Apr 28, 2020

Former President de Klerk's denial that apartheid was a crime against humanity is cause for reflection on Freedom Day.

Freedom Day, celebrated every year on April 27, commemorates South Africa's first democratic election in 1994 - the first time in the history of the country that non-white citizens were allowed to vote.

That election saw Nelson Mandela replace Frederik Willem (FW) de Klerk to become South Africa's first Black president. Mandela's liberation movement-turned-political party, the African National Congress (ANC), meanwhile took the reins from the white nationalist government that had been in power since 1948. All this transpired without the bloodshed many feared would take place.

In the years that led up to those elections, while Mandela was the face of Black forgiveness, de Klerk became the face of white compromise. In 1990, he took the step of unbanning the ANC and freed Mandela from 27 years in prison. He also agreed to the negotiations that would see the peaceful transition from racist rule to democracy.

It was, therefore, shocking to many when, on February 2 this year, de Klerk publicly stated that apartheid was not a crime against humanity in an interview with the national broadcaster, the SABC.

'Treasonous' comments

During the interview, de Klerk said he was "not fully agreeing" with the presenter who asked him to confirm that apartheid - the legalised segregation of and discrimination against non-white people - was a crime against humanity.

Immediately afterwards, the FW de Klerk Foundation supported his statement and published a response that read: "Deplorable as it is, we cannot, from a legal point of view, accept that apartheid can in this manner be made a crime against humanity."

There was an immediate public outcry as well as criticism from the media and other politicians.

Apartheid was so immoral in its conception and so devastating in its execution that there is no South African living today who is not touched by its legacy.


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called de Klerk's comments "treasonous".

"Apartheid was so immoral in its conception and so devastating in its execution that there is no South African living today who is not touched by its legacy. I would say that to deny this is treasonous," he said.

Although de Klerk later retracted his statement, the debacle opened old wounds and raised questions about his legacy and the extent to which white South Africans have acknowledged the severity of apartheid.

'We are never seen as human'

"For me and my family, de Klerk's denial of apartheid being a crime against our humanity really hit home quite hard," said Lukhanyo Calata, whose father, Fort Calata, was one of the "Cradock Four" - a group of activists murdered by apartheid security police in 1985.

"[The comments] reinforced our belief that de Klerk has never really seen us as human beings. He's never assigned any human value to our family," he told Al Jazeera.

In its response to de Klerk's statement, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), an opposition party that has called de Klerk an "apartheid apologist" who "has blood on his hands", confirmed it would pursue a murder inquiry into state-sponsored killings that de Klerk had allegedly organised. The organisation also called for de Klerk to be stripped of his Nobel Peace Prize, which he received together with Mandela in 1993, for their collaboration in ending apartheid.

 South African Deputy President F.W. de Klerk, right, and South African President Nelson Mandela pose with their Nobel Peace Prize
In this December 10, 1993 file photo, Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk pose with their Nobel Peace Prize gold medals and diplomas in Oslo, Norway [File: AP]

De Klerk, born in 1936, is from a conservative Afrikaner background. His father, Jan de Klerk, was a minister in the cabinet of South African Prime Minister Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd - the man widely regarded as the architect of apartheid.

For decades, FW de Klerk was a committed supporter of apartheid. Elected as a member of Parliament in 1972, he held the ministerial portfolios of mines and energy affairs, internal affairs, and national education and planning. During his time as a cabinet minister, he was considered more conservative than many of his ministerial colleagues.

Ferial Haffajee, a South African journalist, wrote that her abiding memory of de Klerk during apartheid was of the man who passed the university bills that sought to make it more difficult for black people to gain access to white universities.

So it came as a surprise to many when de Klerk announced in Parliament on February 2, 1990, that he would unban the ANC and release Mandela.

The 'myth' of the liberator

In the decades since, many have asked whether de Klerk's U-turn from his conservative past was the result of pragmatism or of a sincere conviction that apartheid was morally wrong.

"De Klerk attempted to hold himself aloof from apartheid crimes against humanity, as did many others who were aware of the illegal and extrajudicial acts of the government," South African journalist Marianne Thamm told Al Jazeera. "By convincing himself he did not know of the gory details, he was able to pass himself off as a relatively 'untainted' and 'progressive' leader."

On the difference between de Klerk and Mandela, Thamm writes: "De Klerk's heart, a heart that has grown the carapace of the consummate pragmatic politician. And that was the singular and unique magic of Nelson Mandela, he revealed his heart while at the same time keeping his head - the mark of a true statesman."

Referring to the "myth" that de Klerk was a liberator, Haffajee writes: "Not then and not now have a generation of us bought into the myth, so his statement, now retracted, that apartheid was not a crime against humanity was hardly surprising to many of us."

Apartheid as an international crime

From 1952 to 1990, apartheid was condemned annually by the United Nations General Assembly as contrary to the Charter of the United Nations.

The 1973 Apartheid Convention required states to both suppress and punish acts of apartheid. At the time of the signing of this Convention, the South African government ignored it.

The inclusion of apartheid in the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was the strongest acknowledgement yet that apartheid was an international crime. It defines apartheid as inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime".

Christopher Gevers, senior lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, is critical of the trade-off that South Africa's democratic government made through the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) because he saw that it meant truth came at the expense of justice.

De Klerk and Mandela
Former South African presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, centre [File: AP]

"Twenty-six years on, not only have we failed to prosecute those who blatantly refused to prosecute the bargain, but the promised 'truth and reconciliation' is wearing thin," he said to Al Jazeera. Gevers points to the fact that the crime of apartheid has never been prosecuted in South Africa or anywhere else in the world.

De Klerk's comment came at a particularly difficult time for South Africa.

As Nobel laureate and former archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, said in his foundation's statement on February 16, South Africa "is on an economic precipice. It is beset by radical poverty and inequity. Those who suffered most under apartheid continue to suffer most today."

Inadequate apologies

February was not the first time de Klerk was criticised for his public statements on apartheid.

He initially apologised for apartheid on April 29, 1993. That apology was widely regarded as inadequate, since it did not disclose de Klerk's personal participation in apartheid crimes.

Subsequently, during his testimony to the TRC in 1997, de Klerk described his initial apology as an "unqualified apology". He pushed back against those who attacked it as an attempt to defend or justify the policies of the past.

Leon Wessels, a cabinet minister during de Klerk's presidency, told Al Jazeera: "The de Klerk that appeared before the TRC was a jurist and an intellectual. De Klerk did not seem to be emotionally present."

Veteran journalist Max du Preez found it particularly disappointing that de Klerk never asked for forgiveness before the TRC.

Political commentator and academic William Gumede believes one reason for the strong outcry after de Klerk's February statement is the opportunism of the populist left, represented by the EFF. He said the current climate is "particularly inflammable". Like Tutu, Gumede also believes the difficult economic situation means poorer South Africans are particularly disgruntled.

"We haven't had an official state apology. An apology would give recognition to suffering," said Gumede.

White denial

Christi van der Westhuizen, an associate professor at the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at Nelson Mandela University, believes the recent outcry is indicative of a reaction to the hardening of white attitudes in recent years.

"These attitudes can, in turn, be relayed to the ANC government's 'lost decade' due to grand scale corruption," she said.

She believes the denial of the severity of apartheid constitutes apartheid denial. "There is an obfuscation of the dehumanisation of marginalised groupings under apartheid," she said.

This history in its fullness has not yet been told. And the damage wreaked on the lives of millions of South Africans over a sustained period of time ... and the ramifications of this on generations, is still here with us.


Journalist Thamm told Al Jazeera: "The outcry this year is because there is much unfinished business and there will never be resolution. Enough evidence emerged at the TRC of the murder and savagery of the apartheid state."

Thamm believes de Klerk's denial was indicative of a more general unwillingness on the part of white South Africans to recognise the severity of apartheid.

"This history in its fullness has not yet been told. And the damage wreaked on the lives of millions of South Africans over a sustained period of time, to be dispossessed, to be rendered a 'nothing' legally, and the ramifications of this on generations, is still here with us," she said.

'Confusion, anger and hurt'

Two weeks after de Klerk said apartheid was not a crime against humanity, he retracted his statement, after Tutu asked him to.

Speaking through his foundation on February 17, de Klerk declared apartheid "totally unacceptable" and conceded that the UN had previously highlighted that the era was indeed a humanitarian offence. He said he was sorry for causing "confusion, anger and hurt" with his words.

In spite of the subsequent retraction, de Klerk's denial of the grave and systematic abuses of apartheid has left a scar.

According to Calata, who lost his father to the apartheid state apparatus, "an apology should come out of de Klerk's mouth. It should not appear on some lifeless piece of paper that was most probably not even written by him. So, for me, there's no satisfaction, as there was no apology."

As journalist Tony Heard writes: "Doubts linger after such incidents, for anyone interested in the future social stability of South Africa."



Apr 28, 2020

Angola’s National Bank (BNA) by September 2020 plans to announce the name of the company that will be responsible for the Mobile Transfers and Instant Messaging system to be introduced throughout the country, according to a request for information published on 26 April.

“As there is already a well-consolidated mobile telecommunications network in the Angolan market, the BNA intends to introduce a system of Mobile Transfers and Instant Messaging (STMI), which will be available in the entire country and accessible to the whole population, commonly known as Mobile Money,” said the central bank.

The opening of the requests for information is intended for drawing up a request for proposal (RFP) to select a technological operator for the entity that will be responsible for the technological management of the system, which will be a payment system operator based in Angola.

The payment system in Angola is currently based on the use of four payment tools (cheques, payment cards, credit transfers and direct debits) and is made up of four interbank subsystems, a system for payment of large sums and a securities settlement sub-system.

The interested entities must respond to the request for information from the BNA by 10 June 2020, the request for proposals will be launched on 24 June with a response deadline of 31 July. In August there will be on-site visits and demonstrations, and the final decision of the selection process is scheduled for September 2020.

With this request for information, the BNA intends to secure information on which to base its “selection of a solid and reputable company experienced in the management and operation” of this type of system.



Apr 28, 2020

The Lagos State Government has shortlisted 10 firms from the 32 respondents to the expression of interest that applied for the construction of the Fourth Mainland Bridge.

The firms include CCECC Nigeria Limited; CGGC-CGC Joint Venture; China Harbour Engineering Company Limited; China State Construction Engineering Corporation Nigeria Limited; IC ICTAS Insaat Sanayi ve Ticaret A.S. and Ingenieros Consultores, S.A., through Makais Energy.

Others are Julius Berger Nigeria Plc; Mota-Engil and CCCC Consortium; Mutual Commitment Company Limited and Power Construction Corporation of China.

This was contained in a statement jointly signed by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Works and Infrastructure, Engineer Aramide Adeyoye and the Director-General, Office of Public-Private Partnerships, Ope George.

“Following the issuance of request for qualification to the 32 shortlisted and eligible respondents to the expression of interest, we are pleased to announce that the Lagos State Government has received a total of 10 responses to the request for qualification (the applications) from the applicants,” the statement said

“The Lagos State Government will now proceed to evaluate the applications in line with the evaluation criteria set out in the request for qualification and thereafter announce the successful pre-qualified bidders, who shall be eligible for participation in the next stage of the selection/bidding process, being the request for proposals stage.”


- The Guardian Nigeria

Apr 27, 2020

Tullow Oil’s exit from East Africa is gathering steam after the firm signed a deal to sell all its assets in Uganda.

In an announcement made Thursday, Tullow said it’s transferring its assets for Lake Albert Development project and the proposed East African Crude Oil Pipeline System to Total Uganda at $575 million (Sh57.5 billion).

The British firm made the deal at a time it’s bidding for 20 per cent of the 50 per cent shares it owns in Kenya’s South Lokichar oil project. The transaction is likely to be concluded in less than two months.

Tullow said the Ugandan deal is part of its plan to raise more than $1 billion, adding that proceeds would go to reducing debts and strengthening its balance sheet.

“It is part of Tullow’s strategy to move to a more conservative capital structure. The cash consideration consists of $500 million payable at completion and $75 million payable following final investment decision of the Lake Albert project,” the company said.

The sale and purchase agreement was signed with an effective date of January 1, 2020, in which Tullow Uganda Ltd and Tullow Uganda Operations Pty Ltd committed to transfer their interests in blocks 1, 1A, 2 and 3A in the Lake Albert project and the pipeline to Total Uganda.


Tullow owned 33 per cent interests in each. The deal was struck after weeks of discussions between the two companies, the Ugandan government and the Uganda Revenue Authority.

“Having evaluated the alternatives for the project and discussed its future with Tullow’s joint venture partners and the government of Uganda, Tullow’s board and senior management believe the transaction represents an attractive outcome,” the company said.

Tullow executive chairperson Dorothy Thompson said the deal would form a basis for the firm to improve its finances.

“This is important for Tullow and forms the first step for our programme of portfolio management. It represents an excellent start towards our previously announced target of raising $1 billion,” she said.

Tullow announced plans to sell the assets on December 9. It expects to conclude the deal in the second half of this year.

This was shortly after a plan to reduce its shareholding for the Lake Albert project from 33 to 11 per cent by selling to Total and China National Offshore Oil Corporation failed.

The sale came as the London-listed firm continues to surrender its assets in East Africa, despite having established itself as an African market-focused company.


Credit: Daily Nation Kenya

South Africans “celebrate” Freedom Day through gritted teeth, with a wry smile and an acute sense of irony, this year. Many, if not most, will be lamenting the loss of freedom due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

For most professionals, there will be no public holiday, since days slide seamlessly into one another, punctuated only by an endless succession of Zoom appointments and regular bouts of existential crisis and unease about lack of productivity.

For working class South Africans, the angst will cut even deeper, as food will have run out, accompanied in many cases by an even deeper fear about the future. They may be asking themselves, “will I ever work again?”. Both bemoan the ban on alcohol sales.

Twenty-six years ago black South Africans voted for the first time. Twenty-five years ago, a freshly minted democratic parliament was immersed in the process of writing a final constitution – one that contains a bill of rights that is widely admired by legal scholars and human rights activists across the globe.

It contains 26 rights, many of which have seen active service in the years since the constitution came into effect in early 1997. The constitution, including the charter of rights enshrined in chapter 2, is inevitably and appropriately the subject of frequent, deep and sometimes bitter contestation. Rights have frequently been claimed by individuals and communities to defend themselves from irrational, unreasonable or otherwise unlawful conduct by both state and private sector entities.

Read more: Is South Africa's Constitutional Court protecting democracy?

But these human rights victories may be far from front of mind this particular Freedom Day, in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. Democratic governments throughout the world have been compelled to claim rarely used powers and authority and limit freedoms in response to the threat posed by a deadly virus.

President Cyril Ramaphosa chose to invoke the provisions of the Disaster Management Act at a relatively early stage, on 15 March. This extended the authority of his government so that it can impose restrictions on, for example, the number of people who may gather in any one place.

Consequently, citizens have had to accept stringent restrictions on their normal civil liberties. South Africa’s lockdown is one of the “hardest” in the world. Everyone except for “essential workers” is confined to home, permitted out only when buying food or medicine.

Freedom curtailed

For South Africans, especially black South Africans old enough to remember the pre-1994 era of apartheid rule, this must be especially hard to bear. The sight and sound of the police and the army patrolling the streets to enforce the lockdown regulations must surely stir a painful sense of déjà vu.

The need to have a permit to move from town to town or province to province, or simply to transport produce, is perhaps even more evocative – redolent of JM Coetzee’s novel The Life and Times of Michael K.

Clearly, the right to freedom of movement enshrined in section 21 of the bill of rights is now severely curtailed.

Several other rights are now, in effect, also suspended or limited. Most obviously, the right to freedom of assembly: congregations present a real risk of increasing transmission of the disease, as President Ramaphosa pointed out in his most recent address to the nation.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has imposed one of the most stringent COVID-19 lockdowns. EFE-EPA/Jerome De Lay

Equally self-evidently, the right to freedom to trade is curtailed. Most businesses and places of work are required to be closed, unless they are providing an essential service. And students are currently denied the right to education, since schools and university campuses are closed.

Other, more subtle, limitations will apply; for example, to the right to privacy. A crisis of this scale and danger may justify greater intrusion into people’s online and cellular telephonic personae. Substantially reduced levels of data protection, ordinarily a matter of very great concern, may well be justified.

Infringement and protection

This provides an interesting example of how rights’ infringement may cut both ways. As The Guardian has reported, digital surveillance has been a crucial part of South Korea’s apparently successful response to the threat of COVID-19.

Clearly, there is an upside; and a legal justification for the infringement of rights.

On one level, there is nothing extraordinary about this. Rights are not absolute. In a constitutional democracy such as South Africa’s they can be lawfully limited, provided the limitation passes the test in section 36 of the constitution. This includes the principle of proportionality. In essence, this means that the government may only use the least restrictive measure for achieving its aim, the one that causes least damage to protected rights and interests.

Similarly, the regulations issued in a national disaster must comply with the provisions of the bill of rights. A court can declare specific regulations unconstitutional if they impose limitations on rights in a way not justified by the limitation clause.

The execution of Ramaphosa’s five-level “risk-adjusted” exit strategy could well give rise to constitutional litigation if the regulations that give effect to it are either unclear or unfair.

At this point, both the right to equality (and equal treatment) and the right to trade could come into play.

If there is a big surge in COVID-19 infections and illness, then the right to access to health care would be relevant in ensuring that everyone gets the treatment that they need to recover from the virus.

Right to life

Above all, perhaps, the bill of rights protects the right to life. As the lockdown begins slowly to ease, it will be worth remembering that the constraints on freedom were and remain justifiable on this ground alone.

COVID-19 represents a deadly threat to life and to livelihoods. In this sense, it threatens freedom in the most fundamental fashion. And the government is obliged to protect its citizens, limiting civil liberties in defence of freedom.

Read more: Zimbabwe's shattered economy poses a serious challenge to fighting COVID-19

The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 will be deep and could denude many people of their right to human dignity and substantive equality. That impact, in itself, undermines the notion of transformative constitutionalism that underpins South Africa’s constitutional settlement and the concept of freedom hinged with equality and human dignity that the Constitution articulates.

South Africans will not be feeling particular free and probably not especially inclined to contemplate more nuanced, philosophical interpretations of freedom as they celebrate Freedom Day, even though the post-COVID world will likely present competing conceptions of liberty.

They are not alone. Throughout the world, billions of people are having to adjust to a “new normal”. For how long, and to what extent, civil liberties should be limited or suspended will depend in large measure on the future trajectory of the coronavirus.

Active vigilance will be required to ensure continued restrictions are fully justified and the pandemic is not used as an excuse to impose authoritarian rule in service of devious and despotic political purposes.

Many times in the country’s modern, democratic era the bill of rights has proved to be more than just a piece of paper. For South Africans, hard-won rights will be vigorously defended, just as the limitations on freedom will be scrutinised every step of the way.

Only the secret and not-so-secret autocrats, extreme-right nationalists and populist authoritarian demagogues will want the bill of rights to fall victim to this pernicious pandemic.The Conversation


Richard Calland, Associate Professor in Public Law, University of Cape Town

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

Apr 27, 2020

Kenya’s president extended a nationwide night-time curfew by 21 days and said people won’t be able to enter or exit the capital and some coastal areas for a similar period.

The East African nation has 343 confirmed cases of Covid-19, President Uhuru Kenyatta said in an emailed statement. The government has mapped out economic sectors and activities on the basis of infection risk and decided to allow some restaurants and eateries to reopen, he said.

“We will reopen this economy, but it must be in a way that does not endanger many thousands of lives,” Kenyatta said.

The president also assented to tax law amendments designed to cushion businesses and households from the impact of the pandemic, according to a separate statement. The changes include an increase in the threshold for sales tax, a drop in income and corporation tax and lower value-added tax.


Credit: Bloomberg

Apr 27, 2020

As international oil companies (IOCs) grapple with a historic plunge in crude prices, a rise in piracy is also poised to threaten supply chains.

The first quarter of 2020 saw a spike in piracy around the world, with 47 attacks compared to 38 for the same period last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

The Gulf of Guinea, a key production hub surrounded by eight oil exporting countries in West Africa, has emerged as a global hot spot, accounting for 21 attacks so far this year and 90% of all kidnappings at sea in 2019.

Most attacks still occur in Nigerian waters, but piracy is expected to rise in 2020 and 2021 and expand further into neighboring states, posing serious concerns for shipping and international oil companies, according to research by political risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

The number of crew kidnapped off the Gulf of Guinea climbed 50% to 121 in 2019, up from 78 in 2018, and the Gulf has now surpassed more well-known areas such as the Strait of Malacca – a waterway which separates Malaysia and Singapore from Indonesia – to become the global hotspot.

"This trend will continue into 2020 and into 2021 as regional security forces, hampered by security hot spots across the continent, and a lack of adequate equipment, continue to be unable to effectively tackle piracy," Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said in a research note.

"The prospect of international assistance is equally remote as international shipping routes avoid the Gulf of Guinea. Both regional shipping and oil and gas operators should expect further disruptions to supply chains, export routes and increased costs as more ransom payments will be necessary to liberate crews."

Around 60% of incidents in 2019 occurred in Nigerian territorial waters, specifically in the areas surrounding the Niger Delta and, to a lesser extent, the shipping hub of the Port of Lagos. Raymakers highlighted that the socio-economic factors underpinning these incidents were unlikely to change.

"Driven by their experience fighting in the Delta's secessionist armed groups and embittered by their lack of access to the oil riches around them, the region will remain an abundant reservoir for budding pirates," he added.

"Although pirates have not noticeably changed their tactics, the regular payments of ransoms have likely emboldened them to seek more attractive targets further out at sea, expanding their net outwards."

On March 22, seven crew members of the MSC Talia F were abducted off the coast of Gabon, and while most of the spike in cases is expected in Nigerian waters, Verisk Maplecroft analysts also anticipate upticks in the waters around Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and to a lesser extent Ghana.

Risks to the oil industry

While pirates traditionally limited their operations to raiding oil tankers in order to sell their hold on the black market, the collapse of oil prices in 2015 forced them to alter their strategy, refocusing their efforts on abducting crews for ransom, Raymakers highlighted.

Unlike their Somali counterparts, pirates in the Delta do not have use of secured ports or beaching areas for captured ships, which limits their ability to hold a vessel or its contents for ransom and means operators in the region therefore rarely lose ships or cargo. However, they do face delays and increased costs due to the disappearance of the ship's crews and subsequent ransom payments.

"IOCs like Shell, ExxonMobil, Total, Chevron and Eni operating out of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria are particularly at risk of experiencing sporadic yet highly disruptive instances of piracy in their supply chains," Raymakers said.

"While many have learned lessons from developing comprehensive security structures in order to protect their assets and personnel in Nigeria, smaller supply and service companies will be highly exposed to expanding piracy risks."

PREMIUM: Nigeria oil 180514 EU

The Egina floating production storage and offloading vessel, the largest of its kind in Nigeria, is berthed in Lagos harbor on February 23, 2017.

Given the recent collapse in global oil prices due to falling demand, Verisk anticipates that pirates are likely to attempt to board static tankers used as offshore storage facilities for unsold production. The ships' crews and cargo represent "ideal and relatively simple targets for pirates," the report said.

The indiscriminate nature of abductions means pirates are likely to target IOCs' supply chains and oil shipments leaving export terminals in the Niger Delta, as evidenced by the abduction of seven crew members on the ExxonMobil-contracted supply vessel Zaro off the coast of Equatorial Guinea in December 2019.

IOCs will also have to contend with the risk that pirates will seek to abduct workers, particularly expatriates, directly from oil platforms in the Niger Delta.

"The kidnapping of three oil workers from a Chevron oil platform in Ogbele in April 2019 highlights the ease and speed with which such an operation can be conducted," Raymakers said.

"Indeed, pirates have easy access to high speed crafts and a plethora of small arms giving them the firepower and agility to conduct such operations."


Credit: CNBC

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Apr 27, 2020

The magnitude of how damaged the energy industry is came into full view on April 20 when the benchmark price of U.S. oil futures, which had never dropped below $10 a barrel in its nearly 40-year history, plunged to a previously unthinkable minus $38 a barrel.

In just a few months, the coronavirus pandemic has destroyed so much fuel demand as billions of people curtail travel that it has done what financial crashes, recessions and wars had failed to ever do - leave the United States with so much oil there was nowhere to put it.

While the unusual circumstance of negative oil prices may not be repeated, many in the industry say it is a harbinger for more bleak days ahead, and that years of overinvestment will not correct in a period of weeks or even months.

"What happened in the futures contract the other day indicated things are starting to get bad earlier than expected," said Frederick Lawrence, vice president of economics and international affairs at the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

"People are getting notices from pipeline companies that say they can't take their crude anymore. That means you're shutting down the well yesterday."

Evidence of the erosion of value for a product that has been a mainstay of global society since the late 19th century abounded across the world last week.

In Russia, one of the world's top producers, the industry is considering resorting to burning its oil to take it off the market, sources told Reuters.

Norwegian oil giant Equinor slashed its quarterly dividend by two-thirds. Next week will bring earnings reports from the world's largest oil companies including Exxon Mobil Corp, BP PLC and Royal Dutch Shell PLC. They are all expected to detail additional spending cuts, and investors will be watching closely for how those companies plan to manage dividends.

U.S. billionaire Harold Hamm's Continental Resources Inc sent servicers out into fields in Oklahoma and North Dakota in the middle of the week to abruptly shut wells, and the company declared it could not make crude deliveries to customers due to poor economics.

Continental's decision to declare force majeure - usually reserved for wars, accidents or natural disasters - came as a shock, bringing a sharp response from the leading refinery industry group. But some say there is a logic behind it, even if it may not pass muster in court.

"You sign contracts based on the average norms that a society has experienced over the last 100 years. If we have a new event that is not covered by those norms, it goes into force majeure. That's what Harold Hamm and others are saying - that these are circumstances outside the norm," said Anas Alhajji, an energy market expert based in Dallas.

Even the long-rumored decision by the White House to tell Chevron Corp last week it could no longer operate in Venezuela, where it has had a presence for nearly 100 years, met with a shrug.

"The global climate is terrible," said one person close to a Western oil company in Venezuela. "The license almost didn't matter anymore."

The market is forcing the hands of all producers. Across the world, governments and companies are preparing to shut down output, and many have already begun.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies had already committed to record cuts of 10 million barrels of daily supply that have yet to take full effect. That commitment was not enough to prevent oil's fall below zero.

Saudi Arabia has said it and other OPEC members are prepared to take further measures, but made no new commitments. It is a measure of the depth of demand destruction that even if OPEC stopped producing altogether, supply may still exceed demand.

More than 600,000 barrels per day in production cuts have already been announced in the United States, along with another 300,000 bpd of shut-ins in Canada. Brazil's state-run Petrobras has reduced output by 200,000 bpd.

Azerbaijan, part of the group of nations known as OPEC+, is forcing a BP-led group to cut output for the first time ever. Oil majors in those countries have generally been excluded from government-imposed cuts.

“We have never done it before since they came to the country in 1994 and signed the contract of the century,” a senior Azeri official told Reuters.

That accommodation can no longer be made with the world running out of space to put oil. As of Thursday, energy researcher Kpler said onshore storage worldwide is now roughly 85% full.

Demand is expected to fall by 29 million bpd in April, the International Energy Agency estimated. Paris-based IEA expects consumption to pick up in May, but researchers cautioned that its expectation of a mere 12 million bpd fall in year-over-year demand may be too optimistic.

"I'm sure hearing the same numbers about demand destruction of 20 to 30 million barrels a day," said Gene McGillian, analyst at Tradition Energy, who was working at the New York Mercantile Exchange when U.S. crude futures were launched in 1983. "Until we see some kind of alleviation of that, you have to wonder what is in store."



Apr 27, 2020

Rwanda’s RwandAir will cut the salaries of its lowest paid employees by 8% and by 65% for its top earners as it seeks to survive the coronavirus crisis, an internal memo seen by Reuters on Sunday showed.

The carrier, which flies a fleet of 12 Boeing and Airbus planes to 29 destinations across three continents, has been one of the rising stars in Africa.

In February, Qatar Airways said it was in talks to buy a 49% stake in the airline.

“We considered several other alternatives and the choice we made is the best option at this time,” RwandAir’s management wrote in the memo, which two employees told Reuters they have received.

The management of the young airline, which is owned by the government and has not yet made a profit, could not be reached immediately for comment.

Airlines around the world have been forced to ground their planes after governments imposed travel restrictions and closed borders to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Air Mauritius said this week that it has entered voluntary administration due to the crisis, joining Virgin Australia and South Africa Airways who have called in administrators.



Apr 25, 2020

If China continues to use mass surveillance technologies after COVID-19, staying untraceable may be impossible for undocumented migrants.

The African diaspora has long thrived in southern China. But this may all change following the pandemic. In tackling the spread of COVID-19, the Chinese government has employed a variety of technologies to surveil and trace individuals. These may soon leave little room for the kinds of irregular migration, mobility and living situations that have allowed many African communities to live, work and operate in China up till now.

For the last two decades, the southern city of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, has been at the forefront of the African presence in China. The overwhelming presence of foreigners in this trading hub has often tested local authorities’ capacity to control its non-native population. This has often resulted in tensions between local police and foreign communities, such as those from West Africa who often report harassment and discrimination.

It has also contributed to friction between local, provincial and national policymakers in China. For instance, Beijing grants thousands of entry permits to African nationals each year for diverse political reasons. It is authorities in Guangdong, however, that typically have to deal with the impact of these decisions. One practical outcome of this lack of coherence is that, over the past decade, Guangzhou has seen a sharp increase in people overstaying their visas.

Becoming untraceable

In 2014, during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, officials in Guangzhou reported that 16,000 Africans were legally residing in the city. Last week – as Africans were evicted from their homes and hotel rooms, denied entrance to restaurants and confronted by other forms of discrimination – local authorities said there are currently just 4,500 African nationals in the city.

This suggests a sharp decline in just six years, though these numbers only describe legal residents. There are no equivalent figures for overstayers, but it is well known that this group (most of whom are from West Africa) account for a significant portion of the city’s African population. These individuals are also responsible for organising much of the intense commercial activity that takes place between Guangzhou and the likes of Addis Ababa, Mombasa and Lagos.

As in many other parts of the world, many overstayers in China hide (or lose) their passports. By doing this, they become “voluntarily” undocumented with the aim of being untraceable if caught. This has always been a precarious path, but it is even more so following a pandemic in which one of the most effective strategies to contain the virus has been mass testing and tracing.

Under these new circumstances, Guangzhou’s longstanding population of undocumented migrants is cast in a new light. It presents an even greater challenge for the city’s authorities already struggling to manage its community of overstayers. These officials are fearful not only of an outbreak among this foreign population but also of Beijing’s ire if this does happen.

Surveillance in post-pandemic China

One way in which the Chinese government is likely to address undocumented migrants is through technology. COVID-19 is proving to be a landmark moment in terms of the relations between mass surveillance and the control of people’s movement. From the use of robots and drones, to facial recognition and apps, China has relied heavily on technology and artificial intelligence in its response to the outbreak.

It is impossible to ascertain how long we will live with COVID-19, but it is not unthinkable that, even after the threat has ceased, measures to contain mobility will remain in place. This would make life very difficult for undocumented migrants in China. For example, without a legal abode, foreigners cannot apply for Alipay Health Code, a system that assigns a colour code to users indicating their health status and determining their access to public spaces such as malls, subways and airports.

In the past, foreign migration to China has followed the logic of commerce and, for those without legal status, has often involved a game of cat and mouse with authorities. After the pandemic, the new logic may be one of crisis and emergency, characterised more by anxiety and surveillance. It may become virtually impossible to live without papers in this context, as untraceability becomes regarded as unacceptably “high risk” by Chinese authorities.

One lasting impact of COVID-19 may well be that it begins a new stage in the construction of a global architecture of control and surveillance. African overstayers and the thriving commercial sectors in which they insert themselves may be among the first victims of this new normal in China as traditional forms of irregular abode are rendered impossible.

Time will tell if COVID-19 spells the end of this phase of global migration as we have known it since the early-20th century. But at the very least, it is likely to provide another nail in the coffin of an already declining African population in Guangzhou.


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