• Debt demon looms again over Africa

    30/Mar/2016 // 395 Viewers


    Paris (AFP) - The spectre of high debt is raising its head again in Africa, analysts say, as sub-Saharan nations that borrowed cheaply on global markets are now squeezed by a commodities crash.


    The return of debt troubles in Africa has caught some by surprise, they say, 20 years after a global campaign was mounted to offer debt relief to the world's most impoverished nations.

    "It is clearly a source of concern. People did not see it coming," said Julien Marcilly, chief economist at French group Coface, which offers worldwide insurance to protect firms from the risk of clients defaulting.

    An IMF-World Bank programme launched in 1996 has to date approved $76 billion (68 billion euros) in external debt relief for 36 of the world's heavily indebted poor nations, of which 30 are in Africa.

    For some of those countries, however, debt levels are rising again to worrying levels.

    Relieved of their debt burdens by the international programme, countries enjoyed the budgetary freedom to boost economic growth, which was further propelled by soaring commodity prices.

    "Over the past few years, sub-Saharan African sovereigns have enjoyed unusually favourable financing conditions," Standard & Poor's said in a recent report.

    Many of them issued bonds for the first time to raise money on financial markets as borrowing costs slumped to record lows in mid-2014, the New York-based credit rating agency said.

    "The tide has turned," it warned, however, predicting that most of these countries would have to spend more and more over the next three years to service their debt.

    Many of those sub-Saharan countries will face a difficult choice between cutting spending or being obliged to pay higher debt and interest payments in the future, Standard & Poor's said.

    And this time, a large part of the debt is held by private creditors, rather than institutions such as the IMF or World Bank.

    "The depreciation of local currencies, often related to the recent commodity price decline, has inflated foreign currency debt for several sub-Saharan African sovereigns," Standard & Poor's added.

    - 'Debt trap' -

    A study by the French Treasury said the IMF-World Bank initiative had slashed the average external public debt of the 30 African countries from the equivalent of 119 percent of annual economic output to just 33 percent between 2000 and 2014.

    Yet some are now sliding deeper into debt at a "very sustained pace", the Treasury said.

    Of the 30 African countries that had previously secured international debt relief, 13 have pushed up their debt levels by the equivalent of 10 percentage points of annual gross domestic product (GDP) in the past five years, it said.

    The Republic of Congo led the list, with its external debt rising by 25 percentage points as a proportion of annual GDP, followed by Niger, up 23 percentage points, and Malawi, up 19 percentage points.

    There is no short-term risk of a new debt crisis for the great majority of African countries, the French Treasury said.

    But "a small number of them have seen a period of very sustained debt growth", it said, warning that they could soon return close to the levels of external debt that reigned before the global debt relief initiative.

    Seven countries faced the risk of elevated debt levels at the end of 2015, the Treasury said: Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Ghana; Mauritania; and Sao Tome and Principe.

    "We must ensure we do not fall again into the debt trap," African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina warned at a conference of business leaders in Abidjan this month.

    Despite a recent rise in debt levels, African countries remain less indebted than many advanced economies.

    "The total public debt of Africa amounted to 38 percent of continental GDP in 2014 compared with 111 percent for OECD nations," said Carlos Lopes, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

    "Debt levels will deteriorate in countries with a weak level of budgetary discipline and those that have borrowed excessively," Lopes said.

    He urged countries to strengthen debt management capacity and to report on how they are using their borrowed funds.

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  • French military to pull out of C.A.R

    30/Mar/2016 // 365 Viewers


    PARIS, MARCH 30, 2016: (DGW) - Military operation in the embattled  Central African Republic, (C.A.R) is billed to end this year having achieved its prime objective of restoring security to the country after three years of violence that has claimed thousands of lives, sources at the French defence ministry told journalists on Wednesday.

    Recall in 2013 the central African country was torn apart following brutal ethnic violence which prompted its former colonial masters to launch Operation Sangaris. Many have reportedly been killed before French military intervention in the country.

    While confirming France position to end military campaign in the country, Jean-Yves Le Drian said, 'I can confirm to you the end of Operation Sangaris during the course of 2016''.

    ''Sangaris force has succeeded in restoring calm even if everything is not resolved'', he told reporters in the capital city of Bangui.





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  • Burkina's ex-PM Kabore looks set to win presidental vote

    30/Nov/2015 // 359 Viewers


    Burkina Faso's former premier Roch Marc Christian Kabore took the lead in a crucial presidential poll, initial partial results showed Monday, after a year of turmoil that saw people power oust former strongman Blaise Compaore and repel a military coup.

    Partial results in the landmark poll showed Kabore, who governed under Compaore but later turned his back on the old regime, well ahead of his main rival Zephirin Diabre with 54.27 percent of the votes.

    The election was aimed at setting the country on a fresh path to democracy. It was the first time in almost three decades that the west African nation voted for a new leader, following a popular uprising in October 2014 that brought Compaore down.

    The poll comes two months after a failed military coup bid by Compaore loyalists, which both the main candidates opposed. The two men had challened the former leader's bid to change the constitution and extend his stay in power.

    With votes counted in 253 communes out of 368, results showed Diabre lagging behind Kabore with 29.16 percent. While the leading contender had promised his followers a "first-round knock-out", Diabre's supporters anticipated a second round in which anything is possible.

    Provisional results would be announced shortly before midnight GMT, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said.

    The vote had been "generally satisfactory" despite anomalies such as absent ballot papers and the late opening of some polling stations, CENI's Barthelemy Kere said.

    Kere praised the "patience, tolerance and understanding" of the 5.5 million strong electorate, who were also voting for members of a new parliament for the mainly Muslim nation.

    Long queues had formed outside polling stations, forcing some to stay open later than scheduled, and there were no reports of disturbances.

    - 'Sighing with relief' -

    The election was initially to have been held on October 11, but the country was plunged into fresh uncertainty in September when elite army leaders close to Compaore tried to seize power.

    Once again angry citizens took to the streets to foil the coup. Its leaders, including Compaore's former guard chief General Gilbert Diendere were thrown behind bars and the elections were rescheduled.

    People in Burkina, a poor nation of 18 million people that has a history of coups, are hoping the election will usher in a long era of peaceful democracy.

    "We're smiling broadly, we're sighing with relief," said Halidou Ouedraogo, chairman of CODEL, the civil society platform monitoring the election.

    "The Burkinabe people rose to the challenge of holding these historic elections in a calmer atmosphere."

    Turnout was strong in each of the 45 provinces, election chief Kere said, without giving figures. Observers noted that participation was certainly higher than during elections during the Compaore era, when it stood at around 50 percent.

    "This is a victory... for the Burkinabe people," said Michel Kafando, who has presided over the transitional regime put in place after Compaore fled.

    It was "the first fully democratic, transparent" election since 1978, when the former French colony was still known as Upper Volta, Kafando said.

    - 'Real change' -

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cheered the "peaceful atmosphere" in which the election was conducted, as well as the "strong participation of women in the electoral process," his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

    Ban "encourages all political leaders and national stakeholders to maintain the peaceful atmosphere that prevailed on election day," he said, urging all disputes to be resolved through legal means.

    Compaore's ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) was unable to put up any candidate in the presidential poll, under a contested law that barred anybody connected with his plan to change the constitution and cling to power.

    However, the well-entrenched CDP had many candidates in the parliamentary election and could score well under the system of proportional representation.

    "We have had a total rupture with the old system," Kabore said Sunday, pledging to "bring real change to the country".

    He worked with Compaore for 26 years before falling out of favour and taking up a public stance against the regime and its party.

    Diabre, an economist, opted for an international career but also served at home as minister of economy and finance and at one point joined the UN Development Programme.

    The government deployed a 25,000-strong security force to oversee the election in the nation, which has been struck by attacks by jihadists from neighbouring Mali this year.

    by Romaric Ollo Hien, Patrick Fort

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  • Ruling party wins Tanzania presidency, opposition rejects result

    30/Oct/2015 // 326 Viewers

    On Thursday Tanzania’s ruling party candidate John Magufuli was declared winner of the country's presidential election, a result his main opposition rival rejected as rigged.

    The election has been the most hotly contested race in the more than half a century of rule by the Chama Cha Mapinduzi Party, which fielded Magufuli, 56, a minister for public works.

    The main opposition parties united for the first time in a coalition to back a single candidate, former prime minister Edward Lowassa, 62, who had defected from CCM in July when the party snubbed his bid to be their flagbearer.

    Adding to tensions on what has been one of Africa’s most politically stable nations, a vote in the semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago, a hotbed of opposition to central government, was annulled on Wednesday by the local election commission there, citing violations.

    The opposition on the island said it had won that vote and said the annulment was a ploy by CCM to avoid conceding defeat.

    National Electoral Commission Chairman Damian Lubuva told a news conference that Magufuli secured 58 percent of the votes against 40 percent for Lowassa. The body dismissed complaints.

    “Since John Pombe Magufuli of the CCM party got the highest number of votes ... I hereby officially declare that he has been elected as president,” Lubuva said, adding that turnout was 67 percent of the 22.75 million registered voters.

    Even before the final declaration, Lowassa had called for a recount. “We do not accept the results of the National Electoral Commission,” he told a news conference after the final announcement, citing fraudulent activity during the count.

    The opposition’s own tally, based on its representatives monitoring polling stations, gave him 62 percent of the vote, he said.

    Chadema, a leading party in the Ukawa coalition that backed Lowassa, also rejected the results, alongside another smaller party, an electoral official said.

    Lowassa and Magufuli have drawn big crowds at rallies. Both promised to create jobs, help the poor and crack down on corruption and pledged to make sure the benefits from huge gas and other resources would trickle down to all in the nation of 47 million people.

    Two independent opinion polls before voting began had given Magufuli a lead. CCM also retained its parliamentary majority.

    In Zanzibar, police arrested several youths who had blocked roads in protest after voting there was annulled.

    Zanzibar police commissioner Hamdani Omar Makame did not give number for those arrested but said by telephone that the situation was calm, with police patrolling the streets.

    The United States and Britain both said they were alarmed by the decision to scrap the Zanzibar vote.

    Election observers from the European Union, African Union and other international groups issued a statement saying it was concerned by the Zanzibar decision after the observer group had “affirmed the credibility of the voting process.”

    (Reuters with DailyGlobeWatch)

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  • How mobile phones are improving irrigation in Niger

    30/Oct/2015 // 466 Viewers

    The system is controlled remotely using a cell phone.

    An entrepreneur from Niger has created an irrigation system that allows farmers to control the watering of their crops from afar by simply using their cell phones. The system uses water more effectively and pollutes less than methods traditionally used by local farmers for irrigation. 

    Abdou Maman Kané is the man behind this “remote irrigation system”. He’s been selling the system in Niger since 2013, through his business Tech-Innov. About 200 farms – both individual and collective – currently use the system.


    A farmer connects through his cell phone to use his remote irrigation system for the first time.

    "The remote irrigation system allows farmers to irrigate larger surface areas"

    I dreamed up this irrigation system because the way that we currently irrigate our crops in Niger is not effective. 

    Firstly, it’s estimated that farmers in Niger spend two-thirds of their working time just watering because most don’t have machines to irrigate their crops. 

    Secondly, farmers can lose up to 50% to 60% of water before it reaches the crops just through leaky buckets and pipes. Water is often lost if it is channeled through canals to reach the crops because the ground absorbs a large percentage of the water before it reaches the fields.

    Finally, most of the water used for irrigating crops is pumped up from underground sources. The fuel used to operate these pumps is expensive and also pollutes. 

    Moreover, these pumps have to be started and stopped manually-- even if they are 70 metres down. This is a very dangerous process and people die doing it. Often, workers are lowered down with a rope and some people have fallen to their deaths. Others die after inhaling poisonous gases released by the underground water tables. 
    "We use solar power to fuel the pump"

    Our remote irrigation system involves four different components.

    We give farmers a pump, which can be used both above and below ground, depending on where the water is located. For 95% of the installations that we do, the pump is powered by solar panels, which we also install. We make sure to adapt the irrigation system according to which crops the farmer is cultivating. For example, we use a drip system if plants only need to be hydrated through their roots. If the plants also need to have their leaves watered, we alter the system. Finally, we install a box between the pump and the solar panel that contains a SIM card, which makes it possible to control the whole system remotely. 

    Each time that we install this system, we do a careful study of how much water each plot of land needs. 
    A team sets up a pump, one of the pieces of the remote irrigation system, at a farm in Niger.
    Solar panels fuel the pump
    "All you have to do to start up the irrigation system is dial a number on your cell phone"
    Once the entire system is installed, when a farmer wants to irrigate his farm remotely, all he has to do is dial the numbers "142" on his cell phone. That free call connects him with the system. 

    If he happens to be illiterate -- which is the case for many farmers in Niger -- then the server automatically sends a signal to start up the pump for a set amount of time. 

    If the farmer does know how to read, then he can indicate how long he wants the pump to run. These calls cost 200 CFA francs
    The “remote irrigation” system also includes an optional component, which collects meteorological and hydrologic information in real time. It records information like the temperature, the humidity percentages in the soil, the levels of solar radiation, wind speed and rainfall -- all for the farmer’s use.
    Thanks to this system, farmers use water more effectively and waste less. They can use the saved water to irrigate larger surface areas, thus producing a larger crop yield. Because the pumps are fueled by renewable energy, they pollute less and are cheaper. Because they can irrigate their fields remotely, farmers also lose less time watering their fields. They can spend the time saved on other activities! 
    "It’s possible to earn back your investment after a year"

    The main problem with our system is the price tag, because it still costs a million CFA francs [Editor’s note: equal to 1,524 euros]. Most farmers aren’t able to buy it without help from an NGO or a loan from our partner banks. But it’s possible to earn back your investment after a year. In fact, all of the components of our system are produced in Europe. They’d be cheaper if they were produced locally.

    There are about 200 farms – both privately-owned and collective – that use the remote irrigation system in Niger. 




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  • South Africa: Thousands in nationwide protest march against corruption

    30/Sep/2015 // 356 Viewers

    Reports reaching our news desk say South Africans have turned out in their thousands in a protest march against corruption in the country. Our news crew could not reach the authorities for comment as of the time of filing this report. See pixs below:


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  • Russian plane with 224 on board crashes in Egypt's Sinai

    31/Oct/2015 // 356 Viewers

    A Russian airliner with 224 people on board crashed on Saturday in Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula, Egyptian authorities have confirmed.

    The Airbus A-321 was flying from the coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg in Russiawhen it went down in a desolate area of central Sinai, the aviation ministry said.

    Egyptian authorities said rescue teams had located the wreckage in the Hassana area, south of Arish, and that ambulances were rushed to the scene.

    A security officer at the scene told Reuters news agency that the plane was completely destroyed and that most passengers were likely to have died.

    The plane went down in a mountainous area in central Sinai and poor weather conditions have hampered rescue efforts, the officer said.

    The charter flight was operated by Russian company Kogalymavia – also known as Kolavia – and had on board 217 passengers, including 17 children, and seven crew members.

    Russian and Egyptian officials are yet to confirm the passengers' identities, but most are believed to be Russian tourists.

    It was not immediately clear what had caused the crash.




    Egyptian air traffic control lost contact with the airliner shortly after it took off at 3.51am GMT.

    The aircraft reportedly failed to make scheduled contact with Cyprus air traffic control 23 minutes after take-off and disappeared from the radar.

    Egypt's civilian aviation ministry said the plane had been at an altitude of 9,500m (31,000ft) when it vanished.

    The country’s top prosecutor has ordered the formation of a team of prosecutors tasked with going to the site of the crash and investigating the debris.

    Islamist insurgents are active in parts of Sinai, but security sources say there is no indication that the plane might have been shot down.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his deepest condolences to the families of victims, Russian news agencies said citing the Kremlin press service.

    Putin also ordered government ministries to offer immediate assistance to relatives of those killed.

    (FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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