Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

An icy black swan

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GuestinvestecBy Jeremy Gardiner, director, Investec Asset Management
There is a term in financial markets known as a black swan event. This term describes an event that has a significant impact on financial markets, but which could not / was not predicted by anyone. A volcano in Iceland leading to massive ‘eruption disruption’ certainly could not have been predicted by anyone. Certainly, market commentators were expecting some form of financial explosion out of Europe, but not a volcanic one!

 Fortunately it seems to be ‘blowing over’ and within a week the world should be back to normal. However, this, together with charges against Goldman Sachs and ongoing fears over Greece, could just have provided the catalyst for the much expected correction markets have been anticipating for close on six months now.

 Greece is fixed, for now. The EU and the IMF came to the rescue, which is good because it averted a default, but it is also problematic as it sends out an implicit signal to errant EU countries that there is a lifeline waiting if they need it. Germany is unimpressed, with Angela Merkel even threatening to develop a smaller, more disciplined collection of Euro countries than the current diverse bunch that comprises (or compromises) the EU. Unfortunately, Greece is not alone, and potential financial explosions from a variety of other European countries remain quite possible. Volcano-induced silence in the skies above Europe certainly hasn’t helped either.

2010 thus far has been predictably choppy, with markets generally grinding upward, far more slowly than last year, as the wounds from the financial crisis gradually heal. Equity markets, having run ahead of themselves, are more circumspect this year. Economically, while developed market economies limp towards recovery, the developing world, with Asia and in particular China, remains rampant.

Violence and tension come at worst time for World Cup

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SAFRICA-TERREBLANCHE/World Cup organisers probably dreamed of a placid, trouble-free final countdown to the soccer spectacular, with all the fears about crime, bad transport and accommodation shortages pushed to the background for Africa’s biggest sports extravaganza. Sadly for them, they are getting the opposite. It would be difficult to conjure up a more unfortunate set of events less than 60 days before the tournament. Simmering racial tensions have burst into the open because of the murder of white supremacist Eugene Terre’blanche and the diatribes of Julius Malema, leader of the youth wing of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, who refuses to pipe down despite tough reprimands from President Jacob Zuma and other party officials. Even before what must be looking to hapless officials like a perfect storm, scenes had become commonplace of township residents rioting around South Africa against lack of improvements in their lives some 16 years after the end of apartheid.
To add to the torture for World Cup officials while the spotlight is fixed on South Africa, municipal workers have declared an indefinite strike over wages, threatening the chaotic scenes seen last year when rubbish was strewn over the streets. South Africa’s biggest labour federation has threatened strikes during the tournament to protest against big hikes in power prices.
All of this illustrates the point that countries or cities staging major world events suddenly become fixed in an often uncomfortable glare of world attention as the big day approaches. But even by these standards, South Africa looks unfortunate. World Cup officials, led by chief organiser Danny Jordaan, have spent literally years fending off suggestions that soccer fans will be in mortal danger in South Africa, which has one of the globe’s highest rates of violent crime. Jordaan and others have repeated a familiar mantra– the country has staged 150 sports and other events since the end of apartheid with little problem, millions of tourists have enjoyed South Africa’s many attractions for years without major criminal attacks and protecting a finite event is a lot less complex than overcoming the national crime wave–especially since 40,000 police have been mobilised to do only that.

Nevertheless, many foreign fans and even visiting journalists are anxious about security and alarmist media reports have undoubtedly deterred some, especially it seems in Germany–hosts of the last event. What could be worse then, as the final countdown begins, than the events of the last week or so? Terre’blanche was hacked and bludgeoned to death on April 3 in a killing whose brutality seemed almost calculated to set off new anxiety about visiting South Africa, even though police believe it was a simple criminal, rather than racial, attack. Terre’blanche’s own fringe AWB party lost no time in telling foreign journalists that overseas fans would be in danger during the World Cup and most reports on the killing mentioned the tournament’s approach. The most extreme reaction came from the U.K. tabloid the Daily Star which said English fans risked a “machete race war” –sparking howls of protest in South Africa.
All of this has been made a lot worse by Malema, a firebrand demagogue who had hitherto been apparently used by some of the ANC to hit at leftwingers in the party and to mobilise the youth vote, but who now seems to have got out of control. Terre’blanche’s supporters say that Malema’s insistence on reviving an apartheid-era song “Kill the Boer” — which has now been banned by the courts –was the direct cause of the murder. Zuma said on Sunday, in an unusually strong reprimand, that Malema’s comments and actions, including calling a BBC journalist a bastard and throwing him out of a press conference, were alien to the ruling party. Malema remained defiant despite the rebuke.

At last: a positive look at Africa on U.S. TV

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American television audiences were treated on Sunday night for the first time to the show “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”, which is based on the best-selling series of novels set in Botswana by Alexander McCall Smith.

The series, being aired in the United States by HBO, has already been broadcast by the BBC in Britain. Like the novels, it follows the light-hearted adventures of Precious Ramotswe as she seeks to solve mysteries with her keen intuition and big heart.

East African albinos fear witchcraft murders

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In Burundi, 11 albinos have been killed since last year.  In Tanzania, over 40 have been killed since mid-2007 by people who use their body parts, including hair, limbs and genitals, for witchcraft.

Tanzania is currently holding a secret vote to try to identity those involved in the murders and the trade in body parts. It has also banned traditional healers in an effort to curb the killings.

Will Kenyan police be brought to book?

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A U.N. investigator has castigated Kenya’s police force for hundreds of alleged extra-judicial killings and called for both its chief and the Attorney General to be fired immediately.
 
In a scathing indictment of the east African country’s security forces, Philip Alston, the U.N. rapporteur on extradicial executions, said he had received overwhelming evidence during a 10-day tour of systematic, widespread regular and carefully planned killings by the police. He said they were “free to kill at will” and did so with impunity for motives ranging from private disputes to extortion, to shooting a suspect instead of making an arrest. “The Kenyan police are a law unto themselves and they kill often and with impunity, ” said Alston, a law professor from Australia. In a statement laced with angry sarcasm, he accused the police of failing to provide him with virtually any of the information he sought, including the number of officers in the force. He supported allegations that police had killed 500 suspected members of the notorious Mungiki crime gang in 2007 in an attempt to exterminate it and 400, mostly opposition, demonstrators during a post election crisis last year — as reported by an official inquiry. Army and police are also accused of torturing and killing at least 200 people in an offensive to suppress a rebel movement in western Kenya.
 
Alston demanded the immediate dismissal of Police Commissioner Hussein Ali but did not stop there. He said long-serving Attorney General Amos Wako, who he accused of consistently obstructing attempts to prosecute those in high positions for extrajudicial executions, must also go, calling him the embodiment of a system of impunity. Alston added that Kenya’s judicial system was bankrupt and another obstacle to achieving justice.  And he even attacked President Mwai Kibaki for remaining completely silent about impunity.
 
Alston’s condemnation was perhaps the most high profile and powerful in recent years but it follows numerous reports by human rights groups about extrajudicial killings by the police. Ali, an army general who has led the force for five years, has survived numerous other controversies.
 
The government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, who as a sideline produces a popular television cop squad drama, immediately rubbished Alston’s statement, saying he had not been in the country long enough to draw accurate conclusions. But Kenya’s biggest newspaper, the Daily Nation, noted in an editorial that this was a routine response from the government and the U.N. official’s report could not be dismissed so lightly, an opinion shared by the other big daily, the Standard. But the government appears set to ignore even such high profile criticism, as it has done with allegations against the police in the past.
 
The case also underlines the divisions within Kenya’s unwieldy Grand Coalition government, set up almost a year ago to end ethnic bloodletting after the disputed election that killed around 1,300 people. Alston was invited to carry out his investigation by this very government, although it is not clear who did so. He said Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Justice Minister Martha Karua had expressed concern about his report. Odinga was quoted in the Nation as saying: “We must act on the report. No one will be spared. I am not willing to compromise on this one.” He doesn’t seem to have spoken to Mutua.  
 
But whatever Odinga says, nobody is holding their breath for a radical overhaul of the police despite wide public disgust over their tactics. A recent opinion poll showed that 70 percent of Kenyans surveyed felt the coalition government had achieved nothing since it was formed last April. Only 33 percent thought any political or business leader guilty of organising the election violence would ever be convicted. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who led mediation to end the crisis, warned that political manoeuvres delaying the establishment of a tribunal on the violence threatened the country’s stability.
 
Will Kenya ever tackle these fundamental problems? Will violent police ever be brought to book?

Niger delta: Resource war or racket?

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Nigeria’s main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), has not so far carried out any major attacks on the country’s oil and gas industry since announcing last month it was ending a five-month-old ceasefire. But the level of insecurity in the vast wetlands region is so great that the industry is feeling the pinch nonetheless. Royal Dutch Shell, Nigeria’s longest-standing foreign oil partner, has warned that “logistical challenges” caused by the insecurity mean it may not meet all of its oil export obligations for this month and next from its key Bonny export facility. Shipping agents and industry sources say security measures at loading platforms mean shipments of crude are being delayed, while some smaller oil services firms have started openly questioning whether to scale back their presence in Nigeria because of high levels of piracy.

On Tuesday, gunmen loyal to militant leader “Kitikata” opened fire on Shell facilities in Bayelsa state. They delivered a letter to the security guards at the site demanding they be given a contract to guard facilities at Nembe Creek, a hotspot for criminal raids, or else they would carry out further attacks.

Motlanthe greeted with relief, but South Africa’s problems are not over

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Kgalema Motlanthe takes the oath of office as South Africa’s president in Cape TownSouth Africans have widely greeted new President Kgalema Motlanthe, many of them with a sense of relief after the bitter and divisive power struggle between his ousted predecessor Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, leader of the ruling African National Congress.

Motlanthe, quiet spoken and dignified, struck exactly the note the public were looking for when he took office, sober but smiling gently – a huge contrast to the theatrical ebullience of Zuma and the aloof, intellectual style of Mbeki, who was seen as arrogant and out of touch with his people.

S.Africa: immigrants under siege

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safrica_hate_mob.jpgSouth African police say at least 13 people died over the weekend of May 17 as a wave of xenophobic violence spread to more townships. Local media put the total death toll at around 20 since the violence broke out, fuelled by widespread poverty and social problems more than decade after the end of apartheid. The bloodshed has included the “necklacing” of at least one man who was burnt to death and it has echoes of the brutal violence at the end of apartheid.
 
The immigrants, including millions who have fled from Zimbabwe, are accused of taking jobs and being responsible for the high rate of violent crime. They say they are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. The outbreak of violence is another blow to the policies of President Thabo Mbeki, accused both of spreading the fruits of black rule too slowly to his poor supporters and of failing to broker an end to Zimbabwe’s crisis. It is an embarrassment for a country that was once known as one of the most welcoming to immigrants and asylum seekers. Many members of the current African National Congress (ANC) leadership took refuge abroad during the anti-apartheid struggle. Is the rainbow nation losing its unique status as a beacon of liberal attitudes in Africa? Have the South African poor lost patience with Mbeki’s government?  What do you think?

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