Zimbabwe – NRZ Deal Approved

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The country’s sole rail company takes a first step towards becoming a modern, efficient and profitable railway system.

The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ)’s $400m deal with a consortium led by the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG) and South Africa’s Transnet is back on the rails after Cabinet gave a nod to the proposed tie-up, The Herald reported.

Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Joram Gumbo confirmed the new development on October 16th. It ultimately leads to the last leg of negotiations before the first phase can begin, he said.

The deal seemed to have run into some hurdles recently after questions were raised on the competence of Transnet to ably invest in the project. However, it later emerged that much of the details and clarifications sought had been submitted and evaluated.

DIDG/Transnet emerged as a winning bidder from five other companies – China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation; Crowe Howath Welsa; Croyeaux (Pvt) Limited; Sinohydro Corporation Limited; and Smh Rail Sdn Malaysia – that had been shortlisted for the deal. In the initial stages, 82 companies submitted bids for the parastatal.

Essentially, DIDG/Transnet has an ambitious three-year strategy that is premised on buying new locomotives and wagons and revamping operational efficiencies. From the $400m capital expenditure, $150m will be earmarked for 24 mainline locomotives and 13 shunting locomotives. Twenty locomotives in the current fleet are expected to be refurbished.

Similarly, NRZ plans to acquire 1,000 new wagons and refurbish 700 that it presently has. It is also envisaged that more than $100m will be invested in modernising and refurbishing the state enterprise’s train control and signalling system.

NRZ Class DE9A locomotive – Bob Adams 2006

The government in September made a commitment to assume $348m of NRZ debt with a view to laying a strong foundation for the investors to start on a new chapter. NRZ public relations manager Nyasha Maravanyika told The Herald Business that stakeholders were buoyant that a debt-free and capitalised NRZ would go a long way in reviving the parastatal.

NRZ has been operating below capacity for years largely because of an obsolete railway system, lack of capitalisation and skills flight among many other reasons.

NRZ board chair Larry Mavima said in an interview with Zimbabwe Independent  that the partnership will result in an immediate increase of up to 2m tonnes per year, based on the business that Transnet already has and will now be carried by NRZ.

He says that while the US$400m fixes the system to make it efficient and competitive, it is not adequate to modernise the system. The next phase will include opening up new corridors – for instance, to create a new line from Chinhoyi through to Kafue in Zambia.

Asked about the salaries owed to workers, Mavima said the situation was expected to improve in the short term and asked employees to be patient.

Johannesburg-headquartered Transnet is a state-owned enterprise that has interests in rail, ports and pipelines. Employing more than 49,000 workers, Transnet held more than $27bn in assets by March 31st, 2017 and generated more than $5bn in revenues during the same period.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

ZIMBABWE: Economy Grows
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21785A–21786B

ZIMBABWE: Mugabe Talks the Talk
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp. 21678B–21679C

ZIMBABWE: Worsening Situation
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 53, Issue 9, pp. 21425A–21426B

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Madagascar – Tackling Plague

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The death toll from the plague spreading in Madagascar has risen close to 100, and the Red Cross has warned that growing stigma attached to the disease could undermine efforts to contain the outbreak.

While cases of bubonic plague occur in Madagascar nearly every year, this year’s epidemic is “much more dangerous”, said Elhadj As Sy, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Plague arrived earlier than expected, and has become much more contagious as it is now being transmitted from person to person as well as from animals to humans, reported the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The infection is also spreading in urban centres and in areas that until now had not been affected, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in October. IFRC staff on the ground say panic is exacerbating the stigma around the plague.

There is a risk this could “drive people underground and that may result in us losing some of the contacts we are tracing in order to contain the outbreak”, Sy warned.

The Red Cross is using burial practices that avoid contact with corpses and has opened a plague treatment centre to help Madagascar tackle its worst outbreak of the plague this century.

The latest figures from the country’s health ministry show there have been 911 recorded cases of the plague across 17 of the island nation’s regions since August, killing 95 people so far.

Hospitals in Madagascar are on high alert and are implementing preventative measures, medical staff said. International agencies are also providing ambulances to ensure patients with suspected cases do not spread the virus by taking crowded buses and taxis.

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Council workers clear garbage during the clean-up of the market of Anosibe in Antananarivo – CNN

Sy said building partnerships and trust at the community level is critical, as well as reinforcing an existing referral system for suspected cases.

But overcoming the plague will require longer-term assistance, he emphasised – “not just intervening at the peak and then forgetting about it”.

The outbreak has also hit sectors of society outside impoverished communities, who are typically most at risk, London-based The Guardian reported.

“Normally, the people who catch the plague … live in poor areas, but in this case we find the well-to-do, the directors, the professors, people in every place in society, catching the disease,” said Dr Manitra Rakotoarivony, Madagascar’s director of health promotion.

Plague is curable if detected in time. “Our teams are working to ensure that everyone at risk has access to protection and treatment. The faster we move, the more lives we save,” said the WHO’s Madagascar representative, Charlotte Ndiaye.

Over the course of less than a decade, the country’s plague problem appears to have intensified, driven by a combination of economic and environmental factors.

Madagascar has a per capita GDP of about $400 (£300), and national programmes to control the disease have been “hampered by operational and management difficulties”, according to a report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Plague was first introduced to the island in 1898, when steamships from India brought rats infected with the disease. Within two decades or so, it virtually disappeared from Madagascar for 60 years, only to re-emerge in recent decades.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

VANILLA: Madagascar
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 8, pp. 21834C–21835C

MADAGASCAR: Tackling Corruption?
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 5, pp. 21423C–21424C

MADAGASCAR: Enduring Poverty
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 3, pp. 21636A–21636B

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Somalia – Social Media Silence on Bombing

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In the wake of the worst terrorist attack to hit the country in recent years, ‘Pray for Mogadishu’ is not trending, but Somalis are mobilising.

After the deadly attacks on October 14th in Mogadishu, which claimed at least 281 lives, some social media users have been asking where the solidarity for Somalia is, and why there are no trending hashtags like those which have emerged after attacks in the US and Europe.

“If what happened in #Mogadishu had happened in Milan or Milwaukee or Middlesbrough we wouldn’t still be talking about Harvey Weinstein…” wrote @innajongee in a tweet on the 17th.

The truck bomb was the deadliest terror attack in Somalia since the Islamist al-Shabaab group launched its insurgency in 2007. Some bodies were burnt beyond recognition.

By the early hours of October 18th, the hashtag #IAmMogadishu had generated little over 200 tweets, but by the 19th there were more than 13,000 as social media users expressed their frustration over the lack of media attention the attacks were given.

A number of vigils have been organised by Somali communities across the UK and US.

Despite the perceived lack of Western solidarity with Mogadishu on social platforms, Somalis themselves have been using the power of social media to mobilise support for charity efforts.

Gurmad252 is a website established by volunteers and the families of the victims to track and identify the missing on social media.

A GoFundMe page was also set up by a Swedish Somali for funds to pay for a free ambulance service to help the affected. It has already reached its initial target of 100,000 Swedish krona (£9,351, $12,334).

aidUS Airmen from the 449th Air Expeditionary Group load pallets of aid supplies at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti – Africom

Many have also used the hashtags #weareone and #gurmadqaran to share details of charitable efforts, but the task of raising awareness on the internet is not easy in a country which was one of the last in the world to go online and where internet usage is still relatively low. (BBC Africa 17/10)

The Somali government said on October 18th that search and rescue operations had ended, three days after the massive explosion killed hundreds of people at a busy intersection in Mogadishu.

Official casualty figures stand at 281 dead and more than 300 wounded, but the death toll could still rise, Information Minister Abdurrahman Omar Osman said on the 17th.

Government officials blame militant group al-Shabaab for the explosion, although there has been no claim of responsibility.

Mogadishu’s mayor, Tabit Abdi Mohamed, who spoke at the blast site, praised hundreds of volunteers who have helped rescue survivors from the debris and also cleaned up the rubble.

International aid from the US, Kenya, Turkey and others continued pouring into Mogadishu on the 17th as hospitals tried to care for the hundreds of wounded. (VOA 18/10)


Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

SOMALIA: AU Renews Amisom Mandate
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol., Issue 8, pp. 21551C–21553A

SOMALIA: Joint Air Strikes Against Al-Shabaab
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21516B–21517B

SOMALIA: Al-Shabaab Forces Target Youth
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 1, pp. 21298B–21300A

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Morocco – High Speed Train

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The fastest train in Africa is expected to boost the country’s economic development, but critics say the investment could have been better spent elsewhere.

Engineers in Morocco are preparing to test Africa’s first high-speed railway with trains reaching 320km (200 miles) per hour, the country’s rail office said on October 9th.

One train reached 275 kph (170 mph) on the 9th along a stretch of track between the northern cities of Kenitra and Tangiers, the national operator ONCF said.

“This is already the fastest train on the African continent,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was in Morocco to sign a loan deal between the ONCF and the French Development Agency.

The link between Casablanca and Tangiers via the capital Rabat will slash journey times between the North African country’s economic hubs by almost two thirds, to just over two hours.

Morocco’s TGV, which gets its name from the French abbreviation for high-speed trains, is set to enter service in summer 2018.

The total cost of the project, 50% financed by France through various loans, is around $2.4bn (€2bn). It is set to go around 15% over budget, according to figures released on October 9th.

But ONCF head Rabii Lakhlii said the project had cost “less than €9m per kilometre, compared to a European standard of €20m per kilometre”.

The route, made more complex by hilly terrain and strong winds, required the building of several viaducts including one some 3.5km long.

The ONCF is targeting 6m travellers a year after three years of operations. Lakhlii said tickets would cost about 30% more than those for the current rail link.

Moroccan leaders have heralded the project as a key step in modernising the country’s infrastructure.

But opponents have criticised it, saying the money could have been better spent in a country where many live in poverty. They also argue that it unfairly favoured French companies.

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A carriage of the French-made TGV train arrives at the Moroccan port of Tangier in January – CNN

Speculate to accumulate

High-speed trains fit within a wider programme of infrastructure spending in Morocco that is intended to stimulate a sluggish economy.

The Tangiers-Casablanca route is expected to generate a sharp increase in passenger numbers that will boost tourism, support wider economic growth in the cities, and recoup the investment on it.

Rabii Lakhlii also said that growing passenger numbers had caused “saturation of the network,” making the new line a necessity.

He denied that an upgraded service would lead to high costs for passengers.


Risk and reward

The new trains carry risks as well as rewards, according to Zouhair Ait Benhamou, an economic analyst at the Financia Business School in France.

“The ONCF business model is based on the French model in which trains are heavily subsidised,” he says. “If the number of passengers does not materialise in two to three years, the government will have to provide subsidies.”

The government will hope to stimulate new economic activity in areas along the route, according to the analyst.

The new train line will impress foreign investors but they are likely to remain wary of Morocco, according to Riccardo Fabiani, a senior analyst at the Eurasia Group.

Poor governance, corruption and a severely under-performing education system reflect the priorities of a government which is comfortable with uneven development, he believes.


Not all aboard

Such disparities have fueled the “Stop TGV” campaign, a coalition of activists arguing that the investment could be better used for failing public services.

“Morocco is a poor country and the top priority should be education,” says Omar Balafraj, a leader campaigner and MP for the Federation of the Democratic Left party.

The country’s northern Rif region has been rocked by unrest since protest over the death of a fisherman in October 2016 snowballed into a wider social movement demanding development for the long-impoverished region. (© AFP 10/10 2017; CNN 20/1)

Sudan – US Sanctions Lifted

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The move will give Sudan access to the global banking system but President al-Bashir remains a war crimes suspect. Sudan stays on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The United States (US) announced on October 6th that it would end its toughest economic and trade sanctions against Sudan in a week’s time, citing progress the Khartoum government has made in fighting terrorism and easing humanitarian hardships.

Sudan has also agreed not to seek arms deals with North Korea, Deutsche Welle noted.

Human rights groups opposed the deal but it was a process that was started under former President Barack Obama.

The sanctions, which included a trade embargo and other penalties, essentially cut off Sudan from most of the global financial system for the past 20 years.

Explaining the end of the sanctions, US officials said the authoritarian regime had maintained a cessation of hostilities in Darfur and other old flashpoints.

However, President Omar al-Bashir remains a war-crimes suspect. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on genocide charges for allegedly orchestrating a mass killing in Darfur.

And Sudan is still on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Syria and Iran. This means the US ban on weapons sales remains in force, as do restrictions on US aid.

The Sudanese foreign ministry said it was looking forward to building “a normal relation with the US, but wants its name to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism as there is no reason to have Sudan in that list.”

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President Omar al-Bashir listens to a speech during the opening of the 20th session of The New Partnership for Africa’s Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – CC 2009


International support

On September 4th, Sudan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hamed Momtaz told Reuters that his country had “fulfilled all the necessary conditions relating to the roadmap” set out by the US, and therefore expected the sanctions to be lifted.

Khartoum had already won significant international support for this claim, with Israel and Saudi Arabia busy lobbying on its behalf. And back in July, the United Nations (UN) Country Team in Sudan called for Washington to take a “positive decision” on the sanctions, saying there had been a “marked improvement in humanitarian access over the past six months.”

However, civilians in Darfur still face “violence and criminality”, the UN’s then-head of peacekeeping told the Security Council in January. Hervé Ladsous pointed in particular to the “widespread proliferation of weapons and the inadequacy of law and justice institutions.”


‘Progress’ on human rights?

Human rights activists have warned that lifting the sanctions will embolden Sudan and other states to continue committing atrocities, according to IRIN.

There is little evidence of a major improvement in the country’s human rights record, even though this is one of five areas of progress cited by Washington in justifying the lifting of the sanctions.

In a recent report, the US State Department cited “attacks on civilians by government and other armed groups in conflict zones” as well as extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape, all committed with impunity by intelligence agents.

Reducing internal wars was another US benchmark, but armed conflict continues to simmer in the regions of Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan, where humanitarian access remains very restricted. It seems the US decision to lift sanctions is more closely linked to Khartoum’s role in global counter-terrorism and its recent cutting of ties with Pyongyang.

Commenting on the decision, John Prendergast, Founding Director at the Enough Project, said the Trump administration should now create a completely new policy framework which aims to address the core issues that led the regime to be sanctioned in the first place.

This new policy framework should be tied to a new set of smart, modernised network sanctions that spare the Sudanese public and target those in power responsible for mass atrocities, he said.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

SUDAN: Humanitarian Push
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 6, pp. 21747A–21747B

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

SUDAN: Darfur Security Assessment
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 6, pp. 21480A–21481B

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Africa – African Green Revolution Forum

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The future of Africa’s agriculture looked brighter in September as leaders from across the continent converged in Abidjan to discuss strategies for industrialising agriculture.

At the 7th African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), held in the Ivorian capital between September 4th-8th at the behest of the African Development Bank (AfDB), African political leaders offered solutions and discussed challenges to the continental green agenda.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called for proper land management strategies for agriculture. Insisting that forestry and mining were increasingly competing for agricultural land, she called for efforts to make African agricultural land more economically productive.

Ivorian President Allassane Ouattara said the continent’s agricultural progress was hampered greatly by the impact of climate change and appealed to western nations to support measures to contain it.

President Ouattara said the Bank’s “High Five,” which puts agriculture as central to achieving Africa’s industrialisation agenda, has helped to make agriculture central to government plans.

In Cote d’Ivoire, President Ouattara said agriculture contributed 16% of GDP, with at least 60% of the population living on agriculture.

President Ouattara said the fact that more people depended on a sector whose contribution to the national economy was still minimal, meant the challenge of growing agriculture still remained.

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Women tea pickers in Kenya – CC 2010

The African leaders emphasised the need for the agriculture sector to generate more jobs for youth to stop the mass exodus out of Africa.

The AfDB is advocating closer linkages between development partners and policy-makers to enhance the informal sector’s contribution to building an African food and cuisine value chain.

The Bank’s proposition was made at a B2B (business-to-business) meeting on ‘AfDB’s ENABLE Youth platform: The Economics of Food Cuisine’ at the Summit.

The goal of the platform is to enhance the viability of food entrepreneurs, especially women and youth, seeking to start and grow a food-related business through knowledge-sharing; mentorship services; skills development; and access to finance.

AfDB and Hivos International have partnered and developed an inclusive end-to-end strategy that enables innovative entrepreneurs to become agents of change at the forefront of a more sustainable agri-food sector in Africa.

Young entrepreneurs will receive training along the different phases of the value chain (input, production, marketing, retail) as well as in business development.

Africa needs to move away from solely producing raw consumables and invest more in value-added processing units and branded food products and focus more on downstream activities such as the food service industry, according to the Bank.

Current heads of state and former leaders, including former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria), Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania) and John Kufuor (Ghana), attended the Summit, which was due to end on September 8th, with new financial investment pledges.

In 2016, at least US$30bn was pledged for investment in Africa’s agriculture sector.
(PANA, Abidjan 8/9; AfDB, 19/9)

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Agricultural Investments
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21800A–21800B

African Jobs Shortfall
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 6, pp. 21741B–21741C

AFRICA: Boosting Agricultural Productivity
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol., Issue 3, pp. 21632A–21632C

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Tanzania – What Would Magufuli Do?

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He bulldozed a reputation as a no-nonsense president who wasn’t afraid to go hard on corruption, but crackdowns on independent media have raised fears of an authoritarian streak.

There was a time in late 2015 and early 2016 – when Tanzania’s President John Magufuli had only just been elected – that the man they call ‘The Bulldozer’ could do no wrong.

He staged surprise visits to government departments to make sure everyone was working. He put a cap on official travel, and vowed to eliminate corruption. All over Africa, long-suffering citizens looked at their own moribund governments and wondered to themselves, and then on social media: #WhatWouldMagufuliDo?

‘However, in the shadows of these laudable activities the president has demonstrated a worrying authoritarian inclination to repress dissent,’ writes Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy and international development at the University of Birmingham, on his blog.

Even Magufuli’s much-lauded anti-corruption drive was not all it seemed to be.

‘Stopping corruption by sacking officials in an ad hoc manner […] may look dynamic and effective, but in reality it exacerbates the problem,’ says Cheeseman.

‘At root, corruption occurs because institutional checks and balances are not sufficient to prevent individuals from abusing their positions. Dealing with this by further undermining official processes ignores the heart of the problem and actually leaves institutions more, not less, vulnerable to manipulation.’

Where Magufuli is concerned, this should serve as a cautionary tale.

This year the president has been in the continental headlines again. He is now earning plaudits for taking on the big mining companies who, he says, have been plundering Tanzania’s wealth for decades.

His administration has slapped a massive fine on UK-based Acacia Mining, the biggest gold miner in the country, for allegedly misreporting their gold exports. At US$190bn, the fine is one of the largest in corporate history.

At the same time, Magufuli has pushed through new legislation to drastically reform Tanzania’s mining laws, including a ban on exporting unprocessed mineral ores in an attempt to force companies to refine locally.

These are groundbreaking policies designed to ensure that Tanzania benefits more from its vast mineral wealth. But before lauding Magufuli for his visionary leadership, it is worth considering what impact this is likely to have on the Tanzanian economy.

Southern Africa Resource Watch director Claude Kabemba told ISS Today there is no doubt that Tanzania’s mining industry needs a major overhaul. But he is concerned that Magufuli’s proposals are neither consistent nor comprehensive, and may ultimately fail to deliver the systematic reform necessary.


Newly inaugurated President Magufuli greets President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe in November 2015. (Photo: GCIS)

As his domestic popularity has declined over the past year – from an extraordinary 96% in June 2016 to a still-respectable 71% in June 2017 – Magufuli has been looking for ways to reconnect with his base and to win over an increasingly sceptical opposition.

‘By espousing the language of sovereignty and economic war, Magufuli is tapping into political memories of liberation struggle and revolution,’ says Tanzania analyst Dan Paget on African Arguments.

‘This is not to cast aspersions about the sincerity of Magufuli’s intentions to reform the mining sector, but to illustrate that those reforms serve several purposes at once,’ says Paget.

Meanwhile, human rights organisations accuse Tanzania’s government of using repressive legislation to muzzle the media, civil society and opposition politicians critical of the institution.

Mwanahalisi in September became the second newspaper to be banned in Tanzania in one year, VOA reported. The government said the paper had violated previous warnings about articles criticising President Magufuli.

“We report facts that are liked by many readers and we point out where the government is going wrong,” said news editor Saed Kubenea. “That’s our policy since the start of this newspaper.”

The news outlet was also banned in 2012 for publishing stories that allegedly threatened national security. After a three-year court battle, the ban was lifted. Kubenea says they are hopeful they will get a similar ruling.

Earlier this year, Mawio newspaper was banned for two years after linking two retired presidents to dubious mining contracts. Rights groups criticised the ban as an attack on freedom of expression, which has been restricted since Magufuli came to power in 2015.

In the 2015 election, President Magufuli received 58% of the vote, compared to previous elections in which 80% of Tanzanians voted for the ruling CCM party.