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First Female Head of UN Economic Commission for Africa: Vera Songwe

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Announced in April by UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, Dr. Vera Songwe has become the first woman ever to head the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, UNECA is one of the UN’s five regional commissions, and was established in 1958 to encourage economic cooperation among the nations of the African continent. A prestigious position by itself, Songwe has also acquired the rank of Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations.  

Beating more than 70 candidates for the role, Songwe, aged 48, takes over the reins of the organization at a critical time, following the departure of Dr. Carlos Lopes of Guinea-Bissau, who stepped down from the organization in September, last year. Labelled as one of 25 African’s ‘to follow,’ by the Financial Times in 2015, the UN reported that her longstanding track record of policy advice and results orientated implementation in the region, as well as, her demonstrated strong and clear strategic vision for the continent, is what lead to the decision.

Track Record in Economics

Before her appointment, Songwe was serving as the International Finance Corporation’s Regional Director, covering West and Central Africa. Between 2012 and 2015 she was the World Bank’s Country Director for Senegal, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. Before that, she held the post of Advisor to the Managing Director of the World Bank for Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia. She is also currently a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Global Development African Growth Initiative, since 2011.

Starting her professional journey as a Young Professional at the World Bank in 1998, Songwe worked in the Middle East and North Africa region covering Morocco and Tunisia in the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management unit (PREM). Later she joined the East Asia and Pacific region PREM unit where she held several roles, such as, Regional PRSP Coordinator, Country Sector Coordinator and Senior Economist for the Philippines. She has also worked in Mongolia and Cambodia for the World Bank.

Born in 1968, Songwe earned a PhD in Mathematical Economics at the Center for Operations Research and Econometrics, as well as a Master of Arts in Law and Economics, and a Diploma of Profound Studies in Economic Sciences and Politics, from the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve, in Belgium. She also has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science from the University of Michigan in the United States. Songwe has also published several papers on governance, fiscal policy, agriculture and commodity price volatility, and trade and new financial infrastructure.

In the Shadow of Lopes

With the departure of the charismatic, and sometimes combative, Carlos Lopes, Songwe arrives in an institution where her predecessor has left a large imprint. Joining the organization in 2012, Lopes has been credited with reshaping UNECA and raising it out of obscurity on the continent. According to The East African news outlet, Lopes championed the need for improved data and statistics for informed decision making. He was the first to call for debt cancellation for the Ebola-effected countries in Africa, and led a team to demonstrate the economic impact projections on Africa were highly exaggerated and part of a negative narrative. During his resignation, Lopes was also praised by colleagues for taking the relationship between the organization, its partners and member states, to a higher level, for beautifying the UNECA compound, leading UNECA to host big conferences impacting on Africa’s development and empowering employees and ensuring gender parity in the organization.

Songwe’s Vision

However, Songwe is not without her own talents and tenacity. With some 20 years at the World Bank, Songwe’s new duties of advising African governments on their development projects will be well within her grasp. Described by her colleagues as a hardworking and competent leader, she is on the selection committee for the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an annual program of training, funding and mentoring for the next generation of African entrepreneurs and the influential African Leadership Network. According to RFI, as the new Executive Secretary for UNECA, Songwe will give priority to innovative financing, agriculture, energy, and economic governance.

 

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South Sudan says oil production at 130,000 bpd

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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South Sudan is producing around 130,000 barrels of oil a day and wants to increase its refinery capacity to supply fuel to neighbouring countries, the petroleum minister said on Monday.

“We are focusing on four or five refineries so we can finally be able to sell to Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda,” Minister Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth told an African oil conference in Cape Town.

East Africa’s only mature oil producer, South Sudan is aiming to double oil output to 290,000 bpd in 2017/18 the finance minister said in January.

 

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Joe Brock)

 

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Kenyan shilling inclined toward depreciation as oil demand weighs

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – The Kenyan shilling was broadly stable against the dollar on Monday, but some demand from oil and merchandise importers was seen giving the local currency a depreciation bias, traders said.

At 0757 GMT, commercial banks quoted the shilling 103.30/40 per dollar, compared with 103.25/45 at

 

(Reporting by John Ndiso; editing by Elias Biryabarema)

 

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South Africa’s private-sector activity little changed in May, PMI shows

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JOHANNESBURG, June 5 (Reuters) – Private-sector activity in South Africa was little changed in May from April, remaining in positive territory, as new orders and output failed to register significant gains.

The Standard Bank Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), compiled by Markit, was at 50.2 in May compared with 50.3 in April, still above the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction.

“PMI remained above 50 for the ninth month running in May, signalling the longest sequence of overall improvement in operating conditions in five years,” Markit said in a statement.

The sub-index for new orders fell to 50.1 in May from 50.4 previously. Output rose slightly to 49.9 from 49.6.

South Africa’s economic outlook has been clouded by credit rating downgrades to “junk” by two of the three major rating agencies after President Jacob Zuma fired Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in late March.

A fall below investment-grade typically constricts funding and sharply raises borrowing costs.

 

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Egypt’s foreign reserves rise to $31.126 billion at end-May

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CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s foreign reserves jumped to $31.126 billion at the end of May from $28.641 billion at the end of April, boosted by last month’s Eurobond sale, the central bank said on Sunday.

Egypt, which has been struggling to revive its economy since a 2011 uprising, sold $3 billion of Eurobonds in May, twice as much as targeted.

That confirmed growing foreign appetite for the country’s debt as it follows through with economic reforms aimed at cutting a budget deficit and luring back investors.

In November Egypt abandoned its currency peg of 8.8 per dollar and floated the pound, which then halved in value. It also raised its key interest rates by 300 basis points, helping Egypt to clinch a $12 billion International Monetary Fund programme.

Last month, the central bank raised its key interest rates by another 200 basis points after inflation reached a three-decade high.

The moves helped the country lure back foreign investors to its treasury sales. Foreign investors in Egyptian government securities rose to 136 billion Egyptian pounds ($7.52 billion) in May from 120 billion pounds a week earlier.

Last month’s Eurobond sale, which reached Egypt’s central bank on May 31, was the second such sale this year. Egypt had earlier raised $4 billion at a Eurobond sale in January that also exceeded expectations.

The steady climb in Egypt’s foreign reserves since it floated the pound brings them closer to pre-2011 levels of around $36 billion.

 

($1 = 18.0800 Egyptian pounds)

 

(Reporting by Eric Knecht and Arwa Gaballa; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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Fitch “very concerned” situation in South Africa not improving: union

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By Mfuneko Toyana

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Fitch is very concerned that South Africa’s economic and political situation is not improving, the country’s second largest federation of trade unions said on Tuesday after it held talks with the ratings agency.

In April, Fitch cut South Africa’s debt to subinvestment, citing the recent cabinet reshuffle, when President Zuma fired his third finance minister in two years and which it feared would weaken standards of governance and public finances.

Firing Pravin Gordhan while he was abroad on an investor roadshow and the subsequent sovereign downgrade rattled local markets and investors worldwide.

The Federation of Unions of South Africa’s (FEDUSA) General Secretary Dennis George told Reuters that Fitch said it was also worried about the lack of progress in reforming state firms.

“They wanted to know how we see the future and what we see happening at the (ruling African National Congress) ANC elective conference in December,” said George, who was meant to be part of the contingent accompanying Gordhan overseas on the roadshow.

The ruling ANC elects its next leader, who will contest national polls in 2019. The cabinet purge that saw Gordhan removed is seen by analysts as part of a wider power-struggle between factions in the party jostling for top positions and control of state-owned entities (SOE).

“Fitch are very concerned about what is happening in the country and the fact that things are not getting better, they’re getting worse,’ George said.

“They also agreed with us that we can’t keep bailing out the state-owned companies,” he said.

Government guarantees to state firms are set to increase to nearly 500 billion rand ($38 billion) in 2017, about a quarter of the total debt, according to the treasury, which says the firms represent a significant risk to already stretched finances.

When Fitch downgraded the rating, it said the reshuffle was likely to “undermine progress in SOE governance”, raising the risk that the firms’ debt could migrate onto the government’s balance sheet.

Fitch was not immediately available for comment.

 

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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South Africa to use procurement budget “strategically” to transform economy: Gigaba

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said on Monday the treasury would use its 500 billion rand ($40 billion) annual procurement budget to transform the economy and give more support to black-owned businesses.

“The strategic use of state procurement is an important lever to grow black business,” Gigaba told a business dinner in Johannesburg. “The state getting value for money is important but this aim should be considered in conjunction with our economic history.”

Gigaba, appointed after President Jacob Zuma sacked his predecessor, has backed Zuma’s aim of redistributing wealth to poor blacks but said this would not involve a shift away from the fiscal consolidation outlined in recent budgets.

 

(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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Nigerian oil workers extend Exxon Mobil strike to Chevron, Agip and Shell

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ONITSHA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigerian workers from an oil labour union have extended a strike to oil majors Chevron, Shell and Eni subsidiary Agip in protest over the sacking of members from Exxon Mobil Corp, the union’s general secretary said on Tuesday.

Lumumba Okugbara, of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), said union representatives would meet Exxon Mobil management on Tuesday for talks. Members of the union began a strike at Exxon Mobil last week.

 

(Reporting by Anamesere Igboeroteonwu; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Mark Potter)

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Vodafone’s South African arm Vodacom takes over $2.6 bln stake in Kenya’s Safaricom

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By Nqobile Dludla

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – UK-based telecoms group Vodafone moved to consolidate two of its African interests on Monday with the transfer of a 35 percent stake in Kenya’s Safaricom to majority-owned South African subsidiary Vodacom.

The 34.6 billion-rand ($2.6 billion) deal, structured as an acquisition of the stake by Vodacom in return for new shares, is the latest move by Vodafone’s chief executive Vittorio Colao to rationalise the group’s disparate portfolio of interests around the world.

Colao said last month that the company would fold some of its operations in sub-Saharan Africa into Vodacom as part of a “single, coordinated Africa strategy”.

He told South Africa’s Business Day publication that it made sense to consolidate operations in Vodacom given the group’s “scale, advancement and competence in technology”.

The Safaricom deal also simplifies the management of two of Vodafone’s biggest money-spinners in sub-Saharan Africa and promises to speed up the roll-out across the continent of mobile money transfer service M-Pesa, which was launched by Safaricom in 2007.

“Vodacom Group sees scope to create further value through closer cooperation between both companies, including replication of Safaricom’s success in M-Pesa in Vodacom Group’s other territories,” Vodacom’s chief executive Shameel Joosub said.

Under the deal Vodacom said it will acquire a 87.5 percent shareholding in Vodafone Kenya, equivalent to a 35 percent indirect interest in Safaricom, in return for issuing 226.8 million new shares to Vodafone, raising the British company’s stake in Vodacom from 65 percent currently to 69.6 percent.

Vodafone will retain a 12.5 percent interest in Vodafone Kenya, equivalent to a 4.99 percent stake in Safaricom, the companies said.

For Vodacom, which also has networks in Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Lesotho, the transaction takes it into a market where Safaricom has a 71 percent share and demand is still growing for mobile services, including M-Pesa.

POLITICAL UPHEAVAL

The sale could be the first step for Vodafone, which also operates in Ghana and Ethiopia, to transfer more of its African assets into Vodacom.

“I think this is about simplification. It has been talked about for a long time,” said Macquarie Research analyst Guy Peddy.

It also shows a commitment by Vodafone to Vodacom, despite the political upheavals that have rocked South Africa in recent months.

South Africa lost its highly coveted sovereign investment grade credit ratings from two rating agencies last month after a cabinet shake-up that saw the sacking of respected finance minister and sparked a selling frenzy in bonds, stocks and the rand currency.

“Vodafone always takes a long-term view of politics and doesn’t really get into the political environment,” Joosub told Reuters.

“Although there would be concern around things like downgrades, there is always a long-term approach to South Africa and overall positive sentiment.”

Shares in Vodafone closed up 0.02 percent at 210.9 pence, while Vodacom’s share price was up 0.2 percent at 152.8 rand and Safaricom was up 1.2 percent at 20.50 shillings.

Safaricom, which is 35 percent owned by Kenya’s government, said in a statement the deal promoted the continued successful expansion of the company as well as the opportunity to take M-Pesa into other African markets.

Safaricom made a success of M-Pesa in Kenya whereas Vodacom’s launch of M-Pesa in Tanzania in 2008 and South Africa in 2010 disappointed.

“Vodacom’s first attempt at a money transfer business wasn’t very successful, but this deal could lead to better results,” Morning Star analyst Allan Nichols said.

Completion of the deal, which is subject to shareholders’ approval, is expected in August.

($1 = 13.1750 rand)

(Additional reporting by Duncan Muriri in Nairobi and Paul Sandle in London; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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Lonmin to move Johannesburg office to Marikana operations

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LONDON (Reuters) – Platinum producer Lonmin will move its head offices from Johannesburg to its Marikana operations in South Africa in a move that will save it “tens of millions” of rand, Chief Executive Ben Magara said on Monday.

“For me it’s really about getting closer to the operations and giving support to our management teams,” Magara said on a conference call following the release of its first-half results.

 

(Reporting by Zandi Shabalala; editing by Jason Neely)

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