Tanzania – TEDGlobal Conference

From fostering innovation in one of the world’s harshest environments to novel ways to repel mosquitoes and map the world, here are some highlights from the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania.

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Seeds of a Somali tech scene

Somali scientist Abdigani Diriye believes that at some point, his country needs to do more than devote all its resources to fighting piracy, Al-Shabaab and famine.

So about six years ago, he returned from the UK, where his family fled civil war in 1989, to his home in Somaliland to create the country’s first start-up incubators and accelerators.

So far they have trained more than 25 start-ups. Diriye realises tech won’t solve all of Somalia’s problems, “but it is a great vehicle to address many other challenges” such as healthcare, unemployment and education.

Others have since followed in his footsteps such as the iRise innovation hub which launched in June in Mogadishu.

 

Meet you at ‘prices.slippery.traps’

UK-based company What3Words has developed a new system of mapping the world by dividing it into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and giving each square a three-word address – so instead of complex co-ordinates, you could find someone at “prices.slippery.traps” – a specific spot around the Eiffel Tower.

Postal services in Mongolia, Djibouti, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire have adopted the system while the United Nations (UN) uses it in disaster areas, where like billions around the world, people may be living without an address.

 

Mosquito-repellent sandals

Tanzanian scientist Fredros Okumu and his team at the Ifakara Health Institute are working on new ways to repel and eliminate the carriers of malaria, dengue and Zika.

They are currently mapping mosquito breeding spots so they can identify and destroy swarms, while a repellent that can be worn in sandals or placed under chairs, protecting several people in the immediate area for up to six months, is currently being tested in Tanzania and Brazil.

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Sierra Leonean roboticist David Sengeh – CC 2016

 

Algorithms to detect diseases

Infectious diseases are fast being overtaken by afflictions such as cancer as the biggest health problem in Africa, where some countries have only one pathologist per 1m people.

Sierra Leonean roboticist David Sengeh is working with his team at IBM Africa on artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that can predict a cancer’s progression.

AI software can be trained with a database of images to detect colour changes inside the cervix that point to patients at high risk for cervical cancer, which can be treated if caught in time, but which kills 60,000 women in Africa a year.

 

‘Eye-phones’ and mobile hearing

American ear surgeon Susan Emmett is currently testing South African-developed mobile screening technology in rural Alaskan communities that has replaced the need for an audiologist and permanent equipment and costs 10 times less than traditional solutions.

The audience was also shown a video by eye surgeon Andrew Bastawrous who won a Rolex Award in 2016 for Peek, an “eye-phone”, or smartphone app he developed for use in Kenya, which uses a low-cost clip-on device to take images of the back of the eye to test sight.

 

Drone blood delivery

In Rwanda, a system launched in 2016 to fly blood via drones from a central distribution centre to hospitals around the hilly nation has saved numerous lives, said robotics entrepreneur Keller Rinaudo, whose company Zipline runs the system.

The drones now deliver 20% of blood supply outside the capital Kigali.

In July, Tanzania’s health ministry announced they would use the same technology to deliver a variety of medical products in what is set to be the largest autonomous delivery system anywhere in the world. (AFP 31/8, 1/9 2017)

Sudan – New Episcopal Church

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The head of the worldwide Anglican Communion sees a “new beginning” for Christians in the country, as officials stress religious freedom as a fundamental principle of government.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on July 30th declared Sudan the 39th province of the worldwide Anglican Communion, six years after the predominantly Christian south gained independence from the north.

The Anglican Church in Sudan, a majority Muslim country, has been administered from South Sudan since the 2011 split which followed a civil war that left more than 2m people dead.

Welby said that creating a 39th Anglican province with its own Khartoum-based archbishop was a “new beginning” for Christians in Sudan.

He installed Ezekiel Kondo Kumir Kuku as the country’s first archbishop and primate at a ceremony in the capital’s All Saints Cathedral attended by American, European and African diplomats as well as hundreds of worshippers.

“It is a responsibility for Christians to make this province work, and for those outside (Sudan) to support, to pray and to love this province,” he said.

“The church must learn to be sustainable financially, to develop the skills of its people, and to bless this country as the Christians here already do.”

The newly inaugurated Episcopal Church of Sudan will have its own autonomous administration to take its own decisions, Reverend Francis Clement of All Saints Cathedral told AFP (30/7).

There is no central Anglican authority such as a pope, with each member church making its own decision in its own ways guided by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Human rights and Christian campaign groups have regularly accused the Sudanese authorities of persecuting Christians and even destroying churches in the capital since the north-south split.

Since the 1989 coup that brought Islamist-backed President Omar al-Bashir to power, authorities in Khartoum have pursued Arabising and Islamising policies in a bid to unify the country.

Later on July 30th, Welby met President Bashir with whom he discussed the “protection” of Christians and churches in Sudan.

“In England, the Church of England often seeks to protect Muslims when they are under pressure,” Welby said, indicating that he expected the same in Sudan when it came to protecting Christians.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury visits schoolchildren in northern Uganda – Scovin Ieta/Daily Monitor

Christian communities in Sudan today are mostly found in the Nuba mountains of South Kordofan state. Experts say that 3 – 5% of Sudan’s about 25m population are Christian.

Abubakar Osman, the Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments, told reporters in Khartoum that the inauguration of the Anglican Church in the country “coincides with a special moment in the history of our Sudanese nation.”

“The National Dialogue has led to the formation of a government that considers political and religious freedoms as its fundamental principles,” he said, quoted by Amsterdam’s Radio Dabanga.

In July, the Sudanese Ministry of Education reportedly issued an order to church schools in the country to observe the weekend on Friday and Saturday, and operate schools on Sunday, though the churches complain that Sunday has been the free day for church schools since their founding in the country.

Earlier in 2017, the European Union (EU) Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief visited Sudan to inquire about the situation of Christians in the country and the planned demolition of 27 church buildings in Khartoum.

The chairman of the parliamentary Legislation and Justice Committee told the envoy that freedom of belief is sanctioned by Sudan’s Interim Constitution and that the church buildings were demolished for reasons concerning the ownership of the land they were built on.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Professor Ibrahim Ghandour, on July 31st received the visiting Archbishop of Canterbury and stressed that religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence among the various religious groups is one of the criteria of the Sudanese people, said Sudan News Agency.

The Minister also briefed the archbishop on the efforts by the government of Sudan to provide assistance to the refugees who crossed into the country.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

SUDAN: ‘Closed Chapter?’
Political, Social & Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21491A–21492C 

SOUTH SUDAN: President Announces Truce, National Dialogue
Political, Social & Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 5, pp. 21442B–21443A

Political, Social & Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp. 21411A–21412C

Liberia – Long-Suffering Roads

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Stalled projects and outdated infrastructure are affecting commerce and increasing the risk of accidents.

In post-war Liberia, there are only 12 traffic lights, installed in 2013 as a gift from the Chinese – and the majority are no longer functioning, according to Front Page Africa.

An investigation by the newspaper found that the engineers who installed the solar-powered lights did not train Liberians to maintain them, and the technology is obsolete, meaning spare parts are unavailable.

Sources within the Ministry of Public Works told Front Page Africa that the old lights would soon be repaired and new ones installed in major areas, to include pedestrian lights, but could not say how soon the works would begin.

Despite police conducting traffic, it is usually survival of the fittest at intersections when there is no officer. Traffic jams are common and pedestrians, including schoolchildren, leave their fate at the mercy of drivers.

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, the number of road traffic injuries and deaths in Africa has been increasing over the last three decades, especially in countries with poor driving conditions and weak safety laws and enforcement.

The African region had the highest rate of fatalities from road traffic injuries worldwide at 26.6 per 100,000 population for the year 2013.

Drivers plying the Gbarnga-Lofa highway between the two northeastern counties have attributed the acute shortage of foodstuffs on local markets to the terrible condition of the road, said Liberia’s The News.

As a result, commercial drivers and motorbike riders have doubled fares for the distance from Gbarnga to Zorzor from L$800 to L$1,600, while Gbarnga to Voinjama fares have been hiked from L$1,800 to L$2,200.

“Lofa County should have been better improved given its cultural importance in the country in food production, but due to bad roads it is not possible,” one passenger said on August 17th.

Most farmers are unable to transport their produce to markets in big towns like Gbarnga or Monrovia due to the bad road, causing them to lose money, the farmers complained.

There are times during the rainy season when some roads are completely cut off, said James Yarkpawolo, a commercial taxi driver.

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Road from Monrovia to Lofa, in the dry season – CC 2005

Several drivers and passengers interviewed said in the government’s effort to support economic growth, it should focus on upgrading strategic roads across the country in order to connect major counties and towns to the capital.

During her visit to Bong County in June, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said government would begin paving the road from Gbarnga to Salayea in Lofa County during the next dry season.

As Liberians prepare to head to the polls in October, citizens in the northern Bong County told Front Page Africa on August 30th that besides education and jobs they are concerned about the bad roads, which they say are hindering commerce and agriculture.

In late August, three vehicles carrying marketers from Zoweinta town and other districts to the Ivorian border were stuck in a pool of water in the town of Kpaii for three days and goods were lost.

Kpaii is one of the 13 districts targeted for road improvement when the county agreed in 2011 to spend $662,000 to buy three road-building machines.

However, the projects were stalled when two machines purchased broke down, and the contractor is holding up the third because he claims the county owes him US$28,000.

Ma Konah, an undecided voter, said she will vote for someone who is committed to improving the rural roads, so that she can operate her business smoothly.

Chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Jerome Korkoya, on August 23rd said that the NEC was considering the services of helicopters to airlift sensitive elections materials mainly in the south-eastern regions due to bad roads, according to The News.

In previous elections, the United Nations (UN) mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has provided helicopters for that purpose for hard-to-reach areas in the country, he said.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

ECOWAS – Election Commission Network Meeting
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21493C

World Bank Agreements
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 54, Issue 6, pp. 21748A–21748C

ROADS AND RAILWAYS: Kenya
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 54, Issue 5, pp. 21724

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Sierra Leone – Deadly Mudslides Were ‘Man-Made’

A lack of regulation and insufficient consideration for minimum standards means millions of people are living in dangerously vulnerable homes.

Floods and mudslides that left more than 400 dead and over 3,000 homeless are believed to have been man-made and could have been avoided, according to leading environmentalists.

President Ernest Bai Koroma called on Sierra Leoneans to “come together” in a televised address on August 14th, appealing to a country still recovering from the catastrophic effects of a deadly Ebola outbreak.

Torrential rains lasting more than 20 hours led to collapse of a hillside in Regent, a mountainous town about 24km east of the capital Freetown, submerging houses and sweeping away others.

Freetown, an overcrowded coastal city of 1.2m, is hit each year by flooding during several months of rain that destroys makeshift settlements and raises the risk of waterborne diseases.

Deputy Information Minister Cornelius Deveaux, quoted by The East African, termed the incident “a tragedy unprecedented in the history of the country.”

The disaster has raised questions about deforestation, urban planning and disaster preparedness in the West African nation, said the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which asked aid organisations and researchers what lessons can be learnt to avert such crises in the future.

The major cause of mudslides and flooding is the chaotic development caused by the rapid urbanisation of Freetown, according to Joseph McCarthy, Co-Director of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC).

Deforestation has become the order of the day with people grabbing any available land for housing, since land is very limited and hard to access, especially for the poor and middle-income groups. This is exacerbated by the fact that town planning is almost non-existent.

Any endeavour to avoid a reoccurrence should include more than just settlement relocation, he said. It should be about understanding what forces people to live in risky areas, as well as factors as such as population growth, land availability and the capacity of government to control urban development.

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A resident looks out over Freetown – CC 2015

Joseph Randall, executive director of Green Scenery, an NGO working in Sierra Leone, told Deutsche Welle on August 18th that the Sugar Loaf, one of the highest mountains in Freetown, has seen a lot of activity in terms of removing the forest cover and constructing houses on soil, which becomes easily saturated with water and can cleave off during heavy rains.

While the agricultural ministry advises against constructing houses in disaster-prone areas, land ministry officials insist that they own the land and have a responsibility to ensure that it is made available.

Organisations such as Welthungerhilfe and The Environmental Forum for Action (ENFORAC) have worked on demarcating the forest area in Freetown to ensure that no construction takes place beyond certain points, but this has been met with resistance from communities.

The government has an annual tree-planting drive, but people simply go back to those areas and burn down the trees in order to repossess the land, Randall said.

Public education and promoting safer construction practices is also vital as climate change makes the annual heavy rains even more severe, said Idalia Amaya of Catholic Relief Services.

“We should never have to wake up in the morning and find the bodies of schoolchildren buried in the mud because their homes were in a precarious place,” she said.

Hundreds queued on August 16th after the government summoned families to the morgue in Freetown and said all unidentified bodies would be buried over the coming days amid fears of disease outbreaks from corpses that have lain in the heat.

“I heard heavy rain all night, and at around 5:30am, I felt the ground shaking,” Jalloh, who lost 17 family members including her son, told Al Jazeera.  “Even as I stand here now, I do not have a place to sleep. We have no food, no clothes, nothing at all.”

Adele Fox, national health coordinator for Sierra Leone at the charity Concern Worldwide, said the search for bodies continued, but the survivors were facing difficult conditions.

The prevailing sentiment among those in the disaster areas had shifted from shock and grief to anger at what is an annual problem in Freetown, she said, though never before on this scale.

On August 16th, at least 200 people were killed in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo after a landslide swept through a fishing village on the banks of Lake Albert in Ituri province.

DR Congo – Missing Mining Revenue

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More than double the amount spent on health and education disappears into corrupt financial networks. 

Between 2013 and 2015 more that US$750m in mining revenues went missing from the Treasury, moving instead into a dysfunctional state mining firm and other national level tax agencies, according to a report by Global Witness released on July 21st.

Although there is no solid evidence of where the cash has ended up, there is evidence that some of it has made its way into corrupt networks linked to the Congolese President Joseph Kabila.

Around $129.9m made its way to provincial tax agencies, around $95m to state-owned companies, around $52m to national tax agencies, and around $70m to other government agencies.

These funds, amounting to around a fifth of mining revenues, are stifling finance from already embattled health, infrastructure and essential public services, which across much of the country, are underfunded.

Since 2012, Global Witness also claims that the government has siphoned off $1.4bn in deals with offshore mining companies, twice that spent on health and education, this is alongside the funds lost amidst an inefficient and opaque tax system, headed by powerful individuals close to the Kabila regime.

State mining company Gécamines has been engaged in numerous suspicious transaction while also failing to contribute to the national treasury, with billions of dollars of debt. The company’s collapse in the 1990s has been attributed to many years of “looting” by former President, Mobutu Sese Seko.

The DR Congo is the largest producer of copper and supplier of cobalt in the world with cobalt resources though to be worth as much as $10bn, but regions such as Katanga, where huge multinational mining firms are at work, are also some of the poorest.

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Artisanal miners in Kailo – CC 2007. 

In a separate report, the Congo Research Group (CRG) found that president Joseph Kabila’s family “either partially or wholly owns” more than 80 businesses operational inside and outside the country.

Alongside over 100 mining permits for diamond and gold, President Kabila owns 70,000 hectares of farmland. The President’s sister Jaynet Kabila owns a stake in the country’s largest mobile network Vodacom Congo, while the President’s brother Zoe Kabila has business interests with several mining firms, reported Quartz Africa. 

United Nations (UN) experts have voiced concern that Congolese military officer, Major-General Gabriel Amisi Kumba, appears to own gold mining operations in the northeast of the country, on the Awimi River in Tshopo province.

In November 2012, Amisi was suspended as commander of Congo’s land forces after a report accused him of distributing weapons to armed groups and poachers operating in the east. Amisi was cleared by the military authorities in July 2014 and appointed to his current position the following September.

The UN also said that “almost all artisanally sourced gold in the DR Congo was exported illegally and underestimated in both value and volume.” It is estimated that during 2013, 98% of artisanally produced gold, valued at around $409m, was smuggled out of the country, reported Bloomberg

On August 17th the government announced it was suspending VAT payments on mining imports, intended to assist the government in a $700m backlog of payments owed to mining companies. Following mineral price falls in 2016 the Congolese currency lost around 21% of its value.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

RWANDA – DR CONGO: Cross Border Market
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 4, Pp. 21669A–21670C

GENERAL: Mining Indaba
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 2, Pp. 21621C–21622A

Gold: DR Congo – Mine Collapse
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 12, Pp. 21549A

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today. 

 

 

South Sudan – Cholera Epidemic

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The threat of an uncontrollable outbreak looms large as the rainy season progresses. 

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has called for rapid action to prevent a cholera epidemic in South Sudan; more than 18,000 cases, including 328 deaths, have been reported in the country since June 2016.

The IOM warned that the number of cases and deaths is likely to increase significantly as the rainy season approaches, which will leave as much as 60% of the country inaccessible by road, hindering the delivery of important services.

IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon said that a combination of factors including the rainy season, the movement of displaced persons and the ongoing conflict in the country, means that the disease is becoming increasingly difficult to contain.

“If you are maybe infected with cholera or someone in your family, if you come in contact with this and then you move to a different part of the country, you are also bringing the infection with you,” Headon said.

The scale of the problem in South Sudan is said to be unprecedented, with more than 7.5 million people dependent on humanitarian aid. Headon said that IOM and partners are promoting cholera vaccination campaigns, distributing cholera kits, repairing boreholes and conducting hygiene promotion campaigns, reported Voice of America (VOA). 

On July 28th the World Health Organisation (WHO) also launched a vaccination campaign. The WHO received 500,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine and between July 28th and August 3rd carried out a vaccination campaign in four high risk areas: Tonj East, Kapoeta South, Kapoeta North, and Kapoeta East.

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Children collecting water, South Sudan – CC 2014

Since April 2017 around 2,500 new cases have been recorded, a significant increase on previous months. Persistent drought has also led to the drying of water points, leading to populations in some regions relying on contaminated water, reported CISA

Speaking on July 19th, WHO epidemiologist Joseph Wamala said, “South Sudan has suffered from several major cholera outbreaks in the last four years. Following other successful oral cholera vaccine campaigns, WHO and partners can make a real difference in controlling the outbreak.”

However preventative measures are difficult as the country continues to grapple with ongoing conflict which emerged in 2013, pitting President Salvir Kirr against and his former deputy Riek Machar, with the ethnic Dinka, loyal to Kirr, clashing with the Nuer, allied to Machar.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions, many of whom have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The United Nations (UN) children’s charity (UNICEF) estimates that 900,000 children in South Sudan need psychological help, with at least 150,000 living in camps

“South Sudan has a generation of traumatised children, but there aren’t enough therapists – neither in Juba, nor in remote local communities,” explained Duop Dak, one of the country’s few practicing psychologists, reported Reuters.

The German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel issued a statement on August 10th, following a visit to the capital Juba, urging President Kirr to include the opposition and rebels in national dialogue. The conflict, tensions and factional violence is only exacerbating the risk of a deadly epidemic.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin: 

SOUTH SUDAN: Fresh Offensive Against Rebels
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 7, Pp. 21517B–21518B

South Sudan – Graft Claims Denied
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 6, Pp. 21484B–21484C

SOUTH SUDAN: Humanitarian Relief Impeded
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 4, Pp. 21410A–21411A

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Zambia – Media Repression

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As the government extends the state of emergency there are concerns that it is being used to stifle independent media. 

The Independent Press Institute (IPI) on July 5th expressed concern over the imposition of emergency powers and comments made by the Inspector-General of police, Kakoma Kanganja, that some media publications could be closed while the 90-day state of emergency was in place.

On July 5th, Zambian President Edgar Lungu initiated a “state of threatened public emergency” and indicated that he might declare a full state of emergency if the “existing situation” in the country is “allowed to continue.”

The move came amid a string of arson attacks, including one that burnt down Lusaka’s main market. Lungu alleged that supporters of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) were behind the attacks.

On July 11th the National Assembly approved emergency powers and extended the state of emergency for 90 days, although the vote was held without 48 UPND members who had been suspended after they reportedly boycotted an address by Lungu.

Inspector-General Kanganja said that some media publications could be shut down. “During this period, police will regulate and prohibit publication and dissemination of matters [that are] pre-judicial to public safety,” he said.

Others commentators have expressed concern that the emergency powers are politically motivated. IPI Director of Advocacy and Communication, Steven Ellis said, “the partial state of emergency would seem to be part of a broader effort that we have observed to silence critical voices, including the country’s remaining independent media outlets, and to step up the crackdown on the main opposition party, while at the same time fending off challenges from within his own party.”

“We fear that emergency rule could facilitate human rights violations and we call on Zambia’s government to respect the vital role of media freedom in a democracy and to refrain from exerting political pressure on the country’s media outlets,” Ellis continued.

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Edgar Lungu – Ventures Africa

Zambia has often been regarded a model for stability, democracy and human rights in Africa, but events surrounding the disputed August 2016 general elections, in which President Lungu was re-elected to a second term, have raised concerns about the state of democracy and media freedom.

UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema, who narrowly lost the 2016 presidential election to Lungu, has been arrested on treason charges after his motorcade allegedly blocked Lungu’s presidential motorcade in April 2017.

In worrying signs, the independent media has largely been suppressed. Tabloid newspaper The Post was closed in late 2016. In February 2017, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Post owner and Editor-in-Chief Fred M’membe.

In August 2016, the government also suspended the operating licences of the country’s largest privately-owned television channel, Muvi TV, and two private radio stations on “national security” grounds, although the suspensions were lifted after the broadcasters apologised.

The government later acknowledged that the broadcasters were targeted because of their perceived bias against Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party before and after the elections, reported the Independent Press Institute.

Earlier in June African Arguments commented that with 48 opposition MPs suspended, an opposition leader in jail, and clear signs of growing authoritarianism, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) still decided to agree an aid package of US$1.2bn, only strengthening further Lungu’s position.

Some analysts have said that real debt in the country stands at around $30bn, in contrast to figures quoted by Finance Minister Felix Mutati of $7.2bn. Based on projections from current economic growth rates, some analysts claim that the country will not be able to pay off the debts in a sustainable way, according to Zambia Reports.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

ZAMBIA: Slide To Dictatorship?
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 6, Pp. 21465A–21466C

ZAMBIA: Hakainde Hichilema Arrested
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 4, Pp. 21396C–21397A|

ZAMBIA: Re-Election Bid?
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 1, Pp. 21287C–21288C

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