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Behind the News: All the backstories to our major news this week

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Over the past week, there were many important stories from around the African continent, and we served you some of the most topical ones.

Here is a rundown of the backstories to some of the biggest news stories in Africa that we covered during the week:

Somalia finally gets UN approval for arms purchase 

Somalia’s 31-year arms purchase restriction by the United Nations was lifted on Friday by the Security Council of the global body. The council voted 14-1 to lift the arms embargo, with France abstaining. This allows Somalia to freely purchase new weapons. The transfer of supplies or weapons to terrorists connected to Al Shabaab is still prohibited.

Somalia has been constrained by this UN decision amidst the country’s quest for lasting peace in the face of internal wranglings and terrorist activities. In September, Somalia asked the UN to pause a planned drawdown of 3,000 African Union peacekeepers for three months to allow its security forces time to regroup after a militant attacks forced them to withdraw from several recently captured towns.

An arms embargo was imposed on Somalia in January 1992 by Security Council Resolution 733 in response to the conflict that was still going on and the worsening humanitarian situation. The adoption of this resolution was unanimous.

Before being lifted on Friday, the ban had undergone several modifications. In June 2001, Security Council Resolution 1356 allowed for exemptions to the embargo for supplies of non-lethal military equipment for use in humanitarian operations, while in July 2002, Resolution 1425 clarified the scope of the arms embargo, making clear that it prohibited the financing of arms acquisitions as well as the direct or indirect sale or supply of technical advice or military training.

Uganda pivots to China after Western sanctions

Uganda plans to apply for a $150 million loan from China’s Export-Import Bank (Exim) in response to World Bank’s lending restrictions related to its anti-homosexuality legislation. The bank in August stated that “no new public financing for Uganda will be presented to our Board of Executive Directors until the efficacy of the additional measures has been tested.”

“Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act fundamentally contradicts the World Bank Group’s values. We believe our vision to eradicate poverty on a livable planet can only succeed if it includes everyone irrespective of race, gender, or sexuality,” the bank said.

But the East African country appears to have moved on from the setback with the multilateral body as it is now negotiating a loan to finance the construction of a pipeline to help export its crude oil to foreign markets with the Chinese export credit organisations, SINOSURE and Exim Bank.

The Ugandan legislature passed a law outlawing LGBTQ people in May. The legislation included many strict regulations that sparked outrage from the international community, including the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and big businesses.

Meanwhile, Uganda’s recent relations with China as a sub-regional power might be a concern for the United States and its Western allies.

A look at Nigeria’s 2024 budget of ‘Renewed Hope’ 

On Wednesday, the Nigerian president, Bola Tinubu, presented a N27.5 trillion 2024 budget proposal to a joint session of the 10th National Assembly in Abuja in which he stressed that defence, education, and internal security were accorded top priority.

The budget expenditure for the year as proposed stood at N27.5 trillion, the highest in the history of Nigeria, and 10.9% higher than the 2022 revised budget (N24.83 trillion – addition of signed + supplementary
budgets).

Revenue projections surged by 65.8% to N18.32 trillion, surpassing the 2023 revised budget of N11.05 trillion, while expenditure projections rose by 10.3% to N27.5 trillion from the 2023 revised budget. It breaks down into capital expenditure (31.6%), recurrent (36.1%), and debt servicing (30.0%).

Revenue and fiscal deficit projections seem unrealistic. The country continues to live in denial as revenue consistently underperforms projections and maintains a slow growth projection while spending surges annually. As a clear departure from previous budgets, the 2024 budget highlighted how the government intends to support growth and employment. However, there is no mention of sending the Finance Bill 2023 to support the 2024 budget implementation.

Britain’s Sunak adamant on migrant deal with Rwanda

British Prime Minister, Richie Sunak, has continued to press for a migrant deal with Rwanda despite recent major legal setbacks for the arrangement after meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Friday for a discussion on the subject.

Sunak, while responding to questions on the sidelines of the ongoing COP28 climate conference in Dubai, maintained that he remained “confident” in his government’s proposals. The two leaders wanted to ensure that the plan’s details were correct.

“We’re finalising the arrangements we have with them. It was good to check in with him on that and reiterate… our commitment to making the partnership work,” Sunak said at a press conference.

“Paul and I have forged a very strong relationship over this issue. He’s keen to work very constructively with us.”

Last year, Britain declared that it would send each asylum seeker to Rwanda for 169,000 pounds ($215,035), with the average cost of deporting each person to Rwanda estimated at 105,000 pounds, 22,000 pounds for travel and accommodations, and 18,000 pounds for processing and legal fees.

In recent years, illegal migrants from the Middle East and Africa have become a major source of concern in Europe. A record 45,000 people had flown across the English Channel in small boats as of June 2023.

Similar to Britain, Italy is experiencing an increase in the number of migrants entering the country through the Mediterranean, with a rise in arrivals in 2022 compared to this year. In comparison to roughly 10,200 during the same period last year, nearly 150,000 people have arrived in Italy thus far in 2023.

Behind the News

Behind the News: All the backstories to our major news this week

Published

on

Over the past week, there were many important stories from around the African continent, and we served you some of the most topical ones.

Here is a rundown of the backstories to some of the biggest news stories in Africa that we covered during the week:

South Africa is back at ICJ over Israel/Hamas war

Israel’s involvement in the continuing Hamas battle has brought South Africa back before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Johannesburg requested a non-binding legal ruling from the World Court on Tuesday, declaring that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory is unlawful. As its lawyer began the second day of proceedings before the court in The Hague, South Africa contended that the declaration would aid in efforts to achieve a resolution.

South Africa filed an 84-page appeal in December, protesting Israel’s failure to provide the Gaza Strip with basic supplies such as food, water, fuel, medication, shelter, and other humanitarian help. Both South Africa and Israel are parties to the 1948 Genocide Convention, to which Israel is accused of violating its responsibilities.

Israel alleged that 1,200 people were killed in a cross-border attack on October 7 by Islamist militants from Hamas. Nearly 22,000 people have perished as a result of Israeli airstrikes and ground operations carried out in retaliation for the incident that sparked the conflict, according to Palestinian health sources.

Although there is little chance that South Africa’s file will have a significant impact on the war’s outcome, it does draw on the historical connections between the Palestinian people’s and black South Africans’ liberation struggles. Additionally, it indicates the nation’s intention to use a globally reputable group to contest the US-dominated international system, which it views as unjust to the interests of non-Western and African people.

It is also important to recognize that the nation has recently made an effort to establish itself as a prominent voice from Africa in the international arena. Examples of this include its role in the BRICS group of major emerging economies and its hosting of the 15th heads of state and government summit in Johannesburg last year.

Nigeria can’t afford an AfroBasket?

Barely weeks after its male football team exceeded expectations to reach the finals of the African Cup of Nations, Nigeria’s senior male basketball national team, the D’Tigers, withdrew from the 2025 FIBA AfroBasket qualifiers in Tunisia due to a lack of funds.

Each player in the football team received the Member of the Order of the Niger, one of the country’s highest honours, as well as a flat and a piece of land in the region around the capital. Ordinarily, the reward should suggest a degree of priority to sport and youth development, which are under the same ministry in Nigeria’s federal cabinet, particularly with funding, but the assumption might not be perfect.

According to the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), the “painful” withdrawal of the team from the window that could have given Nigeria another opportunity to qualify for the world championship was due to the inability of the Ministry of Sports to provide the federation with the needed funds for the qualifiers.

The situation, which has drawn concerns across boards, spotlighted sport administration and funds in the country, and continued unbalanced preference, football enjoys in the country at the detriment of other sports. Marilyn Ogoigbe, who plays for First Bank basketball club, lamented that NBBF officials cared less about the players, “a tournament they ought to have prepared for, and they decided to withdraw days before jump ball because of a lack of funds. What’s the ministry doing about it? I mean, they were able to sponsor the Super Eagles to the AFCON; why is basketball always different?”

In a real sense, however, football administration is not any better because of the wide popularity of the game over others. With Nigeria going through its worst economic crisis in decades and the citizens seeking solace from the biting effects of a surge in the cost of living, the withdrawal from the AfroBasket might mean a loss of opportunity for national consolation, howbeit temporary, as the Super Eagles AFCON heroics afforded.

The last-minute intervention by the association sending the team to the competition brought some relief. However, their loss, occasioned by largely late arrivals and poor preparation, is a direct consequence of the funding crisis.

The paradox of Zambia’s kwacha growth 

During the week, a report emerged that Zambia’s currency, the kwacha, has become Africa’s best-performing currency against the US dollar thus far this year.

The Bank of Zambia voted to raise the monetary policy rate by 1%, from 10% to 11%, at the Monetary Policy Committee meeting on November 20 and 21, 2023. This was a reaction to rising inflation that is still beyond the 6-8% goal range. As of the end of October, the rate of inflation was 12.6%, and it is anticipated to soar even higher upon the release of the November numbers.

The longest winning run for Zambia’s currency in almost a year has been bolstered by an unusually high interest rate hike and a directive requiring local banks to maintain higher reserves.  Since the Bank of Zambia raised the minimum reserve ratio for lenders on February 5, which restricted the flow of cash, the value of the kwacha has surged virtually daily. After the benchmark rate rose on February 14, the market’s rise gained even more momentum.

The London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) reports that since the decision to raise interest rates and reserve ratios for commercial banks earlier this month in order to reverse a decline in the value of the currency that had increased inflation, the kwacha has strengthened 13.8 percent to 22.8 percent versus the US dollar in 2024.

The Kwacha has undergone a number of structural modifications since 1967 in an effort to sustain public faith in the national currency while promoting economic activity. Among the noteworthy modifications are the following: the 1968–1974 currency structure; the 1973–1974 currency structure; the 1980 currency structure; the 1986–1991 currency structure; the 1992 currency structure; the 1996 currency structure; and the 2003 currency structure. However, the Kwacha was rebased in 2013 following the January 23, 2012, decision to re-denominate the national currency.

The global monetary tightening cycle caused serious problems for African currencies in 2023. The official currency rates for the Nigerian naira, Kenyan shilling, and South African rand saw considerable swings in December 2023, with an average decline of 27% from 25% in November. But Kwacha’s progress remains a sort of paradox as the country, which was the first African country to default on foreign debt and has struggled for debt restructuring under the G20 framework, is now in its fourth year, hindering foreign investment and contributing to the kwacha’s weakening.

ECOWAS withdraws sanctions on junta-led states

The regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), lifted, with immediate effects, economic sanctions on Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso on Saturday. The three countries, notably those under military juntas, along with Guinea, have been at diplomatic loggerheads with regional and international bodies under pressure for the return of democratic reigns.

At an extraordinary gathering at the State House in Abuja, the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government discussed the political, security, and peace conditions in the area for hours. After a number of penalties from international and regional organizations, the three have long considered the prospect of forming “the Alliance of Sahel States (AES),” a political and economic partnership.

The World Bank has warned that the most recent coup, which took place in Niger, would worsen issues related to the food markets of Nigeria and other West African countries. In the last three years, there have been five coups in the West African sub-region.

The lifting of the sanctions might be related to the need for regional economic revival given the border hostilities in the Sahel, as informal cross-border trading (ICBT) crossing customs borders is a booming economic factor in Africa, and West Africa in particular.

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Behind the News

Behind the News: All the backstories to our major news this week

Published

on

Over the past week, there were many important stories from around the African continent, and we served you some of the most topical ones.

Here is a rundown of the backstories to some of the biggest news stories in Africa that we covered during the week:

Morocco in fresh culture reform

The week started with Morocco’s Ministry of Culture announcing that it has begun meetings with the National Foundation of Museums to discuss methods and practices to better police and detect forged paintings and artworks, including handing down harsher sentences and better regulating auction houses.

Later in the week, Moroccan activists began online campaigns demanding the return of a letter that dates back to the 18th century, which they see as an important part of the country’s history.

The historic letter was allegedly sent by Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismail Ibn Sharif to Charles Stewart of the United Kingdom in 1720. It is presently on display in Austria. The letter was reportedly a diplomatic communication delivered by the Sultan in December 1720 to Stewart, the English Ambassador leading a mission dispatched during King George I’s reign to negotiate peace with Morocco.

Over the years, culturally strong Morocco has been keen on the return of its artefacts scattered across the world; in 2021, Moroccan authorities received nearly 25,000 archaeological objects, which had been seized in France during three customs controls and which illustrate the “scourge” of looting of cultural property.

But Morocco’s claims of “cultural theft” are beyond tangibles. Historically, the country has also been in diplomatic tension, particularly with neighbouring Algeria, over the appropriation of some of its intangible cultural heritage as the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, and skills that communities, groups, and individuals recognize as part of its cultural heritage. Adidas, a company that makes football uniforms, became embroiled in a dispute in 2022 between the two countries over a new national team design created for Algeria, which Moroccan officials claim amounts to cultural appropriation.

But the issues extend beyond Morocco; other African countries also have claims of illegal cultural engagement that amounts to theft, forgery and cultural appropriation. In some other instances, it is a case of “error of facts” around certain history similar to that which surfaced in 2023 over the Netflix docudrama “Cleopatra,” in which some Egyptian observers claimed the feature of the eponymous character was appropriating their culture and rewriting their history, primarily because Cleopatra is portrayed by a black woman in the film.

Perhaps Morocco’s latest drive for “cultural policing” will pave the way for other African countries and provide a template to maximize the potential of Africa’s culture and art. It is curious to see if the controversies around cultural theft will ever end, with most countries on the continent being “colonial states” and some having a history of settlers.

Zimbabwe is considering another adventure for currency stability

The governor of Zimbabwe’s central bank announced on Wednesday that the bank and the finance ministry will be working together to devise fresh plans for stabilising the country’s currency. The decision was required because the Zimbabwean dollar in less than two months has dropped by over 40% since the start of the year due to lower commodity prices that have dampened inflows and increased demand for foreign currency from state employees earning December bonuses.

The planned collaboration will be the latest of many policy attempts to stabilize the Southern African economy. According to a study by Statista, “inflation in Zimbabwe rose to 10.61 percent in 2018 and is projected to jump dramatically to 577.21 percent in 2020. After that, estimates predict a slow decline for now; however, given Zimbabwe’s history of poor monetary policy, including one of the worst instances of hyperinflation, this seems unrealistic.” The current economic situation appears to have fulfilled Statista’s projection.

The country’s dark economic history can be traced to when the Economic Structural Adjustment Policy (ESAP), a policy of economic liberalisation that demolished a planned “siege” economy from the UDI era, was implemented in August 1991. The value of the currency started to decline sharply. Also, Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Second Congo War, the chaotic redistribution of land to unskilled farmers, and declining export revenues all contributed to the currency’s official and unofficial exchange rates plummeting further.

So bad did the situation turn that the Zimbabwean government announced on July 13, 2007 that it had temporarily stopped releasing official inflation data—an attempt observers say was to deflect attention from “runaway inflation, which symbolises the country’s unprecedented economic meltdown.” Also, in response to the currency’s declining value, the central bank favoured the printing of additional banknotes, which experts say compounded the issue.

Following years of price speculation and hyperinflation, general consumer prices began to stabilise in January 2009, when the use of foreign currencies became authorised. The Central Bank declared on January 29, 2014, that the following currencies would be recognised as legal tender in Zimbabwe: US dollars, South African rand, Botswana pula, pound sterling, Euro, Australian dollar, Chinese yuan (renminbi), Indian rupee, and Japanese yen.

It is yet to be seen what the likely new moves by the central bank and the finance ministry will be this time, as Zimbabweans hope that incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa  who was recently reelected, can turn things around, but a more critical point would be the sustainability of the reforms vis-à-vis lasting effects on the public after years of various quick fixes.

World Bank won’t budge over alleged sexual assault in Kenya’s IFC division

World Bank President Ajay Banga, for the umpteenth time, denied allegations that the organization’s International Finance Corp (IFC) unit tried to hide allegations of sexual assault at a chain of for-profit schools in Kenya that it controlled between 2013 and 2022. Banga took this position during a public event sponsored by the Centre for Global Development. When asked about the IFC’s response to an independent investigation into the claims at Bridge International Academies, Banga refuted the idea that the IFC was involved in a cover-up.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the bank failed to meet its own environmental and social requirements prior to funding Bridge International Academies in 2014 and during its oversight of its investment in the project, which came to an end last year, according to the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the bank’s internal watchdog.

The CAO stated in a draft report in August that the company was aware of complaints of abuse but had not made sufficient efforts to address the cases or implement preventative measures to prevent abuse in the future. According to the CAO, between 2014 and 2021, it discovered 21 instances of teacher sexual abuse of minors at Bridge schools.

Bridge acknowledged that nine reports of child sexual abuse were made in 2016 at one of its schools. It claimed to have terminated the contracts of the teachers who had been accused of abuse, reported the occurrences to the police, provided the victims with psychiatric support, and communicated with the communities and parents of the affected children.

The scandal has continued to resurface despite the World Bank’s continued denial. Although Banga was not selected for the position of bank president at the time of the divestment, he will still have to cope with the fallout while trying to improve the lender’s operations.

Nigeria’s central bank under pressure as economic crisis deepens

Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor, Yemi Cardoso, appeared before the House of Representatives for the sectoral debate on Tuesday, as many of the lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of the governor in handling the naira, which has been on a downward spiral in the past couple of months.

Alongside him were Wale Edun, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance; Atiku Bagudu, the Minister of Budget and National Planning; and Zacch Adedeji, the Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service.

Nigeria is talking about receiving up to $1.5 billion in loans from the World Bank to help ease the chronic dollar shortage that has been a major factor in the sharp collapse of the naira. International investors have praised recent reforms, but they have also resulted in a sharp increase in living expenses. Last month, inflation reached a 27-year high of 28.9%, and the value of the naira fell by about 50% compared to the US dollar.

During his address to the House, Cardoso outlined the difficulties the naira is facing, particularly the demand from students studying abroad. According to Mr. Cardoso, Nigerians also spent $11.06 billion on medical travel during that time. Also, more than 100,000 students are presently enrolled in programmes abroad, he said, adding that between 2010 and 2020, Nigerian students expended $28.5 billion abroad.

The country anticipates that oil production will increase to 1.78 million barrels per day, up from 1.49 million barrels last month. This should support the government’s finances and stimulate the economy. Meanwhile, domestic crude refining is anticipated to start up again this year at the state-owned refinery in Port Harcourt and at the Dangote refinery in Lagos. This would help ease the currency crunch by lowering the amount of petrol imported.

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