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Nigeria’s President continues to divide opinions

Comments (0) Africa, Politics

Muhammadu Buhari

When Muhammadu Buhari was elected as Nigerian President in March 2015; it was the culmination of a long and controversial involvement in Nigerian politics. While many have criticized his record on human rights, others have praised his seemingly incorruptible nature, and efforts to battle domestic terrorism. As recent health concerns have yet to be fully abated, the future of the President remains uncertain.

A history of political struggle

Muhammadu Buhari was born on December 17th 1942, in Daura, Katsina State, to a large family in which he was the 23rd child. By the age of 19, Buhari had joined the military, and within one year he had been sent to the UK for officer training. Buhari returned to Nigeria in 1963 and from here, until his election in 2015, he was rarely away from the political struggles within the country.

After serving the government in the Nigerian Civil War, Buhari was involved in the 1966 Counter Coup, before supporting the 1975 Coup that briefly led to him taking on nonmilitary roles within the new government.

But it is the 1983 Coup, that he led, which threw him into the limelight. Buhari took power from January 1984 until August 1985, in which time he led a fierce stamp down on political corruption, indiscipline and rising crime. While the measures were seen by many as necessary for economic reform, widespread human rights abuses were reported, and press freedom was severely curtailed.

Buhari’s brief stint in power came to an end in 1985, when he was overthrown and put into detention for 3 years. However, his ambitions as a leader saw him return to politics with a failed Presidential bid in 2003, followed by two more attempts at gaining democratic election in 2007 and 2011.

Legitimacy and the Future

Buhari finally succeeded in becoming the democratically elected President in March 2015, when Nigeria elected him to replace incumbent leader, Goodluck Jonathon. Buhari’s commitment to breaking the cycle of corruption within Nigerian politics was almost immediately displayed when he had former national security advisor, Sambo Dasuki, arrested for embezzling $2 billion worth of funds that were assigned for the battle with Boko Haram.

Several other senior government figures have also found themselves in jail, as Buhari looks to cut out the rot that he feels has hampered Nigerian progress for too long. However, this has echoes of similar moves that he made in his brief run of power in the 1980’s, and the world’s leaders are unlikely to be supportive of the other measures that Buhari employed at the time, including executions for drug users, and public floggings for people who did not line up at bus stops in an orderly fashion.

Thus far, none of the obvious abuses of the past have manifested themselves under Buhari’s new leadership, and there has been marked improvement in the security in Nigeria’s north-eastern region, which has borne the brunt of much of the nation’s Islamic extremism.

However, a recession hit Nigeria soon after Buhari’s electoral triumph, and Islamist forces pushed out of the north-east have begun to increase attacks within the nation’s oil rich, Niger Delta region. Buhari has also faced criticism over his recognition of women in government, as his cabinet is only 16% female, compared with the previous regime’s 31%.

Major concerns over Buhari’s health

Most recently, there have been major concerns over Buhari’s health, and whether he would be capable of continuing in power. In January of this year, Buhari traveled to the UK for treatment on an unspecified condition, and remained there for 7 weeks, before returning to Nigeria in March. Buhari then returned to London for more treatment on May 7th, and thus far has not gone back to his nation.

Although his wife has assured concerned Nigerians that he is recovering well, there is a growing demand in Nigeria for him to be declared unfit, and while vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, has been in control during Buhari’s absence, there are several other potential leaders looking for their chance to take the top post.

Buhari is a man who has fought in wars, coups and survived an assassination attempt in 2014; so regardless of ones opinion on his policies, it cannot be said that he is easily broken. The future of his leadership looks uncertain, but if he is physically capable, then we can be assured he is likely to do his utmost to retain his position.

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Shuffling the Deck: Saudi Arabia favors new minds over lifetime politicians

Comments (0) Featured, Middle East, Politics

Amidst a global re-shuffling of political office and norms, Saudi Arabia has appointed a new Minister of Finance. Mohammed Al-Jadaan has replaced Ibrahim Al-Assaf, who worked within the ministry for the previous two decades before being appointed its top position. Al-Jadaan is seen as a breath of fresh air for the Saudi Arabian economy, bringing with him an outsider’s view, free from the restrainst associated with career politicians. While Al-Jadaan has vast experience with trade policies and restrictions from his time at Capital Markets Authority, this will be his first governmental ministry post.

Re-gilding of the government

A royal decree announcing the appointment of Al-Jadaan was issued earlier this month by King Salman, the leader of Saudia Arabia. Al-Assaf has been appointed Minister of State and has been made a Member of the Cabinet, moving his expertise from finance to a broader scope of affairs. Al-Jadaan was integrated in the 2015 opening of the Saudi market to foreign investments and is expected to ease existing barriers in an effort to attract more overseas capital. According to Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at Capital Economics, Al-Jadaan “already has policymaking experience having overseen the opening up of the Saudi Tadawul to foreign investors over the past couple of years,” which is expected to positively influence his role as Minister of Finance.

Al-Jadaan studied both Islamic law and Islamic economy at Imam Mohammed Ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh. Before his appointment as the chairman of Capital Markets Authority, Al-Jadaan was a founding partner of the Al-Jadaan and Partners Law Firm. He was listed in Chambers and Partners as a leading lawyer in corporate/commercial law and banking/finance practice for a decade and is expected to bring this wealth of real-world experience into the Ministry of Finance.

Right Hand Man

King Salman has already been seen as a mover and a shaker, mixing up the tenured ministry heads with younger men from a variety of backgrounds. He has notably centralised power, and is making an effort to ensure those around him will remain loyal and share his vision for Saudia Arabia. Al-Jadaan is expected to assist the new King in his desire to diversify the Kingdom’s economy from largely hydrocarbon based to other industries such as financial services. His appointment coincides with first ever sovereign bond sale, an order reaching $67billion. Many are lauding this as a sign of the freer economy to come, but experts caution against overexuberance, pointing to the Kingdom’s recent history of austerity as a better indicator of what lies ahead.

A diversified economy is, of course, the long term goal, but Al-Jadaan has inherited more immediately pressing matters, chiefly alleviating current market conditions. Saudi Arabia has been running a deficit due to the low price of oil. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that without a significant increase in the price of oil matched with level demand, the current budget deficit will continue to grow and will exhaust foreign exchange reserves as early as 2020. This would be disastrous for Saudi Arabia.

The oil price crisis is the umbrella underwhich Al-Jadaan will operate. He will be a key player in on-going discussion with Iran as other OPEC members continue to lobby for a reduction in oil exports from the Kingdom. Iran and Saudi Arabia do not currently have private negotiations on this or any other topic, but if Al-Jadaan is able to reopen such talks, his aim will be to get as many concessions from Iran as possible.

Another piece in the puzzle of 2016

Al-Jadaan’s appointment is but one among many injections of new men into global governments. As the world shifts away from the previous decades of western democratic hegemony into uncharted territory, it will fall upon men like Al-Jadaan to find a new balance.

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Claver Gatete named African Finance Minister of the Year

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders, Politics

Prominent Rwandan politician Claver Gatete was recently named African Finance Minister of the Year by Global Capital, a leading financial news and data provider.

The award recognizes Gatete’s recent success in successfully keeping Rwanda’s economy on course amidst difficult regional economic conditions.

A master economic strategist

Gatete, Rwanda’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, was particularly gracious when accepting the prestigious accolade. He said: “The resilience of our economy, despite the global economic shocks that affected our commodities, was mainly due to good leadership and strategic guidance of our President and the hard work of our economic team at the Ministry of Finance and central bank”

However, despite his humility, it’s clear that Gatete has been instrumental to Rwanda’s continued fiscal success. Global Capital explained their decision to bestow him with the award saying that he has demonstrated “impressive commitment to prudent and proactive fiscal management.” He was also praised for his talent in crafting bilateral agreements with international institutions and neighboring countries, which have been key components of Rwanda’s resilience.

Early life and career

Gatete was born in 1962, in Mbarara, Uganda. He spent the majority of his school years in Mbarara, due to his father’s line of work. Gatete proved himself to be an adept student with an aptitude for numbers. He attended University at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, where he obtained both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Agricultural Economics, finishing his studies in 1993.

Gatete stayed in Canada working as an economist until 1997. However, in the wake of Rwanda’s terrible genocide he felt the desire to return home and help in the efforts to rebuild his home country. He managed to obtain a post with the United Nations Development Program working as a Development Economist in Kigali.

During his time working with the UN, Gatete became embedded in the political and financial landscape of Rwanda. No doubt this expertise is what set him for a string of senior government positions.

 In 2001, he was invited to join the Office of the President as the president’s personal representative to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). He excelled in this position, and in 2003 he was promoted to the Ministry of Finance, where he served as Secretary General and Secretary to the Treasury. In 2005, he became Rwanda’s Ambassador to the U.K, Ireland, and Iceland. Returning to a domestic position, Gatete served as both Deputy Governor and Governor for The National Bank of Rwanda until his appointment as Minister of Finance and Economic planning in 2013.

A sure hand at the helm

Gatete has formulated and implemented the policies that have kept Rwanda’s economy performing over the past few years. Commentators have pointed to Gatete’s action with regard to the slump in global commodities, which severely hampered Rwanda’s mining sector, at a time when production was already falling. Global capital said “For a small country with limited export opportunities this could have proved a severe setback. The impact on the wider economy, however, has been largely mitigated by prompt action by policymakers,”

Gatete has also made great strides in improving efficiencies in Rwanda’s agricultural sector. He has implemented innovative new measures to educate, prepare and supply Rwanda’s farmers more effectively. Additionally, he has directed investment towards irrigation which has greatly increased food security and helped eliminate the risks from erratic rainfall.

Commentators have attributed Rwanda’s strong growth projections to Gatete’s overall ability, and the confidence financial institutions have in his ability to deliver on his commitments. Gatete embodies the new ideal of African leadership; shrewdly intelligent, talented and progressive.

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Brexit, the EU and Africa: The Ghost of the Future

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics, UK

The news of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union in June shocked the world, sending several currencies into turmoil, including some in Africa. Immediately following the announcement, the already tumultuous South African rand plummeted by 8% against the US dollar, the fastest drop since the 2008 financial meltdown. The decision, deemed the ‘Brexit’, is expected to have long term impacts upon Africa’s stance within the European Union: for decades, the UK has been Africa’s greatest ally, but with the imminent departure of the UK, Africans are worried they may be left stranded.

The relationship between the UK and Africa is complex and laden with colonial history: the legacy of the UK’s decades of imperialism is still felt in the deep racial tensions in Southern Africa, and in the education systems of West Africa. This is demonstrated through the Commonwealth, where member countries (states that were at one point occupied during British imperialism) enjoy fewer trade restrictions, trade preference and/or free trade. Without the UK negotiating and handling imports from these countries, many African countries stand to lose their beneficial relationship with the EU.

Broken Words: Trade Agreements between Africa and the EU

Of primary concern to many African leaders and business people is the future of existing contracts between their respective countries and the EU. Just one example of the potential impact of Brexit is the impending Economic Partnership Agreement between the East African Community and the EU set to take place later this month. The Kenya Flowers Association is concerned that the Economic Partnerships Agreement may not extend its current easy access to the UK, one of Kenya’s biggest flower export markets. The UK currently imports the majority of its flowers from Kenya thanks to a deal negotiate through the EU. This, and many other contracts, would have to be re-negotiated with the UK following the Brexit, which could result in less beneficial contracts for African industries.

Realistically, the EU is not Africa’s biggest trading partner– China is. Some critics say the weight being given to the potential impact of Brexit on African trade is unwarranted. Sangu Delle, a Ghanaian entrepreneur and pan-African macro-finance specialist, said that the United Kingdom has been a major supporter of Africa in EU and G8 negotiations, and has a history of pushing for deals that benefit the continent. “It was instrumental in supporting development aid being allocated to Africa,” he said, bringing up the other major concern regarding Brexit and Africa.

The End of Aid?

The UK is one of the biggest contributors to the European Development Fund, the EU’s international aid and development branch. Without the weight of the UK, many fears, the EU’s development funds may be re-directed to other African states where other members, such as the Dutch and French, have colonial-era obligations. Furthermore, without the contribution of the UK, the European Development Fund may be forced to scale-down its overall funding.

Not only would a Brexit diminish the European Development Fund’s coffers, but it would deplete Britain’s influence on global development. According to DevEx, the EU is the world’s single largest donor organization: the 28 (soon to be 27) member group provides more than half of the world’s international aid total, around 30 billion euros. Without the weight of the EU, the UK will have much less sway in terms of ‘pet projects’, or specific areas it wants to develop both in Africa and beyond.

Potential for a post-UK EU

Not all are pessimistic about what this means for the continent. Delle was quoted saying “Brexit, to me, is a warning to us all…it wasn’t about racism. A substantial segment of UK citizens feel disenfranchised– that they are not stakeholders in the new economic order. As we go about creating new African economies, we have to make sure that the economic systems we put in place don’t just create economic growth, but create shared economic prosperity.” This epitomizes the optimism that is needed to move the continent forward– both in terms of economic prosperity, and in building cohesive societies.

Delle is optimistic that whatever the outcome, African’s will prevail– they are, after all, best suited to find context-appropriate solutions. “I’ve now spent time in 43 countries across Africa. The one thing I’ve seen in every one is resiliency. No matter what the socio-economic situation, whatever hand they’re dealt, people move forward.” In a time when the world seems to be unraveling, this type of level-headed analysis and faith in one’s own people is vital. Because, no matter what the outcome of Brexit, humans will move forward as they have done for tens of thousands of years.

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No place to hide: Nigerian government cracks down on corruption.

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics

Earlier this month, several of Nigeria’s top judges were arrested in a stunning sting operation. Since the arrests, details have come to light that hold major implications for Nigeria and the direction that the country is headed.

Nigeria’s Department of State Service (DSS) stormed the homes of some of the country’s top judicial figures. The DSS found significant sums of foreign and domestic currency, alongside evidence of bribery. Alarmingly, two of the arrested judges are from The Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial office.

The two Supreme Court judges have been named as Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro. It has since come to light that the DSS seized close to US$ 900,000 from their homes. The investigation has also allegedly uncovered that Ngwuta, Okoro, and others hold hidden properties, which should be beyond their means as judicial officials.

Corruption an obstacle to progress

Nigeria has long been renowned for systemic corruption. This unfavorable reputation has naturally been a source of concern in the international community. Economically, the perception of corruption has deterred foreign investment. Normal Nigerians, frustrated by corruption and unscrupulous official practices, have been clamoring for change

 Last year, Muhammad Buhari ascended to the presidency, promising to root out corruption in all its forms. His administration has made good on its pledge by bringing charges against leading businessmen and politicians. However, many of these cases have stalled in court, and critics have suggested that rampant corruption within the judiciary makes it exceedingly difficult to actually convict powerful individuals.

Arrests uncover web of conspiracy

The recent arrests of these senior judges represent an attempt to deal with the judiciary and pave the way for further anti-corruption measures.

In the case of Ngwuta and Okoro, the allegations are particularly serious. It is alleged that Ngwuta traveled to the Middle East to obtain a substantial bribe, which he then shared with Okoro and others. The plot becomes even more insidious, as recent information obtained by Sahara Reporters links the bribe to State Governor Nyesom Wike.

Allegedly Wike paid the bribe in order to obtain a favorable verdict in his election case, which is currently under review by the Supreme Court. It would appear that the State Governor is at least involved in some capacity. He swiftly appeared with his staff at the scene of one of the DSS raids and argued with officials. In the commotion, an unnamed judge was said to have escaped.

Applause and tenuous protestations 

It is interesting to note that Wike is a prominent member of the People’s Democratic Party, the official opposition. Critics have said that corruption cases are only being wielded against those who are out of favor with, or in direct opposition to the administration.

The judiciary itself has argued that the DSS doesn’t have the authority to carry out raids and that investigations into the judiciary are fundamentally unconstitutional. However, such grievances are ringing hollow in the ears of most Nigerians, who are glad to see decisive action being taken. The protests sound more like the desperate cries of an archaic and self-serving class, which has realized it is under bitter siege.

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: An economist, a global leader and a policy maker

Comments (0) Africa, Politics

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has come from humble beginnings to serve two terms as Nigeria’s finance minister, and has been within a hare’s breath of becoming president of the World Bank. The “Iron Lady” of Nigeria is credited with the emergence of Nigeria as Africa’s largest economy and her work in office and in the humanitarian spheres have been greatly celebrated. She has been described as a “triple threat” with strong experience in economics, finance as well as development and governance.

She was born in 1954, in a village in the south of Nigeria when the country was still a jewel in the heart of the British Empire. She reportedly perfected her English reading Louis Stevenson and Enid Blyton and had a charmed, “wonderful” childhood. She credits her early upbringing with her later tenacity: “I learned real life, fetching wood, water. At five I could cook. This life has given me strength and a strong character.” When she was 15, she carried her Malaria stricken three-year old sister on her back for 10 miles to reach a doctor, and then insisted on her treatment, ultimately saving her life. Her sister is now herself a physician, and a rock of support to Okonjo.

Nigeria’s civil war and the end of her childhood years 

Her childhood ended in 1967 when the civil war broke out, and her father was called away to fight in the army. She explained that her parents lost “everything” and she learned what it was to have nothing. They moved frequently and often survived on one meal a day; resilience and tenacity became essential to survival. These early experiences crafted Okonjo into the woman she is today. Interestingly, she describes her humble beginnings and later greatness as similar to that of her country, Nigeria.

Her escape came at 18, when she left her warring Nigeria to study at Harvard University, followed by a Phd in Regional Economics at MIT. A prodigious talent, she was headhunted for the World Bank and spent the next 21 years here as a development economist.

Her financial experience with the World Bank

After a strong and steady tenure at the World Bank, she was elected to serve as Finance Minister in her homeland. This began her defining years. She served two terms between 2003-2006 and 2011- 2015, punctuated by four years as a Managing Director at the World Bank. During her tenure, she also held the post of Minister of Foreign affairs. Okonjo was the first female to hold either position.

Although she didn’t act alone, Okonjo is credited with being an instrumental figure in shaping Nigeria’s modern economy, bringing in necessary reforms and increasing governmental transparency. Her biggest achievements include targeting Nigeria’s rampant corruption by identifying and eliminating 5000 fake civil servants on the payroll. She also fastidiously cracked down on political and military leaders who were stealing crude oil. For this, she received death threats, her addresses were published in the media and her mother was kidnapped. She told the Observer: “Fighting corruption, corruption tends to fight back”. She did not falter and in the end, succeeded in her war against the insidious nature of Nigeria’s administration.

Shaping Nigeria’s future by fixing its economic deficit

Her economic background was showcased by her greatest achievement in office: securing a cancellation of $30bn debt from Nigeria’s name. She also added strength and stability to the country’s public finance systems by obtaining its first sovereign debt ranking in 2006. She later established the Mortgage Refinance Corporation which stimulated Nigeria’s housing market and was involved in numerous gender and youth empowerment schemes. The most recognized, the Youth Prize with Innovation, which supports young entrepreneurs and has created thousands of jobs, was evaluated by the World Bank to be one of the most successful of its kind globally.

During her time as finance minister, Nigeria emerged as the largest economy in Africa with a GDP of $481bn in 2015. After stepping down last year, she has dedicated her time to humanitarian causes. She currently chairs the board of the Global Alliance of Vaccines and Immunizations and the African Risk Capacity, a weather based insurance for African countries. Still regularly leading “top 100” lists of the world’s most influential people, it’s clear that Okonjo is still a force to be reckoned with, both in Nigeria and worldwide.

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Angolan President fires finance minister Manuel

Comments (0) Africa, Latest Updates from Reuters, Politics

LUANDA (Reuters) – Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos fired Finance Minister Armando Manuel on Monday two months after the government of Africa’s biggest oil producer broke off talks with the IMF over emergency funding.

In a cabinet reshuffle, dos Santos also replaced his agriculture minister and dropped the powerful Chief of Staff in the presidency, Edeltrudes da Costa, who was implicated in a recent land eviction.

A statement said Manuel, who was appointed in 2013 and whose term had been due to run to 2017, would be replaced by capital markets commission head Augusto Archer de Sousa Hose, more commonly known as Archer Mangueira.

Over the last two years, Manuel had presided over an economic slump caused by a sharp drop in oil prices that sapped dollar inflows, hammered the kwanza and prompted heavy government borrowing.

The kwanza slid more than 30 percent against the dollar in 2015, and in January the central bank allowed for another 15 percent weakening to 155 against the dollar.

The currency was bid at 165/dollar on Monday, according to Thomson Reuters data. On the black market, it has been trading as low as 600.

The weaker currency has seen inflation soar to 35 percent from 10 percent a year ago, forcing the central bank to hike interest rates by 675 basis points since June 2015.

However, it said on Monday it had kept its benchmark rate unchanged at 16 percent at its latest policy meeting.

Before his appointment, 53-year-old Mangueira was President of Angola’s Capital Markets Commission, making him a familiar face to foreign investors, and had recently been brought onto the central committee of the ruling MPLA party.

Diplomats said his promotion was not a major surprise, especially in the wake of the government’s decision in late June to end emergency financing talks, supported by Manuel, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Angola’s economic slump has fuelled opposition to dos Santos’ 36-year rule, although the MPLA re-elected him as its leader last month ahead parliamentary elections in 2017.

 

(Reporting by Herculano Coroado; Writing by Stella Mapenzauswa; Editing by Ed Cropley)

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The Workers Strike Back: Unions Take Action in South Africa

Comments (0) Latest Updates from Reuters, Politics

Image: Striking miners dance and cheer after they were informed of a 22 percent wage increase offer outside Lonmin's Marikana mine

In mid-August, an estimated 15,000 workers for the South African power company went on an illegal strike after weeks of wage increase negotiations. Employed by Eskom, South Africa’s largest electricity company, nearly one third of the work force protested the wage ceiling and inadequate housing allowances. Eskom had pre-emptively obtained a court interdict banning employees from striking after negotiations with major unions turned sour. The unions that represent Eskom employees had demanded their wages be increased by 12-13%, but Eskom refused to budge above 7-9%, and claimed wage discrimination as a hangover from apartheid. Workers felt that their grievances warranted more than negotiations, and thus went on strike.

Unpopular Policies

Eskom was established in 1923 and generates approximately 95% of the country’s electricity. Over the past seventy-odd years, Eskom has been the center of a variety of dramatic incidents, but perhaps the most pertinent is their policy of “load shedding.” Beginning in response to inadequate power supplies starting in 2007, Eskom began the practice of load shedding, or regular, scheduled blackouts to reduce the stress upon the electricity grid, turbines and power sources. In order to meet the demand of South Africans with an inadequate supply, different regions are purposely deprived of electricity so that it can be directed elsewhere on a complex schedule. The vast majority of South Africa’s energy comes from aging coal-fired power stations. In what can only be a planned irony, the strike came on the one-year anniversary of “no shedding,” or an entire year without planned power cuts. Eskom had been looking forward to publicizing their success but were instead faced with the possibility of a black-out due to a shortage of workers.

Workers Unite

As South Africa’s largest producer of energy, Eskom is considered a vital service company. In South Africa, workers in vital service industries can be prevented from striking despite their constitutional right to do so. After weeks of negotiations with workers and their unions (primarily the NUM and Numsa, or National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa), Eskom realized workers were likely to strike regardless of the preventative law. They then applied for and were granted an interdict, opening up any workers who did strike for legal action by the company. Eskom’s national spokesman, Khulu Phasiwe, said that workers who did not show up to work because they were striking would have to account managers the reasons for to their absence without leave. 15,000 workers, or about one third of Eskom’s total employee base, considered the strike worth the risk. Workers demonstrated outside power stations in the eastern provinces, while others went on strike across the country.

Eskom workers demanded that their wages be increased incrementally, starting with a “10% increase of the lowest salaries, 8.5% of the highest income and housing allowance of 3,000 rand,” approximately $222 USD. Prior to the strike, the company refused to budge above a 9% increase. According to the country’s largest union, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the lowest paid Eskom worker earns about 9,000 rand, or $666 per month. While cost of living in South Africa is lower than in, say, the United States, $666 is not enough to live on, particularly if one is supporting a family.

NUM released a bold statement saying that “the NUM members are very angry at the attitude of Eskom refuses to end the wage system of apartheid.” In various interviews, several workers claimed racial discrimination, and some women claimed gender bias as well. Under apartheid, white South Africans were paid a higher wage for the same job than black South Africans. This legalised and codified racism ended in name with the collapse of apartheid in 1994, but continues in practice to this day in every sector of South African life. All of NUM’s members at Eskom went on strike. It is not just the racially-based wage discrimination that drove workers to strike, but also the unlivable wages they receive for their labor.

The Enemy of My Enemy…

Prior to the strikes, the NUM and Numsa had been bitterly divided over their ideologies and desires. This strike, however, has brought them together: a spokesperson from NUM said “whatever differences we may have with Numsa, we have a common enemy now, which is Eskom.” Eskom ensured the public that negotiations are underway to bring an end to the civil action, but it seems unlikely the issue will be put to rest any time soon.

 

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Election spells more economic trouble for South Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Economy, Politics

South-Africa-More-power-to-president-Jacob-Zuma

South Africa has reclaimed its spot as Africa’s largest economy, but fallout from recent elections threatens to exacerbate the country’s economic difficulties.

Frustration with the nation’s struggling economy prompted many voters in Aug. 3 municipal elections to turn away from the African National Congress (ANC), the storied party of Nelson Mandela which has led the country since the end of apartheid more than two decades go.

In the face of high unemployment and slow growth, voters in several major cities, including Pretoria and Johannesburg, turned to the Economic Freedom Fighters party on the left or the Democratic Alliance on the right.

Those parties, far apart on economic and other policies, have nevertheless  informally agreed to band together in order to shut out the ANC. EFF leader Julius Malema rebuffed ANC overtures to form a coalition in Johannesburg, calling the party “corrupt to the core.”

ANC loses support in cities

In elections that are widely seen as a vote on the performance of the national government, the ANC received 54 percent of the vote, compared to 62 percent just two years earlier.

However, the party saw steeper declines in the nation’s urban areas, where middle class voters rejected ANC appeals based on the historic role of the party. For example, in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, the ANC received only 44 percent of the vote, while only 41 percent of voters in the capital of Pretoria favored the ANC. Even in Nelson Mandela Bay metro area, which is mostly black, voters elected a white commercial farmer, Athol Trollip, as mayor.

The party went into the election with considerable baggage, including a sluggish economy and a spate of corruption scandals in the administration of President Jacob Zuma.

Last spring, a South African  court rebuked Zuma, saying that he violated the constitution when he used millions in government funds for improvements at his home in rural , They included a swimming pool, visitor center, and an amphitheater, which he said were necessary for his security. The court ordered Zuma to pay more than $16 million back to the state.

Economy reels under Zuma

Zuma sent South Africa’s economy into a tailspin last December after he abruptly fired a respected finance minister and then was forced to sack an inexperienced replacement only four days later amid protests.

The value of the rand plummeted but a measure of order returned with the appointment of a third finance minister, Pravin Gordhan.

At the same time, the nation’s economy has not rebounded from the 2007-08 financial crisis, and experts predict little growth in the coming years.

The South African Reserve Bank has forecast that the country will record no  growth this year and less than 2 percent annually in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The nation’s unemployment rate tops 25 percent and it is more than double that among young people.

Major reforms needed

Experts suggest major economic reforms will be required to fuel the growth the country needs and to avoid cuts in government spending and a credit downgrade.

“South Africa’s public purse has come under pressure. At the same time the country faces the danger of a credit risk downgrade by international credit rating agencies,” said Jannie Rossouw, head of the School of Economic & Business Sciences at the University of Witwatersrand.

Rossouw said the government might have to give away some state-owned enterprises, such as South African Airways, that are unprofitable and a drain on tax coffers.  South African should also cut bureaucratic red tape to stimulate economic activity.

However, Rossouw said he did not see a way forward for reform in the near term unless the anti-Zuma faction within the ANC can take control from the president’s faction.

At the same time, he said, planning and implementation of reforms could be slowed by the fact that a growing number of municipalities have coalition governments, some of which are unfriendly to the ANC.

Currency values drive economic rankings

Meanwhile, South Africa’s hold on the title of Africa’s largest economy may be tenuous.

The country reclaimed the top spot this summer after trailing Nigeria and Egypt.

However, the ranking is based primarily on the gross national product as measured by the value of a nation’s currency against the U.S. dollar. The increase in the dollar value of the South African rand outpaced that of the two other countries even though the nation’s GDP decreased to $312.8 billion in 2015, according to World Bank data.

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Egypt’s government complicit in wheat corruption -parliamentary report

Comments (0) Latest Updates from Reuters, Politics

By Eric Knecht and Maha El Dahan

CAIRO/ABU DHABI (Reuters) – A parliamentary fact-finding commission’s report into corruption in Egypt’s wheat industry finds that the government played a key role in “wasting public funds” in its costly food subsidy programme.

Reuters reviewed a copy of the report that will be presented in parliament on Monday. It states that government entities neglected their own storage facilities in favour of less regulated private sites, made contracts with “fake entities,” and oversaw flawed reforms that caused subsidy spending to increase rather than decrease as publicly stated.

From silo contracts to budgetary analysis to testimony from industry officials, the more than 500-page fact-finding report into wheat corruption points to government involvement in mismanaging, and at times facilitating graft in, subsidies intended to encourage agriculture and feed tens of millions.

“There are obvious flaws that rise to the level of complicity in the supply ministry and all of its bodies supervising the wheat procurement system,” the report said.

The supply ministry spokesman said he had resigned from his post and could no longer comment on the issue when contacted by Reuters.

Egypt, the world’s largest importer of wheat, has been mired in controversy in recent months over whether much of the roughly 5 million tonnes of grain the government said it procured in this harvest exists only on paper, the result of local suppliers falsifying receipts to boost government payments.

Industry officials have estimated that upward of 2 million tonnes could be missing from silos, a deficit that could force Egypt to import large quantities of additional grains to meet local demand even as it faces an acute hard currency shortage.

A Reuters special report earlier this year detailed how the government’s wheat supply chain was riddled with corruption – from fraudulent wheat purchases by local suppliers to hacked smart cards that allowed bakers to steal flour – that has cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

 

LAX OVERSIGHT

The parliamentary report provides new insight into how government bodies may have played a direct role in many of the corrupt practices, particularly by awarding contracts to private suppliers who had lax oversight of their storage facilities, while leaving government sites unused.

The supply ministry’s Holding Company for Silos housed over 1 million tonnes of wheat in less-regulated private sector storage this season while leaving 700,000 tonnes of its own storage capacity unutilised – a violation of regulations that require government spaces to take priority, the report found.

The holding company used just 29.7 percent of the silo capacity it had available, it said.

“Despite that (unused storage), the company contracted with private sector companies to rent 16 silos and 35 shounas (open air sites) to store a total of 1,147,319 tonnes of wheat.”

“Not using the full storage capacity owned by the (government) company caused it to bear huge losses…and made it take on the cost of paying to rent from the private sector.”

The report also called into question the legality of many of the contracts made with the private sector sites.

Government firms contracted with “storage sites that had legal actions taken against them previously but which had since changed their commercial names”, and with those that “did not have a commercial registration or a tax identification.”

“This means that contracting was done with fake entities,” the report stated.

Last week Supplies Minister Khaled Hanafi resigned amid growing criticism of his management of the subsidies. His exit was the biggest fallout from the wheat scandal to date.

Hanafi repeatedly said that bread system reforms introduced under his watch in 2014 have saved Egypt in terms of both money and strategic commodities, an assertion the report undermines.

He was not immediately available for comment about the parliamentary report when contacted by Reuters.

Government spending on bread subsidies rose by 3.91 billion Egyptian pounds ($440.32 million), or 15.9 percent, in the 2014-15 financial year, and by an additional 1.89 billion ($212.84 million), or 6.6 percent, in 2015-16, the report states, citing Finance Ministry documents.

“Subsidies increased, and did not decrease as a result of the bread system as the supply ministry continuously claims.”

($1 = 8.8799 Egyptian pounds)

 

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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