Category Archives: Africa – International

Nigeria – 45 more girls kidnapped near Madagali

Leadership

45 Girls Abducted In Madagali Fresh Attack

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Boko Haram insurgents have launched an offensive in Waga Mongoro village sandwiched between Gwoza town of Borno State and Madagali town
of Adamawa state where they abducted about 45 girls, local sources in the area disclosed.  Leadership

South Africa’s finance minister warns of new age of economic pain

Mail and Guardian

South Africa has reached an economic crossroads and the finance minister has outlined a three-point plan that is going to affect everyone.

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene. (David Harrison, M&G)

There’s a fierce economic wind blowing and Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene has trimmed the sails of the South African ship.

Addressing Parliament in his first medium-term budget policy speech, Nene spelled out a decisive plan for fiscal change.

Because of increasing current account debt, rising inflation and stagnating economic growth, “fiscal consolidation can no longer be postponed”, he said in the medium-term budget policy document.

He outlined a threefold proposal for change, which is likely to touch almost every South African:

  • The government will lower its consumption expenditure by R25-billion over the next two years;
  • The overall government spending ceiling will be lowered; and
  • Tax revenue will be increased by at least R27-billion over the next two years.

Despite slowed economic growth, this means tax increases are imminent.

The minister spelled out the details of the economic crossroads facing the country. During the recession, the government had adopted a counter-cyclical approach to stimulate spending but this was no longer possible. And the economy was expected to grow by only 1.4% this year, a stark revision from the originally anticipated 2.7%.

The main budget deficit remains at 5% of gross domestic product (GDP), with the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio the highest among its emerging market peers. Although the government has not exceeded its expenditure ceiling for the past three years, South Africa’s total debt stock is projected to increase to R2.4-trillion by 2017.

The country finds itself at a crossroads where the previous policy approaches will no longer yield the desired results: “Over the last five years, expansionary policies cushioned South Africa from the effect of the global crisis,” he said in the document. But “public debt is now approaching the limits of sustainability. Debt-service payments consume a growing share of the national budget, narrowing the space to expand public services and investment.”

“Sustaining deficits while the economy is unresponsive can worsen the current account deficit, push up inflation and interest rates, and reduce the competitiveness of the currency. Over time, these conditions undermine growth and employment.”

In the medium-term budget policy statement in 2012, the then finance minister Pravin Gordhan said that, if the economic and fiscal outlook deteriorated, the government would need to rethink its expenditure and revenue plans. Two years later, “that turning point has been reached”, Nene said.

Reining in government expenses
Nene announced several ways in which “budgets for nonessential goods and services will be frozen” for the next two years.

Planned expenditure on travel and subsistence would be cut by R555-million across all national departments.

Advertising and communications budgets would be docked by R240-million, spending on consultants would be reduced by R370-million and catering costs would come down by R150-million.

Speaking at a press conference just before the speech, the minister said these cuts would not hinder service levels to the public. “When we cut goods and services, that will not necessarily harm service delivery,” he said.

The government would withdraw funding for vacant posts. “We are saying, if they haven’t been filled in the past few years, why do you want to keep them still vacant and funded?” Nene said.

The public wage bill, currently R439-billion, is also likely to be contained. With government officials collectively demanding a 15% wage increase when multiyear wage agreements lapse next year, the government has said that anything higher than inflation plus 1% would be unsustainable and ultimately lead to the need to cut jobs or other cost-containment methods.

Nene said the treasury and public sector workers were coming from “different opening bids”. Government employees, when making wage demands, would need to appreciate that their employer was operating in a very constrained fiscal environment.

Tax increases down the line
South Africans can look forward to some form of tax increase in the coming months.

Policy and administrative reforms are expected to raise R12-billion in 2015-2016, R15-billion in the following financial year and R17-billion in the year after that.

But Nene would not be drawn on for details. “The only time we announce tax changes is during the [annual] budget speech [in February],” he said.

According to Izak Odendaal, an investment analyst at Old Mutual Wealth, this could be done in three ways.

Firstly, value added tax (VAT) exemptions could be eliminated. “Currently, a range of fresh food items are VAT free, benefiting rich and poor alike,” he said. These could be scrapped.

Secondly, remaining loopholes could be closed and tax avoidance schemes could be targeted, Odendaal said. In particular, the “off-shoring” of some companies’ tax liabilities could be scrutinised.

Thirdly, another form of wealth tax could be introduced – something that could have been implied in the budget document, which stated that “the proposals [to tax changes] will enhance the progressive character of the fiscal system”.

Charming the ratings agencies
The combined effects of tightening up spending and increasing tax would mean “a few years of pain” for South Africans, Nene said.

“It’s a call to action to all of us to take the pain,” he said. It was “not very bad, not very heavy pain”, but was unavoidable to narrow the budget deficit, stabilise debt and begin to rebuild fiscal space.

The moves are also likely to appease international credit rating agencies, which have recently viewed the South African outlook with concern.

With Standard & Poor downgrading the country’s sovereign rating to one level above junk status and Moody’s August decision to lower the ratings of South African banks, the country can little afford another credit rating reduction.

And Nene’s speech reflects his cognisance of this.

“Ratings agencies will rate us on what we are doing to keep our country afloat,” he said. “It’s important that ratings agencies find us managing our economy.”


Sudan – Bashir selected by Shura as NPC candidate for presidency again

Sudan Tribune

October 21, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party’s (NCP) Shura Council has selected president, Omer Hassan al-Bashir, as party candidate for the 2015 election.

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Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir looks on during an interview with state television in Khartoum late February 3, 2012 (Reuters)

The incumbent president won 265 votes out of 495 which represent 73% of the total percentage. His official nomination will be approved at the NCP General Convention.

The NCP Leadership Council on Monday besides Bashir selected four other leading members and referred them to the Shura Council to pick one of them as the party’s nominee for 2015 presidential election.

The 70-year old president previously said he would not seek a new mandate saying the country needs “fresh bold”. The appointment of a military, Bakri Hassan Saleh, as first vice-president was also perceived as a step towards his departure.

During the past weeks, Bashir received different delegations from the NCP dignitaries requesting him to accept their nomination for the presidential race.

The other four nominees chosen by the Leadership Council and submitted to the Shura Council included the first vice-president Bakri Hassan Saleh, former presidential aide Nafie Ali Nafie, former first vice-president Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and presidential assistant Ibrahim Ghandour.

Meanwhile, the former presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday that he does not seek to run for the presidency despite being selected among the NCP’s five possible candidates.

“The party members will not select me [as presidential candidate] and I do not want it and it is better for them not to select me”, he said.

The NCP leading figure, Amin Hassan Omer, said in press statements that Bashir and his deputy Salih are not serving army officers, pointing they had retired and became members of the NCP.

The head of the NCP organisational sector, Hamid Siddiq, for his part, scoffed at reports that Bashir will easily won the upcoming election because he wouldn’t run against strong competitors, saying what is wrong if Bashir wins by consensus.

He downplayed voices saying that Sudan needs a president who could break the barrier of the the international isolation and build strong relation with the United States, saying the NCP needs someone who is close to Allah [God] not the US.

Siddiq pointed the NCP leaders were unwilling to accept party nomination for presidency, saying that 7 members withdrew their nomination and the technical committee conducted the nomination process twice for lack of a quorum.

NCP MISTAKES

Bashir, who addressed the Shura Council meeting on Tuesday, acknowledged that the NCP committed several mistakes and violations, announcing intention to form a committee to look into these violations in order to overcome the flaws.

He directed the NCP members to implement the recommendations of the Shura conferences, pointing to the political mobility his party made ahead of the General Convention.

The NCP chairman said his address in the opening session of the General Convention on Thursday will tackle NCP achievements during the past five years, pointing he will also deal with the failures.

(ST)

Manufacturing of ebola-Guinea therepeutic treatement

Reuters

(Reuters) – Canadian drugmaker Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp has begun limited manufacturing of a therapeutic targeting the Ebola-Guinea virus.

The pharmaceutical company said on Tuesday that the new drug, part of its TKM-Ebola program, would be available by early December but did not specify how many doses it was making.

Tekmira was not available for comment on the therapeutic, including whether it was manufacturing a drug or vaccine.

Tekmira’s investigational new drug application to U.S. regulators for TKM-Ebola remains on partial clinical hold, with the issue expected to be resolved in the quarter.

U.S.-listed shares of the company rose as much as 6 percent in trading after the company gave an update on its Ebola program.

Tekmira has completed the design of a modified RNAi (ribonucleic acid interference) drug that targets the Ebola-Guinea variant, the virus responsible for the worst outbreak on record that has hit hardest Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

TKM-Ebola, an RNAi therapeutic, works by preventing the virus from replicating.

The European Medicines Agency said on Monday it was ready to offer Ebola treatments and vaccines the benefits of “orphan” drug status – including extended market exclusivity – in a bid to encourage their development.

Initial clinical trials of Ebola vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline and NewLink Genetics are already under way, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc gave its experimental Ebola treatment ZMapp to American medical workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who recovered after contracting Ebola in Liberia, and to at least one Spanish priest, who died.

Mapp said it had begun manufacturing the drug using traditional methods, which would allow the company to produce more of the drug so that human testing can be carried out.

Three Ebola cases have been diagnosed in the United States: Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who died on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, and two nurses who treated him.

In September, U.S. and Canadian regulators authorized the use of Tekmira’s TKM-Ebola in patients who have confirmed or suspected infections from the deadly virus.  Reuters

Cuban role in fighting ebola in West Africa

Reuters

(Reuters) – Cuban doctors and nurses departing for West Africa to combat Ebola consider themselves lucky. Among the 15,000 who volunteered, they are among only 256 who have been chosen for the job.

“There have been fights breaking out, heated arguments, with some doctors asking, ‘How come my colleague gets to go and I can’t?'” doctor Adrian Benitez, 46, said on Tuesday just hours before he was due to board a plane for Liberia.

Despite a global alarm over the worst Ebola outbreak on record, Cuban doctors are eager to travel to West Africa and start healing the sick.

Nicknamed as the “army of white robes” and citing a long history of Cuban medical missions in Africa and elsewhere, they speak of a sense of duty and are willing to assume the risks.

“We know that we are fighting against something that we don’t totally understand. We know what can happen. We know we’re going to a hostile environment,” said Leonardo Fernandez, 63. “But it is our duty. That’s how we’ve been educated.”

The Ebola virus has killed more than 4,500 people since March, mostly in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The numbers include more than 200 healthcare workers.

Some Cuban 165 doctors and nurses have already arrived in Sierra Leone and another 91 were flying on Tuesday for six-month missions, with 53 destined for Liberia and 38 for Guinea.

Yet another 205 medical professionals have undergone a three-week training course inCuba, with extensive practice in using the protective, full-body suits, but have yet to receive an Ebola assignment.

It is the latest example of Cuba’s medical diplomacy. The Caribbean island has dispatched medical brigades to disaster sites around the world since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

The communist government made 11 of the departing doctors available to reporters on Tuesday. All of them have been on previous overseas missions, and they all expressed pride in their mission, saying their families were supportive.

There is no proven cure for Ebola, and about half those who contract it die.

Several of the doctors repeated an often-cited slogan within Cuba’s medical culture: “We don’t offer what we have left over. We share what we have.”

“This little bit that we have, when people need it, we are capable of sharing. It’s a basic concept,” Fernandez said.

When Castro’s rebels took power in 1959, Cuba had 6,000 doctors, and half of them quickly left the country, the government says.

With economic aid from the Soviet Union, Cuba built a healthcare system that was the envy of the developing world, though some of those advances have been lost since the communist bloc collapsed.

Many Cuban hospitals have fallen into disrepair and Cubans say they have difficulty getting medical appointments or finding medicine.

With 83,000 doctors today, Cuba says it has 7.2 physicians per 1,000 people, one of the highest rates in the world. But with about 25,000 doctors working overseas, that ratio falls to about 4.6, even when counting 5,500 recent medical school graduates, according to Health Minister Roberto Morales.

While Cuba provides doctors and nurses for disaster relief free of charge, it also exchanges them for cash or goods on more routine missions. The island receives an estimated 100,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela, where some 30,000 Cuban medical professionals are posted.

In all, there are more than 50,000 health workers in 66 countries.

Those recruited for the Ebola missions underwent three weeks of training at the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute on the outskirts of Havana, where trainers set up a field hospital of tents to simulate conditions in West Africa.

Should any Cuban doctors or nurses contract Ebola in West Africa, they will be treated at a special site for international aid workers until they are cured or die, said Jorge Perez, director of the Pedro Kouri institute.

All of them will be held for at least 21 days of observation at the hospital upon returning to Cuba, the same as any visitor coming to the island from the affected countries.

Despite the risks and inconvenience, Ivan Rodriguez, 50, said his family was supportive and proud.

“I would have felt disappointed and sad if they would have been afraid for me to take this step,” Rodriguez said. “Now, there are 15,000 (volunteers). I’m convinced there could be 15,000 more.”  Reuters

ICC warns Kenya against leaking Kenyatta trial information

BBC

ICC cautions Kenya on Kenyatta media leaks

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta leaves after attending the Mashujaa Day (Hero's Day) celebrations at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi, on 20 October 2014.Mr Kenyatta was elected in 2013, despite facing charges at the ICC

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has warned Kenya’s government against leaking information from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s case to the media.

Mr Kenyatta became the first serving head of state to appear at an ICC hearing earlier this month.

He denies charges of crimes against humanity, including inciting violence after Kenya’s disputed 2007 polls.

But the court says it is concerned over the Kenyan government’s ability to ensure confidentiality of the case.

In a report released on Tuesday, the ICC’s Trial Chamber V specifically referred to the leaking of details of a confidential request from the ICC judges to help freeze or seize President Kenyatta’s assets.

The request was issued under seal, however, the Kenyan authorities filed public documents in 2013 referring to the request, which Mr Kenyatta’s lawyers later apologised for.

Details of the request later resurfaced in Kenyan media in April and September this year, in what the court described as “a pattern of information contained in confidential filings being leaked to the media, in some cases even before the filings have been notified to the chamber”.

It subsequently issued a “formal caution” to the Kenyan government, noting “cumulative inattention to the taking of appropriate measures to ensure the confidentiality of proceedings”.

Mr Kenyatta is facing five charges relating to ethnic violence after the 2007 elections that left some 1,200 people dead and 600,000 displaced – the worst violence in Kenya since independence in 1963.

On 8 October, he was summoned to appear at an ICC “status conference” – a pre-trial hearing.

But correspondents say the case has reached deadlock, with the prosecution accusing the Kenyan government of withholding vital evidence and the defence saying that without evidence, there should be no trial.  BBC

Sudan – Bashir accuses Mahdi of advancing rebel agenda

Sudan Tribune

October 20, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir has accused the leader of the National Umma Party (NUP), Sadiq al-Mahdi, of being used by the rebel alliance of the Sudan Revolutionary Forces (SRF).

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Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir delivers a speech in the capital, Khartoum, on 27 January 2014 in which he appealed for a political and economic renaissance in the country (Photo: AFP/Ebrahim Hamid)

Bashir, who was interviewed by several journalists en route to Khartoum from Egypt on Sunday, lashed out at al-Mahdi, stressing he refused to meet with him in Cairo according to his request.

However, al-Mahdi’s office issued a statement on Sunday denying press reports that Bashir rejected a request from the NUP leader to meet with him in Cairo.

Bashir said al-Mahdi made “a mistake” in the first time and we granted him a way out but he repeated the same mistake and he should bear the consequences.

The Sudanese president was alluding to remarks al-Mahd made accusing a government militia of committing serious abuses in conflict zones.

The opposition veteran was asked by the security service to stop his criticism against the Rapid Support Forces when he did for the first time. But he was detained on 17 May when he repeated it

The Sudanese president underscored the deal between al-Mahdi and the SRF was “brokered by a Zionist mediator”, saying the SRF leaders sought to find someone who can promote their project and help them implement it.

“We had information that the SRF was looking for a national figure to help them carry out their project and they found al-Sadiq al-Mahdi,” he added.

He pointed the SRF takes arms against the state in order to seize the whole country, emphasising the SRF program is based upon a Zionist project targeting Sudan.

On 8 August, the NUP and the SRF signed the Paris Declaration after the former suspended its participation in the government-led national dialogue initiative following the arrest of al-Mahdi, who was detained for one month.

NATIONAL DIALOGUE

Bashir reiterated commitment to the national dialogue initiative he launched in January, saying some have mistakenly understood the initiative as a sign of weakness and submission.

“We noted that some [political parties] seek to jump over the dialogue and demand the outcome even before the dialogue convenes,” he said.

He added the national dialogue initiative did not mention postponement of the election or forming a national or transitional government, saying dialogue does not mean breaking the law.

In January, Bashir called on political parties and rebel groups to engage in a national dialogue to discuss ways to bring peace in the country and to discuss constitutional reforms.

Several opposition parties, including the Popular Congress Party (PCP) led by Hassan al-Turabi, the Reform Now Movement (RNM) led by Ghazi Salah al-Din Attabani and the National Umma Party (NUP), agreed to participate in the dialogue before the latter decided to suspend its participation after al-Mahdi was detained in May 2014.

The opposition alliance of the National Consensus Forces (NCF), gathering mainly leftist parties and the rebel umbrella organisation of the Sudan Revolutionary Force (SRF) refuse to engage in the dialogue citing the need to end the war, create an environment conducive for dialogue and form a transitional government.

VISIT TO EGYPT

Meanwhile, Bashir refuted media reports that the Egyptian government deliberately hung a map showing the disputed Halaib and Shalateen triangle as part of Egypt’s territory during his meeting with president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

He said the map has been put since the Ittihadiya presidential palace was built; underscoring that the triangle of Halaib is part of the Sudanese territory.

Bashir stressed they will not engage in war with Egypt, saying his visit to the latter was successful and achieved its objectives.

He said he felt psychological comfort in Egypt for the first time, stressing that he sensed al-Sisi’s keenness to promote ties between the two countries.

However, he acknowledged the existence of controversial issues with Cairo, saying he agreed with al-Sisi to postpone these issues and focus on what is being agreed upon which represent 90% of the issues.

He said the remaining 10% of the issues, including Halaib, could be resolved through dialogue and legal avenues.

The Sudanese president emphasised that he agreed with al-Sisi to utilise Sudan and Egypt relations to achieve peaceful solution for the Libyan crisis, reiterating Khartoum’s fixed position not to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs.

“Determining the identity of who should rule Egypt falls in the heart of the Egyptian people responsibilities and we are not involved in that matter,” he said.

(ST)