Friday, March 31, 2023

China Refutes Groundless US Accusations of Debt Problem of Developing Countries: FM

By Global Times

Mar 30, 2023 11:33 PM

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

China does not accept the groundless accusations of the US saying that China's lending to developing countries is causing them to run into debt problems, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. 

"We do not attach any political conditions or seek any political self-interest. China has been helping developing countries ease their debt burdens and has made the biggest contribution to implementing the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative," Mao Ning, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Thursday during a regular press conference.

China has always followed international rules and carried out investment and financing cooperation with other developing countries on the basis of openness and transparency, Mao said.

Her comment was a response to the remarks of US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who said on Wednesday that the US is working hard to counter China's influence in international institutions and in lending to developing countries.

 "I'm very, very concerned about some of the activities that China engages in globally, engaging in countries in ways that leave them trapped in debt and don't promote economic development," said Yellen. 

Since 2022, the US has raised interest rates at an unprecedented rate, which has worsened the debt problems of relevant countries. The US should take concrete actions to help developing countries instead of pointing fingers at others, Mao noted.

World Bank statistics show that multilateral financial institutions and commercial creditors account for more than 80 percent of the sovereign debt of developing countries, which is their biggest source of debt pressure. 

Meanwhile, China has offered help to developing countries struggling with debt problems. For instance, China has already provided Sri Lanka with a letter supporting the sustainability of Sri Lanka's debt, expressing its willingness to extend the debt due in 2022 and 2023.

In 2021, China took action to re-channel $10 billion of its Special Drawing Rights to Africa through the IMF and waived 23 interest-free loans for 17 African countries that had matured by the end of 2021.

Global Times

Russian, Chinese, Iranian Drills Contribute to Regional Security — China’s Top Brass

According to Tan Kefei, the exercise was held from March 15 to 19

© Lev Fedoseev/TASS, archive

BEIJING, March 30. /TASS/. The Maritime Security Belt 2023 naval exercise held by Russia, China and Iran in the Gulf of Oman contributed to bolstering security in the region, Chinese Defense Ministry Spokesman Tan Kefei said on Thursday.

"These drills enhanced the capabilities of the naval forces of China, Iran and Russia to jointly fulfill various military tasks at sea, further strengthened traditional friendship and cooperation, contributed to the protection of maritime security as well as peace and stability in the region," the Defense Ministry’s statement on the WeChat social network quoted him as saying.

According to the spokesman, the exercise was held from March 15 to 19. In all, 12 ships participated in training in aerial search operations, sea rescue, naval parade order as well as performing a number of other tasks as part of the drills.

Beijing Demands that US Stop Provoking China

"The Chinese People’s Liberation Army will take all necessary measures to protect national sovereignty and security and will resolutely defend peace and stability in the South China Sea," Tan Kefei assured

Chinese Defense Ministry Spokesman Tan Kefei AP Photo/Heng Sinith, File

BEIJING, March 30. /TASS/. The US Armed Forces must stop provoking China in the South China Sea, otherwise they will bear responsibility for any potential incidents, Chinese Defense Ministry Spokesman Tan Kefei warned on Thursday.

The comment was Tan’s response to a US Navy vessel that allegedly sailed near the China-controlled Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

"We sternly demand that the United States immediately stop such provocations, otherwise it will bear full responsibility for all the serious consequences of their causing a potential incident," the Chinese Defense Ministry quoted him as saying on WeChat.

"The Chinese People’s Liberation Army will take all necessary measures to protect national sovereignty and security and will resolutely defend peace and stability in the South China Sea," Tan assured.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius passed near the Paracel Islands last Friday. China’s top brass claimed that the US warship did this without the Chinese government’s permission and had violated China’s sovereignty. The US 7th Fleet replied by saying in a news release that the US destroyer had acted in line with international law, while conducting a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP).

Beijing has disputed the territorial jurisdiction of some islands in the South China Sea where large hydrocarbon reserves were found with Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia. The most disputed territories are the Xisha Islands, also known as the Paracel Islands, the Nansha or Spratly Islands and Huangyan Island (Scarborough Reef).

Uganda's 'First Son' Muhoozi Kainerugaba Vows to Send Troops to Defend Moscow

Friday, March 31, 2023

Muhoozi Kainerugaba

In this file photo taken on May 25, 2016 The son of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, Major General Muhoozi Kainerugaba attends a ceremony in which he was promoted from Brigadier to Major General at the country's military headquarters in Kampala on May 25, 2016.

Peter Busomoke and Ronald Kabuubi | AFP

By AFP

What you need to know:

As a serving military officer, Kainerugaba is banned under Uganda's constitution from making unauthorised statements about sovereign states or foreign policy.

Observers have long believed that Kainerugaba was being groomed to succeed his 78-year-old father, who has ruled Uganda since 1986.

Kampala,

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's mercurial son declared on Thursday that his country would send troops to defend Moscow if it came under threat.

"Call me a 'Putinist' if you will, but we, Uganda shall send soldiers to defend Moscow if it's ever threatened by the Imperialists!" Muhoozi Kainerugaba said on Twitter.

"The West is wasting its time with its useless pro-Ukraine propaganda," added the outspoken general, a fervent supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kainerugaba, who is notorious for his often erratic Twitter outbursts on all manner of issues, earlier this month announced that he plans to run for president in 2026 elections. 

He also announced Thursday the creation of a television and radio station under his MK brand, headed by a former special forces spokesman, and said one of the first places it would visit would be Russia.

As a serving military officer, Kainerugaba is banned under Uganda's constitution from making unauthorised statements about sovereign states or foreign policy.

Uganda has abstained during UN votes on the conflict, including one last month marking the one-anniversary of the war that called for Moscow to immediately and unconditionally withdraw its troops.

Museveni has also in the past defended his country's ties with the Kremlin.

"How can we be against somebody who has never harmed us," he said during a tour of Africa by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in July last year to drum up support for Moscow over the war.

Russia has traditionally strong ties with Africa after lending support to independence movements on the continent that fought to oust colonial rulers.

Observers have long believed that Kainerugaba was being groomed to succeed his 78-year-old father, who has ruled Uganda since 1986.

Some of his Twitter tirades have however caused foreign policy problems for Uganda.

Following a row last year over a tweet threatening to invade Kenya, Museveni had sought to rein in his wayward son by telling him to stay off Twitter when it comes to affairs of state.

Kamala Harris Tour Bares Africa’s Diplomatic Vortex

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

By BIRD STORY AGENCY

What you need to know:

US Vice President Kamala Harris's weeklong trip to Africa highlights the continent's rising strategic profile - and begs the question: can a united Africa play a bigger role in world affairs?

Africa finds itself in the middle of a growing diplomatic vortex as the United States and its Western allies ramp up efforts to counterbalance the expanding clout of China and Russia. India, Turkey and Middle Eastern countries are also in the mix as US vice president Kamala Harris embarks on a week-long tour of Africa, with  U.S. President Joe Biden planning to visit Africa later this year.

Regional analysts suggest the increased visibility of the US in Africa is part of a strategic pushback against Beijing and Moscow.

Aly-Khan Satchu, Economist and CEO of the investment advisory firm Rich Management Ltd is of the opinion that the West and the U.S. (especially under President Trump) had neglected Africa outside of the security, counter-terrorism and immigration lens.

He asserted, however, that "the war in Ukraine and Africa's evident sympathy for Russia was a wake-up call and the West is trying to push back geo-strategically speaking. It's an uphill task. The ground has shifted." 

Rekindling alliances

According to US broadcaster, National Public Radio, officials said Harris' trip is part of Biden's commitment to go "all-in on Africa" and confirmed that Biden is also expected to visit the continent this year.

As high-ranking officials from the US and its allies descend upon Africa, the message is clear: rekindling alliances on the continent is a top priority.

Biden's presence was particularly noticeable at COP27 in Egypt in November 2022,  all the more so because the event coincided with U.S. mid-term elections. Following the summit, marketed as the "African COP", Biden met with African leaders at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in December, announcing US support for the idea that the African Union join the G-20, permanently, and pledging to visit the continent.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was in Ethiopia and Niger earlier in 2023, after touring South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Rwanda in August 2022.

Blinken's 2022 trip came just days after Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov's visit to Uganda, the Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Egypt.

In January 2023, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen also completed a 10-day trip, marking the start of a year of high-level US engagement.

The same month, a cabinet member visited Somalia with US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. The trip to Mogadishu was the first for a U.S. cabinet member in nearly eight years.

And in February, US First Lady Jill Biden visited Namibia and Kenya to strengthen areas of corporations between Washington and African states. 

Diplomatic engagements

Meanwhile, the US's European allies have also been noticeably engaging with the continent.

In January, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in Algiers, while in March, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Angola, the Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a high-profile trip that went viral on social media, after an earlier trip to Gabon. Soon afterwards, Italian President Sergio Mattarella made a four-day official visit to Kenya.

In May 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz travelled to Senegal, Niger, and South Africa.

Turkey has also grown its strategic presence on the continent, hosting regular Türkiye-Africa Partnership Summits and its companies have invested heavily in Africa, as well as becoming a major provider of infrastructure capacity, even rivalling China in some markets. A Turkish presence has been very noticeable in Somalia, after initially rebuilding the country's main airport and a Turkish company, Karpowership, has offered three of its mobile power stations to help with South Africa's power crisis. In February 2022, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Central and West Africa.

These diplomatic engagements reflect the growing geo-strategic importance of Africa as global powers recognise the need to secure their alliances in the region.

Recent reports have shown that the continent's vast resources, including minerals critical for the green energy transition and green hydrogen production, make it an attractive prospect for investment and collaboration. This was particularly evident soon after Russia invaded Ukraine in March, 2022, sparking a whirlwind of Africa tours by panicked European energy ministers and companies seeking new sources of gas.

But Africa also now represents another opportunity. With a rapidly growing population, and now a free-trade agreement on the continent, Africa presents a significant market opportunity for world trade and economic growth.

And as global powers vie for influence, the continent has the potential to benefit from increased investment, security cooperation, and development partnerships.

African states, arguably for the first time, are putting their geo-strategic interests first, as witnessed by Africa's ambivalent responses to the Ukraine war. While Russia was a cold war ally to many African states and was seen as a direct ally in various wars for independence, the U.S.'s immediate post-cold-war influence was virtually uncontested. In the 21st Century, after witnessing the rise of China's "soft-power" (and in some cases feeling the pain after taking China's easy loans) African countries have by and large grown more cautious in managing their relationships with external actors. Increasingly, African governments are keen to ensure their partnerships align with long-term development goals and serve the best national interests.

Folashade Soule, in an analysis in The Conversation, urges the continent avoid a 'zero-sum game', especially when dealing with the US-China rivalry.

"They should adopt measures that strategically play rivals against each other. They should also implement long-term strategies and domestic policies for dealing with strategic partners like China," the senior research associate at the University of Oxford said.

To win over Africa, Satchu believes, the West should seek out the opportunities offered by the continent's challenges. This may not always be easy.

"Africa is in a debt crisis. The West needs to offer a Brady Plan. I don't think it has the bandwidth. It looks as if the BRICS+ constellation will beat the West to the punch," he asserted, referring to a U.S. plan to assist a debt crisis amongst Latin American countries in the 1980s.

"Europe is playing the green economy card and is keen to restrict access to its garden and therefore, realistically speaking, needs to think about a Marshall Plan for Africa to create jobs for Africans in Africa. It's not clear that they have the focus. So debt, food and fuel are Africa's challenges. On food and fuel, the West faces a formidable adversary in Putin's Russia who made promises recently on both scores."

But as a rivalry between the West, China and now Russia, grows, other countries are seizing the opportunity to expand their business interests in Africa too.

In addition to Turkey, both India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have ramped their investments and partnerships with African nations in recent years, positioning themselves as strong contenders for China's dominance.

Recent economic and political challenges have led China to rethink its approach to Africa. The Asian giant's infrastructure development strategy investments in the region saw a 55% reduction, to US$7.5 billion, last year, as disclosed by a recent report from Shanghai's Fudan University Green Finance and Development Center. Some experts believe this trend may continue.

India meanwhile has been steadily increasing its presence in Africa in recent years, with investments in agriculture, healthcare, and renewable energy sectors.

This shifting ground of international politics, the increasing reliance on both African commodities and its fast-growing market now, as Soule says, offers the continent a remarkable opportunity. The question is, will the continent capitalise on the moment?

Harris Hails Tanzanian President Suluhu as 'Champion' of Democracy

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan speaks during a press conference during her state visit to South Africa at the Union buildings in Pretoria on March 16, 2023. 

Phill Magakoe | AFP

Dar es Salaam,

US Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday hailed Tanzania's leader Samia Suluhu Hassan as a "champion" of democracy, on the latest leg of her landmark trip to Africa.

Harris, the first Black person and first woman to be elected US vice president, spoke alongside Hassan -- Tanzania's first female president who has been rolling back the authoritarian policies of her late predecessor John Magufuli.

Harris said the two would discuss democracy, good governance, long term economic growth and the climate crisis during her visit to the East African country.

"On the subject of economic growth, good governance delivers predictability, stability and rules which businesses need to invest," Harris said, describing Hassan as a "champion" of democracy.

"There is so much potential for growth here."

Harris is on a three-nation trip to Africa, the latest push by the United States to deepen its engagement with the continent to counter the growing influence of China and Russia.

Hassan, who marked her second year in office on March 19, has sought to turn the page on Magufuli's hardline rule, which had tarnished Tanzania's reputation as a stable country in a troubled region.

Earlier this month, she vowed to restore competitive politics and jumpstart a stalled process to review the constitution, a long-held opposition demand.

In January, Hassan announced the lifting of a ban on political rallies, paving the way for the return later that month of opposition stalwart Tundu Lissu after spending most of the past five years in exile.

On Thursday, Harris also laid a wreath at a memorial commemorating the August 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's economic hub.

The almost simultaneous attacks by Al-Qaeda in Tanzania and the US embassy in Kenya's capital Nairobi left more than 200 people dead and more than 5,000 wounded.

As she wrapped up the first leg of her trip in Ghana on Wednesday, Harris announced an initiative of more than $1 billion to improve women's empowerment in Africa.

In a speech in Ghana's capital Accra on Tuesday, she had noted three areas of focus Washington believes could benefit from more investments: women's empowerment, the digital economy and good governance and democracy.

"We are 'all in' on Africa," she added, repeating US President Joe Biden's declaration at a US-Africa leaders' summit last year.

From Tanzania, Harris heads to Zambia on Friday.

AU Expresses ‘Deep Concern’ Over Violence in Kenya Protests

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Anti-riot police officers confront demonstrators in Mathare in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on March 27, 2023 during protests called opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

By Aggrey Mutambo Senior Diplomatic Writer

The African Union is calling for calm and restraint in Kenya following deadly protests by the opposition groups that saw deaths and rival gangs loot and destroy property.

AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed “deep concern” at violence that led to deaths and what he called interruption of certain economic activities in Nairobi and other cities in the country where supporters of opposition Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition led by their leader Raila Odinga were protesting.

“The Chairperson urges all stakeholders to exercise calm and engage in dialogue to address any differences that may exist in the supreme interest of national unity and reconciliation,” Faki said.

Mr Odinga’s supporters poured into the streets for the second week, protesting against the high cost of living and what they say is inherent opaqueness of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which Mr Odinga accuses of rigging him out of last year’s presidential poll in favour of eventual winner William Ruto. Dr Ruto’s victory was, however, confirmed by the Supreme Court in September after describing Odinga’s evidence as “hot air”.

Total support

The AU boss called for dialogue but also expressed total support for the Kenyan government. The AU observers had endorsed the election outcome last year.

“In this regard, the Chairperson wishes to recall the successful conduct of General Elections in August 2022 in Kenya and the subsequent unanimous confirmation of the election outcome by the Supreme Court.”

The protests turned deadly after two people were shot dead in Kisumu while goons attacked the property of Mr Odinga and his ally, former president Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyatta’s farm was torched as goons looted his livestock and cut down trees.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

More Than 20 DR Congo Political Party Activists Killed

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Nation Media Group

By AFP

More than 20 political activists have been killed in the city of Lubumbashi in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, their party and a civil group said Wednesday, accusing unknown assailants in military fatigues.

"Some commandos... killed more than 25 people, some by bullets and others by drowning,"said Bertin Tchoz, lead of a peace and security civil organisation in Haut-Katanga district, of which Lubumbashi is the capital,

The victims were members of the National Union of Congolese Federalists (UNAFEC).

The party's national president Jean Umba Lungange said the attack happened last Friday when "people in military uniforms, guided by a civilian, found our young people at the place where they regularly hold their meetings and started shooting".

"Some of them were shot and others drowned in the Naviundu River as they fled," he told the party's executive in the presence of journalists.

"We are left with 21 bodies at the moment," he said, adding that there were also "missing persons". 

An army spokesman in the region said that he was not aware of this event, especially since "this political party did not refer the matter to the army".

After the discovery on Monday of five dead bodies in the Naviundu river, the mayor Martin Kazembe, had announced the opening of an investigation to "determine those responsible". 

UNAFEC, a member of the "Sacred Union of the Nation" platform set up by President Felix Tshisekedi, has been riven by infighting since its founder Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza died in 2021. 

A surge in attacks in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed more than 700 lives at the hands of militia fighters since December, the United Nations said Monday.

Rebel militias have plagued the eastern DRC for decades, many of them a legacy of regional wars that flared during the 1990s and early 2000s.     

My Govt Will Respect Independence of Institutions, Ruto Tells Global Leaders

Thursday, March 30, 2023

President William Ruto. The President said he promised world leaders at a democracy summit that Kenya Kwanza will respect the independence of public institutions.

By Peter Mburu

Nation Media Group

President William Ruto has committed to global leaders that he will operate within the constitution and the rule of law even as opposition leader Raila Odinga remains persistent on his public protests, which marked their third day today Thursday, March 30.

Dr Ruto on Thursday also said he had promised US President Joe Biden among other world leaders, that his government will respect the independence of public institutions.

“Just yesterday [Wednesday], we had a virtual meeting with US President Joe Biden and other world leaders at the Democracy Summit where I underscored our commitment to constitutionalism and the rule of law and respect for institutions,” President Ruto said during a government summit with the US Chamber of Commerce, in Nairobi.

President Ruto promised this even as his government made key tax concessions, backsliding from a hardline position the previous regime held with regard to taxation of multinationals operating within the digital space in the country that have been attempting to pay more taxes in their home countries but less in other countries where they operate.

While announcing several tax reforms including the launch of a new Tax Policy effective June, President Ruto said Kenya was shifting its position on the imposition of Digital Service Tax (DST) on multinationals, to stop taxing them directly and instead abiding by the guidelines by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Due to OECD guidelines,  Kenya collects fewer taxes from the companies such as Amazon, Meta, Microsoft, Google, and others that operate in the country, but are based in the US.

“Following discussions with players in this sector, we have made a commitment to review this tax regime and align it with the two-pillar solution currently being developed by the OECD, which is an inclusive framework,” the President said.

He said the OECD framework would guide the taxation of the multinationals, once negotiations were complete.

“We have made this policy shift because we consulted, we listened and we want to create a win-win partnership,” he said.

Dr Ruto also announced that after much wait for an operational tax policy that would assure businesses of stability and predictability of taxation regime, his government was finalizing one.

“This (tax) policy that will enhance transparency in our tax regime will take effect by June 2023 and it will be in place for a minimum of three years. We are doing this so that you can make your investment decisions knowing exactly how the tax regime will look for the next three years,” the President said.

The President also announced that starting July, VAT on exported services would be eliminated, blaming the tax for being a challenge to businesses and an impediment to investors.

“This tax not only renders us uncompetitive as a country, but it also inhibits investors seeking to make Kenya their regional global services hub. Many companies are already operating out of Kenya and servicing regional markets,” the President said.

In new changes, the President also directed that going forward, businesses will be allowed to offset any unsettled tax refunds from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) that go beyond six months from their tax liabilities.

“If, for whatever reason, a refund is not made by KRA within this period (six months), the taxpayer can offset their claim against future tax liability without further application to the KRA. If it’s okay for you to pay your tax in time, it must be okay for you to get your tax refund in time,” he said.

The government also says that it is exempting startup companies from employee benefits tax starting July.

“It’s only fair that we give these startups a chance to be, by not imposing unnecessary restrictions, especially when initially they are not able to pay as much for their employees and instead they want to allocate some shares,” said Dr Ruto.

The government has also finalized a deal with US pharmaceutical firm, Moderna, to build a $500 million mRNA vaccine facility in Nairobi, following plans that started last year.

“This will be the only such facility on the African continent and, for Moderna, their first factory outside the US,” Dr Ruto said, noting that the investment would catalyze the medical and pharmaceutical industry in Africa.

The President also indicated that during his tour in Germany, the government signed a deal that will see the investment of Sh350 million into the ongoing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which has been under implementation for several years now.

“I just came back this morning from signing an agreement that will give us about Sh350 million to do our BRT that will be working on e-mobility,” he said.

pmburu@le.nationmedia.com

How Ruto is Eating Raila's Lunch in Kisii

Thursday, March 30, 2023

President William Ruto (left) and his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua unveil the plaque during the launch of construction works of Ogamba-Kegogi road in Kegogi, Kisii on March 24, 2023.

By Ruth Mbula

President William Ruto is slowly eating into the huge support hitherto enjoyed by the  Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition leader, Raila Odinga, in Gusii.

Dr Ruto was largely unpopular in the Gusii region, especially during periods preceding the last elections and soon thereafter.

However, the political tide in the region seems to be shifting toward the President’s ruling party.

Dr Ruto’s charm offensive into the region seems to have been received well by local leaders, especially those in the opposition, who eschewed the Maandamano calls by Mr Odinga.

President Ruto’s promise for massive infrastructural projects for Gusii seems to be doing the trick.

That not even a single elected leader from Kisii and Nyamira has identified with Mr Odinga’s nationwide protests has sent a message that the opposition chief could be losing grip of the community’s support.

Additionally, the leaders from Gusii under Azimio did not join the former Prime Minister in his visit to Kisii, on the same day Dr Ruto was in the backyard.

Both President Ruto and Mr Odinga were in Kisii on Friday, but in different functions that were only 30 kilometers apart.

Dr Ruto was at Getacho Primary School grounds in Nyaribari Masaba Constituency, where the thanksgiving ceremony of Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu was taking place.

On the other side of the Nyaribari hills was Mr Odinga who was attending the burial of Truphena Moraa Ontegi at Nyanturubo village in Nyaribari Chache Constituency.

Moraa is the mother of former councilor and Nyaribari Chache ODM Chairman Jackson Ontegi.

Kisii and Nyamira Counties had more leaders elected under Mr Odinga’s Azimio coalition compared to the ruling alliance, Kenya Kwanza.

All throughout President Ruto’s visit, Kisii Governor Simba Arati told the Head-of-State that he will work with him for the sake of the county’s development.

Mr Arati went ahead to say that the country can only have one President.

His party leader, Mr Odinga, does not recognise Dr Ruto as the country’s top leader.

The governor noted that he will talk to his party leader over demonstrations.

Speaking during the homecoming ceremony of Education CS Ezekiel Machogu in Kisii, Mr Arati said the talk will be purely to enhance peace and develop the country.

"I will talk to Mr Odinga about the planned demos, we need to build our country and have a peaceful nation,” he said.

The governor said that in a football match, Kenya Kwanza and Azimio were in a game in which he said Dr Ruto won with a controversial goal.

“Your Excellency, we were in a match and even if you scored by the hand, it is a goal and you are the President," said Mr Arati.

Nyamira Governor and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Party Leader Amos Nyaribo also joined President Ruto in his tour of Gusii.

UPA is one of the parties in the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition.

Mr Nyaribo said he will not participate in the mass action called by Mr Odinga or any of his plans to pressure the government.

The Party, which has its roots in Gusii, has instead pledged to work with President Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza administration.

rmbula@ke.nationmedia.com

Raila Promises Mother of All Protests on Monday

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Raila Odinga and Martha Karua

By David Mwere

Nation Media Group

The opposition has vowed not to relent in its push to have the Kenya Kwanza administration address the current high cost of living in the country even as it plans to continue its anti-government demonstrations across the country.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition leader, Raila Odinga, said the Monday protests will take place, speaking after the coalition marked its third day and second week of protests in the country on Thursday, March 30.

Mr Odinga and a host of Azimio leaders engaged Nairobi residents on Thursday as they held stopovers in the city’s Eastland areas of Imara Daima, Mukuru Kwa Njenga and Kware.

The Azimio entourage snaked through the Nairobi Eastlands areas as it headed to the Outer Ring Road for a rally at the Jacaranda Grounds.

However, trouble started after they left Kware area to join the Outer Ring Road at the Kware stage. Police vehicles including water cannons blocked the way forcing the motorcade to stop briefly before changing course.

“This is the third time the police are disrupting our meetings without any provocation. As we do this, we are within the Constitution and one day those in charge will be held to account,” said Mr Odinga as he maintained that the Monday and Thursday demonstrations are still on.

“They have called us anarchists and that we want to destroy public property - the reason they are sending us the police but we will not retreat. We don’t fear the police even if they hurl teargas, spray us with water cannons or jail us.”

Those in the motorcade included Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, George Wanjakoya, and former Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya. Others were Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna and a host of MPs among them Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja), Millie Odhiambo (Suba North), and Babu Owino (Embakasi East).

Mr Odinga said that Kenya Kwanza administration should not use force on peaceful demonstrators, noting that the police intimidation against a public course will not stop “what we have started to liberate this country.”

“We are not fools. We are not mad people. We want Kenya to be redeemed and we will ensure that this happens," Mr Odinga said.

Ms Karua said that Kenya Kwanza should be ready to be held to account for what “they promised Kenyans.”

“This government has no feelings for the people, that is why they are harassing us as we agitate for good governance. Kenya must change. People must live dignified lives. But criminals must face the law,” said Ms Karua.

Mr Odinga also noted that he will continue the push to have the IEBC servers opened.

“We want them to open the servers and nothing short of that will make us go slow.”  

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Fires in the Streets of France Illustrates Anger over Pension Reforms

Demonstrations turned violent for several days before sanitation workers returned to their jobs

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Wednesday March 29, 2023

Commentary

Discontent with President Emmanuel Macron is mounting in the aftermath of his executive enactment of a controversial pension reform bill that would make substantial changes to the retirement system for millions of workers.

On March 22, Macron sat down for an interview with a French television station where he attempted to justify his actions which by-passed a vote within the National Assembly.

Macron maintained that it was necessary to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 while requiring 43 years of service to qualify for full pension benefits. He continued the same argument that without these reforms the retirement system would become insolvent in a matter of a few years.

Such statements by the president further enflamed the public prompting even larger and more militant demonstrations between March 23-26. Hundreds of people were reportedly arrested and complaints of police brutality against demonstrators have gained international attention.

Various human rights organizations have accused the police of utilizing preemptive arrests of activists as well as excessive physical force against demonstrators. 

The newly crowned King Charles III of the United Kingdom had been invited to make a state visit to France beginning on March 26. However, the general strike and subsequent rebellions in several cities including the capital of Paris made it impossible for the monarch to enter the country. 

It was announced by the French government that Charles III would postpone his visit until the summer months. The inability to host a head-of-state was a further blow to the stature of Macron among other imperialist states. Several political parties commented that this diplomatic embarrassment highlighted the political weakness of Macron. Recent opinion polls show the president as having less than a 30 percent approval rating among the electorate. 70 percent of respondents indicated that the government was responsible for the strikes and violent unrest and that the situation could worsen in the coming days and weeks. (https://www.france24.com/en/france/20230324-use-of-force-signals-crisis-of-authority-as-france-s-pension-battle-turns-to-unrest)

In an effort to appear unphased by the unrest in France, Macron attended a European Union (EU) Summit in Brussels, Belgium on March 24 where he reiterated his position on the pension reforms. Before the legislation is fully implemented, it must be reviewed by the Constitutional Council, the highest legal authority in France. 

On March 25, unions estimated that 3.5 million workers and youth took to the streets demanding the withdrawal of the legislation by Macron. As police attempted to control the crowds in Paris and other cities, clashes erupted resulting in broken windows and arson attacks.

In an article published by France24 on the previous week, it said of the developing situation that: 

“First an epic tussle with the unions, then a bitter standoff in parliament, and now a full-blown crisis in the streets. France’s festering pension dispute took a turn for the worse this week, with protests against Macron’s deeply unpopular plans hardening and escalating amid scenes of chaos in Paris and other cities. The unrest – which began last Thursday after Macron used special executive powers to ram his pension reform through parliament – has seen security forces fight running battles with protesters late into the night even as firefighters race to extinguish hundreds of blazes.” (https://www.france24.com/en/france/20230324-use-of-force-signals-crisis-of-authority-as-france-s-pension-battle-turns-to-unrest)

In addition to the escalating tensions between the government and the unions, yet another conflict erupted over environmental and economic concerns stemming from the construction of a reservoir in the western rural district of Sainte-Soline. Opponents to the plan say that it is designed to benefit large-scale agricultural corporations while disempowering smaller farmers. 

A scheduled demonstration in Sainte-Soline on March 25 attracted thousands of activists. In response to the large protests which are prohibited in the area, police initiated violent attacks against those opposing the reservoir.

A Guardian news report emphasized: 

“Several people have been injured after clashes between French police and protesters opposed to a large water reservoir for farm irrigation, despite a ban on gatherings in the area. Police fired teargas to repel some protesters who threw fireworks and other projectiles as they crossed fields to approach the construction area in the western rural district of Sainte-Soline. At least three police vehicles were set alight, television footage showed. Two protesters were seriously hurt, including one who is in a critical condition after suffering a head injury, as well as 16 police officers, the local prefecture said. One officer was evacuated by helicopter. Thousands of protesters had converged on the site of the planned reservoir, where a similar protest last October also turned violent.” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/25/france-several-police-and-protesters-injured-in-clash-over-planned-reservoir)

10th Day of Mass Action Held

Another day of strikes and protests occurred on March 28 as the unions estimated participation at over 2 million. People continued their demonstrations against the Macron pension reforms and what they perceived as the dictatorial posture of the government. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne offered on the same day to hold talks during the first full week of April with the eight major unions behind the mass demonstrations and strikes. Pledging to maintain their strike actions, there was an announcement of an 11th day of protest on April 6.  

Reuters News Agency described the day as follows: 

“Black-clad groups set fire to garbage cans and threw projectiles at police in Paris, who charged at them and threw teargas in confrontations on the fringes of a march against President Emmanuel Macron and his deeply unpopular pension bill. Clashes also erupted on Tuesday (March 28) at similar rallies in other cities including Rennes, Bordeaux and Toulouse, with a bank branch and cars set ablaze in Nantes. However, while public frustration has evolved into broader anti-Macron sentiment, there was less violence than last week, and rallies were otherwise largely peaceful.” (https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/paris-police-very-vigilant-about-potential-violence-ahead-new-round-pension-2023-03-28/)

One major announcement came on March 29 when the sanitation union suspended their work stoppage. Thousands of tons of garbage remained piled up in the streets of Paris prompting an infestation of rats. 

An Associated Press report on the sanitation workers said: 

“In a decision that sent waves of relief among many Paris residents, the powerful CGT union representing sanitation workers announced that the three-week-long strike would be ‘suspended’ as of Wednesday (March 29). Crews will join others who were legally requisitioned over the last week to help with the daunting clean-up process. A statement by the CGT claimed that requisitions of trucks, incinerators and personnel, ordered by the Paris police prefect, had bled the movement, leading to its suspension. But added that ‘the combat isn’t over.’ ‘It’s good that the trash is collected. It’s very unsanitary, and some residents already have trouble with rats and mice. It can be dangerous if it’s left too long,’ said artist Gil Franco, 73.” (https://apnews.com/article/france-protests-pensions-sanitation-strike-macron-b0a0dbc47e151af1a306b4cf64e5f893)

Struggles Involving Workers Not Confined to France

The outcome of these industrial actions will ultimately depend upon the consistency and strength of the unions and their allies among the youth. These attacks on pensions are part and parcel of the austerity measures being enacted by capitalist governments in Europe and North America. 

In Germany on March 27, transport unions staged a one-day strike which shutdown most rail lines, buses and airplanes. A payment dispute involving two unions and their employers has resulted in the most widespread industrial action in the country in recent years.

The EVG union reported to the media that in excess of 30,000 railway workers participated in the strike. Transport of cargo on the rail networks and at the German ports were also impacted as dock workers joined those on strike.

Meanwhile in Britain, unions continued their battles against austerity and the failure of the Conservative government to address the declining standards of living due to inflation. Workers in the education, healthcare, transport, passport and railway sectors have participated in strikes for months. 

In the education sector, the National Union of Head Teachers (NUHT), among other unions, held periodic strikes over the last several months demanding higher pay and improved conditions of employment. Recently the government has made an offer to the education, healthcare and other unions aimed at ending the strikes, yet no decisions have been made.

According to the National Education Union (NEU), real wages for experienced teachers have declined by 20 percent since 2010. Many within the profession are leaving to seek higher pay in other sectors. The unions are demanding salary increases commensurate with the rate of inflation.  

Unions have announced that on April 28, 133,00 workers will strike in various public sectors in Britain. The Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pursued a draconian policy of wage cuts despite the inability of the government to curb inflation.

These developments portend much for the future of the capitalist states amid a rash of bank failures in the United States and Switzerland. Central banks in the U.S. and Europe are continuing to raise interest rates while the cost of living increases for working families. 

Silvergate, Silicon Valley, Signature and Credit Suisse financial institutions have been the focus of multi-billion-dollar bailouts by central banks and larger firms which agreed to provide the necessary liquidity to prevent further economic instability.  However, these rescue operations will become more difficult if there are additional bank failures reminiscent of the Great Recession of 2007-2008.

Trade unions, Left parties and mass organizations within capitalist countries must begin to think beyond the acquisition of wage increases and improved working conditions. A different system of ownership and wealth distribution could very well be the only real solution to the overall malaise plaguing the working class and oppressed around the globe.  

Pirates Hijack Oil Tanker, Capture 16 Crewmembers in Gulf of Guinea

Nigerian Navy Special Forces board a ship

Africa News with AFP

REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

A Danish tanker flying the Liberian flag was attacked by pirates off Congo-Brazzaville in the Gulf of Guinea and contact was lost for three days with the crew of 16 sailors, its owner announced on Tuesday.

During this attack, which took place on Saturday evening 138 nautical miles west of the port of Pointe-Noire, in international waters, pirates were able to board the Monjasa Reformer and "the entire crew put themselves in security in the citadel" (armored refuge, editor's note) of the ship, indicated the shipowner Monjasa.

No communication with the sailors of this maritime supply vessel, 134 m long and with a capacity of 13,700 tonnes, has taken place since the company said in a press release.

According to Congolese authorities, three men attacked the boat, which was in the area to supply ships with fuel. "It was three men who took him hostage and since then the crew can no longer be reached," said a Pointe-Noire port official contacted by AFP.

Taken hostage

The shipowner confirmed that he had not heard from him since Saturday evening, without being able to say whether or not the crew had been taken, hostage. "Communications are currently cut off and we are working with local authorities to establish communication and understand the situation on board," the statement said.

At the time of the incident, reported at 2239 GMT, the ship was immobilized with 16 crew members on board, according to Monjasa.

Contacted by AFP, the shipowner, which employs 568 people around the world, said it had no additional information to communicate, in particular on the nationalities of the sailors. According to the Danish press, they are not nationals of the Nordic country.

A "missing ship notice has been issued for passing boats to report to us if they encounter it," Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) piracy reporting centre, told AFP. in Malaysia. “We encourage coastal authorities with resources to help us. We need regional cooperation,” he added.

Global piracy

A crucial maritime route bordering hydrocarbon-rich countries, the Gulf of Guinea, which stretches 5,700 km between Senegal and Angola, was for several years the new black spot of global piracy. But the attacks have dropped recently thanks to the joint efforts of coastal countries and European states.

In June, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution strongly condemning acts of piracy, armed robbery and hostage-taking in the region. This hijacking took place further south, in an area not usually attacked by pirates.

"It's worrying because it's rare in this area compared to the Gulf of Guinea, for example, where many ship hijackings take place every year," said Rida Lyammouri , a researcher at the Policy Center for the New South, a think tank based in Morocco.

“Hopefully we are not seeing a new trend and this is just an isolated incident. It could also be explained by the tightening of security measures in the Gulf of Guinea and the pirates are looking for new areas of operation," he added.

Merchant navy

Denmark, a major merchant navy power via its giant Maersk, notably sent a frigate in the fall of 2021. The mission was marked by a shootout with suspected pirates that claimed the lives of five of them.

In 2022, only about 20 skirmishes were recorded in the Gulf of Guinea, according to the Maritime Information Cooperation & Awareness Center. There had been 52 in 2021 and 115 in 2020, according to the maritime security expertise body based in Brest in France, which saw it as an "encouraging" example.

Since the beginning of the year, two attacks have been reported in the area, the last on March 2, according to the BMI. The Monjasa Reformer affair shows that "piracy problems off the west coast of Africa are far from being resolved", the Danish Shipowners Association said on Tuesday.

Nigerian thugs

With the war in Ukraine, "we fully understand (...) that Denmark's naval military capability is needed elsewhere", she added. But, according to her, the countries with ships in the region, European "in particular, should coordinate their presence more, in order to cover this vast area as well as possible".

Most of the attacks in recent years have been carried out by Nigerian thugs attacking ships in fast boats. Some have captured larger fishing vessels which they use as bases for their speedboats to raid further out to sea.

Some in Dry Somalia Break Ramadan Fast with Little but Water

By OMAR FARUK

Local NGO prepare Iftar food for people at an internally displaced people camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, Friday, March 24, 2023. This year's holy month of Ramadan coincides with the longest drought on record in Somalia. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — This year’s holy month of Ramadan coincides with the longest drought on record in Somalia. As the sun sets and Muslims around the world gather to break their daily fasts with generous dinners, Hadiiq Abdulle Mohamed and her family have just water and whatever food might be at hand.

Mohamed is among more than 1 million Somalis who have fled their homes in search of help while an estimated 43,000 people died last year alone. She and her husband and their six children now take refuge in one of the growing displacement camps around the capital, Mogadishu.

Ramadan brought an increase in food prices for a country already struggling with inflation caused in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the withering of local crops by five consecutive failed rainy seasons. Millions of livestock that are central to people’s diets have died.

Now food is even harder to come by for those displaced. For Ramadan, Mohamed and her family rely on well-wishers to provide their single meal a day. First, they break their fast with water and pieces of dates, then spoons of rice. Finally, they eat the donated meal of rice cooked with mixed meat, bruised banana and a small plastic bag of juice, which Mohamed waits in line for hours under the searing sun to obtain.

“I recall the Ramadan fast we had in the past when we were enjoying and prospering,” she said. “We would milk our goats, cook the ugali (maize porridge) and collard greens and drink water from our catchment. However, this year we are living in a camp, without plastic to cover us from rain, without food to eat, thirsty and experiencing drought. We have this small hot meal, but do you think that this can feed a family of six children, plus a mother and father? That is not possible.” The family once was prosperous and owned farmland and goats in a village about 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of the capital. Now they try to get by on the little money her husband makes by carrying goods in a wheelbarrow. But food prices have soared so much that his income is no longer enough to buy a 1 kilogram (2.2 pound) bag of rice.

The inflation in Somalia pinches the more well-off, too. The typical Ramadan fast-breaking meal includes samosas and other snacks; juice and tea and coffee; the main dish of rice or spaghetti or flatbread with camel, goat, chicken or fish; and finally, dessert.

The Horn of Africa country imports the majority of its food, from Ukraine-grown wheat to the bottles of Mountain Dew stocked in some gleaming Mogadishu shops. Meanwhile, prices of basics like rice and cooking oil continue to rise in parts of the country.

This month, World Food Program monitoring reported that supply chain resilience was generally good in Somalia, but the spike in demand for Ramadan would be “a disadvantage to vulnerable households who depend on local markets.”

“We are really experiencing a soaring price of food and another basic commodities,” said Ahmed Khadar Abdi Jama, a lecturer in economics at Somalia University. “Whenever there is an external factor that can reduce the supply of food, such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict, it is more likely that Somalis will feel a low supply.”

For example, a kilogram of camel meat that cost about $4 before the holy month now costs about $6. But this inflation will subside after the month is over, Khadar said.

Ramadan is a month of alms and forgiveness throughout the Muslim world. With the growing number of Somalis displaced by the drought, the imams of the mosques in Mogadishu are leading efforts to encourage the city’s wealthy and others who can afford it to sympathize with the poor and give generously.

“Some people need food to afford to break their fast,” said one imam, Sheikh Abdikarim Isse Ali. “Please help them.”

___

Cara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed.

Freed ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Paul Rusesabagina Arrives in US

By JUAN A. LOZANO and ERIC TUCKER

FILE - Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the film "Hotel Rwanda" and is credited with saving more than 1,000 people by sheltering them at the hotel he managed during the genocide, attends a court hearing in Kigali, Rwanda, Friday Feb. 26, 2021. Rwanda's government has commuted the sentence of Paul Rusesabagina was convicted of terrorism offenses years later in a widely criticized trial. Government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told The Associated Press on Friday, March 24, 2023, that the 25-year sentence was commuted by presidential order after a request for clemency. (AP Photo/Muhizi Olivier, File)

HOUSTON (AP) — The man who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda” and was freed by Rwanda last week from a terrorism sentence returned Wednesday to the United States, where he will reunite with his family after being held for more than two years.

Paul Rusesabagina’s arrival back in the United States was announced Wednesday by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who wrote in a tweet, that “we’re glad to have him back on U.S. soil.”

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists on Monday that Rusesabagina was in Doha, Qatar and would be making his way back to the U.S. Rusesabagina’s plane touched down in Houston in the afternoon and the 68-year-old will travel next to a military hospital in San Antonio, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning. The person said Rusesabagina was on the ground and in a car heading to reunite with his family. “We’re glad to have him back on U.S. soil & reunited with his family & friends who’ve long waited for this day to come,” Sullivan said. “I’m grateful to those we worked closely with in the Rwandan Government to make this possible.”

Rusesabagina, a U.S. legal resident and Belgian citizen, was credited with sheltering more than 1,000 ethnic Tutsis at the hotel he managed during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus who tried to protect them were killed. He received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts.

Rusesabagina disappeared in 2020 during a visit to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and appeared days later in Rwanda in handcuffs. His family alleged he was kidnapped and taken to Rwanda against his will to stand trial.

In 2021, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being convicted in Rwanda on eight charges including membership in a terrorist group, murder and abduction following the widely criticized trial.

Last week, Rwanda’s government commuted his sentence after diplomatic intervention on his behalf by the United States.

Rusesabagina had been accused of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change. The armed group claimed some responsibility for attacks in 2018 and 2019 in southern Rwanda in which nine Rwandans died.

Rusesabagina testified at trial that he helped to form the armed group to assist refugees but said he never supported violence — and sought to distance himself from its deadly attacks.

Rusesabagina has asserted that his arrest was in response to his criticism of longtime President Paul Kagame over alleged human rights abuses. Kagame’s government has repeatedly denied targeting dissenting voices with arrests and extrajudicial killings.

Rusesabagina became a public critic of Kagame and left Rwanda in 1996, first living in Belgium and then the U.S.

His arrest was a source of friction with the U.S. and others at a time when Rwanda’s government has also been under pressure over tensions with neighboring Congo and Britain’s plan to deport asylum-seekers to the small east African nation.

Rights activists and others had been urging Rwandan authorities to free him, saying his health was failing.

In October, the ailing Rusesabagina signed a letter to Kagame that was posted on the justice ministry’s website, saying that if he was granted pardon and released to live in the U.S., he would hold no personal or political ambitions and “I will leave questions regarding Rwandan politics behind me.”

Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Kagame in Rwanda and discussed the case.

Kirby, the White House National Security Council spokesman, had said Sullivan personally engaged in the case, “really doing the final heavy lifting to get Paul released and to get him on his way home.” ___ Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press reporter Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed reporting. ___ Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at https://twitter.com/juanlozano70.

All Eyes on Egypt's Central Bank Meeting Thursday amid Expected Interest Rates Hike

Doaa A.Moneim

Wednesday 29 Mar 2023

The Central Bank of Egypt's (CBE) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) is scheduled to convene on Thursday to review the key interest rates for the second time in 2023 amid broad expectations of a surge in interest rates by up to three percent (300 bps).

File Photo: People walk past the Egyptian Central Bank in downtown Cairo on. AFP

In its last meeting in February, the MPC maintained the key interest rates. The overnight deposit rate, overnight lending rate, the rate of the main operation, and the discount rate were kept unchanged at 16.25 percent, 17.25 percent, 16.75 percent, and 16.75 percent, respectively.

“Soaring inflation rates in the local market will encourage the CBE to hike the key interest rates on Thursday. Tightening the monetary policy is a key tool used to tame inflation, especially in times of crisis, and preserve the stability of the local market and prices,” banking expert Hani Abul-Fotouh told Ahram Online.

Hitting the highest levels since August 2017, Egypt’s annual headline inflation jumped to 31.9 percent in February, up from 10 percent in February 2022, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) early in March.

The surge was driven mainly by the significant increase in food and beverage prices.

Core inflation climbed to 40.3 percent in February, up from 3.12 percent in February 2022.

Abul-Fotouh expects the CBE will hike interest rates by 2-3 percent (200-300 bps) in the face of elevating inflation.

A report published this week by the HSBC also expected the CBE will announce a three percent increase on Thursday in an attempt to put the brakes on borrowing and enhance economic growth rates.

Earlier in March, Goldman Sachs Group projected the CBE will raise interest rates by three percent.

Meanwhile, the Research Department of HC Securities and Investment's report this week projected a two percent hike at the upcoming MPC meeting.

The report expected Egypt’s headline inflation to maintain its acceleration to hit 35.9 percent by July, when the FY2023/2024 will be rolled out, before gradually declining to 30.3 percent by December. The surge will be driven mainly by the 7-11 percent increase in gasoline prices in early March and the 20 percent increase in heavy fuel oil prices for all industries except food and electricity generation sectors. The hike in inflation is also expected on the back of the anticipated increase in the price of household electricity from 1 July, the recent liberalisation of the price of some basic food commodities such as rice, and a shortage in the domestic poultry supply, the report noted.

The 20 percent devaluation of the Egyptian pound since the beginning of the year, as a result of the decline in foreign currency income, has widened the gap in liabilities and assets in the banking sector in foreign currency, the report added.

Financial analyst and economist at HC Heba Mounir told Ahram Online that the continuing EGP devaluation is one of the factors behind the peaking inflation HC expects.

“In light of the inflationary pressures, the US dollar shortage in the local market, and Egypt’s need to keep the carry trade attractive, we calculate a required 12-month treasury bills rate of 25.18 percent, which considers soaring Egypt’s one-year CDs to 1,419 from 670 at the beginning of February,” according to Mounir.

A Morgan Stanley report released this week said Egypt’s huge external financing needs are weighing on its macroeconomic outlook, adding that a large-scale privatisation program as well as the adoption of a permanent exchange rate system could ease the financing pressures the Egyptian economy suffers.

Egypt is currently engaged in a $3 billion loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which estimates Egypt’s financing gap at $17 billion through FY2026/2027.

According to the government’s commitments under this deal, Egypt will finance the lion's share of this gap through selling state-owned assets.

Morgan Stanley’s report expected Egypt to sell assets valued at as much as $7 billion by 2024 to boost foreign exchange liquidity and public finances and narrow the financing gap.

Abul-Fotouh expects the CBE to further devaluate the Egyptian pound by 10-15 percent on Thursday if the CBE raises the interest rates.

He anticipated the US dollar trading price to jump to EGP 35-36, explaining that a further devaluation would be necessary to curb dollarisation in the local market, increase the EGP attractiveness, and accelerate the initial public offering process.

Economically Festive

Niveen Wahish  

Thursday 30 Mar 2023

As they try to enjoy the spirit of Ramadan, Egyptians cannot help but keep an eye on the economy

The prices of pastries, always in demand in Ramadan to quench sweet cravings after a day of fasting, have reached unprecedented highs, to the extent that one high-end patisserie is offering to allow customers to pay in installments for their konafa, a Ramadan special. And it is not only pastries. The doubling of the price tag of almost every item on the table has been the topic of the evening during many Ramadan gatherings this year.

Yomna Abdel-Rehim, an upper middle-class divorced mother of two, says she now buys meat at government outlets where the price per kilo averages LE200, compared to more than LE300 in butchers. “How much higher can it go,” she asks. She knows that futures contracts have placed the value of the pound at LE40 per dollar, meaning there is no end in sight.

Charitable donations have also been squeezed by inflation. Ahmed Moussa, who organises daily Iftar and Sohour for workers on the grounds of the residential compound in which he lives, says the meals now cost around LE14,000 daily, double the amount last year. In the meantime, contributors have less money to spare.

Annual headline inflation reached 31.9 per cent in February 2023, up from 25.8 per cent the month before.

On 30 March, the Central Bank of Egypt’s (CBE) Monetary Policy Committee was due to meet to decide interest rates. HSBC forecasts that CBE will increase rates by three per cent. HC Securities expects a two per cent rate hike to stem inflation which it expects to peak at 35.9 per cent by July before slowly declining to 30.3 per cent by December. Higher inflation in March and the following months can be expected for a variety of reasons, says HC, including early March’s increase in fuel prices, the recent liberalisation of the price of essential food commodities like rice, the shortage in local poultry supplies due to problems with the price and availability of animal feed caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, and continuing devaluation of the pound.

Pressure on the pound has accelerated amid strong demand for the dollar to cover Ramadan import needs, says Mohamed Sedeek, managing director of Analytica Holding for Financial Investments. The pound has been slowly sliding since January. It is trading at almost LE31 to the dollar in banks, compared to LE25 to the dollar three months ago. And speculation is not making matters any easier. Instead of exchanging hard currency in banks, many people are selling it privately to family and friends who need it at a higher rate than banks are offering.  

The pound will continue to weaken as a result of the persistence of demand on the exchange market and continued speculative attacks on the currency, Ali Metwalli, economist and risk analyst at Infospectrum, a UK-based counterparty risk appraisal services company, told Al-Ahram Weekly. He expects the Central Bank of Egypt to continue to intervene in the market as necessary “to maintain stability and prevent excessive and unwarranted currency depreciation”.

Metwalli argues a hike in interest rates will be helpful because reduced demand will undercut inflation. It will not, however, lead to a fall in prices. Currency depreciation, along with global headwinds, including high global commodity prices, will keep prices high well into the second half of 2023, he warns.

Sedeek does not believe a rate hike is warranted. The purchasing power of Egyptians is has already dwindles, he says, and “most people are only buying necessities and, even then, they choose the cheapest options.” He cautions that any increase in interest rates will deter potential investments since it raises the cost of borrowing.

Hard currency inflows and confidence will gradually grow as the state moves ahead with its plans to sell stakes in 32 state-owned companies and increase the footprint of the private sector, Sedeekargues.

State-owned Paint and Chemicals Industries (Pachin) recently received two offers from local and Arab investors to acquire 100 percent of the company’s shares. Meanwhile, the offering process of two military-affiliated companies, Wataniya fuel stations and the National Company for Natural Water in Siwa (SAFI), began on 15 March.

AD Ports Group and Egyptian Red Sea Ports Authority also signed a concession agreement extending over 30 years to develop and operate a multi-purpose terminal at Safaga Port earlier this month.

The privatisation process is taking time because interested Gulf investors are looking for the best deals while Egypt wants the best valuation, explained Khaled Al-Sayed, managing director of Synerjies Centre for International and Strategic Studies. However, he stressed it was important to press ahead with the sales because hard currency is desperately needed, not least to cushion the Egyptian economy against any volatile fallout from the ongoing global banking crisis.

As well as selling stakes in state-owned companies, the government is seeking to encourage new investment in other ways. Tax incentives are important to lure investors, especially given the tough competition from Saudi and the UAE, yet even though the golden licence was developed to make life easier for investors its provisions have been badly communicated and few know what incentives it offers, says Al-Sayed.

Sedeek recommends that banks be more aggressive with their lending in order to kick start investment. Rather than park deposits in safe treasury bills he argues they need to take more risks and fund new projects, or projects that are expanding.

Looking ahead, Metwalli expects Egypt’s economy to grow by about 3.2 per cent in 2023 — the Ministry of Finance has marked in a GDP growth rate of five per cent for fiscal year 2023-24 — driven mainly by investment and export growth. Lower capital spending and weaker consumption growth will likely weigh on the outlook, he warns, and inflation is unlikely to return to single-digit figures before the second half of 2024 given the latest currency depreciations and ongoing high global commodity prices.

“Less reliance on imports and more manufacturing incentives could improve the currency outlook, but it is a gradual process,” he says.

And while investments from Gulf countries remain crucial to supporting the Egyptian economy during such a challenging period, the recent $7 billion deal with the World Bank under the five-year new Country Partnership Framework, and the support of the International Monetary Fund, will both help bolster economic resilience.

Egypt is due anytime for the first review of its economic reform programme by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which approved a 46-month $3 billion extended fund facility loan last December.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt's Annual Core Inflation Soars to 40.3% in February: CBE

MENA, Ahram Online 

Thursday 9 Mar 2023

The annual core inflation rate recorded 40.3 percent in February, compared to 31.2 percent in January 2023, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) said in a statement on Thursday.

File Photo: The Central Bank of Egypt. Al-Ahram

In a statement on Thursday, the CBE said that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) recorded a monthly rate of 8.1 percent in February 2023, compared to 1.2 percent in the same month of last year.

The CPI recorded a monthly rate of 6.3 percent in January 2023.

Earlier Thursday, Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) said that the annual headline inflation surged in February to 31.9 percent, up from 10 percent in February 2022 and 26.5 percent last month.

The figures are the highest in almost five years and well beyond the inflation target the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) set at seven percent (±2 percent) for one year.

CAPMAS attributed the increase on a monthly basis to the rise in the prices of bread and grains by 9.2 percent, poultry and meat by 29.7 percent, seafood by 19.5 percent, and dairy products by 11.1 percent.

The agency ascribed the rise in annual inflation mainly to the significant increase in the prices of food and beverages by 61.5 percent, entertainment and cultural services by 40.9 percent, restaurants and hotels by 50.3 percent, and healthcare by 16.8 percent.

Syria, Turkey, Iran and Russia to Meet Next Monday

Ahram Online

Wednesday 29 Mar 2023

Moscow will host next Monday a quartet meeting at the level of deputy foreign ministers of Syria, Russia, Turkey and Iran, to bring together views between Damascus and Ankara, according to the Russian agency Sputnik.

Then Turkey s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) talks with Syria s President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting in Istanbul on June 7, 2010. AFP

"Deputy foreign ministers will meet in Moscow on Monday, 3 April", a well-informed Syrian source told Sputnik Wednesday.

He added that "the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister, Ayman Soussan, will participate in the two-day meeting".

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian confirmed, during a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday, that "a meeting will be held between Syria, Iran, Turkey and Russia at the level of deputy foreign ministers next week."

The purpose of the meeting is to prepare for the upcoming talks between the foreign ministers of the four countries, which are aimed at resolving the long-standing crisis in Syria and building on contacts between Ankara and Damascus after years of hostilities during the Syrian war.

In December 2022, Russia hosted what was considered the first talks between the Turkish and Syrian defense ministers to take place in 11 years.

Later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he might meet his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad, as part of a process to normalize ties between the two sides.

But Assad this ruled out any meeting with Erdogan until Turkey is ready to withdraw its military from northern Syria, deemed occupying forces by the Syrian president.

Saudis Agree to Partner with China-led Security Bloc

AFP 

Wednesday 29 Mar 2023

Saudi Arabia has agreed to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a "dialogue partner", state media reported on Wednesday, the latest indication of closer political ties with China.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before 

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was established in 2001 as a political, economic and security organisation to rival Western institutions.

Besides China, its eight members include India, Pakistan and Russia, as well as four central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The cabinet approved the decision at a meeting on Tuesday chaired by King Salman, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The move would grant Riyadh "the status of a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization", it said.

Other countries with either observer or dialogue partner status include Egypt, Iran and Qatar.

Riyadh's move to partner with the bloc comes less than three weeks after the unveiling of a landmark China-brokered reconciliation deal with Iran to restore full diplomatic relations that were severed seven years ago.

Long bitter rivals, Shiite-majority Iran and mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia have engaged in a series of proxy conflicts in the region, such as the protracted fighting in Yemen.

Riyadh has said that while it had engaged in previous rounds of bilateral talks with Tehran, the reconciliation process was jump-started by President Xi Jinping's offer last year to serve as a "bridge" between the two Middle East heavyweights.

Xi's role in the rapprochement raised eyebrows given Saudi Arabia's traditionally close partnership with Washington, though that relationship has been under strain recently because of disputes over human rights and oil production.

Xi, in a phone call on Tuesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman's son and the Gulf nation's de facto ruler, lauded what he called the easing of tensions in the Middle East.

In his first comments on the matter to be made public since the Saudi-Iran deal was struck, Xi said the dialogue promoted by China would "play a major role in strengthening regional unity and cooperation".

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Detroit Remains Mired in Poverty as City Council Approves $800 Million Tax Giveaway to the Rich

While the overall rate of impoverishment stands at 42%, in many neighborhoods those living in poverty exceeds 70 and 80 percent

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Tuesday March 28, 2023

Commentary

In an 8-1 vote, the Detroit City Council signed off on awarding two billionaires a tax incentive valued at $800 million despite broad independent opposition to the scheme.

Known as “District Detroit”, the plan advanced by the owners of Illitch Holdings and Stephen Ross and Related Companies, would ostensibly result in the construction of and repurposing of several buildings near the downtown area.

What was so egregious about this proposal is that in 2014 a similar project was approved by the-then City Council. The District Detroit iteration of nearly a decade ago came during the concluding months of the contrived bankruptcy trial which further ensnared the majority African American municipality in an institutionalized subservience to the white-dominated financial institutions and corporations. 

In 2014, the City Council gave away $400 million in tax incentives to the Illitch family. Just three years later, the cost overruns had doubled the expenses associated with this project which only resulted in the building of Little Caesar’s Arena (LCA). This venue houses the Detroit Pistons and Red Wings. There are periodic concerts where during the summer of 2022, a homecoming show featuring Anita Baker, tickets sold for as much as $1100. These prices are way above the affordability of most people living in the city. (https://www.freep.com/story/money/business/2017/09/06/little-caesars-arena-detroit-cost/616890001/)

However, as pointed out even by several corporate media outlets which dominate the narrative within the city limits and nationally, the Illitch Holdings firms did not fulfill their previous promises of new apartments, restaurants, bars and other businesses in the same area which was formerly known as the Cass Corridor. This raises the question as to why the City Council would approve yet another financial gift to those same corporations that have done nothing to curtail poverty, underdevelopment and economic injustice in the city? (https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2019/05/22/ilitch-companies-control-district-detroit-area-land-larger-than-downtown/2636965002/)

Cass Corridor had become known as one of the most underdeveloped districts in Detroit where people had yearned for some type of economic investment that would improve their living standards. However, what came was the forced removal of thousands due to foreclosures, evictions under the guise of fostering “development”. 

In an article published by the Detroit Metro Times in regard to the renewed tax giveaways: “Detroit City Council on Tuesday (March 28) approved more than $615 million in tax incentives for two white billionaire developers — the Ilitch family and Stephen Ross — to build new residential units, hotel rooms, and office space in areas that should have already been transformed. Following more than two hours of public comment, the council voted 8 to 1 in favor of the transformational brownfield tax incentives for the $1.5 billion District Detroit proposal. In all, the tax incentive package is worth nearly $800 million. The total cost of the project is roughly $1.5 billion.” (https://www.metrotimes.com/news/detroit-city-council-narrowly-approves-hundreds-of-millions-in-tax-incentives-for-district-detroit-32723768)

Development and Underdevelopment in Detroit

A concerted propaganda and psychological warfare campaign by the local ruling class interests framed the District Detroit project in the same fashion as it was articulated nearly a decade ago, that the awarding of tax-captured funds from city residents would provide thousands of jobs for the majority Black and growing Brown population groups. Millions are already taken from the tax coffers of the poor and working class in Detroit to provide funding for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC). These funds taken through tax captures drain resources from public libraries, schools, transportation and other services.

Nonetheless, the city of Detroit remains the most underdeveloped and oppressed municipality in the United States. A poverty rate of 42% makes the city the poorest in the U.S. 

Although the official rate of impoverishment is 42%, there are census tracts within the city where the rate of poverty exceeds 80%. These figures have not substantially improved since the imposition of the illegally imposed regime of emergency management and bankruptcy during 2013-2014. People have continued to leave the city while the incentives provided to corporations which are owned by whites have done nothing to enhance the overall status of African Americans and people of Latin American descent. (https://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/detroit-mi-population)

In 1950, Detroit had a population of 1.8 million people, the fourth largest in the U.S. Over the last 73 years, two-thirds of the people have either abandoned or been forced out of the city, leaving 610,00 residents. During the census period of 2000-2010, approximately 25% of the people left Detroit largely due to systematic disinvestment along with the targeting of its majority African American community in regard to predatory bank lending. 

Tens of thousands of homes were foreclosed leaving entire neighborhoods desolate and underdeveloped. Jobs fled the state of Michigan in their millions while the state and municipal governments refused to impose moratoriums on plant closings, home foreclosures and evictions. This failure to confront the banks and corporations has rendered the governance structures administratively dysfunctional. 

This dysfunctionality continues as the decades-long course of granting tax incentive to the wealthiest interests operating in the state has not resulted in the restoring of the levels of population, homeownership and household income.

Prior to the Great Recession beginning in 2007-2008, Detroit was a majority homeownership city, a fact which distinguished the majority African American and working class population from other municipalities such as New York City. Over the previous decade-and-a-half, the homeownership levels have been reversed making Detroit a majority renter city. Rents are increasing at an annual rate forcing African Americans, working class people and the impoverished out of the city as many have moved to other states seeking economic opportunities and social amenities.

Over the last decade there have been many development proposals advanced in the Downtown, Midtown and New Center areas of Detroit. Most of these announced projects have not materialized. The Hudson site location on Woodward downtown has been scaled back and remains uncompleted. The Hudson site is being led by billionaire Dan Gilbert who received millions in tax breaks as an incentive to initiate and complete the building. 

Scores of longtime and start-up businesses and championed development projects in Detroit have collapsed. Hotels, restaurants, office spaces and other facilities are abandoned recreating blight which the corporate mayoral and city council functionaries have falsely claimed are phenomenon of past decades.

In late 2022, the City Council, despite widespread opposition, authorized an additional $60 million in tax breaks for Dan Gilbert for the incomplete Hudson project. In addition to the tax incentives given to Gilbert, assessed municipal and state revenues generated by the employees of this incomplete deal would not go back to the public governing structures. The taxes would go right into the corporate coffers of the Gilbert corporations.

A Failed Urban Development Model Made Obsolete by the Burgeoning Financial Crisis

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent economic impact has prompted major changes in the labor market. Hundreds of thousands of small-to-medium-sized businesses throughout the U.S. have been shuttered leaving millions displaced.

Since the declarations by the administration of President Joe Biden and the Supreme Court saying in essence that the pandemic is over, the economic development models in force prior to 2020, have been seriously destabilized. Many corporations are having their employees work from home curtailing the need for office space in municipal settings. This downsizing of physical office buildings will make many of the projects which purportedly served as the ideological basis for Tax Incremental Financing (TIF), such as capturing the revenue of the workers and poor to build skyscrapers and entertainment districts, will become even more unstainable. 

According to a report published in January 2023 related to the increasing loan default by commercial property owners: 

“As borrowing expenses surge and downtown offices remain deserted, even major corporations are realizing their miscalculations. The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed a ‘seismic shift’ in commercial real estate, enabled by technology, as millions of people were compelled to work remotely for the first time. Seven trophy buildings, including a San Francisco tower leased to Elon Musk’s Twitter, were subject to approximately $1.7 billion worth of mortgage defaults by Columbia Property Trust. However, this company was not the only one to default; Brookfield Corp., one of the world’s largest property owners, also defaulted on two Los Angeles skyscrapers, with one of them being named after accounting firm Deloitte. Recent loan defaults are part of a strategy to extend payment periods or negotiate improved loan terms. However, in some instances, building owners are surrendering their properties to lenders, indicating that they have given up on ownership.” (https://www.worldwideerc.org/news/global-workforce/companies-look-to-downsize-office-space-as-remote-work-continues)

Therefore, these tax giveaways by the corporate-controlled municipal governance structures such as the Detroit City Council will only result in further economic distress where the working and impoverished are coerced into providing financial guarantees for the unprofitable so-called development projects of the ruling class. The dystopian illusions of the politicians are facilitated by the billionaires while the masses fall deeper into impoverishment.

This system of urban underdevelopment and displacement must be overthrown by the people through their organized efforts utilizing general strikes and insurrection. The working class and nationally oppressed can only win their rightful place within the cities by a political transition to socialism. 

Under socialism the wealth generated by the workers will be shared equitably by people irrespective of national origin and class status. As the cities continue in their inevitable decline, the potential for revolutionary movements to arise aimed at defeating capitalism will provide the opportunities for genuine liberation and social emancipation of the majority.