Thursday, 14 May 2020

How much money has been generated to fight the spread of coronavirus in Africa? It's hard to keep track.

The continent has more than 63,000 cases of the virus, according to the World Health Organization. In response, private individuals, governments, and other organizations have donated extensive funds to provide protective gear, test for the virus, and provide relief materials for people in vulnerable countries on the continent.

                                                    Government, banks and wealthy individuals contribute billions to fight coronavirus in Nigeria
In Nigeria, the government approved a 10 billion naira grant (about $27 million) to fight the spread of coronavirus. And in Ghana, $100 million was released by the government to expand the infrastructure needed to curtail the virus in the West African country.

Nigeria-based nonprofit Follow the Money is compiling a list of all the pledges and funds donated to minimize the spread of the virus in Africa. It is also tracking how the money is spent by contacting donors and government agencies for detailed information on spending plans.

With a presence in Nigeria, Kenya, the Gambia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Malawi, and Liberia the group has a focus on tracking government spending and international aid in rural communities, according to co-founder, Hamzat Lawal.

"Follow the Money tries to answer where funds that have been donated to rural communities in Africa are coming from, where they are going and most importantly, how they are being utilized, particularly at the grassroots level," he told CNN.

According to Lawal, the group monitors announcements of grants and donations for low-income communities, and for transparency, they contact the government, agency, or individual responsible for the grant to provide a breakdown of how they intend to spend the money.

"We also visit these communities to find out if they have received any funding or palliatives based on the information we get from the donors. We make sure we empower them with information we have on the donation so that they are able to demand accountability from the government or agency involved in the donation," he explained.

Monitoring donations in Nigeria

In Nigeria, Follow the Money created a database with information on more than 250 grants and other funds released to fight the spread of coronavirus.

According to Lawal, the team has traced coronavirus interventions worth up to 87 billion naira (about $222 million) in the country.

The database has information on how much was donated, who donated it, date it was announced and whether or not it has been disbursed for use. Lawal said the information was sourced from publicly available sources, including news reports.

"We created a hashtag called #followcovid19money. Through the hashtag, we are engaging private individuals and companies on social media to give us a breakdown of how they intend to use the money to fight coronavirus," he said.

On social media, agencies including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Federal Capital Territory, which administers Nigeria's capital, Abuja, have so far responded to Follow the Money's questions on how its donations will be spent.

"We know for example through responses that the NNPC is going to different parts of the country donating facemasks, ambulances and protective gear for health workers," he explained.

But as a result of curfews and lockdowns in certain parts of the country, Lawal said it's hard to trace whether the grants are being used the way they are supposed to be used.

The team usually goes into communities to find out if funding is being allocated the way it's supposed to be. However, in the wake of the virus, it has had to minimize contact with people, he said.


Credit: CNN

Published in Business

The COVID-19 pandemic has left Zimbabwe in an extremely difficult situation. As of early April, the number of infections and deaths from the pandemic appeared low, although the available data isn’t necessarily reliable.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a 21-day lockdown which began on 30 March, in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The decree ordered all citizens to stay at home, “except in respect of essential movements related to seeking health services, the purchase of food”, or carrying out responsibilities that are in the critical services sectors.

Other measures include the shutting down of public markets in the informal sector, except those that sell food.

None of this will be easy to implement in Zimbabwe.

The country has an economic profile similar to that of many developing countries. The difference is that its informal sector makes up a much higher percentage of the overall economy. According to a 2018 International Monetary Fund report, Zimbabwe’s informal economy is the largest in Africa, and second only to Bolivia in the world. The sector accounts for at least 60% of all of Zimbabwe’s economic activity.

In addition to the usual problems faced by countries with large informal economies, including poor governance and low tax revenues, Zimbabwe has an added set of problems: its economy is broken.

To implement the nationwide lockdown Mnangagwa is likely to have to inflict further damage to an already extremely fragile economy.

The president did not announce a stimulus financial package to cushion business from the impact of the lockdown. This might result in the total collapse of some businesses.

Fragile economy

Zimbabwe’s economy has been shrinking since 2000, triggered by the government’s controversial land re-distribution programme of that year. The violent programme wreaked havoc on agriculture, which was then the mainstay of the Zimbabwean economy.

This was compounded by subsequent sanctions imposed by the West in response to the seizures of white-owned farms and land.

Around 6 million Zimbabweans – about 34% of the population – live in extreme poverty.

The IMF recently gave a very bleak assessment, saying that the country’s economy had contracted by 7.5% in 2019. It put the inflation rate at over 500%, meaning that the country was heading back to the traumatic hyper-inflation era of 2007/8, when inflation peaked at an official 231 million percent.

The IMF report shows that Zimbabwe’s economy performed the worst in sub-Saharan Africa in 2019. Its prognosis is disheartening, showing that if

…governance, and corruption challenges, entrenched vested interests, and enforcement of the rule of law, (were not observed) then…there is little prospect of a major improvement to Zimbabwe’s economic and financial challenges in the short to medium term ….

The dire economic situation is further worsened by the fact that the country is suffering its worst hunger crisis in a decade, largely due to an ongoing drought that started last year. The shortage of essential foods, such as the staple maize meal, often results in stampedes at the few markets where they can still be found.

Zimbabwe’s informal sector

Two decades of economic turmoil have seen Zimbabwe’s formal economic sector shrinking significantly. For example, manufacturing, clothing and textile industries have almost totally collapsed, with factories reduced to dilapidated shells.

The consequence is that the informal sector has grown exponentially. It’s estimated that a staggering 90% of Zimbabwe’s working population is employed in this sector.

I have been doing research on Zimbabwe’s informal sector for the last 12 years. I have found that it sustains many families’ livelihoods, even though the majority of participants in the sector live from hand to mouth as petty traders. This reality that confronts Zimbabwe’s informal economy is corroborated by research by the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe.

In addition, almost everyone who is employed in the formal economy augments their income through informal sector activities such as cross-border trading.

Reliable numbers are hard to come by, but a very high number of Zimbabweans eke out a living in this sector, or rely on it for food, clothing, fuel, local currency and forex.

Stern test

The lockdown in Zimbabwe is going to provide a stern test for its informal economy, which is the country’s dominant economy. Most traders are subsistence traders and are already mired in extreme poverty. The jury is out on the extent to which they will observe the lockdown.

The government should immediately put in place a stimulus package that can cushion the informal economy.

Otherwise, a lot of livelihoods are going to be destroyed. The ramifications for the country and the whole region, especially neighbouring South Africa, will be grim.

Read more: Zimbabwe’s deepening crisis: time for second government of national unity? The Conversation

Tapiwa Chagonda, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Johannesburg

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

Published in Economy

Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos called on Tuesday for a corruption case against her to be dropped, accusing Angolan authorities of using forged documents including a bogus passport to get courts to seize her assets.

Angolan authorities seized the accounts of dos Santos and her husband Sindika Dokolo late last year over allegations that they steered $1 billion in state funds to companies in which they held stakes during the presidency of her father Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled for 38 years until 2017.

In February, Portuguese prosecutors followed suit, freezing Isabel dos Santos’ assets in the country, which was Angola’s colonial master until independence in 1975. She and Dokolo have denied any wrongdoing.

Dos Santos, 47, whose whereabouts are not known, said her lawyers had discovered a fabricated passport in her name last month when granted access to the Luandan court’s files on the asset freeze for the first time.

The passport was in English, the passport number was cited differently in two locations on the document and the signature belonged to long-dead kung fu star Bruce Lee, who died in 1973.

“The Angolan Public Prosecutor’s Office presented material evidence that was fabricated and based on a forgery. This court decision should be struck out as abuse of process and the judgement set aside,” dos Santos said in an English-language statement.

“The forgery of the passport is obvious at first glance,” it said.

Neither Angolan nor Portuguese prosecutors responded to requests for comment.

The Luandan Provincial Court in Angola could not be reached for confirmation or comment on what impact there would be on the asset freeze if the document dos Santos cited was proven to be fabricated and part of the file against her.

Angola has named dos Santos as a suspect over alleged mismanagement and misappropriation of funds while she was chairwoman of state oil firm Sonangol in 2016-2017.

Angola’s chief prosecutor said in January that an international arrest warrant for dos Santos could be issued if she fails to appear to cooperate with the investigation.


- Reuters

Published in Economy
Thursday, 14 May 2020 07:37

Mauritius Says It Has Defeated COVID-19

Mauritius on Wednesday declared wary victory in its first battle with coronavirus, saying it had “zero” active patients and had not documented a single new case in 17 days.

The Indian Ocean island nation initially surged ahead of other eastern African countries in terms of caseload, hitting a peak of 332 just shy of six weeks into its outbreak. Ten people died.

It imposed one of the first and strictest lockdowns in Africa, going so far as to initially shut supermarkets for 10 days, a measure that has been extended until June 1.

“Today we are at 17 days without a new case. Mauritius now has zero active cases,” Health Minister Kailesh Jagutpal said in an address on national television.

“We have won the battle thanks to the cooperation of the public, who understood that the government needed to take extreme measures, including complete confinement, and the closure of supermarkets and our borders. But we have not yet won the war. Let’s remain vigilant.”

From May 15, a limited selection of essential stores such as bakeries, butcheries and fishmongers will be allowed to re-open, but most businesses, bars, shopping centres and markets will stay shut.

Schools will remain closed until August 1, the island’s famed beaches will remain off limits and no more than 10 people will be allowed to attend weddings and funerals.

Independent epidemiologist Deoraj Caussy told AFP Mauritius needed to remain on alert.

“It is imperative to use random sampling and continue to test… Zero active cases does not mean that it is over and life is returning to normal.”

Meanwhile the government is busy debating two pieces of legislation, the Covid Bill and the Quarantine Bill, which will legislate aspects of the eventual lifting of the lockdown and planned return to normal of all activity from June 2.

However the laws have come under fire from unions and civil society who say they weaken individual freedoms and workers rights.

Among the changes made will be those allowing employers to fire workers with one month salary and on short notice, while another change will allow police to enter a home without a warrant.

A statement from a collective of unions in the country warned that social discontent was currently confined but “could erupt like a social volcano at any moment”.

“We still need to make sacrifices to return to a semblance of normalcy. We are counting on the understanding of the population to not let their guard down,” said Justice Minister Maneesh Gobin.


Published in Economy

Only three countries are in control of more than three quarters of the world’s diamond reserves globally. Data gathered and calculated by indicates that Russia, Congo, and Botswana combined account for at least 80.6% of the world diamond reserves.

Russia has the largest reserves at 650 million diamond carats, representing about 52% of the global capacity. Congo comes second with 150 million carats or 13% of the global tally while Botswana is third with reserves totaling 90 million carats in diamonds. In total, the global diamond reserves stand at about 1.1 billion million carats. South Africa and Australia also account for notable reserves at 54 and 39 million diamond carats. Other countries control reserves totaling to 120 million carats.

Our research has also overviewed diamond mine production by the end of 2019 where Russia occupied the top spot with an estimated 19 million carats in mining. Australia is in the second spot with 13 million carats followed by Congo at 12 million carats. Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa produced six, three, and two million carats respectively. Other countries produced one million diamond carats.

A carat is a unit of measurement used to specify the weight of a diamond. ‘Carat’ is a diamond industry-unique term for the weight of a diamond stone. For example, one carat is equal to 200 milligrams, a 5-carat stone will then weigh 1 gram.

Global demand for diamonds to keep rising

The study acquired by Learnbonds editorial team shows that the buy and sell demand for diamonds is projected to keep rising in the coming years. By 2050, the demand is expected to be 292 million carats, representing a growth of 88.38% from 2018’s figure of 155 million diamond carats. By 2022, the global demand will stand at 178 million diamond carats.

Four years later, the demand is calculated to grow by 12.36% to 200 million carats. Notably, the demand for diamonds might surpass the 250 million carat mark by 2038 when the figure will stand at 250 million. In general, demand is expected to keep rising.

The demand for polished diamonds is mainly driven by two major factors including geopolitical and macroeconomic. These factors tend to increase or lower consumer confidence and thus affect the demand directly.

Additionally, the demand for diamonds has been impacted by conditions surrounding the mining. For example, diamonds from parts of Africa have been classified as ‘blood diamonds’ due to lack of environmental protection policies and the use of children in mining fields like in DR Congo.

Although production has declined in recent years due to constant political turmoil, DRC holds the potential for more diamond production. Over the years, DR Congo’s diamond mining has shifted from large scale to small scale with just a small area being explored.

It is worth noting that although Russia is the world’s largest producer of gem-quality diamonds based on carat weight. However, Botswana is the only country that has a higher production value. The South African country’s position can be linked to the quality of production which includes a high proportion of large, high-quality diamond mines. In most of the countries, diamond mining is done through the open pit system.

Diamond mining reserves depleting

Apart from mining, diamonds can also be produced in laboratories in the form of synthetic diamonds. The cost of these diamonds is at least 25% lower than the cost of natural diamonds for stones of similar size and quality. However, most consumers are still demanding “natural diamonds” because the supply of lab-created diamonds is relatively small.

For years, the highlighted countries have been leading the world by consistently producing over one million carats per year. In some countries, however, difficult mining conditions due to the remote location of mines has led to shut down of mining.

In general, production rates in mines globally have been slowing down, confirming that the natural diamonds are a finite resource and will eventually be depleted unless there are new discoveries. However, the depletion period is not known.

Miners are now turning to advanced technologies and underground mining techniques to extend the lifespan of some mines. With these technologies, some closed mines have begun operations again.

Published in Business
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