Mar 16, 2021

The world woke to unusual images on their television screens last week with looting, vandalism and rioting portrayed on the streets of the Senegalese capital. The worst civil unrest in Senegal in decades was short-lived, but has left a distinct mark on the country’s international image.

After all, Senegal has presented itself as the shining star of West Africa in recent years. In addition to the country being an oil and gas hub spot, Senegal is also a center for renewable energy investment, business development, and for galvanizing growth in sectors such as tourism and fishing. Accordingly, it is not surprising that images of burning cars and stone-throwing protestors caused concern, particularly when they are followed by shots of destroyed supermarkets and fuel stations, all of which are symbols of well-established foreign companies in Senegal.

It is curious that a story about a political leader being taken to court on rape charges who is then arrested for inciting civil unrest translated into violence against foreign companies. Curious and concerning, that popular dissatisfaction be directed in this manner: to undermine businesses and wealth-generating enterprises.

Senegal is undergoing a veritable economic revolution that has the power to lift millions out of poverty and provide jobs, wealth and prosperity for the whole nation. Through the exploitation of its energy resources, both renewable and non-renewable, Senegal is witnessing a renaissance that will open a myriad of new development opportunities, power the country and offer the next generation of youth choices that no Senegalese has had in the past. However, for this potential to be fulfilled, the country needs foreign investment, know-how, training, skill-transfer and, above all, stability. No foreign company is interested in investing in a destination where its offices are at risk of being vandalized every time an opposition leader is unwilling to face the country’s legal system and uses social fears to distract the public debate.

President Macky Sall has done a tremendous job in attracting investors and opening opportunities in the Senegalese market in which business is already producing jobs, wealth and growth in the economy, particularly through the country’s vast energy resources. These efforts must be supported by all and maintained through a stable, business-friendly and transparent environment.

If we turn on ourselves through violence to express our grievances, we will end up driving away the very opportunities to address the problems behind those grievances, be it poverty, unemployment, social inequality or access to education. We need to stand together behind the political leaders that are driving our country and our continent forward, and support those companies that are developing our resources so that together we can create value, jobs and wealth for all.

Mar 15, 2021

Nigeria has not increased gasoline pump prices, its fuel regulator said on Friday, after sparking confusion at fuel stations and a public backlash by apparently flagging a big rise was on the cards.

"There is no price increase. The current (gasoline) price is being maintained while consultations are being concluded," the Petroleum Products Pricing Agency (PPPRA) said in a statement.

On Thursday, the regulator posted an online notice listing the "guiding price" for "ex-depot", or wholesale, gasoline at 206.42 naira per litre - well above the previous pump prices of around 167 naira.

After local media reported the post, some consumers flocked to fuel stations, prompting a sharp rise in prices at some, and others to stop selling amid the confusion.

In Lagos, at least two stations were charging 248 naira per litre, compared with 167 naira on Thursday.

Nigeria is struggling to balance a promise to eliminate costly fuel subsidies with public anger over more expensive fuel.

Oil prices have risen about 25% since the beginning of February, but state oil company NNPC vowed prices would not increase in March, meaning that it could be losing millions daily on gasoline imports.

Following the public backlash - and statements from NNPC, the petroleum minister and a presidential spokesman that higher prices were not approved - PPPRA removed its post about the guidance for ex-depot prices.

NNPC is currently the only gasoline importer due to the state-controlled ex-depot price that is keeping levels artificially low. It has said it is consulting with unions to agree a formula that allows gasoline prices to float, but still protects consumers.

In mid February, fuel marketers estimated gasoline was costing NNPC some 1.2 billion naira ($3.2 million) per day, a huge risk to government finances. Eliminating subsidies was among conditions for a $1.5 billion World Bank budget support loan.

 

Reuters

Mar 15, 2021

The South African Reserve Bank’s (SARB) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) is expected to hold the rate at the 23-25 March meeting, according to a unanimous vote by 25 panellists on Finder’s SARB repo rate forecast report.

  • Panel of 25 economists unanimously predict the SARB will hold the repo rate 
  • Just over a quarter (28%) expect a rate hike this year
  • 92% say South Africa is at risk of a sovereign debt crisis 
  • Unemployment rate to increase slightly by July 

While the majority (88%) of the panel is in favour of a rate hold, 12% think that the rate should be cut. On average, they say the rate should be cut by around 42 basis points.

 SARBS Repo Rate Hold

IQbusiness chief economist Sifiso Skenjana believes a rate cut will help bring relief to current economic pressure points.

“While we are reporting a better than expected revenue shortfall, the contribution was largely on the back of a mining earnings growth and not a stabilising economic growth context. The declining corporate income tax base is a clear sign of the economic pressure points and relief through an interest rate decrease is needed at this point in time,” he said.

University of Cape Town associate professor Sean Gossel also says the rate should be cut but notes this will result in less capital inflows.

“Unfortunately, SA is reliant on international capital so even though a further reduction in the repo rate would be a welcomed relief and assist SA recover, a decrease will lead to less capital inflows as a result of a tighter interest rate differential.

“There’s no free lunch (or capital flows), so SA will have to absorb the burden of higher interest rates so as to attract capital flows but at the cost of the domestic economy,” he said.

On the other hand, panellists such as Nedbank chief economist Nicola Weimar and Absa Group senior economist Peter Worthington say that the Bank should and will hold the rate because, at the moment, it’s a matter of waiting for previous policies and rate moves to take effect.

“Hiking now would not make sense, since inflation is well contained and the economy is still operating well below potential. Cutting would also not be wise, as the SARB has already done enough, the actual rate is below the neutral rate. So Monetary Policy is stimulatory enough.

“It is now just a case of waiting for the policy to impact on the economy and become a stimulus rather than a cushion against tough times,” said Weimar.

Alexander Forbes chief economist Isaah Mhlanga says the bank should and will hold the rate, despite inflationary pressures, as these trends are likely to be short-lived and that growth is starting to recover.

“At its January 2021 MPC meeting, the SARB kept rates unchanged and said inflation risks appear balanced over the short term and on the upside over the medium term.

“Growth is recovering and global inflationary pressure is rising, which will rule out any potential rate cuts. The economic recovery still remains modest and requires support, especially with fiscal policy that is expected to continue to consolidate in the medium term,” Mhlanga said.

When will the rate first increase?

The MPC will increase the repo rate sometime next year, according to over half (56%) of Finder’s panel. On the other hand, over a quarter (28%) of panellists believe that a rate increase is expected within the year.

SARB Repo Rate Chart 

Both DRM Group RSA economist Christopher Masunda and BNP Paribas chief economist Jeff Schultz, who believe the rate will first increase in the first and second half of 2022 respectively, say the Bank likely won’t consider an increase while CPI inflation stays within its 4.5% bound.

“A SARB that is likely to look through temporary exogenous shocks to CPI (for example, oil prices) and the persistence of a larger negative output gap than what the SARB currently estimates underpins our expectation that the SARB will not have to raise interest rates until H2 2022.

“An earlier-than-expected US Fed tapering (QE reduction), however, does run the risk of placing more pressure on the ZAR and capital outflows to high beta EMs like SA. This could force the SARB to act earlier, though we still maintain that even in this worst-case scenario, the SARB is unlikely to have to raise interest rates at all this year, with CPI inflation in 2021 and 2022 likely to remain below its 4.5% midpoint target by our estimates,” said Schultz.

University of the Free State senior researcher Dr Johan Coetzee also says the rate won’t increase until 2023, but that ultimately, the timings lie in the success of vaccination rollouts.

The success of the vaccination rollout is the major factor that will ultimately inform the interest rate decision going forward. We need to get the economy back at work in full force, and only once this has happened, can we make any informed assessment of what the likely interest rate trajectory will be.

I see the SARB erring on the side of caution for, at the very least, the next 12 to 18 months. We should also remember that the status of our local conditions are also a function of the health of the global economic environment and its ability to bounce back from the pandemic. There are just too many uncertainties that are still at play.

Economists in favour of taxes remaining unchanged

The majority (92%) of Finder’s panel agree with the government’s recent decision for direct taxes to remain unchanged.

SARBS Poll Chart 

EFConsult lead economist Frank Blackmore and Nedbank analyst Reezwana Sumad agree with the government’s decision and say that instead of increasing taxes, the government should look to expand the tax base.

“SARS needs to find a way to begin taxing the informal/cash economy. Including these informal businesses in the formal economy, or conducting more audits of cash-based businesses can unlock some revenue upside,” Reezwana said.

Blackmore furthers this, saying that “taxes need to be reduced for both individuals and corporates, while tax base should be expanded through economic inclusion and business growth so the country can be more internationally competitive.”

Carpe Diem Research Services independent economist Elize Kruger also agrees that taxes should remain unchanged. Instead, the focus should be on improving employment, which in turn will lead to more taxes being paid to SARS.

“The business environment needs to be made attractive, and the ease of doing business (licensing, taxation, red-tape) in SA must improve. Also, the cost of doing business must be reduced, so that private companies can flourish, which will naturally lead to more job opportunities, more taxes to be paid to SARS.”

Mkhabela agrees with Kruger’s stance, saying taxes aren’t key to growing an economy.

South Africa needs to reflect again on these high personal Income Taxes and Corporate Income Taxes. We need to move to a lower attractive tax system for a better economic development and activity, as tax never grew any economy, and we need to attract investors and allow our middle class to invest for the future.

While Peter Worthington also agrees regarding the decision on direct taxes, he believes VAT should be increased.

“South Africa’s VAT rate is very low by international standards. We should lift it and use part of the proceeds to enhance social grants to the poor,” he said.

Unemployment rate to rise, slightly

In the fourth quarter of 2020, South African unemployment rose to 32.5%. By July, the panel anticipates that unemployment will increase, but only slightly, up to 32.8% on average.

Of the 23 panellists who provided a forecast, over half (57%) predict an increase in unemployment, while 30% say it will decrease and the remaining 13% think it’ll stay the same.

Antswisa Transaction Advisory Services CEO and chief economist Miyelani Mkhabela was the least optimistic about South African employment, predicting that a little under 2 in 5 South Africans (38%) will be unemployed come July.

When asked how he thinks employment rates could be improved, he said “South Africa needs Energy security to attract investors in downstream and upstream industrial and strategic investments in the agricultural sector across the country.”

Investec chief economist Annabel Bishop, Frank Blackmore and Jeff Schultz, who all predict that around a third of South Africans will be unemployed by July, say that structural reforms are necessary to curb unemployment.

According to Bishop, the government needs to “rapidly introduce free market structural reforms and reduce the size of the state and the suppressing effect [of] the high regulatory burden (high state control) on the state to increase the ease of doing business.”

Economist at STANLIB Ndivhuho Netshitenzhe meanwhile emphasizes the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine’s role in improving employment rates.

“This will ease the high level of uncertainty in the economy around the constant re-introduction of lockdown measures and give businesses some confidence to start making more permanent investment and hiring decisions.”

However, she said that in the long term, the government needs to focus on reforms that will increase the confidence of both businesses and consumers in economic growth.

“In order to do this, [the] government needs to be less involved in the economy, and instead [the] government should create an environment that encourages businesses to invest, expand and employ, and one that nurtures and promotes entrepreneurship and SME creation,” she said.

Timeline for a budget surplus

The South African economy isn’t expected to reach a budget surplus for around 10 years or more, according to just over half (52%) the panel. Just over a quarter (28%) expect to see budget surplus between 2026-2030, and one in five (20%) expect to see this happen within the next five years.

SARB Surplus Chart 

Economist and lecturer at UNISA, Mzwanele Ntshwanti, who thinks budget surplus won’t be achieved for another 10 years or more, recalled the minister’s words, “we owe too much money to a lot of people,” and added, “we need to achieve some level of stability and self sufficiency.”

Elize Kruger says the debt burden will continue to rise if South Africa continues on the current trajectory.

“If the country needs to borrow money to fund non-interest expenditure (as is currently the case, i.e. the country runs a primary deficit), the debt burden will just continue to rise and an ever bigger portion of tax revenue will be eaten up by interest payments.”

Several panellists, including Annabel Bishop and Nicola Weimar noted that a budget surplus isn’t as important as a primary surplus (i.e. the budget balance less interest rates).

“I don’t think they necessarily need to run a budget surplus. They should aim for a primary surplus to slow the rate of debt accumulation. However, if they can run a consolidated deficit of around 3% of GDP, it would probably be more appropriate for a developing country like SA, with high unemployment, high inequality and poor growth prospects,” Weimar said.

Professor of economics at the University of the Western Cape Matthew Kofi Ocran noted that deficits aren’t bad per se, and it’s more a question of sustainability.

Sean Gossel shared a similar sentiment, noting that it’s important to demonstrate debt management.

“Because of SA’s downgrades, it’s more important to show consistent debt management than a (likely) temporary budget surplus.”

Professor at the North-West University School of Economics Waldo Krugell highlighted that a primary surplus is the only way to avoid a future debt crisis.

Is South Africa on the verge of a sovereign debt crisis?

South Africa is at some level of risk of a sovereign debt crisis, according to the overwhelming majority of panellists (92%).

SARB Sovereign Debt Crises 

Over a third (36%) say the risk is high and 40% say the risk is moderate, while 16% say there’s only a slight risk of this happening. Just 8% (2 panellists) say South Africa is not at risk of a sovereign debt crisis.

Mzwanele Ntshwanti says the crisis is already here.

“In the last 10 years, the debt has exponentially increased from around 23% to around 80%. This is a crisis.”

Miyelani Mkhabela agrees that there’s a high risk, noting that the situation will only worsen as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“By the end of 2021/22, gross loan debt is expected to be at a range of 84% and 90% of GDP, which is highly riskier as the COVID-19 crisis continues, and in the future, we forecast environmental consequences. The situation is bad for a developing economy.”

Stellenbosch University COO Stan du Plessis noted that with an interest burden of almost 5% of GDP, South Africa is well within the likely zone of a fiscal crisis.

“The sovereign rating already reflects the precarious state of the government’s finances. When the bond market wakes up to this situation, the asset markets can accelerate the fiscal crisis rapidly,” he said.

However, Nicola Weimar says the risk is moderate given the bulk of South African debt is rand-denominated.

“Ultimately, the debt burden is unsustainable. If foreign lenders lose interest, SA will have to fund the deficit through access to IMF, World Bank or more destructive means. The risk is, however, reduced by the fact that the bulk of SA sovereign debt is rand-denominated,” she said.

Meanwhile, chief economist at Efficient Group Dawie Roodt says there’s no risk given that South Africa will likely deflate most of the ZAR debt away, highlighting that there are sufficient reserves to cover non-ZAR debt.

Will mortgage approvals continue at this volume?

The trend of a high volume of mortgage approvals we saw in 2020 will likely come to an end this year, according to just under half the panel (45%). However, over a third of the panel (36%) say the trend will continue, and 18% say they’re not sure.

 

Peter Worthington, who doesn’t think the trend will continue, says the volume we saw last year can be attributed to a stock adjustment.

“The problem is that incomes are not there to keep this going on a long term basis,” he added.

Reezwana Sumad agrees mortgage approvals won’t continue in the same volume and noted 2020 set a high base.

“[It] will be difficult to meet or beat this volume because we do not expect interest rates to decline in 2021 as they did in 2020. The sharp reduction in the repo rate resulted in an increased demand for mortgages as opposed to rentals,” she said.

Ndivhuho Netshitenzhe thinks the trend will reverse as interest rates have likely bottomed out.

“[It’s] most likely that people were taking full advantage of the historic low interest rates and this trend should start to reverse as interest rates are likely to have bottomed out,” she said.

However, on the flip side, many of those who expect to see the trend continue say the low interest rate regime and changing lifestyles due to COVID-19 will continue to bolster the sector.

Property price forecasts

Property prices in South Africa’s 10 biggest cities are set to increase by an average of 2.2% over the next 6 months, according to 14 of the panellists who provided property forecasts.

 

Several economists noted that the current low interest rates will prop up the market.

Matthew Kofi Ocran put it simply: “The continued low-interest-rate regime will provide an incentive to increased market activity.”

Professor at the University of Johannesburg Ilse Botha, who gave property forecasts ranging from 2-3% across all cities, noted that the lower interest rate environment means that owning property is more affordable than renting.

However, global head of operational risk at Fitch Solutions Chiedza Madzima says that while the low interest will support the sector, prices will remain subdued when accounting for inflation.

“A low interest rate environment will support the sector, and prices will likely move slightly higher in nominal terms (year on year). However, in real terms, housing prices will remain subdued when accounting for inflation. Larger cities/areas will see higher demand compared to smaller/high density areas. In lower income brackets, the recovery will be slower,” she said.

On average, Cape Town is expected to increase the most (4.5%), followed by Johannesburg, (3.07%) and Durban (2.79%). Meanwhile, cities like East London (0.64%) and Port Elizabeth (0.93%) are expected to increase only marginally by less than 1%.

Dr Johan Coetzee, who provided the highest price increase forecast for Cape Town at 15%, says the Western Cape will be seen as an investment opportunity as the economy starts to pick up.

Frank Blackmore expects to see moderate growth inland while coastal cities could see a reduction in prices.

He forecasts cities like Port Elizabeth and Pietermaritzburg will see slight drops of 3% and 2% respectively, while cities like Johannusburg and Durban will increase by 3% or 4%.

Mzwanele Ntshwanti says any increases will be marginal due to the ongoing economic consequences of COVID-19.

“The market is generally struggling due to COVID-19 and loss of income for many people. Inequality is showing itself greatly as well in this industry since high earners are the winners and low earners are the losers. Thus, increases will be marginal.”

Mar 12, 2021

The president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has a tough job. It includes working with FIFA to run the sport in Africa, and overseeing the continent’s tournaments and leagues. There are also issues of broadcast rights and improving the organisation’s poor reputation.

The latest to throw their name into the ring is South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe. The mining magnate is the owner of Mamelodi Sundowns, a club he led to success in South Africa and continentally. Motsepe has a 10-point manifesto. He wants to grow football on the continent by attracting investors and partners. He also plans to invest in youth and infrastructure and make the confederation more efficient.

The immediate struggles he faces will be broadcast rights for competitions and what to do with tournaments like the Africa Cup of Nations.

Motsepe who is running unopposed for the CAF presidency is expected to officially take over from Ahmad Ahmad during the CAF General Assembly scheduled for Rabat, Morocco, tomorrow morning. Motsepe was left as the sole candidate for the presidency following the withdrawal of three other candidates.

If elected president, he will become the eighth president of CAF since 1957.

He is also set to become the first person from an English-speaking country and only the second from Southern Africa to be elected president:

 

Credit: The Conversation / SABC.

Mar 11, 2021

The Prime Minister of Ivory Coast, Hamed Bakayoko, has died in a hospital in Germany, authorities say.

Bakayoko, who was receiving treatment for cancer, passed away on Wednesday, just days after his 56th birthday. He was appointed prime minister in July, following the sudden death of his predecessor Amadou Gon Coulibaly.

President Alassane Ouattara described Mr Bakayoko as a "great statesman, an example to young people and a man of exemplary loyalty".

Mr Bakayoko was flown to France in February for medical tests and was later transferred to Germany due to his deteriorating health.

A former media executive who turned to politics, he played a prominent mediation role in Ivory Coast's civil war during the first decade of the century.

"He was a key player in the political game and a major player in reconciliation. It's a true shame," Issiaka Sangare, spokesman for the opposition Ivorian Popular Front told AFP news agency.

Aside from his role as prime minister, Mr Bakayoko was also the country's defence minister.

Patrick Achi has been appointed as interim prime minister, while Tene Birahima Ouattara, a younger brother of the president, has been named interim defence minister.

 

BBC

A concise history of the beer industry in Namibia written by history scholar Tycho Van der Hoog begins with the pithy observation by American singer-songwriter Frank Zappa to the effect that every nation worth its salt needs an airline and its own beer.

As it happens, the first no longer holds true, while beer remains a marker of national and, for that matter, subnational identities.

The brewing industry is today regarded as a source of national pride in Namibia. Windhoek Lager has not merely conquered the domestic market but has made substantial inroads south of the border where South African Breweries held a de facto monopoly for decades.

This is a tale, lovingly told, of an unlikely success built on the most fragile foundations. The early sections of Breweries, Politics and Identity: The History Behind Namibian Beer are, in effect, a careful piecing together of fragments of information about a series of operations that were very small and left little trace.

The history

The nascent breweries relied on the consumption of a very small number of Germans who remained in what was then known as South West Africa after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 under which Germany finally ceded loss of the territory. The territory was part of the German Empire from 1884 until 1915 when it was invaded by South Africa.

The first local brewery was established in 1900. Van der Hoog traces the fierce rivalry between breweries in the “beer triangle,” consisting of Windhoek, Swakopmund and Omaruru. This rivalry culminated in the eventual merger that constituted South West Breweries in 1920 – the company that eventually assumed the current name of Namibia Breweries Limited.

The main rival to South West Breweries from the mid-1920s was the Hansa Brewery. These two companies struggled through the ups and downs of the decades that followed. During World War 2, the breweries were suspected of pro-Nazi sympathies and were placed under close surveillance. The author provides a brief, but fascinating account of the subterfuges that were necessary to acquire German hops, the distribution of which was routed through third countries.

The most satisfying section of the book investigates the relationship between South West Breweries and South African Breweries. Van der Hoog notes that the South African company initially acquired a stake in South West Breweries (which had taken over Hansa Breweries in 1967) and acquired the right to make and sell Hansa Pilsner under license in South Africa. When the two companies parted company, South African Breweries retained the use of this trademark for the South African market.

The author maps a long history of suspicion, and eventually open warfare, between the Namibian brewery and its much larger South African neighbour.

Realities of South African rule

The story after 1919 is intertwined with the realities of South African rule, initially under a League of Nations mandate from 1919 to 1945 and subsequently under occupation in defiance of the United Nations. A ban on the sale of alcohol to Africans was imposed in 1920. This was in conformity with the terms of the mandate and was arguably more restrictive than in South Africa itself.

This changed with the passage of the 1928 Liquor Act, which entrenched racialised prohibition in South Africa, following which the liquor laws seem to have converged. In line with the South African model of control, beer halls were opened by municipalities dispensing an imitation of “native beer” – the proceeds of which financed the administration.

In both countries, illegal brewing and shebeens proliferated in the 1950s. This led to the abandonment of racially exclusive liquor legislation over the following decade. This happened in Namibia in 1969, seven years later than south of the border.

Van der Hoog demonstrates that the escalation of the liberation wars across the subcontinent had an important impact on the beer industry. The north of Namibia, particularly Ovamboland, had been treated as a South African labour reserve and had been isolated from the rest of the territory. No beer could be sold there, in effect, but the author indicates there was a lively trade in smuggled beer from Angola. The civil war that accompanied the messy withdrawal of the Portuguese had an impact on the cross-border trade in the mid-1970s.

South African soldiers, who backed one side in the war in Angola from bases on the northern border, created a demand for South African beer. But there was also an opportunity for South West Breweries to sell its beer into Ovamboland effectively for the first time.

Interestingly, Van der Hoog also reveals that brewing changes were made as late as 1986 to differentiate the products of the company from those of South African Breweries. With a lower alcohol content, Namibian beer incurred lower excise duties in South Africa.

Identity politics

The identity politics surrounding Namibian beer set in soon after. The author points to the elision from beer as a white Germanophone preserve to the embodiment of the newly independent Namibian nation after 1990. Despite a chequered relationship, the author notes that once in power, the South West African People’s Organisation – which led the war against South African occupation and took over running the country after independence – repeatedly blocked South African Breweries from establishing a brewery in Namibia to protect the brewery. This decision was reversed in 2015.

At the same time, Namibia Breweries Limited was able to make significant inroads into the South African market. The creation of a brewery inside South Africa, in tandem with Heineken, positioned the Namibian brewer within a regional struggle for dominance among some of the largest corporate players in the alcohol market.

The book is based on a wide range of archival sources and interviews and is accompanied by some fascinating photographs and examples of advertising material. The writing is understated, and it does not set out to make grand statements – even in relation to the matter of identity. It is also much more about the history of Namibian brewing than of beer consumption per se.

Given the richness of the material, it is a monograph that one feels could have been fleshed out in many different directions. The author has laid down a marker that he, or someone else, will hopefully follow up in the future.

 

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Journal of Wine Economics.The Conversation

Paul Nugent, Professor of Comparative African History (School of History, Classics and Archaeology) & African Studies (School of Social and Political Science), University of Edinburgh

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

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya celebrated his 88th birthday recently, making him the oldest president in Africa. He has been in power for 38 years.

Birthday celebrations held across the country were met with protest by the opposition, demanding that he step down. So, how has he acquitted himself in office, and what has been his legacy for Cameroon?

Cameroonians welcomed Biya when he became president in November 1982. The peaceful transfer of power by his predecessor Ahmadou Ahidjo won Cameroon praise as an example to emulate in Africa, where leaders either held on to power for too long, through duplicity and violence, or were forced out.

Ahidjo was ruthless, authoritative, and vicious. He ruled by intimidation. Under him rivals were hunted down, tortured, killed, or forced into exile. He was the “source of all power in the state”.

Biya was seen as a breath of fresh air, and he stepped in saying the right things to different groups. He visited the nation’s Anglophone regions, spoke in English, and even referred to Bamenda, a major city in the Northwest region, as his “second home”. It was a marked difference from his predecessor, whose policies severely undermined English as a major part of the nation’s bilingualism.

Biya’s early actions were received with cheers. He pledged a “new deal” to restore integrity and eliminate corruption. He also announced that although he was of the Beti/Bulu ethnic group, he was born a Cameroonian and would govern as such.

His policies extended elementary and secondary education to rural areas. He allowed press freedom. In his book Communal Liberalism he emphasised the importance of creating a

“more open, more tolerant and more democratic political society”.

But those promises and pronouncements were short-lived.

Hopes dashed

By the end of Biya’s first year in office, he had reverted to his predecessor’s tactics, a practice which intensified after the attempted coup in 1984.

He remade the nation’s only political party, Cameroon National Union, in his image, renaming it the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement. He packed his administration with people from his ethnic group and drove a solvent economy into insolvency.

His policies targeted and undermined groups like Bamilekes, Anglophones and Northerners.

He changed the name of the country from the United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroon, a clear indication that Anglophone concerns did not matter.

He went to the World Bank and International Monitory Fund for help to revive an ailing economy. But, after three decades of intervention by these institutions, the economy remains on the brink of collapse.

The nation’s currency was devalued on his watch in 1994, bringing misery to many.

Corruption became endemic. Cameroon is often ranked as being among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Biya circumvents the country’s multiparty political system at will. He has repeatedly amended the constitution to tighten his grip on power. One amendment, in 2008, was to eliminate presidential term limits.

As a response to protests against excessive centralisation of decision making in Yaounde, Biya signed a decentralisation decree in 1996 to empower regional and local authorities. But 25 years later, that initiative has not been realised. Another failed initiative was the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism created in 2017 in response to the Anglophone protest. After billions of francs CFA were squandered, the commission has achieved nothing substantive.

Biya’s Achilles heel is the ongoing Anglophone crisis. He has overstayed his term in office, using underhand manoeuvres to cling to power.

His nearly four decades’ rule has robbed Cameroon of its credibility as a stable and peaceful country. Nations such as the US have repeatedly imposed advisory travel bans on Cameroon.

The true test of leadership

Four years ago, a peaceful protest against the marginalisation of English-speaking people turned violent as Biya’s military responded with arrests and torture.

Some responded with a call for secession of the Anglophone regions and created a virtual Ambazonia Republic. They formed a military wing, Ambazonia Defence Force, and used it to attack Biya’s military and disrupt economic and social services in the region.

My work in Cameroon brings me to the conclusion that the Anglophone crisis degenerated into violence because of miscalculations by Biya’s regime. The resulting crisis has devastated entire communities. The region’s economy has also been crippled, resulting in a wave of crime, and burning of businesses and public facilities.

Cameroon is now a no-go country in many respects.

Foreign policy success

My research shows that Biya’s most enduring achievement has been in his conduct of foreign policy. He remains influential in the African Union, and maintains good relations with France, the US and China.

Cameroon was part of the multinational joint task force which conducted military operations to contain Boko Haram. Biya was key in convincing major powers that Boko Haram posed a global threat.

He settled Cameroon’s conflict with Nigeria over the Bakassi Peninsula and placed relations between the nations on a good footing.

Biya also diversified foreign policy from a focus on France to expanding relations with China (though by 2007 he had begun to regret China’s economic domination in Cameroon). He has encouraged American businesses in Cameroon too.

Even after Cameroon was excluded from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a programme that allows African nations to export their goods to the US duty free, for human rights violations, US-Cameroon military collaboration continued.

Turning the tide

Given Biya’s unwillingness to step down from power, the global community needs to exert pressure on him to solve the Anglophone crisis.

The crisis exposes the hypocrisy and weaknesses of the current global system. The major powers make noises about human rights, yet fail to stop abuses by Biya’s government.

What happens with the Anglophone crisis may turn out to be the most significant determinant of Biya’s legacy.The Conversation

 

Julius A. Amin, Professor, Department of History, University of Dayton

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

Mar 09, 2021

The South African Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) has announced the merger of Central Energy Fund (CEF) subsidiaries iGas, PetroSA and the Strategic Fuel Fund (SFF).

The merger will be effective from 1 April 2021 and the new company will be called the South African National Petroleum Company.

The merger, driven by the pursuit of implementing a new company that has a streamlined operating model via the development of a shared services system and a common information platform, comes a few months after cabinet approval and the confirmation that PetroSA had incurred losses of R20 billion since 2014.

Additional factors which prompted the move included the determination to strengthen PetroSA which had not had a permanent CEO in five years prior to the appointment of CEO Ishmael Poolo last and, had become majorly ungainful since its failure to secure gas for the gas-to-liquids refinery project in Mossel Bay.  

While the merger deadline has been set, the portfolio committee expressed reservations to the department’s likelihood of meeting the deadline, considering the existing legislative regime, pending issues raised in the SFF and PetroSA forensic reports, as well as PetroSA’s current insolvency and liquidity challenges, the official press statement on the briefing revealed.

In November 2020, fighting in the Tigray region of Ethiopia destroyed a secondary school which opened in 2018 in the Hitsats refugee camp. The school was attended by both refugees and Ethiopians.

Hitsats was opened in 2013 to accommodate Eritrean refugees. In 2018, it housed over 15,000 refugees, nearly half under the age of 18. It was closed in February 2021.

Ethiopia has a reputation for hosting long-term refugees. It’s the second largest host country in Africa with a hosting history that dates back to the 1950s.

During the 2016 Refugee Summit it made nine pledges to increase opportunities for refugees to engage in legal work, education and land ownership. Most components of these pledges have yet to be fully enacted and most refugees remain confined to camps.

The pledges were voted into Ethiopian law in 2019; the same year that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the border conflict with Eritrea.

One of the pledges promised to build more secondary schools and expand access to a refugee university scholarship programme.

But even before the Tigray war, as many as two-thirds of Eritrean refugees, the majority of whom are young men and unaccompanied minors, chose not to take advantage of educational opportunities designed to keep them in Ethiopia. Instead many of them chose the dangerous journey to Europe, where they risk falling prey to human traffickers, abuse, detention and death.

We conducted research with Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia to find out why they choose to move on rather than take advantage of the opportunity to get an education.

We found that education and local integration programs focus on providing refugees with a safe place. However, refugees also care about time – specifically the future. To feel safe, they need to be able to work toward a desirable future. In other words, they want a life that is ordered teleologically.

Weighing the risks

Our research took place between 2016 and 2019. We did our fieldwork in three Eritrean refugee camps in the Tigray region and in Addis Ababa, with urban refugees and policymakers. We also used social media to connect with participants.

We discovered that although refugees are aware of the risks of leaving, there are risks to staying, including the despair of being stuck in ‘camp time’ with no prospects for a future. For some refugees, going to school can alleviate these feelings of hopelessness. One of refugee we spoke to said this:

I used to spend my time idle, walking around the camp, thinking about nothing. It stressed me. It’s better to spend your time meaningfully in school rather than sitting at home or in a shelter.

But this is not always the case. We found that refugee schools struggle to enrol and retain students. They have low enrolment rates and many students drop out.

The question is this: why do so many refugees leave despite grave risks and the presence of programmes designed to stop them from migrating?

Long before the war in Tigray and the COVID-19 pandemic, refugees weighed the risks of migrating versus remaining. We found that for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, the promise of a good education is not enough to make them stay because there are limited prospects for advancement beyond academic qualifications.

Educational opportunities are meaningful to refugees, but also a cause of suffering, particularly for those who have done well. Educated refugees expect to make progress and attain social status. This is difficult in a camp setting.

In the end, the institutions designed to help them move towards their desired future fail them and make them feel responsible for that failure. Although they are restrained by legal and structural barriers many internalise the blame.

Refugees exist in a painful, unending present. Time in the camps doesn’t move forward. Educated refugees are stuck, without real opportunities to create a path for a better future.

Why refugees choose Europe

Global migration policy focuses on local integration as the most viable solution for an estimated 26 million refugees around the world; half under the age of 18.

Protracted conflicts and widening inequality prevent the return of refugees to their home countries, and less than 1% of refugees are resettled each year.

Education potentially anchors refugees in host countries, promising opportunities, advancement and the chance to fulfil aspirations. But our research suggests that even before the war in Tigray put refugees at more risk, they distrusted Ethiopia’s commitment to its pledges.

We spoke to Berihu, an Eritrean refugee who graduated from an Ethiopian university and became a teacher in the Hitstats camp, who said:

I was happy to get this opportunity to have a bachelor’s degree. But nobody is happy after graduation because they return to the camp and live like the others. We have to use our knowledge to give something back to society.

Graduates like Berihu feel like they can’t use their education to advance their careers in the camps. They also worry about their wellbeing, the possibility of political violence, or cuts to rations. While educational pathways have opened up, pathways to legal work have only recently become available. Refugee graduates are confined to “incentive pay” positions in the camps working for small stipends.

Habtom, another refugee in Hitsats, was offered a university scholarship. But he worried about falling into “empty time” in the camp, saying:

Simply sleeping and eating is boring to me. We are like animals.

A few months later he began the dangerous journey north.

Dead end pledges

Despite Ethiopia’s 2019 refugee proclamation, the promised future for refugees is distant. They are still primarily housed in camps. The details of how they can work or own businesses are still being worked out, leaving them vulnerable to low wages and exploitation.

And in 2020, Ethiopia announced the end of prima facie status for Eritrean refugees, meaning there are more bureaucratic hurdles for them to clear. Additionally, there are widespread food shortages in the region. The risks of staying have gotten even greater, which will lead more Eritrean refugees to take the perilous trip to Europe.The Conversation

 

Amanda Poole, Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Jennifer Riggan, Associate Professor of International Studies, Arcadia University

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

Mar 07, 2021

Nigerian troops have rescued 10 expatriates and four Nigerians in Rivers state.

The victims, including six Chinese, three Indonesians, one Gabonese and four Nigerians, were abducted around the coast of Gabon in February.

They were rescued on Saturday in Tombia, a creek in Bille waterways in Degema LGA of Rivers state.

Mohammed Yahaya, commanding officer of the battalion, while handing over the rescued persons to the Department of State Services (DSS) said they had paid their abductors $300,000 ransom before the troops moved in to rescue them.

“From preliminary findings, they were kidnapped off the coast of Gabon 7 February and brought into Nigerian creeks,” he said.

“A ransom of $300,000 was paid to secure their release before we came in.

“After that settlement, as they were about bringing them out of the creeks, they had issues that made them even susceptible to kidnapping again.

“So, men of the 29 Battalion, under the 6 Division, in conjunction with local vigilante launched that operation and were able to rescue them.

“They have a trolley, Socipeg, registered in Gabon. It was in course of their fishing activities that they were kidnapped.”

Yahaya added that the DSS is expected to do further investigations to unravel the circumstance and enable the army go after the abductors.

 

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