Friday, May 18, 2018

Burundi: No Limits


No Limits

Citizens in the small east African nation of Burundi voted Thursdayto decide whether to amend the nation’s constitution to allow current strongman President Pierre Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, to extend his term to 2034, the Wall Street Journal reported.
While in power, Nkurunziza has cracked down on opposition groups and the press. The situation in Burundi, the world’s third-poorest nation, has become increasingly violent since 2015, when Nkurunziza ignored the nation’s two-term limit on presidents and remained in office, citing his God-given right to do so.
The political crisis has led to 1,200 deaths since 2015, and more than 400,000 have fled to neighboring countries, human rights organizations estimate.
The measure is likely to pass, which would extend terms from five to seven years, and allow any president who’d previously served two consecutive terms to run again after sitting one out, the Journal reported.
It’s an observable trend across Africa: Although 18 countries on the continent have imposed term limits, 10 have done away with them, including Rwanda and Uganda.

The Valiant Lady Fighting To Save Steinhoff

How saving Steinhoff became Heather Sonn's 14-hour-a-day mission

May 18 2018 06:20 
Janice Kew, Bloomberg
Until December, Heather Sonn was running a small investment firm in Cape Town. Then an accounting scandal erupted at Steinhoff International Holdings [JSE:SNH] and she was tapped to chair the board.
The 46-year-old says she accepted the non-executive role because she felt a duty to those affected by the crisis, which has wiped more than 95% from the share price. She also realised it was the kind of opportunity that doesn’t come along very often.
“When things are broken, I want to fix them,” Sonn said in an interview at Steinhoff’s headquarters in Stellenbosch, South Africa. “It was clear it was going to take a heck of a lot of time and I would have to step out of other formal roles as this was going to be an immersion.”
Six months on, Sonn, who has likened the embattled retailer to a burning building, is still in firefighter mode.
The owner of Conforama in France, Britain’s Poundland and Mattress Firm in the US arranged new credit lines for units in those countries in January and has raised some $2bn selling assets to stay afloat. The next big test for Sonn and her newly established board comes on Friday: a meeting with lenders to start working toward a restructuring of more than €10.4bn ($12.3bn) of debt.
Nor is there an end in sight. An audit of Steinhoff’s books by accountants at PwC may drag on until the end of the year. Investigations are under way across several countries. And billion-dollar legal claims are arriving, including shareholder class-action cases in Germany and the Netherlands.
Even Sonn’s predecessor as chairperson, billionaire Christo Wiese, is suing, for about $4.8bn.
Sonn isn’t a newcomer to Steinhoff’s supervisory board. She joined in December 2013, four years before the crisis erupted. Her name was put forward by her father, Franklin Sonn, an anti-apartheid activist and former ambassador to the US who served as a non-executive director at the company for more than a decade.
Heather had done her undergraduate studies at Smith College and earned a graduate degree in international business from Georgetown. Her experience included stints at Merrill Lynch & Co, Sanlam Investment Management and Barclays Plc. In joining Steinhoff’s board, she says she was keen to understand how South African companies with large, global businesses worked. Now she’s getting a crash course.
“This is the best experience I could ever gain from work, but I just hope I never have to apply it all again,” said Sonn.
Seated in a wood-paneled board room with a painting of a derelict building almost covering one wall, she was personable and focused. She said she’s not the only one who’s working hard, and praised the efforts of the revamped board and management team.
Her most frightening moment occurred just before the crisis began, when Chief Executive Officer Markus Jooste failed to turn up for a key meeting with directors in early December.
“We were aware that Deloitte had raised questions, but they were being dealt with,” Sonn said. “When I arrived I could see from the mood that it was serious, but I was still expecting Jooste to show up. Hearing that he wouldn’t was terrifying as I then knew something was seriously wrong.”
Jooste, who’d led Steinhoff on a decades-long acquisition spree that turned it into one of South Africa’s biggest companies, quit on December 5. Less than two weeks later, Wiese had also stepped down.
Since taking over as chairperson, Sonn has been spending up to 14-hour days wading through the consequences. Her fluency in Afrikaans, the primary language used in the Stellenbosch area, has undoubtedly helped. Even so, compared to the previous, largely homogeneous board, she stands out.
Some stakeholders would prefer a chairperson with deep experience managing large, global corporations. For them, it’s impossible to compare a relative unknown like Sonn to Wiese, who’s spent five decades building and running companies. For others, such as The Public Investment Corporation, Steinhoff’s largest investor, mixing up South African boards is exactly what’s needed.
Steve Booysen, who’s been a Steinhoff director since 2009 and heads the audit and risk committee, describes Sonn’s style as consultative, calm and “firm at the right time”.
“You can have all the qualifications, with 20 years accounting experience, and nothing can prepare you for this,” said Graeme Korner, a fund manager at Johannesburg-based Korner Perspective. “The best credentials you can possibly have are a mindset of saying let me try to make the best of this lousy situation, be as honest and open as possible and try and limit the fallout.”
Still, investors who’ve had their trust in the company shattered are asking why no one on the board, Sonn included, spotted the problem much earlier.
“There must have been a lot of smoke,” said Mark Hodgson, a Cape Town-based analyst at Avior Capital Markets. “What key actions had the board taken to convince themselves that all was okay?”
Wiese, 76, told South African lawmakers in January that news of the irregularities came as a “bolt from the blue,” and that detecting fraud is very difficult for board members, especially if the CEO is involved, as has been alleged in the case of Steinhoff.
Sonn said that great efforts had been made to keep things hidden, describing the scandal as “the worst thing that could have happened on our watch”.
Now, in trying to set things right, she has to decide how to define success, no simple task in a situation that’s unlikely to have a happy ending for anyone involved - not investors, creditors or employees.
“For me, what that looks like is all stakeholders are dealt a fair outcome,” she said.
“We have to uncover all wrongdoing and pursue the guilty. And then at the same time, so far as possible, try and prevent job losses, make good on our commitments with regards to lenders and, as far as we possibly can, protect or recover some value for shareholders.”
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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Chad: Off The Blacklist


Off the Blacklist

Citizens of Chad are able to once again enter the United States after President Trump removed the predominantly Muslim, Central African nation from the list of countries falling under his controversial travel ban.
The reversal was a calculated decision, as Chad counterterrorism forces have been key in the fight against Islamic militants in the region, the BBC reported. Chad is an important Western ally, and many were shocked that it even made it onto the list in the first place.
But Washington’s strategic about-face on Chad comes at an interesting moment in the nation’s history – a constitutional rewrite has effectively guaranteed that longtime President Idriss Déby could rule another 15 years.
Déby has been sparring with Boko Haram – the Islamic militant group infamous for the Nigerian schoolgirl kidnappings – ever since it overran the Lake Chad region in 2009. Boko Haram’s violence in the region has prompted an ongoing humanitarian crisisas the group attempts to impose Sharia law on the region and isolate it from aid groups and local governments. Millions from Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon have been displaced in the conflict.
As America’s war on terror intensified, Chad developed a reputation as a dutiful ally, eager to fight Boko Haram, when it deployed troops to fight the militants in Nigeria. But once Chad made President Trump’s blacklist, Déby withdrew hundreds of troops from the region, Reuters reported.
Trump seems to have bandaged the broken relationship with a pivotal regional ally by excluding Chad from the ban.
But one should be careful to classify Chad as a proponent of Western values now that it’s back in Trump’s good graces.
Resisting the wave of ousted strongmen across the continent, Chad’s parliament overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that could allow President Déby to hold his post until 2033, when he will be at least 80, Reuters reported.
Approved by a vote of 132 to 2, the rewritten constitution reinstates a two-term limit on the presidency, and extends the president’s term from five to six years. And because the new term limits are not retroactive, Déby, who’s been in office since 1990, could serve two terms after the next election, in 2021.
Despite overwhelming parliamentary support, the move ignited opposition groups who see the changes as turning Chad into a de-facto monarchy. To show their disapproval, they boycotted a two-week national forum that discussed the amendments and was attended by business leaders and high-ranking politicians.
For all the controversy of the constitutional change, however, it appears that counterterrorism trumps democratic norms when it comes to Western perceptions of Chad

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Understanding East Africa Politics[UNIQID]

Friday, May 11, 2018

FujiFilm unveils innovation centre to get closer to clients

FujiFilm unveils innovation centre to get closer to clients: Fujifilm has opened its new, more compact innovation centre, in Johannesburg, in an effort to get closer to its customers. Natasha Odendaal tells us more.

Eskom addressing coal shortages

Eskom addressing coal shortages: Creamer Media's Chanel de Bruyn speaks to Engineering News Editor Terence Creamer about Eskom’s immediate and longer-term plans for securing sufficient coal for its power stations.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Zimbabwe: Breaking Free???


Breaking Free?

Zimbabwe’s new president has already shown signs he may deliver the democratic reforms he promised when he took over in November from longtime strongman Robert Mugabe. But not everybody is happy about the changes.
Some critics say President Emmerson Mnangagwa is going too far, while others say he’s just tinkering with fringe issues to burnish his image in the lead-up to elections this July, the Associated Press reported.
Last month, Zimbabwe welcomed a popular musician back from exile in the US to perform protest songs to huge crowds on the outskirts of Harare and allowed the capital’s annual arts festival to invite a South African band that had been banned for mocking Mugabe to headline the event.
The arrests of political activists and opposition officials have waned. And Zimbabweans are openly criticizing the government without fear of retribution.
Mnangagwa has mostly been lauded for those changes. But many decried his moves to legalize marijuana farming and allow commercial sex workers to exhibit at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair as taking liberalization too far.