19-APR-2020 :: The End of Vanity China Africa Win Win
And the entire China Africa relationship has been an extraordinary
exercise in Narrative Framing and linguistic control, accompanied by a
chorus of Party Hacks chirruping Hosannas at every turn amplifying
largely meaningless feel good Phrases artfully placed in the mouths of
our Politicians and our Newspapers. It is remarkable.
4/12 Curiosamente, esse período marcou uma das piores décadas para
esse mercado na história. É incontestável a contradição entre esses
números, presumivelmente mais apurados, e os números “criados” pelo
próprio governo comunista Chinês.
4/12 Interestingly, this period marked one of the worst decades for
this market in history. The contradiction between these numbers,
presumably more accurate, and the numbers “created” by the Chinese
communist government is undeniable.
The Way we live now #COVID19
''You felt the land taking you back to what was there a hundred years
ago, to what had been there always.”
Don DeLillo wrote "Everything is barely weeks. Everything is days. We
have minutes to live."
The Way we live now. #COVID19
''You felt the land taking you back to what was there a hundred years
ago, to what had been there always.”
Don DeLillo wrote "Everything is barely weeks. Everything is days. We
have minutes to live."
Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 2 Vanity[a] of vanities, says the Preacher
Vanity[a] of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens[b] to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
8 All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,[c]
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things[d] yet to be
among those who come after.
The Way we live now #COVID19.
''You felt the land taking you back to what was there a hundred years
ago, to what had been there always.”
Don DeLillo wrote "Everything is barely weeks. Everything is days. We
have minutes to live."
Exclusive: Internal Chinese report warns Beijing faces Tiananmen-like global backlash over virus #COVID19 @Reuters
Law & Politics
The report, presented early last month by the Ministry of State
Security to top Beijing leaders including President Xi Jinping,
concluded that global anti-China sentiment is at its highest since the
1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the sources said.
As a result, Beijing faces a wave of anti-China sentiment led by the
United States in the aftermath of the pandemic and needs to be
prepared in a worst-case scenario for armed confrontation between the
two global powers, according to people familiar with the report’s
content, who declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the
The report was drawn up by the China Institutes of Contemporary
International Relations (CICIR), a think tank affiliated with the
Ministry of State Security, China’s top intelligence body.
Reuters has not seen the briefing paper, but it was described by
people who had direct knowledge of its findings.
“I don’t have relevant information,” the Chinese foreign ministry
spokesperson’s office said in a statement responding to questions from
Reuters on the report.
China’s Ministry of State Security has no public contact details and
could not be reached for comment.
CICIR, an influential think tank that until 1980 was within the
Ministry of State Security and advises the Chinese government on
foreign and security policy, did not reply to a request for comment.
Reuters couldn’t determine to what extent the stark assessment
described in the paper reflects positions held by China’s state
leaders, and to what extent, if at all, it would influence policy.
But the presentation of the report shows how seriously Beijing takes
the threat of a building backlash that could threaten what China sees
as its strategic investments overseas and its view of its security
Relations between China and the United States are widely seen to be at
their worst point in decades, with deepening mistrust and friction
points from U.S. allegations of unfair trade and technology practices
to disputes over Hong Kong, Taiwan and contested territories in the
South China Sea.
In recent days, U.S. President Donald Trump, facing a more difficult
re-election campaign as the coronavirus has claimed tens of thousands
of American lives and ravaged the U.S. economy, has been ramping up
his criticism of Beijing and threatening new tariffs on China.
His administration, meanwhile, is considering retaliatory measures
against China over the outbreak, officials said.
It is widely believed in Beijing that the United States wants to
contain a rising China, which has become more assertive globally as
its economy has grown.
The paper concluded that Washington views China’s rise as an economic
and national security threat and a challenge to Western democracies,
the people said. The report also said the United States was aiming to
undercut the ruling Communist Party by undermining public confidence.
Chinese officials had a “special responsibility” to inform their
people and the world of the threat posed by the coronavirus “since
they were the first to learn of it,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman
Morgan Ortagus said in response to questions from Reuters.
Without directly addressing the assessment made in the Chinese report,
Ortagus added: “Beijing’s efforts to silence scientists, journalists,
and citizens and spread disinformation exacerbated the dangers of this
A spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council declined to comment.
The report described to Reuters warned that anti-China sentiment
sparked by the coronavirus could fuel resistance to China’s Belt and
Road infrastructure investment projects, and that Washington could
step up financial and military support for regional allies, making the
security situation in Asia more volatile.
Three decades ago, in the aftermath of Tiananmen, the United States
and many Western governments imposed sanctions against China including
banning or restricting arms sales and technology transfers.
China is far more powerful nowadays.
Xi has revamped China’s military strategy to create a fighting force
equipped to win modern wars.
He is expanding China’s air and naval reach in a challenge to more
than 70 years of U.S. military dominance in Asia.
In its statement, China’s foreign ministry called for cooperation,
saying, “the sound and steady development of China-U.S. relations”
serve the interests of both countries and the international community.
It added: “any words or actions that engage in political manipulation
or stigmatization under the pretext of the pandemic, including taking
the opportunity to sow discord between countries, are not conducive to
international cooperation against the pandemic.”
One of those with knowledge of the report said it was regarded by some
in the Chinese intelligence community as China’s version of the
“Novikov Telegram”, a 1946 dispatch by the Soviet ambassador to
Washington, Nikolai Novikov, that stressed the dangers of U.S.
economic and military ambition in the wake of World War Two.
Novikov’s missive was a response to U.S. diplomat George Kennan’s
“Long Telegram” from Moscow that said the Soviet Union did not see the
possibility for peaceful coexistence with the West, and that
containment was the best long-term strategy.
The two documents helped set the stage for the strategic thinking that
defined both sides of the Cold War.
China has been accused by the United States of suppressing early
information on the virus, which was first detected in the central city
of Wuhan, and downplaying its risks.
Beijing has repeatedly denied that it covered up the extent or
severity of the virus outbreak.
China has managed to contain domestic spread of the virus and has been
trying to assert a leading role in the global battle against COVID-19.
That has included a propaganda push around its donations and sale of
medical supplies to the United States and other countries and sharing
But China faces a growing backlash from critics who have called to
hold Beijing accountable for its role in the pandemic.
Trump has said he will cut off funding for the World Health
Organization (WHO), which he called “very China-centric,” something
WHO officials have denied.
Australia’s government has called for an international investigation
into the origins and spread of the virus.
Last month, France summoned China’s ambassador to protest a
publication on the website of China’s embassy that criticized Western
handling of coronavirus.
The virus has so far infected more than 3 million people globally and
caused more than 200,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
Caught in the second wave The risk of a deadly resurgence of coronavirus could change the way we live for years to come. @NewStatesman #COVID19
Law & Politics
On 15 March, just before Covid-19 hit the Lariboisière Hospital in
Paris, the head of its emergency service was calm. “My team is ready,”
said Eric Revue.
That team has now been operating at full capacity for the past six
weeks. It has lost 10 per cent of its members to sickness (none have
died), those who remain are tired, and morale is flagging.
In recent days the flow of patients has slowed and the team has been
able to catch its breath. Dr Revue is now worried about what will
happen after 11 May, the date Emmanuel Macron has set for the
beginning of the end of lockdown in France.
“My fear is that the non-Covid-19 patients who have stayed away until
now will arrive in a worsened condition, just as we’re dealing with a
resurgence of the epidemic,” he says.
It’s a fear shared by many doctors, and politicians too, as they try
to find the sweet spot of exit strategies – a combination of measures
that will resurrect the economy and liberate their citizens while
sparing health systems from a second wave of Covid-19 they are
ill-equipped to manage.
“Lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence,”
said World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom
Ghebreyesus on 10 April.
Pandemics of respiratory disease tend to come in waves, and the 1918
flu pandemic is often given as an example.
After a relatively mild first wave, in the Northern Hemisphere spring
of that year, the illness gradually receded before returning with
renewed force from the latter part of August (the date depended on
where you were in the world).
This was the far more deadly second wave, which accounted for most of
the estimated 50 million deaths in that pandemic.
There was a third wave, in the early months of 1919, that was
intermediate in severity between the other two.
Based on their scrutiny of the genetic sequences of the strains of the
flu virus that caused the first and second waves of the 1918 pandemic,
scientists including Jeffery Taubenberger of the US National
Institutes of Health concluded a few years ago that the virus mutated
between those two waves.
During the first wave, they believe, the pandemic strain lacked the
ability to spread easily, and it therefore emerged in a limited way
through a background of milder but more contagious seasonal flu around
the tail end of 1917.
The mutation the following summer rendered it highly transmissible,
allowing it to explode in August – by which time there was no more
seasonal flu to dilute it.
Could this scenario be repeated with Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes
Covid-19? Coronaviruses behave differently from flu, and from what
scientists know about them, it seems unlikely.
“The coronaviruses are not prone to mutation which perhaps is their
weak spot,” says virologist John Oxford of Queen Mary, University of
London. Annelies Wilder-Smith, an expert in emerging infectious
diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,
So far Sars-CoV-2 has proved relatively stable, she says, and if it
were to mutate, “We would hope that it would mutate to be less
Unfortunately, that doesn’t rule out a resurgence. Unlike in China,
lockdowns in other countries are being lifted before the disease has
been eradicated, mainly because of fears about the economic
consequences of keeping them in place.
That means the virus is still circulating in their populations, and
from what we can tell they are still far from achieving herd immunity
(probably around 60 or 70 per cent of a population needs to be immune
to protect it as a whole).
With no vaccine likely to be widely available for a year at the
earliest, the risk of further outbreaks is therefore high.
David Nabarro, a public health expert at Imperial College London and
the WHO’s special envoy on Covid-19, says he doesn’t think in terms of
waves, so much as ever-present danger.
“Coping with the constant threat of re-emergence is going to have to
be the posture of humanity in the foreseeable future,” he says.
How bad could a resurgence be? Wilder-Smith is relatively optimistic.
“Yes there will be a second wave, and a third and a fourth and a
fifth,” she says, “but hopefully they will be smaller each time, as we
learn to suppress them.”
But there are bleaker scenarios. Writing in the journal Science on 14
April, a group of mathematical modellers – led by Christine Tedijanto
and Stephen Kissler of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in
Boston – highlighted “the potentially catastrophic burden on the
healthcare system that is predicted if distancing is poorly effective
and/or not sustained for long enough”.
With the caveat that a model is only as good as the data that feed it
– and data on Covid-19 are still patchy – they estimated that the risk
of a resurgence could persist until 2025, and that social distancing
measures might need to be employed intermittently until 2022.
Despite the relative stability of coronaviruses, Covid-19 remains a
formidable foe. On current data, it is both more contagious and more
deadly than seasonal flu, and unlike seasonal flu, nobody has any
immunity to it – or at least they didn’t until a couple of months ago.
Unchecked, therefore, Covid-19 outbreaks can grow fast and incur a
terrible human cost.
“The distinguishing feature of Covid-19 is its ability to crash
intensive care units and overwhelm facilities with sick people,” says
Jonathan Quick, a global health expert leading the Rockefeller
Foundation’s pandemic response.
One characteristic of Covid-19 works in humanity’s favour: it has a
longer incubation period than flu.
This means that there is more time to identify suspected cases and
quarantine them before they pass it on, which in theory means that an
outbreak is easier to contain.
A resurgence is preventable, says Yaneer Bar-Yam, the president of the
New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) in Boston – who is now
applying his physicist’s skills to Covid-19 – but only if we
acknowledge that a pandemic is a complex problem that requires a
combination of responses.
With his NECSI colleague Chen Shen, Bar-Yam has published a nine-point
plan for beating Covid-19.
If a new cluster is identified, they say, travel in and out of the
affected area should be restricted, with 14-day quarantines for
travellers and no-contact protocols for essential goods and workers.
Suspect cases should be systematically detected and tested. Confirmed
cases should be isolated, and their close contacts quarantined.
Masks should be worn in shared spaces. Health workers should be given
all the tools and protective equipment they need, and essential
services should be made safe for employees and customers – through
curbside delivery, for example.
People should be advised on how to stay healthy, and convinced that
what each of them does makes a difference.
This plan is based largely on the Chinese experience. The lockdown
imposed on Wuhan in Hubei province was not like the lockdowns that
have been imposed in the rest of the world, which are designed to slow
the spread of the disease.
Wuhan’s was essentially a cordon sanitaire that stopped the disease
from spreading out of its epicentre.
And because that cordon was kept in place for 76 days – Bar-Yam
estimates that five weeks, or two and a half incubation periods, would
suffice – the disease was also stamped out inside it.
Research has since indicated that the Wuhan cordon did what it was
designed to do.
The Chinese also imposed the wearing of masks in shared spaces, and
the science is now showing that this measure works, because it reduces
the risk of transmission by the mask wearer.
The key to an effective response, Bar-Yam says, is to do all these
things together. Testing is useless if those who test positive aren’t
isolated; isolation without travel restrictions is “like draining a
bathtub with a running tap”.
Those countries whose initial containment efforts worked, such as
China, South Korea and Singapore, understood this – because they had
learnt it the hard way, having lived through the Sars epidemic of
2002-03 – but many countries have not.
For Bar-Yam, those other countries have lost sight of the bottom line:
“The cost is totally determined by the number of cases you allow to
History seems to back him up. A study published in March by
researchers at the Federal Reserve and Massachusetts Institute of
Technology showed that, during the 1918 flu pandemic, US cities that
imposed public health measures earlier and more aggressively had lower
mortality rates and recovered faster in economic terms.
The problem, then as now, is knowing when to lift the measures. If you
lift them too soon, you present the virus with a fresh pool of
susceptible hosts and trigger a second wave.
In 1918, there was no reliable diagnostic test for flu. We have a
reliable test for Covid-19, and it will be central to containing the
inevitable flare-ups after lockdown ends, while scientists work on
developing better treatments and a vaccine.
The ultimate aim has to be to keep the number of sick to a minimum,
because each case is more costly than itself.
“Pandemics kill in three ways,” says the Rockefeller Foundation’s
Jonathan Quick. “The disease kills, the disruption to the health
service kills, and the disruption to the economy kills.”
Though the present lockdowns in Europe and elsewhere have not followed
the Chinese model, they aren’t wasted.
They are preventing the disease surge that would overwhelm health
systems, and have bought time for building supplies and knowledge
about the virus when both of these were in short supply.
But given that they have also nudged the global economy into decline –
the International Monetary Fund (IMF) calls it the worst downturn
since the Great Depression of the 1930s – it is now critical that all
countries adopt a more coherent approach.
And that means everyone embracing a new normal. California’s governor
Gavin Newsom put it well on 12 March: “Changing our actions for a
short period of time will save the life of one or more people you
know… That’s the choice before us. Each of us has extraordinary power
to slow the spread of this disease.”
Some countries have already changed tack. Quietly, Vietnam, Greece,
Iran and others have turned the tables on the virus.
After an embarrassing start, with its Covid-19-positive deputy health
minister mopping his brow at a press conference, Iran invited in a WHO
mission and took advice from veterans of the Chinese outbreak.
According to Christoph Hamelmann, the WHO’s representative in Tehran,
the rate of new infections has been decreasing there for two weeks,
and the government has put in place a sophisticated, graded system for
lifting the existing restrictions.
The Indian state of Kerala is another success story, using technology
to trace contacts – and, importantly, providing social and economic
relief for those disadvantaged by the measures.
Technology is going to be key to the next phase, especially apps for
contact tracing. Anxieties have been expressed about the threat these
could pose to civil liberties, but from a purely technological
standpoint, they needn’t.
“Decentralised” models work by keeping sensitive data on a person’s
phone, for example, and governments could demonstrate their good faith
– that they are not going to exploit these circumstances to increase
their powers of surveillance – by supporting the development of such
They could also invest in better antibody tests, which will be needed
for establishing levels of immunity in populations – and hence the
risk of further outbreaks – and better mathematical models for
determining how an outbreak in one state or country might impact on
They could stop discussing borders in purely ideological terms, as
gates that must be either open or closed, and start thinking of them
as another tool in their box – a means of intelligently controlling
the movement of the virus.
And we need imaginative proposals for how we might observe the new
normal as painlessly as possible. Researchers at the University of
Cambridge, for example, have identified 275 non-pharmaceutical
approaches to reducing transmission, from virtual schools to online
queues telling people when to go to a shop or surgery, and banning
background music in public places so people don’t have to get close in
order to hear each other.
Above all, strong leadership will be needed, because without a
proactive strategy Covid-19 will get the upper hand again.
Many low- and middle-income countries will follow the lead of
wealthier ones in lifting lockdown, since they can afford the economic
damage even less.
The consequences for many of them, if the transition is mishandled,
will be worse than in richer parts of the world.
Take Zimbabwe, which is under a strict lockdown and has had very few
cases to date. Its hospitals don’t always have water or electricity,
it has high levels of food insecurity, and 12.7 per cent of its adult
population is HIV positive.
HIV dysregulates the immune system, which – though we don’t know yet –
potentially makes those people more vulnerable to Covid-19.
An outbreak in Zimbabwe would be disastrous, and pose a threat to its
neighbours, not to mention – once airlines are flying again –
countries further afield.
“This isn’t over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” says Peter
Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Coordinating a global response is crucial. The WHO has tried to
provide leadership internationally. On 14 April, it published a
“playbook”, not too different from Bar-Yam’s plan, for countries to
use as a guide when easing lockdown.
But in today’s polarised world the WHO patently lacks authority.
Nabarro and others have called for a Pandemic Emergency Coordination
Council that would unite the heads of the United Nations, WHO, IMF and
World Bank, and provide that much needed authority.
But the appetite for such a council has been lacking among world
leaders. In the leadership vacuum, some regions have started to
coalesce from the bottom up, including in South-East Asia and to some
extent in Europe, while the governors of some US states are forming
Nabarro fears it’s not enough. “I encourage all leaders to find ways
to collaborate for the sake of humanity, quickly,” he says, “because
the challenges are too great to be dealt with by countries pursuing
Governments have to be able to trust each other to abide by the same
rules as they move out of lockdown – and perhaps even sanction those
If there is one playbook, and it’s transparent, it will also be easier
for people to embrace the new normal, knowing that it will only be
There has been a narrative in the West that what the Chinese did in
Hubei couldn’t be done in democratic countries. It echoes a message
from history that democracy is unhelpful in pandemics.
ut there’s no logical reason that we can’t be pragmatic while
defending hard-won democratic values. It will require the right
assurances, a lot of trust and setting aside imagined ideological
obstacles, but it can be done.
Dr Revue hopes it will be done, for the sake of his patients and his
team. He agrees with Albert Camus, who wrote in 1947 that humanists
were always the first to pass away in a plague, because they didn’t
believe in it and failed to take their precautions.
“They fancied themselves free,” wrote Camus, “and no one will ever be
free so long as there are pestilences.”
Laura Spinney is the author of “Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918
and How it Changed the World” (Vintage)
Reopening states will cause 233,000 more people to die from coronavirus, according to @Wharton model @YahooFinance
Law & Politics
New data from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that relaxing
lockdowns across U.S. cities and states could have serious
consequences for the country’s battle to contain the coronavirus,
which has infected over a million people while killing more than
According to the Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM), reopening states
will result in an additional 233,000 deaths from the virus — even if
states don’t reopen at all and with social distancing rules in place.
This means that if the states were to reopen, 350,000 people in total
would die from coronavirus by the end of June, the study found.
Kent Smetters, the PWBM’s director, said the decision to reopen states
is ultimately a “normative judgement that comes down to the
statistical value of life.”
He explained: “That’s not a crude way of saying we put a dollar value
on life, but it’s the idea that people will take risks all the time
for economic reward.”
That figure far surpasses estimates and models that the White House
has cited from the University of Washington, which put the death toll
at roughly 73,000 by the start of August.
Keeping stay at home orders in place would result in a growth
contraction of 11.6% year over year, the data found, but opening the
states would curb some of that decline somewhat, paring back the
downturn to 10.1% year over year.
However, Wharton’s data found that the state lockdowns will result in
a more dramatic increase in unemployment, boosting the total of
unemployed to nearly 50 million. A partial reopening would partly
blunt that impact, but not by much.
06-APR-2020 : The Way we live now.
What I do know is this. Regime implosion is coming to the Oil
Producers and Trump can game the price a little more sure but its a
pointless exercise. Demand has cratered and a return to a hyper
connected 100m barrels per day world is not going to happen for the
foreseeable future. Putin will survive because he prepared for this
moment. Others are as good as terminated.
22-MAR-2020 :: COVID-19 and a Rolling Sudden Stop #COVID19
We are moving from a World of Hyper Connectedness to a World of
Quarantine. A complete Quarantine is the only way to vaccine this
c21st World of ours
#Coronavirus "has started behaving a lot like the once-in-a-century
pathogen we've been worried about." - @BillGates
The Price of Crude Oil is perfectly correlated to the #COVID19 Sudden Stop
Sub Saharan Africa
Tanzania hiding true number of Covid deaths, opposition says @FT @davidpilling
Tanzania’s government is covering up the true extent of the
coronavirus pandemic with secret burials taking place at night,
hospitals overflowing and three parliamentarians suspected of dying
from the disease, according to doctors, opposition leaders and
President John Magufuli, who has spent much of the crisis holed up in
his home village 750 miles west of the commercial capital Dar es
Salaam, has denied the virus is serious and urged people to continue
working and attending religious ceremonies.
On Sunday, in a national address, Mr Magufuli even accused the
national laboratory of fabricating results under the influence of what
he called imperialists. “We only see them releasing positive,
positive, positive results,” he said.
Zitto Kabwe, a prominent opposition leader, said that, by questioning
the results of the government’s own laboratory, ordinary Tanzanians
would lose faith in the health system’s response to Covid-19.
He cited records being kept secretly by doctors that, he said, showed
the number of infections nationally at six times the official figure
of 480. According to government records, 16 people have died of the
Night burials had taken place in different parts of the country,
including Arusha and Dar es Salaam, with gravediggers and pallbearers
wearing protective clothing, Mr Kabwe said.
His party had sent people to film the night-time ceremonies at Uninio,
north of Dar es Salaam, but he added that a true reckoning of how many
people had died from the disease would not emerge until the pandemic
Although schools have been closed since mid-March, strict social
distancing measures have not been enforced in the east African nation
of 56m people.
That makes Tanzania unusual in Africa where many countries have
imposed lockdowns, curfews and other measures to stop the progress of
[The president] told us to go back to work and pray, then he got on
his private presidential jet, went to [his home village] Chato and
left us to it Fatma Karume, lawyer
Last week, Augustine Mahiga, 74, justice minister, became the third
parliamentarian in 11 days to die of a short illness, though there was
no official confirmation that he had contracted Covid-19. The three
deaths represented nearly 1 per cent of the 384-member national
assembly, prompting the opposition Chadema party to say its MPs would
no longer attend.
Hassan Abas, a government spokesperson, said Tanzania had implemented
more than 40 measures to curb the pandemic and was learning from the
experience of other countries about how to tackle the virus.
He defended the government’s statistics and denied that it could be
hiding the extent of the outbreak. “It takes one to be insane to
insinuate that Tanzania is not taking serious measures or hiding
data,” he said.
Someone with close knowledge of the medical profession said it was
almost impossible to secure a hospital bed in several cities.
The Aga Khan hospital in Dar es Salaam had a well-equipped ward for 80
coronavirus patients, but several were dying each night, he said.
“There is such a hush-up on how many people are really sick with
Covid. We know that all the hospitals are full,” he said.
“We always thought it would be the elderly that would succumb, but we
are also looking at cases of young people in their 30s and 40s who we
know have passed away.”
Fatma Karume, a prominent lawyer and government critic, said: “On
Monday I woke up to find that five people I knew had passed away from
Tanzanians, she said, had been shamed into not admitting they had
caught Covid-19, which had been stigmatised by a government that said
only weak people died from the illness.
“They want to own the numbers and the statistics,” she said, adding
that a lawyer who had urged more transparency had been arrested.
Ms Karume said people were referring to Covid-19 by a euphemism in
Kiswahili, the national language, of “kutopumuwa”, which roughly
translates as the “hard-to-breathe” disease.
She said she blamed Mr Magufuli for retreating to his home village of
Chato on Lake Victoria. “He basically told us to go back to work and
pray, then he got on his private presidential jet, went to Chato and
left us to it.”
Mr Magufuli, known as “the bulldozer” because of his trenchant style,
was elected president in 2015 amid hope that he would carry out his
pledge to eradicate corruption.
Instead, he has become increasingly authoritarian, declaring that
pregnant girls should be banned from school and clamping down on the
internet and press freedom.
As other African leaders reacted swiftly to coronavirus, closing their
frontiers and preparing for lockdown, Mr Magufuli made a point of
attending crowded church gatherings, telling people that the “satanic”
virus could not survive in the bodies of the faithful.
On Sunday, as he sought to cast doubt on the work of the national
laboratory, Mr Magufuli said he had arranged for samples of blood from
goats, sheep and the francolin bird, as well as papaya, jackfruit and
engine oil, to be sent for testing.
The samples had been given false identities, he said. “We took the
papaya sample and gave it the name Elizabeth Ann, 26-year-old female.
The papaya results were positive,” he said. “There were many such
If Mr Magufuli was so confident the risk had been exaggerated and that
religious faith would protect Tanzanians from the worst effects, Mr
Kabwe asked why the president had been “hiding” in his home village.
“We have been asking him to come out and lead this fight,” he said.
Galloping ahead in Ethiopia by Yves-Marie Stranger @EthiopiaInsight H/T @wdavison10
When I settled in Ethiopia in 2001, Addis Ababa was a patchwork of
villages joined by green valleys and wastelands and you could gallop
in and out of town in a day. The city seemed to encapsulate Alphonse
Allais’ quip on the ideal city—‘built in the countryside’. I had
installed a horse in my home in Abo Mazoria, by converting the kitchen
into a stable and filling one of the bedrooms with hay bales. It was a
little eccentric on my part—but then again, not so much. For I had
discovered that Ethiopia was an orthodox paradox—a country of
individualist conformists. And I had, after all, only followed the
lead of my friend Eskender Berhanu (a true phenomenon, with his stable
of fifteen polo ponies, a stone’s throw from Arat Kilo).
Leaving my house in Abo Mazoria on horseback at dawn, and after
following the valley of the Little Akaki to the west, at that time,
you could still reach Menagesha Mountain in a couple of hours. And, on
Saturdays, the day of the Guddu market, we raced our mounts over the
meadows after drinking home-brewed tela out of tin cans. How distant
those boundless gallops on the high plateau now seem! Back then, in
Guddu, there was no bottled beer (or Coca-Cola) and the market was
solely accessible on foot or horseback. In the year 2001, there were
three internet cafes in Addis Ababa, not many more Chinese people—and
68 million Ethiopians. You could leave Addis Ababa on horseback and
drink porter for lunch, before cantering back to the capital for
In March 2020, I sipped my coffee every morning in the small kitchen
of my brother-in-law’s ‘condominium’, not far from Mexico Square.
During my first years in Ethiopia, I crossed Mexico morning and
evening. Like most people in the city, I used the blue and white
minibuses to get around. I remember the crowds, and the shoving, to
get into a minibus. Living in Addis, you measured the population
increase in the time it took to find transport. There was an
expansion of everything—people, yes, and the cars for the well-to-do,
as well as the road expansion they required, and the buildings to
house people, in the form of tenements categorized as
‘condominiums’—the only thing that did not multiply, it often seemed
on a cold rainy night, were minibus numbers.
Then, as now, population growth was the great unmentionable. I
remember often thinking about this in those early years, once I had
managed to press my way into a minibus. I read about the subject. I
asked foreigners and Ethiopians alike what we would do—in five years,
in ten. No one had a plausible answer. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
said that people were not only born with stomachs, but with hands to
work with, and this seemed to become the consensus. A consensus they
took to calling the demographic dividend. Later on, I read in the
central banker Tefera Degefe’s memoir, Minutes of an Ethiopian
Century, that he had written a note on the need to curb population
growth, only to be told it was not ‘an Ethiopian way of thinking’ (I
should point out that I was one of the book’s editors, and also that I
am quoting from memory, confinement oblige). Ato Tefera wrote that
memo back in the 60s, back in the time of imperial pageantry. When
Ethiopia was a more or less self-sufficient country of 25 million
souls. Mexico was on my mind back then, a part of my daily routine, as
displayed by a column I wrote for the Addis Admas weekly in the early
2000s (I forget the exact year, but you can tell from the context it
was for the Eid-el-Fitr). It was titled Letter from Mexico:
‘One man in a very neat suit, urinating onto the pavement; a beggar
with no arm; a beggar with no feet; a beggar with a patchwork of
colours sewn together to form trousers—equipped with skiing
sunglasses, he has, alas, no eyes to see his colourful rags; Sixteen
sheep with fat tails on their way to celebrate a feast day; a man in a
turban who asks my neighbour, in Amharic ‘What’s the farenji writing?’
Ten mountains of hay with four legs each, and nothing else—after
careful observation, they appear to be a crossbreed between donkeys
and a mound of grass. A nun in white who gets ten cents out of me;
countless others who get nothing at all from me. A table of boisterous
young men and women talking into their mobiles in a pidgin best
described as ‘Bole Los Angelese’ –“You know, malet, he is betam
askeyami, really, bawnet, I couldn’t believe it…” etc, etc and other
such important discussions, conducted between two macchiatos, a
haircut and a visit to the Sheraton’s sauna. Five more beggars, three
with things missing; another with too many children. Volkswagen
beetles that would be collection items anywhere else; cars that I’ve
never seen, but are certainly very common in the trendiest parts of
Miami Beach. Young people in threadbare clothes; others covered with
enough gold to open a jewellery store. Middle-aged men full of injera
and draft beer; starving young men wolfing down bambolinos with
burning eyes; enough listros to polish the shoes of a thousand
pilgrims on this feast day… And overall this, the smell of ground
coffee, of human sweat, of cake, donkey dung and exhaust fumes. The
smell of heat itself, hovering above all this, churning it up and
serving it up piping hot. As to sound, well, just stop reading for a
second. Prick up your ears: hear it? A thousand cars, a billion
radios, horns, shouts, screeches, clashes, bangs, prayers, the
bleating of sheep…’
What life there was in Mexico Square! Humans find joy in other humans,
and the more the merrier (in the same piece, I misattributed the
phrase ‘He who is tired of London, is tired of life’ to Samuel Pepys,
when in fact it was authored by the dyspeptic Samuel Johnson). Today,
in Mexico the crowds have surged. The goings have gotten a little
rougher, and the queues to get a minibus longer than ever. But back in
those days, Ethiopia had seemed full of promise—you could never tire
of Addis Ababa. Ethiopians were proud of their particularities and
their hard-won independence. They liked to remind you that they had
never been colonized and that they had prevailed over Mussolini’s
fascist troops. There reigned a sort of Dolce Vita Abyssinica, made up
of simple sociability and the sharing of the faith in the better days
that were just around the corner. The rich had a little more injéra
than the poor, and that was about it. You could eat dinner for 10
birr, and a Saint George beer cost 7 birr (or half that, if you drank
But in March 2020, in the (Chinese) urban railway that passed at eye
level in the condominium kitchen, I could see the number of passengers
decreasing day by day. An unvoiced feeling of dread was spreading over
the city. But if the virus was in the air, conversations continued to
revolve around increasing prices and street crime, a new trend. There
was no talk about social distancing yet, while rumours about violent
clashes in the regions ran rife. Addis Abebans were reluctant to drive
the Debre Zeit road down to the Lake Langano resorts. Ethiopia had
been confined ever since the first state of emergency was rolled out,
for ten months, between 2016 and 2017, to dampen what resembled more
and more a general uprising.
An uneasy truce had prevailed ever since, with sporadic bouts of
anarchy breaking out locally. The new state of emergency promulgated
on 8 April (for health reasons this time round), and the postponement
of the August 2020 elections froze a situation that was already
catastrophic. The hold of the central government on the provinces was
tenuous, at best. Not that you would know this from Ethiopian
government press releases and international media reports (such as
this film, that appeared on The Economist magazine’s YouTube channel
in early April: How Africa could rival China). According to this
narrative, Ethiopia has been recording growth rates of 10 percent for
years (to put that in context, 10 percent growth means a doubling of
the economy every seven years). Winston Churchill could well have
declared ‘lies, lies and damned (Ethiopian) statistics’—but it didn’t
much matter if the numbers were ‘fake’ or not. The country, after all,
was only conforming to global economic orthodoxy.
Read, if you like, the World Bank report on poverty reduction, (16
April 2020), which tells us that the rate of poverty has continued to
fall in Ethiopia in 2010-2016 (a conclusion that beggars belief). The
report, while stating that the percentage of the very poor has
stubbornly stuck at 10 percent, fails to point out that population
growth means the absolute number is increasing (10 percent of 90
million Ethiopians in 2010 is 9 million, while 10 percent of 103
million inhabitants in 2016 makes for…10 million). And Ethiopia’s poor
are today equivalent to the whole population of the country in the
1960s when Tefera Degefe’s memo was turned down (a banker, Ato
Tefera—he understood exponentials). If we believe the numbers,
Ethiopia has produced the most millionaires (in dollar terms), in the
African continent. Road coverage has expanded, mobile phones are in
almost every pocket and factories produce t-shirts and shoes for
export, albeit using imported inputs. A foreign flower farm, owned by
friends of mine, exported roses, from Menagesha to the world.
Winston Churchill would have taken these economic gains with a grain
of salt, but he would also have noticed a trend: rapid economic and
population growth were a very good thing indeed—for the upper echelons
of society. I should confess that I succumbed to the dream myself, and
launched a horse trekking company. I only understood just how unlikely
an endeavour it was when I had to continuously convince people my
horse-riding venture was not a spoof of the book Trout fishing in the
Yemen. But truly—the possibilities offered by limitless growth are, in
a word, limitless (I remember one fellow, a Swede I think, who started
a rabbit farm on a mountain top above Chancho. No, no, this is not a
joke—he told me the 3,000-metre high peak was required as the acute
cold made the rabbits’ fur grow.).
This sense of boundless opportunity partly explains why foreigners are
so enamoured by what they discover in Ethiopia. A case in point is
Tyler Cowen’s 2018 Ethiopia already is Africa’s China on Bloomberg, a
gushing piece that is so ‘un-Straussian’, so oblivious to reality,
that I sought to rebuke Cowen with the humorous Ethiopian Economics
101. For a shorter take on Mr Cowen’s assertion, see Greg Cochran’s
response: ‘Will Ethiopia be the next China asks Tyler Cowen. No’.
That’s the full post (Including the title).
I remember a one-to-one meeting between a French minister and the
current director of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (then the
foreign minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia), for
the Financing for Development extravaganza. They understood each other
so perfectly, they held such a community of views, that I began to
wonder why on earth they had requested my services in the first place
(I was the interpreter for the meeting). If they spoke different
languages, the Ethiopian and the Frenchman shared the same Newspeak:
‘more aid’ (and ‘increased exports’), ‘greater livestock exports’ (and
‘sustainable development’)…etc.etc.). They would have their carbon
and eat it too. This is a world in which Winston (Smith, from 1984),
would have felt right at home.
Meanwhile, the country was bursting at the seams. Popular revolts by
the jobless were harnessed by trouble-makers (branded ‘ethnic
entrepreneurs’, perhaps ironically), and vast numbers were uprooted
and chased into camps in the South. When the New York Times, the
Washington Post, The Guardian, the BBC and Al Jazeera covered
Ethiopia, they were prone to applying the grid they had learnt to use
in the West to such disastrous effect—everything was about ‘rights’
and ‘ethnic grievances’.
They contrived to write about the internal refugee camps without
mentioning the words ‘scarcity’ and ‘overpopulation’. The dramatic
upheavals underway—3 million internal refugees!—were ascribed to
teething problems, unleashed by the ‘democratic opening’. To be fair,
to mention the word overpopulation would have invited immediate
accusations of Malthusianism. But to recognise that ever-diminishing
land plots, and a bulging youth population ready to be recruited by
anyone with a digital megaphone, was one of the main factors in the
unrest was plain common sense, and at least tacitly accepted by all.
The problems supposedly unleashed by the winds of freedom had been
steadily increasingly for decades. But the media seemed more
interested in the announcement of Ethiopia’s first gender-balanced
cabinet (hurray!), than they did in the towering elephant in the
room—that they are not allowed to mention—even as it trumpets in their
But alas—poor people have agency too, and it turns out that they ruin
their environment along with the rich, just differently so. The lands
lying around the Guddu market were a case in point—they ploughed
steeper hills every year, human settlements expanded visibly from
month-to-month, and cattle numbers soared and chewed up the depleted
soils. Strangely, the billions (or was it trillions?) of new trees
planted in 2019, breathlessly reported upon by the BBC et al, were
nowhere to be seen; perhaps Africa’s second-largest population of
livestock could help solve the conundrum.
Then there are the ‘intangible’ effects (to use a word favoured by UN
reports), caused by high numbers. The first thing squeezed out by
population growth is liberty itself (which is why thinking China would
‘democratize as it grew richer’, was always pie in the sky). Isaac
Asimov called it the freedom of the bathroom. I remember Meles, in a
candid moment, noting with satisfaction “unlike all previous
governments our writ runs in every village”. Gone was the
swashbuckling possibility of reinventing yourself over the next hill,
of becoming a bandit and storming to power, of finding land to plough.
The unlikely combination of individualism and conformism so vexing to
fathom when gazing into the Ethiopian soul had vanished. Ethiopia
never was the monolithic oligopoly (or ethnic dictatorship), that
‘ethnic entrepreneurs’ and the media portray as responsible for the
country’s current crisis.
The same could be said of dwindling resources, which entail careful
allocation. But you could have screamed ‘it’s the growth itself,
stupid!’ in their ears, that they wouldn’t have noticed. Nor were
these economists and journalists, for all their righteous posturing,
immune to the ‘romance of Africa’. Give a hard-nosed numbers man an
audience with an African hard man, and he swoons. Give journalists an
African white elephant, and they start doling out awards as if they
were made in China. It is not that the wool is pulled over their
eyes—they are actively colluding in weaving the emperor’s new clothes.
But, like the Addis Ababa Light Railway (still managed by the
Chinese), limping along with what appears to be a dismally low number
of daily passengers (oh, the grief that elephantine project caused us
all during the years it took to divide the city into two!). And,
similarly to the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway (the—Chinese—loans just
extended, clauses unknown, for an extra two decades), the industrial
parks financed partly by the Chinese have mostly failed in their goal
of becoming the world’s next textile powerhouse (I may seem Trumpian
in my obsessions, but when I returned to Menagesha for a stroll in
2019, the children who pointed fingers at me shouted ‘China! China!’—I
guess we’re all made there now.). Meanwhile, jobless graduate numbers
continue to rocket (Ethiopia should create a staggering 2 million new
jobs per year, just to not fall back), and the pay in the factories is
some of the lowest in the world. (monthly wages average around 800
birr while the cheapest meal of shurro and injéra costs 25 to 40 birr.
Try squaring that). Today, there are 110 million people in Ethiopia,
60 percent of whom are under the age of 25—and the hope, so brashly
stoked yesterday with loose talk of “middle-income country status to
be achieved by 2025”, is today turning to ill-contained rage.
In early 2018, I got a lift back to the city from my friends’ flower
farm in Menagesha with Christian Yoka, the director of the AFD in
Ethiopia (the French equivalent of DfID, or USAID). We shared a lively
back and forth about Ethiopia and Africa’s prospects on the way to
Addis. Mr Yoka told me of the time it used to take his father to
travel to the nearest town in the bush (a couple of days had been
reduced to a few hours). He told me of the absence of schools, and of
how people died from preventable diseases. And Christian Yoka was of
course right. And therein lay the conundrum at the heart of our
exponential growth—damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I offered up
my readings of Ivan Illich (I always thought his analysis on negative
feedback loops, largely based on the development of Mexico City in the
70s, transferred very readily to Addis Ababa). Mr Yoka countered with
the urgent needs for education, health, and clean water. The Chinese
had lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, he told me. Mr Yoka
kindly dropped me off in Lideta. As I got out of the Land Cruiser I
could not help but wonder how long his upbeat views of Ethiopian
development would last, if he were to commute to work by minibus.
The reports Mr Yoka based his assertions of progress in Ethiopia, and
in Africa at large, are by no means all false. The field trips he had
taken to visit wind farms and hydroelectric dams, sugar plantations
and brand-new universities—all these projects existed. Infant
mortality had plummeted, school enrolment rates had soared—and
Ethiopians had, overall, never enjoyed so much material bounty. And
who could be against more, taken in this sense? But—to reprise William
Gibbon’s conclusion about the future that was already present—only
unevenly distributed—if Ethiopia’s development did exist, it was
spread out too thinly, in too jarring juxtapositions. The country was
caught in a dystopian nightmare, an explosive cocktail of the 19th
century and an Abyssinian BladeRunner. Smartphones and ox ploughing,
Facebook and sorcery, solar panels and beeswax candles. The contrast
was too much to stomach, especially if the stomach happened to be
empty (and no, there was no app for this, and drones would not be
flying in for the rescue either).
It is as if Ethiopia had experienced the economic take-off after the
Second World War, the stagflation of the 70s, and the neoliberal
‘winner takes all’ fever of the 90s and 2000s (plus the post-2008
crisis)—all packed into a scary speeded-up version—in those years in
Ethiopia, everything solid turned to thin air. Enough to make anyone’s
head spin, and certainly to turn the heads of the elites of one of the
poorest countries in the world. A UN situation report from 14 April
speaks of ‘30 million people’ going hungry in Ethiopia in the coming
months. But the report fails to point out that the number of
Ethiopians receiving food aid in one form or another has hovered
around 15 million per annum for many years (and this with economic
growth of 10 percent!). Meanwhile, a wide-eyed subset of the
Twitterati revel, together with the pro-growth media, in the glow of
this African success story, and hammer home the message that ‘it’s
morning in Ethiopia’.
They are too busy showing up each other’s millennia-old ethnic wrongs
in 280 characters (the iron law of the Diaspora is that nationalism
levels are inversely proportional to the distance from the
motherland—in Bishoftu people are relatively chilled-out while
Ethiopians abroad hyphenate themselves into oblivion, as they jostle
for status as the minority du jour). In the last two months of 2019,
Ethiopia was granted another 3 billion dollars (the prime minister
jokingly commenting that ‘to borrow from the IMF is like borrowing
from your mother.’). The economist Ayele Gelan soberly noted that
Ethiopia was the only country in the world which reduces exports and
increases imports the more debt it takes on. Besides—borrowing from
the IMF is more akin to taking out a loan from your stepmother.
But it’s 2020—and Mr Cowen has tempered his enthusiasm, slightly (‘the
potential trend of Africa as the “next big thing” has not (yet?) been
crystallized [even if] the economies of Ghana and Ethiopia are doing
quite well’, Jewish World Review). I quite like the ‘quite’. Oh, and
did I mention the 3 million IDPs? (that’s Internally Displaced Persons
or people hounded from their homes to you and me.). The height of
Ethiopia’s internal refugee crisis happened in the first half of 2018,
at the time of Tyler Cowen’s visit. Ethiopia—Wakanda it ain’t, my
friend, and you can tweet that if you like.
Two days before flying out of Addis, I passed through Mexico on foot
once more, stopping off at the Wabe Shebelle Hotel to greet Prince
Beade Maryam, the late emperor’s grandson, who was kind enough to
grant me an interview for my upcoming book (L’Ethiopie, la cire et
l’or, Nevicata, Sept. 2020). I have long been partial to the Wabe
Shebelle. Its rooftop terrace offers great views on the city, and we
used to drink Mirinda sodas there with my soon-to-be wife who was a
student back then, at the next-door Saint Mary’s University College.
Prime Minister Meles (born Legesse Zenawi), got his nom-de-guerre
here, claiming for himself the name of a 1970s revolutionary executed
by the Derg for lobbing a grenade into the hotel in 75.
Nowadays, I visit the hotel because it reminds me of the old Addis
Ababa, and because I am fond of Beade, and always eager to hear his
views. He repeated to me his faith in Ethiopia’s youth. But when I
exited onto the ‘square’—in reality, Mexico is a roundabout, a traffic
circle—the crowds were so compact that a well-known beggar, a sort of
Elephant Man with a face tumbling down onto his neck, had felt
compelled to move from his spot of 20 years to a less busy location,
opposite the Saint George’s brewery. The influx was harmful, even for
begging, and I noted that instead of ten cents, it was one birr coins
that were now placed in the palm of the destitute.
It was raining and the ambient greyness was amplified by the shadow
cast by the train hovering above on its concrete rail. The minibuses
were plastered with images of prime ministers Abiy and Meles, as well
as Comrade Mengistu and Emperor Hailé Selassié—what a ride it had
been! There were red posters on the pillars extolling the traditional
injéra, washed down with Coca-Cola. The fast emptying train, the prim
women decked-out all in white, the giant advertisements and the
Chinese gunk for sale everywhere on tarps—forget boarding a minibus,
on Mexico Square avoiding collision with other pedestrians was a
full-time job. Ethiopians had never moved so fast to cover such short
The city, bisected by the concrete railway and the new freeways, was
no longer such an easy fit for Alphonse Allais’ bon mot. The emperor’s
new clothes were fast unravelling and I had a hard time subscribing to
Beade Maryam’s optimism. It was not so much the numbers that had made
my head spin all those years ago, when I first arrived. We live today
in awe of a virus that we have crowned king—but it is the exponential
function itself that we worship (‘I’ll have mine with more of
everything’). China picked up the baton from the West with gusto (‘to
get rich is glorious’ said Deng Xiaoping), but today, the circle can
no longer be squared. We’re running up against the physical limits of
our planet, and the race for more is being called off (Chinese car
sales were slowing and German exports faltering—before being hit by
the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic).
If Ethiopia is tomorrow’s China—it always will be. The country, after
winning so many battles, has lost the war. Damned if you do, damned if
you don’t. To quote Pier Paolo Pasolini (lamenting the total
obliteration of Italy in the decades after the war): ‘What fascism did
not succeed in doing, will be accomplished by the consumer society.’
When I reached Lideta, I had one last Habesha beer in the kitchen—a
bottle of which now cost 45 birr in the hotel managed by my
brother-in-law. Looking up above the half-empty train, I could see the
truncated cone of the Menagesha peak, beyond the urban sprawl of
Addis. The grasslands I used to cross on horseback were now a sea of
tin. I thought of Dida Dabi, who lives not far from Guddu, in Kolobo.
I thought of Elias Negussié, shocked at the price of the oranges I had
brought for his daughter. I thought of my friends’ rose farm and their
300 employees. I thought of the Elephant Man. In Ethiopia, the
collapse was well underway, but no one was paying any notice. I had
travelled full-circle, for a last gallop into Addis Ababa. On the
ill-named Mexico Square, the crowds have subsided, for now—they’d shut
the barn door, but the horse had bolted long ago.
Nigeria reopens main cities Lagos and Abuja as lockdowns phased out @reutersafrica
Nigeria began easing restrictions on Monday in its capital Abuja and
in largest city Lagos, heralding the reopening of Africa’s biggest
economy after more than four weeks of lockdowns imposed to contain the
The government has said a 24-hour stay-at-home order in place since
March 30 in Abuja and the states of Lagos and Ogun - with exceptions
only for food shopping and health-related trips - will be lifted
gradually over a six-week period.
Nigeria has confirmed 2,558 infections of the new coronavirus and 87
deaths since recording its first case at the end of February, a much
lower toll than those seen in COVID-19 hotspots in Europe and the
Experts have not reached a consensus on why Nigeria’s case tally has
been so low, though many point to a low testing rate. The country’s
centre for disease control said only 17,566 samples have been tested
in a country of 200 million people.
Rwanda, Namibia and Zimbabwe also began easing their lockdowns on Monday.
Deadly Triple Threat Douses Mozambique's $60 Billion LNG Hopes @economics
At a restaurant overlooking the bay of Maputo in December, Pedro
Couto, one of Mozambique’s top energy lawyers, was having a drink with
a friend when he made the prediction: Finally, his country was going
to realize its ambition to become a $60 billion force in the
“We were all excited about 2020,” Couto, 48, said in an interview last
week. “Everything did look like it was going to be a great year.”
Construction was beginning in earnest after mammoth discoveries off
the northern coast a decade ago.
A new airport and roads had started to frame projects that would
transform one of the world’s poorest countries.
Production wells were on the brink of being drilled along with early
development of onshore facilities to super-cool gas into liquid for
But the rigs have been sent away and the sites are quiet, and it’s not
just because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Plans by companies including Total SA and Exxon Mobil Corp. are
threatened on three fronts -- each devastating in their own right.
Oil’s plunge has cut industry spending worldwide, the virus has spread
through Total’s construction camp and attacks by an Islamic
State-linked insurgency have surged.
The south-east African nation has been banking on the biggest
investment projects on the continent to generate nearly $100 billion
in state revenue over 25 years, more than seven times its gross
Part of that money is meant to help service a Eurobond the government
restructured last year.
The coupon on the $900 million debt will nearly double to 9% in 2024,
when gas production was scheduled to ramp up significantly.
Exxon, which has the biggest project costing as much as $30 billion,
has indefinitely delayed a final investment decision.
Rome-based Eni SpA says it’s pushing ahead with its smaller floating
LNG project scheduled to start in 2022. Total hasn’t changed its
target to start exporting in four years.
Output at Exxon’s project may be delayed by a year to 2026, according
to an International Monetary Fund report on April 30.
Total might also face a year’s delay, according to Andy Flower, a
U.K.-based independent LNG consultant.
Even when the pandemic passes and prices recover, Mozambique’s
government will need to quell violence that’s killed hundreds of
people in Cabo Delgado province.
Nowhere else globally saw as big an increase in Islamist-militant
attacks last year and they increased in 2020, with a 300% jump in the
first four months, according to Madison, Wisconsin-based Armed
Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
While the developers will ultimately emerge from the downturn, “we’re
tending to overlook that the insurgency has been the Sword of Damocles
over the projects,” said Florival Mucave, president of the Mozambican
oil and gas chamber.
The insurgency has been escalating in recent weeks, according to
Darias Jonker, a London-based director at Eurasia Group Ltd.
“Government seems to be losing the fight.”
Casualties were heavy in April, with the government claiming some
success. On April 7, militants killed 52 civilians in a town called
Xitaxi after they refused to join the group.
The massacre was in response to defense-forces successes in killing
dozens of insurgents, the government said last week.
The coronavirus has taken its toll on the Total site. It accounts for
nearly all of the confirmed infections in the country, a tragic twist
for a project that was supposed to transform the nation’s fortune.
The company says it’s restricted activity to essential services.
“In agreement with Mozambican health authorities, we are significantly
reducing the number of people at site to allow for a thorough program
of disinfection,” a spokeswoman for the project said.
“This is the best way to rid the site of the virus and ensure we are
well-placed to return to work when the effects of the global pandemic
begin to ease.”
Anadarko Petroleum Corp. made the most significant East African gas
discoveries in Mozambique’s relatively unexplored waters just over 10
years ago. Cove Energy Ltd. was a minority partner that raised money
for a stake in the project.
“They understood very well the potential,” Michael Blaha, Cove’s then
chairman, said of the government. “LNG was the only option.”
Anadarko’s Mozambique LNG project would eventually be taken over by
Occidental Petroleum Corp. and later sold to Total. As the project’s
ownership changed, so did expectations and timelines.
“There was too much expectation in the sense that things will start
moving straight away,” Couto, the Maputo-based lawyer, recalled after
“People looked at Qatar and said we’re going to be there in five years.”
Qatar was the world’s biggest exporter of the fuel in 2018, according to BP Plc.
The prospect of unprecedented and relatively quick revenue for
Mozambique would lay the ground for a secret debt and corruption
scandal that led to the country seeking to restructure about $2
billion of loans in 2016.
Between commodity cycles, cyclones that battered the coast last year
and Covid-19, the path to gas exports has been a long and rocky one.
Back at Couto’s after-work drinks, the setting sun reflected over the
capital city’s port. His friend reminded him that they’d been
anticipating Mozambique’s milestone year for each of the last four.
“I don’t doubt that it’s going to happen, eventually it’s going to
start working,” Couto said. “The question is ‘can we survive
Crisis-Wracked Zimbabwe Plans Stock Exchange in Victoria Falls @markets
The Victoria Falls Stock Exchange will be denominated in foreign
currency and aimed at “foreign investors and global capital,
especially the mining sector,” Mthuli Ncube said on Twitter.
It will be managed by the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, which operates the
country’s main bourse in Harare, Ncube said.
The nation has suffered foreign-currency shortages for years, which
have hammered its economy.
Gross domestic product contracted 8.3% last year and will slump
another 7.4% in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Kenya in Talks on Debt Relief, Pension-Interest Payments Freeze @markets @Ramah_Nyang
Kenya is exploring debt-relief options with lenders and considering a
proposal by an industry body to freeze interest payments on pension
assets, as the state seeks more money to deal with the coronavirus
Talks are under way with creditors who may opt to delay payments due
this year, Treasury Principal Secretary Julius Muia said by phone on
He declined to identify the lenders, but specified that the talks
involved bilateral and multilateral lenders, rather than
“There are some who have given us an indication that they will forgo
interest and principal in the calendar year,” he said. “We are
negotiating, but what we are not doing is rescheduling.”
The discussions come after the Paris Club of creditors and the
Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based trade group
that represents many of the world’s biggest banks and financial
institutions, said last week that private lenders will work on
reference terms for voluntary participation in debt-relief efforts.
Kenya estimates debt-service costs will increase to 904.7 billion
shillings ($8.3 billion) in the fiscal year that begins July 1, from
805.2 billion in the current year -- more than triple the amount the
government spends on health.
The cost of servicing loans has grown rapidly over the past six years
as the state took on more than $40 billion of debt.
Kenya faces steep refinancing risk on its domestic debt portfolio,
with 35% of issued securities maturing by December, according to the
Kenyan parliament’s Budget Office.
Muia said the government is pursuing a proposal from The Actuarial
Society of Kenya that interest payments on pension assets, 40% of
which are Treasury debt, be frozen for as long as two years.
That would save 60 billion shillings a year to be used on food and
income security, and on enhancing medical infrastructure, Muia said.
Pension funds hold about 30% of Kenya’s 3 trillion shillings of
domestic debt, according to central bank data.
TASK, as the body is known, sent its proposal to entities including
the Treasury, the health ministry, the Insurance Regulatory Authority
and Retirements Benefits Authority.
The group also proposed that the state-owned National Social Security
Fund offer the state a “soft loan” of 25 billion shillings, without
specifying terms that might apply.
Talks on the proposal are expected to be concluded by the end of the
month, Muia said.
“It is not the whole industry,” he said. “It is those who want to
participate and have their interest rolled forward.”
Fund Managers Association Chairman Jonathan Stichbury didn’t
immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Collectively, Kenyan pension funds held 1.3 trillion shillings of
assets at the end of 2019. With the Covid-19 pandemic triggering
layoffs and job cuts, pension contributions are under strain.
“We are therefore expecting a dip in overall pension fund assets as at
the end of the first quarter of 2020,” the RBA Chief Executive Officer
Nzomo Mutuku said in a letter to pension funds on March 25.