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Friday 11th of September 2020
 

















.@realDonaldTrump seems so hungry for approbation that, like a child, he spills news of a secret weapons system––“We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before.” @NewYorker
Law & Politics

Trump’s reaction to the book has been Trumpian. He gave Woodward eighteen interviews, often calling Woodward at home at night just to deepen the hole he began to dig at more formal sessions in the Oval Office. Woodward taped the conversations with the President’s knowledge. But, as a way to cover all bases, Trump tweeted last month, “The Bob Woodward book will be a FAKE, as always, just as many of the others have been.” And, of course, he has now tried to pick at the critical thread that the reporter should have published his remarks about the dangers of covid-19 earlier. “Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives? Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!”

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How Johnson’s japes made it harder for Germans to criticise the EU @FT @frederick65
Law & Politics


If British voters are struggling to keep up with the latest artful policy dodges and rhetorical zingers of Boris Johnson, think how those across the water feel. In Germany in particular, the UK prime minister triggers a charged mix of puzzlement and anger. For a country that tends to take its politicians on the dull-but-competent side, the fact that a joker can make it to the top of government leaves many Germans baffled, even horrified. (They may not be the only ones.)

As the commentator Jan Ross puts it, many Germans see Mr Johnson’s approach to politics as nothing short of a “provocation”. While the prime minister deploys the classics to pepper up his speeches, German politicians tend to use Latin as a solemn reminder of eternal responsibilities, such as sticking to legal agreements. It is unsurprising then that “Johnson bashing” is all the rage — he is routinely dismissed as a clown or (in another display of the German language’s ability to offer up an expansively compounded barb for any occasion) a spätimperialistischer Oxfordschnösel (late imperialist Oxford snotty-nosed brat).

In an attempt to explain the Johnson phenomenon, Mr Ross, a journalist with Die Zeit — a high-minded news weekly that, like its hometown of Hamburg, has long harboured strong Anglophile sympathies — has written a short primer on the British prime minister.

The book’s subtitle, “Portrait of a Troublemaker”, might seem an indication of the direction of travel. Yet the result is an intelligent analysis of the man and his world view that benefits from informed distance. The book explores whether the injection of unruly populist impulses into a mainstream conservative setting represents another of those British experiments — such as the Thatcher revolution or New Labour — that have captured continental imagination.

Mr Ross is no Johnson apologist. Much of the criticism of the PM is well-deserved, he says. He portrays a man with seemingly no moral compass, a character of unrooted flexibility that might have slipped off the pages of a John le Carré novel. That reverence for the classics is viewed less as an expression of good breeding and education and more as a celebration of a pagan world where rhetoric and performance are what counts and there are no absolute truths, only relative perspectives. Which side you take in an argument is less important than how you prosecute it — and whether you win.

Yet in the midst of Mr Ross’s own bit of Boris bashing there is also understanding for his subject and some of the causes he has come — by intention, accident or raw ambition (or all three) — to champion. He concluded that the Brexit vote was not a wholly irrational act: there were plausible reasons for wanting to leave the EU. And not all the Brexiters he met on his travels in the UK were the swivel-eyed loons of Remainer characterisation.

Mr Ross is not the only German commentator to have made this point. In 2018, Jochen Buchsteiner, a London-based political correspondent for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany’s self-styled paper of record, ruffled more than a few policy-wonk feathers in Berlin with a book in which he sought to explain Britain’s “escape” from the “utopia” of the EU. Rather than an act of collective madness, the vote reflected legitimate criticisms of the European project — something Germany and the other EU member states would do well to recognise and act upon. Not to do so would be a mistake.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, such scepticism does not go down well in Germany. For all its vibrant pluralism and variety, the German media can at times be a homogeneous place — not least when it comes to such orthodoxies as the country’s stance on Europe. The space for critical assessment of the EU and Germany’s position within it has narrowed, thanks in part to the chaotic, angry progress of Brexit and Mr Johnson’s troublemaking.

If anything rather than inspiring others to follow suit, as some hardline Brexiters hoped, the UK vote has, in Mr Ross’s view “consolidated and ossified” the consensus view. It might even be something of a treppenwitz — the zinging witticism that occurs on the point of departure. If only it wasn’t so serious

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Could COVID-19 Have Escaped from a Lab? @BostonMagazine
Misc.

 It was clear that the first SARS evolved rapidly during its first three months of existence, constantly fine-tuning its ability to infect humans, and settling down only during the later stages of the epidemic. In contrast, the new virus looked a lot more like late-stage SARS. “It’s almost as if we’re missing the early phase,” Chan marveled to Zhan. Or, as she put it in their paper, as if “it was already well adapted for human transmission.”

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How can the furin cleavage site insertion naturally be out of frame? @Rossana38510044
Misc.

"insertions can be generated by polymerase slippage or by releasing and repriming, and insertion mutations that maintain the reading frame can be incorporated into infectious virions

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies


Euro 1.1859

Dollar Index 93.201

Japan Yen 106.22

Swiss Franc 0.9085

Pound 1.2769

Aussie 0.7294

India Rupee 73.5125

South Korea Won 1186.59

Brazil Real 5.3218

Egypt Pound 15.755

South Africa Rand 16.7376

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Russia’s involvement in Africa is growing, and it is multifaceted. @RUSI_org @SamRamani2
Africa


When in early August elements of the Malian Armed Forces mounted a coup which resulted in the resignation of Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov immediately expressed concern about the events and claimed that Moscow had received information about Keita’s arrest. In the days that followed, speculation grew that Russia had helped to instigate the coup, as two military personnel who played an instrumental role in the mutiny had spent most of the previous year training in Moscow. Oleg Morozov, a long-standing member of the Russian Duma, swiftly condemned this speculation and stated that ‘any talk that Russia was somehow involved in the August military coup looks ridiculous’.

RUSSIA’S COUNTERINSURGENCY MODEL

Although it remains unclear whether Moscow assisted Mali’s coup plotters, supporting an extra-legal turnover of power would severely undercut Russia’s aspirations to become a counterinsurgency leader in Africa. Since Russia embarked on its military intervention in support of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in September 2015, the Kremlin has advertised its ‘Syrian model’ of counterinsurgency to African countries struggling with political violence. This model emphasises state-to-state cooperation between Russia and African governments and presents authoritarian stability as the most effective antidote to extremism. As the unilateralism that underpins US counterterrorism efforts in Somalia and Washington’s frequent attachment of human rights conditions for military assistance have frustrated African leaders, Russia’s alternative counterinsurgency model has become increasingly attractive in Africa.

In April 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Somalia desired Russian equipment to aid its counterterrorism operations and Somalia subsequently requested Moscow’s assistance in upgrading its military preparedness. Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir praised Russia’s Syrian model of counterinsurgency more explicitly in November 2017 by stating that ‘if it were not for the Russian intervention in the situation in Syria, then this country would be lost’. More recently, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s wavering commitment to African security and France’s counterinsurgency struggles in the Sahel have increased the appeal of Russia’s counterterrorism model in West Africa. Nigeria’s Ambassador to Russia Steve Ugbah argued in  in October 2019 that ‘We’re sure that with Russian help we’ll manage to crush Boko Haram’ and cited Russia’s defeat of the Islamic State in Syria as proof for this statement. In November 2019, large-scale anti-French and anti-UN protests erupted in Mali’s capital Bamako calling for Russia to vanquish Islamists in Mali like it did in Syria.

MERCENARIES AND MINERALS

Although Russia has touted its supposed attractiveness as a counterinsurgency partner as proof of its rising status in Africa and emphasised counterterrorism at the landmark October 2019 Russia–Africa Summit in Sochi, Moscow has been selective in its embrace of binding military commitments in Africa. Russia has deployed Wagner Group private military contractors (PMCs) to Libya and Mozambique for ambiguously defined ‘counterterrorism purposes.’ However, Russian PMCs have struggled to turn the tide of Libya National Army chieftain Khalifa Haftar’s ill-fated offensive against Tripoli and succumbed to a calamitous Islamic State ambush in Mozambique in October 2019, which resulted in the deaths of 7 Russian personnel. Russia also signed 19 military cooperation agreements with African countries between 2014–18. In the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, these agreements are strictly confined to counterterrorism training. Russia has notably refrained from deploying PMCs or active duty forces to the two African regions that are most severely impacted by transnational terrorism. 

In spite of its military setbacks and cautious counterterrorism policy, Russia has capitalised on anti-Western sentiments and effective branding of its Syrian model of counterinsurgency to secure arms deals and economic contracts. Russia is the leading arms vendor to Africa, as it supplied 49% of North Africa’s weapons and 28% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s weapons between 2014–18, and numerous African states struggling with insurgencies have requested Russian weaponry. After human rights concerns prevented the US from selling advanced aircraft to Nigeria in 2014, Abuja struck a deal with Moscow to purchase Mi-35 and Mi-17 fighter jets. Nigeria’s reliance on Russian aircraft in its struggle against Boko Haram resulted in its agreement to purchase another 12 Mi-35 fighter jets from Russia in October 2019. Russia has also supplied light weaponry to Mali, the Central African Republic, and Sudan, as all three countries grapple with varying degrees of isolation from international arms markets.

Russia has also presented itself as a counterinsurgency partner in order to expand its access to the continent’s mineral deposits. Russia’s PMC deployments in support of Central African Republic’s President Faustin-Archange Touadera against Seleka rebels are closely intertwined with its desire to profit from the country’s vast diamond reserves. Russia has spearheaded efforts to lift export restrictions on diamond sales from the Central African Republic and leveraged its counterinsurgency campaign to profit Lobaye Invest, a mining company with close ties to Yevgeny Prigozhin. Russian media outlets and think tanks often assert that US and French counterterrorism campaigns in the Sahel are aimed at securing hegemony over the region’s vast uranium stockpiles. However, Russia’s civilian nuclear energy giant Rosatom’s forays into Nigeria and aspirations to enter Niger’s uranium market are undoubtedly strengthened by the positive impact of counterinsurgency cooperation on Moscow’s bilateral relationships with West African countries.

THE LONG-TERM PERSPECTIVE

Looking beyond economic factors, Russia’s rising profile in the counterinsurgency arena in Africa has strengthened its relationship with France but engendered potential tensions with China. In spite of its opposition to French proposals for tighter sanctions against Mali and competition with Paris for leverage in the Central African Republic, France and Russia have bonded over their shared belief that authoritarian stability can rein in armed insurgencies. This common perspective has inspired Franco–Russian cooperation in support of Haftar in Libya and motivated Russia to secure military cooperation agreements with France’s authoritarian partners in the Sahel, such as Chad’s President Idriss Deby. Therefore, cooperation on West African security adds a marginal layer of depth to broader France–Russia outreach efforts.

Although Russia’s counterinsurgency campaigns ostensibly support China’s desire for stability near its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in Africa, Moscow’s military interventions and PMC deployments to Africa could sharpen frictions with Beijing. In his testimony in May to the US Congress, former US Ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso David Shinn argued that Wagner Group activities in Sudan and the Central African Republic could undermine Chinese interests. This conclusion is plausible as Russia’s resolute support for fragile authoritarian governments in Sub-Saharan Africa contrasts with China’s greater adaptability to regime changes on the continent. In Libya, Russia’s support for the LNA’s purported counterterrorism efforts clashes with China’s desire to integrate the UN-recognised Government of National Accord into the BRI. These disagreements have not caused a major rift in Russia–China relations but could impede Moscow and Beijing’s prospective transition from tactical cooperation to strategic alignment in Africa.

Although speculation of Kremlin involvement in the Mali coup persists, Russia’s counterinsurgency strategy in Africa hinges on supporting fragile authoritarian regimes and selling its Syrian model to countries struggling with political violence. In spite of Russia’s ambiguous commitment to African security and poor track record of military success in Africa, Moscow will likely continue highlighting its counterinsurgency credentials to secure economic contracts, bolster its cooperation with France, and assert its great power status.

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28 OCT 19 :: From Russia with Love
Africa




But, he said, Russia was going to be a different kind of superpower, one that does not engage in “pressure, intimidation and blackmail” to “exploit” sovereign African governments.

“Our African agenda is positive and future-oriented. We do not ally with someone against someone else, and we strongly oppose any geopolitical games involving Africa.”


Russia is now Africa’s leading supplier of arms. According to the Swedish think tank SIPRI, between 2012 and 2016 Russia had become the largest supplier of arms to Africa, accounting for 35 percent of arms exports to the region, way ahead

of China (17 per cent), the United States (9.6 per cent), and France (6.9 per cent).Exports of Russian-made weapons and military hardware to Africa amount currently to $4.6 billion annually, with a contract portfolio worth over $50 billion.


“Russia regards Africa as an important and active participant in the emerging polycentric architecture of the world order and an ally in protecting international law against attempts to undermine it,” said Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov back in November 2018.


 In Moscow’s offer for Africa are mercenaries, military equipment, mining investments, nuclear power plants, and railway connections.

Andrew Korybko writes Moscow invaluably fills the much-needed niche of providing its partners there with “Democratic Security”, or in other words, the cost-effective and low-commitment capabilities needed to thwart colour revolutions and resol- ve unconventional Wars (collectively referred to as Hybrid War).

To simplify, Russia’s “political technologists” have reportedly devised bespoke solutions for confronting incipient and ongoing color revolutions, just like its private military contractors (PMCs) have supposedly done the same when it comes to ending insurgencies.


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Sudan declares state of economic emergency due to fall of currency @ReutersAfrica
Africa

Sudan declared an economic state of emergency on Thursday after its currency fell sharply in recent weeks due to “systematic vandalism,” officials said.

The transitional government, in charge of the country since the ouster of Omar al-Bashir last year, will set up special courts in the next days to fight smuggling and other illicit activities undermining the economy, officials told a televised news conference.

The pound had fluctuated drastically in recent days, prompting major food suppliers to halt distribution of their products and pushing prices of food up between 50% and 100% at supermarkets and retailers, a Reuters witness said.

It comes at a time of record Nile River flooding that has left tens of thousands of people homeless. 

The government said it had allocated more than 150 million Sudanese pounds ($2.73 million) to help flood victims, the state news agency reported.

The government under Bashir had previously tried to crack down on the black-market traders by arresting some of them, but others remained persistent. 

The currency has been devalued four times since 2018.

Inflation in Sudan is second only to that of Venezuela, with the headline rate climbing to 143.78% in July from 136.36% in June.

Security forces would also step up controls at borders and airports to stop a smuggling of commodities such as gold, officials said.

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.@WHOAFRO Situation Update #COVID19
Africa

A total of 34 564 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1 173 new deaths were reported from 45 countries between 2 and 8 September 2020. This is a 17% decrease in incidence cases as compared to 41 614 cases registered during the previous reporting period (26 August - 1 September 2020). Similarly, a 14% (1 173) decrease in the total number of deaths was recorded compared to the previous week when 1363 deaths were registered.South Africa continues to bear the highest burden of COVID-19 in Africa, accounting for majority of all new cases, 35% (12 182), reported in this reporting period, although with a sustained marked decline in new cases for the past two months, and with the lowest daily case count (845) documented on 7 May since 26 May 2020 when 624 cases were recorded.




Twenty-six countries recorded a decrease in new cases; those with a decrease of more than 20% include; Malawi (65%), Liberia (60%), Congo (60%), Zambia (54%), Rwanda (51%), Equatorial Guinea (49%), Senegal (40%), Gabon (40%), Niger (33%), Angola (32%), Kenya (31%), Gambia (28%), Mauritania (23%), Ethiopia (22%), Cameroon (20%), South Africa (20%) and Namibia (20%)


During this reporting period, 11 countries reported the highest percentage increase in case-counts (above 20%); Burkina Faso (191%), Botswana (148%), Zimbabwe (128%), Lesotho (119%), Ghana (65%), Mali (52%), Uganda (41%), Sierra Leone (33%), Chad (27%), Central African Republic (25%) and Côte d'Ivoire (25%).

Seychelles and the United Republic of Tanzania did not officially submit any report indicating any new confirmed case.



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2Ghana’s Power Abundance Turns to Burden as Energy Debts Mount @business
Africa

Ghana lured investors to its power industry to end chronic electricity shortages with deals it can no longer afford.

The deals’ terms require the government to pay for electricity generated even if there’s no demand for it. 

The move helped Ghana end its power crisis by 2016, boosting its generation to about 4,600 megawatts, well above national peak demand of 2,700 megawatts.

Debt owed to the power companies has grown, rising to $1.4 billion at the end of June, more than doubling from $600 million in July last year, according to the Chamber of Independent Power Producers, Distributors and Bulk Consumers. 

Its members may be forced to shut their operations, it said last month.

“Debt levels could rise even further,” Samantha Singh, a Johannesburg-based Africa strategist at Absa Bank Ltd., said in an email. 

“The potential increase in these liabilities could hurt government finances even further in a time it is already strained due to Covid-19.”

When President Nana Akufo-Addo came to power in 2017, he started the sale of so-called energy bonds on the back of fuel levies to clear the outstanding liabilities. 

This helped cut the debt by half by early 2018, though more bonds haven’t been sold because there isn’t enough revenue to support them.

State-owned Electricity Co. of Ghana Ltd. has suffered an estimated annual revenue loss of $580 million due mainly to transmission leakages, illegal connections and unpaid bills. 

Plans to tackle the problem by introducing private investors under a U.S.-funded aid program failed to win approval. 

The company’s managing director, Kwame Agyeman-Budu, could not comment immediately when he was reached on phone.

Much help isn’t coming either from the West African Power Pool project, under which member countries could sell their excess power to neighbors. 

While Ghana was a net exporter of 967 megawatts of electricity to other countries in 2019, further exchange is hindered until 2023, when current interconnection projects will be completed.

The coronavirus pandemic pushed Ghana further into financial straits. It responded with more than 3 billion cedis ($519 million) in unplanned spending that included providing free electricity and water to citizens, tax waivers and credit to small businesses, a situation that made it difficult to keep up with the debt repayments, according to Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta.

“When you have limited resources in a Covid environment you have to be specific about what you’re paying and how much you pay,” Ofori-Atta said in a phone interview. “We’ve tried to keep the lights on for these four years.”

Ghana’s public debt increased to 258 billion cedis by the end of June, equivalent to 67% of gross domestic product, from 61% at the end of March. 

The government previously said it will use $1 billion of the $3 billion raised from the sale of a Eurobond in February to help producers refinance their commercial loans.

The two sides haven’t reached an agreement, according Elikplim Apetorgbor, chief executive officer of the power chamber.

The country’s dollar bonds made returns of 2.9% for investors this quarter, compared with 4.4% in emerging markets, according to Bloomberg Barclays indexes.

The potential constraints on Ghana’s creditworthiness make it imperative that the government attends to the debt problem in the power industry urgently, according to Gregory Smith, a fixed income strategist at M&G Ltd. in London.

“Responding to the immediate threat of the pandemic became essential,” Smith said. “Once the pandemic is beaten the focus and finances should shift back to ensuring the financial viability of the electricity sector.”

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Kenya economy to grow at under 2.5% this year - finance minister @ReutersAfrica
Kenyan Economy


Kenya’s economy is expected to grow by less than 2.5% this year, the finance minister said, as it continues to reel from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Growth is however expected to rebound to 6.0% in the medium term, said Finance Minister Ukur Yatani, in a document posted on the Treasury’s website ahead of a formal launch of the budget-making process for the 2021/22 financial year.
Interest and exchange rate stability “will be safeguarded over the medium-term”, Yatani said, adding that inflation was expected to be contained within the 2.5-5% band.

“Revenue collections are definitely expected to plunge,” Kega told an online event to launch the 2021/22 budget process.

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
 
 
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September 2020
 
 
 
 
 
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