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Debt will be a devastating legacy of Covid for Africa PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 11 April 2021 11:53

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/debt-will-be-devastating-legacy-of-covid-for-africa-6p8lbxl73

Debt will be devastating legacy of Covid for Africa

Philip Aldrick 10/4/2021

 

Storm clouds are gathering over the continent and China is playing its part

 

Africa has had a good pandemic. At least that’s what you might think from a look at the numbers. Recorded Covid deaths on the continent, with its population of 1.3 billion, total 115,000, fewer than Britain with its 66 million residents. Of course, the data isn’t awfully reliable because Africa does not have comprehensive testing. A rule of thumb that friends in Kenya use is to multiply the official death toll by ten. But even then, Africa has had half as many deaths relative to the population as the UK.

 

That’s not to say it’s a sunny picture. The continent has had its own mutation, the South African variant, and parts are in the midst of another wave. Many countries went into lockdown. More than a dozen are on Britain’s travel ban “red list”. Coronavirus has claimed one opposition leader and, possibly, a president.

 

Yet the storm clouds are only starting to gather. Much of Africa is at risk of its own pernicious strain of long Covid; weak growth, unsustainable debt and a spike in poverty.

 

The plight of low income countries was top of the agenda at this week’s World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings. Stock markets may be soaring and optimism in the west returning, but the global growth upgrades overshadowed a dismal outlook for developing economies. The IMF forecasts were the definition of a K-shaped recovery: a “roaring 20s” for the rich and a great depression for the poor.

 

The figures were sobering. Another 95 million people joined the ranks of extreme poverty last year. Education losses have been three times higher in low income nations than the advanced. Scarring from the crisis will leave GDP in sub-Saharan countries 5.5 per cent below pre-pandemic forecasts in 2024, compared with 0.7 per cent in the west.

 

Weaker growth makes debt less affordable. And it is already a problem. The World Bank estimates that 40 of the world’s 74 poorest countries are at high risk of debt distress, and that figure will rise. Over the past decade, public debt among low-income countries jumped from 30 to 50 per cent of GDP while debt servicing costs rose by a half — in contrast to the rest of the world where borrowing costs fell as debt piles grew.

 

The debt is now a noose. As the IMF warned, economic recovery in the west will lead to higher interest rates, whether central banks raise them or not, and as domestic returns improve western investors in Africa will pull their money home. Capital outflows will make the debt more unaffordable. It’s a familiar story that never ends well for the weak.

 

Efforts are being made to stave off a catastrophe. Through the World Bank and the IMF, the G20 has delayed repayments for poor nations under the “debt service suspension initiative (DSSI)”. So far, $12.5 billion has been rescheduled and as much as $9.9 billion more is eligible after the DSSI was extended last week. The DSSI just buys time, though. Ultimately, debt restructuring will be needed. On that, private creditors, the World Bank and the IMF agree. The world’s biggest creditor, however, is not so sure. And that’s China.

 

The plight of Africa threatens to be a test like none before. Sovereign debt restructurings tend to be ugly affairs. The conditions attached never go down well with governments, but at least the negotiations are clear. Today debt structures are so complicated that just bringing the creditors to the table threatens to be a marathon slog.

 

Essentially, there are three buckets of creditors: multinational institutions (like the World Bank and IMF); official bi-lateral lenders (governments); and the private sector. In the past, private sector creditors were banks, who negotiate on their own behalf as they hold the debt on their balance sheet. Now most of the debt is held as bonds by asset managers on behalf of clients, diffusing ownership. Some of those bonds have even been spliced into financial instruments, making ownership impossible to identify.

 

To complicate matters, asset managers have a fiduciary duty to clients and, just to begin negotiations, often need a trigger, like a default. For those reasons, the private sector has not been involved in the DSSI, much to the World Bank’s frustration. But there is another reason: China.

 

China is technically a bilateral lender but in reality it stands alone. Largely through the belt and road initiative, its lending and building programme in Africa and Asia, it has become the world’s biggest creditor, providing $1.5 trillion to 150 countries; more than World Bank, the IMF or the whole Paris Club, a group of 22 rich nations that have signed on to the DSSI. (Incidentally, private sector creditors are today as big as the Paris Club.)

 

Unlike traditional creditors, though, China’s contracts are opaque and discriminatory. Analysis of contracts that have been uncovered revealed that Beijing has carved out preferential terms protected by airtight non-disclosure agreements that hand China strategic assets in the event of a government default, so called “debt trap diplomacy”, particularly in Africa.

 

David Malpass, president of the World Bank, has hinted at other tactics such as clauses that exempt China from debt restructurings and interest rates of 6 or 7 per cent — from a country that last November raised debt with a negative yield. China has contributed a little to the DSSI, but nothing close to an amount that reflects its influence.

 

If Covid does bring Africa’s debt crisis to a head, as seems inevitable, picking a way through the mess of the creditor structure may prove insurmountable. As one asset manager put it, how can they fulfil their fiduciary duty if China is demanding full repayment on a vastly greater sum? A package like that would be as much a rescue for Beijing as the country in question.

 

The IMF and World Bank have drawn up a “common framework” to navigate a path through these problems, but it will need co-operation. Private sector creditors, many of whom are standard bearers for social impact investing, face the hypocritical prospect of championing diversity while persecuting the poor. China will have to choose if it stands with the world or against it. Either way, some form of reckoning is coming.

 
Expats in Mozambique faced a ring of murderous jihadists. It was do or die PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 03 April 2021 19:20

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/expats-in-mozambique-face-a-ring-of-murderous-jihadists-it-was-do-or-die-gcgpldmpv

 

Expats in Mozambique faced a ring of murderous jihadists. It was do or die

Jane Flanagan, Cape Town 02/04/2021

 

As the machinegun bullets ripped into the army guardhouse the construction crew realised that this was not another hit-and-run attack by the jihadists of northern Mozambique.

 

The militants had already captured the post at the Manguna crossroads four miles south of the coastal town Palma. The expats who had dived for cover watched as the rebels advanced.

 

“They came from two sides of the fence and used the wall as cover,’’ one of the contractors, a South African in his sixties, said. “They would pull back and return. You could see they had a plan.

 

“We are a mixture of expats and locals. They could have killed us all. But they didn’t. They just walked through firing pistols into the air. We were definitely not their targets.”

 

This attack was simply the opening thrust in a more ambitious, carefully planned assault by about 100 fighters. Over the following week they would kill hundreds, including a Briton, outfox state security forces, threaten Africa’s biggest foreign gas investment and force an SAS team to scramble from Kenya.

 

There had been signs that an attack was coming. The rains had ended, marking the arrival of what locals dread as the fighting season. Leaflets had appeared warning Palma’s 65,000 residents they were in its jihadists’ sights.

 

The capture of the guardhouse on Palma’s periphery was part of a first phase, designed to send the villagers of Manguna fleeing towards Palma, creating a chaotic flow that the insurgents used. To the north, shots were fired at Palma’s airport, sending another surge of terrified villagers clutching whatever they could carry.

 

The tide became a Trojan horse for the militants. Concealing machetes, automatic weapons and bandanas identifying them as Islamic State jihadists, they swept past police checkpoints around the town’s centre.

 

Before the attack, Palma’s population had been swelled by an influx of foreign workers building living quarters for Total, the French energy company.

 

After a ten-week hiatus, the petrochemical giant had resumed work at its $20 billion Afungi gas facility, secured by a task force of Mozambican army and police. The militants re-grouped in the town centre to prepare for the next phase of the attack in the morning.

 

From first light, the rebels in red bandanas attacked Palma’s military and main civilian targets. They cut the mobile phone network, fired at police stations and government buildings and raided three banks. Anyone on duty was shot. The plundering of army munitions, 80 civilian cars and 90 tonnes of food from a UN warehouse ensured that the attack would be sustained.

 

News of the unfolding raid raced through the network of expats, who began their emergency drills. The militants’ control of the Manguna crossroads ruled out any hope of reaching Total’s fortified site a few miles away.

 

At first many foreigners hunkered down in their compounds where they lived as well as worked but one by one they came under attack. Plan B was to gather at the town’s largest hotel, the Amarula Lodge, close to the airport with a well-defined perimeter that was impossible to approach without being seen. It was soon crammed with up to 200 people.

The expats sent videos and voice messages to fretful relatives in Britain, South Africa and elsewhere. With the local police overrun and the Mozambican army under orders not to leave the Afungi plant, the chances of a rescue were receding. In a text to his mother in South Africa, Wesley Nel, 37, wrote: “Not too sure what’s going to happen”.

 

He had only just joined his brother Adrian, 40, and stepfather Greg Knox, 55, who had contracts to build camps.

The insurgents surrounded the hotel, cutting it off from the shoreline. Rescue boats were kept at bay by the rebels’ mortars. Helicopter evacuation was the only option but the Russian Mi-17 helicopters of the Paramount mercenary group, newly contracted to the Mozambican government, were not yet up and running. It would have taken them just a few sorties to empty the hotel.

 

Instead it was left to the smaller helicopters of the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), a private army from South Africa who were winding up their year-long contract. They had dwindling supplies of fuel and ammunition to rescue those trapped. Refuelling involved a 90-minute flight south to the group’s base in the regional capital Pemba. There was fuel minutes away at Afungi but DAG says it was told by Total it would not supply any.

 

Under fire from rebels, the DAG helicopters had space for only four or five passengers at a time. Working in teams, one helicopter would land, while a gun ship flew to provide cover against any jihadists. Back in the town, the most brutal phase of the militants’ plan was under way. Clutching a list of wanted state officials and specific “kaffirs”, fighters went house to house.

 

A fleeing expat described seeing bodies in the streets, mostly decapitated. “There were mothers with their children and bags, killed as they were running for their lives,” the expat said.

 

Even the apparent mayhem had a purpose. “There will have been a unit tasked with creating absolute terror and chaos,” an analyst said. At the Amarula Lodge tensions were rising as supplies of food and water were dwindling. Nick Alexander, a dual-British South African citizen had been making plans for weeks fearing it would be targeted.

 

“He had found safe spots in bushes on the edge of the compound where he hid stocks of food and water and made plans about where he would hide,” his daughter Jayde, 29, said.

 

By the time it became too dangerous for DAG helicopters to land they had flown 23 people to safety, mostly mothers and children. One local male dignitary is said to have dressed as a woman to grab a seat.

 

As the helicopters departed, the remaining 160 expats at the hotel faced a terrifying choice: sit tight or make a run for it. Witnesses described seeing jihadist gunmen climbing trees close to the hotel perimeter. “They are literally waiting to be slotted [shot],” one observer said in a voice message to a friend. “Vessels near the beaches are being shot at with mortars.”

 

The sound of gunfire as the nearby camp of Bonatti, the Italian oil-industry supply company, was overrun concentrated minds. Plans for an escape in a convoy were quickly drawn up.

 

“It was getting dark,” a contractor who helped devise the plan said. “There was no chance of a late helicopter turning up. It was do or die.

The hotel was little more than a mile from the shore, which was mostly clear of rebels. The expats tried to guess the safest place to arrange a beach rescue. The most robust 17 vehicles were chosen, with the most confident and experienced drivers at the front.

 

Phil Mawer was one of the best-known characters at the lodge. Originally from Somerset, he had been in Mozambique for 18 months and had worked for years in hostile environments. His family described him as “something of a loveable rogue”. Mawer was among 60 or so who wanted in on the escape plan and volunteered to be in one of the first cars on the road. About 100 chose to take their chances at the lodge.

 

An expat colleague at Afungi with extensive military experience urged the convoy to aim for the Cabo Delgado lighthouse, eight miles to the north, which was still under army control. “Good luck, praying for you all,” his message added. The convoy barely made it beyond the gates. As the front cars swung left on the dirt road, the insurgents were waiting. Lined up on the right to take out the drivers, their shouts of Allahu Akbar were drowned out by gunfire. Seven of the lead cars made it out, their bodywork riddled with bullets. Seven of those inside were killed. Others cars were forced to a halt. Mawer’s body would later be recovered from one that had to be abandoned.

 

Adrian Nel, who was in one of the cars with his younger brother and their stepfather, was also struck in the volley. The men dragged his body into the bush and hid with it overnight.

 

Seeing the bloody bedlam ahead, Alexander, an ex-policeman, and two colleagues abandoned their vehicle and raced for the bush, breaking into a government car as they went to steal a Kalashnikov rifle.

 

With the Amarula Lodge now overrun and on fire, those left behind had a choice between hiding in the bush or running for the beach. There are unconfirmed reports of people frantically racing into the waves only to be picked off by rebels.

 

By Saturday morning, DAG was flying again. Satellite data showed a ragtag flotilla of rescue boats heading to Palma Bay for a Dunkirk style evacuation. Brendon Bekker, the Zimbabwean head of the construction firm Kea, took part in the operation, sailing from Pemba to Palma in an offshore supply vessel. One of his colleagues was shot dead when rebels fired from the shore.

 

“There were people all over the different beaches,” he said. “Everyone fearing for their lives and thinking they weren’t going to make it out.”

 

Traumatised expats and locals were plucked to safety, either by helicopter or boat, and ferried to a camp at Afungi.

Hours later Isis claimed responsibility for the attack, its most high-profile victory in an insurgency that began in Mozambique in 2017 and has embroiled nearly a million people in a humanitarian crisis. It is arguably its most successful strike by the terrorist group or its affiliates since it lost its last territory in Syria two years ago. DAG pilots turned out to be saviours a month after being accused by Amnesty International of committing war crimes in its efforts to boost Mozambique’s flagging troops. Three SAS soldiers relied on them this week after they were sent from Kenya to Palma to find Mawer, the last missing Briton. It was eventually left to the South African mercenaries to cut him free of a wrecked car and hand him to the British special forces.

 

Total is now facing criticism for failing to do more to secure its subcontractors despite repeated warnings that Palma would be targeted. It has suspended operations at Afungi to seek yet more assurances from Mozambique’s government that the site is secure.

 

The number of western contractors still unaccounted for remains unknown. It is possible that some are being held by insurgents. With government forces still under order to prioritise the security of the gas project site, half of Palma, including government buildings and banks, remains under the control of the militants.

 

South Africa has sent a C-130 Hercules transport plane to help bring its nationals to safety. Reports from Pretoria suggest that special forces are trying to find about a dozen people still missing.

 

Total has pulled all its staff out of its huge gas project, Mozambique’s Zitamar News reported, throwing into doubt the future of the single biggest investment in Africa.

 

 
Letter from Community Police PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 09 January 2021 20:23

Commander Catherine Roper
Crime Prevention, Inclusion & Engagement

New Scotland Yard, Victoria Embankment, SW1A 2JL

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

Date: 8 January 2021

 

Dear Colleague

 

I hope you are staying safe and well.

 

I wrote to you in November of last year to thank you for your dedication in supporting our communities through some of the most challenging times many of us will have experienced and I’d like to offer my continued gratitude now.

 

This week the Prime Minister has explained the mounting concern regarding our health service becoming overwhelmed. The rapid spread of Covid across the country has led to the move to the National Lockdown Rules with the “stay at home” instruction in place until at least mid-February. We will now all have to abide by greater limitations, including only being able to exercise outside once a day, whilst keeping to our local area and we must continue not to mix indoors with other households unless in a legally defined support or childcare bubble.

 

When I last wrote the restrictions meant that faith venues could only open for ‘independent prayer’. This time however we are able to leave home to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship. If you do decide to do this you should follow the guidance on the safe use of places of worship and must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble.

 

Once more please may I ask for your help and support in both observing the current lockdown requirements, and also sharing the above link with your communities.

 

Thank you for your time in reading this message and for circulating it more widely. Together we can continue to keep people safe.

 


Kindest regards,


Catherine
Commander - Crime Prevention, Inclusion & Engagement

 
Malawi pins hopes on gold standard of cannabis PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 05 December 2020 08:14

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/malawi-pins-hopes-on-gold-standard-of-cannabis-kbjlqf768#:~:text=In%20the%20lush%20hills%20of,the%20finest%E2%80%9D%20grows%20with%20abandon

 

Malawi pins hopes on gold standard of cannabis

 

Jane Flanagan 01/12/2020

 

In the lush hills of one of the poorest nations in the world, a strain of cannabis whose potency even ranks at the World Bank as “the finest” grows with abandon.

 

Revered among purists as a potent marijuana nirvana, a micro-tourism industry has sprung up around so-called Malawi Gold. Known locally as chamba, the strain has reached cult status with blogs and websites devoted it.

 

The government of the southern African state is now hoping that its fast-growing weed will help its population out of poverty. The former British colony has joined its regional neighbours in decriminalising cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes.

 

A company founded by Tanya Clarke, a British entrepreneur, established the first government trials on industrial hemp that formulated the government’s decision. She believes the law change will bring in much needed investment and create jobs, but leaders in the conservative, Christian country took some convincing.

 

Ms Clarke, who moved to Malawi after studying at Edinburgh University 14 years ago, said even the word “cannabis” provokes panic and associations with drug addiction and social mores.

 

“We found the term industrial hemp caused less alarm to describe the industrial applications of the plant,’’ she told The Times. In meetings with political and community leaders, she drew on the Bible’s references to plants and vegetation, in the book of Genesis, to argue that Malawi’s natural resources had a higher purpose. Cannabis thrives in Malawi’s climate, even during periods of drought.

 

New laws will enable Ms Clarke’s company, Invegrow, to legally investigate what it is about Malawi Gold that has made it one of the most psychoactive pure African sativas. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the only psychoactive element in the plant. Plants up to one per cent THC cannabis have been legalised for cultivation.

 

Malawi joins Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Lesotho in legalising industrial hemp, though South Africa went a step further in 2018 by decriminalising recreational use of cannabis. Lobbyists have long claimed cultivating cannabis would boost Malawi’s economy and plug the gap left by a drop in demand for tobacco. Eighty per cent of Malawi’s workforce are employed in agriculture. Tobacco accounts for 60 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and 13 per cent of its GDP.

 

Boniface Kadzamira, a politician who first campaigned for decriminalisation in 2015, said the cannabis industry would give Malawians the opportunity to process their own product and set their own standard.

 

“We don’t want to replicate what has happened in the tobacco industry. Malawians should participate, not as tenants, but as equal partners in this new sector,” he said.

 

A new Cannabis Regularity Authority is now considering 100 applications for licensing. With fees ranging from $100 to $100,000, the agriculture ministry said it wanted to draw a range of small and large-scale operators. Although Africans have been smoking marijuana for centuries — traces have been found on 14th-century pipes in Ethiopia — shifting attitudes towards legalising the plant have only come as the appetite for cannabis products in rich countries has mushroomed.

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Zimbabwe president’s relative arrest at airport after gold bars found in handbag PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 01 November 2020 15:03

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/zimbabwe-president-s-relative-arrested-at-airport-after-gold-bars-found-in-handbag-6gblw2zq8

 

Zimbabwe president’s relative arrest at airport after gold bars found in handbag

 

Jane Flanagan, Cape Town – 27/10/2020

 

A prominent figure in Zimbabwe’s ruling party allegedly tried to smuggle 14 bars of gold on a flight to Dubai.

 

Airport scanners at Harare on Monday picked up 6kg of gold valued at £280,000 in the handbag of Henrietta Rushwaya, who is head of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation and a relative of President Mnangagwa.

 

Steven Tserayi, one of the president’s long-term aides, was detained with her, according to local reports, and has been sacked by the president, but not arrested.

 

The scandal has highlighted Zimbabwe’s murky gold sector which, analysts claim, has drawn “untouchable” members of its political elite into smuggling cartels, costing the bankrupt state millions of pounds.

 

Ms Rushwaya, 53, who appeared in court today charged with smuggling, allegedly told officers she was acting as a mule for a licensed dealer in Harare called Ali Japan and was due to hand the gold to “an unidentified person” in Dubai. The gold did not have the paperwork required for its export.

 

Political analysts said the arrest of Ms Rushwaya was possibly the latest salvo in a power struggle within the ruling party.

 

A detective who is stationed at Robert Mugabe International Airport said that well-connected travellers often turned up with treasures to smuggle abroad. “You can receive a phone call from these big people ordering you not to search their bags when they come through,” he told the Mail & Guardian.

 

Grace Mugabe, the widow of the late president, and Joyce Mujuru, his vice-president, have both been linked to smuggling gold and diamonds worth millions of pounds. No charges have been brought and both have denied any wrongdoing.

 

Mthuli Ncube, the finance minister, has estimated that $100,000 of gold illegally leaves the country each month, often to Dubai, robbing the state of much-needed foreign currency.

 

Ms Rushwaya’s association of small-scale miners produces more gold than large-scale operations. The collapse of commercial agriculture, once the country’s largest employer, has pushed thousands of people into illegal mining with their finds being sold to black-market middlemen and often trafficked to states where prices are higher.

 

Police documents revealed that detectives had been tracking Ms Rushwaya after they received a tip-off. A spokesman for the government hailed the operation and said it followed warnings by Mr Mnangagwa, 78, to “those close to power to desist from wayward ways”.

 

The allegations are not Ms Rushwaya’s first brush with scandal. She was sacked from her role as head of Zimbabwe’s football association after it emerged that the national side was competing in obscure tournaments in Asia, north Africa and the Middle East where players and coaches were bribed to throw games.

 

She has not yet made a statement on the gold smuggling charges she is facing.

 
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