Even after the Trump administration’s repeated efforts to slash foreign aid and global partnerships, the United States remains the world’s largest source of official development assistance for low-income countries.
Still, based on what I’ve learned during a career straddling academia and government service in jobs that involved international development and climate change, I believe that the United States lost prestige, influence and capacity during President Donald Trump’s time in office.
Nearly all my close former colleagues at the United States Agency for International Development – the development agency known as USAID – have left the agency out of frustration, and those still working there are reportedly suffering from generally low morale.
President Joe Biden will need to restore credibility at a time when critical challenges like climate change have gotten harder to meet. I believe that the Biden administration will need to rapidly transform international aid policies, rather than incrementally strengthening them, for the U.S. to manage these global challenges.
Biden plans to nominate Samantha Power to head USAID. I think she should emphasize reducing the risks people in the world’s poorest countries face.
The problems to address go beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
In November, after years of neglect of food security programs, Category 4 Hurricanes Eta and Iota came ashore in Central America, destroying crops throughout an area two-thirds of the size of Rhode Island.
The Biden administration can start to address many of these challenges by properly funding and staffing initiatives such as the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility. Known as COVAX, this joint effort by 190 countries is working with international organizations to make it possible for people everywhere to get affordable COVID-19 vaccines as they become available.
The U.S. is one of very few countries not participating in the initiative.
While COVAX is an important and worthy effort, simply signing up and rejoining other global initiatives won’t suffice. It will take more than that to address the challenges the world faces today, challenges that have only grown over four largely lost years.
Recent assessments by both the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services indicate that deeper change is needed.
Both assessments make it clear that the whole world must swiftly address climate change and biodiversity loss head-on. To do so requires phasing out the reliance on fossil fuels and other technologies that emit too much carbon and changing the way we use land.
Countries and local communities alike must adapt to current environmental impacts while planning for a substantially changed future. This will require new modes of transportation and new ways of generating energy, growing food and manufacturing goods, as well as new approaches to building homes and infrastructure.
Without transformational changes, the damage from climate change will leave the planet less safe and sustainable.
A new aid approach
Experts have learned from decades of development efforts that it’s hard to bring about transformational change. When governments and nongovernmental development organizations have tried to make that happen in the past, it has rarely produced the desired results.
In some cases, these efforts have caused more harm than good.
For example, many studies have found that agricultural intensification, a common development strategy intended to sustainably boost food production, rarely benefits both the environment and local communities. Unfortunately, it can harm both the land and the people who depend on it for sustenance.
What I’ve found to work better are grassroots efforts to connect needed change with local conditions and norms. Foreign aid can catalyze such efforts when it focuses on reducing risks now – through humanitarian assistance – and in the future – through development aid.
Adopting this approach is harder than it sounds because of the way humanitarian aid and development aid are allocated.
Humanitarian aid is usually disbursed after disasters. Traditionally, this assistance aims to relieve immediate suffering, rather than its causes.
Development aid is different. In the U.S., as elsewhere, it’s used to address the root causes of poverty. However, governments usually tie this assistance to their foreign policy agendas, focusing on countries where outcomes are likely to be good. This is not always where the need is greatest.
In my view, closing the gap between humanitarian and development aid is critical for a safe, sustainable future, and it can work.
I have found, for example, evidence in Ghana and Mali that when low-income people acquire access to reliable sources of income and food, women get new opportunities that can greatly improve their potential earnings. When this change initially happens through humanitarian aid, and then continues with the arrival of development assistance, these transformations can sometimes become permanent.
Bridging the divide
USAID has been learning how to bridge this sort of divide through the work of its Center for Resilience in the agency’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security over the past eight years.
For example, this center has created contracting tools that make it easier for development programs to engage in humanitarian responses during emergencies and to integrate humanitarian and development efforts to help vulnerable people manage emergencies today while staving off future crises.
By emphasizing the reduction of risks from climate change and other urgent issues, I believe that under Biden’s leadership, U.S. development policy will do a better job of encouraging appropriate, effective and lasting innovations.
Angola is looking for ways to fight a surge in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, the Great Lakes region and other areas along its coast.
Secretary of State for the External Relations Esmeralda Mendonca said the growing maritime crime problem is endangering the region from a national, international and regional point of view.
Mendonca wants more government funding to fight piracy and terrorism and stressed that if the member states of the region have concerted actions to tackle maritime piracy, they will contribute to the security and development of the region.
“It is in this perspective that Angola, as the headquarters of the Gulf of Guinea in Luanda, attaches great importance to this organization, as the maritime spaces have to be controlled.”
Any effort to reduce piracy in the region will certainly be appreciated by the world’s major shipping companies, who collectively, urge West African nations to do more to secure the waters.
More than 20,000 vessels use the Gulf of Guinea every year. Fringed by an almost 4,000-mile-long shoreline that stretches from Senegal to Angola, it serves as the main thoroughfare for crude oil exports and imports of refined fuel and other goods. Its size and the high number of ships in the area present a challenge for under-resourced governments that have to police the area.
The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre says attacks on vessels globally jumped 20% last year to 195, with 135 crew kidnapped. The Gulf of Guinea accounted for 95% of hostages taken in 22 separate instances, and all three of the hijackings that occurred, the agency said.
The attacks have pushed up insurance and other costs for shippers operating off West Africa, with some resorting to hiring escort vessels manned by armed navy personnel. A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, which transports about 15% of the globe’s seaborne freight, said decisive action needs to be taken.
“It is unacceptable in this day and age that seafarers cannot perform their jobs of ensuring a vital supply chain for this region without having to worry about the risk of piracy,” said Aslak Ross, head of marine standards at Copenhagen-based Maersk. “The risk has reached a level where effective military capacity needs to be deployed.”
Many shipowners favor a more muscular international effort modeled on the military response to hijackings offshore Somalia, which was the global epicenter of piracy from about 2001 to 2012. Armed guards and warships dispatched by the European Union, NATO and a U.S.-led task force to protect vessels traveling through the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest trade routes linking Europe to Asia, helped bring the problem under control.
The number of violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea has remained fairly consistent over the past decade, but abductions of more than 10 people have become increasingly commonplace, said Dirk Siebels, senior analyst at Denmark-based Risk Intelligence.
The pirates are increasingly operating deeper out to sea, with kidnappings on average taking place 60 nautical miles offshore in 2020, according to the IMB. The furthest out took place in mid-July, when eight machine-gun wielding pirates boarded a chemical tanker off Nigeria’s coast and seized 13 crew members before fleeing. Only unqualified seamen remained on the Curacao Trader, which was left adrift 195 nautical miles from the coast. The crew were freed the following month.
“The perpetrators of such incidents are perfectly aware there is almost no risk of being caught,” said Munro Anderson, a partner at London-based maritime security firm Dryad Global. “That is precisely the kind of incident an international naval coalition could mitigate.”
Credit: Bloomberg / Xinhua / CGTN Africa
Despite the twin problems – poverty and insecurity – that have faced Niger in the past few decades, President Mahamadou Issoufou successfully completed his two-term tenure. In December 2020, the country held the first election to transfer power from one civilian regime to another since independence from France in 1960.
When President Issoufou assumed power in 2011 (a year after a coup d’etat which led to the removal of Mamadou Tandja), the country was overwhelmed by widespread poverty and insecurity. Persistent agitations came from the Tuareg ethnic groups, stemming from perceived marginalisation and oppression. Issoufou’s first step towards stabilising the country was to appoint Brigi Rafini, a Tuareg leader from Agadez, as prime minister.
Many rebel leaders were appeased with political positions, a gesture which helped stabilise the country and reduce calls for secession. Another boost to the country’s democracy was Issoufou’s decision not to seek a third term but instead organise a free and fair election.
The increase in the number of African incumbent presidents extending or ignoring term limits has been described as reversing democracy.
In addition to achieving relative political stability and entrenching democracy, Niger has grown its GDP during Issoufou’s tenure. GDP grew from $8.7 billion to $12.9 billion between 2011 and 2019, and by 6.3% in 2019. This was achieved through investment in agriculture, which represents about 40% of GDP, as well as the prevention of internal conflicts.
One of the key issues which plagued Niger was trafficking (weapons, humans and drugs). Although this still constitutes a menace, Niger has benefited financially from the European Union in its quest to reduce trafficking. It has been awarded over $840 million since 2011 to help curb the flow of migrants from Africa to Europe through the Sahara. This has helped the country combat trafficking through upgrading security infrastructure.
Landlocked nation surrounded by problematic countries
But despite the efforts of the Nigerien government to attain political stability, economic growth and security, conflict in neighbouring countries has hindered development. Islamist or terrorist groups operate in six of the seven countries that surround Niger (Algeria, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali). Benin is the exception.
Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb – which was formed after the Algerian civil war in the late 1990s – operates along the northern border of Niger with Algeria. The war in Libya also polarised parts of the country’s north-eastern border where Islamic State operates. Boko Haram, formed in Nigeria, operates along Niger’s south-eastern border between Chad and Nigeria. The group claimed responsibility for the massacre of 28 civilians in the town of Toumour in December 2020.
Since 2018, the western parts of the country have also witnessed sporadic attacks orchestrated by Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. This group is an affiliate of Islamic State which was formed in Mali but operates in Burkina Faso and along the border with Niger. As the results of the presidential election were being released, terrorists attacked two villages, killing over 100 people.
Data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project reveal that insurgent activities have increased in Niger in the past few years. A total of 167 conflict related events resulting in 506 fatalities were recorded in 2018. The numbers grew to 476 conflict related events resulting in 1046 fatalities in 2020. Most events happened around the borders of the country. These data reveal the impact of insecurity on the stability of Niger.
The elections and challenges ahead
Although 30 candidates contested the presidential elections, there are believed to be two front runners. Mohamed Bazoum, the former head of Niger’s interior and foreign ministries, is one. The other is Mahamane Ousmane, Niger’s fourth president, who held office between 1993 and 1996 before being removed in a military coup. Since no candidate was able to garner 50% of the votes in the first round of elections (Bazoum got 39.33% and Ousmane got 17%), runoff elections have been scheduled for February 2021.
The three key issues which have dominated the presidential campaigns are insecurity, poverty and corruption. Despite the progress recorded by the incumbent president in the past nine years, the World Bank states that poverty remains high: 41.4% of the population lived in extreme poverty in 2019.
Since the runoff elections will be between two popular figures in the country, intense political calculations are expected.
One key issue which is likely to be prominent in the build up to the runoff election is the ability of the candidates to sustain the balance of power. This has been essential in keeping Niger relatively stable since 2011.
While the prospect of a peaceful democratic transition in Niger is welcome in the country and across the region, the eventual winner faces an uphill task to surmount the twin problems of insecurity and poverty.
Finder’s repo rate panel expects the South Africa Reserve Bank (SARB) to hold the repo rate this week but over a third (36%) think the Bank should cut the rate.
BER chief economist, Hugo Pienaar, is the only panellist out of 15 forecasting a rate cut. He thinks the Bank will decrease the rate by 25bps, but is in favour of a deeper 50bps cut.
“With a benign inflation outlook, monetary policy has space to provide some moderate further stimulus to the economy at a time when fiscal policy is heavily constrained to do so,” he said.
Independent economist, Elize Kruger, is one economist who expects the Bank to hold, but is in favour of a 25bps rate cut.
“The SA economy is still bleeding amid the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis, while consumer inflation remains well under control in the medium term forecast, thus a small window of opportunity has opened for further stimulation,” she said.
STANLIB economist, Ndivhuho Netshitenzhe, also called for a 25bps decrease, noting inflation remains under-control.
That, along with the weak domestic economic environment that is expected to continue at least into early 2021 (as a result of increased lockdown measures), gives the SARB some room to be more expansionary in its monetary policy.
“Despite this, however, the SARB is aware that although SA consumer inflation is still expected to remain comfortably below the midpoint of the inflation target over the next 6 months, base effects could push SA inflation somewhat higher in 2021, especially during the middle of 2021”.
However the majority of the panel (64%), including Economist at RMB, Mpho Molopyane, think the Bank should and will hold the rate.
“The growth and inflation outlook has not significantly changed since the November 2019 meeting to warrant a change [to] interest rates. GDP is going to take a while to return to pre-covid levels, with inflationary pressures relatively contained. This will enable the SARB to keep monetary policy accommodative and the repo rate unchanged in contrast to the tightening bias projected by the QPM at the November 2019 MPC meeting,” she said.
Nearly three quarters (73%) of the panel don’t think the rate will increase this year. 47% say a hike will occur in the first half of 2022, 20% are forecasting an increase in the second half of 2022 and 7% in 2023.
IQbusiness chief economist, Sifiso Skenjana, is one panellist who thinks the rate will increase in the first half of next year due to inflation.
“We are seeing early signs of tapering off on monetary easing / accommodative policy in some of the developed economies which may suggest that we may see higher levels of inflation in those economies by year end 2021.”
Do you think the SARB will be forced to buy more bonds?
The panel is equally divided on whether the SARB will be forced to buy more bonds (50%-50%).
BNP Paribas chief economist, Jeff Schultz, thinks the Bank will be forced to buy more bonds in the short term, commenting it is only likely to do so in response to further deterioration in economic conditions or market dislocations.
The SARB is likely to keep as much powder dry as possible and assess the outlook for the economy and bond market first before making any preemptive purchases. Right now the bond market continues to function well, having recovered from the massive sell off seen in March/April last year. This should limit the SARB’s willingness to aggressively re-enter its SAGB buying right now,” he said.
22% of the panel think the Bank will be forced to buy more bonds in the short term, 14% in the medium term, 7% long term and 7% permanently.
Alexander Forbes chief economist, Isaah Mhlanga, thinks the Bank will need to buy bonds over the long term, noting that bond buying programs will become mainstream in emerging markets.
“Bond buying programs were unconventional monetary policy tools in the advanced world a decade ago and they are now mainstream tools and no longer unconventional. Bond buying programs are still unconventional in emerging markets like South Africa, however, over time, they will likely be mainstream tools along the path followed by advanced economies.”
Uganda's long-time President Yoweri Museveni has been re-elected, electoral officials say, amid accusations of vote fraud by his main rival Bobi Wine.
Mr Museveni won almost 59% of the vote, with Bobi Wine trailing with about 35%, the Electoral Commission said.
Thursday's poll may turn out to be the "most cheating-free" in the history of the African nation, the president said.
Bobi Wine, a former pop star, vowed to provide evidence of vote-rigging when internet connections were restored.
The government shut down the internet ahead of voting day, a move condemned by election monitors.
They said confidence in the count had been damaged by the days-long cut. A government minister told the BBC on Saturday evening that the internet service would be restored "very soon".
In a phone interview with the BBC World Service, Bobi Wine said he and his wife were not being allowed to leave their home by soldiers.
"Nobody is allowed to leave or come into our house. Also, all journalists - local and international - have been blocked from accessing me here at home," he said.
Dozens of people were killed during violence in the run-up to the election. Opposition politicians have also accused the government of harassment.
The result gives President Museveni a sixth term in office. The 76-year-old, in power since 1986, says he represents stability in the country.
Meanwhile, Bobi Wine - the stage name for 38-year-old Robert Kyagulanyi - says he has the backing of the youth in one of the world's youngest nations, where the median age is 16.
The opposition candidate earlier said: "I will be happy to share the videos of all the fraud and irregularities as soon as the internet is restored."
But speaking after being declared the winner, Mr Museveni said: "Voting by machines made sure there is no cheating.
"But we are going to audit and see how many people voted by fingerprints and how many of those voted by just using the register."
Mr Museveni also warned that "foreign meddling will not be tolerated".
The EU, United Nations and several rights groups have raised concerns. Aside from an African Union mission, no major international group monitored the vote.
Earlier this week the US - a major aid donor to Uganda - cancelled its diplomatic observer mission to the country, saying that the majority of its staff had been denied permission to monitor polling sites.
Senegal is the hotspot for energy investment in West Africa right now, owing to a string of huge offshore hydrocarbons discoveries since 2014 (as well as its compelling renewables potential).
The emergence of Senegal as a regional energy power is an exciting story. But for almost two decades, in fact, the country has been producing its own natural gas onshore, an hour’s drive from Dakar. Further investment could unlock Senegal’s onshore potential.
Introducing Onshore Senegal
Fortesa International, led by CEO Rogers Beall, started exploring in Senegal in 1997 and from the start, Beall aimed to create a business that was fully Senegalese. Today, the company has a staff of 125, with two expatriate mentors and some African expatriate staff, but the vast majority (around 98 percent) is Senegalese nationals. Beall has continually advocated for Senegal with U.S. companies and now serves on the U.S.- Africa Committee for the African Energy Chamber.
As AOP drove out to the Fortesa production site this week, Beall pointed to a plateau in the far distance, while we passed through a shallow valley. That, he said, is the edge of the 120-square-kilometer Thiombane Dome geological formation. It sits on the eastern side of the carbonate shelf edge that runs north to south along the coast of West Africa.
The emergence of Senegal as a regional energy power is an exciting story
Volcanic eruptions in the sea 175 million years ago, joined up by sand blown in from the Sahara, created the Dakar peninsula. That same feature on the carbonate shelf edge extends deep into the Atlantic Ocean, and this is the basis for the massive offshore oil and gas fields generating so much excitement globally. This is where North America used to connect to Africa, and where we are driving now used to be the state of Georgia before it was the deep ocean bed. The African plate itself never moved.
“The single place between Morocco and Guinea where that shelf comes onshore is east of Dakar,” says Beall. Here, on land and a short drive from the capital, Fortesa is operating seven wells (one out of service temporarily due to an accident – the company’s first serious one – on December 20, 2020) tied back to a gas processing plant. The manifolds and tanks were built in Senegal, the whole facility was assembled by a local team, and on our visit, we met with dozens of Senegalese workers who had trained with Fortesa and were operating the facilities.
The Gadiaga field usually produces 3 million cubic feet (mcf) per day and could produce 7 mcf per day. This small field has produced just over $95 million of natural gas. But, as Beall says, “This is small potatoes compared to what Senegal needs.” The geology says that Gadiaga may sit next to a much larger gas field situated on the edge of the shelf in the Thiombane Dome. This strong potential is what Fortesa wishes to explore and develop, with fellow investors.
Natural Gas Could Do More
Fortesa’s operation may look familiar in the Niger Delta, where local companies have been producing onshore from marginal fields since 2002. But in this region, Fortesa’s gas production business is unique, and like the most effective Niger Delta marginal field companies, it enjoys the support of the local community to staff and safeguard the well sites, pipe yard and processing plant.
Energy independence is the key to Senegal’s success, says Beall. Energy poverty is a trap that ties people down to subsistence living from Senegal to Somalia. Natural gas, available in abundance onshore as well as far out to sea, can be a fuel to remove those limits.
“Right now, this country is paying $14 per mcf by using heavy fuel oil. [In doing this] they are making six times the pollution, six times the negative effect on the planet, and nearly double the cost,” says Beall. “We are able to make the investment and take the risk of drilling onshore, and [in this region] only Fortesa is doing this.”
Natural gas is cleaner and cheaper than the alternatives. It provides direct and indirect jobs for hundreds at Gadiaga, and more of it is available onshore. The company is keen to expand within its acreage to find and develop the onshore elephant that the geology points to, as well as optimizing current production. But with European and other Western financing institutions now shutting down funding for hydrocarbons, few options are available to fund expansion.
The Foundation Is Already There
Fortesa built a foundation for Senegal’s emergence as an energy player. Beall believed in the potential of Senegal before many in Europe and North America had thought to examine the country’s subsurface. His company worked with or trained many of the people now going on to run the sector or work at the national oil company Petrosen and others.
Onshore gas growth is possible and would lead to direct job creation and sustainable energy provision to households and businesses – and save on costly and high-polluting fuel oil imports.
“This is one of the most cost-effective operations in Africa. Fortesa has essentially unlocked the value of Senegal’s energy resources. The projects run by Rogers and his team are sound and are an example of projects that can generate cash and deliver the return on capital that investors are looking for,” said NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber, to AOP. “I see a team that is focused on improving asset-level economics, reducing capital outlay, and stretching their dollars to do more with less.”
AOP’s mission is to bring investment to African energy of all kinds, with a view to making life better for people and businesses. Issues of climate change and sustainability must be addressed urgently. But comparatively clean natural gas and the people that produce it (and industries that can use it) should not pay the price for Western institutions’ opposition to funding hydrocarbons. “We need to give a chance to people to advance,” Beall told us. “Let’s do things that work.”
Bobi Wine, the main challenger of incumbent Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in the election, said early on Friday that Thursday’s vote had seen “widespread fraud and violence” but the opposition leader remained positive as ballots are being counted under an internet blackout.
Uganda Elections 2021 Results: Bobi Wine vs Yoweri Museveni - Electoral Commission results show Museveni in early lead
“Despite the widespread fraud and violence experienced across the country earlier today, the picture still looks good. Thank you Uganda for turning up and voting in record numbers,” Wine tweeted shortly after midnight (21:00 GMT), managing to bypass the blockage.
The 38-year-old former pop star-turned-legislator did not give details about his accusations, which contradicted the government’s account that Thursday’s vote had been peaceful with no extensive cases of violence reported.
The Electoral Commission is expected to release the results within 48 hours.
The internet remained down for a third day as vote counting continued in the country. Results are expected by Saturday afternoon.
President Museveni is seeking a sixth term in office and Wine has been arrested multiple times during the campaigning, is his main competitor among 11 opposition candidates.
The election took place after one of the most violent campaigns in years, with harassment and arrests of the opposition leaders, attacks on the media and dozens of deaths.
The run-up to polling day was marred by a sustained crackdown on Museveni’s rivals and government critics and unprecedented attacks on the nation’s media and human rights defenders.
In November, at least 54 people were shot dead by security forces loyal to Museveni during protests against one of Wine’s numerous arrests.
The US, EU, UN and global rights and democracy groups have raised concerns about the integrity and transparency of the election.
Meanwhile, the African Union (AU), has sent monitors, along with an AU women’s group.
On Wednesday, the United States, a key aid donor to Uganda, announced it was cancelling a diplomatic observer mission after several of its staff were denied permission to monitor the election.
On Tuesday, Museveni announced the suspension of social media networks and messaging services like Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp in response to Facebook closing accounts linked to government officials that the technology giant said were spreading misinformation.
Source : AL Jazeera
Uganda is going to conduct its first digital and mass media campaigns ahead of its 2021 general elections. This comes as the country contemplates holding a “scientific election” wherein social distancing guidelines will be observed.
On 16 June 2020, the Uganda Electoral Commission issued a press release banning public rallies for the 2021 political campaigns as part of the country’s COVID-19 containment measures. Campaigns will now be conducted on radio and television, in newspapers and on the internet. This caused an immediate protest especially among opposition-leaning political groups and civil society organisations.
The electoral commission said the official guidelines for the 2021 general election would be issued after consultation with relevant stakeholders. These guidelines will include how much space and time aspirants will be allocated on Uganda’s national broadcasting network.
This is a critical issue as candidates have been denied media space in the past. In 2011, opposition kingpin Kizza Besigye was denied paid advertisement space scheduled on the state-owned Uganda Broadcasting Corporation. He won a court case against the media house but the electoral commission is yet to pronounce on this incident.
Uganda’s electoral commission’s relationship with electioneering politicians has been problematic in the past. Many of them are highly distrustful of the body, which is hand-picked by the incumbent president.
President Yoweri Museveni is also on record accusing the electoral body of rigging his party out of votes in 2014. The electoral commission itself has exploited this instability by issuing inconclusive communications. The latest announcement on media campaigns is a case in point.
In the meantime, party candidates are picking nomination forms, and the ruling National Resistance Movement has conducted virtual and low scale physical campaigns and elections for its party organs nationwide. This is being done amid the traditional fanfare that accompanies campaigns albeit in smaller groups. They are taking the opportunity to attract the attention of television cameras and radio stations.
Uganda’s previous general elections have often been disputed by the losing opposition. The 2021 general elections are poised to fuel these traditional grievances even as the country’s election commission bans open air campaigns owing to COVID-19 restrictions.
The ruling party has unrestricted access to the media. It is also assured of an uninterrupted internal electoral process. This is not the case for the opposition, which is often blocked and dispersed by police.
The electoral commission as umpire is unresponsive to the methods and activities of the police, and some media policies that significantly affect the visibility of the candidates among the electorate.
Attempts therefore at Uganda’s scientific elections, unless judiciously regulated, will only propagate the usual refrain of electoral malpractices.
New aspirants will have to make do with dramatics to get their message to the people. Bobi Wine has adopted South African opposition politician Julius Malema’s signature red beret and Nelson Mandela’s raised fist to situate himself in the minds of voters. He has taken advantage of radio interviews and a strong online presence to push his campaign forward.
He makes strategic announcements of his scheduled television and radio appearances, which are often cancelled at the last minute by media houses or denied outright by the police, as a means to mobilise his passionate youthful supporters. They have often taken to the streets to demonstrate their support and outrage at his mistreatment.
The Uganda police predictably reacts with tear gas and strong-arm tactics, which typically results in media coverage for Bobi Wine’s campaign. The politician has on occasion sued the police and his cases have been well covered by the press.
Savvy and youthful candidates like Bobi Wine then make use of social media to amplify their voices by posting clips of these incidents on the internet, where their supporters then access them on mobile phones. The battle lines are hence defined.
This strategy worked well in pre-COVID-19 times, but with the advent of social distancing measures in Uganda, these candidates will need to restrategise. The directive to conduct purely media campaigns will mean that they will not have the opportunity to leverage physical campaigns on various media platforms.
Museveni’s head start
There is much debate on the feasibility of digital campaigns and scientific elections. President Museveni continues to express his determination to keep the country socially contained amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He is yet to lift an eight and a half hour nightly curfew imposed on the country since May. Public transport is tightly regulated. The number of passengers per private commuter van has been halved. Commuters must wash their hands and wear masks. The president also took to the airwaves wondering why people would leave their homes to die.
Meanwhile, he has had a head start travelling the country opening development projects and handing out start-up capital.
He is often captured keeping the required social distance and wearing a mask as he waves at crowds. His excursions are covered by the presidential press unit which broadcasts on Uganda Broadcasting Corporation.
These images are then distributed to other networks such as The New Vision multimedia network. Most government ministers have their own press coverage which mimic the presidential press unit with reportage of their official and unofficial activities mainly on the national broadcaster.
Problem with media campaigns
There is also the matter of the electorate’s capacity to access radio, television and newspaper content. The 2014 census showed that one million homesteads had television sets and 3.4 million had radio sets. This is against a voting population of about 17 million.
As for the online capacity of Uganda’s electorate, a report reveals that Uganda’s internet penetration is about 42% with up to 19 million Ugandans now connected to the internet out of a total estimated population of 46 million people.
The percentage of Ugandans with access to legacy and new media is a drop in the bucket compared to the entire population, and those who are registered to vote.
Moreover, Uganda’s social media platforms are rife with disinformation and defamation, which affects all Ugandans, including the country’s most powerful. The president himself has made use of the internet by posting his exercise regime. His detractors have responded by accusing the president of spreading propaganda about his invincibility.
But Museveni is not the only leader who is using the internet to reach his supporters. Uganda’s apolitical cultural leaders are also active in the digital space, where they have been seen to deny social media information that casts them in a bad light.
This is significant because cultural leaders hold sway among Uganda’s rural voters, who are the majority.
Some political pundits have posited that the directive to campaign on media and digital platforms in a country which is fumbling technologically is a trojan horse filled with electoral malpractices. It remains to be seen whether this is yet another of Uganda’s experiments in statecraft, or if it is simply election crisis management.
For months, Ugandans have witnessed a vicious presidential election campaign without precedent. While the incumbent, Yoweri Museveni, has enjoyed free rein on the campaign trail, his youthful main opponent Robert Kyagulanyi and his supporters have faced numerous obstacles – and physical assault.
The result is a pervasive sense of political crisis in the run-up to the January 14 vote.
But in this crisis is the potential for release. Ordinary Ugandans are pouring their social and political grievances onto social media platforms, spawning debates around accountability and governance. They have taken to recording events they find newsworthy and posting them directly to ordinary people’s WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter accounts. In the process, they are sidestepping traditional channels – mainly radio, television and newspapers – along with their bureaucratic and hierachical procedures of news gathering.
The traditional media landscape has been dominated by Vision Group, in which the state owns the majority stake. The group owns the biggest circulating newspaper,The New Vision, a number of local regional newspapers and TV stations. Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, a statutory agency, has the widest TV and radio reach over the country, broadcasting in English and the major local languages as well as Kiswahili. The other main players are private media houses with TV and radio outlets and newspapers. But all are kept on a short leash through legislation and commercial imperatives in a market where the government is the chief source of advertising.
The migration to social media has been driven by two key factors. The first is the wave of excitement in favour of Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name Bobi Wine, and his bid for the presidency. The recent riots and their spread across the country only provide a glimpse into the popular interest in him. Traffic on social media is an indication of his appeal.
The second driver has been the fact that Uganda has a very youthful voting age population. The country has the second youngest population on the continent. According to the World Population Review, just 2% of Ugandans are 65 or older.
These young Ugandans have turned to their favourite tool and pastime: social media. The easy access to information on smartphones has emboldened them to speak out without fear.
In addition, journalists and prominent people in politics have set up Facebook pages and YouTube channels. They have taken to posting realtime events and activities of the politicians and their families. These clips range from hard news to human interest stories as well as outright propaganda and lies which are quickly debunked by the adversary.
The government tried to curb the use of social media, such as enacting a law on the misuse and abuse of technology. But it does not have the capacity to track all offenders, let alone to prove its case in court. Also, its attempts to limit access by levying social media tax have largely been sidestepped by the widespread use of virtual private networks.
Never has a contest in Uganda’s political history been so furiously played out in the media space as the 2021 national elections. This trend is now irreversible. This may be the one gain for Ugandan democracy from the bruising poll. And it’s a gain unlikely to be dented by Uganda’s unprecedented ban on all social media platforms and messaging apps 48 hours before the presidential vote.
During Amin’s era in the 1970s balanced reporting was unheard of. The government newspaper, Voice of Uganda, carried leading headlines daily featuring Amin throughout its lifetime and the government radio and TV stations were Amin’s mouthpieces. It was suicidal to carry dissenting voices.
When the National Resistance Movement came to power in 1986 through an armed insurrection, it set up its own media presence. This media extolled the new leadership and the movement through which it captured power. “When we captured power” became the ubiquitous preamble of many government officials’ speeches. It was embraced positively in TV and radio documentary scripts and newspaper articles.
The image of a new regime riding on the wrongs of past leaders to capture power by armed insurrection in the interests of the people is now a distant memory. Fast forward to 2021 and six election cycles later, Ugandans in general and journalists in particular are feeling the full force of that power.
COVID-19 restrictions have also been used as a smokescreen to control the media and the movement of journalists.
Restrictions have been placed on media access for opposition candidates. Such candidates have reported incidents of being denied access to upcountry broadcast outlets by government authorities and owners fearing repercussions. Opposition candidates also lament restrictions to the mainstream radio and television such as UBC’s network.
Amid all these hurdles, Museveni has continued to appear daily on media outlets. His daily schedule includes live TV appearances commissioning government development projects such as roads, hospitals, markets, bridges and dams.
There are also downsides to the spike in social media use. One is that conspiracy theories abound on the various platforms. But, despite the challenges posed by the unprofessionalism of some citizen journalism on social media, the public has woken up to the power of breaking news and whistleblowing that speaks directly to power.
There have been some notable instances where social media has come into its own in holding those in authority accountable. One example was the effective use of live streaming of the deadly political riots in which at least 45 were killed in November 2020. This proved to be the only source of direct information after security services cut the flow of information by seizing journalists on the scene and prevailing on media houses not to broadcast the violent scenes.
How the role of social media will affect the outcome of the poll remains an open question. Demographics will play a large role. Museveni still has a hold on rural and elderly voters while Kyagulanyi seems to pull the urban youth.
Above all, much depends on whether it’s a free and fair poll. Here, Kyagulanyi can only hope that the electoral commission ensures a level playing field.
Rwanda is a major destination for foreigners travelling in the East African region.
With a tourism industry that is developing day by day, an emerging conference industry; and an investment atmosphere characterized by increased ease of doing business, many foreign travellers have been, in the past years getting increasingly interested in coming to visit.
However, with the emergence of the pandemic, it is not business as usual.
Government has put in place a number of measures to prevent the spread of the virus and this has affected travel to and from the country.
Here are seven things that you should know about traveling to Rwanda during this time of the pandemic:
1. Filling a passenger locator form before traveling
Travellers arriving in Rwanda must complete a passenger locator form and upload a negative Covid-19 test certificate on www.rbc.gov.rw –the official website of Rwanda Biomedical Centre—prior to their arrival.
2. A negative RT-PCR test is mandatory upon arrival
All travellers arriving in Rwanda must have a negative Covid-19 certificate. The only accepted test is a SARS-CoV 2 Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) performed within 120 hours of departure. This means that travellers must be tested and get results within 5 days of their flight. Other tests, such as Rapid Diagnostics Test (RDTs) are not accepted.
3. All travellers are tested upon arrival. A test costs $60
After jetting in, it is mandatory for travellers to get tested again at the Kigali International Airport. The Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) in partnership with the airport established a Covid-19 testing within the airport.
The test done here is a Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), and a traveller has to pay $60 for it. This amount is prepaid using online means (rbc.gov.rw) before someone travels to Rwanda.
4. Waiting for results at transit hotels. Government negotiated special prices with the hotels ranging from $30 to $450
After testing at the airport, the travellers proceed to designated transit hotels where they have to wait for about 24 hours to get their results. A list of these hotels is available on rbc.gov.rw.
The Government of Rwanda negotiated special rates for the 24-hour waiting period at the hotels. The prices range from as low as $30 to $450.
5. Travellers whose tests turn out positive undergo treatment at their own cost
If the results of a person visiting the country return negative, they are allowed to continue with the business that brought them. But if the result is positive for (even if asymptomatic), they will be treated as indicated in the National Covid-19 Management Guidelines until they have fully recovered, at their own cost.
Rwanda Biomedical Centre encourages all travellers to have international travel insurance.
6. Screening at the borders for those who use land transport
Travellers from neighbouring countries traveling to Rwanda are taken to transit to designated transit hotels from where they are tested for Covid-19. A test costs $60.
7. Negative Covid-19 results required before departure, for all
All travellers departing from Rwanda must test negative for Covid-19. The only accepted test is a SARS-CoV 2 Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) performed within 120 hours before departure. Other tests, such as Rapid Diagnostics Test (RDTs), are not accepted.
RBC encourages travellers to book and pay for their tests at least 2 days prior to departure through the online platform available at rbc.gov.rw
Read More: newtimesrwanda