The US is an active participant in the war against Al-Shabaab in Somalia, efforts that have increased in the last few years under the Trump Administration.
The strategy involves using airstrikes to assist Somali ground forces in recapturing territory controlled by Al-Shabaab. In addition, there have been attempts to take out Al-Shabaab leadership, destroy training facilities, and eliminate rank-and-file members.
The US argues that military action is necessary for two main reasons: to counter the influence of Al-Shabaab locally; and to prevent the group from reaching out to members of the Somali diaspora community to inspire tragic terror attacks. Examples include the Westgate Mall attack in Kenya that killed 67 people, and the attack on a university in Garissa that killed 147. Earlier this year there was an attack on a hotel in Nairobi that killed 14 people.
From the perspective of the US, this terror threat is compounded by the inability of the US-backed Somali Federal Government to consolidate power in the shadow of Al-Shabaab’s influence. This has created a roadblock to much-needed regional stability.
The resilience of Al-Shabaab raises questions about the effectiveness of the current strategy. In addition, civilians being killed as a consequence of US strikes should not be taken lightly. Understanding when and why these targeted civilian killings occur as a consequence of US action is vital for US policymakers as well as those on the ground seeking to address the prolonged humanitarian crisis.
We examined the hidden costs of US strikes in Somalia in a recently published paper. Our research shows that US strikes do have hidden costs in Somalia, with civilians becoming victims in the aftermath of strikes targeting military assets. This implies that efforts by the US to undermine Al-Shabaab’s war-making capabilities put innocent life at risk. And do little to combat the group’s influence in the region.
What we found
In a bid to understand the impact of attacks, we hand coded data collected by the Armed Location and Event Data Project. The project uses news sources to capture information on events associated with the onset, evolution, and escalation of political violence in much of the world. We examined the content of the media-generated events to identify incidents of Al-Shabaab murdering innocent civilians.
For targeted civilian killings, we only kept those instances in which Al-Shabaab purposefully executed or assassinated civilians. Examples included civilians executed by firing squad after being accused of being spies. In another case a group of civilians were called before a court only to be put to death in public.
We also did the same for data related to US strikes. We coded them based on the intended target, such as leadership, rank-and-file members, or military assets. We consulted the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to ensure the strikes we captured were valid and complete.
Because the data were geo-referenced, we investigated whether the locations where US strikes occurred were associated with subsequent targeted civilian killings.
We found that US strikes made it 5.5 times more likely that civilians were murdered by Al-Shabaab. But when looking at the three different types of targets, we found important differences.
Strikes that targeted military assets made it five times more likely that civilians were murdered, whereas the killing of rank-and-file members reduced the likelihood of targeted civilian killings by 99%. We didn’t find any statistically significant relationship between attempts to assassinate leadership by the US and patterns of targeted civilian killings at the hands of Al-Shabaab.
Importantly, killing rank-and-file members reduced the probability of targeted civilian killings. This shows that, while significant blowback does result from some strikes, others may actually reduce civilian victimisation by Al-Shabaab.
The effectiveness of killing Al-Shabaab leaders remains open to debate. Previous research on the effectiveness of this strategy came to different conclusions. It certainly appears that the outcomes are usually based on the characteristics of the group being targeted and nature of the conflict.
And, while some evidence exists that killing leaders reduces violence, there is also evidence that such strikes can lead to the onset of revenge killings. This can put targets like civilians in harm’s way.
Implications for US strategy
Our study speaks only to US strategy in Somalia.
The influence of US strikes on armed non-state groups varies depending on the characteristics of that group and the conflict itself. Though a great deal of progress has been made in developing expectations that can be generalised, there’s still a great deal of work to be done. This is particularly true when it comes to examining the long-term implications of airstrikes.
Our findings challenge the simplistic argument that airstrikes, such as those used in Somalia, are “good” and “just” because they have the potential to prevent widespread war that would put innocent lives at risk.
Our findings point out that the issue for US policymakers is that strikes that destroy the war-making capabilities of Al-Shabaab lead to the brutal murder of civilians in retaliation. This unjust killing of innocent people, which would not occur in the absence of US strikes, should caution US policymakers. This is particularly true given given the apparent failure of the current strategy.
And, while the US may prevent murders by targeting rank-and-file members instead of military assets, these members can be replaced via new recruits, allowing Al-Shabaab to continue its reign of terror.
If civilians continue to suffer as part of this status-quo, both the utility and morality of airstrikes in the region need to be the subject of greater debate in the policy community.
Last week, the Nigerian bourse posted more positive performances on daily basis than it did negative results, causing the week to end on a positive note. The two key market performance indicators simultaneously closed in the positive territory, consequently bringing a modicum of confidence the way of stock investors.
We have selected a group of stocks you should watch out for this week from the look of the market in the week that just went by.
Nigeria stock watchlist is a selection of stocks monitored for viable trading or investing opportunities. An investor may casually generate a list of equities for investment purposes. But we have taken the pain to do that based on certain parameters in order to save you that hassle.
Please, note that Nigeria stock watchlist is not a buy, sell or hold recommendation. Consult financial advisor before making any investment decision.
NEIMETH INTL PMARMACEUTICALS LTD
Neimeth is first on our list for this week on the strength of its status as the highest price gainer last week. Interestingly, the pharmaceutical company equally topped our list for last week. It opened at N0.56 last week and closed at N0.73, adding up 30.36% in the process.
FBN HOLDINGS PLC
FBN Holdings makes the list by virtue of being the worst performance for last week. Opening at N7.50, it slid to N6.70 as the week ended, losing 10.67% as the week ended.
Afromedia Plc makes our list on the account of being at its lowest price in the last 52 weeks. The stock currently sells for N0.34.
MRS OIL NIGERIA PLC
MRS Oil makes the list by reason of currently selling at the its 52 week lowest, which is N15.3.
PZ CUSSONS NIGERIA PLC
The stock is on our list on the basis of currently selling very close to its 52 week lowest. It trades at N5.25 at the moment on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
The Nigerian Natural Resource Charter (NNRC) has given reasons why crude oil theft is still a thriving business in the country, several years after the discovery of oil.
According to the NNRC, factors such as government and societal influences have helped to sustain oil theft in Nigeria.
It stated that poor governance of Nigeria's oil revenue as well as corruption were parts of the incentives supporting the illicit practice with the country's federal structure also serving as a buoy.
According to the NNRC, between 1999 and 2016, oil-producing states received N7.006 trillion as payment under derivation principle but delivered very little development to their communities and people.
"A 2005 World Bank report estimated 80 per cent of Nigeria's oil and gas revenues accrued to one per cent of its population, 99 per cent of the population received the remaining 20 per cent.
"Emergence of militant groups demanding for resource control and development. Kidnappings, sabotage and illegal bunkering followed. Security contracts to protect pipelines which gave direct access to the pipelines and started to steal oil again.
"Efforts to curtail this new trend was met with threats of further vandalism. (It became) cheaper to pay security fees than to repair," said the NNRC in a presentation, a copy of which was obtained by THISDAY.
It further alleged that oil companies operating in the country were source of inducement for oil theft, stating that they support the act by making sure that they inadequately implement international best practices which often lead to devastating environmental degradation.
Furthermore, the NNRC which is supported by the United Kingdom to do its works in Nigeria, stated that widespread poverty amongst Nigerians have also made oil theft lucrative. It explained that high youth unemployment resulting from the socio-economic conditions in the Niger Delta region had led young men to become oil thieves.
"Average annual income of artisanal refinery worker is N3 million. Low-level oil thieves who steal in small jerry cans claim to only partake in the activity because they need to feed their families. They normally scoop from leaking pipes," it added.
Another source of incentive for oil theft, the NNRC noted was unemployment which it stated was at a rate of 33.1 per cent as of the third quarter (Q3) of 2017 amongst the country's young population.
"Combined unemployment and underemployment rate for the entire youth labour force (15-35 years) was 52.65 per cent or 22.64 million (10.96 million unemployed and another 11.68 million underemployed). Increasing levels of unemployment are matched by increasing levels of criminal activity in the Niger Delta," it added.
Further explaining how theft of oil happens in the region, the NNRC said it often involved vandalising infrastructure to divert oil away from its intended destination.
According to it, about 12,714 kilometres (km) of oil and gas pipelines were located in the Niger Delta, adding that between 2003 and 2013, there were a total of 15,685 pipeline breaks caused by vandalism.
"In 2016, Shell reported daily losses of 5,660 bpd. Most siphoned oil are refined locally in firewood. Small ships anchor near pipelines, drill and siphon crude, which is then taken to larger oil tankers on the high sea. Process is repeated multiple times till the tanker is full.
"Multiple siphoning points with hoses up to 2km used, barges can take 3,000 to 18,500 barrels of crude.
"Tankers can take from 31,000 to 62,000 barrels of crude and crude is normally sold on the international market with proceeds used to fund local and regional election campaigns."
The Competition Commission has fired a shot across the bows of SA’s retail industry, telling the big four supermarket chains – Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Spar, and Woolworths – to immediately stop their entrenched use of long-term exclusive lease agreements at shopping malls to remain competitive and profitable.
SA’s competition watchdog is so concerned about exclusive lease agreements, which are entered into between supermarket chains and shopping mall landlords, that it has recommended that the use of such agreements must cease with “immediate effect” and be phased out within five years. And no new leases or renewals at SA’s more than 2,000 malls can include exclusive lease agreements.
Long-term exclusive lease agreements allow supermarket chains to be the only seller of specific goods at a mall to protect their turf and can be in force for as long as 30 years in their rental agreement with landlords. These agreements also include restrictions on the type of non-supermarket tenants that landlords can allow to trade at malls, thus restricting the entrance of competitors.
This is not the first time that exclusive lease agreements have come under the spotlight. In November 2017, the Constitutional Court denied Pick n Pay an interdict to stop Game from selling fresh food at Capegate Shopping Centre in Cape Town. Pick n Pay initially went to the high court on the basis that Game’s food offering was an unlawful interference in its exclusive lease agreement with Capegate’s owner, Hyprop Investments.
But the Competition Commission has ruled the use of exclusive lease agreements is anti-competitive and in contravention of the Competition Act because they “hinder the emergence of challenger retail chains to the main four retailers and [have] also served to prevent economic participation by smaller independent retailers”.
The biggest users of exclusive leases are Shoprite (the owner and operator of Shoprite and Checkers stores), Pick n Pay, Spar, and to a lesser extent, Woolworths. Smaller retailers that are mainly blocked from entering shopping malls and relegated to opening stores on the periphery of malls are Food Lovers Market, Fruit and Veg City, and Liquor City.
These findings are contained in the competition watchdog’s 657-page final grocery retail market inquiry report released on Monday 25 November. The inquiry probed the impact of the entry of national supermarket chains into townships, peri-urban areas, rural areas, and the informal economy.
Woolworths and Shoprite told Business Maverick they are studying the report and will be better placed to opine on it at a later stage. Pick n Pay’s group executive for strategy and corporate affairs, David North, said exclusive leases are “already a diminishing feature of the market”.
“Pick n Pay has for some time sought to ensure that small retailers who want to open in shopping centres where we are present are able to do so,” said North.
Spar was not immediately available to comment.
The inquiry’s final findings are a blow for the big four supermarket chains and mall landlords. Landlords have argued that entering into an exclusive lease agreement with a supermarket chain is necessary as it allows them to secure a large tenant that pays higher rentals for a long period. Meanwhile, supermarket chains have argued that exclusive lease agreements are important to remain competitive at a time when SA’s economy and consumer spending are in the doldrums.
Watchdog talking tough
Up until now, the use of exclusive lease agreements by supermarket chains and their rapid expansion across South Africa has remained unregulated, resulting in the big four having a collective market share of about 64%.
But the Competition Commission is getting tough, saying supermarket chains should make a voluntary commitment to end the use of exclusive lease agreements in the next six months.
Ebrahim Patel, the minister in charge of the combined trade and industry, and economic development departments that oversee the commission’s work, said if the supermarket chains do not comply, the government would introduce regulations to give effect to the watchdog’s recommendations on exclusive lease agreements.
The commission is already empowered under the Competition Act to impose sanctions such as monetary fines and imprisonment if supermarket chains are found guilty of anti-competitive behaviour. Arguably, this is a tool already available rather than the government drafting new regulations to force supermarket chains to comply with the commission’s recommendations. After all, the commission is seen as a toothless body that issues errant companies with slap-on-the-wrist penalties for anti-competitive or cartel behaviour.
Competition Commissioner Thembinkosi Bonakele said the watchdog prefers to put in place regulations to change anti-competitive behaviour rather than to litigate against the supermarket chains under the Competition Act.
“We want a quicker way to address the problems without litigating. It’s much quicker and [more] impactful to get the desired relief if you put regulations in place,” he told Business Maverick.
Bonakele said the commission might still go the litigation route against supermarket chains to resolve complaints it received before the grocery market inquiry began its work in 2017.
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government will scrap its plan to remove grain subsidies next year, a move it says will protect impoverished citizens from rising food prices, state media reported on Thursday.
The country is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, fuel, medicines and electricity.
Half of Zimbabwe’s population needs food aid after a devastating drought across the southern Africa region, worsened by an economy expected to shrink by 6.5% this year and month-on-month inflation at a four-month high of 38.75%.
Zimbabwe’s grain agency buys grain from farmers and releases it onto the market at subsidised prices, costing the treasury tens of millions of U.S. dollars. The government had planned to remove the subsidy in its 2020 budget.
Mnangagwa was quoted in the state-owned Herald newspaper as saying that would no longer happen.
“We cannot remove the subsidy,” he was quoted as saying. “So I am restoring it so that the price of mealie-meal is also reduced (next year).”
The removal of the government’s grain subsidy would have seen a 10 kg bag of maize meal, the country’s staple, costing 102 Zimbabwean dollars (about US$6.30), against 60 Zimbabwe dollars now, in a country with 90% unemployment.
Last week, the government removed import controls on maize and wheat flour to try to prevent food shortages.
Zimbabwe’s reintroduction of a local currency after 10 years of dollarisation, coupled with the removal of subsidies on fuel and electricity, unleashed inflation, triggering frequent and sometimes deadly protests against Mnangagwa’s government.
Rights groups say at least 17 people were killed and hundreds were arrested in January, after security forces cracked down on protests against fuel price increases. Police have banned further protests.
Early hopes that Mnangagwa, who took over from the long-ruling former president Robert Mugabe after a November 2017 coup, would revive the economy are fast fading amid a worsening economic crisis and slow-paced political reforms.