Monday, July 31, 2017

Five Important African Elections To Take Place This Week


The Big Five

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is known around the world as a leader who helped rebuild his country after the horrors of genocide.
But at home, Kagame is a brutal autocrat who tortures and assassinates his political enemies, wrote London School of Economics fellow Brian Klaas recently in the Washington Post.
Kagame apparently intends to follow in the footsteps of many other African heads of state. He recently altered the Rwandan constitution to allow him to remain in power through 2034 – a term extension for himself totaling 40 years.
“What can be done to stop African autocrats like Kagame from simply refusing to step down when they are supposed to?” asked Klaas.
Many Africans are asking the same question.
“When Will Kabila Go? Congolese Leader Long Overstays His Welcome,” read a headline earlier this month in the New York Times, referring to Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila.
Kabila keeps coming up with reasons to delay a vote in a reelection race where he is trailing slightly in the polls, prompting fears of violent clashes between police and protesters who want him to follow the law and step down as he was supposed to do late last year.
“The president needs to go,” a motorcycle-taxi driver told the Times in Kinshasa, the capital. “By not going, he is seeking war. So we’ve decided to go to war, too.”
Africa watchers say ‘The Big Five’ elections kicking off this week will determine the future of Africa. But they add, sadly, the elections will underscore the continent’s problems, too.
Most of all, as the Financial Times noted, the elections will “tell the diverse tale of democracy in Africa.”
Elections are slated for Rwanda on Aug. 4. Pools in Kenya will follow four days later. And voters in Angola, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are expected to go to the polls in the next five months.
Kenya and Liberia will hold robust democratic elections, the Financial Times wrote, with Kenya hoping to avoid the violence of the last elections. Kagame will steamroll his opposition. In Angola, President José Eduardo dos Santos is stepping down after 37 years. His anointed successor, Defense Minister João Lourenço, is a shoo in as his replacement.
Voter intimidation, violence and media bias are likely to mark all of the contests, however, wrote the Daily Maverick, a South African publication. Canada’s Globe and Mail noted that those tactics are how many African leaders like Lourenço manage to remain in power for so long.
The Republic of Congo – the northern neighbor of the Democratic Republic of Congo – is a case in point.
Voters were electing a new parliament on Sunday under a new constitution enacted in 2015 that allowed President Denis Sassou Nguesso to stay in office after holding power for 33 of the past 38 years.
When Sassou Nguesso’s party won a majority in the first round of voting, which excluded a chunk of the country due to violence stemming from a rebellion, some members of the opposition decided to boycott the vote, reported Africanews.
The Congolese opposition knows what dictators don’t like to hear: it’s not the franchise if its fake.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Loss Of Fertile Land Fuels 'Looming Crisis' Across Africa

Friday, July 28, 2017

Despite All The Turmoil In South Africa, The Luxury Property Market Is Booming

One wonders why people keep buying super expensive homes in a country with such huge crime and stability problems.

Senegal's Upcoming Election-Nu Humdrum Affair


No Humdrum Affair

As the only West African country never to have suffered a military coup, Senegal is widely viewed as one of the region’s most successful democracies.
But that doesn’t mean the democratic process in the largely French-speaking West African nation is a humdrum affair.
As Senegalese voters head to the polls for legislative elections Sunday, they’re preparing for the climax of an unusual campaign season marked by outsized personalities.
A record number of candidates are running to weaken President Macky Sall and his Alliance for the Republic political party, wrote Agence France-Presse.
Sall and his party are the dominant forces behind Senegal’s ruling coalition United in Hope, which has held a majority in the country’s parliament since Sall first took office in 2012.
His opponents are hopeful that they can force Sall and his party into a coalition government that would serve as a precursor to presidential elections in 2019, added the French newswire.
Among the parties fielding candidates for parliament are the Socialists, who are led by the beleaguered mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall.
But it’s still questionable how much of an impact Mayor Sall – of no relation to President Sall – will have in the race. That’s because the leader of the Senegalese capital has been in jail since March on suspicion of embezzling nearly $2.9 million from Dakar’s coffers, wrote the BBC.
The country’s Supreme Court has rejected the popular mayor’s requests for bail, effectively preventing him from campaigning on behalf of his candidates.
Supporters of Mayor Sall claim the timing of his arrest is a ploy to weaken his challenge to President Sall.
But the mayor of Dakar isn’t the only obstacle President Sall faces in these elections, either.
Senegal’s 91-year-old former President Abdoulaye Wade recently returned to Senegal after spending years in exile in France to spearhead the list of candidates for his opposition Senegalese Democratic Party, wrote the Associated Press.
Wade has criticized Sall’s handling of the election process, prompting violent riots, Voice of America reported Thursday.
Wade left the country after his bid to win a third term in office failed in 2012 in the face of mounting criticism and protests that he was ceding an increasing amount of power to his son, Karim.
Critics maintain that Wade’s involvement in the election is a pretext to have the Democratic Party grant amnesty to his son, who served a six-year prison sentence on corruption charges before moving to Qatar. Karim might also run for president in 2019, added the AP.
Still, Wade’s return is widely considered to be crucial to the Democrats and the country’s numerous other opposition parties’ efforts to stymy President Sall, said AFP.
Still, most voters say elections are important for change.
Senegal is a poor country where fishing dominates the economy, followed by tourism and the agricultural sector.  Many locals are hoping a new government will develop the major oil and gas finds off the coast to lift citizens’ economic prospects – the majority here live below the poverty line – and relieve the high unemployment rate, especially among youths.
Regardless of the outcome, be it colourful or messy, Senegal’s elections show a maturing democracy, and that’s something, wrote one former resident of the country.
“One of the key signs of a maturing democratic nation is the peaceful transition of federal power from the governing party to an opposition that has emerged victorious in free and fair elections,” wrote a former resident of Senegal in an opinion piece in Malaysia’s The Star news site.
“That may not seem like much but on each occasion, the ruling party has handed over power legally and graciously, thus strengthening the people’s faith in the meaning of their democracy.”

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Reporter's East Africa File Cabinets Yield Untold Stories

The author in Kenya’s Kibera slum in 2013. CreditPeter Muller for The New York Times
On one of my last nights in Nairobi, Kenya, after serving as The New York Times’s East Africa bureau chief for more than a decade, I sat down on the office floor under one of those grim energy-saver light bulbs that gave off a cold bluish light, pulled open the file cabinets and began excavating.
I found plugs for computers that they don’t make anymore, receipts from Somali hotels that have since been bombed and some rain-stained notebooks of stories gone cold. I didn’t know what to do with the satellite phone I used to pull out all the time, when the region had no functioning internet. Just about every place these days is wired with Wi-Fi; I can’t tell you the last time I made a satellite call.
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    In 11 years, so much had changed in East Africa, and as the progression of my press-pass photos showed, with a few more gray hairs and wrinkles in each one, so had I. It can be depressing clearing out an office, inspecting all the old stuff like an archaeologist sifting through the layers. Even the most mundane objects seemed meaningful and close to my heart. I loved this job. It had been a dream to get. And as I reached into a drawer and discovered a small stack of Somali shillings so soft and worn they were about to crumble apart in my fingers, it hit me. These are my last hours in this place. It’s over.
    The Times employs one staff person in Nairobi to cover Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Seychelles — 13 very different countries that sweep up more than 400 million people and 3.3 million square miles. We have similar hubs elsewhere around the world. How does one person cover an entire country, let alone 13? We rely tremendously on stringers (local journalists) and get occasional directives from our bosses back in New York, but an enormous amount of what we do is left up to the judgment and interests of the individual correspondent.
    My file folders revealed the decisions I had made. Here were some of the bulging ones: “Laptop Bomb,” “Drought 2016,” “Male Rape,” “Ivory Poaching,” “Kidnappings,” “Pirates,” “Pirates 2013,” “Pirates in Kenya.” The thinner folders were on subjects I had hoped to pursue but hadn’t. Like one on a moving friendship in a Nairobi slum between two boys, one with spina bifida. Because the slum’s footpaths were too muddy and decrepit for a wheelchair, the other boy carried his disabled friend every day, to and from school, on his back. That could have been a front-page story for us. Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper wrote a beautiful piece on it. I regret to this day that I never met those boys.
    Why I didn’t and how I became such a specialist in despair is a longer story. Suffice it to say that I felt a responsibility to cover conflict and injustices, because maybe, if I wrote about them, things would change. I think many journalists go into this profession with a similar sense of idealism, though of course we have to keep our guard up about being sanctimonious. I don’t believe it’s our job to present news as good or bad, positive or negative. Most stories contain both. But we need to be mindful about the bigger picture we paint. And though I did write many stories that weren’t centered on war (or pirates, for that matter) I’m sure I could have done more. I wish I knew the right balance.
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    It was only in cleaning out all the drawers and leaving the cupboards as empty as I found them that I saw, for the first time in such clear terms, how I had covered this part of the world. In a week I’m off to a new beat, as the next bureau chief for South Asia. Note to self: Step back every year and go through the files. Then you can make adjustments to your course while you’re still on it. And this doesn’t have to be limited to journalism. It could pertain to anything.

    Brasil And Africa-Bridge To The South Atlantic

    Nigeria: Weakening A Strong Man


    Weakening the Strongman

    On Wednesday, the upper house of Nigeria’s parliament voted in favor of a series of constitutional amendments that would weaken the presidency and strengthen the legislature.
    The measures would offer certain legal immunity to members of the legislature, reduce the president’s veto powers, and strip the president of law-making powers, Reuters reported. The Senate also voted to impose time limits on key presidential decisions such as nominating ministers and proposing federal budgets, both of which have been much delayed under ailing President Muhammadu Buhari.
    However, Senate head Bukola Saraki, who is pushing the changes, is also a likely successor to Buhari. Many see the timing of the amendment – while the president is in Britain receiving medical treatment – as an indication it’s intended to raise Saraki’s profile rather than introduce any real changes.
    The amendments must be approved by the lower house and two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 regional state parliaments and then be signed off by the president himself. But their thinly veiled criticism has already gone into effect.

    Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    Monday, July 24, 2017

    Africa Is Islamic Banking's New Frontier

    Islamic banking in AfricaAfrica is Islamic banking’s new frontier

    But the barriers to entry are high
    IN 2008 Ethiopia’s conservative central bank experimented: it authorised interest-free banking. Interest is prohibited under sharia law, so the move was lauded as a step towards expanding financial services for the country’s large and often poor Muslim minority. But momentum soon stalled. An attempt to launch a fully-fledged Islamic bank foundered. Today most of Ethiopia’s big commercial banks offer a narrow range of Islamic financial products, but to few customers. Islamic finance in Ethiopia was stillborn.
    Outside Africa, Islamic finance is in much healthier condition. Between 2007 and 2014, the sector tripled in size (although growth has slowed lately). Total assets are around $1.9trn. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for less than 2% of this, yet it should be especially fertile territory. The continent’s Muslim population is 250m and growing. And according to the World Bank, as many as 350m Africans do not have a bank account.

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    Several countries are vying to become African hubs for Islamic finance. Kenya, with a much smaller Muslim population than Ethiopia, has three Islamic banks, as well as an Islamic insurance company. A further five conventional banks offer sharia-compliant products through dedicated Islamic “windows”. In December Kenya joined the Islamic Financial Services Board, a Malaysia-based regulatory body.
    It is also hopes to issue a sovereign sukuk, Islam’s answer to bonds, this year or next. This will raise funds for infrastructure (sharia requires sukuksto be linked to ownership of a physical asset), and help foster an Islamic capital market. Nigeria, which has one Islamic bank, plans to do the same. Senegal issued its first (oversubscribed) sukuk in 2014, raising $208m. The same year South Africa raised $500m in Africa’s first international Islamic bond issue. Total issuance in Africa in 2016 was $1.3bn, comprising issues from Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo.
    Sovereign sukuks are one thing, a sharia-compliant industry serving the private sector quite another. In north Africa, where Muslims make up as much as 96% of the population, Islamic finance has long been held back by a fear that it means introducing sharia law though the back door.
    South of the Sahara the problems are more structural, says Thorsten Beck of City University in London. Islamic banks are mostly small; in Kenya they commanded less than 2% of the market in 2015. Though business lending in Africa suffers from punishingly high interest rates, giving Islamic lenders an apparent advantage, they face the same fundamental difficulties as conventional peers. “Many projects are simply not bankable,” Mr Beck notes, so few assets can easily be used as collateral. Moreover, Islamic banks’ sources of funds are mainly short-term, making it hard for them to offer long-term financing.
    Islamic contracts are complex, requiring especially strong oversight. Regulators don’t yet know how to deal with the sector, says Khaled Al-Aboodi of the Islamic Development Bank. Despite issuing two sukuksSenegal has yet to introduce any specific regulations for Islamic finance. Onyango Obiero of Dubai Islamic Bank’s new branch in Kenya complains that Islamic transactions still face double taxation, since they often involve the purchase and resale of an asset, taxed each time. That makes it hard to compete.
    The industry’s champions argue that there is pent-up demand among the continent’s Muslim population. Evidence suggests that some African Muslims shy away from conventional finance for religious reasons. A World Bank study found that an African Muslim is less likely to have an account or save than a non-Muslim.
    It is less clear, however, that Islamic finance is the answer. “Islamic banks don’t tend to be geared towards the poor,” notes Rodney Wilson of Durham University. And the very poorest, however pious, are unlikely to pay a premium for peace of mind. Technological innovations, such as mobile money, will probably do much more to reach them. Saif Malik of Standard Chartered, a bank, notes that in Malaysia, Islamic banks are competitive enough to appeal widely to non-Muslims as well. Islamic finance is, after all, still finance: it thrives when the price is right.
    This article appeared in the Finance and economics section of the print edition under the headline "Saharan sharia"
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