Nigeria’s economy has bucked a global trend and has successfully exited recession in the fourth quarter of 2020.
According to data from the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, GDP increased by 0.11% in the period October-December, supported primarily by growth in agriculture and telecommunications, which expanded by 3.4% and 17.6% respectively.
While increased global oil prices contributed to the growth, the figures also demonstrate the increasing importance of the non-crude sector for Africa’s most populous nation and the diversification of the country’s economy. Analysts note that the figures may indicate a sustained period of faster growth, as the world watches on to see which countries achieve a V-shaped recovery following the pandemic.
Growth in domestic product was also supported by the country’s Economic Sustainability Plan, an ambitious set of policies announced by President Buhari’s administration in June 2020 to address the immediate challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Already, the focus on infrastructure and job creation in the agricultural and other labour-intensive sectors have borne fruit, and the Economic Sustainability Plan is soon to enter a new phase, with the installation of solar power in 5 million homes further boosting employment opportunities and access to power.
Femi Adesina, Special Advisor to President Buhari on Media, said “Infrastructure is where Buhari will leave his biggest footprints. Bridges. Rail. Airports. AKK gas pipeline. All to be delivered before the administration exits in 2023.”
In parallel, a new job creation initiative aimed at the country’s youth was launched in January, providing placements for over 700,000 unemployed young people.
Nigeria’s GDP numbers at the end of 2020 challenged the expectations of international organisations as well as global trends. Countries with larger stimulus packages, such as the USA and Japan, saw lower quarter on quarter growth than Nigeria over the period. In Europe, Spain and Germany also experienced unexpected increases of 0.4% and 0.1% respectively, while France’s GDP fell less than was forecast but remained negative.
This week also saw reports that corruption in Nigeria has fallen dramatically, with BudgIT, a civic advocacy organisation focused on budget and public finance issues, reporting the payment of public funds into personal accounts has declined by 94.75 percent.
While the trend in Nigeria is no doubt positive, risks of further waves of infection and a slow vaccine roll-out threaten the country’s sustained recovery, and are difficult to mitigate. Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NADFAC) recently approved the AztraZeneca vaccine for the country and has requested 10million doses from the World Health Organisation’s Covax programme. However, it is unclear when these vaccines will arrive and be rolled-out across Nigeria.
Credit: EU Reporter
The Central Bank of Sudan deployed a series of measures for the standardisation of the national currency rate in a bid to avert its rapid depreciation.
The Sudanese pound has now dropped to 400:1 against the US dollar.
"The Central Bank of Sudan issued ordinances and regulations for banks and organisations engaged in currency exchange operations, pursuing to implement a reformative approach by the government with regard to the unification of the exchange rate beginning from 21 February 2021", the authority said in a statement, obtained by Sputnik.
The reform entails establishing a single exchange rate across the country, thus, cracking down on the capital concealed within the shadow market, according to the communication.
The new regulations ultimately pursue "to normalise the relations with regional and international donors and friendly countries in order to secure subsidies and loans".
Sudan only recently got rehabilitated from a state sponsor of terrorism designation by the United States, which meant the removal of heavy economic sanctions from its banking sector. The tag, which Washington kept on Khartoum since 1993, was removed last December.
Niger's ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum took an early lead in the second round of the West African nation's presidential election, data released by the electoral commission showed on Monday.
Provisional results from 38 out of 266 constituencies showed that Bazoum was in a comfortable lead, winning a 54.1% share of votes counted so far against his main challenger and former president Mahamane Ousmane, according to Niger's electoral commission.
Nigeriens went to the polls on Sunday in the second round of the country's presidential election. The runoff between the two political heavyweights is expected tol pave the way for Niger'sfirst democratic transition of power since independence from France more than six decades ago.
Ousmane, who took nearly 17% of the vote in the first round, can count on the support of a coalition of 18 opposition parties as well as Hama Amadou, previously thought to be the most formidable candidate against Bazoum. But Amadou was banned from running because of a conviction for baby trafficking which he has slammed as politically motivated.
Several dead in vehicle blast
As voting came to an end, at least seven people were killed and three more were seriously injured when a vehicle belonging to the electoral commission hit a landmine.
The blast took place in the rural commune of Dargol in Tillabery region, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Niger's capital Niamey in the so-called tri-border region where Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso converge.
"This is a painful moment. It is a great shock for us, for us all," said Interior Minister Alkache Alhada.
Addine Agalass, an advisor to the governor of Tillabery, told The Associated Press by phone, "It's unclear if it was intended to target the electoral commission officials or if it was related to the election."
A new dawn for Niger
The vote was called after outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou announced he was voluntarily stepping down after two five-year terms.
"I'm proud to be the first democratically elected president in our history to be able to pass the baton to another democratically elected president," said Issoufou as he voted in Niamey.
Thousands of soldiers were deployed, to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. Election results are expected in several days.
The two candidates vying to replace Issoufou are political stalwarts in the West African nation, which is one of the poorest in the world.
Mohamed Bazoum, Issoufou's right-hand, is widely seen as the favorite after winning 39.3% of the vote in the first round. He has vowed to continue Issoufou's policies, with a focus on security and revamping the economy. He has the backing of the candidates who came third and fourth in the first round.
Mahamane Ousmane, was Niger's first democratically elected president in 1993 until he was toppled in a coup three years later. He won 17% of the votes in the first round and has the endorsement of about a dozen smaller parties and candidates. He has vowed to implement change and tackle corruption.
Ousmane also expressed concerns about electoral fraud and stressed that Nigeriens are "no longer willing to tolerate rigged elections."
"The suffrage of the citizens must be respected," Ousmane told reporters after he voted in the city of Zinder. "If citizens ever find out that these elections have been rigged again, I fear that the situation will be difficult to manage," he added.
Relative 'calm' in southeast Niger
Magagi Ganda Aissa, a Niamey-based civil society member, said she was "not aware" of any incidents of voting fraud in Niger's largest city, "There have been reports that armed people have arrived and seized ballot boxes in the interior of the country," she added.
According to DW correspondent Marah Mahamadou, election day Diffa in the southeast, along the border with Nigeria , was calm.
"We must admit that the vote went very calmly. At the beginning, there was a little fear, but nothing was reported. People everywhere went out to vote," she said.
What challenges do they face?
The Sahel nation has a population of 24 million and struggles with poverty, recurring drought, floods and two festering insurgencies. Militants linked to al-Qaida and the "Islamic State" (IS) armed group have carried out a series of attacks near Niger's western border with Mali and Burkina Faso, while Boko Haram has killed hundreds of people along the southeastern border with Nigeria.
One of Niger's few exports, uranium, has been hit by a drop in price in recent years, and the coronavirus pandemic has weighed on Niger's economy.
Political analyst Elhadj Idi Abou, based in Niamey, said the result could go either way and that turnout was expected to be high.
"For me, there is no favorite because this ballot is the most open and the outcome does not depend on alliances but on the citizens. Both candidates have the same chances," he told the Reuters news agency.
Niger is the poorest nation in the world, according to the United Nations' development rankings for 189 natons. In the country with a population of roughly 23 million and the highest birth rate in the world, 7.4 million are eligible to vote.
(AP, AFP, Reuters)
Seif Bamporiki, coordinator of Rwanda National Congress, a Rwandan opposition group in exile, was shot dead in Nyanga, Cape Town on Sunday, said South African police.
Western Cape police said on Monday that an investigation into the shooting is still underway. “The circumstances surrounding a murder are being investigated by Gugulethu police following an incident in Europa squatter camp where an adult male was shot and killed,” Police Colonel Andre Traut said.
“The deceased was pulled from his vehicle and shot, while the 50-year-old male who accompanied him managed to escape unharmed,” he said.
The Rwanda National Congress was established in the United States on Dec. 12, 2010. It was not clear if the killing was politically motivated.
Voters in Niger will head to the polls today, Sunday to choose the country’s next president, in a runoff vote that pits outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou’s chosen successor against the country’s first democratically elected president.
Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate for the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, had secured 39.3 percent of votes in the first round of voting on December 27, well ahead of his closest rival, Mahamane Ousmane, at 16.9 percent.
Hailing from Niger’s tiny ethnic Arab minority community, 61-year-old Bazoum held key ministries in Issoufou’s cabinet and is widely seen as the favourite against Ousmane. The 71-year-old in 1993 won the West African country’s first multiparty elections but was overthrown three years later in a coup and has since failed to regain the presidency.
Issoufou’s decision not to run for a third term – in line with the country’s constitution – has been greeted by Niger’s international partners as a sign of democratic openness. The years preceding the poll, however, have been marked by growing insecurity along Niger’s borders, major corruption scandals and repressive measures against civil society members.
Focus on security crisis
The vote will complete Niger’s three-month-long electoral cycle that kicked off in early December with local elections and is also expected to usher in the country’s first peaceful transition of power between freely elected leaders.
Supported by large multi-party coalitions, both candidates launched their campaigning in the border region of Tillaberi, a hotspot of the worsening conflict plaguing the western portion of the Sahel for much of the past decade – and in recent years, increasingly hitting Niger as well.
Attacks by armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda and counterterrorism operations supported by Western forces have turned the area near Niger’s border with Mali and Burkina Faso into a regular battleground, forcing more than 90,000 people to leave their homes in the past three years, according to the United Nations.
At least 621 people were killed in the region in the first 11 months of 2020, an increase of more than 40 percent compared with the previous year, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
“How can we herd our cattle, go fishing, bring our kids to school, trade goods, see a doctor, if there’s no security?” Ousmane asked at the end of his coalition’s rally in Tillaberi on February 6, while also decrying what he deemed as the ineffective presence of Western armies.
Two days later, at another rally in front of a different crowd, Bazoum replied by promising he will do “everything in my power, to restore security” in Tillaberi, referencing the expected arrival of more than 1,000 Chadian troops to assist a regional military force fighting the armed groups and the deployment of hundreds of newly recruited and trained agents from the Garde Nationale, an internal security force.
As a former minister of interior, from 2016 to 2020, “Bazoum knows very well the country’s security apparatus, and this played a role in his designation as a natural heir to Mahmadou Issoufou,” explained Andrew Lebovich, a research fellow at the Washington-based European Council on Foreign Relations.
But although “Niger has avoided the security breakdown of some of its neighbours, namely Mali and Burkina Faso”, he added, “such persistent insecurity represents a risk for stability in the medium term”.
Like many other observers, Lebovich also pointed to the “consistent allegations over the embezzlement of public funds in military spending in the past years”.
According to an internal audit of the Ministry of Defence, partially leaked to journalists in February 2020, at least $137m has been lost between 2014 and 2019 as part of an enormous corruption scheme, involving high-ranking state agents and powerful middlemen who overpriced military contracts.
None of the people presumably involved has faced any legal consequence, and critics argue that Bazoum’s re-election would prolong such a climate of impunity.
Infrastructure, economic growth promises
Over the past five years, Niger has been turned into something of a global military hub, hosting army bases with troops from France, the United States, Italy, Belgium, Germany and recently establishing defence agreements with Russia and Turkey.
For many Nigeriens, however, insecurity is not necessarily the most pressing matter – poverty, and basic needs, are.
“The heartland of the country, the rural zones, have been completely neglected during the regime of Issoufou, and this is where 80 percent of Nigeriens live, often in a state of misery – a deep injustice which is the real prelude to insecurity,” said Moussa Tchangari, the secretary-general of civil society group Alternative Espaces Citoyens.
Niger’s record gross domestic product (GDP) growth, hitting about six percent in recent years, “benefitted only a very small part of the population, an urban middle class which is the target of Bazoum’s campaign”, he said.
Such growth has been largely driven by big infrastructure projects such as a new international airport in the capital, Niamey, shining five-star hotels, bridges on the Niger River, conference centres and hospitals.
Largely funded through foreign direct investment by Turkey, China and India, these facilities embody the new role of Niger’s international partners, one that might overshadow the traditional position of former colonial ruler, France, and of other European countries, that recently looked at Niger as an ally to reduce north-bound migration.
While the “Coalition Bazoum” election programme has promised to keep investing in similar infrastructure projects, including highways, regional routes and oil extraction plants, Ousmane’s “Seven E” manifesto focused more on access to water, education and support to farmers, in an attempt to mobilise rural voters.
Seven and a half million people, out of a population of 23 million, are eligible to vote on Sunday, with results expected in the coming days.
Voting projections seem to be in favour of Bazoum, who has the backing of 95 political parties in the second round. Ousmane, on the other hand, will count on the support of 17 political groups.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc has deployed an observation mission, while a local grassroots pro-democracy movement called Tournons la Page [translation: Let’s turn the Page] plans to mobilise some 500 observers around the country and a phone line to report potential incidents of fraud.
Maikoul Zodi, the group’s secretary, said the first round of voting was marked “by hate speech, vote-buying and irregularities, including the malfunctioning of many poll stations in areas targeted by jihadists”.
From 2018 onwards, Zodi and fellow activists spent months in jail following their mobilisation against what he calls “unpopular measures” taken by the government, from new taxes to impunity in cases of alleged corruption.
“In the past years, we’ve seen insecurity, corruption and a growing repression of dissent,” said Zodi. “Let’s leave all this behind.”
SOURCE : AL JAZEERA
Kenya is expected to widen the tax bracket, freeze employment and put more civil servants on contracts as part of the conditions by IMF for its $2.4 billion (Sh261 billion) loan.
On Monday, the visiting staff of the international lender approved the 38-month program under the Extended Funds Facility (EFF) and Extended Credit Facility (ECF) arrangement for Kenya to help in the post Covid-19 economic recovery initiative.
In a statement after the meeting, the IMF's delegation praised Kenya for reversing some of the earlier extraordinary tax measures introduced at the outset of the Covid-19.
''Kenya aims at reducing debt vulnerabilities through a multi-year fiscal consolidation effort, centred on raising tax revenues and tight control of spending, which would safeguard resources to protect vulnerable groups,'' IMF's statement read in part.
Kenya went back to the initial tax packages early this year after easing them to cushion households against the social-economic vagaries of Covid-19.
It reinstated Value Added Tax to 16 per cent after dropping it to 14 per cent. Pay as You Earn Tax for those earning above Sh24,000 went back to 30 per cent as well as corporate tax which had been lowered to 25 per cent.
Despite these measures, IMF wants Kenya to further widen its the tax streams going forward.
A private sector player who attended the IMF engagement forums held December 9 to 17, 2020, and from February 4 to 15, 2021 told the Star that the lender wants Kenya to review upwards its tax packages to boost revenue collection.
''The loan is pegged on tough tax conditions that will raise the cost of living for households. It is like the government is trading its citizens' lives for loans,'' he said, pleading to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter.
This is not the first time IMF is pushing Kenya to heighten the tax regime for loans.
In 2015, the lender pushed Kenya to introduce value-added tax (VAT) on petroleum products among other conditions in order to access a Sh63 billion credit line.
It also compelled Kenya to reintroduced capital gains tax after a three-decade break. The tax charged at the rate of five per cent of the difference between the selling price and the acquisition price less any transactional costs.
The National Treasury is yet to comment on the loan details, a day after IMF cleared it.
IMF also wants Kenya to drastically freeze employment and if possible place more servants on contracts to lower the high wage bill.
Contracts will reduce the burden of pension which has been a big financial burden for the National Treasury.
The government has already introduced a contributory pension scheme for civil servants and teachers a shift from the fully state funded pension scheme.
Besides, Kenya has been told to tighten the fight against corruption and address weaknesses in some state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in an effort to strengthen transparency and accountability.
Kenya has also agreed to strengthen the monetary policy framework and support financial stability.
The new loan if approved by the IMF board will escalate the soaring public debt which stood at Sh7.28 trillion by the end of December, equivalent to 65.6 per cent of gross domestic product in nominal terms, according to government data.
This, despite the country struggling to repay, forcing the exchequer to negotiate debt relief avenues by creditors.
Zambia’s efforts to promote the consumption of local products is now getting the maximum campaign and recognition across the country.
Various stakeholders are now appreciating the fact the promotion and consumption of local products are good for the growth of the economy.
Granted, Zambia has been an import-dependent country for years but slowly this is diminishing as more people are beginning to understand the importance of appreciating local products.
Recently, President Edgar Lungu expressed happiness that more local products are being sold in shops and that more people are consuming the products.
“This is patriotism. It is also a clear indication that our ‘Proudly Zambian Campaign’ has taken root,” he said when he addressed the National Assembly on the progress made on the application of the national values and principles.
According to him, 33 companies have so far been certified to use the official “Proudly Zambia” logo, covering 500 product lines, adding that this is a step in the right direction and a mark of quality as well as increasing competitiveness of local products.
The benefits accruing to this national consciousness are evident in the increased consumption of what we produce, he added.
“This is not only creating a ready market for our local producers but also creating employment opportunities for more of our people, particularly the youth,” he said.
Indeed the need to promote the consumption of local products cannot be over-emphasized.
Last week, the government banned the importation of onions and potatoes from outside the country.
Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary Songowayo Zyambo said there is no need to import the two products because the country had enough of them to meet national demand.
He said in a release that the decision was arrived at following consultations with various stakeholders.
Stakeholders have since supported the move as well as encouraged authorities to extend the ban to other products that can easily be produced locally.
Buy Zed, which promotes the buying of local products, has expressed delight at the move to restrict the importation of onions and potatoes.
Evans Ngoma, the founder of Buy Zed says the move will have a positive effect on many players, especially farmers who are now assured of a ready market.
He however said there is need for farmers to build their capacity in order to meet the demand.
The Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU), a grouping of farmers, has also welcomed the move as this will promote local production of agricultural products.
“ZNFU is confident that producers are capable of expanding production because there are examples where this has happened such as wheat industry where import substitution has happened,” he said in a release.
He has since urged the ministry responsible for agriculture to be resolute on the policy and not to be swayed, adding that regulation of imported agricultural products should go beyond onions and potatoes.
According to him, the continued importation of certain agricultural products has a negative effect on the country’s economy.
The need to produce local products is not new in Zambia and has been a focus of discussion for many years although realization of the move has been slow.
In 2004, the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry launched the “Proudly Zambian Campaign” which seeks to spur job creation and economic development through the promotion of production and consumption of high-quality Zambian products.
The campaign entails that products under it have an official logo as a mark of quality assurance and national pride.
The campaign recognises that consumers want to buy goods of high standard and quality hence all products under the campaign are subjected to a vetting process to ensure highest standard.
Indeed the appreciation of local products is now becoming a buzzword all over the country. Countries are now realizing the importance of promoting local products in spite of the globalization agenda and Zambia is no exception.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed the new chief of the World Trade Organization, becoming the first woman to ever lead the Switzerland-based institution and the first African citizen to take on the role. However, this is not the first time that Okonjo-Iweala makes history.
Born in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala graduated from Harvard University in 1976 and then earned a PhD from MIT. She then became the first woman to take on the Nigerian finance ministry and the foreign ministry too. She was also the first female to run for the World Bank presidency, where she spent 25 years.
In October, her WTO candidacy was supported by all geographic regions at the trade body apart from the United States, where the then-Trump administration said it would continue backing the Korean candidate. However, Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment was cleared when President Joe Biden announced a few days ago his support for the 66-year old.
Her vision for the WTO
The WTO is at a crossroads after many countries seemed to take a step back from long-standing norms governing international trade. In addition, its appellate body has been paralyzed for months after the U.S. — again, under the Trump administration — prevented the appointment of new judges therefore rendering it unable to rule on any trade disputes.
“My vision is also of a rejuvenated and strengthened WTO that will be confident to tackle effectively ongoing issues,” Okonjo-Iweala told WTO members during a hearing in July.
“It is clear that a rules-based system without a forum in which a breach of the rules can be effectively arbitrated loses credibility over time,” she said at the same hearing.
I can take hardship. I can sleep on the cold floor anytime.
Officials in the European Union and the United States have previously said the WTO needs to be reformed and its rules updated, but there is no consensus on how to do it.
“The WTO appears paralyzed at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st century issues such as ecommerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
She is also likely to support female participation in global trade, having said that “greater efforts should be made to include women-owned enterprises in the formal sector.”