Friday, July 03, 2020

Women Taken From African Mothers by Belgium Now Want Redress
By SAMUEL PETREQUIN
July 1, 2020

In this photo taken on Monday, June 29, 2020, clockwise from top left, Simone Ngalula, Monique Bitu Bingi, Lea Tavares Mujinga, Noelle Verbeeken and Marie-Jose Loshi pose for a group photo during an interview with The Associated Press in Brussels. Five women who were taken from their families as children in Belgian Congo and placed in a religious mission run by Catholic nuns have filed a lawsuit seeking reparations from Belgium. The women were among thousands of biracial children seized from their mothers and separated from their African roots by Belgian authorities ruling over the area from 1908-1960. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

NEDER-OVER-HEEMBEEK, Belgium (AP) — Monique Bitu Bingi was only 4 years old when she was taken from her family in Belgian Congo and locked up in a religious mission run by Catholic nuns. Her friend Lea Tavares Mujinga was even younger the day her mother was forced to give her up: just a 2-year-old toddler.

Born from a white settler father and a Black mother — and despised because of their biracial heritage — both girls were seized from their mothers and separated from their African roots by Belgian authorities that ruled over the area from 1908-1960.

During colonial times, they, like thousands of other biracial children known as “métis,” were taken away and raised in Belgian institutions as the colonial power promoted a strict separation of white and Black people and systematically tried to prevent interracial unions.

At the St. Vincent de Paul sisters’ mission, they went through years of deprivation and abuse that have left indelible scars.

“We have been destroyed, both morally and psychologically,” Bitu Bingi told The Associated Press on Monday, the eve of the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence on June 30, 1960. “We have lost our identities. Excuses are not enough.”

Now in their 70s, Bitu Bingi and Tavares Mujinga want reparations. Along with three other biracial women born between 1945 and 1950 in the African country, they have filed a lawsuit in Brussels targeting the Belgian state for crimes against humanity.

Their complaint comes amid growing demands that Belgium reassess its colonial past. In the wake of protests against racial inequality in the United States, several statues of King Leopold II, who is blamed for the deaths of millions of Africans during Belgium’s colonial rule, have been vandalized and a petition has demanded that Belgium remove all of his statues.

Last year, the Belgian government apologized for the state’s role in taking thousands of babies from their African mothers. And for the first time in the country’s history, a reigning king expressed regret Tuesday for the violence carried out by the former colonial power. In a letter to Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, Belgium’s King Philippe conveyed his “deepest regrets” for the “acts of violence and cruelty” and “suffering and humiliation” inflicted on Belgian Congo.

Bitu Bingi, Tavares Mujinga and the three other women now live in Belgium and France after emigrating from Congo and have requested compensation of 50,000 euros ($55,000) each but are are also seeking broad reparations for all children seized from their mothers and placed in institutions during the colonial era.

“There were official documents from the administration, it’s a state crime that was organized by the Belgian colonial administration,” said Christophe Marchand, a lawyer representing the women.

Tavares Mujinga said she was taken away from her family while her father, a Portuguese man who worked in the cotton industry, had left the country for a holiday. Bitu Bingi’s father worked for the Belgian administration.

According to legal documents, in all five cases the fathers did not exercise parental authority and the Belgian administration threatened the children’s Congolese families with reprisals if they refused to let them go.

Time has passed since the five women were forced to cut ties with their relatives, but the trauma they went through has never been fully addressed, and their pain remains immense. None of them have ever received psychological assistance.

“When we talk about it, we cry,” Noelle Verbeeken, one of the five plaintiffs, told the AP on the outskirts of Brussels.

“We have no identity. We don’t know where we come from. ... We are nothing. Just the ‘children of sin,’” Verbeeken said, quoting the expression used to describe the children when they arrived at the religious mission in the Congolese town of Katende. There, Tavares Mujinga was reunited with her older brother, who had been seized a few years earlier.

The women lived in the mission with 20 other biracial children and Black orphans in very harsh conditions. Bitu Bingi recalls that food was scarce, and rare were the days when she could properly wash.

“We did not know how chicken tasted. And one of the doors of our dormitory was overlooking the morgue,” she said.

The girls did receive an education. Tavares Mujinga, who went on to marry a Belgian airplane pilot, became a primary teacher while Verbeeken studied Greek humanities and became a nurse.

“They wanted to make nuns out of us. We had other plans,” Bitu Bingi said.

The women’s traumatic journey took a turn for the worse several months after independence, when they and the other children were abandoned by both the Belgian authorities and the Catholic Church. The nuns and other mission personnel were evacuated amid political upheaval and the children were left on their own.

“There was no room for us,” Bitu Bingi said, recalling mutilated bodies around the mission during the post-independence unrest.

She doesn’t dwell on the sexual abuse and rape by Congolose militia fighters after the nuns left that is described in the lawsuit, which says the militiamen sent to the abandoned mission to look after the young girls molested them instead. Bitu Bingi was only 11.

To this day, she says she can’t help but think of the militia trucks whenever she hears the sound of a truck engine.

She found solace during a trip to South America decades later after finding out that her father had emigrated to Argentina to start a new life. She traveled there and finally met that branch of her family, a trip she said eased her suffering.

“My father was already dead, but I received a warm welcome,” she said.

Bitu Bingi and the women she calls “sisters” now hope their lawsuit will lead Belgium to finally recognize its responsibility in their suffering and in the pain of the thousands of other children who were snatched away.

“What we expect, and what they expect, is a reparation law, a strong decision,” said Jehosheba Bennett, another lawyer for the women. “Telling the stories of what happened during the colonization is really important, because now there is not much awareness about this.”
Black Worker Files Discrimination Complaint Against Facebook
By BARBARA ORTUTAY
July 2, 2020

FILE - In this March 29, 2018, file photo, the logo for social media giant Facebook, appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. A Black Facebook employee, joined by two others who were denied jobs at the social network, has filed a complaint against the company, saying it discriminates against Black workers and applicants in hiring, evaluations, promotions and pay. Facebook did not immediately respond to a message for comment Thursday, July 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A Black Facebook employee, joined by two others who were denied jobs at the social network, has filed a complaint against the company, saying it discriminates against Black workers and applicants in hiring, evaluations, promotions and pay.

The charge was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Oscar Veneszee, Jr., who has worked as an operations program manager at Facebook since 2017 and claims he has not been fairly evaluated or promoted despite his “excellent performance” at the company. Two others joined Veneszee’s complaint, saying they were unlawfully denied jobs at the company despite being qualified.

Facebook said in a statement it takes discrimination allegations seriously and investigates every case.

“We believe it is essential to provide all employees with a respectful and safe working environment,” said spokeswoman Pamela Austin.

Black workers account for 3.8% of all U.S. Facebook employees and 1.5% of all U.S. technical workers at the company. Those numbers have barely budged over the past several years, a common pattern across large Silicon Valley firms.

This isn’t the first criticism a Black employee has leveled at Facebook. Mark Luckie, who left the company in 2018, sent a memo to his coworkers on his last day — also posted on Facebook — that chronicled what he called Facebook’s “black people problem.”

“Facebook’s disenfranchisement of black people on the platform mirrors the marginalization of its black employees,” Luckie wrote. “In my time at the company, I’ve heard far too many stories from black employees of a colleague or manager calling them ‘hostile’ or ‘aggressive’ for simply sharing their thoughts in a manner not dissimilar from their non-Black team members.”

According to Veneszee’s complaint, filed on Thursday, “people of color and Black workers in particular remain underrepresented at all levels of Facebook and especially at the management and leadership levels. They do not feel respected or heard. And they do not believe that Black workers have an equal opportunity to advance their careers at Facebook.”

While there may be Black Lives Matter posters on Facebook’s walls, the complaint says, “Black workers don’t see that phrase reflecting how they are treated in Facebook’s own workplace.”
Victim of Alleged Assault by Ohio Deputy Wants Officer Fired
By JULIE CARR SMYTH

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A man who prosecutors say was kicked in the head by an Ohio sheriff’s deputy while handcuffed and pinned to the floor demanded on Friday that the officer charged in his assault be fired.

Nick Ballachino called for Sgt. Jesse Franklin’s firing outside the Cincinnati law offices of his attorney, Fanon Rucker. His plea came a day after Franklin, a veteran of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault. The charge carries a penalty of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

Sheriff Jim Neil on Thursday said he was “outraged and shocked” by Franklin’s “egregious conduct,” which he said went against department training and values. Neil suspended Franklin without pay while a disciplinary case is brought.

Ballachino and Rucker, a Democratic candidate for prosecutor, said that’s not enough.

“An individual with this temperament should not be working in law enforcement in any capacity,” Rucker said. “If Sergeant Franklin felt comfortable kicking a handcuffed man in the head on camera, who knows what he’s capable of when there are no cameras rolling.”

Neil’s spokesman did not respond to an email seeking comment Friday, a county holiday.

The June 9 incident involving Franklin comes to light amid mass demonstrations against excessive use of force by police, particularly against Black people, that followed the death of George Floyd. Floyd died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck as he pleaded for air.

County Prosecutor Joe Deters said Ballachino was arrested by Cincinnati police for disorderly conduct while intoxicated and obstructing official business. He was taken to the Hamilton County Justice Center, where he resisted being searched by deputies, Deters said.

Ballachino, who is white, was wrestled to the floor by several deputies and handcuffed. Ballachino bit Franklin’s booted foot and it was at that point that video showed Franklin kicking the detainee’s head, Deters said.

Ballachino was taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion and received five stitches. He said Friday that he still experiences headaches and dizzy spells following the incident, which he called “brutal.”

Franklin’s is the first prosecution of a police use-of-force case in Hamilton County since Ray Tensing, a white University of Cincinnati police officer, was charged in the killing of an unarmed Black motorist five years ago.

Tensing shot Sam DuBose, 43, in the head after pulling him over on July 19, 2015, for a missing front license plate. He testified that he believed his life was in danger when DuBose tried to drive away during the traffic stop.

State murder charges were dropped against Tensing after deadlocked juries led to two mistrials.
2 Oklahoma Police Officers Charged in Death of Man
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Two police officers from a small southern Oklahoma town have been charged with second-degree murder after being accused of using their stun guns more than 50 times on a 28-year-old man who died.

Wilson police Officers Joshua Taylor, 26, and Brandon Dingman, 34, were charged Wednesday in the death last year of Jared Lakey, according to court documents.

Court documents said the two officers used their stun guns on Lakey more than 50 times, “which greatly exceeded what would have been necessary or warranted by the attendant circumstances,” and was a “substantial factor” in Lakey’s death.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which assisted with the investigation at the request of the Carter County sheriff’s office, said that after Taylor and Dingman used a their stun guns on Lakey on July 4, 2019, Lakey was hospitalized and died on July 6, 2019.

Taylor and Dingman had come into contact with Lakey after responding to a call that he was acting in a disorderly way, OSBI said. The agency said that when Lakey wouldn’t comply with the officers’ commands, they used their stun guns multiple times.

A deputy with the Carter County sheriff’s office eventually responded to the scene and helped get Lakey into custody. OSBI said that shortly after that, Lakey stopped breathing and became unresponsive. He was taken to the hospital.

OSBI said that on Wednesday, prosecutors issued arrest warrants for Taylor and Dingman. OSBI said both turned themselves in Thursday morning. They were each given a $250,000 bond and both have bonded out.

Court records do not list attorneys for Taylor or Dingman and home phone numbers for the men could not be found.

If convicted, each faces a punishment of 10 years to life in prison.

Wilson is located about 100 miles south of Oklahoma City.
`You Broke My Wrist!′ Police Sued for Taking Down Wrong Man
By RUSS BYNUM
July 1, 2020

In this still image from body camera video released by the Valdosta police, Antonio Arnelo Smith is slammed face-first to the ground by a Valdosta police sergeant, in Valdosta, Ga., on Feb. 8, 2020. The video shows Smith handing his driver's license to a police officer and answering questions cooperatively before a second officer, Sgt. Billy Wheeler, approaches him from behind, wraps him in a bear hug and slams him face-first to the ground. Smith is crying in pain when he's told there's a warrant for his arrest. Officers are then told the warrant was for someone else. (Valdosta Police via AP)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Body camera video shows Antonio Arnelo Smith handing his driver’s license to a Black police officer and answering questions cooperatively before a white officer walks up behind him, wraps him in a bear hug and slams him face-first to the ground.

“Oh my God, you broke my wrist!” the 46-year-old Black man screams as two more white Valdosta officers arrive, holding him down and handcuffing him following the takedown. One eventually tells Smith he’s being arrested on an outstanding warrant, and is immediately corrected by the first officer: They’ve got the wrong man.

Clutching his wrist and whimpering, Smith was let go without charges after the violent encounter on Feb. 8 in Valdosta, Georgia, near the Florida state line.

Now he’s suing all four officers, as well as Valdosta’s police chief, mayor and others, saying police used excessive force and violated his civil rights.

“When you see that video, you can’t help but say this is a travesty,” said Nathaniel Haugabrook, one of Smith’s attorneys. “Nobody should be done that way.”

The federal lawsuit comes during a national outcry over police brutality against people of color, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Haugabrook said police stopped Smith for questioning after a drug store employee reported him for panhandling outside.

“Obviously it has some racial tones to it,” Haugabrook said Thursday.

Smith’s encounter with police went largely unnoticed for more than four months, until he filed suit June 19. The city of Valdosta issued a statement three days after that, saying police are conducting an internal investigation and that Smith never filed a complaint.

City officials also released one of the four body camera recordings — that of the officer who grabbed Smith, which doesn’t show the takedown because the camera is pressed to Smith’s back. Valdosta officials didn’t release body camera videos with a clearer view until after the Valdosta Daily Times published one received from Smith’s attorneys.

The city’s statement said police responding to a report that a man was harassing customers and asking for money outside the drug store simultaneously found two suspects nearby who fit the description. Officers questioning one of them learned he had an outstanding arrest warrant. The other was Smith.

The city’s statement says that an officer, identified in the lawsuit as Sgt. Billy Wheeler, approached Smith mistakenly believing he was the wanted man, and “advised him to place his hands behind his back.” Smith “began to resist by pulling his arms forward and tensing his body,” prompting Wheeler to take him to the ground, the city said.

This is not an accurate description of what the officers’ body cameras recorded.

The video shows Wheeler walk up silently behind Smith, grab his right wrist and pin both of his arms to his sides in a bear hug. Only then does he order Smith to put his pinned hands behind his back, and Wheeler slams him to the ground almost immediately thereafter.

Asked about this discrepancy, a city spokeswoman, Ashlyn Johnson, said the city had no further comment. She said she did not know the status of the officers involved.

“The City of Valdosta and the Valdosta Police Department take any report of any injury to a citizen seriously,” the statement said.

The videos, recorded at noon on a clear, sunny day, show the encounter from beginning to end. Smith cries out in pain that his wrist is broken, and Wheeler says: “Yeah, he might be broke.” The officers remove the handcuffs within about a minute and call for an ambulance. Still on the ground, Smith asks why he’s being arrested.

“We have a warrant for your arrest,” one officer tells Smith.

That prompts the officer who first stopped Smith, identified in court records as Dominic Henry, to correct them.

“Hey, this was another guy,” Henry says. “The guy with the warrant’s over there. No, there’s two different people.”

Smith leaves the scene before paramedics arrive. His lawyer said Smith wanted to get away from the officers as quickly as possible, and the wrist never healed properly.

Smith’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeks unspecified monetary damages. In a letter sent to Valdosta officials seeking a settlement before the lawsuit was filed, Smith’s attorneys asked for $700,000. But he also wants something more, his lawyer said: A commitment by the Valdosta Police Department to reform.
Cops Fired Over Photos of Chokehold Used on Elijah McClain
By PATTY NIEBERG and THOMAS PEIPERT

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Three officers were fired Friday over photos showing police reenact a chokehold used on Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died last year after police stopped him on the street in a Denver suburb.

One of those fired is Jason Rosenblatt, a white Aurora officer who helped stop McClain in August for wearing a ski mask and “being suspicious.” Police put McClain in a chokehold, paramedics injected him with a sedative and McClain suffered cardiac arrest before later being taken off life support.

Aurora Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson told reporters that officers sent the photos to Rosenblatt two months after McClain died. Rosenblatt responded with a text saying, “Haha.”

“We are ashamed, we are sickened, and we are angry,” Wilson said. The officers may not have committed a crime, but the photographs are “a crime against humanity and decency,” she added.

McClain’s death has become a rallying cry amid a national reckoning over police brutality and racial injustice, with the state reopening the case for possible criminal charges and federal officials looking into a civil rights investigation. In several places, the chokehold has been banned and other police reforms passed after nationwide protests.

McClain’s family, friends and community activists noted during a rally that justice was swifter for the mocking photograph than the use of force against McClain’s death. The two other officers who stopped the young man are still on the force as authorities look again into possible criminal charges after clearing them last year.

“Rosenblatt got fired not for killing Elijah, not for murdering Elijah, but for making fun of Elijah,” said Terrence Roberts, a community organizer and family friend. “That is the culture that we’re fighting, where a police officer can murder a black man, a black child, and keep his job and stay on the force so he can go make fun of this child.”

Officers Kyle Dittrich, Erica Marrero and Jaron Jones — none of whom were among the officers who confronted McClain in August — smiled and mockingly placed each other in a chokehold in the photographs taken in October near a memorial for McClain.

An officer reported the photos to a sergeant late last month, and an internal investigation began.

Rosenblatt, Dittrich and Marrero were fired for conduct unbecoming an officer. Jones resigned earlier this week.

The Aurora Police Association called the investigation “a rush to judgment.” The union for officers said on Facebook that the investigation took nine days, while a standard internal affairs case takes months.

Several police agencies have taken swift action to punish officers, including those involved in George Floyd’s death May 25 in Minneapolis that ushered in global demonstrations.

For Elijah McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, “it was just devastating to see that people were mocking the murder of her son,” family attorney Mari Newman said.

“The fact that three on-duty, in-uniform police officers thought that it was appropriate to reenact the murder, jokingly, shows that the department is rotten to the core,” she said.

Facing increasing pressure as celebrities and others on social media called for justice, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis last week ordered the state attorney general to reopen McClain’s case.

The officers stopped McClain, a massage therapist, after a 911 call on Aug. 24 reported him as suspicious because he was wearing a ski mask and flailing his arms. He begged them repeatedly to let go of him, according to body-camera video.

After the chokehold that cut off blood to his brain, paramedics administered 500 milligrams of a sedative to calm him down. A forensic pathologist could not determine what exactly led to McClain’s death but said physical exertion during the confrontation likely contributed.

A prosecutor said he didn’t pursue criminal charges against the officers because the pathologist wasn’t able to determine if their actions caused McClain’s death. District Attorney Dave Young recently called the young man’s death “tragic and unnecessary” but defended his decision.

Police body-camera video shows an officer getting out of his car, approaching McClain and saying, “Stop right there. Stop. Stop. ... I have a right to stop you because you’re being suspicious.”

In the video, the officer turns McClain around and repeats, “Stop tensing up.” As McClain tries to escape the officer’s grip, the officer says, “Relax, or I’m going to have to change this situation.”

As other officers join to restrain McClain, he begs them to let go and says, “You guys started to arrest me, and I was stopping my music to listen.”

Aurora police have said McClain refused to stop walking and fought back when officers tried to take him into custody.

In the video, McClain tells officers: “Let go of me. I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”

The U.S. attorney’s office, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI announced this week they are looking into whether to launch a civil rights investigation. Federal authorities said they also were considering an investigation into the photos.
___

Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Confederate Flag Losing Prominence 155 Years After Civil War
By JAY REEVES
June 30, 2020

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Long a symbol of pride to some and hatred to others, the Confederate battle flag is losing its place of official prominence 155 years after rebellious Southern states lost a war to perpetuate slavery.

Mississippi’s Republican governor on Tuesday signed legislation to remove the Civil War emblem from the state flag, a move that was both years in the making and notable for its swiftness amid a national debate over racial inequality following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Mississippi’s was the last state flag to include the design.

NASCAR, born in the South and still popular in the region, banned the rebel banner from races earlier this month, and some Southern localities have removed memorials and statues dedicated to the Confederate cause. A similar round of Confederate flag and memorial removals was prompted five years ago by the slaying of nine Black people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. A white supremacist was convicted of the shooting.

Make no mistake: The Confederate flag isn’t anywhere close to being gone from the South. Just drive along highways where Sons of Confederate Veterans members have erected gigantic battle flags or stop by Dixie General Store, where Bob Castello makes a living selling hundreds of rebel-themed shirts, hats, car accessories and more in an east Alabama county named for a Confederate officer, Gen. Patrick Cleburne.

But even Castello is surprised by how demonstrations over police brutality became a wave that seems to be washing over generations of adoration for the Confederate battle flag by some. He wonders what might happen next.

“This could go on and on,” he said. “There’s just no limit to where they could go with it.”

The Confederacy was founded in Montgomery in 1861 with a Constitution that prohibited laws “denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves.” The South lost, slavery ended, and Confederate sympathizers almost ever since have argued the war wasn’t just about slavery, instead advocating the “lost cause” version centered around state’s rights, Southern nobility and honor.

To some, the Confederate battle flag — with its red background, blue X and white stars — is a down-home symbol of Southern heritage and pride. The band Alabama, one of the top-selling country music groups ever, included the banner on five album covers in the 1980s and ’90s while at the height of its popularity.

Patty Howard, who was visiting a huge carving of Confederate Civil War generals at Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park with her husband, Toby, on Monday, said they aren’t offended by the flag, but they also don’t fly it at their home in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

“I don’t see it as related to slavery,” said Howard, 71. “To us, it just represents being from the South.”

But the flag has a dark side. It has been waved for decades by the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists who oppose equal rights. The banner’s use by such groups, combined with a widening sense that it is time to retire the symbol of a defeated nation once and for all, has led to change.

“The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said of the state’s current flag, which was adopted by lawmakers at a time when white supremacists were actively squelching political power that African Americans had gained after the Civil War.

Georgia — which added the battle emblem to its state flag in 1956 in response to U.S. Supreme Court decisions to desegregate public schools — adopted a flag without a rebel banner in 2003.

Alabama flew the battle flag atop its state Capitol until 1993, when it was removed following protests by Black legislators. Additional Confederate flags were removed from around a massive Confederate memorial just outside the building in 2015, when South Carolina also removed its battle flag from the state Capitol grounds after the shooting.

It has taken longer in Mississippi. Not long after the Charleston shooting, House Speaker Philip Gunn became the state’s first prominent Republican to say the Confederate symbol on the state flag was morally offensive and must be changed. People posted signs with the slogan, “Keep the Flag. Change the speaker,” but Gunn was easily reelected twice.

During the past month, Gunn and Mississippi’s first-year lieutenant governor, Republican Delbert Hosemann, persuaded a diverse, bipartisan coalition of legislators that changing the flag was inevitable and they should be part of it.

Hosemann is the great-grandson of a Confederate soldier, Lt. Rhett Miles, who was captured at Vicksburg and requested a pardon after the war ended in 1865.

“After he had fought a war for four years, he admitted his transgressions and asked for full citizenship,” Hosemann said during the debate. “If he were here today, he’d be proud of us.”
___

Associated Press reporters Kate Brumback in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.
GERD Talks Still Lack Technical, Legal Agreement: Egypt's Irrigation Ministry
Ahram Online
Friday 3 Jul 2020

The Egyptian irrigation ministry said on Friday evening that fundamental differences over the technical and legal aspects of theGrand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) are stillin place between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

The ministry's short statement was released on the first day of the new round of tripartite talks.

Talks willcontinue via video conference on Saturday, the statement added.

Sudan said the new round of talks resumed on Friday under the auspices of the African Union, which is headed by South Africa.

The United States, the EU, South Africa, representatives of the AU office and AU Commission as well as AU legal experts attended the session as observers, stated the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation.

The previous round of negotiations between the three countries, held from 9 to 17 June, failed to produce an accord due to Ethiopia's refusal to enter into a legally binding agreement and its announcement that it will begin filling the dam in July with or without the approval of the two downstream countries.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/373578.aspx
GERD Talks Between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan Resume on Friday
Ahram Online
Friday 3 Jul 2020

Negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the operation and filling of the under-construction Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam began via video conference on Friday afternoon, the Sudanese government said in a statement.

The talks are being held under the auspices of the African Union, which is currently headed by South Africa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current AU chairman, said that he hoped this round of talks will reach an acceptable solution that will safeguard the interests of the three countries.

The previous round of negotiations between the three countries, held from 9-17 June, failed to produce an accord due to Ethiopia's refusal to enter into a legally binding agreement and its announcement that it will begin filling the dam in July even without approval from the two downstream countries.

The leaders of the three countries, along with Ramaphosa, held an online mini-summit on last Friday.

At the summit, Ethiopia agreed to delay the filling of the hydropower dam until a final binding deal is reached. The summit also agreed to form a committee of legal and technical experts to draft a final deal.

The technical committee will try to strike a deal within two weeks, as suggested by Ethiopia, Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said following the summit.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/373567.aspx
Eni Announces Gas Discovery off Egyptian Coast in the Mediterranean
Ahram Online
Wednesday 1 Jul 2020

Eni says it will drill a new well this year in the Great Nooros area

Italian oil company Eni announced on Wednesday that it has made a new gas discovery off the coast of the Egyptian Nile Delta.

Eni, along with contractors British BP and France's Total, has successfully drilled the first exploration well in the North Hammad concession, which Eni operates, the company said in a statement on its website.

In 2015, the Italian oil and gas company was awarded a 37.5 percent share in the North El-Hammad licence block, while BP holds 37.5 percent and Total holds the remaining 25 percent. Exploration by the three companies began in the block three years later.

The new discovery, which is at the Bashrush prospect, is located at a depth of 22 metres, and is 11 km from the coast. It is also close to the Nooros and Baltim South West offshore fields, both of which are also operated by Eni.

The well is a single 152-metre-thick gas column in Messinian age sandstone, and it has "excellent petrophysical properties," the company said, adding that the well will be tested for production.

The three firms will coordinate with Egypt's petroleum authorities to begin studying the development options for the new discovery, with the aim of "fast tracking" production, the statement said.

Eni said it will drill another well, Nidoco NW-1 DIR, this year in the Great Nooros area, located in the Abu Madi West concession.

Eni has been operating in Egypt since 1954 through its subsidiary IEOC, and its current daily production is estimated at 280,000 barrels of oil equivalent.

The Italian company discovered the giant Zohr gas field, the biggest in the Mediterranean, off the Egyptian coast in 2015. The discovery, which holds an estimated reservoir of 30 trillion cubic feet, has drawn the interest of investors to the country's energy sector.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/373420.aspx
WTO, International Banks Collaborate to Provide Support for Global Trade Amid COVID-19
Doaa A.Moneim
Wednesday 1 Jul 2020

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other multilateral development banks to provide urgently needed support for trade during the COVID-19 crisis, which has caused a devastating economic downturn, the EBRD and WTO announced in a joint statement on Wednesday.

The EBRD, the WTO, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation said that they committed to working together to ensure that trade finance remains available through the ongoing difficult period, just as they did previously during the global financial crisis of 2008-2010.

They added that they will join forces to monitor ongoing developments and act to fill financing gaps that could emerge.

“We prioritise our support to areas in the world where such support is needed most, particularly the poorest countries. We also call on other institutions, trade credit insurers, central banks, other public-backed and private sector institutions to join current efforts and support essential trade finance transactions,” they added in the statement.

The EBRD has stepped up its support under its Trade Facilitation Programme, providing amplified financing for trade with a record €1.5 billion for the first five months of 2020 in the 38 economies in Europe, Asia and Africa where it currently invests.

Global trade is expected to drop around 18.5 percent (Y-o-Y) in the second quarter of 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis, according to the WTO.

In June, the WTO said that the volume of merchandise trade shrank by 3 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same three months in 2019, adding that initial estimates for the second quarter, when the pandemic and its related lockdown measures affected a large share of the global population, indicate a year-on-year drop of about 18.5 percent.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/373424.aspx
Mersal: A Lifeline for Hospital Beds in Egypt’s Virus Fight
Ayat Al Tawy
Friday 3 Jul 2020

Every day, Heba Rashed is inundated with as many as 200 calls and messages on her mobile phone, starting the moment she wakes up, from Egyptians pleading for help finding a hospital bed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“If I don’t answer my phone, people may die. In a crisis like this, we can’t retreat,” the 40-year-old said after a typically exhausting work day that ended at midnight.

Rashed is the founder and head of Mersal, a five-year-old health care charity whose name has done the rounds on social media in recent weeks for saving the lives of hundreds of coronavirus patients.

Since May, she has been leading a nine-strong “emergency” team that has stepped forward to help in the gruelling battle against the highly contagious disease, as the rising caseload strains medical services in the country of over 100 million people.

The charity has taken on the daunting task of securing hospital beds and expensive intensive care unit (ICU) spots for coronavirus cases or those suffering from severe pneumonia caused by COVID-19.

As the epidemic accelerates and the disease progresses, these beds are in rising demand, especially because of the breathing problems the illness can bring.

Mersal’s coronavirus team has direct round-the-clock access to an operation room designated by health authorities for the coronavirus crisis that has a helpline, and is working together with ten private hospitals in Greater Cairo.

“We first reach out to the 105 [room]; if they find us an available bed in a state hospital, we direct the patient to it. If there is pressure, we send them to a private hospital until they secure a place in a government hospital, or until they recover and are discharged,” Rashed told Ahram Online.

Every day, the organisation receives some 2,000-3,000 calls and social media messages. Of those, some 50 people are added daily to a waitlist for critical care beds -- now totalling around 300.

The high numbers mean the team must perform triage to decide who deserves a place first, with priority usually given to those in serious condition, Rashed says.

While concerns are rising about how the country’s already faltering and under-resourced health care system will handle the surge of an average of 1,400 new infections daily in recent weeks, authorities have repeatedly assured the public that the hospital system is not running out of beds.

Last week, Egypt’s health minister said that the occupancy rate at quarantine hospitals was at 59 percent and intensive care beds were at 71 percent nationwide.

Out of the 35,000 beds in the 376 Egyptian hospitals currently dealing with coronavirus patients, only 6,500 were occupied, minister Hala Zayed said last month. She stressed that beds were still available in Cairo despite its high rate of infections and that complaints about lack of beds had dropped recently.

“Until a couple of weeks ago, a lot of people were calling us saying they cannot find a place. We had a very long waiting list,” said Ayman Soliman, an internist and critical care doctor at the Abbasiya fever hospital, the country’s first and major frontline facility in the battle against the virus.

But he says things have changed significantly after the country designated over 300 general hospitals to receive coronavirus cases. “There is a big difference now; the numbers [of those needing beds] are not as high, even with the steady rise in infections, and the waiting time is a lot shorter.”

Saving lives

Over the past month, Mersal has offered more than 400 patients intensive care beds, mostly in private hospitals, while covering all or part of the cost.

Marwa Refaat’s 66-year-old father was one such patient. He had spent nine days in isolation at home before he started having trouble breathing and his oxygen level deteriorated. He was being given oxygen at home as the family scrambled to hunt for a bed.

They reached out to four state hospitals and special government helplines, but to no avail, with one hospital turning them down.

Refaat posted a dire plea on social media at night, and the following afternoon, she was contacted by the Mersal team, who told her they had found her father a bed at a private hospital.

Her father spent 11 days at hospital, five in the ICU. Mersal fully covered the cost without querying if the family could have afforded it or not.

“I would have lost him if it wasn’t for them,” Refaat said.

Intensive care beds at private hospitals are expensive, costing between EGP10,000-50,000 (approx. $620-3,100) a day, Rashed and others say.

“There is an exaggeration in prices. But we have no other option. The alternative is that people will die,” Rashed said, adding that some facilities had offered them a discount of up to 30 percent.

Mersal has also helped around three dozen COVID-19 sufferers find beds at state hospitals strained by the rising influx of patients. It now has its own 20-bed ICU unit that came into operation in late May.

The charity, which is entirely reliant on social media to draw donors, now runs a telemedicine Facebook group for suspected coronavirus cases and self-isolating patients which has drawn 350,000 followers and which helps hundreds of people every day.

It has also given a number of life-saving ventilators and supplies of protective gear to several hospitals nationwide.

But the team, who are working round-the-clock rotating shifts to make sure they are reachable 24/7, are grappling with another challenge.

The unrelenting mental pressure of battling the pandemic on the frontline has exacted a toll on many of them, who have seen patients succumb to a disease that has killed more than 3,000 in the country.

“Sometimes I feel like I cannot handle that amount of calls, deaths, and cries. I just break down. It’s a terrible mental pressure,” Rashed says.

When this happens, she opts to stay away from her phone for a bit and have more proper sleep, while having one of her colleagues take her place.

“But the following day I’m back to the circuit. We can’t take a break at such a time.”

There are, however, many victories that keep the staff going. For Rashed, one such moment was when a 10-year-old patient, already suffering from an autoimmune disease and in dire condition, was admitted to hospital.

“Not all hospitals accept such cases. We were a bundle of nerves until we found him a bed. It was a happy day.”

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/373511.aspx

Thursday, July 02, 2020

SADC Approves New Cross-border Rules
Southern Times
June 26, 2020
Thando Mnkandhla

Windhoek - The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has approved a set of revised guidelines for cross-border transporters.

The Revised Regional Guidelines and Harmonisation and Facilitation of Cross Border Transport Operations across the Region, and Regional Standard Operating Procedures for the Management and Monitoring of Cross Border Road Transport at Designated Points of Entry and Covid-19 Checkpoints got the nod at a virtual Extraordinary Council of Ministers meeting on June 23.

An initial set of guidelines was approved on April 6, and the Council of Ministers has updated these to factor in lessons learnt since then.

The revised guidelines aim to structure smooth and harmonised processing of COVID-19 regulations by member states, for purposes of promotion of safe trade and transport.

The updated regulations will also facilitate implementation of the SMART corridor trip monitoring system for management of cross-border movements, which will bolster driver wellness, vehicle tracking, contact tracing and queue management.

Council of Ministers Chair Professor Palamagamba John Kabudi called on SADC to continue exhibiting determination and solidarity in addressing COVID-19.

Prof Kabudi said it was important to have stringent and co-ordinated measures to contain the pandemic.

SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Tax added, “All indications show that until a vaccine for the treatment of COVID-19 is found, which might take a while, the region has to remain pragmatic and vigilant by considering  both, health requirements, but also socio-economic imperatives."

Members of the bloc that are yet to establish National Transport and Trade Facilitation Committees with expanded membership to include public health, public security and the private sector were urged to do so expeditiously.
Porous Borders Worry Lesotho
Southern Times
June 26, 2020

Lesotho last week recorded eight new cases of COVID-19, the highest number reported by the small mountain kingdom to date.

"Seven of the confirmed cases had a travel history from South Africa and one from Zimbabwe," the country's director-general of health services, Dr Ntsane Letsie, said in a statement last week.

She said two patients were from the capital Maseru, four from Mohale's Hoek, one from Berea and one from Buthe-Buthe.

Lesotho now has 12 COVID-19 infections, two recoveries, but no virus-related deaths.

Letsie said the ministry of health would continue to carry out contact tracing on all the confirmed cases. It would also continue "vigilant screening" at designated points of entry, at health facilities and in communities, as well as monitoring those in home quarantine.

She appealed to the public to remain calm, vigilant and adhere to safety protocols to minimise the spread of the virus.

Last week, Health Minister Motlatsi Maqelepo announced that the COVID-19 lockdown restriction had been relaxed, which included food retailers resuming trade from 8am to 8pm, and liquor stores

being allowed to operate from 8am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday.

Taxis and buses were only allowed to take seated passengers, with no standing room allowed.

Earlier in June, Lesotho's National Emergency Command Centre said it was worried that many Basotho were taking advantage of the porous borders to enter the country from South Africa, which is deemed a high-risk for COVID-19.

The spokesperson for the command centre, Ramakhula Ramakhula, said via a statement that between June 10 and 17, a total of 141 Basotho from South Africa entered the country through various weak border areas, and implied that thousands of Basotho were already in Lesotho because of the porous borders.

South Africa has the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Africa.

According to the latest figures released by the country's National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the country had recorded 97,302 COVID-19 infections, 51,608 recoveries, and 1,930 deaths as of Sunday night.

According to real-time data tracking site, Worldometers, South Africa has surpassed China's confirmed cases.

China has to date recorded 83,396 infections, 78,413 recoveries, and 4,634 deaths.

The new coronavirus was first recorded in Wuhan, the capital of Central China’s Hubei province, in December 2019, from where it spread to other parts of the world, resulting in a global pandemic.

– African News Agency
Kenya Gets UN Security Council Seat
Southern Times
June 26, 2020
Thando Mnkandhla

Windhoek - Kenya has been elected a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, beating Djibouti in a close contest for the post designated for Africa on the powerful organ.

Both countries failed to get the required two-thirds vote win in the initial round of balloting last week Wednesday at the UN Headquarters in New York, USA. Kenya had 113 votes to Djibouti's 78, against the two-thirds threshold of 128.

This triggered a runoff the next day where 191 of the UN General Assembly’s 193 voting members cast ballots. Kenya secured 129 of these to Djibouti’s 68.

The east African country will join Niger and Tunisia, who were elected unopposed, and they will replace South Africa, Cote d'Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea for a two-year term.

The UN Security Council has five permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) who have veto power, and 10 non-permanent rotating seats that do not wield the veto.

In a media statement after the vote, Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Raychelle Omamo said, "Kenya remains a safe pair of hands. I reaffirm Kenya's firm commitment to a rules based ethos, buttressed by robust multilateralism, secured by the UN Charter and International Law. Kenya anticipates continued support to ensure global peace and security for sustainable development and shared prosperity."

Djibouti’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, took to microblogging site Twitter to thank the countries that had supported his country’s ultimately unsuccessful bid.

"Kenya has just been elected. We congratulate them and wish them all the best for their future. I congratulate all of our ministers, diplomats and senior officials for their dedication to this cause, but this is partly postponed.”

Kenya had offered its candidacy for the non-permanent seat for the 2013-2014 and 2018-2019 terms, but withdrew on both occasions in favour of Rwanda and Ethiopia respectively. In 2017 when Kenya declared its candidature for the 2020-2021 term, little to no resistance was expected until Djibouti stepped forward and expressed its interest.

The African Union Executive Council of Ministers on July 5, 2019 tasked the AU Permanent Representatives Committee to select a consensus candidate for the East African bloc and in August of the same year settled on Kenya.

However, Djibouti said Kenya had a previous stint on the Security Council in 1997-1998 and should thus step aside in the interest of rotation, setting the stage for a global diplomatic charm offensive by the two nations.

The AU, as per the Ezulwini Consensus, has been agitating for a reform of the United Nations system to make it more democratic and better reflect the realities of the modern world instead of remaining steeped in the power relations that characterised the world at the end of World War II when the Allies apportioned themselves permanent Security Council seats with veto power (the P5).

The AU wants two permanent seats for Africa with veto power, should the veto system be retained, or alternatively an end to the veto on the Security Council.

The veto allows the P5 in the Security Council to disregard any decisions reached by the 193 members of the General Assembly.
AIPPA Scrapped…New Freedom of Information Bill Signed into Law
02 JUL, 2020 - 00:07
Herald Reporter

The new Freedom of Information Bill became law yesterday after being gazetted following the approval of the final amended version from Parliament by President Mnangagwa.

The new Act, a giant step forward in the reform agenda, repeals the long-criticised Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA)and brings Zimbabwe’s information-related laws into conformity with the Declaration of Rights in the Constitution.

The initial draft went through a long examination and multi-party amendment process by Parliament, and especially through the relevant portfolio committee, which is chaired by an opposition MP.

In a statement last night, the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Senator Monica Mutsvangwa said the coming of the Act “marks a notable milestone in Government’s media legislative reform programme. The promulgation of the Act by President Mnangagwa has repealed the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). Since assuming office in August 2018, he immediately prioritised the creation of a conducive national media environment through the repeal of AIPPA and the amendment of the Broadcasting Services Act.

“The enactment of the Freedom of Information Act is indeed a momentous occasion, not only for Government ,but for the media fraternity and the citizens. AIPPA had aroused a lot of animosity over the years.”

The Minister noted that the Act provided citizens and media practitioners with the right to access information as espoused by the Constitution through providing the legal frameworks and mechanisms for accessing information from public and private bodies.

“One such mechanism is the mandatory designation of Information Officers in all public and private entities that shall be responsible for handling information requests and disclosure of information to the public.

“I am happy that the Second Republic Government has enacted a law that Zimbabweans will undoubtedly take pride in as it caters for all citizens regardless of their race, colour, creed, religion, cultural beliefs and political persuasions.

“Once again, the enactment of the Freedom of Information Bill into law serves as a testimony of President ED Mnangagwa’s total commitment to instituting reforms in line with international best practices. By the same token, it shows what Zimbabweans can achieve when they commit to work together.”

She thanked the President, Parliament, the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, the public and in particular stakeholders in the media fraternity for all they had done.

The President has also approved the International Treaties Act, 2020 that seeks to provide a uniform procedure for the consideration, approval, ratification and publication of international treaties, and that too was gazetted into law yesterday.

The Act was a product of consensus after it was passed with full support of Zanu PF and opposition MPs after a lengthy drafting and amending process.

The basic concept behind the Bill is that all information held by public institutions, including State owned companies, can potentially be made public, with the exception of Cabinet discussions and certain information in victim friendly courts.

However, the new mandatory information officer in each entity, who is either the head of that entity or a person appointed by the head, has up to 21 days to consider each request for information and can refuse to make all or some of the requested information public, but under strictly set criteria, and all these decisions are subject to appeal.

Generally what can be barred are some defence and national security information, plus certain financial matters like proposed taxes in the pipeline, secret industrial processes, diplomatic matters, and some personal details of individuals. Where third parties are involved in the requested information, they have the right to agree or to make representations on why the information should not be released.

Rules are more relaxed when information is wanted on an individual person dead for more than 20 years, or on diplomatic matters more than 20 ago.

But when an information request is refused, full reasons must be given, and there is an automatic appeal process, first to the Zimbabwe Media Commission and then to the High Court. Deadlines are tight, 21 days to consider the request and 30 days for the media commission to hear the appeal. Within two months of a request that the relevant entity backed by the commission does not want to grant, the matter can be in front of a judge.

The Bill sets out the procedure of access to information held by public institutions or information held by any person, which is necessary for the exercise or protection of a right.

It also sets out considerations for making available, on a voluntary basis by entities, certain categories of information thereby removing the need for formal requests for such information.

Private entities fall under the same rules, but only when the rights of an individual are involved.

Speaking on behalf of the Portfolio Committee on Information, Media and Broadcasting Services following the passage of the Bill in March, Mbizo legislator Mr Settlement Chikwinya (MDC Alliance) thanked Government for the inclusivity in coming up with the Bill.

“At the point of drafting these laws, that is the laws which are repealing AIPPA, from the point of drafting Parliament was included. We went to Nyanga with the drafters and we had our input,” he said.

“At consultation stage and even at the point of cleaning up the areas where we did not find each other, we had a round-table meeting where the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Information and Parliament were involved. I believe that such a process will remove some of the political undertones which we may have in terms of suspicion. So I hope that the precedent can actually be sustained.”

Zanu PF representative for Makonde, Cde Kindness Paradza who is also a member of the committee, said he was happy that AIPPA would be repealed.

“I just want to say that I am so happy for this 9th Parliament that we have all agreed to make sure that we tear down AIPPA which was a bad law and that Bill is going to repeal this law. So, we are very happy. I am vindicated because in 2003, I stood up here and I said this was a bad law and I was hounded out of the party because of that. I just want to put it on record that I am so happy because I am vindicated,” Cde Paradza said.

Under the International Treaties Act, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade shall be the principal custodian and principal national depositary of all international treaties.

The ministry shall also open and maintain an official archive of all international treaties currently in force, access to which shall be afforded to any interested person subject to such conditions, including the payment of any fee for access to the archive or the provision of authenticated copies of any international treaty.

The new Act also provides for the establishment of a committee, called the Public Agreements Advisory Committee, consisting of: a person nominated by the Attorney-General after consultation with the minister responsible for justice, who shall be the chairperson of PAAC; a senior official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade appointed by the minister, who shall be the secretary of PAAC; a senior official in the ministry responsible for finance nominated by the minister responsible for finance and a person nominated by the Office of the President and Cabinet.

The functions of PAAC shall be to scrutinise all international treaties and where appropriate, to recommend the approval or scrutiny of bilateral or multilateral agreements other than international treaties and to recommend or decline to recommend approval of any international treaty.

The Act also says international treaties shall be concluded under President’s authority except as otherwise provided by the Constitution or by or under an Act of Parliament.
 Kariba Inflows Peak
02 JUL, 2020 - 11:07
Walter Nyamukondiwa
Kariba Bureau
Zimbabwe Herald

In-flows into Lake Kariba have reached their seasonal peak of 481,22 metres, which is about 41,2 percent above the minimum operating level for power generation, as levels start declining.

Levels at the dam, which produces a combined 1 625MW of power on both the south and north banks, serving Zimbabwe and neighbours Zambia respectively, were earlier projected to be less, but gained significantly after unexpected floods upstream of the Zambezi River catchment.

At this stage last year, levels were around 28,32 percent, having started the decline at the beginning of June. In terms of power generation, Kariba was designed to operate at between 475,50m and 488,50m (with 0,70m freeboard).

In its latest update, Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) noted the four-day stagnation before the current decline.

“The Lake level has continued rising steadily, stagnating, and recording a first drop at the close of the period under review at 481,23m (41,04 percent usable storage) on 25th June 2020. Last year on the same date, the Lake level was at 479,52m (28,32 percent usable storage),” said ZRA in an update.

Usable storage is the water in the top 13m of a full lake that is the water above the inlets to the two power stations. There is a lot more water below the minimum usable level suitable for recreational activities and contains fish, but it cannot be used to generate electricity.

Most of the water in the lake comes from run-off in south-east Angola and rainfall in north-east Zambia. ZRA has marginally increased water allocation for power generation after initially putting a cap at 22 billion cubic metres for the year which will see the two stations producing a total of 500MW.
Donors Allocate Additional Funds to the Health Development Fund in Zimbabwe
02 JUL, 2020 - 00:07
Herald Reporter

The European Union (EU) and Sweden have provided significant new funding to the multi-donor Health Development Fund (HDF) – managed by UNICEF and UNFPA.

The HDF supports health system strengthening in Zimbabwe since its inception in 2011 under the Health Transition Fund.

The EU has provided new funds amounting to over USD 41 million as additional top up funding to the HDF. Sweden has contributed an additional USD 2 million for direct use in 2020. These significant contributions will be combined with funds from the other HDF donors including DFID, Irish Aid and the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), to finance the prioritised interventions across the seven thematic areas of the HDF programme.

The thematic areas include maternal, new-born and child health; sexual and reproductive health and rights; medicines, vaccines and commodities; human resources for health; health financing, policy planning, and monitoring and evaluation; and technical assistance and innovation.

“While it’s important to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, it’s key to ensure that women and children still get the health care that they need, and to ensure that all health workers are protected while performing their duties of care and treatments of all patients,” said Sweden’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Her Excellency Åsa Pehrson.

The top-up funding has come at a critical moment when Zimbabwe is facing multiple hazards, which include widespread economic shocks, recurrent drought, a severe food insecurity crisis, recovery from the devastating Cyclone Idai in 2019, risk of outbreaks of cholera and typhoid, and now the Covid-19 pandemic. Part of the funding is being re-programmed to support the Government of Zimbabwe to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic in line with the national response plan.

“UNICEF is very grateful to the EU, Sweden and all the donors in the HDF for the continuous support since the inception of the pooled funding platform in Zimbabwe. These resources have significantly contributed towards strengthening the health system so that it remains resilient to the multiple challenges Zimbabwe has been facing,” said Laylee Moshiri, UNICEF Zimbabwe Representative.

The contributions of donors to the HDF have resulted in increased coverage of key reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and nutrition services leading to better outcomes for children and women.

Between 2014 and 2019, the maternal mortality ratio was reduced from 614 to 462 deaths per 100,000 live births and the under-five mortality rate dropped from 75 to 65 deaths per 1000 live births.

“We as EU, together with our HDF partners, remain committed to supporting Zimbabwe in the ongoing health crisis. The current pandemic highlights more than ever the need for strong and inclusive healthcare systems. It also underlines the necessity for joint efforts in achieving our sustainable development goals through funds such as the HDF,” said His Excellency Timo Olkkonen, Head of the EU Delegation to Zimbabwe.

“This year, the EU increased its contribution to the HDF by USD 41 million. This comes on top of a total of USD 99 million that the EU has contributed to the HDF since 2015. We are glad that HDF has earmarked USD 12.4 million for Covid-19 response. The Fund will also continue to strengthen and improve basic health care to help alleviate the current socio-economic burden Zimbabwe is facing. The EU is also looking into further topping up its contribution to Covid-19 response with additional funds to the HDF,” he said.
COVID-19 Summit Calls for Global Commitment to Improvements, Greater Investments in Healthcare, Social Protection for Women, Children, Adolescents
02 JUL, 2020 - 00:07
Roselyne Sachiti
Features Health and Society Editor
Zimbabwe Herald

The Covid-19 lockdowns across the globe have been a learning curve for many governments, development partners and society.

With Covid -19 came a list of challenges that affected communities, in particular women, children and adolescent girls.

These include gender based violence, failure to access sexual and reproductive and health services, economic challenges, child marriages among others.

In Zimbabwe, gender based violence became a thorn in the flesh of some women as they were locked up in the company of their abusers.

Some young girls from poor families failed to access sanitary pads as a result of the lockdown.

In some cases, women, especially in rural areas had no access to contraception as they could not travel to collect them from health facilities.

In a recent virtual meeting hosted Shamwari Yemwanasikana, a community based, non-governmental organization that seeks to promote the rights and empowerment of the girl child in the home, school and community; young girl’s told parliamentarians the various challenges they faced as a result of the lockdown.

The girls did not mince their words, unavailability of sanitary wear and its cost was a huge issue.

As the world rebuilds in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, delegates attending this week’s online “Lives in the Balance: A COVID-19 Summit”, are calling on global leaders to commit to a seven-point policy plan for improving and increasing investment in health systems and social protection policies for women, children and adolescents.

Almost 1,500 delegates from 110 countries registered to attend this major interactive virtual summit are pooling their knowledge and experience to examine the impact and consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on sexual, reproductive, maternal, child and adolescent health and rights.

They are also considering how global health systems can be built back post-pandemic with more robust protections and improved services for women, children and young people that take full account of their self-articulated needs.

The summit, which kicked off yesterday and will end today is being jointly hosted by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) and CORE Group.

Opening the summit, the World Health Organization’s Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus said:

“On behalf of WHO, I stand behind all partners – civil society, health professionals, the private sector, young people and more – in advancing the PMNCH Call to Action on Covid-19.  Please join us in this urgent, rallying call to leave no women, children or adolescents behind in our response to this pandemic.”

While young and adult women, children and adolescents are statistically less prone to die from Covid-19, the virus, and the measures taken to control it, can compound and exacerbate the many social and health inequalities they face in their daily lives.

Research from The Lancet, for example, projects that disruptions in access to services in low- to middle-income countries could lead to more than one million child deaths and almost 57,000 maternal deaths over the next six months, while the WHO estimates that approximately 80 million babies are now at risk of missing routine immunizations.

Delegates attending this summit are also calling for urgent action to mitigate the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the health and wellbeing of women, children, and adolescents, and to build back better health systems that take account of the self-articulated needs of these often neglected groups by involving them in designing programmes that explicitly meet their needs.

“This pandemic is a watershed moment for humanity,” said Helen Clark, Chair of PMNCH and former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

“It can be the moment when we tackle, once and for all, the unacceptable inequities that divide our societies, the moment we commit to having resilient health systems that provide accessible, high quality care for all, and the moment when we acknowledge the need for truly inclusive policy dialogue and decision making.

“To seize that moment, we must begin by listening to women, children and adolescents and all whose voices often go unheard.”

Following a major consultation with members of its global alliance of more than 1,100 organizations, PMNCH has produced a global seven-point Call to Action, which captures many of the priorities women and adolescents have been telling partners they need from health and social protection services.

The Call to Action aligns with findings from research conducted by What Women Want: Demands for Quality Healthcare from Women and Girls, which asked more than 1.2 million women and girls from 114 countries to articulate their priorities for quality maternal, sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Key priorities identified by women and adolescents and reflected in the Action Plan include calls for:

Governments to protect investments in sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent healthcare and advance sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout the recovery period;
Provision of high-quality healthcare and support services that are delivered respectfully, preserving the care and dignity of the recipient;
Improvements to the support and protection of healthcare professionals, notably nurses and midwives;
Development of an equitable social protection net available to all;
Provision of safe and clean water and sanitation facilities; and
Prevention of violence against women, children and adolescents, which has notably spiked during the pandemic.

To realize this ambitious plan will take a concerted effort from all those involved working to promote the health and rights of women, children and adolescents worldwide. Involving all key stakeholders, including health professionals, such as midwives, community-based representatives, women, adolescents and young people, in Covid-19 response task forces throughout the Covid-19 outbreak and post-pandemic recovery will strengthen decision-making, representation and accountability.

While the organizers of the summit see Covid-19 for the terrible tragedy it is, it also provides new opportunities to build back better from the ground up, putting the needs of women, children and adolescents at the heart of every policy dialogue and action.

“The Covid-19 Summit aims to bring humanity together to reflect, share and take action regarding the COVID19 pandemic,” said Lisa Hilmi, Executive Director, CORE Group.

“It is vital that a variety of stakeholders have the opportunity to share their experiences, as well as have high level political advocacy around the important path forward for the health and wellbeing of women, children and adolescents.

“This summit is a launching pad for improved collaboration and improved dialogue across the world- the first Covid-19 Summit to meaningfully address the important issues facing women, children and adolescents. We are testing new virtual methods for engagement and participation, to ensure country and global leadership have the opportunity to connect.”
Editorial Comment: Second Auction Advances Market-led Growth
02 JUL, 2020 - 00:07 
Zimbabwe Herald

The second weekly foreign currency auction run by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) confirmed what the first established: that the system works, that the system is not manipulated by the authorities, and that the market set the exchange rate as importers match their needs against what exporters earn.

There was a modest easing of the Zimbabwe dollar to $63.74:US$1, a movement of just over 10 percent, as far more importers entered the process, 316, meaning more than three times as many saw the new market as the real market to source their foreign currency rather than hiring runners to scoop up dollar notes in the streets.

RBZ has not only pledged transparency in the system, but on Tuesday took the step of inviting independent observers including representatives of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and the Bankers Association of Zimbabwe.

We assume they have to maintain confidentiality on some matters, such as who bid what, but are permitted, nay encouraged, to give their views on how well everything works and offer suggestions if they think more improvements are required.

The critical point about the auction system is to establish and maintain confidence.

Exporters need to be confident that they will get a fair deal, built around market forces, and importers need to be confident that they can source the currency they need to keep the wheels of Zimbabwean industry rolling and spinning a bit faster as the country grows its economy.

The gap between the top bid and lowest has narrowed as confidence grew from the first auction, but there were still those chancing their arm with an unrealistically low bid, of $37.32:US$1, and the top bid of $92:US$1 suggests that there are still people wedded to the black market and need to think about the economic fundamentals.

Ultra low bids are less of a problem. Someone shooting too low will miss out and will have to resubmit the next week with something more in line with reality.

Overbidding presents a number of problems, and in particular the prices that such bidders will have to charge their customers. If you have overpaid for your currency by a significant margin, then your customers will have to pay more than needed when buying your goods.

In an economy that is large enough this would be corrected by market forces. When there are several suppliers the one overcharging loses market share quite swiftly and learns to do their sums a lot better.

Unfortunately, the Zimbabwean economy is not yet, that big and in far too many sectors there is a near monopoly or a market divided up by two or three businesses.

Admittedly this overbidding is not the most serious problem right now. For some months those setting prices have been tracking the black market and so an overbid will not raise prices, but neither will it bring them down to a real level based on actual costs.

But it would be wrong of the authorities to even consider manipulating the market to avoid the stresses caused by overbidding; better would be for the appropriate authorities to enforce our competition rules and prevent monopolies or combinations in the first place.

And those relying on being a sole supplier should think about the result, that some more able person will see the opening and climb in.

Shareholders and others should be able to hold their managers to account. The ultimate prize in an auction system is surely to set a bid price that ensures you get your foreign currency, but that your bid was the lowest that was successful in full.

Businesses that are almost automatically viable are those that can contain costs as well as grow their markets. The auction system is still in its early days, with newcomers flocking in, so it might take a few weeks for bidders to become sufficiently experienced and confident that they can submit a successful bid within an ever narrower range.

There are still misconceptions, even among economists, if comments floating around social media platforms are anything to go by. One set of commentators are concerned over how fuels are priced considering the range of bids.  But fuel is centrally-funded by allocations from the RBZ that are not bought on the auction, but are bought from exporters at the ruling rate of the weighted average generated by the auction.

This means exporters are not harmed in any way, since all the currency that they sell is converted at the ruling rate in any case, regardless of the range in bids.

So all oil companies buy taxed fuel at the same price, with the taxed price set each week by an open formula that starts with the actual cost of landing the fuel in Zimbabwe and the ruling exchange rate.

The formula then generates mark-ups and the maximum retail prices are thus set. Perhaps this may change at some stage, and oil companies can compete on price, but until bids are in a very narrow range, less than the present oil company mark-ups, this is not a good idea.

Others are worried about the exclusion of some bids that do not make the essential import list. As almost all those imports would be for luxury consumer goods this exclusion makes sense. There are free funds swirling around and if the rich pay more for vintage wines, no one is going to shed salt tears.

The auction is designed to match importers and exporters, not subsidise the lifestyles of the ultra wealthy who seem to be able to manage and, with the auctions, can no longer impose their pricing formulas on the rest of us through black market pressures.

What the RBZ now needs to do is keep that auction system running, maintain its integrity, and thus move Zimbabweans into a real world where there are neither quasi-fiscal subsidies nor non-market profiteering.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Adjusts Rate to Support Forex Auction System
02 JUL, 2020 - 00:07
Golden Sibanda
Senior Business Reporter
Herald

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) on Tuesday restored the bank policy rate to 35 percent as part of measures to curb speculative borrowing and support the smooth functioning and sustainability of the foreign exchange auction system.

Generally, a bank policy rate is the rate used by central banks to implement or signal its monetary policy stance or preferred interest rate level, which guides the market. It is most commonly set by the central banks’ policy-making committees.

Zimbabwe’s policy rate was halved from 70 percent to 35 percent in November last year, and was cut in two further steps this year to 15 percent, partly to reduce the costs of those needing to borrow to cope with economic challenges arising from travel restrictions and the lockdown imposed to limit risk of infection of Covid-19.

However, with inflation rates still high, and with special schemes announced at lower interest rates for those most affected by lockdown provisions, the RBZ’s Monetary Policy Committee has restored the 35 percent pertaining at the beginning of the year.

The black market in foreign currency was being furled by speculative behaviour, including influxes of borrowed funds.

The rise in general interest rates can be seen as part of the series of measures taken to starve the black market of liquidity, measures that include severe restrictions on large anonymous transactions made through mobile money transfer systems.

But the rise still keeps the policy rate below that of the later months of last year, even though inflation has been higher in recent weeks. With the dropping of the old interbank system for setting exchange rates in favour of more open and transparent auctions, the RBZ wants to eliminate new distortions being introduced by speculators through cheap borrowing.

RBZ Governor Dr John Mangudya said the latest intervention was part of broad measures to stabilise and protect the Zimbabwe dollar.

“In order to curb speculative borrowing, the MPC resolved to increase the Bank Policy rate from the current 15 percent to 35 percent, with effect from July 1, 2020. The (bank policy) rate will be reviewed from time to time as dictated by prevailing market fundamentals.

“The MPC policy measures taken are envisaged to support the smooth functioning and sustainability of the Foreign Exchange Auction System and stabilisation of the exchange rate and inflation rate,” Dr Mangudya said on Tuesday.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) president Joseph Gunda recently emphasised the need for authorities to maintain money supply growth or market liquidity within thresholds only sufficient to sustain optimal economic activity to help protect the value of the local currency.