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Mar 20, 2020

Many African countries have been recording high economic growth rates for years. However, a recent study showed that poverty on the continent has increased again. How can this be?

When it is about poverty in Africa, there are many misunderstandings. According to surveys, a large proportion of people in Europe and North America are convinced that little or nothing has been done in recent decades to combat extreme poverty on the continent. This is no surprise: stereotypes from the colonial era, memories of the terrible famines of the 1980s and current reporting on refugees easily obstruct a clear view of the living conditions of people in African countries.

In fact, the figures even suggest the opposite: there is progress - at least in the number of people who have to live on less than $1.90 (€1.76) a day. "Overall, the proportion of people in Africa living in monetary poverty has clearly declined, from 54% in 1990 to 41% in 2015," World Bank economist Luc Christiaensen said in the DW interview. The main contributors to this development were the expansion of infrastructure in rural areas, increased agricultural productivity and years of robust economic growth in most African countries.

So the trend is positive, but the whole truth is that rapid population growth has actually increased the absolute number of poor people in Africa, from 278 million to 413 million. The most important project of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - the end of all kinds of poverty by the year 2030 - will therefore most likely be missed by Africa. According to World Bank estimates, 20% of all people in sub-Saharan Africa will still be living in poverty in 2030 unless the governments of Africa significantly step up their poverty reduction efforts.

But it doesn't look like that at the moment. At least this is what a recent, representative study by the pan-African research institute Afrobarometer, which is regularly questions people in more than 30 African countries about the provision of their basic needs, suggests How often did you not have enough to eat last year? How often did you not have access to clean water? The researchers summarize the results in the so-called Lived Poverty Index (LPI).

The results of the study published this month are disillusioning. According to the study, between 2014 and 2018, lived poverty rose slightly in Africa for the first time in more than a decade. In some countries - including South Africa, Niger and Uganda - it even rose considerably. Although people are still better off on average than they were some ten years ago, the figures indicate that there are deeper-seated difficulties in the fight against poverty.

For study author Robert Mattes, a political scientist at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, the recent rise has one main reason: "Africa's democratization, which has been going on for decades, has come to a standstill," Mattes told DW. Even one well-functioning multi-party systems, such as in Zambia, Tanzania or Benin, have now come under pressure from authoritarian leaders. "This decline in democracy leads to a neglect of the needs of the rural population in particular. There are fewer incentives to take care of the things that reduce poverty," said Mattes.

Data from the study show that lived poverty is lowest where electricity networks, sewerage systems, roads and mobile phones are relatively well developed. Governments should therefore invest primarily in public infrastructure, Mattes said.

Inequality as a driver of poverty

Although the results of the Afrobarometer study match the assessments of other organizations on poverty in Africa, they also raise an apparent paradox. For years, Africa's economies have been recording some of the highest growth rates in the world, with the African average GDP rising by 4.7% per year between 2000 and 2018. Although the figures have fallen slightly in recent years, the question remains: shouldn't Africa's economic growth also be reflected in the development of poverty?

Henry Ushie of Oxfam Nigeria has an explanation for the sometimes huge discrepancy: "If we want to fight poverty, we must first fight inequality. Inequality is the biggest driver of poverty in the world." Economic growth, largely due to the sale of commodities, simply does not reach ordinary people. Inequality is particularly high in Nigeria, Africa's largest economy.

Oxfam therefore uses the so-called Commitment to Reduce Inequality Index to evaluate the efforts of governments in the fight against inequality. Among other things, it examines tax justice, investment in education and health, and gender equality. The results of a recent survey in several West African countries are sobering. "Governments in the region are not particularly committed, and unfortunately Nigeria is even ranked at the very bottom," said Ushie.

In the near future, African governments are likely to face another problem: The coronavirus, which could not only pose challenges to the health systems of African countries but is already slowing down the global economy. "The prices of oil and other commodities will fall and countries that live on the export of these commodities will have to go further into debt," said Luc Christiaensen from the World Bank. It remains to be seen whether countries that are less dependent on exports will also be affected. "In the fight against poverty, the coronavirus has thrown another obstacle in the way of African governments."


Culled from Deutsche Welle

Mar 20, 2020

The United States on Mar 10 granted Chinese telecom giant Huawei another 45 days to continue doing business with American companies.

The new provisional license expires on May 15. Prior to the extension, the previous license was set to expire on Apr 1.

In May, Washington said it would blacklist Huawei from the US market and from buying crucial American components.

The United States has expressed concern that Huawei equipment could contain security loopholes that allow China to spy on global communications traffic. The company has denied the accusation.

US companies and residents are essentially forced to find alternative suppliers for Huawei's telecommunications equipment and software.

US President Donald Trump's administration granted Huawei a provisional license, extended for 90 days in November and then for 45 days in February, so as not to cut off the most rural areas of the United States from the world while companies found alternative suppliers.

Source: AFP/jt

COVID-19, which first emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019, is relentlessly sweeping across the world. The scale of the epidemic has caused chaos and led to the World Health Organisation declaring it a pandemic in early February 2020.

Understanding the virus is the preoccupation of scientists who are trying to unravel its mysteries as a first step to finding ways to stop the disease spreading, and to finding a vaccine. On a daily basis scientists are finding out new things about SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the rapidly spreading disease COVID-19.

An area of inquiry is its relationship to other coronaviruses. For example, it’s been identified as being part of the same family of coronaviruses which caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). SARS was first identified in 2002. It caused severe respiratory disease which was fatal in approximately 10% of cases. MERS, on the other hand, originated in the Middle East and although less infectious, caused death in around 37% of cases.

Scientists investigating SARS-CoV-2 have found that the structure is very similar to the SARS-CoV. But there are also a number of marked differences. For example, one of the most startling differences of COVID-19 is its rapid spread across the world.

Closing the gap in understanding these differences and similarities is what stands between scientists and a solution to the rapidly spreading disease. One vital line of inquiry into how the body is able to fight and overcome the infection is how blood types – and their associated antibodies – might influence the immune response.

Similarities and differences

SARS-Cov-2 is round in shape and has a number of proteins called spikes on the surface. These spikes attach to the same human cell receptor (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2) as the SARS-CoV. This information is important as it suggests that the virus uses the same mechanism of ensuring that the viral genes enter the host cell, replicate and infect other cells. Scientists can use this to develop drugs which inhibit the spike protein from binding and so slow the ability of the virus to replicate

Another similarity is the structure of the spike protein which is called NSP15. Scientists from a number of universities in the US have studied the structure of this protein and found it to be 89% similar to the NSP15 protein in SARS-CoV.

Like COVID-19, SARS was highly infectious. But there was one quirk: not everyone who was exposed to individuals who were already infected developed the disease.

One area of research was whether blood types and naturally occurring antibodies could influence the spread or severity of infection.

The distribution of the four main blood groups (A, B, AB and O) varies across population groups and geographical regions due to natural selection, the environment and disease. Up until recently, blood groups were commonly known for their role in blood transfusion. If patients received incompatible blood, powerful naturally occurring anti-A or anti-B antibodies could cause a blood transfusion reaction.

But research has shown that blood types could also play a role in infection and how the body’s immune system responds. One theory is that blood group antigens can act as binding receptors which will allow viruses or bacteria to attach and enter the body’s cells.

An example of this is the norovirus which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea. This virus is able to bind to ABO antigens on mucosal surfaces of the gut, and once this happens, it is able to gain entry into the host cell and then replicate. On the other hand, anti-A and anti-B antibodies may be part of the body’s natural defence and could limit or even prevent infection.

What about coronaviruses?

Doctors at a Hong Kong hospital studied this phenomenon and reported that individuals who were blood group O appeared to be less susceptible to SARS-CoV than those who were group A, B or AB. Researchers showed that the virus could express antigens on its surface similar to those found in the ABH blood group. They also reported that naturally occurring anti-A antibodies were able to inhibit or even block the binding of the virus to the host cell.

This led to the theory that group O individuals, which have both anti-A and anti-B antibodies, may have some protection against infection.

The fact that blood types and their associated antibodies influence the immune response is one of the lines of inquiry into how the body is able to fight and overcome the infection.

How this occurs in COVID-19 still requires more study to build on the work already being done.

Another discovery is that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is unique and is 10-20 times more likely to attach to human cells. This could explain the increased and more rapid spread across populations.

The structure of these unique spike proteins matter enormously because they will form the basis for the development of a vaccine.

The ABO blood group has evolved in response to disease over thousands of years. The antigens and antibodies which form part of this system interact with cells of the immune system and are able to influence the way they react. As we get to know more about SARS-CoV-2 the role of blood types, if any, may become clearer.The Conversation


Glenda Mary Davison, Associate professor, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

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

Mar 19, 2020

While there is a lot of uncertainty around the economic impact of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, one thing that is certain is that it will change the way we do business in the long-term.

People are moving from offline shopping to online, and the habit is unlikely to disappear when the pandemic is over. Implementing ecommerce technology could be the key to retaining customers and leveraging changing consumer behaviour moving forward.

“Over the past few years, South Africans have come to rely on the convenience of online shopping; and now with the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s to be expected that the reliance on online shopping will be intensified,” says Jonathan Smit, Managing Director of PayFast, South Africa’s leading online payment gateway. “Self-isolation and consumer worry about public places means that local businesses are being forced to find quick and innovative ways to adapt to the current crisis.”

The use of online payments and home delivery for day-to-day consumables have already been established as the new norm by companies such as Mr D Food and Pick n Pay. In response to COVID-19, these retailers have upped their game by implementing ‘no contact’ deliveries to minimise human-to-human contact and maximise sales opportunities. This is a useful model to follow for other South African businesses, who are grappling with ideas on how to best manage COVID-19.

Although it’s impossible to know exactly to what extent South African businesses will be impacted by COVID-19, it is likely that consumers who start making online purchases now during the outbreak will continue to do so going forward.

“People will spend more time shopping online because they are avoiding public spaces. The long-term effect is that they will become accustomed to browsing and buying online, and not visiting physical stores as often,” says Smit. “If businesses can provide customers with a positive online experience, the short-term losses that brands may experience now could lead to their long-term gain.”

For example, older people who are the most susceptible to COVID-19 have been advised to avoid public spaces, including shopping centres and malls; “This could mean wider adoption of ecommerce, an area that older individuals have historically avoided, mainly due to mistrust of online platforms,” says Smit.

Smit has assured PayFast merchants and buyers that they will remain a top priority during the COVID-19 outbreak. “While undoubtedly a great challenge for the world at large, and a test of the viability of many businesses, we need to continue with business as usual. As with any obstacle in the business world, we cannot allow things to grind to a halt. This is the time to adapt, to evolve and to move forward.”

Mar 19, 2020

Walmart-owned Massmart announced on Thursday in a notice to shareholders that 23 Dion Wired stores will stop trading from today. It will still decide whether it will close 11 non-performing Masscash stores, the notice read.

The announcement comes following a previous statement issued on 13 January 2020, that the retailer would enter into a S189 consultation process, in terms of the Labour Relations Act.

"Since 13 January 2020, management have consulted extensively with the affected employees; organised labour and other relevant stakeholders under the guidance of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and all options/alternatives in respect of the potential closure of the affected stores have been exhausted," Massmart said. The board has thus taken a decision to close the non-performing stores.

The company said it is in talks with unions, to mitigate the amount of job losses - possibly deploying some of the Dion workers to vacant roles within the Massmart Group, "where practical and reasonable".

Dion Stores was founded in 1970 by Dion Friedland, an entrepreneur who had already cut his teeth – and made his fortune – with a chain of furniture and appliance stores called Rave at the age of 25.

In 1990, the Massmart group was created around six Makro stores, and in 1993 it acquired what was then a group of 20 Dion department stores. Two decades later, in 2011, Walmart took control of Massmart as part of an expansion strategy that had it eyeing the African continent.

Massmart saw its profits plunge by R1.73 billion in 2019, due to disastrous trading at Game and DionWired, and in the division that houses Cambridge Food and its Jumbo and Rhino store brands.

But Builders Warehouse and Makro continued to make decent money for the Walmart-owned group.


Source: Fin24

The Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday approved a N1.5 trillion cut from this year’s budget, Finance, Budget and National Planning Minister Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, told reporters after the FEC meeting.
She described the budget cut as one of the measures approved by the federal government to stabilise the economy.
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari constituted a committee to assess the impact of the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as well as the crash of crude oil price, on the Nigerian economy and propose measures to sustain the economy.
However, the Minister of Finance said her committee had briefed the FEC on the measures it had come up with, adding that the presentation was approved.
She said the measures were arrived at, considering the current economic realities, adding that government would be working on a worst scenario oil benchmark of $30 per barrel at 2.18 million barrels per day.
Some of the measures, according to her, include: a cut down on the size of the federally funded upstream projects by N457 billion; reduction of projected revenue from excise duty; cut down on capital expenditure by 20per cent; a reduction of recurrent expenditure by 25 per cent; a ban on recruitment except for essential services and the review of social investment programme among others.
Some other measures approved were the reduction of projected revenue from privatisation by 50 per cent and the suspension of recruitment exercise in the civil service.
The minister said: “I’m pleased to report that just yesterday His Excellency has approved a number of measures for us to implement. These measures include the introduction of PMS price modulation mechanism. The reason being that at the low crude oil price of $30 to $32 per barrel, there’s no under – recovery.
“The under-recovery is right now zero, in fact, we are at an over-recovery stage, meaning the PMS price will be reduced to reflect the reduced price of the crude oil in the international market.
“Mr. President also approved that we should cut down on the size of the federally funded upstream projects of the petroleum sector. The reason being we want to be able to get more revenue, by less reduction from NNPC.
“The reduction of the crude oil price from the $57 per barrel that we budgeted to $30 means that we are going to get so much less revenue, almost 45 per cent less than we planned and because of that we have to amend a lot of projections in the budget as well as in EMTEF to reflect our current realities.
“The President also agreed that we should do a scenario to reflect what the actual position will be with a $30 crude oil price, that is we were to anticipate what will be the worst case scenario and we’ve worked on that scenario and this scenario necessitates that quite a number of expenditures needed to be cut down, even as we review how we can enhance revenues that are not directly affected by the crude oil price decline.
“So, we are looking at enhancing production to make sure that at the minimum the 2.18 million barrels that is in the budget as production volume is realised and NNPC has directives to that effect. We also need to adjust Customs revenue, which has been budgeted for at N1.5 trillion, but we are adjusting it downwards because we anticipate that trade volumes will reduce and once trade volumes reduce, Customs revenue will be significantly impacted as a result.
“We also have approvals to reduce the projected revenue from privatisation proceeds by as much as 50 per cent because, again, with the slowdown in economic activities, we are anticipating that the sale of independent power plants might not be fully realized as planned for in the budget.
“On the expenditure side, the President has approved that we should cut down the capital expenditure budgeted by 20 per cent across ministries, departments and agencies and also a 25 per cent cut of all government owned enterprises and these include the ones that are in the national budget: the ones that we included in the 2020 Budget, but also the ones that we didn’t include in the 2020 Budget. All of these MDAs will have their recurrent expenditure and capital expenditure cut down by 25 per cent.
Mar 19, 2020
The Federal Government of Nigeria is restricting entry into the country for travellers from the following countries; China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, Norway, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Switzerland. These are all countries with over 1,000 cases domestically. 
The Federal Government is temporarily suspending all visas issued to nationals from these countries. Nigerians arriving from these countries will be subjected to supervised isolation for 14 days.
The Federal Government of Nigeria is also advising all Nigerians to avoid travel to these countries.
 These restrictions will come into effect from Fri 20 March 2020 for 4 weeks subject to review.
Mar 18, 2020

South African state-owned airline SA Express said it would suspend operations from Wednesday until further notice because of recent developments, including the impact of a rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic.

The global aviation industry is battling to survive a plunge in demand caused by the virus, with some airlines seeking government bailouts or grounding most of their fleets.

SA Express, which flies to domestic and regional destinations, said it would accommodate customers on alternative flights and non-critical staff would go on compulsory leave.

“The airline will utilise this period to review its current network and streamline operations for improved efficiency,” it said in a statement.

SA Express entered a form of bankruptcy protection this year, after a court battle with a contractor, logistics firm Ziegler.

It is a separate business from much larger state carrier South African Airways, which is also under bankruptcy protection.


- Reuters

Mar 18, 2020
An Indian contractor staff with Dangote Industries Limited has been quarantined for Coronavirus at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba area of Lagos, Southwest Nigeria.
Management of the Dangote Industries Limited in a statement on Tuesday said its attention had been drawn to a flash report of a suspected case of personnel currently being kept in isolation at the Mainland hospital, Yaba, Lagos.
The Company said “We will like to state that an Indian national who is a staff of Onshore Construction Company-a mechanical, electrical and instrumentation contracting firm that specialises in fertiliser construction reported at the Site clinic complaining of high temperature and fever.
“His complaint triggered our Protocols which necessitated further screening and isolation immediately. Mr. Akhil Kunyil, of the Health and Safety Environment of the Onshore Company reported the development to the management following which local authorities were contacted. The patient was immediately conveyed to the Lagos Mainland Hospital Center, where he is currently being isolated and undergoing tests.”
It stated that “As an organisation, we have taken the following stringent proactive measures across our entire group since mid- January 2020, which are; development of a comprehensive risk identification, control priotization and escalation plan; identification and retention of a competent team of medical consultants and travel ban for all employees to/from high risk countries as per World Health Organisation (WHO) publications of country exposures.
The statement said that other measures implemented were “travel tracking of all employees and contractors staff arriving/leaving Nigeria and obligations for completion of medical checks to validate health status; implementation of use of Thermal cameras across our various sites as well as infrared thermometers checking in smaller office locations; identification and creation where applicable of holding, isolation and quarantine areas; implementation of use of sanitizers across all locations: sites and offices and multiple and continuous awareness campaigns on preventative measures to be taken both electronic and physical announcements.”
It added that the above measures were continually updated as the situation globally evolved and “we will continue to do so. The welfare of our employees and the nation as a whole remains our utmost priority.”
Mar 18, 2020
Delta Airlines on Tuesday announced its plans to reduce its flight operations’ capacity by 15 per cent following the spread of Coronavirus to the country.
The airline’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr Ed Bastian, stated this in a statement he issued in Lagos.
Bastain said that since the World Health Organisation’s declaration of the virus as a pandemic, it had led to a decline in demands across all entities.
He said that the airline was taking the decisive action to also protect its financial position.
The airline’s boss explained that the reduction was to align capacity with the expected passengers’ demands.
“To align capacity with expected demand, Delta Airlines is reducing system capacity by 15 points.
“It is also planning to reduce its international capacity by between 20 per and 25 per cent, and reduce its domestic capacity by between 10 per cent and 15 per cent.
“In addition to the significant efforts underway to protect the health and safety of our customers and employees, we are announcing additional steps to address the financial impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“In the weeks since COVID-19 emerged; Delta Airlines has risen to the challenge, taking every possible action to take care of and protect its customers during a stressful time.
“Top priority is protecting the health and safety of our customers and employees,” he said.
Bastian said that the airline, due to the outbreak of the virus, had made the difficult, but necessary decision to immediately reduce its capacity.
According to him, the airline is also implementing cost reductions and cash flow initiatives across the organisation.
Bastian added that over the past 10 years, he had transformed Delta Airlines by strengthening its balance sheets, diversifying its revenue streams and enhancing operational and financial flexibilities.
He said that the environment was fluid and trends were changing quickly, but it was well-positioned to manage the challenges.
The airline CEO said that the management was taking actions to ensure that Delta Airlines continues to maintain its leadership position and strong financial foundation.
He said that the company would continue to make adjustments to planned capacity as demanding trends change.
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