Africa news round up 15-21 Jan

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A flag map of Africa. Image courtesy of Open Clipart-vectors from Pixabay.

Ghana

Government extends registration for debt exchange

Ghana has once again extended the deadline to register for its domestic debt exchange (DDE) due to government’s inability to pay domestic lenders. Finance Minister Ken Ofori Atta made the announced the extension of the expiration of the DDE to 31 January 2023 on 16 January 2022.

The domestic debt exchange program was first announced on 5 December 2022, a few days before landing a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a US$3 billion rescue package. As part of measures for a smooth implementation of the programme, the government entered into discussions with stakeholders. These engagements have been met with some resistance, especially from Individual bondholders who have rejected the debt exchange programme, describing the move by government as a break of trust.

The IMF has said it will approve the deal only if the country undergoes debt restructuring. The deadline for the debt exchange was initially set for 19 December. It was then extended to 30 December and then to 16 January. Pensioners were granted an exemption from the ongoing restructuring following a public outcry after a revision of the initial offer was reviewed. Individual bondholders were introduced after pensioners were exempted.

Unlike other extensions, Monday’s extension offered bondholders no additional incentives. Without new terms, investors fear the programme will struggle to attract participants. Meanwhile, repeated extensions and frequent structural changes have done little to encourage participation. Ghana has in the past weeks offered to pay holders of its 2023 bond a 2 per cent cash fee in exchange but opposition to the programme has remained pervasive.

Nigeria

INEC ready for general elections

The Nigeria’s electoral commission boss Mahmood Yakubu has assured electorates that it will not postpone its upcoming elections despite security gaps in the country, including attacks on election officials. The elections, set to be held on 25 February 2023 has already witnessed major violence. On Sunday 16 January, Nigerian policemen repelled an attack by unknown gunmen on the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the southeastern state of Enugu. The Imo state electoral commission headquarters was also bombed by attackers.  These, and many other attacks, have raised question as to whether Nigeria’s general elections will proceed as planned. However, speaking at London’s Chatham House Think Tank, Mahmood Yakubu said INEC was prepared to oversee a seamless election in Africa’s most populous country. According to him, “the commission is not contemplating let alone planning to postpone the 2023 general election”.

Nigeria has 200 million citizens and Africa’s largest economy. So, the results of the upcoming elections could have implications across the continent. The country’s fight against Islamist insurgents in the north east has led many to believe that the upcoming election is crucial to regional stability. As part of preparations, the commission had tested existing and newly acquired biometric voter identification machines. The INEC boss said his outfit has prepared sufficiently to prevent disenfranchising any electorate, “we’re really comfortable where we are with the voting machines” he said. He added the INEC would facilitate voting in camps for million displaced people.

In 2019, the INEC pushed the elections back by a week just a few hours before voting was due to start.

Gambia

Vice president dies in India

Gambia’s vice president Badara Alieu Joof died recently in India. President Adama Barrow announced the sad news on his twitter handle on 18 January, Fellow #Gambians, it is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing away of my VicePresident, His Excellency, Badara Alieu Joof. The sad event took place in India after a short illness. May Allah grant him Jannahtul Firdawsi”.

Joof left Gambia about a month ago to seek medical treatment. He had not been seen in public for months before the trip.

The 64-year-old political leader was appointed vice president of Gambia in 2022 after he served at the education ministry from 2017 to 2022.  Before his appointment, Joof worked in the Gambian civil service and later in the World Bank as an education specialist for West and Central Africa.  Joof was the fourth deputy to serve under President Barrow since his 2016 win against former Gambia president, Yahya Jammeh.

Zambia

KCM to shut down for 45 days

Zambia’s Konkola Copper Mines Plc (KCM) plans to shut down its Nchanga smelter for 45 days, between July and August in order to upgrade the company’s infrastructure. This upgrade, reported to cost the KMC $27.63 million, will include a control system upgrade for the smelter with a capacity of 311,000 tonnes per annum. According to a statement released by the company, “The shutdown works will benefit the smelter operations as it will enhance operational efficiency and production, which will then translate into increased revenue for KCM and its subsidiary, the KCM SmelterCo Limited”. The statement also indicated that its priority is to ensure the company is in good shape to sustain jobs.

Zambia’s government is reported to own 20 per cent of KCM through state mining investment firm ZCCM-IH. The previous government handed control of KCM to a liquidator in 2019, triggering a dispute with Vedanta, which owns the other 80 per cent.

South Africa

Inflation dips to 7.2%

South Africa’s inflation dipped to 7.2 per cent year on year in December from 7.4 per cent in November.  This is in line with analyst forecasts, statistics data showed on Wednesday 18 January. Prices have slowly eased in South Africa after inflation struck a 13-year high of 7.8 per cent year on year in July.

South Africa’s Reserve Bank raised interest rates to fight inflation at its last seven monetary policy meetings since its latest tightening cycle began in November 2021. The central bank, whose next rate-setting decision is due on 26 January targets inflation of between three and six per cent. On a month-on-month basis, consumer inflation was at 0.4 per cent in December compared to 0.3 per cent in November. On a month-on-month basis core inflation was at 0.2 per cent in December, compared to 0.1 per cent in November.

Swaziland

Russia  assures Government of security support

The Russian Government has indicated its readiness to assist Eswatini in strengthening the security of the armed forces of the Swaziland kingdom. This assurance came from the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Eswatini Alexander Surikov. Addressing a press conference held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Mbabane, Surikov said handling issues of security may depend on discussions the two nations have had in the past. Moreso, it was up to the Ministry of Defence to develop a method it would like to use to strengthen Eswatini’s military force. Surikov said if the need arose for the defence wing to reach out to the Russian Federation Defence, they would gladly assist. “If you need help, why not? It is possible and open for discussion (sic.”

Surikov also clarified that the two countries had not engaged in talks on security strengthening. Therefore, there were no Russian troops in the country training army officers or recruits. He said the only training that existed between the two countries in terms of army training personnel were the existing ones. He also confirmed that there were army officers who were undergoing military training in Russia but could not disclose the number. “We are not preparing any attacks but we are training professionals,” he said. When asked his view on how best Eswatini could utilise the assistance that might be offered by the Russian Federation, government spokesperson Alpheous Nxumalo referred all questions to the national security service (army), which he said knew its respective needs and how they could be met.

Liberia

Hundreds  protest high standard of living

Hundreds of Liberian protestors gathered outside of the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia to protest against the high cost of living in the country. According to analysts, more protests may happen ahead of 2023 elections despite President Weah’s popularity in parts of Liberia. The protest was organized by the Coalition of Collaborating Parties, an opposition alliance in the West African country, but reports of internal scuffles kept only the Alternative National Congress (ANC) in the fold. Protestors began to gather at various locations including the head office of the two opposition parties as early as 9:00 am. Chanting protest songs as they walked to the stadium, “We tiyah [are tired of] suffering”, some of their banners read. African National Congress (ANC) supporters were clad in party T-shirts.

In December, Liberia’s staple food, rice, saw an increase in price from $15 to $17.50 for each 25kg bag. This increase came on the heels of shortage in the commodity, which led to long queues and inflated prices of rice and other items, partly due to disruption of global supply as Russia’s war continues in Ukraine. The protests were held a day before Weah’s return on Sunday from his trip, which included a visit to Qatar to watch his son play for the USA football team in the FIFA World Cup.

Malawi

The fight against cholera

The school calendar in the two major cities of Malawi, Lilongwe and Blantyre has been delayed for two weeks now. Authorities are citing Cholera as a major cause. According to authorities, Lilongwe and Blantyre were hot spot areas for cholera that could place many students at risk. The education ministry announced the resumption of classes in some areas on Tuesday and has set up a task force through the relevant ministries to monitor the spread of the virus.

UNICEF has joined the fight against cholera in Malawi by donating lifesaving supplies worth about US$300,000 to the fight. The outbreak has killed more than 700 people out of which 104 were children. So far, 23,217 cholera cases have been recorded since the outbreak started in March last year. The Malawi Ministry of Health says the fatality rate of the outbreak is now at 3.33 per cent, much higher than the recommended one per cent global threshold.

Kenya

LGBTQ activist laid to rest

Murdered Kenyan LGBTQ activist Edwin Chiloba has been laid to rest in the village his family lived following his tragic demise. The body of the activist was found dumped in a metal box about two weeks ago.

The horrific passing of the activist has drawn condemnation and calls for justice specially from friends and family. Hundreds gathered to pay their last respects to the fashion designer on land he was supposed to inherit in Sergoit village in western Kenya. Tributes from close friends did not only call for justice but the vilification of the late activist. “Despite all that is being said, Chiloba has a family and those close to him. If we continue mocking him on social media, the family is being stigmatised,” Onteri, a former class mate said. Also on social media, a twitter user wrote, “Today, a peaceful person is buried. Rest in Power Edwin Chiloba. Salute your courage to authentically live your life”, Irungu Houghton, the executive director of Amnesty International’s Kenya branch. Chiloba’s body was discovered about 40 kilometres (25 miles) outside the Rift Valley town of Eldoret after it was reportedly dumped from a moving car. The killing was suspected by some to have been a hate crime, as members of Kenya’s LGBTQ community has faced attacks in the country. So far, five arrests have been made, including freelance photographer Jacktone Odhiambo, the rumoured lover of Chiloba.

Tanzania

Uber resumes operations

Cab hailing app Uber has resumed its services in Tanzania following a halt that was instituted in April 2022 after the government introduced a legislation capping the maximum commission on drivers at 15 per cent from a previous 33%. While Uber argued that the legislation made it difficult to continue operations in the country, the government also defended itself that, the measure was to maintain competition and provide affordable luxuries. However, after months of negotiations, Tanzania transportation regulators have approved a 25 per cent commission and three per cent booking fee. Uber described the move as positive and are excited to kick-start the year with such news. Uber was founded in San Francisco in 2009 and made its debut in the Tanzanian market in the year 2016.

Uber’s head of East Africa, Imran Manji said, “We are excited to kick off the year on such a positive note by re-entering the Tanzanian market. We commend the Government of President Suluhu, her ministries and LATRA for their show of support for the growth and development of the ride-hailing industry. It is our priority to provide a platform where drivers can make substantial earnings while providing convenient and reliable options for riders in Tanzania.”

Sierra Leone

President congratulates new finance minister

President of Sierra Leone Dr Julius Maada Bio has received and congratulated the newly-sworn Minister of Finance Sheku Ahmed Fantamadi Bangura after his oath-taking and brief swearing-in ceremony. The president charged Bangura to go straight to work to tackle the current economic challenge with which the country is faced. Bangura, thanked President Bio for his trust in him, “The trust and confidence you have reposed in me has prepared me for this enviable position and grateful for the honour it brings to my family”. He also described his appointment as a decision taken at a crucial time in our country’s turbulent journey and five months before elections when President Bio would be seeking a fresh mandate as leader of the country.

Uganda

Court remands American couple for human trafficking

A Ugandan court on Tuesday 17 January has remanded in custody an American couple who have been charged with child trafficking.  If convicted, Nicholas Spencer and his wife Mackenzie Leigh Spencer might serve life in prison. According to a charge sheet presented by the state prosecution service in December 2022 the couple are alleged to have held and tortured a 10-year-old boy in a small, cold room,, without clothes between 2020 and 2022. The case has been adjourned to 2 February.

According to the couple’s lawyer, David Mpanga, they will return to court on 2 February to hear the progress of the state’s investigation. “It has been adjourned to the 2 February and we will be here to hear the status of the investigation and when the case will be ready for committal to the High Court”, Moanga said. “They are charged with aggravated trafficking and aggravated torture. The aggravated trafficking charge is only triable in the high court so the case today was for the court to monitor the progress of the investigation and to determine when the state will be ready to commit them to the High Court. The boy is one of three adopted children. The couple arrived in Uganda in 2017 to volunteer with a US-based nonprofit in the town of Jinja before moving to Naguru, an upmarket suburb of Kampala, to work in a start-up.

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