Displaying items by tag: COVID19

An industry body that represents 320 member organisations in the solar PV industry has written an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, in which it calls on him to remove limitations to private power generation as a way of supporting efforts to kick start the economy post COVID-19.

The letter, by the Chairperson of the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association Mr Wido Schnabel was sent this morning (Tuesday 28 April 2020). In his letter, Schnabel writes:

“We are living in unprecedented times when our economic systems, our relationship with nature and our resilience as a global community are tested — all at once. We commend you Mr President, on the leadership you have shown and the difficult decisions taken to delay the spread of Covid-19, hopefully giving our healthcare systems enough time to prepare for a peak in infections.

Tough yet necessary restrictions on trading, social gatherings, and travel have dealt a massive blow to our fragile economy. To recover from the economic impact of the pandemic, we agree with you Mr President that we need a “new social compact” to “forge a new economy”. We agree that “we can no longer work in the way we have before” and it’s time to “adjust to a new reality”. We stand with you in your resolve to build an inclusive economy. In order to achieve this goal, we call on your government to relax certain electricity regulations that have made it difficult for businesses in our sector to grow and create jobs.

Our economic recovery depends on the sustainable, affordable and reliable supply of energy. If we are to –– as you say –– “forge a new economy” then we cannot allow a return to the dark days of load shedding. Since the rolling blackouts of 2008, Eskom’s inability to provide a stable supply of power has throttled economic growth and battered the country’s credit rating to junk status, siting energy as the number one contributing factor.

Mr President, let us use this opportunity to fix yesterday’s problems, starting with our electricity supply woes. As an industry, we support both the state-run utility model and the integration of Distributed Generation methodologies, although the latter delivers electricity at a faster rate with no cost to the Government. The Distributed Generation approach provides additional capacity to the grid, promotes broad-based participation in the energy sector, and aligns with the tenets of a just energy transition. In fact, the Distributed Generation space plays a strategic role in balancing the country’s sustainable development needs with employment security.

To assess the potential of the sector to create jobs, we partnered with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). According to our study, there are approximately 400 SMMEs (and growing) in the Distributed Generation space with the potential to create more than 100 000 jobs over the next 10 years. Unfortunately, the growth of the Distributed Generation market has been stymied by three factors linked to Schedule 2 of the Electricity Regulation Act (ERA). These problematic amendments came into effect in 2017.

There are three main issues:

  • The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) does not explicitly spell out the allocation for Distributed Generation projects over the next 4 years. Without a clear allocation, the energy regulator does not have a clear mandate to grant licenses to entities wanting to generate electricity outside of the proposed state procurement process.
  • Schedule 2 imposes a 1MW threshold for licensing exemption, which makes the development of projects up to 10MW impractical for small and medium sized businesses.
  • Projects with a generating capacity of just over 1MW must endure the same onerous application process as large-scale projects. Both require a public participation process and hearings on a per project basis.

Under normal circumstances, NERSA can take more than four months to process applications for registration; licensing can take between six months to a year, despite the 120 day period described in the Act. As a consequence, many companies are incentivized to reduce the size of their projects to avoid a lengthy application process.

Although we support the goals of the ERA, the legislation’s generation licensing requirement does little to ensure that connections to the network are safe and orderly. In fact, there are other legal mechanisms in place to regulate the operation of electricity infrastructure. For instance, over and above the distribution code, most municipalities would have established electricity by-laws to protect their local networks. In addition, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) has a registration system to determine how many megawatts of Distributed Generation are allowed to enter the network.

The limitations imposed by Schedule 2 of the ERA are weighing heavily on our industry at a time when the country is in the midst of a crisis. Nevertheless, we are confident that by working together with the Government, we will be able to power the economy back to life. This is precisely why we are calling for an urgent meeting with your administration to plot a way forward.

Mr President, we urge you to consider the following proposals:

  • Lift the licensing exemption threshold from 1MW to 10MW.
  • Make it a requirement for projects to register with the regulator by submitting an independent certificate of compliance against which the allocation to embedded generation can be measured, and ensure that the database of installed megawatts is public and updated.
  • Ensure there are clear guidelines on how to obtain a generation license for projects above 10MW in size.
  • Ensure that NERSA has the resources and capacity to process applications timeously and efficiently.

Mr President, we need urgent interventions from your government to drive growth in the energy sector. The Solar PV Industry stands with you to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and commits to positively participate in the recovery of the economy. As an industry we’ll continue to engage with you so that we can get our economy moving again.”

Published in Engineering

Tracking people infected with COVID-19 has become an important weapon in global responses to combatting the virus. Through the use of geo-location, mobile technology offers a simple solution for tracing people possibly exposed to COVID-19. With big data analytics there is the potential for tracking the pandemic’s spread, and employing analytics to forecast future patterns of contagion.

But at what cost? These are exceptional times calling for extraordinary measures. But do they justify the wholesale sacrifice of our rights? Concerns loom large across the globe. More than 100 civil society signatories and intergovernmental organisations have already warned as much in a joint letter.

The mobile phone industry is reportedly exploring the creation of a global data-sharing system that could track individuals around the world. For now, however, monitoring appears to be happening at national-level.

South Africa has joined several governments in passing regulations that allow the collection and storage of data from mobile companies. It has also appointed a former Constitutional Court Justice, Kate O’Regan, as the COVID-19 Judge. Her job will be to oversee data collection for the country’s contact-tracing database led by the Director-General of Health, Dr Anban Pillay.

The appointment of O'Regan indicates that the country is taking seriously concerns about the risks that monitoring can pose for human rights. Nevertheless, concerns remain about the ability of the Judge (or Parliament, which ultimately has oversight) to ensure that data, once collected, is not abused.

Global responses

A set of principles and ‘best practices’ have emerged internationally to guide data collection in disaster conditions. These include that:

  • measures are transparent and accountable;

  • the limitations of rights are proportional to the harms they are intended to prevent or limit;

  • data collection is minimised and time constrained;

  • data is retained for research or public use purposes and unused personal data is destroyed;

  • data is anonymised in such a way that individuals cannot be reidentified; and

  • third party sharing both within and outside of government is prevented.

However, South Africa’s data protection framework is not yet in place. Large parts of the Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 have not yet come into force. The Office of the Information Regulator has been established. And three years ago Advocate Pansy Tlakula was appointed Chairperson. But key sections of the Act are not in play. Thus, her powers to act are constrained.

There is synchronicity, however, between the principles and requirements of the COVID-19 regulations, and the lawful data processing principles the Act describes.

The Regulator has issued guidelines for the collection of data to manage and curb the spread of COVID-19. These guidelines are contained in the Disaster Management Act (Regulations). And she has called for proactive compliance by responsible parties when processing personal information of data subjects who have been tested for, or are infected with, COVID-19.

The guidelines confirm the powers of the state to conduct mass surveillance of both COVID-19 carriers, and potential carriers through the sharing of data by mobile operators. They also include reference to some of the privacy touchstones in data collection, particularly when consent is not obtained.

The scope

Amendments to the disaster management regulations empower the Director-General of Health, to direct without prior notice, an electronic communications service provider to provide him with information for the COVID-19 tracing database to facilitate COVID-19 monitoring.

But these powers are circumscribed.

The regulations allow for the collection of location data of any person (and their personal identifiers) reasonably suspected to have contracted COVID-19, or that may have come into contact with someone who has. The commencement date is 5th March 2020.

The contents of the communication may not be intercepted by the Director-General – or anyone else.

The regulations state that the Department of Health will keep the information ‘confidential’. But big questions remain about the practical realities of ensuring that data remains secure, especially considering the Department’s own tenuous history in relation to data protection.

The regulations empower the Director General to instruct a mobile operator to provide the information mentioned. But the actual modalities of the data collection by the Health Department is less clear - particularly how the data is collected and transmitted to the database securely.

For instance, once a request for the data from an operator is made and provided to the Director-General, who will receive the information to inform the contacts? Who will ensure they are tested?

Importantly the regulations limit the collection of data only to the purpose of addressing, preventing, or combatting the spread of COVID-19. The data collected may only be disclosed by authorised persons for this purpose.

The Director-General is required to file weekly reports stating the number, names and details of all persons whose location or movements were obtained to the designated Judge. This will contribute to the oversight of collection. It will also go some way to constraining data collection to what’s strictly necessary.

The duration of data collection is circumscribed and terminates with the end of the national state of disaster. And within six weeks of it lapsing, the Director-General is required to file a report with the COVID-19 Judge detailing steps taken to de-identify the data. This includes providing notifications to every person whose information was obtained.

The regulations require that all information on the COVID-19 Tracing Database, which has not been de-identified, be destroyed once the state of disaster has ended. But de-identification is not defined. This is a major concern, given the very real possibility of re-identification with the use of other publicly available, or hacked, databases.

Possible improvements

These measures go some way to safeguarding South Africans’ individual rights while acting in the public interest to contain the virus.

But the regulations could be improved by:

  • requiring that data subject be informed as soon as they are tracked, but no later than six weeks after the termination of the state of disaster;

  • explicitly empowering the Judge to appoint technical experts to assist her in reviewing the use of data. This could include helping to ensure its security;

  • explicitly giving the Judge access to the database and the data supplied by the cellular providers to verify reporting. This could also assist in monitoring security and other data processing protection measures;

  • requiring immediate notification of all compromises of privacy or security of the data to the persons whose data is compromised; and

  • clearly prescribing data processing standards that respect the principles set out in the Act.The Conversation

Alison Gillwald, Adjunct Professor, Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town; Andrew Rens, Senior Research Fellow, Research ICT Africa, American University; Anri van der Spuy, PhD Researcher, London School of Economics and Political Science, and Gabriella Razzano, Lawyer and Researcher, London School of Economics and Political Science

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

Published in Telecoms

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.


Read More: African ArgumentsAfrican Arguments

Published in World

Air Mauritius has entered voluntary administration after coronavirus-related disruptions made it impossible for the airline to meet its financial obligations for the foreseeable future, its board said on Wednesday.

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

The 52-year old carrier, which ferries 1.7 million passengers a year to 22 destinations across four continents, said the pandemic had struck just as the company was seeking to change its business model to address existing financial problems.

A. Sattar Hajee Abdoula and Arvindsingh K. Gokhool, have been appointed as administrators, the Air Mauritius board said in a statement.

Other airlines have suffered a similar fate, with Virgin Australia (VAH.AX) and South Africa Airways having called in administrators.



Published in Travel & Tourism

“Gold is a way of going long on fear,” renowned investor Warren Buffett once said. 

The Berkshire Hathaway CEO explained that if people “become more afraid, you make money, if they become less afraid you lose money, but the gold itself doesn’t produce anything.” 

Investors’ fear levels are particularly high right now, as the coronavirus pandemic turned a global health crisis into an economic one. And it’s uncertain when the world will recover from either of these crises. 

It is in such times of uncertainty that gold is touted as a “safe haven” for those looking for shelter from more traditionally volatile investments, like stocks. 

“Compared to an investment in stocks, where even the biggest blue chip companies can (and have) failed, an investment in gold often seems less risky,” said Adam Vettese, market analyst at investment platform eToro. 

A reliable store of value 

As the world’s earliest form of currency, gold’s physical properties have meant it has long been considered a reliable store of value. It is widely available enough to trade but is in finite supply, so is rare enough to be considered valuable and unlike some metals it is not corrosive, making it durable. 

The price of gold, which is normally in dollars, moves in the opposite direction to the greenback. This is because if the U.S. currency gains in value then it takes fewer dollars to purchase an ounce of gold. 

This was why the gold price went into meltdown last month, explained Vettese, because the dollar rallied. As a result, the spot gold price, the cost at which the precious metal can be instantly traded, fell below $1,500 per ounce for the first time in 2020. 

As the coronavirus crisis deepened in March, Vettese said that risk-averse investors initially flocked to cash. 

Last month’s fall in the gold price was also thought to be due to investors being forced to sell the metal and take profit from its gains, in order to cover losses elsewhere, otherwise known as a “margin call.” 

However, when the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates to zero later that month, there was less incentive to hold dollars. 

Cutting interest rates meant the already low returns that investors received from investing in debt, or bonds, were nudged even lower. 

Gold has since therefore regained its popularity, with the price climbing back up to its highest point in nearly seven years last week, at $1,769 per ounce. 

A shorter supply of the precious metal has also bolstered its price, pointed out Sheridan Admans, investment manager at U.K. stockbroker The Share Centre, as the virus has forced mines to close.

Gold is also considered a good hedge against the risk of inflation because the rising cost of goods and services tends to erode the value of the dollar. 

And as central banks print more money as part of attempts to stimulate economies, Global head of Asset Allocation at investment group Invesco Paul Jackson said some may fear this could result in inflation.

If this were the case this could impact the value of other assets. Meanwhile, “gold over a long period of time tends to hold its value in real terms” so can be considered as a “refuge” against this risk.

High entry point

Jackson referred back to Buffett’s point, however, that people’s main reason for investing in gold was for protection because it does not pay a dividend or interest so “you could also lose money if what you are fearing doesn’t come to pass.”

He added that the gold price has historically been as volatile as the stock market and that the “downside can also be quite dramatic.”

Jackson also pointed out that the price of gold is historically high, as the long-term average price is around $600 to $700.

This is “not to say that the price won’t go higher in the right circumstances” but that the “entry point today is quite high,” he said.

Ways to invest

While people can invest in physical gold “there is likely to be a huge mark-up” on the price of coins, bars or jewelry, said Admans.

Finding a way of storing it safely, as well as finding a market to trade it through, can also be costly, he added.

Buying shares of the companies mining gold was another way to invest. Jackson said this could act as a “leveraged play” on gold, as if its price goes up, the profits of the mining company go up even more, potentially boosting returns.

“The problem at this moment in time, when we’re looking at a corporate sector around the world that is under a lot of stress … you’re taking (on) all that equity risk in a way that you don’t when you buy the underlying asset,” he said.

Exchange-traded commodities (ETCs) are often considered as the next best thing to owning physical gold, said Admans. ETCs are an investment vehicle traded in shares on an exchange, which tracks the underlying pricing index of that commodity.

Meanwhile, funds can combine these different types of exposure to gold, making it “perhaps the best way to a diversified solution,” he said.

Source: CNBC 

Published in Opinion & Analysis

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an R500 billion ($26bn) stimulus package to deal with the devasting economic impact of COVID-19 and a 35-day lockdown.

He said the money would come from its adjustment budget, the Unemployment Insurance Fund and multilateral institutions.

The World Bank, the New Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and African Development Bank have been approached for funding.

Measures introduced to assist the economy include:

  • R20 billion to assist efforts that address the pandemic.
  • R20 billion for municipalities for the provision of emergency water supply, increased sanitisation of public transport and facilities, and providing food and shelter for the homeless.
  • A six-month temporary COVID-19 grant of R50 billion. This means that child support grant beneficiaries will receive an extra R300 in May and from June to October they will receive an additional R500 each month. All other grant beneficiaries will receive an extra R250 per month for the next six months.
  • A special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant of R350 a month for the next 6 months will be paid to individuals who are currently unemployed and do not receive any other form of social grant or UIF payment.
  • R100 billion for protection of jobs and to create jobs.
  • R40 billion for income support payments for workers whose employers are not able to pay their wages.
  • R200 billion loan guarantee scheme to be introduced to help businesses pay salaries, rents and suppliers. Companies with a turnover of less than R300 million a year can participate.

A phased approach will be taken to reopen the economy of which Ramaphosa said he will address the nation on Thursday.

Credit: CNBC

Published in Economy

The world’s biggest independent oil storage company has all but run out of space for crude and refined products as a result of the fast-expanding glut that Covid-19 has created.

“The available capacity on the oil side is almost completely sold out for our terminals,” Gerard Paulides, chief financial officer of Rotterdam-based Royal Vopak NV, said in an interview. “For Vopak, worldwide available capacity that is not in maintenance is almost all gone and from what I hear elsewhere in the world we’re not the only ones.”

Vopak is racing to complete maintenance to free up whatever space it can. Worldwide oil demand has collapsed at an unprecedented speed as the coronavirus has caused a mass halt to global transportation systems and hurt economies. With producers failing to reduce output at the same pace, an oversupply of crude and fuels has quickly emerged.

“It’s extremely tough to find something in this market,” said Krien van Beek, a storage broker at ODIN-RVB Tank Storage Solutions, discussing the global situation for fuels. Companies that have their own tanks may not have filled them, but there are now barely any left for third-party hire, she said.

U.S. crude oil futures for May moved into negative territory on Monday -- meaning traders were effectively willing to pay people to take barrels. A large part of that was because of concerns about space to store.

From Indonesia to Mexico, companies are scouring the market for places to store crude oil and refined fuels, often parking unwanted supplies on tankers because shore-based facilities are full. In the North Sea, a handful of vessels have been idling with gasoline and jet fuel on board for days now.

Main Hubs

Vopak operates three main hubs in Singapore, Rotterdam and Fujairah. The company traditionally benefits from contango in oil markets where the spot price is depressed, meaning fuels can be stored for sale later at a higher price. The company said in its earnings release that the impact of contango will certainly be seen in the second quarter. Vopak is working to return four Rotterdam tanks to operations that are currently undergoing maintenance.

“All the available capacity that is in demand will be used and is used,” Paulides said.

The diesel, jet fuel and gasoline markets are all in sharp contango in Europe, the U.S. and Asia Pacific. Jet and gasoline have both suffered massive demand losses, and diesel buying has also been hit, despite its uses beyond consumer transport.

The strain on storage is also starting to create some weird shipping movements as traders send tankers on odysseys to find the best places to stash supplies. The amount of oil stored at sea has also increased to almost 250 million barrels and global floating storage is now accelerating at an unprecedented pace, Clarksons Platou analyst Frode Morkedal said in a research note Tuesday.

“You can see that the margins are phenomenal and that the spot market is going to stratospheric levels,” said Hugo de Stoop, Chief Executive Officer at Euronav, which owns crude tankers. “There are more and more ships which are being taken out of the fleet for storage purposes,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

Two tankers that were hauling cargoes of diesel-type fuel to Europe from India have now changed course and are sailing for New York, where there’s more storage available, according to two people involved in the market. At least one jet fuel tanker that had earlier signaled Europe has also diverted to the U.S.

“Under pressure is probably putting it mildly,” said Steve Sawyer, director of refining at Facts Global Energy, referring to global oil products storage. “We’re probably close to filling up.”


- Bloomberg

Published in Engineering

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Sunday extended a lockdown to contain the spread of the new coronavirus by two weeks, but will allow mining companies to get back to work.

Mnangagwa said the lockdown would continue because the country had not yet met conditions set down by the World Health Organization to lift the measures.

Three people have died from the virus out of the 25 confirmed infected in the southern African country, but health experts expect the figures to rise once authorities ramp up testing.

“It has been a very hard decision that my government has had to take reluctantly,” Mnangagwa said in a live television broadcast.

Mnangagwa said the government would allow mining companies, which generate the most foreign currency, to resume full operations while manufacturers would work at limited capacity. Mining companies operating in Zimbabwe include local operations of Impala Platinum Holdings and Anglo American Platinum.

Zimbabwe began a 21-day lockdown on March 30, which has confined most people to their homes. But in poor townships, people are venturing out in search of staples like maize meal, leading to long queues at the shops.

The lockdown has left many citizens without an income and food at a time the country is grappling with the worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by shortages of foreign exchange, food and medicines.

In the capital Harare, city council officials, with the help of police and soldiers, were on Sunday tearing down illegal market stalls used by informal traders in townships.

The move was strongly criticised by citizens in the country where more than 80% of the working population have no formal jobs and eke a living from informal markets.

City authorities defended the move saying it was necessary to restore order in the city and that informal traders would be relocated to new and better facilities.



Published in Economy

Videos showing the recent mistreatment of Africans living in the Chinese city of Guangzhou have ricocheted around African broadcast and social media in recent days.

Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province in southern China, is closely linked to Hong Kong and Macau, and has the largest African community in Asia. The majority are from the West African countries of Nigeria, Ghana and Mali. As a pioneering city at the heart of China’s economic reform, Guangzhou is the hub of the country’s export-driven manufacturing sector, an industry which has always been considered open, tolerant and progressive.

But amid fear of imported coronavirus cases and a second wave of the pandemic in China, the local government implemented surveillance and mandatory testing and an additional 14-day quarantine for all African nationals in the city, regardless of whether they tested positive for COVID-19. These measures paid no regard to whether people had recently travelled out of China, or how they would be mistreated by landlords, hotel managers and shopkeepers.

As a result, many Africans in Guangzhou, including Nigerians, Ugandans and Ghanaians, have been subject to unfair treatment. Some have being evicted by landlords or rejected by hotels, and some even left homeless.

Diplomatic anger

The city, and the government in Beijing, are now facing a full-blown diplomatic crisis and PR disaster amid accusations of racism. A group of African ambassadors in Beijing wrote a letter of complaint to the Chinese government about the “stigmatisation and discrimination” being faced by Africans. Other African diplomats, facing domestic pressure, have held discussions with representatives from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Many African countries will be particularly disappointed given how much their diplomats have spoken up for China on the international stage. African governments have supported China on issues including its membership of the UN in the 1970s, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.

In recent weeks, China has been working hard on its “coronavirus diplomacy” to show it is on the path to recovery from the pandemic. Such incidents threaten its propaganda battle. In Kenya, the hashtag #DeportRacistChinese was trending on Twitter in mid April after Kenyan internet users saw reports of Kenyans and other Africans being treated unfairly. Moses Kuria, an MP from Kenya’s ruling party, even advocated Chinese people in Kenya should go back to China with immediate effect.

Xenophobia and racism online

Previous research has shown how comments with characteristics of right-wing populism and supremacism of ethnically Han Chinese people, xenophobia and racism have increased in Chinese cyberspace in the past decade, with little public criticism.

After reports in early April that a Nigerian coronavirus patient had attacked and bitten the face of a Chinese nurse in a bid to escape quarantine, Chinese social media platform Weibo erupted with xenophobic and racist sentiment.

China’s official discourse on the China-Africa relationship has always been portrayed as either a “win-win” or an “all-weather” friendship. Public sensitivity in China to racism, particularly to Africans, has been low and China’s censorship department appears to tolerate racism online.

Little effort has been made to educate the Chinese public against racism, or to emphasise the importance of political correctness. So it’s not surprising the past few years have seen racist tropes appear in a Chinese detergent advert and on China’s biggest lunar new year television show.

Many Chinese believe that foreigners have been given extra benefits, leading to concerns about unfairness and inequality. In late February, when the government published draft regulations to ease conditions for foreigners to get permanent residency in China, it was met with strong opposition online amid rising nationalist sentiment. Africans in Guangzhou were frequently mentioned by Chinese internet users as an example of why foreigners should not be welcomed in the country.

Local and central government agendas

The recent mistreatment of Africans in Guangzhou shows the different priorities of local and central politics in China. The Guangzhou municipal government faces unprecedented pressure to stop a second wave of coronavirus. If the local government can successfully avoid a second outbreak, it might determine the future promotion of some senior officials.

China’s central government is concerned with containing the virus and restoring economic growth. As countries such as the US have begun to use China as a scapegoat for their own slow response to the pandemic, the party-state is more concerned than ever about its global image.

But there’s a big gap between the central government in control of foreign policy and the local agencies that enforce immigration. So when local governments like those in Guangzhou make decisions in a crisis, they won’t prioritise national and diplomatic interests until they receive pressure and guidance from Beijing.

Beijing has now begun to repair the diplomatic damage. On April 13, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it would adjust its coronavirus restrictions on African nationals, provide them with health services without discrimination and adjust accommodation prices for those in financial difficulties. Chinese Weibo also closed 180 accounts for “inciting discrimination” and is discouraging its users from sharing news involving foreigners and foreign countries.

Officials and community leaders in Guangzhou have also began to realise the importance of treating Africans decently and started to send them flowers and gifts, according to people I’ve spoken to in the city in recent days. Civil society groups are also making an effort, with volunteers offering supplies and psychological support to people in need.

It’s possible this may be too little too late. Many African hearts have been broken, but it’s still possible to make amends.The Conversation


Hangwei Li, PhD Candidate in Politics and International Studies, SOAS, University of London

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

Published in Opinion & Analysis

Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 1,775 to 141,672, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday, marking the second consecutive day that the number of new infections had fallen.

The reported death toll rose by 110 to 4,404, the tally showed.



Published in World
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