Friday, 15 May 2020

On the cusp of stepping down, Lesotho’s embattled prime minister has denied in an interview with AFP any role in the murder of his estranged wife, a drama that has gripped the tiny kingdom for months.

The octogenarian Thomas Thabane has been under pressure even from his own party to resign over the accusations, and he has agreed to go — but only on the grounds of his old age.

In a telephone interview with AFP, Thabane vehemently denied he was involved in the 2017 killing of his 58-year-old wife Lipolelo, who he was in the process of divorcing.

Police have questioned but not charged Thabane in the case, which has triggered a protracted political crisis in the mountainous southern African nation, although his current wife has been indicted.

“For me it is not the best subject to deal with because a woman who was my wife and who I loved was killed and I don’t kill people and I wouldn’t kill my wife. No, no!” he said.

– ‘Very painful’ –

The couple had been locked a bitter divorce at the time and her death sent shockwaves through a country with a history of political instability.

Thabane admitted that they had “a bit of a disagreement” just before she was killed — two days before his inauguration.

“This matter is not only a matter of great pain to me and it came out as a huge embarrassment. And it’s painful, very painful,” he said.

His political rivals say he has been seeking immunity from prosecution as part of a “dignified” exit from office that has been mediated by South Africa.

Sounding relaxed and contemplative in the interview, the two-time prime minister said he did not want to serve out his term which is due to end in 2022.

“I have served enough in this… and other capacities and the time has come for me to retire,” said Thabane, who turns 81 in two weeks’ time.

“All I look forward to… is for me to be left alone,” he said.

“All the other things that are being said are just nonsense.

“I don’t want to worry my heart about that and I also don’t want to spoil my happiness by delving into things that just make me feel very sad.”

– New coalition emerging –

In January, he set himself a target to leave office by July 31 as the murder accusations swirled. But rivals in his own All Basotho Convention (ABC) party and outside have been pushing for his early departure.

Mediation talks led by South Africa, and legal and parliamentary processes, culminated in the disbanding of his fractured coalition government on Monday.

Speaking in his first interview following the coalition collapse, Thabane sounded buoyant.

“A new coalition is emerging and it is a good thing,” he said.

He refused to give the exact date that he plans to clear his desk and hand over the reins, saying there were still some loose ends to be to tied up — to make his retirement “as smooth as possible”.

But he said he intended to turn in his resignation letter to the king on Wednesday. Parliament is due to meet on May 22 to appoint his successor and install a new government.

Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, 58, has been nominated to be the new premier. The saga has also sucked in his new wife Maesaiah, 43, whom he married two months after the killing and who has been charged with murder.

“How they involve her in this, I don’t know, I don’t understand. All that rubbish they have been collecting to try and involve her, is not working,” Thabane said.

Thabane’s time in office had brought hopes of stability to Lesotho.

He first came to power in 2012 as the head of the country’s first coalition government, formed after an inconclusive vote.

But his second term was rocked by Lipolelo’s murder.

While no premier has served out a full five-year term in Lesotho, Thabane boasted that that he has set an example to fellow African leaders who have the propensity to cling to power.

“I’m trying to set a precedent that leaders in Africa must volunteer to leave when they think it’s time to leave or at the very worst they must leave when their term ends.”

Besides writing a book about his life, going back to reading the plays of William Shakespeare that he studied at university, Thabane says he wants to serve as lay minister in his evangelical church.



Published in Economy

Avocados have become Tanzania's latest green gold, bringing in at least $12 million (Sh27.6 billion) annually, up from zero five years ago, a new report reveals.

Less than ten years ago, avocado exports never existed.

But, data from Tanzania's private sector horticultural apex body, the Tanzania Horticultural Association (Taha), as well as the Avocado Catalogue 2020 report, show that avocado exports jumped from 1,877 tonnes in 2014 to 9,000 tonnes in 2019, fetching the country $12 million last year.

Taha's chief development man-ager, Mr Anthony Chamanga, said that farm-gate prices also rose from Sh450($0.19) per kilogramme in 2014 to Sh1,500($0.65) in 2020 courtesy of Taha's painstaking efforts to develop the avocado value chain in the country.

It is understood that the government and Taha jointly worked to establish a state-of-the-art facility in Njombe where farmers can store their fresh produce and is also a hub to connect with buyers.

"Again, driven by dynamics in a global surge in prices and demand, the cultivation and trading of avocados is rapidly gaining traction among the local farmers, replacing coffee production in some areas," the report says.

Taha data shows that over 10,000 farmers in the country are involved in avocado production, triggering its export surge by 380 percent in a span of five years.

The majority are exported to Europe as its consumption of avocados reached one million tonnes a year - with the World Avocado Organisation (WAO) predicting a growth rate of 50 percent: between 500,000 and 700,000 tonnes for Europe in the next ten years.

The EU market represented 85 percent of Tanzanian avocado exports in 2018, whereby France imported 3,133MT; the Netherlands: 2,304MT, and UK: 1,193MT.

Based on 2018 data, Tanzania is the second largest producer of avocado fruit in Africa after Kenya. The latter produces about 190,000 tonnes per year of which between 5,000 and 10,000MT are exported.

Recently, Agriculture minister Japhet Hasunga vowed to fast-track protocol with China to pave the way for local avocado exporters to access Beijing's niche market.

Data from China Customs indicates that China's avocado imports are value at $105 million per annum, presenting a huge poten-tial market for Tanzanian growers.

However - given the stringent phytosanitary issues that restrict imports of local avocados into China - exporters have never been able to access that lucrative market, basically for lack of bilateral arrangements between the two countries.

The process requires the Tanzania government to declare quarantine pests for the China authority's assessment before that country opens up the market to Tanzanian avocados.

The same information should also be presented to AQSIQ: the relevant authority in China where the Beijing market access applications are processed.

The harvest periods for avocados in Tanzania are from January to March, and May to August. The fruit is mainly grown in Kilimanjaro, Mbeya, Njombe, Songwe, Iringa Kigoma, Tanga, Kagera and Morogoro Regions.

Avocado plantations are set at altitudes ranging from 1,100 to 1,900 metres ordinance datum, with an annual rainfall of around 800 to 1,200 mm. Surface areas are also on the up in this part of the country, - especially in zones enabling earlier harvests.

The majority of growers of avo-cados are small and medium scale farmers.

The main varieties produced are Hass and Fuerte and local varieties.

The first two varieties are mostly for foreign markets.

Global production of avocados has increased by 178 per cent, rising from 891,000 tonnes in 2011 to 2.5 million tonnes in 2018 - mostly driven by high demand in the US and Europe.

Credit: Citizen Tanzania

Published in Agriculture

Tesla employees returned to work this week at the company’s car plant in Fremont, California, as CEO Elon Musk reopened the facility in defiance of local Covid-19 health orders, bolstered by expressions of support from President Donald Trump and others.

According to internal correspondence, some production lines were running more slowly than usual. But at least some shifts were working as early as Sunday, and Models 3, Y, S and X were all being produced at Tesla this week by Tuesday. Workers also described measures like staggered shift times and surgical masks to help stem the spread of Covid-19, and said that Musk showed up on the floor and worked during part of a shift on Monday. 


Meanwhile, local health officials in Alameda County, where the factory is located, are not backing down. On Monday, they sent a letter to Tesla ordering the company to wind back down to minimum basic operations at the plant.

Among other things, the county wants Tesla to create a better plan for screening the workers for Covid-19. Tesla employees commute to the facility from Fremont and reaches far beyond, including by shuttles and public transit.

Alameda County District Supervisor Scott Haggerty said in press interviews that the county and Fremont district had previously devised a plan to allow Tesla to fully reopen by May 18. Musk was not satisfied and wanted to resume vehicle production sooner.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news conference on Monday that he was a longtime advocate and supporter of the company, and an early adopter of its technology. “I have great expectations that we can work through at the county level the issue with this particular county, and this company, in the next number of days.”

Musk in the factory on Monday

Three Fremont employees told CNBC that when they returned to the plant for their shifts, their temperatures were taken at the entry and they were given surgical masks. Social distancing was possible at the factory’s entry, but became impossible during vehicle production, all of them said. They also said hand sanitizer dispensers had been placed throughout the facility.


Normally, they said, they wear personal protective equipment including boots with a hard toe, glasses or goggles and earplugs. The surgical masks were the only PPE addition to protect them against the virus.

These employees asked not to be named as they were not authorized to discuss company matters with press.

Employees’ break times were scheduled and staggered, so that people would not crowd into bathrooms and dining areas at the same times, according to a posted schedule shared with CNBC.

Musk personally thanked those who did return to work in an email early Tuesday. He wrote: “An honest day’s work spent building products or providing services of use to others is extremely honorable. I have vastly more respect for someone who takes pride in doing a good job, whatever the profession, than some rich or famous person who does nothing useful.”

Two employees said they heard the mercurial CEO had been working during a C-shift on a Model 3 production line indoors at the sprawling facility, rather than in the tent-like structures where Model 3s and Model Ys are built in a more manual process. One claimed to have seen him at the facility.

Workers expressed concern about the possibility of contracting Covid-19 amid the crowd at the factory. They said as far as they could estimate, everybody but contractors had been called back to their shifts. One employee said he wished that Musk would not try to act like one of the rank-and-file factory workers, and would stop tweeting and causing a distraction.  

Tesla did not respond to requests for comment. 

Supervisor Haggerty, was not available for an interview on Tuesday, and declined to comment on how Fremont planned to respond to Tesla. His chief of staff, Shawn Wilson, told CNBC that some correspondence was sent by Tesla to the county overnight, and that Dr. Erica Pan, Alameda County’s interim public health officer, and her staff would be reviewing it on Tuesday. 

Previously, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office told CNBC that it was up to the Fremont Police Department to enforce health orders or not. The Fremont Police Department has not responded to multiple requests for comment.


Credit: CNBC

Published in World

Zimbabwe on Thursday received 60,000kg (60 tonnes) in freshly-printed higher denomination bond notes, which the central bank says will go into circulation at the end of the month.

The RBZ announced last week that Z$10 and Z$20 bond notes were being printed to complement the Z$2 and $5 notes which have become valueless as the inflation-hit currency continues its side.

ZimLive has established that the new notes were delivered to Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on Thursday morning by a Boeing 747-48EF(SCD) cargo plane which flew out of Leipzig in Germany.

The aircraft, registration TF-AMU, is owned by Air Atlanta Icelandic of Iceland.

A source told this website that the plane disgorged 60,000kg of bank notes.

The RBZ has previously refused to disclose where the bond notes are printed, while bond coins are known to be minted in South Africa.

Based on where the plane originated, it is highly likely the bank notes were printed by the Leipzig division of Giesecke & Devrient, a Munich-headquartered company which has a history of doing business with Rhodesia and its successor state Zimbabwe going back to 1965.

Giesecke & Devrient stopped printing Zimbabwean banknotes in 2008 after an "official request" from the German government. The company said in a statement at the time that its decision was "a reaction to the political tension in Zimbabwe, which is mounting significantly rather than easing as expected, and takes account of the critical evaluation by the international community, German government and general public."

It would appear the company has re-opened its Zimbabwe account.

The state-run Sunday Mail newspaper reported last week that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has approved the introduction of Z$10 and Z$20 banknotes worth close to Z$600 million "to increase physical money supply and curb cash shortages."

Currently, the RBZ says Z$1.4 billion in cash is circulating, and the higher denominated notes will increase this to about Z$2 billion.

Zimbabwe has Z$2 and Z$5 notes, and Z$1 and Z$2 coins, in circulation which make cash transactions cumbersome, with small transactions now requiring the carrying of huge wads of notes due to inflation which jumped to 676.39 percent year-on-year in March.

Cash shortages have triggered long queues at banks and a thriving illegal forex market where premiums of up to 40 percent are charged to convert money held in the bank into cash.

In addition, cash shortages have led to the creation of a multi-tier pricing system, where prices of a single product differ depending on the customer's mode of payment.

Eddie Cross, a member of the RBZ's Monetary Policy Committee, said banks will be required to exchange their electronic balances for physical cash to ensure that no new money is created.

"We're moving cautiously because we don't want to disturb the monetary balance and we're insisting that banks pay for the currency when they draw it so that there's no money creation," Cross said.

"We're now taking steps to start implementing that. We started in September last year when we had about Z$500 million worth of notes in circulation and now we have between Z$1.3 billion and Z$1.4 billion notes. This will take it up to Z$2 billion. Our target is Z$3 billion, which amounts to about 10 percent of our money supply."

Zimbabwe is grappling with its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by shortages of foreign exchange, medicines and cash as frustration over President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government grows.

Zimbabwe reintroduced its currency, the Zimbabwe dollar, last June, ending a decade of dollarisation. But with no foreign or gold reserves to back it up, its value has plunged while inflation has soared as Zimbabweans fear a return to the 2008 hyperinflation period which forced the country to abandon the Zimbabwe dollar.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, in the letter to the International Monetary Fund dated April 2, warned that the country is headed for a health and economic "catastrophe" from the coronavirus pandemic because its debt arrears mean it cannot access foreign lenders.

Lenders like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank stopped lending to Zimbabwe in 1999 after the country defaulted on its debt repayments.

That has led the government to resort to domestic borrowing and money-printing to finance the budget deficit, pushing inflation to the second highest in the world.

Two weeks ago, Mnangagwa promised a US$720 million stimulus package for distressed companies, but did not say where the money would come from.

Ncube said cumulatively, Zimbabwe's economy could contract by between 15 percent and 20 percent during 2019 and 2020, warning that this is a "massive contraction with very serious social consequences."

Former finance minister Tendai Biti last week claimed Zimbabwe was so broke it was failing to pay its workers, and was creating fictitious money.

"The regime is broke and broke in absolute terms. The coffers are empty and they are generating salaries through the RTGS ponzi scheme. To date, Treasury has not disbursed social protection payments to the ministry of social services. Tobacco sales have had a poor start and donors are not coming on board," the MDC Alliance deputy president said.


Read More: Zimlive

Published in Bank & Finance
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