Eswatini Shuts Schools Amid New Wave of Protests


Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, said Saturday it had shut its schools “indefinitely with immediate effect” as the country faces a wave of pro-democracy protests.

Students of the tiny, landlocked nation formerly known as Swaziland have been protesting for a number of weeks, boycotting lessons and calling for free schooling, as well as an end to the regime under King Mswati III.

“His Majesty’s government has taken the decision to close schools indefinitely with immediate effect,” Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini said in a statement.

According to pro-democracy activists, the army and police have been deployed in schools this week, and several students have been arrested.

Civil society and opposition groups demonstrated in the largest cities, Manzini and Mbabane, in June, looting shops and ransacking business properties.

At least 28 people died as police clashed with protesters in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history. The latest fatality came Wednesday.

On Friday, Eswatini shut down the internet for two hours as pro-democracy marchers headed to the capital.

The shutdown came as images of the protests circulated on social and traditional media, including pictures of two people who said they had been injured by gunshots fired by security forces.

The internet shutdown blocked social media and left many services running very slowly afterward.

On Saturday, the situation was calm, according to an AFP journalist.

King Mswati III has ruled Eswatini since 1986 and owns shares in the country’s telecoms.

He is criticized for living a lavish lifestyle in one of the world’s poorest countries and is accused of stifling political parties.

The king has accused demonstrators of depriving children of their education by taking part in the protests.

Source: Voice of America

Facebook Objects to Releasing Private Posts About Myanmar’s Rohingya Campaign


Facebook was used to spread disinformation about the Rohingya, the Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar, and in 2018 the company began to delete posts, accounts and other content it determined were part of a campaign to incite violence.

That deleted but stored data is at issue in a case in the United States over whether Facebook should release the information as part of a claim in international court.

Facebook this week objected to part of a U.S. magistrate judge’s order that could have an impact on how much data internet companies must turn over to investigators examining the role social media played in a variety of international incidents, from the 2017 Rohingya genocide in Myanmar to the 2021 Capitol riot in Washington.

The judge ruled last month that Facebook had to give information about these deleted accounts to Gambia, the West African nation, which is pursuing a case in the International Court of Justice against Myanmar, seeking to hold the Asian nation responsible for the crime of genocide against the Rohingya.

But in its filing Wednesday, Facebook said the judge’s order “creates grave human rights concerns of its own, leaving internet users’ private content unprotected and thereby susceptible to disclosure — at a provider’s whim — to private litigants, foreign governments, law enforcement, or anyone else.”

The company said it was not challenging the order when it comes to public information from the accounts, groups and pages it has preserved. It objects to providing “non-public information.” If the order is allowed to stand, it would “impair critical privacy and freedom of expression rights for internet users — not just Facebook users — worldwide, including Americans,” the company said.

Facebook has argued that providing the deleted posts is in violation of U.S. privacy, citing the Stored Communications Act, the 35-year-old law that established privacy protections in electronic communication.

Deleted content protected?

In his September decision, U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui said that once content is deleted from an online service, it is no longer protected.

Paul Reichler, a lawyer for Gambia, told VOA that Facebook’s concern about privacy is misplaced.

“Would Hitler have privacy rights that should be protected?” Reichler said in an interview with VOA. “The generals in Myanmar ordered the destruction of a race of people. Should Facebook’s business interests in holding itself out as protecting the privacy rights of these Hitlers prevail over the pursuit of justice?”

But Orin Kerr, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said on Twitter that the judge’s ruling erred and that the implication of the ruling is that “if a provider moderates contents, all private messages and emails deleted can be freely disclosed and are no longer private.”

The 2017 military crackdown on the Rohingya resulted in more than 700,000 people fleeing their homes to escape mass killings and rapes, a crisis that the United States has called “ethnic cleansing.”

‘Coordinated inauthentic behavior’

Human rights advocates say Facebook had been used for years by Myanmar officials to set the stage for the crimes against the Rohingya.

Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who testified about the company in Congress last week, said Facebook’s focus on keeping users engaged on its site contributed to “literally fanning ethnic violence” in countries.

In 2018, Facebook deleted and banned accounts of key individuals, including the commander in chief of Myanmar’s armed forces and the military’s television network, as well as 438 pages, 17 groups and 160 Facebook and Instagram accounts — what the company called “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” The company estimated 12 million people in Myanmar, a nation of 54 million, followed these accounts.

Facebook commissioned an independent human rights study of its role that concluded that prior to 2018, it indeed failed to prevent its service “from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”

Facebook kept the data on what it deleted for its own forensic analysis, the company told the court.

The case comes at a time when law enforcement and governments worldwide increasingly seek information from technology companies about the vast amount of data they collect on users.

Companies have long cited privacy concerns to protect themselves, said Ari Waldman, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University. What’s new is the vast quantity of data that companies now collect, a treasure trove for investigators, law enforcement and government.

“Private companies have untold amounts of data based on the commodification of what we do,” Waldman said.

Privacy rights should always be balanced with other laws and concerns, such as the pursuit of justice, he added.

Facebook working with the IIMM

In August 2020, Facebook confirmed that it was working with the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), a United Nations-backed group that is investigating Myanmar. The U.N. Human Rights Council established the IIMM, or “Myanmar Mechanism,” in September 2018 to collect evidence of the country’s most serious international crimes.

Recently, IIMM told VOA it has been meeting regularly with Facebook employees to gain access to information on the social media network related to its ongoing investigations in the country.

A spokesperson for IIMM told VOA’s Burmese Service that Facebook “has agreed to voluntarily provide some, but not all, of the material the Mechanism has requested.”

IIMM head Nicholas Koumjian wrote to VOA that the group is seeking material from Facebook “that we believe is relevant to proving criminal responsibility for serious international crimes committed in Myanmar that fall within our mandate.”

Facebook told VOA in an email it is cooperating with the U.N. Myanmar investigators.

“We’ve committed to disclose relevant information to authorities, and over the past year we’ve made voluntary, lawful disclosures to the IIMM and will continue to do so as the case against Myanmar proceeds,” the spokesperson wrote. The company has made what it calls “12 lawful data disclosures” to the IIMM but didn’t provide details.

Human rights activists are frustrated that Facebook is not doing more to crack down on bad actors who are spreading hate and disinformation on the site.

“Look, I think there are many people at Facebook who want to do the right thing here, and they are working pretty hard,” said Phil Robertson, who covers Asia for Human Rights Watch. “But the reality is, they still need to escalate their efforts. I think that Facebook is more aware of the problems, but it’s also in part because so many people are telling them that they need to do better.”

Matthew Smith of the human rights organization Fortify Rights, which closely tracked the ethnic cleansing campaign in Myanmar, said the company’s business success indicates it could do a better job of identifying harmful content.

“Given the company’s own business model of having this massive capacity to deal with massive amounts of data in a coherent and productive way, it stands to reason that the company would absolutely be able to understand and sift through the data points that could be actionable,” Smith said.

Gambia has until later this month to respond to Facebook’s objections.

Source: Voice of America

VOA Interview: US Ambassador to UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield returned to public service earlier this year when President Joe Biden nominated her to be the representative of the United States to the United Nations.

The veteran diplomat had a 35-year career with the U.S. foreign service that included major roles in U.S. policy toward sub-Saharan Africa as well as management leadership positions within the State Department. She also served as ambassador to Liberia and had foreign postings in Kenya, Gambia and Nigeria.

Thomas-Greenfield spoke with Hayde Adams, the host of VOA’s Straight Talk Africa, during the U.S.-Africa Business Summit about U.S. policy toward Africa, how countries in the region are recovering from the pandemic, and why women should play a central role in that effort.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: Earlier this year, you acknowledged that Africa has many challenges: COVID-19, of course, poverty, terrorism, amongst many others. But you also said that the Biden administration understands that it needs to focus on the opportunities on the continent and not just the challenges. What are the greatest opportunities that the United States sees on the African continent today?

Linda Thomas-Greenfield: Before COVID-19 hit Africa, African economies were some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. And somewhere between six out of 10 of the top fastest-growing countries were on the continent of Africa. I see many opportunities for these countries now to build back better, as we have said here in the United States, and they can build back better with more equitable growth, with more diversity, with more market-based transparent practices and with a focus on climate smart futures. And also, I have to add, with a focus on equity for women who have been key players in the marketplace on the continent of Africa.

So let me start with climate change. Climate change is a challenge for all of us all over the globe. But it also presents a tremendous opportunity to create well-paying jobs on the continent of Africa as the world transitions to renewable energies and develops transformational technologies that can help countries reduce emissions and also adapt to climate change. We’re committed to making sure, for example that developing countries can build back greener through public climate financing. Africa, with a population of 1.3 billion people with a median age of 19 … Africa’s youth are probably one of its greatest resources. There’s a tendency to see youth, for example as a problem. But for the continent of Africa, youth are an opportunity, and they are an opportunity that the continent needs to take advantage of.

VOA: Many African nations are currently experiencing their worst surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths since this pandemic began and it’s all largely driven by the delta variant. What are the most worrying pandemic trends that you are seeing on the continent right now? And what is your assessment of the way African governments have responded to these twin health and economic crises?

Thomas-Greenfield: This pandemic has really had a devastating impact on the economies of African countries, and as we reflect back on the last 18 months, I have to say that many of the actions that were taken by African leaders to confront COVID-19 early on have saved countless lives. Many of these countries shut down. Many of them had already had experiences dealing with pandemic-like conditions when some of them had to deal with Ebola.

But the situation continued to get worse and particularly as African countries were not able to access the COVID vaccines once these vaccines came on board. And they were not prepared, for example, with the challenges to their very weak health care systems, the countries began to falter. And with this new delta variant out there, I think the situation is going to get even worse. You may know President (Joe) Biden has just announced and pledged that the United States will be the world’s arsenal of vaccines. I love that phrase. And we’re working as fast as we can to get shots in arms, not just here in the United States but through COVAX (a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization) to get as many vaccines out to the continent of Africa as possible, as well as through bilateral donations of vaccines. And so we see that we’re not just fighting the disease, we’re fighting to secure decades of development progress that the pandemic could unwind.

VOA: Given the opportunities for the U.S. on the African continent and beyond the COVAX commitments, what is America willing to do to ensure that Africa is not left behind as economies all over the world try to recover?

Thomas-Greenfield: We have tremendous programs that work with young people, that are working with women, that are working with finance ministries to support their development agendas through not just USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development), but also through DFC (the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation), through our engagements with the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to ensure that these countries get the injections into their economy.

VOA: International institutions and civil society organizations are sounding the alarm that all the hard-won progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment is now at risk of being eviscerated. Can you help us understand what is at risk for women right now, especially those on the African continent? And do you think that any setbacks that we encounter now can be overcome in our lifetime?

Thomas-Greenfield: We have to do everything possible to ensure that whatever experiences women have right now in Africa, that we find a way to turn those around. There’s a lot at risk, but it’s not just for women and girls, it’s for their entire families because we know that when women are empowered, they empower their families, they empower their communities, they empower their countries.

We have to work with these countries to ensure that the pandemic and the alarming numbers of women worldwide who have been forced to choose between their jobs and their family and their health and their businesses, that they have adequate support to move forward. But what we’ve seen, and I think what has been so devastating is the impact. Early on, I saw statistics that indicated that child marriages are going up, that the rape of girls … sexual exploitation of girls … school-age girls, because they’re not in school, that those numbers have gone up significantly, that people are taking advantage of women and girls in these circumstances. … We’ve seen that COVID-19 does seem to be reversing decades of hard-won gains for girls, including access to education. … And so that is something that we have to work to address, to not only get vaccines out but to get girls back into the classroom.

VOA: The safety of women and education of girls probably (are) among the most heartbreaking consequences and heartbreaking stories of the groups that have been affected by this pandemic. The United Nations policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on women says across the globe, women earn less, they save less, they hold less-secure jobs, and are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. And in some African countries, there are no fiscal relief packages or social safety nets like we see in the United States and in other countries in the West or any other sort of benefits to help mitigate the devastating impacts of this pandemic on women’s lives and their livelihoods. In your view what do African governments stand to gain by including women in their economic recovery strategies, and what do they stand to lose if they don’t?

Thomas-Greenfield: I think countries are now, leaders are now more conscious of the importance of having women engage in their country’s development plan. Because again, and I say this over and over and over again, when we invest in women they invest back in their families, they invest in their communities, and they invest in their countries. And in many of these countries, they represent 50% of the population. You cannot ignore 50% of your nation and think that your country is going to grow. So these countries are losing significantly if they don’t include women in their development plans, if they don’t include women in their investment efforts. They’re losing out on what these women might contribute to their countries. We’ve seen all across the continent of Africa, successful, women-run businesses. And we see the success that women have had in building their communities through civil society activity. But we’ve also seen that they’ve been impacted by the virus much more than other parts of the population and we need, for that reason, to make sure we give them more attention than we might have otherwise given women, as we start to build these economies.

VOA: You’re a longtime champion of gender equality. … There’s a generation in Africa of well-educated but unemployed youth. They’re struggling through unprecedented and uncertain times. They’ve been called the “Pandemic Generation.” What immediate investments can governments, business and the international community at large make in Africa’s youth, especially its girls? What kind of investments can be made today that will prepare them and build resilience for whatever crisis might come next?

Thomas-Greenfield: When you consider the fact that the median age on the continent of Africa is 19, we started with that. And then you have countries like Niger, where the median age is 15. If we don’t focus on young people, we’re ignoring a country. Half of the population under the age of 19, so it was for that reason I am most proud of the work that I did, and the (U.S. President Barack) Obama administration did on supporting young people across the continent of Africa.

The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) will be paying dividends on the continent of Africa long after I’m gone from here. And it is something that we all have to make sure that we continue to invest in. Invest in mentoring young people, encouraging young people, supporting the leadership of young people in government, in business, in civil society, in education. … We want them to be leaders in their community. We want them to be leaders in their businesses. We want to be leaders in their churches, in their schools. And they will start building the next generation of leaders on the continent. And that’s where Africa’s future is.

VOA: Madam Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, thank you so much for your time and for being here with me I really, really do appreciate it.

Thomas-Greenfield: Well thank you very much. And again, I know Africa’s future is bright because I know that there are so many young people out there who are building that future one brick at a time. And we’re going to see the results of their work in the future.

Source: Voice of America

More Than 130 Countries Reach Deal on Corporate Minimum Tax

More than 130 countries have agreed on sweeping changes to how big global companies are taxed, including a 15% minimum corporate rate designed to deter multinationals from stashing profits in low-tax countries.

The deal announced Friday is an attempt to address the ways globalization and digitalization have changed the world economy. It would allow countries to tax some of the earnings of companies located elsewhere that make money through online retailing, web advertising and other activities.

U.S. President Joe Biden has been one of the driving forces behind the agreement as governments around the world seek to boost revenue following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agreement among 136 countries representing 90% of the global economy was announced by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which hosted the talks that led to it. The OECD said that the minimum tax would reap some $150 billion for governments.

Today’s agreement represents a once-in-a-generation accomplishment for economic diplomacy,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. She said it would end a “race to the bottom” in which countries outbid each other with lower tax rates.

“Rather than competing on our ability to offer low corporate rates,” she said, “America will now compete on the skills of our workers and our capacity to innovate, which is a race we can win.”

The deal faces several hurdles before it can take effect. U.S. approval of related tax legislation proposed by Biden will be key, especially since the U.S. is home to many of the biggest multinational companies. A rejection by Congress would cast uncertainty over the entire project.

Big U.S. tech companies such as Google and Amazon have supported the OECD negotiations. One reason is that countries would agree to withdraw individual digital services taxes they have imposed on the companies in return for the right to tax part of their earnings under the global scheme.

That means the companies would deal with just the one international tax regime, not a multitude of different ones depending on the country.

“This accord opens the way to a true tax revolution for the 21st century,” said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. “Finally, the digital giants will pay their just share in taxes in the countries — including France — where they produce.”

On Thursday, Ireland announced that it would join the agreement, ditching a low-tax policy that has led companies such as Google and Facebook to base their European operations there.

Although the Irish agreement was a step forward for the deal, developing countries have raised objections, and Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have indicated they will not sign up.

Anti-poverty and tax fairness advocates have said the bulk of new revenue would go to wealthier countries and offer less to developing countries that are more dependent on corporate taxes. The Group of 24 developing countries said that without a bigger share of revenue from reallocated profits, the deal would be “suboptimal” and “not sustainable even in the short run.”

The deal will be taken up by the Group of 20 finance ministers next week and then by G-20 leaders for final approval at a summit in Rome at the end of October.

Countries would sign on to a diplomatic agreement to implement the tax on companies that have no physical presence in a country but earn profits there, such as through digital services. That provision would affect around 100 global firms.

The second part of the deal, the global minimum of at least 15%, would apply to companies with more than 750 million euros ($864 million) in revenue and be passed into domestic law by countries according to model rules developed at the OECD. A top-up provision would mean tax avoided overseas would have to be paid at home. So long as at least the major headquarters countries implement the minimum tax, the deal would have most of its desired effect.

Source: Voice of America

A New Type of Black Gold in Nigeria: Used Car Tires


In Nigeria, a country heavily reliant on revenues from its oil exports, entrepreneur Ifedolapo Runsewe has identified another type of black gold: used car tires.

She has set up Freetown Waste Management Recycle, an industrial plant dedicated to transforming old tires into paving bricks, floor tiles and other goods that are in high demand in Africa’s most populous nation.

“Creating something new from something that will otherwise be lying somewhere as waste was part of the motivation,” Runsewe told Reuters at her factory in the city of Ibadan in southwest Nigeria.

“We are able to create an entire value chain around the tires,” she said, holding a paving brick that is one of the company’s best-selling products.

Waste management in Nigeria is patchy at best. In villages, towns and cities, piles of waste are a common sight, and residents often burn them at night for lack of a safer method of disposal. Tires are routinely dumped and abandoned.

Freetown relies on scavengers who collect old tires from dumping grounds. They are paid 70 to 100 naira ($0.17-$0.24) per tire.

Some tires are also supplied directly by mechanics, like Akeem Rasaq, who is delighted to have found a place where he can make some money from old tires.

“Most of the tires end up in public drainage clogging up the drain, but things have changed,” he said at his roadside workshop.

Freetown started operations in 2020 with just four employees, and growth has been so rapid the workforce has jumped to 128. So far, more than 100,000 tires have been recycled into everything from speed bumps to soft paving for playgrounds.

“It is important to support anybody that recycles in our country,” said Houssam Azem, founder of the Lagos Jet Ski Riders Club, which has purchased paving bricks from Freetown for a children’s play area.

“Taking tires, which is an environmental nuisance, and turning them into what children can play on, I think it is a win-win for everybody.”

Source: Voice of America

Lack of Funds Will Force Aid Cuts to DRC, UN Official Says


A U.N. official says a funding shortage means humanitarian aid will have to be cut for many of the nearly 10 million people in Democratic Republic of Congo facing multiple crises because of lack of money.

Conflict in the eastern DRC has forced 5.3 million people to flee their homes, Africa’s largest number of internally displaced people. Additionally, conflict in neighboring countries has prompted more than half a million refugees to flee to the DRC.

The U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in the DRC, David McLachlan-Karr, says millions of people in the eastern provinces are victims of long-simmering inter-ethnic conflicts and conflicts over natural resources.

He says the situation is particularly concerning in Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu provinces, as well as territories in northern Tanganyika. These protracted conflicts, he says, have left millions of people destitute and in urgent need of assistance.

He says it will be difficult to provide that aid because only 27% of the U.N.’s nearly $2 billion appeal for this year has been funded.

”[It is] impacting our ability to reach the most vulnerable. And those populations, of course, leave us with a very stark choice. Who do we assist when we have such a reduced amount of assistance, forcing us to prioritize … in the DRC, which is a vast country with multiple crises,” McLachlan-Karr said.

For example, he said, the country is prone to repeated epidemics of many diseases, including Ebola, cholera, measles, and malaria. Currently, he says, the DRC is facing a lethal meningitis outbreak.

McLachlan-Karr said a recent World Food Program and UNICEF survey found 26.7 million people suffering from acute hunger in the DRC.

“They are literally living day to day in a precarious situation with an inadequate nutritional intake, leading to, essentially, a weakened condition, which, of course, makes them more prone and vulnerable to diseases across the country,” he said.

McLachlan-Karr said priority needs include food, shelter, health care, water and sanitation, education, as well as psychosocial counseling for victims of gender and sexual abuse.

Source: Voice of America

Volcanic Grit, Water Shortage Threaten La Palma’s Banana Crop


“It’s worse than a plague,” said Pedro Antonio Sanchez, fuming over the volcanic grit coating his bananas, the main source of wealth on the Canaries’ island of La Palma.

“It’s worse than a pest or disease because it scratches [the fruit],” said Sanchez, gesturing at the black sandy deposits that have rained down since the volcano erupted on September 19.

The volcano has caused major damage to banana plantations in La Palma, the second-largest producer in the Atlantic Canary Islands, where the crop accounts for 50 of the island’s economy, industry figures show.

Once the ash lands on the bananas, it is almost impossible to remove.

And it causes further damage in the handling, transport and packing, with the huge bunches, which are known as “pineapples” and can weigh up to 70 kilos (150 pounds), carried on the shoulders.

“You have to blast it off with water or something — to be honest, I don’t know how to do it,” said Sanchez, 60, who owns a small plantation. “When the dew forms overnight, it really makes the grit stick, and in the morning it just won’t come off.”

Can’t be sold

The skin blackens in the form of a scratch but nothing like the brownish-black markings that show the fruit is ripe.

And although the banana is perfect, it is rejected and cannot be sold.

“European quality regulations ban the sale of bananas with more than four square centimeters of scratches per fruit, even if they are perfect inside and can be eaten without risk,” said Esther Dominguez of ASPROCAN, which represents banana producers in the Canary Islands.

The volcano’s eruption has predominantly hurt the Aridane valley on the western flank of La Palma, although the problem caused by volcanic ash and grit has affected a much wider area.

It is not just the Aridane valley, because the wind changes direction and ash is blown all over. So 100 percent of the island is affected,” Juan Vicente Rodriguez Leal, head of the Covalle agricultural cooperative, told AFP.

“So we are going to have a significant loss of at least one year’s crop,” he said, estimating losses of “around 120 to 130 million euros [$140 to $150 million].”

The plantations are also suffering from a lack of water after the lava destroyed the area’s irrigation pipeline.

Bananas need a lot of water and the current shortage “is the biggest threat,” Sanchez said.

La Palma has long suffered from water shortages. It has no rivers, lakes or reservoirs, so the island gets its water from underground aquifers or rain collected by pine trees and transferred to the ground.

Bananas “need a lot of irrigation every seven days. Now we’re irrigating every 15 days to save water, and although they’re not going to dry out, the fruit feels the impact,” Sanchez said.

A third of Canaries’ crop

In 2020, La Palma produced 148,000 metric tons of bananas, or 34.5% of the Canaries’ overall crop, ASPROCAN figures show.

In terms of production, it is second only to Tenerife, which is three times larger.

One-tenth of La Palma’s 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) is dedicated to agriculture, of which 43% is planted in bananas, according to the Biosphere Reserve of La Palma.

More than 80% of the banana plantations in the Canaries are modest plots of less than 2.5 acres (one hectare), with many farmers living hand to mouth.

Although Sanchez enjoys the work, he’s had enough of living on the bread line.

“There are months when you bring in 1,000 euros ($1,150) or a bit more, but it’s normally less,” sometimes even as little as 300 euros, he said.

“It just doesn’t make me feel like working.”

Source: Voice of America

Google to Invest $1 Billion in Africa Over Five Years


Google plans to invest $1 billion in Africa over the next five years to ensure access to fast and cheaper internet and will back startups to support the continent’s digital transformation, it said on Wednesday.

The unit of U.S. tech company Alphabet Inc made the announcement at a virtual event where it launched an Africa Investment Fund, through which it will invest $50 million in startups, providing them with access to its employees, network and technologies.

Nitin Gajria, managing director for Google in Africa told Reuters in a virtual interview that the company would among others, target startups focusing on fintech, e-commerce and local language content.

“We are looking at areas that may have some strategic overlap with Google and where Google could potentially add value in partnering with some of these startups,” Gajria said.

In collaboration with not-for-profit organization Kiva, Google will also provide $10 million in low interest loans to help small businesses and entrepreneurs in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa so they can get through the economic hardship created by COVID-19.

Small businesses in Africa often struggle to get capital because they lack the necessary collateral required by banks in case they default. When credit is available, interest rates are usually too high.

Google said a program pioneered last year in Kenya in partnership with Safaricom that allows customers to pay for 4G-enabled phones in instalments would be expanded across the continent with mobile operators such as MTN, Orange and Vodacom.

Gajria said an undersea cable being built by Google to link Africa and Europe should come into service in the second half of next year and is expected to increase internet speeds by five times and lower data costs by up to 21% in countries like South Africa and Nigeria.

Source: Voice of America

Experts: Rebuilding Lake Chad Basin Key to Staving Off Militant Resurgence


Officials from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria have agreed to work together to reconstruct the Lake Chad Basin. The region has been a hotbed of insecurity due to attacks from Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram and its offshoots. The officials met in Cameroon’s capital this week and said the area is gradually returning to normalcy, but unemployment is pushing young people to join militant groups.

Close to 400 representatives of rights groups, funding agencies, United Nations agencies and the African Union met in Yaounde to map out ways of improving living conditions in the troubled Lake Chad Basin.

In a statement, governors from the region said member states and funding agencies will intensify rebuilding and stabilization efforts of the area.

Ahunna Eziakonwa is U.N. assistant secretary general and the regional director for Africa at the U.N. Development Program. She said many of the towns and villages in the Lake Chad Basin need to be rebuilt from the ground up.

“Houses have been destroyed, schools have become nonfunctional, markets, stores destroyed. The rule of law is completely erased with police stations completely destroyed, so a stabilization program tries to rebuild the livelihoods and lives of people who have been affected by first of all making sure we reconstruct those facilities that serve the police for instancem,” said Eziakonwa.

Since the death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau earlier this year, thousands of the group’s fighters have defected or surrendered, according to regional governments and officials of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a regional military alliance fighting the Boko Haram insurgency.

The task force made up of troops from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria said attacks by its troops in Boko Haram-controlled areas have made Shekau’s militants weaker.

Richard Fonteh Akum is the executive director of the Institute for Security Studies based in Pretoria, South Africa. He said now is the time to launch sustainable development efforts, while Boko Haram is in apparent decline.

“What may seem as normalcy right now could actually be the silence before another storm of attacks. A few years ago, there was a fracturing within Boko Haram which saw the groups splinter and see the emergence of the Islamic State West Africa Province, but at the same time Boko Haram came out stronger. So, I think unless we have a framework which allows for multi-level peace and stabilization, it will remain extremely challenging to move towards normalcy and effective reconstruction,” he said.

Akum said to stop endemic poverty in the area, roads should be improved for fishers, herders and crop farmers to transport their produce to markets.

The amount of money needed to for rebuilding efforts of the Lake Chad Basin wasn’t disclosed during the meeting, but Cameroon said it will allocate $300 million to spend on infrastructure destroyed by Boko Haram.

Source: Voice of America