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Yetunde Oluyide has run a gift shop in bustling Lagos for nearly a decade, but with coronavirus curtailing imports of Chinese goods, she is losing more than 2 million naira ($5,555) a month.

Oluyide’s reliance on China to fill the shelves of Yetty-Jewel Ventures reflects the close ties between the world’s second largest economy and Africa’s most populous country.

“For the past two months, we have not been able to ship in anything,” Oluyide said. “I’m anxious.”

China accounts for around a quarter of Nigerian imports, greasing much of the country’s supply chain, and is funding and building much-needed infrastructure.

China’s economic health is also crucial for oil prices, which make up more than half of government revenues for Africa’s top producer, and have tumbled more than 20% since January.

At close to $30 per barrel, oil prices are below the $57 per barrel budget benchmark. And on Thursday, OPEC backed the biggest cut to oil supplies since the 2008 crisis, meaning Nigeria could have to reduce output.

Combined with disrupted supply chains and the threat of coronavirus spreading within Nigeria, this threatens to torpedo growth in its economy and boost borrowing costs just as the country plans to return to the Eurobond market.

Nigeria’s Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed expressed concern this week at the drop, saying that if it is sustained, the record 10.59 trillion naira budget could become unsustainable.

“We will do the mid-term review and if the revenues are so significantly affected we will have to do some revisions by way of budget adjustment,” she said.

DOUBLE WHAMMY

Nigeria confirmed its first coronavirus case last week, wiping some 300 billion naira ($980 million) off the value of the local stock market. If the virus spreads, and workers and shoppers stay home, much-needed revenue from a higher VAT rate passed last year will evaporate.

Economies across Sub-Saharan Africa, with just a handful of cases, are all at risk. Angola exports the bulk of its oil to China, while Kenya relies on Beijing for billions in infrastructure funding.

Kevin Daly of asset manager Aberdeen Standard Investments, who holds Nigerian debt, said China’s broken supply chain, and the hit to oil, represent a double whammy.

“We have seen the IMF (International Monetary Fund) revise growth down from 2.5% to 2%, but I think it will be closer to 1%,” he said.

‘MORE VULNERABLE’

Nigeria’s depleted buffers and shaky exit from a 2016 recession, with growth around 2%, could make this setback harder for it to weather.

Moody’s, which downgraded Nigeria’s outlook in December, has warned that its debt, which has ballooned to 26 trillion naira ($85.5 billion), quadruple the 2008 level, made it particularly vulnerable to external shocks.

Last week, S&P also downgraded Nigeria, citing declining external reserves.

This could increase Nigeria’s borrowing costs as it plans $3 billion in new Eurobond offerings. Aberdeen’s Daly said he expected Nigeria would have to pay an extra 25 basis points over the current curve if it sold fresh debt now.

The yield of Nigeria’s 2049 dollar bond rose by one percentage point from mid-February to end-February.

“Nigeria is getting even more vulnerable – quite significantly so,” said Charles Robertson of Renaissance Capital.

For Oluyide, few vendors outside China can offer the products she wants at the right price. But she is committed to keeping her customers happy.

“We are hopeful that the virus will clear,” she said. “But if not, we are already looking at other alternatives.”

 

Source: Reuters

Data gathered by GoldenCasinoNews.com indicates that the Chinese market accounted for almost half of the global mobile app spend at 40%. From the data, the total global mobile app spend was $120 billion in 2019.

Global mobile app spend doubles 

From the data, the total global spend on mobile apps has grown by at least double from 2016. By approximation, the Chinese spend was $92 billion followed by the United States at $50 billion while Japan is third at $32 billion. South Korea is fourth with $10 billion while the UK is fifth with $5 billion.

The total mobile spend accounts for all apps on the iOS app store, Google Play, third-party Android in China.  According to the report:

“This is an indicator that Chinese mobile application stores are growing fast, hosting more apps, and capturing a larger share of new app creation.”

Over the last year, emerging markets led by Brazil, India, and Indonesia immensely contributed to the 204 billion mobile applications downloaded. This was a 6% rise from 2018 and up 45% since 2016.

In China 95 billion apps were downloaded, followed by India at 40 billion, the United States had 12.3 billion, Brazil had 8 billion with Indonesia had 5.5 billion.  Between 2016 and 2019 India’s app download grew by a staggering 190%.

The 204 billion app downloads were dominated by industries of ridesharing, fast food/food delivery, dating, sports streaming, health, and fitness.

A review of the data further shows that from 2017 to 2019, 17% more games surpassed $5 million in annual consumer spend. The total figure for these games was 372.

In 2019, about 283 games brought in $10 million while 183 games brought in $20 million. In total, 1121 mobile games brought in over $5 million, with 140 games accounting for about $100 million in 2019.

This year, games that drive deep engagement with mobile users are expected to dominate.

A silent revolution is happening in investing. It is a paradigm shift that will have a profound impact on corporations, countries and pressing issues like climate change. Yet most people are not even aware of it.

In a traditional investment fund, the decisions about where to invest the capital of the investors are taken by fund managers. They decide whether to buy shares in firms like Saudi Aramco or Exxon. They decide whether to invest in environmentally harmful businesses like coal.

Yet there has been a steady shift away from these actively managed funds towards passive or index funds. Instead of depending on a fund manager, passive funds simply track indices – for example, an S&P 500 tracker fund would buy shares in every company in the S&P 500 in order to mirror its overall performance. One of the great attractions of such funds is that their fees are dramatically lower than the alternative.

In 2019 there was a watershed in the history of finance. In the United States, the total value of actively managed funds was surpassed by passive funds. Globally, passive funds crossed US$10 trillion (£7.7 trillion), a five-fold increase from US$2 trillion in 2007.

This seemingly unstoppable ascent has two main consequences. First, corporate ownership has become concentrated in the hands of the “big three” passive asset managers: BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street. They are already the largest owners of corporate America.

The second consequence relates to the companies that provide the indices that these passive funds follow. When investors buy index funds, they effectively delegate their investment decisions to these providers. Three dominant providers have become increasingly powerful: MSCI, FTSE Russell and S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Steering global capital flows

With trillions of dollars migrating to passive funds, the role of index providers has been transformed. We traced this change in a recent paper: in the past, index providers only supplied information to financial markets. In our new age of passive investing, they are becoming market authorities.

Deciding who appears in the indices is not just something technical or objective. It involves some discretion by the providers and benefits some actors over others. By determining which players are included on the list, setting the criteria becomes an inherently political activity.

Especially relevant are the dominant emerging markets stock indices, particularly the widely tracked MSCI Emerging Markets Index. This is a list of large and medium-sized companies in 26 countries, including China, India and Mexico.

MSCI sets the standards for countries to qualify for inclusion. Above all, they have to guarantee free access to domestic stock markets for foreign investors. If a country is included, massive amounts of capital will flow into their national stock market almost automatically. As a result, MSCI and the other big three providers’ rival indices are now effectively steering global investment flows.

For example, when Saudi Arabia was recently added to the list of qualifying countries for these indices, it was predicted to trigger inflows into the Saudi stock market of up to US$40 billion. And when Saudi Aramco, the largest global oil producer, went public last year, it was fast-tracked by the same three index providers into their emerging markets indices. Millions of investors around the world now unknowingly hold shares in this controversial corporation – either through owning emerging markets index funds or having pensions that hold such funds on their behalf.

When China was added to the key emerging market indices in 2018, reportedly after heavy lobbying from Beijing, the capital steering effect was expected to be larger by an order of magnitude. It was estimated that the long-term inflows into Chinese stocks would be up to US$400 billion.

The future role of index providers

The three dominant index providers’ income mainly derives from the funds replicating their indices, since they have to pay royalties for the privilege. The providers are therefore currently enjoying a fee bonanza. For 2019, MSCI reported record revenues and said the assets tracking its indices were at all-time highs.

Our research suggests that these providers’ brands are so well established that competitors will struggle to take away that business. This suggests that MSCI, FTSE Russell and S&P Dow Jones will increase their role as a new kind of de facto global regulators.

Soaring & Passive. Alexandra Gigowska

Arguably the most important aspect of their private authority for the future of our planet pertains to how corporations tackle climate change. BlackRock recently made headlines with plans to divest from firms that make more than 25% of their revenues from coal. Yet this only applies to BlackRock’s actively managed funds: most of its funds track indices from the major index providers, so they will keep investing in coal until the providers remove such companies from their indices.

Similarly, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street all recently announced they will increase their range of so-called ESG funds, which profess to exclude the worst performing firms according to environmental, social and governance criteria. Again, these criteria are increasingly defined by the index providers, using proprietary methodologies. As The Economist has noted, the providers often decide which companies to include based on whether they go about their business sustainably rather than what business they are actually in.

For instance, Saudi Aramco produces few emissions extracting oil from the ground. It’s a comparatively “sustainable” oil company, but it’s still an oil company. Most ESG indices include industry leaders in each sector and exclude worst performers - irrespective of the industry. Consequently, many ESG funds still heavily invest in the likes of airlines, oil and mining companies.

Best in the sector? Steve Buissinne/Pixabay, CC BY-SA

They are also sometimes quite arbitrary about who qualifies as a good performer. For instance, the American bank Wells Fargo is ranked in the top third by one index provider, while another ranks it in the bottom 5%.

In short, this tightly interlinked group of three giant passive fund managers and three major index providers will largely determine how corporations tackle climate change. The world is paying little attention to the judgements they make, and yet these judgements look highly questionable. If the world is truly to get to grips with the global climate crisis, this constellation needs to be far more closely scrutinised by regulators, researchers and the general public.The Conversation

 

Jan Fichtner, Postdoctoral Researcher in Political Science, University of Amsterdam; Eelke Heemskerk, Associate Professor Political Science, University of Amsterdam, and Johannes Petry, ESRC Doctoral Research Fellow in International Political Economy, University of Warwick

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Viruses are quick studies. They’re prolific at adapting to new environments and infecting new hosts. As a result they are able to jump the species divide from animals to humans – as the new coronavirus in China is showing.

It’s estimated that 89% of one particular family of viruses, known as RNA viruses, are zoonotic in origin. This means that they started in animals and have since become established among humans. RNA viruses are notorious for being able to mutate in a range of environments. This family of viruses includes everything from Ebola and West Nile Fever to measles and the common cold.

The Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (or SARS-CoV) that broke out in Asia in 2003 is also an RNA virus; so too is the significantly more virulent and fatal Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS‐CoV), first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Both are zoonotic. SARS-CoV is believed – although it’s never been confirmed – to have originated in bats. Infected dromedary camels are thought to have been the source for MERS-CoV.

Overall around 10% of those infected with SARS died. The mortality rate for MERS is estimated to be around 35%.

Seven human coronaviruses (HCoVs) have been identified to date: two in the 1960s, and five since SARS in 2003. It is the seventh that is now making headlines.

Latest virus on the block

In December 2019, a number of people fell ill with what was soon confirmed to be a newly identified coronavirus, provisionally dubbed 2019-nCoV. At this stage, it’s suspected but not confirmed that the outbreak originated in one seafood market in Wuhan, a city some 700 miles south of Beijing. The market has been closed since January 1.

As of 26 January 2020, 2,014 laboratory-confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV have been reported by the World Health Organisation, with 56 fatalities. The virus has, thanks to modern international travel, reportedly spread to five other countries: Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US. On the African continent, authorities in Ivory Coast were on 27 January testing a suspected case of the virus in a student who returned to the country from China over the weekend.

As with other coronaviruses, 2019-nCoV is zoonotic in origin. While it’s too early to confirm, it appears that 2019-CoV is what’s known as a recombinant virus. This means it bears the genetic material of both bats and snakes, suggesting that the virus jumped from bats to snakes in the wild – and then, of course, to humans.

Coronaviruses were originally associated with a wide spectrum of respiratory, intestinal, liver and neurological diseases in animals. In the 1960s, with the advancement of laboratory techniques, the first two HCoVs (HCoV-229E and HCoV-OC43) were isolated from patients. These were associated with upper respiratory tract infections, causing mild cold-like symptoms. For this reason, the circulation of HCoVs in the human population was not monitored and no vaccines or drugs were developed to treat CoV infections.

Then, since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in China in 2003, five additional human coronaviruses were identified – SARS-CoV (2003), HCoV-NL63 (2004), HCoV-HKU1 (2004), MERS-CoV (2012), and now 2019-nCoV.

As with SARS, the elderly, especially those with existing health conditions, are the most vulnerable with 2019-nCoV.

The outbreak is not entirely unexpected. Coronaviruses are among the emerging pathogens that the World Health Organisation in 2015 identified as likely to cause severe outbreaksin the near future.

For a long time is was difficult to identify the causative agent of infectious diseases. The rapid development of various molecular detection tools has enabled researchers to identify several new respiratory viruses. It has also helped with the characterisation of novel emergent strains.

This was what scientists were able to do within weeks of the first case of the Wuhan coronavirus.

An emerging infection

Coronavirus infections also fall within the crop of diseases known as emerging infectious diseases or newly emerging infectious diseases. These are infections that:

  • have recently appeared within a population, or

  • whose incidence or geographic range is rapidly increasing, or

  • at the very least threaten to increase in the near future.

As with SARS and MERS, many emerging diseases arise when infectious agents in animals known as zoonoses are passed to humans. As the human population expands and populates new geographical regions – often at the expense of wildlife – the possibility that humans will come into close contact with animal species that are potential hosts of an infectious agent increases.

Combined with increases in human density and mobility, it is easy to see that this combination poses a serious threat to human health.

Each of these diseases has come with societal and economic repercussions. Apart from illnesses and deaths, travel, business and daily life are affected. There’s also always the risk of public fear and economic losses.

High risk

There’s an ever-increasing diversity of animal coronavirus species, especially in bats. So the likelihood of viral genetic recombination leading to future outbreaks is high. The threat of future pandemics is real as highly pathogenic coronaviruses continue to spill over from animal sources into the human population.

Misdiagnosis of future outbreaks poses an additional threat to healthcare workers, with hospital-based spread to other patients putting further pressure on already strained healthcare systems.

 

Morgan Morris, a freelance writer and filmmaker based in Cape Town, co-authored this article.The Conversation

Burtram Fielding, Director: Research Development and Principal Investigator: Molecular Biology and Virology Research Laboratory Department of Medical BioSciences, University of the Western Cape

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cameroon’s maritime fisheries, both artisanal and industrial, are largely dominated by foreign fishers.

Industrial fishing is carried out entirely by foreign trawlers predominantly, from China and Nigeria, in partnership with Cameroon fish entrepreneurs. They are licensed to commercially exploit fish stocks beyond 3 nautical miles of the coastline. Their main catch includes croakers, oysters and a variety shrimp species.

Similarly, about 80% of the documented 34 355 artisanal fishers are immigrants from Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Togo. They operate from around 300 artisanal fishing ports along Cameroon’s 402-kilometre coastline and are allowed to fish within 3 nautical miles of the coast. These artisanal fishers mainly target fish found in shallow depths, such as bonga shad, sardinella, prawns and shrimp.

While most of the industrial caught fish are destined for Europe and Asia, the artisanal catch is mainly sold in local markets. It’s a vital source of animal protein, especially for communities that live along the coastline.

Cameroon’s fisheries sector is of huge social and economic importance to the country. Fisheries makes up 1.8% of the country’s estimated US$35 billion GDP. The sector employs more than 200 000 people and, since 2015, fishers catch an average of 205 000 tons of fish each year. The industrial sector accounts for about 9 000 tons of this.

Despite its importance, the maritime fisheries sector is plagued with largely hidden, or ignored, fisheries crimes.

My research over the past three years tries to lift the lid on the types of crimes that are happening, the actors involved, their networks and how they operate. I looked at both the industrial and artisanal sectors.

My study documented numerous crimes involving people associated with the fisheries sector. But most go undetected. To tackle criminality in the fisheries sector, all concerned stakeholders – from fishers to policymakers – need to be able to identify and report on the different fisheries crimes they see.

Endemic problems

I found that there’s an endemic problem of corruption, fraud and the illegal exploitation of and trade in endangered marine species. I also found a link between the fisheries sector and wider transnational crimes such as the smuggling of contraband, weapons and immigrants.

Because of the hidden nature of these offences it’s difficult to quantify the impact they’ve had on Cameroon. There are some insights. For instance, based on government statistics, illegal fishing in Cameroonian waters costs the country about CAF 20 billion (about US$33 million) every year.

If not tackled quickly, these crimes will continue to compromise government efforts to raise income from taxes generated from the sector. Moreover, it will affect the livelihood of millions of people that depend on the sector through job losses, and access to essential food and nutritional security.

I conducted research over a period of three years. I observed fishing operations at industrial and artisanal fishing ports and carried out informal group discussions and semi-structured interviews with state officials, coastal community groups and other civil society organisations. I also analysed existing research and media reports.

I found that in both the industrial and artisanal sectors, fisheries crimes were perpetrated by a variety of stakeholders. These include senior government officials, fisheries officers, elites with stakes in industrial fishing companies, fishers and fish entrepreneurs.

While some fisheries crimes are carried out at sea, most occur on land; in government offices, fish landing sites, beach huts and coastal backwaters, sometimes by those who are meant to protect fish resources. It involved nationals and foreigners, some from as far as China.

Corruption

Corruption was identified as a major problem. It manifested as bribery and abuse of office. It was systemic and permeated all aspects of the value chain from acquiring fishing permits, catching fish at sea, processing the catch and marketing the produce to consumers. This typifies the corruption landscape in the country as highlighted in other areas, such as the judiciary and police administration.

Corruption has enabled other crimes to flourish. This includes document and identity fraud and the abuse of workers. Some workers (particularly immigrants and children) were illegally recruited into the fisheries sector. Most workers were made to work in squalid conditions.

Corruption also allowed for the illegal exploitation of and trade in endangered and critically endangered marine species, such as dolphins and turtles. Of particular concern was the illegal trade in giant croaker fish bladder. This is a highly valued delicacy in China and, despite the huge volumes I saw traded, there’s little awareness about it.

I also found that the fisheries sector was used to commit transnational crimes, specifically to smuggle weapons, fuel, ivory, rice, fake bank notes and timber products. Most of this happened between Cameroon and Nigeria, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Boats were also used to traffic illegal immigrants between Nigeria and Cameroon, and from Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Combating fisheries crime

There’s currently a national effort to root out corruption which has mainly focused on the judiciary and police. This needs to pay more attention to the fisheries sector. The best option would be to have a subcommittee dedicated to rooting out corruption in fisheries.

Because of the transnational nature of fisheries crime, regional and international cooperation is vital. A key first step is for the state to ratify the Copenhagen Declaration – an international framework to specifically support inter-agency cooperation of all relevant stakeholders against fisheries crimes at national, regional and international levels.The Conversation

 

Maurice Beseng, Visiting Research Fellow in Maritime Security, Coventry University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

China has been a latecomer to African aviation. Even though Ethiopian Airlines started flying to China in November 1973, there were few other air links between Africa and China for 30 years.

The involvement of former colonial powers such as the British, Dutch and French goes back to the 1920s; former Soviet bloc countries began to show interest during the height of the Cold War. And in the last 20 years, Persian Gulf petro-states and their airlines – Emirates, Qatar and Etihad – have become major offshore hubs for a huge range of commercial flights serving Africa.

In my recently published paper I track how China’s involvement has been different.

Official data about the scale and pace of China’s airport projects in Africa are hard to find. In the absence of primary sources, journalistic reporting on current affairs and public projects is the main source of information. These sources can be at variance. And keeping up with developments is evidently difficult.

Despite the absence of accurate, clear and consistent information, the picture that emerged during my research shows considerable Chinese activity directed at modernising, extending and building new airports in Africa. The grandest projects are in resource-rich countries.

China’s approach

None of China’s biggest three airlines (Air China, China Southern, China Eastern) are prominent in African skies.

It is on the ground that China has been flexing its aviation muscles in Africa. This is consistent with China’s 50-or-so years of infrastructure funding and construction on the continent. Energy, water, road and rail infrastructure projects have been the major spheres of Chinese offshore investment in Africa.

Civil airports there have been a recent addition. China’s experience of planning, funding, constructing and managing airports at home stands it in good stead.

Two 2017 reports noted between US$27 billion and US$38 billion currently being spent on or earmarked for spending on 77 construction and associated hardware projects at airports in Africa. China was named in relation to Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Zambia. The average price for all projects was US$440 million.

At a rough estimate, China accounted for between a quarter and a third of this total airport spending. Excluding unknown expenditure in Ghana, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it spent some US$5.7 billion on these airport projects: US$3.8 billion on a new airport outside Luanda (Angola), US$615 million in Maputo, US$360 million in Zambia, US$345 million at Addis Ababa, US$260 million in Mauritius, US$190 million in Sierra Leone, and US$136 million in Mauritania.

Funds from China’s Exim Bank or other agencies are expected to help build a new US$3 billion airport outside Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and a new US$1.4 billion airport outside Khartoum in Sudan.

The Chinese investment model involves loans and grants, but also, it would seem, part-exchange deals over oil and minerals. These arrangements have more of a resources-for-infrastructure or barter quality.

At the same time Turkish, French, Italian and British contractors have been bidding for airport improvement projects in Africa, and for terminal or runway new-build schemes. These, it would appear, are at a lesser scale, and have greater transparency.

What’s next

China’s approach may change in the future. That’s if it can neutralise the pivot of Persian Gulf airports at Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. And if it can out-manoeuvre their airlines in global long-haul markets.

It may be more likely that China’s penetration of African civil aviation will occur via partnerships with African airlines, and taking equity shares.

Some of this has already happened. For example, the Hainan corporation in China has reportedly made forays into airlines in Ghana and South Africa, and into a Kenyan all-freight carrier.

Sales to Africa of Chinese-manufactured aircraft have also started. Attendant spare parts stocks are being pre-positioned. In addition, there are plans for Chinese-led aviation technical and managerial training schools in Africa. These will reduce risk of wasted physical infrastructure and of any associated reputational damage.

Some African countries are gearing airport capacity planning to a predicted 5% annual growth in continental passenger numbers by 2035. By that time Africa is expected to be home to eight of the world’s 10 fastest-growing aviation markets. Most African countries don’t have the capacity to prepare for this and will need overseas funds and engineering expertise.

But there are concerns. Any arguments against rampant airport investment in Africa could begin with familiar worries about cost overruns in mega-infrastructure projects, the long-term burden of loan repayments (or default loss of control to foreign owners), the unaffordability of unanticipated maintenance charges, and the inappropriateness of prestige and political vanity projects.

Concerns about corruption, due diligence, accountability, social and environmental disruption plague transport projects wherever they occur.

Another argument against airport mania in Africa – including one that may be levelled against the seductively shiny steel-and-glass ‘aerotropolises’ touted in Nigeria and South Africa – is that these opportunist projects are firmly nation- or city-led (indeed, even regime-led). As such, they don’t necessarily fit into any long-term regional or pan-African programme of integrated infrastructure development.

At a time of chronic resource shortages and stress this is irresponsible. What can be accomplished technically is not always what should be done. There have always been white elephants and rogue elephants in Africa.

The economic and political geography of China’s airport consulting, financing, construction, and management programme in Africa is only now beginning to surface. In future, better statistical information, and richer local information will make for better analysis.The Conversation

 

Gordon Pirie, Honorary Research Associate, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ghana’s Atewa forest is one of the most beautiful and scenic landscapes in the country. It is seen as the better of only two Upland Evergreen forests left intact in the country, forming part of the six dominant vegetation zones of Ghana based on different climates zones.

The Atewa forest is part of the Guinean Forests of West Africa which stretch from southern Guinea into eastern Sierra Leone and through Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana into western Togo. Deforestation has massively reduced the size of the forests and the Upper Guinea Forest is now restricted to a number of more or less disconnected reserves and a few national parks acting as man-made refuges for the region’s biodiversity.

The Atewa forest landscape is remote and pristine, providing the habitat for a major collection of Ghana’s biodiversity. It has been named as one of Ghana’s 30 globally significant biodiversity areas.

But the forest is under threat. Last year Ghana signed a memorandum with China to explore Ghana’s deposits of bauxite – the primary ore in aluminium. The deposits are found in two locations – Awaso with very high deposits in the moist semi-deciduous forest zone of western region of Ghana, and Atewa, with minimum deposits and located in the Upland Evergreen forests in the Eastern Region of Ghana.

Under the memorandum Ghana will cede 5% of its bauxite resources to the Chinese. In turn, Beijing will finance $2billion worth of infrastructure projects that include rails, roads and bridge networks. The Ghanaian Parliament has passed the Ghana Bauxite Integrated Aluminium Industry Act which would provide a legal framework to exploit country’s bauxite deposits.

Yet the government says it still has to validate the true worth of the bauxite deposit in the forest.

As a botanist I view the Atewa landscape as a scientific gold mine. A recent impact assessment by the US Forest Service corroborates the concerns of several conservation groups about the potential damage that mining would cause.

I believe strongly that Atewa is not for mining and that it must be preserved. Firstly, it needs to be preserved as a living natural history laboratory. Secondly, it should be protected because it provides a vital resource – water. Thirdly, it is a precious gift whose value cannot be quantified, but which must be lived, felt and appreciated. Finally it is a naturally bequeathed heritage that must be protected for future generations to enjoy.

The forest

An interesting characteristic of the Atewa forest is that the canopies of its trees are not easily visible as they merge with the surrounding clouds creating a beautiful cloud cover line. This is very rare in the Ghanaian landscape. This feature is described in local parlance as the phenomenon in which the trees are in direct communication with the firmament of the heavens and bring good tidings to the ground underneath.

Scientifically, the phenomenon is responsible for the daily condensation of water vapour which falls as precipitation. As a result the mountain top is kept permanently moist. This in turn explains the interesting hydrological networks beneath the soil surface. The water percolates down to create under ground water ways as well as water falls and many streams and tributaries that coalesce or combine to form Ghana’s famous three rivers. These are the Ayensu, Birim and Densu.

The three eventually drain their basins as they meander through the forests and farm fields providing essential water resources to over 5 million inhabitants. They also deposit suspended clay and silt materials as fertile alluvial for crop production during the rainy periods when they burst their banks and overflow.

The Atewa landscape provides rich forest cover for climate regulation, a show piece to illustrate climate adaptation to avoid drought, reduce poverty and enhance sustainable livelihoods and improve human well being in its catchment area.

The landscape has been the subject of research by geologists, hydrologists and geo-morphologists. A geologist studies studies the solid, liquid, and gaseous matter that constitute the Earth while a geo-morphologist studies the earth’s surface. A hydrologist is a scientist who researches the distribution, circulation, and physical properties of the earth’s underground and surface waters.

Studies of the fauna and flora of the area have brought up new scientific discoveries of species like the critically endangered white-naped mangabey Cercocebus lunulatus. This shows that the knowledge of the faunal and floristic diversity and to a large extent the microbial diversity is still at the exploratory stages.

I would strongly argue that the Atewa landscape is an important species discovery destination, awaiting extensive research and studies. It should, therefore, not be disrupted or destroyed by mining.The Conversation

 

Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, Associate Professor of Botany, University of Ghana

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Google and its operations in China have come under the spotlight in the past few days.

Billionaire investor Peter Thiel last week accused the U.S. technology giant of working with the Chinese military and called for the U.S. government to investigate Google. In response, President Donald Trump said his administration will “take a look” into Google.

The tech giant has denied working with the Chinese military.

Still, the controversy has sparked interest in what Google is doing in China. CNBC took a closer look at Google’s business dealings in China.

‘Project Dragonfly’

Google ended its search product in China in 2010 and is effectively blocked in the country. However, a report emerged last year that the search giant was looking to launch a censored version of its search app in China. The initiative, which the company acknowledged publicly, was in its early stages. In China, all internet services are required to censor information which the government deems sensitive.

However, Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Policy at the company, Karan Bhatia, said this week that Google had abandoned plans for “Project Dragonfly,” the name of its China search product initiative.

So right now, Google is still blocked in China and can only be accessed via a virtual private network (VPN), which helps mask a user’s internet location.

A.I. research

One of Thiel’s accusations is that Chinese spies have infiltrated Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) projects, but he did not provide any evidence.

Google does have AI projects in China though. In 2017, the company opened up an AI research center in China.

On its website, Google says AI research in China is focused on education and so-called natural language understanding — which refers to an AI technique focused on getting machines to understand human language. Google is looking to apply AI to auctioning so that the bidding process for ads can be more efficient. This could be important for Google, which operates an advertising marketplace.

In China, the work is also contributing to AI products that Google makes available globally, such as TensorFlow. This is an open source library that can help other companies develop AI products.

Cloud computing

Technology giants such as Alibaba and Tencent dominate the cloud market in China. So Google’s tactic is to try to sell its cloud products to Chinese firms that have international operations in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

A search of Google job postings in China showed the company is looking for cloud computing engineers, data managers, sales and business development roles across Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

The company is also hiring people to target customers in specific industries — from media and entertainment to manufacturing.

Hardware

Google sells a number of hardware products including smartphones, smart speakers and thermostats, under the Nest brand that it owns. Some of that is manufactured in China.

The company is currently advertising roles for engineers to test products and for manufacturing and supply chain managers. On LinkedIn, a number of Google employees in Shenzhen, a key technology hub in China, listed their jobs as hardware-related.

However, Bloomberg reported in June that Google was moving the production of some Nest thermostats and server hardware out of China to avoid tariffs from the U.S.

App developers and the Google Play Store
The Google Play Store, the company’s app store, is blocked in China. So Google is trying to work with app developers in China to help them bring their products onto the Play Store in international markets.

Under its job listings, Google advertised for two roles for a business development manager related to the play store.

“As a Business Development Manager of Google Play, you will empower developers to build successful businesses on Play/Android globally, and inspire the ecosystem to innovate on/invest in Android and Play,” the job description reads.

Google also has individual roles for the gaming section of the Google Play store. Games are a huge part of its app store.

Advertising

Advertising is a core part of Google’s revenue but because its services are blocked in China, it can’t really sell ads on those platforms there. So the company focuses on Chinese businesses looking to advertise on Google platforms abroad, whether that is on its search engine, YouTube or something else.

One job that’s being advertised is for a business development consultant in Shanghai who will be “responsible for driving business growth and attracting new medium to large size advertisers for Google.” There are also people focused on getting advertisers from specific industries like retail or entertainment.

Overall, Google’s business in China is mostly aimed at getting Chinese companies to use its products outside of China.

 

Credit: CNBC AFRICA

The Chinese government convened top tech companies this week and warned them of consequences if they cut off technology sales to the country, US media reported.

The meeting followed US President Donald Trump's move last month to blacklist Chinese tech giant Huawei over national security concerns, threatening the firm's global ambitions and ramping up the months-long trade battle between the two countries.

Earlier this week, the Chinese government summoned executives from American firms Dell and Microsoft and South Korea's Samsung, among others, to warn them that any moves to ramp down their businesses in China may lead to retaliation, The New York Times reported.

American companies were told "that the Trump administration's move to cut off Chinese companies from American technology had disrupted the global supply chain, adding that companies that followed the policy could face permanent consequences," the newspaper reported.

Companies based outside the United States were told that as long as they maintained business as usual, they wouldn't be punished, the newspaper reported.

Last Friday, Facebook announced it would cut Huwaei off from its popular social networking app to comply with the US sanctions, further isolating the company that has become the world's second-largest smartphone vendor.

Google made a similar announcement in May.

Washington and Beijing resumed their trade battle last month when negotiations in the US ended without a deal and US President Donald Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods.

Beijing retaliated with its own tariff hike on billions of dollars worth of US goods.

The US move to cut Huawei off from American hardware came next, but was delayed by 90 days to prevent economic disruptions.

Source: AFP

Chinese firms are eyeing partnerships with Turkish construction firms in Africa and are also looking to take stakes in Turkish companies, the head of the Turkish Contractors Association said.

Mithat Yenigun said he had discussed possible acquisitions by Chinese companies with a Chinese business representative, without giving details of which firms could be involved.

“They asked if we could sell stakes or cooperate,” he told Reuters. “They want to partner up with us, they are very willing to work with us. They also have unlimited money. That is what we lack.”

Turkish firms, which thrived in a domestic economy fueled for years by cheap credit and a construction boom, are now faced with economic recession at home. Those that took out foreign currency loans have found their debts soaring as the Turkish lira slumped last year.

Turkish contractors are second only to Chinese companies in terms of international contracts, according to the Engineering News Record (ENR) which carries out annual surveys of the world’s top contractor companies.

Yenigun said Chinese firms had a 10-15 year headstart in Africa. They now see Turkish firms as potential rivals, he said, but are also looking for opportunities to work together. He gave no specific examples of companies or projects but said that Chinese contractors want to work in projects in sub-Saharan countries with Turkish companies.

Turkish contractors had proved themselves in the region, Yenigun said, with large infrastructure projects which provide jobs by employing local workers during construction.

CONFLICT HITS CONTRACTS

At their peak, Turkish companies won around $30 billion worth of international contracts a year in 2012 and 2013, according to the contractors association. Business declined as conflict in Libya and Iraq cut back infrastructure projects there, and strained ties with Moscow affected business with Russia.

Last year Turkish contractors registered $19.4 billion of work abroad, with Russia accounting 25% of those projects and Saudi Arabia another 19%. Since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last year, relations between Ankara and Riyadh have deteriorated.

Approval processes for construction tenders won in Saudi Arabia now take longer than they used to, Yenigun said.

“We feel the coldness when it comes to the relations with the government. An official process that previously took three months, now takes a year over there,” Yenigun said.

Turkish companies now aim to reach an annual volume of $50 billion with potential business in Africa, Russia, and Iraq, where they hope Ankara’s pledge of $5 billion credit for the reconstruction will boost business.

Turkish contractors are expected to build roads, highways, railways, Mosul airport, a hospital as well as mosques and residence projects.

 

- Reuters

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