era of Xi Jinping whose extended rule and assertive governance are set to reshape the country’s diplomatic, military, and economic place in coming years. The move is also indicative of China’s emergence as a greater power willing to fill in a financial gap, especially in the isolationist post-Brexit and “America first” era.
 
For Africa, the current interest in the yuan signifies the growing Sino-Africa relations, especially as China dishes out loans, funding projects ranging from energy and transportation to agriculture, telecommunications, and infrastructure. As China takes on greater responsibilities as a world power, many African nations are also signing up to join its internationally-funded bank which offers loans to emerging economies with fewer strings attached— an action that could entrap many in debt.
 
Beijing’s tight control on capital flows and a lack of transparency in monetary policies, however, continue to dampen global investor confidence in the yuan. Yet that hasn’t stopped the International Monetary Fund from adding the renminbi to the list of the Special Drawing Rights basket, an alternative global reserve asset to the dollar.
 
This has pushed banks globally to replace dollar reserves with the yuan, including the European Central Bank which converted €500 million worth of its US dollar reserves into the Chinese currency last year. In March, Nigeria also signed a currency swap worth $2.4 billion with China, allowing companies to avoid the difficulty of dealing in dollars while doing business in China and vice-versa.
 
Credit: AfricanNews.com
Published in World

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