|Friday 13th of December 2019
11-NOV-2019 :: The Markets are Run by Machines, Computers, Algorithms and Bots
Practically every trading day now and for over a year, President Trump
recycles the same headline. The latest iteration ‘’Donald Trump says
China trade talks moving ‘very nicely’, claiming Beijing wants to deal
more than the US’’ [SCMP].
Recycle the same headline over and over and over again. And each time
markets jump. And each time it means nothing tweeted
@NorthmanTraderYou know why algos buy unsubstantiated headlines?
Because they’re stupid. @NorthmanTrader:
THE AGE OF @instagram FACE @NewYorker
This past summer, I booked a plane ticket to Los Angeles with the hope
of investigating what seems likely to be one of the oddest legacies of
our rapidly expiring decade: the gradual emergence, among
professionally beautiful women, of a single, cyborgian face. It’s a
young face, of course, with poreless skin and plump, high cheekbones.
It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat
nose and full, lush lips. It looks at you coyly but blankly, as if its
owner has taken half a Klonopin and is considering asking you for a
private-jet ride to Coachella. The face is distinctly white but
ambiguously ethnic—it suggests a National Geographic composite
illustrating what Americans will look like in 2050, if every American
of the future were to be a direct descendant of Kim Kardashian West,
Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, and Kendall Jenner (who looks exactly
like Emily Ratajkowski). “It’s like a sexy . . . baby . . . tiger,”
Cara Craig, a high-end New York colorist, observed to me recently. The
celebrity makeup artist Colby Smith told me, “It’s Instagram Face,
duh. It’s like an unrealistic sculpture. Volume on volume. A face that
looks like it’s made out of clay.”
Instagram, which launched as the decade was just beginning, in
October, 2010, has its own aesthetic language: the ideal image is
always the one that instantly pops on a phone screen. The aesthetic is
also marked by a familiar human aspiration, previously best documented
in wedding photography, toward a generic sameness. Accounts such as
Insta Repeat illustrate the platform’s monotony by posting grids of
indistinguishable photos posted by different users—a person in a
yellow raincoat standing at the base of a waterfall, or a hand holding
up a bright fall leaf. Some things just perform well.
The human body is an unusual sort of Instagram subject: it can be
adjusted, with the right kind of effort, to perform better and better
over time. Art directors at magazines have long edited photos of
celebrities to better match unrealistic beauty standards; now you can
do that to pictures of yourself with just a few taps on your phone.
Snapchat, which launched in 2011 and was originally known as a
purveyor of disappearing messages, has maintained its user base in
large part by providing photo filters, some of which allow you to
become intimately familiar with what your face would look like if it
were ten-per-cent more conventionally attractive—if it were thinner,
or had smoother skin, larger eyes, fuller lips. Instagram has added an
array of flattering selfie filters to its Stories feature. FaceTune,
which was released in 2013 and promises to help you “wow your friends
with every selfie,” enables even more precision. A number of Instagram
accounts are dedicated to identifying the tweaks that celebrities make
to their features with photo-editing apps. Celeb Face, which has more
than a million followers, posts photos from the accounts of
celebrities, adding arrows to spotlight signs of careless FaceTuning.
Follow Celeb Face for a month, and this constant perfecting process
begins to seem both mundane and pathological. You get the feeling that
these women, or their assistants, alter photos out of a simple
defensive reflex, as if FaceTuning your jawline were the Instagram
equivalent of checking your eyeliner in the bathroom of the bar.
“I think ninety-five per cent of the most-followed people on Instagram
use FaceTune, easily,” Smith told me. “And I would say that
ninety-five per cent of these people have also had some sort of
cosmetic procedure. You can see things getting trendy—like, everyone’s
getting brow lifts via Botox now. Kylie Jenner didn’t used to have
that sort of space around her eyelids, but now she does.”
Twenty years ago, plastic surgery was a fairly dramatic intervention:
expensive, invasive, permanent, and, often, risky. But, in 2002, the
Food and Drug Administration approved Botox for use in preventing
wrinkles; a few years later, it approved hyaluronic-acid fillers, such
as Juvéderm and Restylane, which at first filled in fine lines and
wrinkles and now can be used to restructure jawlines, noses, and
cheeks. These procedures last for six months to a year and aren’t
nearly as expensive as surgery. (The average price per syringe of
filler is six hundred and eighty-three dollars.) You can go get Botox
and then head right back to the office.
A class of celebrity plastic surgeons has emerged on Instagram,
posting time-lapse videos of injection procedures and before-and-after
photos, which receive hundreds of thousands of views and likes.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Americans
received more than seven million neurotoxin injections in 2018, and
more than two and a half million filler injections. That year,
Americans spent $16.5 billion on cosmetic surgery; ninety-two per cent
of these procedures were performed on women. Thanks to injectables,
cosmetic procedures are no longer just for people who want huge
changes, or who are deep in battle with the aging process—they’re for
millennials, or even, in rarefied cases, members of Gen Z. Kylie
Jenner, who was born in 1997, spoke on her reality-TV show “Life of
Kylie” about wanting to get lip fillers after a boy commented on her
small lips when she was fifteen.
Ideals of female beauty that can only be met through painful processes
of physical manipulation have always been with us, from tiny feet in
imperial China to wasp waists in nineteenth-century Europe. But
contemporary systems of continual visual self-broadcasting—reality TV,
social media—have created new disciplines of continual visual
self-improvement. Social media has supercharged the propensity to
regard one’s personal identity as a potential source of profit—and,
especially for young women, to regard one’s body this way, too. In
October, Instagram announced that it would be removing “all effects
associated with plastic surgery” from its filter arsenal, but this
appears to mean all effects explicitly associated with plastic
surgery, such as the ones called “Plastica” and “Fix Me.” Filters that
give you Instagram Face will remain. For those born with
assets—natural assets, capital assets, or both—it can seem sensible,
even automatic, to think of your body the way that a McKinsey
consultant would think about a corporation: identify underperforming
sectors and remake them, discard whatever doesn’t increase profits and
reorient the business toward whatever does.
Smith first started noticing the encroachment of Instagram Face about
five years ago, “when the lip fillers started,” he said. “I’d do
someone’s makeup and notice that there were no wrinkles in the lips at
all. Every lipstick would go on so smooth.” It has made his job
easier, he noted, archly. “My job used to be to make people look like
that, but now people come to me already looking like that, because
they’re surgically enhanced. It’s great. We used to have to contour
you to give you those cheeks, but now you just went out and got them.”
There was something strange, I said, about the racial aspect of
Instagram Face—it was as if the algorithmic tendency to flatten
everything into a composite of greatest hits had resulted in a beauty
ideal that favored white women capable of manufacturing a look of
rootless exoticism. “Absolutely,” Smith said. “We’re talking an overly
tan skin tone, a South Asian influence with the brows and eye shape,
an African-American influence with the lips, a Caucasian influence
with the nose, a cheek structure that is predominantly Native American
and Middle Eastern.” Did Smith think that Instagram Face was actually
making people look better? He did. “People are absolutely getting
prettier,” he said. “The world is so visual right now, and it’s only
getting more visual, and people want to upgrade the way they relate to
This was an optimistic way of looking at the situation. I told Smith
that I couldn’t shake the feeling that technology is rewriting our
bodies to correspond to its own interests—rearranging our faces
according to whatever increases engagement and likes. “Don’t you think
it’s scary to imagine people doing this forever?” I asked.
“Well, yeah, it’s obviously terrifying,” he said.
Beverly Hills is L.A.’s plastic-surgery district. In the sun-scorched
isosceles triangle between the palm trees and department stores of
Wilshire and the palm trees and boutique eateries of Santa Monica,
there’s a doctor, or several, on every block. On a Wednesday
afternoon, I parked my rental car in a tiny underground lot, emerged
next to a Sprinkles Cupcakes and a bougie psychic’s office, and walked
to a consultation appointment I had made with one of the best-known
celebrity plastic surgeons, whose before-and-after Instagram videos
frequently attract half a million views.
I’d booked the consultation because I was curious about the actual
experience of a would-be millennial patient—a fact I had to keep
mentioning to my boyfriend, who seemed moderately worried that I would
come back looking like a human cat. A few weeks before, I had
downloaded Snapchat for the first time and tried out the filters,
which were in fact very flattering: they gave me radiant skin, doe
lashes, a face shaped like a heart. It wasn’t lost on me that when I
put on a lot of makeup I am essentially trying to create a version of
this face. And it wasn’t hard for me to understand why millennial
women who were born within spitting distance of Instagram Face would
want to keep drawing closer to it. In a world where women are rewarded
for youth and beauty in a way that they are rewarded for nothing
else—and where a strain of mainstream feminism teaches women that
self-objectification is progressive, because it’s profitable—cosmetic
work might seem like one of the few guaranteed high-yield projects
that a woman could undertake.
The plastic surgeon’s office was gorgeous and peaceful, a silvery
oasis. A receptionist, humming along to “I Want to Know What Love Is,”
handed me intake forms, which asked about stress factors and mental
health, among other things. I signed an arbitration agreement. A
medical assistant took photos of my face from five different angles. A
medical consultant with lush hair and a deeply warm, caring aura came
into the room. Careful not to lie, and lightly alarmed by the fact
that I didn’t need to, I told her that I’d never gotten fillers or
Botox but that I was interested in looking better, and that I wanted
to know what experts would advise. She was complimentary, and told me
that I shouldn’t get too much done. After a while, she suggested that
maybe I would want to pay attention to my chin as I aged, and maybe my
cheeks, too—maybe I’d want to lift them a little bit.
Then the celebrity doctor came in, giving off the intensity of a
surgeon and the focus of a glassblower. I said to him, too, that I was
just interested in looking better, and wanted to know what an expert
would recommend. I showed him one of my filtered Snapchat photos. He
glanced at it, nodded, and said, “Let me show you what we could do.”
He took a photo of my face on his phone and projected it onto a TV
screen on the wall. “I like to use FaceTune,” he said, tapping and
Within a few seconds, my face was shaped to match the Snapchat photo.
He took another picture of me, in profile, and FaceTuned the chin
again. I had a heart-shaped face, and visible cheekbones. All of this
was achievable, he said, with chin filler, cheek filler, and perhaps
an ultrasound procedure that would dissolve the fat in the lower half
of my cheeks—or we could use Botox to paralyze and shrink my masseter
I asked the doctor what he told people who came to see him wanting to
look like his best-known patients. “People come in with pictures of my
most famous clients all the time,” he said. “I say, ‘I can’t turn you
into them. I can’t, if you’re Asian, give you a Caucasian face, or I
could, but it wouldn’t be right—it wouldn’t look right.’ But if they
show me a specific feature they want then I can work with that. I can
say, ‘If you want a sharp jaw like that, we can do that.’ But, also,
these things are not always right for all people. For you, if you came
in asking for a sharp jaw, I would say no—it would make you look
“Does it seem like more people my age are coming in for this sort of
work?” I asked.
“I think that ten years ago it was seen as anti-cerebral to do this,”
he said. “But now it’s empowering to do something that gives you an
edge. Which is why young people are coming in. They come in to enhance
something, rather than coming in to fix something.”
“And it’s subtle,” I said.
“Even with my most famous clients, it’s very subtle,” the doctor said.
“If you look at photos taken five years apart, you can tell the
difference. But, day to day, month to month, you can’t.”
I felt that I was being listened to very carefully. I thanked him,
sincerely, and then a medical assistant came in to show me the
recommendations and prices: injectables in my cheeks ($5,500 to
$6,900), injectables in my chin (same price), an ultrasound
“lipofreeze” to fix the asymmetry in my jawline ($8,900 to $18,900),
or Botox in the TMJ region ($2,500). I walked out of the clinic into
the Beverly Hills sunshine, laughing a little, imagining what it’d be
like to have a spare thirty thousand dollars on hand. I texted photos
of my FaceTuned jaw to my friends and then touched my actual jaw, a
suddenly optional assemblage of flesh and bone.
The plastic surgeon Jason Diamond was a recurring star of the reality
show “Dr. 90210” and has a number of famous clients, including the
twenty-nine-year-old “Vanderpump Rules” star Lala Kent, who has posted
photos taken in Diamond’s office on Instagram, and who told People,
“I’ve had every part of my face injected.” Another client is Kim
Kardashian West, whom Colby Smith described to me as “patient zero”
for Instagram Face. (“Ultimately, the goal is always to look like
Kim,” he said.) Kardashian West, who has inspired countless
cosmetically altered doppelgängers, insists that she hasn’t had major
plastic surgery; according to her, it’s all just Botox, fillers, and
makeup. But she also hasn’t tried to hide how her appearance has
changed. In 2015, she published a coffee-table book of selfies, called
“Selfish,” which begins when she is beautiful the way a human is
beautiful and ends when she’s beautiful in the manner of a computer
I scheduled an interview with Diamond, whose practice occupies the
penthouse of a building in Beverly Hills. On the desk in his office
was a thank-you note from Chrissy Teigen. (It sat atop two of her
cookbooks.) As with the doctor I’d seen the day before, Diamond, who
has pool-blue eyes and wore black scrubs and square-framed glasses,
looked nothing like the tabloid caricature of a plastic surgeon. He
was youthful in a way that was only slightly surreal. Diamond had
trained with an old guard of top L.A. plastic surgeons, he told
me—people who thought it was taboo to advertise. When, in 2004, he had
the opportunity to appear on “Dr. 90210,” he decided to do it, against
the advice of his wife and his nurses, because, he said, “I knew that
I would be able to show results that the world had never seen.” In
2016, a famous client persuaded him to set up an Instagram account. He
now has just under a quarter million followers. The employees at his
practice who run the account like that Instagram allows patients to
see him as a father of two and as a friend, not only as a doctor.
Diamond had long had a Web site, but in the past his celebrity
patients didn’t volunteer to offer testimonials there. “And, of
course, we never asked,” he said. “But now—it’s amazing. Maybe thirty
per cent of the celebrities I take care of will just ask and offer to
shout us out on social media. All of a sudden, it’s popular knowledge
that all these people are coming here. For some reason, Instagram made
it more acceptable.” Cosmetic work had come to seem more like fitness,
he suggested. “I think it’s become much more mainstream to think about
taking care of your face and your body as part of your general
well-being. It’s kind of understood now: it’s O.K. to try to look your
best.” There was a sort of cleansing, crystalline honesty to this
high-end intersection of superficiality and pragmatism, I was slowly
realizing. I hadn’t needed to bother posing as a patient—these doctors
spent all day making sure that people no longer felt they had anything
I asked Diamond if he had thoughts about Instagram Face. “You know,
there’s this look—this Bella Hadid, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner thing
that seems to be spreading,” I said. Diamond said that he practiced
all over the world, and that there were different regional
preferences, and that no one template worked for every face. “But
there are constants,” he said. “Symmetry, proportion, harmony. We are
always trying to create balance in the face. And when you look at Kim,
Megan Fox, Lucy Liu, Halle Berry, you’ll find elements in common: the
high contoured cheekbones, the strong projected chin, the flat
platform underneath the chin that makes a ninety-degree angle.”
“What do you make of the fact that it’s much more possible now for
people to look at these celebrity faces and think, somewhat correctly,
that they could look like that, too?” I asked.
“We could spend two whole days discussing that question,” Diamond
said. “I’d say that thirty per cent of people come in bringing a photo
of Kim, or someone like Kim—there’s a handful of people, but she’s at
the very top of the list, and understandably so. It’s one of the
biggest challenges I have, educating the person about whether it’s
reasonable to try to move along that path toward Kim’s face, or toward
whoever. Twenty years of practice, thousands and thousands of
procedures, go into each individual answer—when I can do it, when I
can’t do it, and when we can do something but shouldn’t, for any
number of reasons.” I told Diamond that I was afraid that if I ever
tried injectables, I’d never stop. “It is true that the vast majority
of our patients absolutely love their results, and they come back,” he
“I can answer that in part because I do these things, too,” he said,
gesturing to his face. “You know when you get a really good haircut,
and you feel like the best version of yourself? This is that feeling,
On the way to Diamond’s office, I had passed a café that looked
familiar: pale marble-topped tables, blond-wood floors, a row of
Prussian-green snake plants, pendant lamps, geometrically patterned
tiles. The writer Kyle Chayka has coined the term “AirSpace” for this
style of blandly appealing interior design, marked by an “anesthetized
aesthetic” and influenced by the “connective emotional grid of social
media platforms”—these virtual spaces where hundreds of millions of
people learn to “see and feel and want the same things.” WeWork, the
collapsing co-working giant—which, like Instagram, was founded in
2010—once convinced investors of a forty-seven-billion-dollar vision
in which people would follow their idiosyncratic dreams while enmeshed
in a global network of near-indistinguishable office spaces featuring
reclaimed wood, neon signs, and ficus trees. Direct-to-consumer brands
fill podcast ad breaks with promises of the one true electric
toothbrush and meals that arrive in the mail, selling us on the relief
of forgoing choice altogether. The general idea seems to be that
humans are so busy pursuing complicated forms of self-actualization
that we’d like much of our life to be assembled for us, as if from a
I went to see another Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, one who had more
than three hundred thousand Instagram followers. I told the doctor
that I was a journalist, and that I was there for a consultation. He
studied my face from a few angles, felt my jaw, and suggested exactly
what the first doctor had recommended. The prices were lower this
time—if I had wanted to put the whole thing on my credit card, I could
have. I took the elevator down to the street with three very pretty
women who all appeared to be in their early twenties. As I drove back
to my hotel, I felt sad and subdued and self-conscious. I had thought
that I was researching this subject at a logical distance: that I
could inhabit the point of view of an ideal millennial client, someone
who wanted to enhance rather than fix herself, who was ambitious and
pragmatic. But I left with a very specific feeling, a kind of
bottomless need that I associated with early adolescence, and which I
had not experienced in a long time. I had worn makeup at sixteen to my
college interviews; I’d worn makeup at my gymnastic meets when I was
ten. In the photos I have of myself at ballet recitals when I was six
or seven, I’m wearing mascara and blush and lipstick, and I’m so
happy. What did it mean, I wondered, that I have spent so much of my
life attempting to perform well in circumstances where an unaltered
female face is aberrant? How had I been changed by an era in which
ordinary humans receive daily metrics that appear to quantify how our
personalities and our physical selves are performing on the market?
What was the logical end of this escalating back-and-forth between
digital and physical improvement?
On Instagram, I checked up on the accounts of the plastic surgeons I
had visited, watching comments roll in: “this is what I need! I need
to come see you ASAP!”, “want want want,” “what is the youngest you
could perform this procedure?” I looked at the Instagram account of a
singer born in 1999, who had become famous as a teen-ager and had
since given herself an entirely new face. I met up with a bunch of
female friends for dinner in L.A. that night, two of whom had already
adopted injectables as part of their cosmetic routine. They looked
beautiful. The sun went down, and the hills of L.A. started to
glitter. I had the sense that I was living in some inexorable future.
For some days afterward, I noticed that I was avoiding looking too
closely at my face.
Citizenship bill puts India on a path to become a Hindu nationalist state @washingtonpost @RanaAyyub
Law & Politics
On Monday, India’s home minister pushed a bill in Parliament —
Narendra Modi’s most brazen action to lead India away from being the
world’s largest democracy to a Hindu nationalist state — with an
inflammatory speech stoking Hindu victimhood.
The minister, Amit Shah, said the Citizenship Amendment Bill — which
offers legal status and citizenship to non-Muslim minorities — aimed
to correct the injustices meted out to the Hindu majority with the
partition of India in 1947.
The speech given by the home minister was an exercise in perpetuating
Hindu victimhood in a country that boasts of an 80 percent Hindu
Since the partition of India, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the
ideological fountainhead of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been
stoking a misplaced victimhood in the self-pitying Hindu majority
asking for a first stake to all resources in the country since Muslims
were given a separate piece of land in the form of Pakistan.
The resentment was stoked over decades by right-wing leaders who
exaggerated figures of Muslim population in the country. WhatsApp
messages and fake news published by right-wing websites leading up to
the Indian election this year even spoke of a Muslim takeover in India
Article 14 of the Indian constitution seeks to protect all citizens
from any form of discrimination. But by presenting this anti-Muslim
bill in the sanctum sanctorum of the Indian Parliament, the Modi
government has sought to give an official legal cover to its dream of
entrenching Hindu supremacy.
Intellectuals and commentators have called the amendment bill an
attack on the Indian constitution and a distraction from the country’s
Many, like me, disagree. Since his ascent to power in 2014, Modi has
been explicit in his agenda for a totalitarian, fascist regime, laying
out his blueprint to “other” India’s Muslims from his first day in
Modi’s BJP swept to power with an increased majority in 2019 for his
fulfillment of those promises.
Soon after, the government implemented the National Register of
Citizens that rendered nearly 2 million citizens of the northeastern
state of Assam, mostly Muslims, stateless and excluded as citizens.
Next came the revoking of the special status of Kashmir, the only
Muslim majority state in the country, which was kept under months of
lockdown with mass detention and arrests of democratic leaders.
The election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party also promised a
magnificent Ram Temple on a disputed site where Hindu nationalists
razed the iconic Babri Mosque in 1992. Last month, a court ruling
allotted the land in favor of Hindus.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill cannot be seen in isolation — it should
also be seen in conjunction with the Modi government's announcement
last month to implement the National Register of Citizens across the
While the government plans to rescue and rehabilitate persecuted
Hindus from neighboring countries through the Citizenship Amendment
Bill, it is simultaneously seeking to disenfranchise Muslim citizens
through the National Register of Citizens by labeling them as migrants
The message is clear, and that’s why Muslims in the country are living
in fear. Mosques in India are asking Muslims to keep their citizenship
documents in order, but in a country where Muslims form the lowest
rung of the socioeconomic strata, this has only resulted in widespread
paranoia and anxiety.
Zainul, a construction worker in Mumbai, stared blankly at his
8-month-old son Abid, as his wife spread out a sheet of newspaper for
them to eat lunch in a slum in central Mumbai.
Both Zainul and his wife, Ameena, arrived in Mumbai two years ago from
Dhaniakhali, a village in Hooghly district, after a torrential flood
hit and swept off the roof above their head. It took them three days
to arrive in Mumbai, in a crowded train with no money to buy tickets,
and without food for more than a week.
After months of struggle, Zainul found work as a mason, and his wife
took odd jobs, including cleaning the sewage, to feed themselves.
Last month, four of Zainul’s relatives who work as contractual
laborers left for their hometown in West Bengal to hunt for documents
as the government announced a Nationwide Register of Citizens.
“Where do we bring the documents from?” Ameena asked. “Every bit of
our livelihood was washed away. How could we save the documents?”
Zainul showed me a copy of his ration card, which is almost in shreds,
pieced together with tape. He managed to save his ration card but
fears it will not be enough.
Two months ago, cops from the area rounded up the slum dwellers in
Antop Hill, mostly Muslims, and locked them up overnight calling them
He and his neighbors bribed the cops with their meager savings and
found their way out.
Ameena asked me whether I have seen the detention camp being built in
Mumbai to incarcerate all migrants who will fail to prove their
citizenship — she was referring to the Modi government’s
identification of a land in the suburbs of Mumbai for its first
Zainul left for his hometown to collect documents that can prove his
spouse’s citizenship. Ameena would not let him go, afraid that there
could be another midnight knock from the cops and she would have to
plead: “I am not a Bangladeshi madam; I am an Indian. My parents have
stayed in this country all their lives.”
Ameena is one among the million citizens who fear she will be othered
overnight in a country she has always called her own.
During a television debate on Monday, the news anchor asked Sudhanshu
Mittal, a BJP spokesman, if he considered Ahmadiyas, who are a
persecuted minority in Pakistan, eligible for citizenship. His
response: “Ahmadiyas are Muslims, and Pakistan is an Islamic country.”
In the list of neighboring countries whose persecuted citizens
minorities will be sheltered in India, the government conveniently
chose to ignore Myanmar, whose Rohingya Muslims have suffered
But the Rohingyas do not fit the criteria. They are Muslims, a faith
whose adherents are looked at in India as the enemy of the state.
02-DEC-2019 :: India's Narendra Modi whose calling card was economic growth in Gujarat notwithstanding his fondness for a good old fashioned pogrom
Law & Politics
India’s Narendra Modi whose calling card was economic growth in
Gujarat notwithstanding his fondness for a good old fashioned pogrom
is clearly embarked on a ‘’West Bank’’’ level settlement project of
At a private event on Saturday in New York City, Sandeep Chakravorty,
India’s consul-general to the city, told Kashmiri Hindus and Indian
nationals that India will build settlements modelled after Israel for
the return of the Hindu population to Kashmir.
Three years ago, India was enjoying economic growth of about nine per
cent. Now the rate of expansion has slumped to just half that.
The country’s gross domestic product grew by just 4.5 per cent in the
July to September quarter, the lowest level since early 2013.
GDP growth was at seven per cent in the same period last year, and
five per cent in the previous quarter.
Economic growth has now fallen for six consecutive quarters, a slide
that can be partially attributed to the recent weakness of India’s
The manufacturing sector shrank one per cent last quarter. The growth
rate for agriculture was more than cut in half.
The GDP figure is the weakest recorded under Prime Minister Narendra
Modi, who first swept to power five years ago promising to take
India’s economy to new heights and create millions of jobs every year.
19-AUG-2019 :: Essentially, Modi is seeking to flood the zone.
Law & Politics
The Point is that the Smart Phone is ubiquitous even in the furthest
corners of the World and we are all peering at a newsreel. Except, of
course, if you are in Kashmir which was described by Nehru as “the
snowy bosom of the Himalayas” and which is currently switched off
from the c21st.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370, which protected
Kashmir’s demography by restricting residency to Kashmiris alone and,
under a sub-section known as Article 35A, forbade the sale of property
Essentially, Modi is seeking to flood the zone. The Periphery is a
Tinderbox in many parts of the World.
The War That Continues to Shape Russia 25 Years Later @nytimes
Law & Politics
Haunting images show how the first Chechen war humiliated post-Soviet
Russia, exposed its weakness, strengthened hard-liners and enabled the
rise of Vladimir V. Putin.
It began not so much as an invasion, but as a slouching stumble
through mud and snow by frightened, ill-fed Russian conscripts, the
hollowed-out remnants of a force that, before the collapse of the
Soviet Union just three years earlier, had been the mighty Red Army.
But the Russian troops who advanced from three directions into the
rebellious region of Chechnya on Dec. 11, 1994, carried
history-changing forces that have since reshaped Russia and the world.
The Russian attack, initially in staggering disarray but then
increasingly organized and brutal, signaled not just the start of the
First Chechen War — a merciless conflict that killed tens of thousands
of people, mostly civilians — but also the end of Russia’s liberal
It was a turning point that tilted Russia toward the rule of President
Vladimir V. Putin, now in power for two decades. At the time, Mr.
Putin was an unknown municipal official in St. Petersburg, but five
years later he became master of the Kremlin, propelled there by yet
another Chechen war.
Anatoly Shabad, a former physicist and prominent pro-democracy
politician in the early 1990s, visited Chechnya repeatedly in 1994,
first to try to prevent war and then to halt the killing once it
Holed up in the basement of the presidential palace in Grozny, the
Chechen capital, as Russian forces launched a disastrous, all-out
assault on the city on New Year’s Eve 1994, Mr. Shabad emerged in the
morning to find streets strewn with the corpses of Russian soldiers
and their burned-out tanks.
Despite the Grozny debacle and many others, Mr. Shabad said, security
and military officials who had pushed for the war — known as
“siloviki,” or men of force — came out on top, regaining much of the
influence they had lost to democratic forces after the Soviet Union
imploded in 1991.
“The siloviki were the losers on the ground but they acquired power.
The time of democratic transformation passed and society returned to
its old state of mind,” Mr. Shabad, now retired from politics,
When President Boris N. Yeltsin, Russia’s first elected leader,
announced 25 years ago that he would “employ all means at the state’s
disposal” to crush Chechen demands for independence, he expected to
subdue the Chechens with a swift show of overwhelming force.
The hope and expectation was that Russia would repeat the success that
the United States military had in Haiti, which it had invaded in
September 1994 to swiftly remove a military dictatorship.
Instead, the Chechen war dragged on for nearly two years and achieved
none of Russia’s principal aims other than the death of the region’s
despotic leader, Dzokhar Dudayev, who was killed in April 1996 by a
laser-guided Russian missile.
The war reduced Grozny, a modern, multiethnic city, to a rubble-strewn
wasteland reminiscent of Stalingrad in World War II, and shredded
Russia’s post-Soviet image as a peaceful democracy.
It also set up a second war in 1999 that helped convince Mr. Yeltsin —
ill, often drunk and never fully recovered from the trauma of the
first war — to hand over power to Mr. Putin on the eve of the new
The horrific brutality of the conflict turned what began as a secular
nationalist movement in Chechnya into a cause increasingly colored by
militant Islam, with many fighters viewing their battle against Russia
as part of a global jihad.
Money and fighters poured in from the Middle East during the later
stages of the war, turning Chechnya into a breeding ground for the
violent ideology of Al Qaeda.
The 1994-96 war was freighted with foreboding from the start, with
many of Mr. Yeltsin’s most stalwart supporters and senior military
figures warning of disaster.
“It will be a blood bath, another Afghanistan,” predicted Gen. Boris
Gromov, the deputy defense minister, who had led the last Soviet
troops home from that country in February 1989. The deputy commander
of Russia’s ground force resigned in protest.
Like the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the first Chechen war ended in a
stalemate. Russia pulled out after signing a peace accord that left
Chechnya’s ultimate status undecided but essentially gave the region
the self-rule that Moscow had gone to war to prevent.
And like the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Russian departure
from Chechnya left a devastated land that quickly descended into
lawless strife among rival factions.
While the Afghan war had pushed the Soviet Union toward collapse, the
Russian Federation survived the Chechen debacle. But it was utterly
humiliated and fundamentally reshaped.
That made the ascent of a strongman like Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B.
agent who vowed to restore order and avenge Russia’s defeat in
Chechnya, not only possible but perhaps also inevitable.
The 1994 invasion “was a real crossing of the Rubicon for Russia,”
said Thomas de Waal, a British expert on the Caucasus who co-wrote
“Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus,” a classic book on the conflict,
with Carlotta Gall, now a reporter with The New York Times.
The war, he said, “sucked the whole country into a violent nightmare”
as soldiers, mostly ill-trained conscripts, were thrown into the
“The hawks lost the war but won power,” Mr. de Waal said.
The official Russian military death toll was nearly 6,000, but most
independent estimates put the real figure at perhaps twice that or
more. The number of civilian deaths has been estimated at between
30,000 and 100,000.
Mr. Yeltsin’s decision to send troops into Chechnya was initially
billed as a straightforward exercise to “restore constitutional order”
and reverse the declaration of an independent state.
But as with subsequent Russian military interventions, notably in
Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, the war began with an elaborate
subterfuge orchestrated by Russian intelligence.
Fifteen days before the main invasion, dozens of tanks and armored
personnel carriers poured into Chechnya, in what was presented as a
push by Chechen opposition groups to topple Mr. Dudayev.
Mr. Shabad, who visited Grozny in late November 1994 with other
Russian lawmakers, said it was immediately obvious that official
denials of Russian involvement were lies.
“They pretended that the Chechens were just fighting among
themselves,” he said, “but the whole thing was organized by Russia,
mainly the F.S.K.,” the domestic intelligence agency that succeeded
the K.G.B., with the connivance of the military.
Andrei Rusakov, an army captain among the 20 or so Russians captured,
told how he had signed a secret contract in which the F.S.K. — now
called the F.S.B. — offered him several thousand dollars to take part
in the phony Chechen opposition attack.
The revelation of the security service’s failure prompted public
gloating by Russia’s military. Pavel S. Grachev, the defense minister,
stated on television that the armed forces could have taken control of
Chechnya with “one paratroop regiment in a couple of hours.”
His boast quickly came back to haunt him, when Mr. Yeltsin ordered the
military to invade. The disastrous performance of the armed forces
made Mr. Grachev perhaps the most reviled man in Russia, amid
accusations that he had pushed for a military solution simply to
disperse the whiff of corruption around him and his ministry.
After the failed New Year’s Eve attack on Grozny, Russian forces
pounded it relentlessly from the air, an orgy of destruction that
Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany denounced as “sheer madness.”
The Russians finally captured the city, but as the war ground on amid
horrendous brutality on both sides, Chechens recaptured it the
following year, and laid siege to Russian forces in other major towns.
In August 1996, Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, Mr. Yeltsin’s national security
adviser, reached an agreement with the Chechens to stop the fighting.
Mr. Yeltsin, increasingly infirm, erratic and under siege politically,
initially balked at the deal, which effectively acknowledged Russia’s
defeat, but ultimately endorsed it.
“The main thing,” he said, “is that bloodshed has been stopped.”
Letter from Moscow The Kremlin's Creative Director Konstantin Ernst went from discerning auteur to Putin's unofficial minister of propaganda. @NewYorker
Law & Politics
In the final days of 1999, Konstantin Ernst prepared to film the
Russian President’s annual New Year’s address, just as he had every
December for several years. Ernst, who was thirty-eight, with floppy
brown hair and a look of perpetual bemusement, had recently become the
head of Channel One, the state television network with the largest
reach, a post he retains today. The position makes him one of the most
powerful men in Russia, with the ability to set the visual style for
the country’s political life—at least the part its rulers wish to
transmit to the public.
The ritual of the New Year’s address began in the seventies, under
Leonid Brezhnev, who sat stolidly atop the Soviet hierarchy for two
decades, and continued in the eighties under Mikhail Gorbachev, the
architect of perestroika. After the Soviet collapse, Boris Yeltsin,
the first President of independent Russia, kept the tradition alive.
Yeltsin began his term as a charismatic advocate of democratic reform,
but, by the late nineties, he seemed aged and defeated. Russia was
only a year removed from a devastating financial crash that led the
government to default on its debt, and its troops were fighting their
second costly war in a decade in Chechnya, a would-be breakaway
republic in the Caucasus. Yeltsin seemed primarily concerned with
leaving office in a way that would keep him and his family immune from
prosecution. On December 29th, Ernst and a crew from Channel One made
their way to the Kremlin to film his address. Ernst watched as Yeltsin
sat in front of a tinsel-covered fir tree in a reception hall and held
forth on the opportunities of the New Year, which included, in the
spring, a Presidential election that would determine his successor. As
the Channel One staff was packing up, Yeltsin told Ernst that he
wasn’t satisfied—he was hoarse, and didn’t like the way his words had
come out—and asked if they might record a new version in the coming
days. Ernst agreed to go back on New Year’s Eve at five in the
morning. When he returned, he was handed a copy of the new address,
and tried to contain his shock: Yeltsin was about to resign,
voluntarily giving up power before his term was over, an unprecedented
gesture in Russian history. His chosen successor was Vladimir Putin, a
politician whom most Russians were just getting to know: Putin had
risen from bureaucratic obscurity to become the head of the F.S.B.,
the post-Soviet successor to the K.G.B., and had been named Yeltsin’s
Prime Minister only four months earlier. Ernst had a production
assistant enter the text of the speech into the teleprompter without
letting the rest of the crew in on the news. It would come as a
surprise to everyone.
Yeltsin spoke with the labored cadence of a tired man. “I said that we
would leap from the gray, stagnating totalitarian past into a bright,
prosperous, and civilized future,” he said. “I believed that we would
cover the distance in one leap. We didn’t.” He went on, “I am leaving
now. I have done everything I could.” He rubbed a tear from his eye.
Someone from Channel One started to clap, and soon they were all
giving him a standing ovation. A woman cried, “Boris Nikolayevich, how
can it be?” Yeltsin and the journalists drank champagne, and marvelled
at the scene they had shared.
Soon after, Channel One filmed a New Year’s address from Putin, which
would air after Yeltsin’s. “The powers of the head of state have been
turned over to me today,” Putin said, his tone calming and
businesslike. “I assure you that there will be no vacuum of power, not
for a minute.”
Ernst got into a waiting car with recordings of Yeltsin’s and Putin’s
speeches and, with a police escort, sped through the capital to
Ostankino, a sprawling complex of television studios. At noon, as
night fell in Russia’s Far East, he gave the order to broadcast
Yeltsin’s address. Yeltsin was hosting a luncheon with his ministers
and generals in the Presidential quarters at the time. “The
chandeliers, the crystal, the windows—everything glittered with a New
Year’s glow,” Yeltsin recalled later, in his memoirs. A television was
brought in, and his guests watched the announcement in silence.
Putin’s wife at the time, Lyudmila, was at home, and didn’t see the
broadcast, so she was confused when a friend called to congratulate
her; she assumed that the friend was offering a standard New Year’s
greeting. Later in the day, a news segment showed Yeltsin and Putin
standing side by side in the Presidential office. “Take care of
Russia,” Yeltsin told Putin as they left the room.
The following morning on Channel One, after a kitschy variety show,
the network cut to breaking news from Chechnya. Putin had gone on a
surprise trip to visit Russian troop positions, where he wore a
fur-trimmed parka and handed out hunting knives. He told the soldiers
that the war they were fighting was “not just about defending the
honor and dignity of the country” but also “about putting an end to
the disintegration of Russia.” Ernst worried that the separatism in
Chechnya could spread, and believed that Russia’s institutions of
power were atrophied and vulnerable to collapse. “In moments when
everything has gone to hell, a person shows up, who might not have
known of his mission ahead of time, but who grabs the architecture of
the state and holds it together,” he told me recently. He thought that
this person was Putin.
In the lead-up to the election, Channel One, under Ernst, portrayed
Putin as Yeltsin’s inevitable successor, and relentlessly attacked his
rivals, presenting them as infirm, corrupt, even murderous. Putin’s
poll numbers began rising by four or five points in a week, and he
quickly went from an unknown entity to the most popular politician in
the country. Channel One had backed politicians before, but this was
something new: the invention of a candidate from thin air, a
television phenomenon from the start. Putin won handily and,
afterward, Ernst began to craft a visual language for his Presidency.
He suggested that the inauguration be moved from the State Kremlin
Palace, a modernist concrete box, to St. Andrew’s Hall, an ornate
tsarist throne room that would provide an imperial spectacle. He felt
that the old era, for both Russia and Channel One, was giving way to
another. As Ernst put it, “We would find a new intonation together.”
Ernst was born in 1961, the son of a well-known Soviet scientist. He
was bright and ambitious and, by the time he was in his twenties,
bristled at the restrictions imposed on citizens by the country’s
decaying gerontocracy. From a young age, Ernst was obsessed with film.
In 1986, when he was twenty-five, he left a senior post at a state
genetics laboratory and, inspired by the convulsions of perestroika,
drifted among Moscow’s quasi-underground directors and filmmakers. He
shot several music videos, including a concert by Aquarium, the
godfathers of Russian rock, who, in 1988, performed in Leningrad with
Dave Stewart from the British pop band Eurythmics.
I met with Ernst in the summer of 2018, in a voluminous conference
room at Channel One. He described his early days with vibrating
enthusiasm. A central part of his self-image is clearly still grounded
in that period, when he was not an all-powerful television demigod but
a scrappy outsider. “I felt like a person who was deceiving everyone,”
he told me. “The Soviet Union was still in full force—and yet there I
was, with no formal education as a director, filming some Western
musicians, not to mention my rocker friends, who themselves had been
banned only two or three years before.”
In 1988, he became a director at “Viewpoint,” a news-magazine program
that gained a devoted following for its earnest discussion of topics
that weren’t covered elsewhere: corruption in the Communist Party, the
failing Soviet war in Afghanistan, the fledgling class of
millionaires. Viewers in the late Soviet era had become accustomed to
a heavy lexicon of bureaucratese and boosterism that verged on the
absurd. In his book on the paradoxes of the time, “Everything Was
Forever, Until It Was No More,” Alexei Yurchak, a Russian-American
anthropologist, describes how, for decades, during the televised
funeral of a Soviet dignitary, announcers would note that the official
was “buried on Red Square by the Kremlin wall.” Eventually, space on
the square became scarce, and high-ranking functionaries were instead
cremated and their ashes placed inside the wall itself. Viewers could
see that the action on their television did not match the voice-over,
and state linguists petitioned the Central Committee to update the
text. Amazingly, the appeal was rejected. “Since nothing about the
representation of the world was verifiably true or false, the whole of
reality became ungrounded,” Yurchak writes.
“Viewpoint,” by contrast, spoke honestly and clearly, pushing the
country to “verbalize things that were impossible to say before,”
Ernst told me with pride. In August, 1991, when a cabal of Communist
hard-liners in the security services mounted a coup to put an end to
Gorbachev’s perestroika, the crew of “Viewpoint” hid equipment in
their apartments and went on the air with emergency programming. The
coup failed, and, soon after, the Soviet Union fell apart. That
December, cameras filmed the Soviet flag being lowered at the Kremlin
for the last time.
Ernst once told an interviewer that, compared with “Viewpoint,”
perhaps “only Boris Yeltsin himself played a larger role in bringing
down the Soviet state.” But, when we spoke at Channel One, Ernst
emphasized that the “Viewpoint” team members didn’t see themselves as
revolutionaries, even if history pushed them in that direction. “When
you’re taking part in a big historical process, you don’t always
understand how it will develop down the line,” he told me.
In 1991, he launched an arts-review show called “Matador” (he simply
liked the sound of the word), which was unlike anything previously
seen on Russian television. Ernst appeared with long hair and a
motorcycle jacket, and narrated segments on such topics as the
avant-garde filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the running of the
bulls in Pamplona. The show, which aired at a time of mass
bewilderment, was a captivating distillation of Ernst’s
idiosyncrasies. “As always, during any great rupture, cracks and
openings appear in the system, which allow just about anyone to
enter,” he told me.
Four years into Yeltsin’s Presidency, with the country still reeling
from the Soviet collapse, Ernst produced dozens of public-service
advertisements called “The Russian Project,” which used sentimental
scenes to teach basic lessons: cherish your loved ones, take pride in
your work. In one, an elderly man hears buskers on the metro playing
an old military march and recalls a wartime love affair. As the music
swells, the tagline appears: “We remember.” “People felt lost, as
though they had been discarded,” Ernst told me. “It was important to
let them know that not everything in the past was bad, that we still
held something in common.”
His most popular project from the nineties was “Old Songs About
Important Things,” a faux-retro musical set on a Soviet collective
farm, in which actors crooned tunes from the Soviet songbook. Leonid
Parfyonov, who collaborated with him on the program, told an
interviewer at the time, “It’s about admitting that there were things
that were good, that there is nothing to be ashamed of, and that we
don’t have any other history.”
In 1995, Vladislav Listyev, a beloved television host from
“Viewpoint,” was made the director of Channel One and put Ernst in
charge of drawing up a plan for new programming. But, just five weeks
after Listyev took over, he was killed in the stairwell of his
apartment building. His murder, never solved, was rumored to be
connected to his decision to change the way the company bought ads,
potentially cutting out gray-market middlemen. Channel One’s main
shareholder, Boris Berezovsky, a rapacious oligarch with interests in
everything from oil to automobiles, proposed that Ernst take over. At
first, Ernst resisted—he found Berezovsky distasteful and
untrustworthy—but eventually he agreed to become the channel’s chief
During the 1996 Presidential race, Channel One joined other outlets in
openly supporting Yeltsin’s campaign and disparaging his revanchist
Communist opponent. On the eve of the election, the channel aired an
ominous spot that ended with a timer counting down to voting day. Anna
Kachkaeva, a television critic, saw Ernst a few days afterward and
asked him about it. “From the brainwashers, hoping for your
understanding,” she recalled him saying, smiling mischievously.
Kachkaeva told me that, even as Ernst “retained a sense of
hooliganism,” he came “to understand what kind of instrument he held
in his hands, that he is a person of the state.”
In October, 1999, Ernst agreed to take on the role of general director
at Channel One. His relations with Berezovsky, for whom the network
served as a personal plaything, were tense, but Berezovsky thought of
Ernst as a “very sensible, well-educated person” with great potential.
“That all turned out to be true,” Berezovsky told the weekly magazine
of Kommersant, a Russian newspaper, in 2005. “But, as subsequent
events showed, he has no real political position. That would be well
and good in a stable democracy, but is absolutely dangerous in a
transition to a totalitarian regime.”
Berezovsky backed Putin’s candidacy in 2000, and even claimed credit
for engineering his ascent. But after Putin gained office the system
that he began to construct had little tolerance for cocky and unruly
power brokers, and Berezovsky’s ego didn’t allow him to bend to the
new rules. Things came to a head eight months into Putin’s Presidency,
when a torpedo exploded in the bow of the Kursk, a nuclear submarine
in the Barents Sea, killing a majority of the hundred and eighteen men
aboard. Twenty-three survived, and waited for rescue. Russia’s
attempts to reach them were unsuccessful, and it initially refused
foreign help. Nine days later, after Putin relented, Norwegian
deep-sea divers opened the hatch and found everyone dead. Berezovsky
unleashed his network, which hammered away at the Kremlin’s
incompetence and compared its handling of the Kursk disaster to the
government’s fumbling response to the nuclear accident at Chernobyl,
in 1986. Channel One’s flagship news program broadcast scenes of
anguished relatives subjecting government officials to scathing
criticism. Putin was livid. He and his advisers claimed that the more
inflammatory clips were manufactured, or at least grossly manipulated,
as part of an information war carried out by Berezovsky. When Putin
finally visited the bereaved relatives, he lashed out at the media:
“Television? They’re lying! Lying! Lying!”
According to reports in the Russian press, Ernst, in private
discussions with Putin, encouraged one of the more noxious conspiracy
theories floating around the Kremlin: that a number of the grieving
women shown on television were actors. Ernst adamantly denies that he
said any such thing. But, while Kremlin officials ordered Berezovsky
to unload his shares in the channel, they held Ernst in great esteem.
“He is a very talented journalist,” Alexander Voloshin, Putin’s former
chief of staff, said, in 2011. “All we had to do was free him from
Berezovsky’s influence.” When I spoke to Ernst, he echoed this version
of events. Under Berezovsky, the channel’s news staff was “waging some
kind of political battle rather than doing reporting work,” he said.
At the height of the fallout over the Kursk disaster, Ernst—whether
acting on his own initiative or with instruction from above—fired a
number of staffers close to Berezovsky.
Under duress, Berezovsky fled to England, where he hardened into a
strident, although not always reliable, critic of Putin. (He died,
apparently by suicide, at a manor house outside London, in 2013.)
However, he never managed to develop a real hatred of Ernst. “Ernst
could not exist without relying on the state,” he told Kommersant,
from exile. “He made a choice not so much against me personally but
for Putin. It was a choice in favor of power.”
Put in charge of the largest platform in the country, Ernst set about
realizing his creative vision, which skillfully combined a certain
cosmopolitan savviness with ultimate subservience to the state. Ernst
considers himself a gosudarstvennik—a statist—a term many in Russia’s
ruling class, including Putin, use to describe their belief in the
inherent virtue of the state. “It would be strange if a channel that
belonged to the state were to express an anti-government point of
view,” Ernst told me.
Under Ernst, Putin’s subsequent inaugurations became ever more
ambitious productions, involving several hundred cameramen as well as
cameras mounted on helicopters and overhead tracking cranes. Ernst
also reimagined the annual Victory Day parade, a celebration of the
defeat of Nazi Germany, putting cameras in the cockpits of bomber
planes, to create shots reminiscent of “Top Gun.” According to Arina
Borodina, a journalist and media critic in Moscow, Ernst has no equal
in creating the spectacles that the country’s rulers covet. “Who else
is going to make their illusions, their myths, their beauty?” she
“For Ernst, a sense of immense visual scale was always important,”
Andrei Boltenko, a producer and director who worked at Channel One in
the early two-thousands, said. Russia was emerging from the confusion
and deprivation of the nineties, and the mood was hopeful. Viewers
wanted a story of resurgence. Boltenko told me, “The scale of the
television form matched the scale of belief in the state.”
In December, 2001, Channel One aired its first call-in show with
Putin. Ernst told me that, when he introduced the idea to Putin, “he
listened and said, ‘That’s interesting.’ ” The live broadcast—in which
Putin fields questions from citizens, often for more than four
hours—has appeared nearly every year since. At one moment, he might
promise a new children’s playground; in the next, he might conjure up
months of withheld salaries for laborers building a cosmodrome. Ernst
described the show as a particularly Russian phenomenon: “The Russian
mentality stipulates that the leader of the country, no matter what
this person is called—President or tsar, Prime Minister or General
Secretary of the Communist Party—is seen to answer for everything,
that there is one person who symbolizes the entire state.”
Under Ernst, the network took pains to avoid the sins of the
Berezovsky era, as the Kremlin understood them. In September, 2004,
Chechen terrorists seized a school in the town of Beslan, in the North
Caucasus, and government officials claimed that there were just three
hundred and fifty-four hostages when, in fact, there were more than a
thousand. Channel One cited the lower number. On the third day of the
standoff, when a frenzy of shooting left more than three hundred
people dead, foreign media covered the events live, but Channel One
aired just a few minutes on the crisis before returning to the
Brazilian telenovela “Women in Love.” Ernst defended his coverage.
“Today, the main task of the television is to mobilize the country,”
he told the Financial Times, in 2004. “Our task No. 2 is to inform the
country about what is going on.”
Over time, Ernst and Parfyonov, his former collaborator, began to
diverge professionally, even as they remained friends. Parfyonov
prized his independence, which left him with fewer opportunities on
federal airwaves; Ernst took the other route. “Kostya wanted to be
both an artist and a creative director,” Parfyonov told me. “But it
would prove impossible to be a creative director without serving the
state in one way or another.”
Yet, even as Channel One transmits the official narrative, it does so
with a measure of taste and restraint, at least compared with its two
main competitors: Rossiya, which is wholly owned by the state, and
NTV, now owned by a holding company with ties to Putin. Rossiya is
home to Dmitry Kiselev, the most sulfurous personality on Russian
television, who holds forth on topics including the arms race (Russia
is the only country that can turn the United States into “radioactive
dust”) and gays and lesbians (“They should be banned from donating
blood or sperm, and if they die in a car crash, their hearts should be
burned or buried in the ground as unsuitable for the continuation of
life”). NTV is known for pseudo-documentaries that disparage
opposition figures and hint at all manner of foreign conspiracies.
Such offerings rarely appear on Channel One—not because of Ernst’s
deep ideological opposition but because they do not correspond to his
vision of what is beautiful and worthy. Yulia Pankratova, a news
anchor on Channel One from 2006 to 2013, told me that, during her
tenure, the network’s employees prided themselves on the sense that
“you can do propaganda, but you can’t let yourself fall below a
Ernst has directed most of his energies toward entertainment
programming. “The news is momentary and ephemeral,” he told me. “But
the artistic realm, this is something deeper. It can stay in people’s
minds forever.” It is also the sphere in which he has the most
freedom. Ernst told me that, while his interlocutors in the Kremlin
pay close attention to Channel One’s news coverage, they let him make
creative series and films with virtually no oversight. He has
championed shows far edgier than otherwise appear on state airwaves.
In 2012, Ernst aired “Anton’s Right Here,” a documentary about an
autistic teen-ager living in a cramped apartment with his ailing
mother. Autism is given little attention in Russian society, and the
film treats the young man with a rare degree of dignity, which earned
it praise from many liberals who are generally wary of Channel One. In
2013, Ernst broadcast “Thaw,” a dramatic series set in the
nineteen-sixties, during a brief period of relaxed control over
culture and politics. During one episode, viewers learn that a likable
main character is gay. The show came at an acute moment of
conservative revanchism in Russia’s politics, when the parliament had
just passed a bill outlawing so-called “homosexual propaganda.” Ernst
continues to indulge his art-house tastes, even as he’s keenly aware
of the lines that can’t be crossed. In 2017, he aired the American
series “Fargo,” dubbed into Russian, but a few disparaging lines about
Putin were altered to refer to the leaders of North Korea.
Ernst has managed to retain the affection of many liberal cultural
figures, who praise the artistry and integrity of some of Channel
One’s programming. He is no less at ease among the country’s political
class. “He knows how to seem one of the gang everywhere,” said Nikolay
Kartozia, a producer who has known Ernst for years. “You can spend
three hours talking to him, and you’ll see you have so much in common
you’ll be sure you’re from the same circle. I have the sense it works
quite the same in the Kremlin.”
Putin’s administration hosts weekly planning meetings for media bosses
which are the subject of much speculation. Kachkaeva, the television
critic, told me that Ernst “hints at such conversations, but he never
gives details, never talks about what is asked of him.” Among the
producers at Channel One, the Kremlin meetings are known as “going
behind the ramparts”—a reference to the crenellated fortress walls.
When we spoke, Ernst downplayed the meetings as largely
administrative. “They might tell us: ‘Here is the President’s
schedule,’ or some other upcoming events, or maybe the government is
planning to impose a new tax, or raise the pension age.” But it is
evident to the channel’s staff that Ernst and other top television
bosses are given some guidance, though perhaps only as vague hints and
shrugs. “Nobody comes back from those meetings and says, ‘Now we have
to do this,’ ” Pankratova, the former news anchor, told me. “Maybe
later that afternoon you see the top editor for a particular show call
over one of the hosts to say something, to give some instructions. Or
maybe you notice that a certain Russian region suddenly gets more
Part of what makes Ernst so good at his job is his ability to pick up
shifts in the official mood and to subtly pass them along to his
staff. He occasionally gives clear directives; Vladimir Pozner, the
host of a major talk show, has said that he and Ernst agreed on a
blacklist of a dozen people who were not to appear on his program. But
Pankratova told me that, more often, she was expected to intuit the
rules rather than have them spelled out, a system that made everyone
err on the side of caution. Later in her tenure, she didn’t even think
to inquire whether she could mention protests organized by Alexei
Navalny, an anti-corruption activist who had emerged as the country’s
leading opposition politician. When I asked Ernst whether certain
topics or people were off-limits, he said, “No one ever tells you,
‘Don’t show Navalny, don’t use his name.’ ” Instead, he explained,
“such messages aren’t conveyed with words. After all, federal
television channels are run by people who aren’t stupid.”
In 2007, Russia was chosen to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, which
would be held in Sochi, a resort town on the Black Sea. Putin promised
to spend billions to introduce a “new Russia” to the rest of the
world. Ernst was put in charge of producing the opening ceremony. “We
wanted to show that Russia is part of the global cultural village,”
Andrei Boltenko, Ernst’s Channel One colleague, who became the
creative director and screenwriter of the ceremony, said. As time went
on, the show became more ambitious, and the main stadium had to be
redesigned to accommodate its technical complexity. “In certain
moments, Ernst had to convince Putin personally,” Boltenko said.
In February, 2014, Ernst watched the ceremony from a control center
high above the stadium in Sochi. It opened with a troika of
translucent horses lit up in white neon galloping across the night
sky, gliding along invisible rails hung from the ceiling. Balloons in
bright colors stood in for the onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral;
Peter the Great’s ships sailed across a dark and wavy ocean seemingly
printed with an inky woodcut. A steam locomotive bathed in red light
barrelled down, a reference to Stalin’s industrialization drive. The
Second World War was represented by the rumble of approaching
airplanes. The postwar years were rendered as an era of athletes,
cosmonauts, students, and stilyagi—Soviet proto-hipsters who liked
jazz and dressed in Western fashions.
As the show concluded and chants of “Ro-ssi-ya!” echoed through the
stadium, Ernst leaped from his chair in the command center. “We’ve
done it!” he yelled. The ceremony was received rapturously, even among
those hostile to the Putin state. Navalny called the immediate
afterglow “Nice and unifying—excellent.”
Ernst did not have long to savor the fantasy he’d brought to life. By
the time the stadium in Sochi hosted the closing ceremony, which he
also produced, two and a half weeks later, street protests in Kyiv,
Ukraine, had overthrown the government of President Viktor Yanukovych,
who had fled and left a power vacuum in his wake. Putin was
incensed—he had long seen Ukraine’s geopolitical orientation as a
proxy struggle with the West—and was intent on exacting revenge.
Within days, Russian special-forces soldiers in unmarked uniforms
appeared in Crimea, and, within a month, Russia had annexed the
territory. Western opprobrium, sanctions, and attempts at isolation
followed, deepening after the outbreak of war in the Donbass, in
eastern Ukraine, where Russia spurred on a separatist insurgency,
supplying funds, weapons, and diplomatic cover.
Back home, the Russian media adopted a hysterical and bellicose tone.
The country was seizing its birthright as a superpower by standing up
to the West. Channel One’s news programs were consumed with talk of a
coup in Kyiv, nato’s dark intentions, and the supposed neo-fascists
who took over after Yanukovych. Ernst had imagined that the Olympics
would mark a bright new era for Russia, and he was taken aback by the
abrupt change in tone. Boltenko told me that the production team saw
it as “a clear and ringing collapse of all of our hopes.” When I spoke
to Ernst, however, he rejected the idea that the new narrative had
been forced on him from above. “We—us at Channel One, as the citizens
of the country—felt deeply offended, and we didn’t need any additional
motivation,” he said.
In July, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, headed from Amsterdam to
Kuala Lumpur, was shot out of the sky as it passed over eastern
Ukraine, and all two hundred and ninety-eight people on board were
killed. The Dutch launched a years-long multinational investigation,
which eventually identified Russia-backed separatists as having fired
the missile and traced the anti-aircraft system used in the attack to
a Russian military unit. As the inquiry proceeded, state media went
into a fury, giving voice to every other possible theory: that the
Malaysian airliner had been targeted by the Ukrainians in the mistaken
belief that it was Putin’s plane; that it was hit accidentally as part
of an air-defense training exercise gone wrong; that it was downed by
the Ukrainian Air Force. In November, 2014, Channel One aired what it
called “sensational” footage: a satellite image, supposedly taken by
Western intelligence services and passed to Russia by an American
scientist, that purported to show the plane being attacked by a
Ukrainian fighter jet. “The image supports a version of events which
has hardly been heard in the West,” a host said.
The picture was quickly outed as a fake. The time stamp didn’t match
that of the incident, the plane had identifying markings that
distinguished it from the Malaysian aircraft, and the terrain
underneath was clipped from photos posted online two years before.
When I asked Ernst why his channel gave voice to something so easily
disproven, he said that it was a simple error: “Yes, we’re human, we
made a mistake, but not on purpose.”
Baldly false stories, in the right doses, are not disastrous for
Channel One; in fact, they are an integral part of the Putin system’s
postmodern approach to propaganda. In the Soviet era, the state pushed
a coherent, if occasionally clumsy, narrative to convince the public
of the official version of events. But private media ownership and
widespread Internet access have made this impossible. Today, state
outlets tell viewers what they are already inclined to believe, rather
than try to convince them of what they can plainly see is untrue. At
the same time, they release a cacophony of theories with the aim of
nudging viewers toward believing nothing at all, or of making them so
overwhelmed that they simply throw up their hands. Trying to ascertain
the truth becomes a matter of guessing who benefits from a given
In this case, the state’s approach seems to have worked: a year later,
a poll showed that only about five per cent of Russians blamed their
government or the separatists for the disaster. When I asked Ernst
about the official Dutch report, he told me that our disagreement came
down to a matter of belief: “You believe the Dutch report is true, and
I believe the Dutch report is unprofessional.” It was as if we were
arguing about religion or aesthetics rather than a set of facts.
As a young man, Ernst told me, he watched “All the President’s Men,”
the 1976 film about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigation of
Watergate for the Washington Post. He was enraptured by the film’s
portrayal of journalism’s moral force, its critical distance and
independence. Like many in his generation, he was frustrated by the
stifling controls of the Soviet system, and presumed that everything
was more honest in the West. But when the barriers between the two
worlds collapsed Ernst began to see the blind spots of the media
outlets he once worshipped. “I grew up and travelled all over, and,
especially in recent years, it’s become increasingly clear to me that
justice, democracy, the complete truth—they don’t exist anywhere in
the world,” he said. Ernst wears his cynicism as a sign of
enlightenment. It would be impossible to convince him that today’s CNN
and the BBC don’t have the same partiality as Channel One, or are not
also following an agenda. “People who make television are citizens of
a specific country, from a certain nationality, with particular
cultural codes,” Ernst told me. Channel One must play the game the way
everyone else does.
In recent years, the space for freewheeling and irreverent programming
on Channel One has shrunk, and the intensity of propaganda has grown.
But Ernst has stuck around. The unique power of television remains
seductive. “I can make an impact on the place where I was born, on the
people with whom I share a language, a history, and an understanding,
share the same smells and songs and movie quotes,” he told me. “I know
these people and can understand them. I love them.”
In September, 2014, six months after the annexation of Crimea, a new
program appeared on Channel One called “Time Will Tell,” a crass
debate show covering the issues of the day, which usually revolve
around how the West is keeping Russia down. When, in August, 2016, a
producer called me to ask if I would appear as a guest—it’s hard to
find Russian-speaking Americans in Moscow willing to get yelled at for
an hour on live television—I agreed, curious about what it feels like
on the factory floor of the state’s propaganda enterprise.
On the day I was set to appear, a minder met me at the entrance to the
studio and led me through a vast warren of hallways. I sat in a makeup
chair and endured a heavy dusting of powder. The audience numbered
about a hundred people, who were given the signal to clap when the
show returned from commercial break, or when one of the pro-Kremlin
guests made a particularly acerbic point at the expense of one of the
show’s villains—in this case, me. We discussed the Russian Olympic
athletes facing bans for doping allegations and the conflict in Syria,
where both Moscow and Washington had forces deployed. All of the
questions were leading ones. The United States carries itself with an
air of impunity, one of the show’s hosts told me—“Isn’t that
disastrous?” Another posited, “Obama referred to Russia as a ‘regional
power.’ Can’t we say that’s when all our problems between the two
I returned to “Time Will Tell” every now and then over the next few
months, on each occasion certain that this would be the day I would
manage to say something subversive and devastatingly convincing on
Russian state television. Of course, that never happened: not only was
I outnumbered by half a dozen other guests but I could interject only
a few words at most, and had to huff and puff and raise my voice. In
the end, I came across as just another agitated talking head. Even my
most forceful protests made issues of fact seem muddy and unknowable,
proving that everything is a question of perspective and allegiance.
The program offers viewers a crude carnival sideshow: one of its
co-hosts is famous for having once brought out a bucket labelled
“Shit” and daring a Ukrainian guest to eat from it. (It turned out to
be chocolate.) I had a hard time imagining Ernst, the discerning
auteur, being pleased with such antics; they seem to embody the ways
that his channel has changed to accommodate the mood of the new era.
In its loyalty to the official narrative, however, the show is in
keeping with the model he has built.
“Time Will Tell,” like much of the Russian news, is obsessed by the
United States, a consequence of the Russian ruling class’s
simultaneous fascination with and revulsion for the American political
system. This became all the more true in the run-up to the 2016 U.S.
election. Ernst told me, “Of course everyone here was pleased with
Donald Trump. He seemed to represent a change in the American
political trend.” Trump openly favored a transactional style of
politics, with little appetite for values or norms. Here was a person
with whom Putin could sit down and divide up the world, as Soviet and
American leaders had done at Yalta, in 1945.
After Trump’s surprise victory, “Time Will Tell” reflected the Russian
state media’s initial euphoria; then its hostile mockery of the notion
that Russia, through hacking or trolls, might have had anything to do
with that result; and, finally, a creeping sense of confusion and
disappointment as Trump proved unable to single-handedly cancel
sanctions and reconfigure U.S.-Russian relations. During one broadcast
on which I appeared, when we were discussing an address that Trump had
made to the United Nations—Channel One’s news program had called it
“lengthy and rather pompous”—I asked the hosts if they felt any regret
that the Russian media had favored Trump.
One of them, Anatoly Kuzichev, who had a bald head and a permanent
smirk, turned the question back to me: “Imagine there are two
candidates. The first says, ‘I hate Russia and will do all I can to
destroy it.’ The second, however, says, ‘I will do everything possible
to be friends with Russia.’ So, who would you root for in Russia’s
place?” I pushed again. Did Kuzichev have any regrets? “Yes, we are
sorry,” he said, his voice rising. “We’re sorry that everything was
just words. Yes, we were rooting for Trump. I can confirm that. We
acted like fools who naïvely believed a bunch of words.”
Channel One has embraced the line that Trump is being undermined by
political élites and the so-called “deep state,” a position that
allows its presenters to explain his inability to improve relations
with Russia, while also revelling in how the American government has
devolved into a self-injurious political circus. This narrative has
only gained strength since the beginning of the recent impeachment
hearings in Congress. “Let them fight amongst themselves,” a host on
“Time Will Tell” said on a recent episode. A Channel One anchorman
declared, “With impeachment, Congress has guaranteed that the 2020
Presidential election will be the most beastly in American history.”
The hosts on “Time Will Tell” seem as confused as Trump is about why
there would be anything wrong with linking military aid money for
Ukraine to political favors. Isn’t that how American foreign policy
has always operated? Watching the show, I was reminded of my
conversations with Ernst, in which he seemed eager to show that he is
alive to how the world really works, unlike those idealists—perhaps me
included—who remain blinded by naïveté. It is a world view grounded in
some truth, but it has the effect of excusing all manner of behavior
as simply routine. On a recent episode, from mid-November, when a
steady stream of witnesses were testifying in Congress, one of the
hosts turned to an American journalist and mocked the idea that the
Democrats had uncovered anything incriminating. “Where is the
evidence? Why don’t they produce it?” the host asked. The American
guest responded, “You just don’t show it on this channel, like they
don’t show it on Fox News.” The host smiled, and pretended to act
afraid: “Quick, cut to commercial break!” ♦
BitClub Network, a bogus investment scheme that they promoted as "the most transparent company in the history of the world" and "too big to fail." @nytimes
Five people have been charged with defrauding investors of $722
million, using promises of huge returns if they joined a
cryptocurrency investing club while privately deriding their clients
as “sheep” and “idiots,” the United States attorney’s office in New
Jersey said on Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors said the defendants operated BitClub Network, a
bogus investing scheme that they promoted in videos and in domestic
and international trips as “the most transparent company in the
history of the world” and “too big to fail.”
The network asked investors to join a pool to share in the earnings
from Bitcoin mining, in which people race to unlock new Bitcoin by
solving complex algorithms and verifying cryptocurrency transactions
on a public ledger.
The network said that it would invest in the hardware necessary to do
the complex math and that its investors would reap the rewards, much
like investors in a gold-mining operation.
“You’re not going to go start digging holes — the gold miners dig up
the gold, they just give you your gold every single day,” one BitClub
Network video says, according to federal court documents. “This is the
same kind of thing.”
Thousands of investors were taken in by the business, which Craig
Carpenito, the United States attorney for New Jersey, called “little
more than a modern, high-tech Ponzi scheme.”
Mr. Carpenito said in a statement that the defendants had exploited
“the complex world of cryptocurrency to take advantage of unsuspecting
An indictment unsealed in United States District Court in Newark
charged Matthew Goettsche, 37, of Lafayette, Colo.; Jobadiah Weeks,
38, of Arvada, Colo.; and Silviu Balaci, who was arrested in Germany,
with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to offer and sell
unregistered securities. Joseph Abel, 49, of Camarillo, Calif., was
charged with conspiracy to offer and sell unregistered securities.
Mr. Goettsche was arrested in Colorado, Mr. Weeks in Florida and Mr.
Abel in California, federal prosecutors said. A fifth person, whose
name has not been disclosed, remained at large, Matthew Reilly, a
spokesman for the United States attorney’s office, said on Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear if those charged had lawyers or if they
had entered pleas.
Mr. Reilly said Mr. Carpenito’s office was prosecuting the case
because some of the victims were in New Jersey, where some of the
transactions had taken place.
The indictment said the defendants operated BitClub Network from
October 2014 until this month. Mr. Goettsche, Mr. Weeks and others
solicited investments in the club’s Bitcoin mining pools by providing
false and misleading figures that members were told were “Bitcoin
mining earnings,” according to federal prosecutors.
In February 2015, for example, Mr. Goettsche directed one of his
conspirators to “bump up the daily mining earnings starting today by
60 percent,” prompting that person to reply, “That is not sustainable,
that is Ponzi” territory and a “fast cash-out Ponzi … but sure,”
according to the indictment.
In September 2017, Mr. Goettsche sent an email to another conspirator
calling for the BitClub Network to “drop mining earnings significantly
now,” so that he could retire rich, according to the indictment.
The indictment said Mr. Goettsche told Mr. Balaci in January 2015 that
“we are building this whole model on the backs of idiots.”
John M. Griffin, a professor of finance at the University of Texas at
Austin, said that, by promising its investors access to Bitcoin
mining, the BitClub Network had carried out a “classic Ponzi scheme
under the guise of new, flashy technology in the cryptocurrency world,
which perhaps makes it easier to engage in a Ponzi scheme.”
“Like any kind of new technology coming out, there’s often a buzz
about it, so that makes it a compelling case for fraud,” said Dr.
Griffin, who researches illicit activity in the financial markets.
“It makes the story more believable that you’ve got this
The club’s marketing materials described the network as an almost
surefire way to get rich, according to the indictment. In one video, a
BitClub Network defendant promised club members that an investment of
$3,599 could yield a return of $250,000 over three years, calling that
a “very conservative” estimate, the indictment said.
Dr. Griffin said that such schemes were not uncommon in the
cryptocurrency world but that the magnitude of this one was notable.
“Raising over $700 million in a Ponzi scheme is pretty spectacular,” he said.
How Lebanese Default Would Play Out @economics
For many bond investors it’s a matter of when, not if, Lebanon
restructures its $87 billion of debt as it reels under a deepening
Working out what the trigger would be or the extent of the fallout is
another matter entirely.
After repaying $1.5 billion Eurobonds that matured last month, the
focus is turning to whether authorities will honor a $1.2 billion
commitment on March 9.
Several influential local economists and even some officials say the
country should use its dwindling reserves to pay for imports instead
Complicating the debate is the Arab nation’s political paralysis since
mass protests against corruption forced the prime minister to resign
in late October.
The country’s debt risk, measured by five year credit-default swaps,
climbed above 2,500 basis points last week and is the highest globally
after Argentina, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
As politicians haggle over the formation of a new government, some
creditors and distressed debt funds have been asking for documents
detailing payment terms, including what would happen in the event of a
default, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Government officials are aware of the requests, said the person, who
asked not to be identified because the matter is sensitive.
“The market is running out of patience,” said Anders Faergemann, a
London-based money manager at Pinebridge Investments, which holds an
underweight position in Lebanese bonds relative to the benchmark it
“Until investors know who will be in control of the country’s
finances, it will be hard for the market to recover.”
Few expect it, but Lebanon could avert financial ruin by quickly
forming a government that would pledge immediate reforms and receive
aid from international allies.
France is hosting a support conference in Paris on Wednesday. And
while donor nations are unlikely to extend a blank check without a
functioning government, diplomats fear a messy default would wreak
havoc on a country at the heart of proxy wars in the Middle East.
Some critics, however, would see this outcome as an easy way out for a
political establishment that mismanaged the economy and stymied
efforts to end corruption.
For caretaker Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman, the new government
should announce a restructuring before the March Eurobond is due,
accompanied by a reform program that’s preferably backed by a loan
from the International Monetary Fund.
“We do not want to end up like Venezuela, where priority was given to
creditors at the expense of basic needs,” said Abousleiman, who has
acted as principal lawyer for Lebanon’s Eurobond issuance since 1995.
In Venezuela, the population suffered from shortages of goods
including medicine, yet the government ended up defaulting anyway in
Supporters of this solution say it would help minimize the damage
inflicted on creditors, domestic banks and depositors.
Economic proposals floated locally include reforming the loss-making
state-owned electricity company, official capital controls instead of
the informal limits imposed by banks, higher taxes on the rich and a
cap on interest rates.
Any revamp of Lebanon’s almost $30 billion of Eurobonds would require
the consent of 75% of holders voting on a series-by-series basis,
The government could limit the restructuring to its local-currency
debt held by the central bank, domestic lenders and other public
Local debt stood at 81 trillion Lebanese pounds ($54 billion) as of
September, with the central bank holding about 65% of the total.
That plan would spare foreign investors and might be done in a way
that avoids substantially damaging the balance sheets of local banks.
“We have a high conviction about the March bond being paid, but it’s
no bargain given risks,” analysts at Oxford Economics, including
London-based Nafez Zouk and Carlos de Sousa, said in a Dec. 3 report.
“We think the status quo of ‘pay while you can’ will prevail because
it presents the way of least resistance for policy makers.”
The price on the March bond fell to a record low of 77 cents last
month, equating to a yield of more than 100%. It has since risen to 86
A senior local banker, who asked not to be named, said this scenario
could be introduced hand-in-hand with official capital controls and an
economic reform blueprint that would slash the budget deficit.
Lebanon probably has enough reserves to “muddle through” for more than
a year and there’s a chance that external debt isn’t touched even
after that, said Hans Humes, chief executive officer of the New
York-based distressed-debt investor Greylock Capital Management LLC.
A disorderly default would shut the country out of international debt
markets, potentially for years. What’s worse, a collapse of the
banking system could fuel unrest in a country that’s no stranger to
So far politicians have no clear picture of what a future government
would look like. Two candidates have publicly withdrawn their
nomination for the premiership and others have implicitly declined it.
Lebanon’s dollar debt, most of which trades at less than 50 cents,
isn’t yet cheap enough to interest Humes. That might change if a
government isn’t put in place soon, which could cause prices to drop
“The uncertainty of the situation has led to discussions among
creditors to begin some preliminary discussions on how to organize,”
Humes said. “We recognize the uniqueness of Lebanon’s situation.”
@IMFNews poised to approve landmark $3bn loan for Ethiopia @FT @JamesPoliti & @davidpilling
The IMF is poised to approve a $3bn loan for Ethiopia as part of a
programme to provide balance of payments support for the cash-strapped
economy as well as technical assistance for the government’s
The loan, which still needs IMF board approval, has been agreed by
staff after the fund opened a representative office in Addis Ababa
earlier this year, according to Ethiopia’s state minister of finance,
The east African country of 105m people has enjoyed more than a decade
of high growth but recently run into capacity constraints and chronic
shortages of foreign exchange, a by-product of its tightly
Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister, took office in 2018, promising to
overhaul the economy. He has spoken frequently about the limits of
Ethiopia’s Asian-style state-led development model, which has produced
15 years of near double-digit growth, and he has pledged to nudge
Ethiopia towards a more open, market-oriented system.
In September, Mr Abiy, who received the Nobel peace prize on Tuesday,
announced a so-called “homegrown economic reform” agenda, which he
said would include opening various sectors to foreign investment for
the first time. Two new telecoms licences are due to be auctioned next
Mr Tolina described the anticipated IMF programme as “a huge stamp of
approval” for Mr Abiy’s agenda. “It’s excellent news,” he said. “They
want to support our policy reform.”
The funds, which will be released in tranches, would be used to
counter a looming balance of payments crisis and to fund specific
reform initiatives, he said. He added that the IMF would also provide
technical assistance on macroeconomic policy, but did not specify in
Analysts said Ethiopia would be keen to present the IMF programme as
its own and not something imposed by the Washington-based institution.
Charles Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital, said: “The
reality is they are running out of money. Their shortage of foreign
exchange is acute and has been for years and their requirement for
external capital has risen greatly.”
Describing the $3bn as “a substantial chunk of change”, he said he
suspected the IMF would put pressure on the government to move to a
more flexible exchange rate as part of its lending programme.
Razia Khan, chief Africa economist at Standard Chartered bank, said:
“Finalising an IMF programme might be seen as a clear pointer that
Ethiopia is that much more serious about rolling out these reforms.”
The government had already indicated it had an appetite for foreign
exchange liberalisation over the medium term, she said.
Ethiopia has for years relied on borrowing from domestic banks to fund
its investment programme. Foreign banks are not allowed to invest in
The policy has enabled Ethiopia to finance one of Africa’s most
ambitious infrastructure builds, including the $4bn Grand Ethiopian
Renaissance Dam, but it has also contributed to foreign exchange
shortages as the government allocates scarce reserves to strategic
The new injection of foreign currency would help to address that
problem and give comfort to new market entrants, said Zemedeneh
Negatu, a prominent Ethiopia investor.
“The infusion of an additional several billion into the economy will .
. . give local and international investors additional confidence since
they will view it as concrete steps being taken by the government to
address some of the current macroeconomic headwinds,” he said.
14-OCT-2019 :: Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019
The Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali was awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize for 2019 by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and indeed it
was a well-deserved award.
In July 2018, I wrote: '’These 90 or so days represent the most
consequential arrival of an African politician on the African stage
since Mandela walked out of prison blinking in the sunlight and
constructed his ‘’rainbow nation’’’’
And whilst he faces a fiendishly complicated task fending off the
centripetal forces which are tearing Ethiopia apart, the Prime
Minister who has a singular self-belief in his destiny is a Virilian
figure and a c21st African Leader which is a scarce commodity.
“Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of territory
is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost a
matter of movement and circulation.”
02-JUL-2018 :: Abiy Ahmed Ali (Amharic: , Oromo: Abiyyi Ahimad Alii; born 15 August 1976) was appointed the 12th Prime Minister of Ethiopia on 2 April 2018.
He grew up in a Muslim family (Ah- med Ali, his Oromo father; Tezeta
Wolde, his mother) and with Oromo Muslim and Christian grandparents.
He is evidently a Virilian and Gladwellian Figure.
“To create one contagious movement, you often have to create many
small movements first.” “Look at the world around you. It may seem
like an immovable, implacable place. It is not, With the slightest
push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.”—Malcolm Gladwell .
He has been Prime Minster for 90 days. During those 90 days, he has
criss-crossed the country, ended a state of emergency, released
thousands of political prisoners, thawed relations with Eritrea [29
Mar 2018 HE Abiy Ahmed @PM_AbiyAhmed - It is time. Lets build a wall
of love between #Ethiopia & #Eritrea], bagged a $1b from the UAE,
announced a dramatic economic about-turn. In matters language and
linguistics, he has tapped into a ‘’Nelson Mandela’’ 1994 mood.
These 90 or so days represent the most consequential arrival of an
African politician on the African stage since Mandela walked out of
prison blinking in the sunlight and constructed his ‘’rainbow
I was watching the France-Argentina game and the arrival of Kylian
Mbappe on the world stage at the tender age of 19.
I recalled watching the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi order on a
night of a full moon in Konya, Turkey. I thought what they all have in
common with Abiy Ahmed.
It’s all about speed and velocity. Paul Virilio terms it ‘dromology’,
which he defined as the “science (or logic) of speed“.
He notes that the speed at which something happens may change its
essential nature, and that which moves with speed quickly comes to
dominate that which is slower.
“Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of territory
is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost a
matter of movement and circulation.”
Virilio argues that the traditional feudal fortified city disappeared
because of the increasing sophistication of weapons and possibilities
for warfare. For Virilio, the concept of siege warfare became rather a
war of movement.
Abiy Ahmed has moved at lightning speed, the old guard is like ‘’the
traditional feudal fortified city’’.
He said “The ppl of Tigray are still begging for a drop of water; TPLF
(the party) is not the people of Tigray”.
On the same day he said, “we are in debt, we have to pay back but we
can’t. And secondarily, we aren’t able to finish projects we have
started” and announced his economic Pivot.
Of course, the downside risk of all this infrastructure is plain to
see and Sri Lanka and the tale of its Hambantota Port is now a
FX reserves were at less than a month’s worth of imports and something
needed to be done. Expectations are high.
The Prime Minister needs to execute real quick on the economic front
but if he levels the playing Field, a whole Troop of folks will be
looking to pile in.
That Troop will include the Ethiopian Diaspora, Foreign Investors and
I am sure our very own Safaricom.
Abiy Ahmed’s first 90 days have been as remarkable as the less than 90
minutes of France’s Mbappe’s performance on Saturday.
@IMFNews criticised over bailouts for central Africa's petrostates @FinancialTimes
The IMF is facing criticism over a $280m bailout intended for
Equatorial Guinea, a tiny oil-producing state in central Africa, where
the long-serving regime of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema is accused
of institutional corruption and human rights violations.
The IMF said the programme included provisions that were meant to make
the petrostate’s oil and gas industry more transparent.
But anti-corruption and human rights groups warned that the IMF risked
damaging its own reputation by lending its credibility to a regime
with no history of serious reform.
“Knowing the penchant for corruption in this country, knowing about
the human rights violations, I don’t see how [the IMF] can justify
bailing this country out with millions of dollars that they should
know will be squandered once again,” said Tutu Alicante, executive
director of EG Justice, who like many Equatoguinean critics of the
government lives in exile.
But the IMF’s programme in Equatorial Guinea, expected to be approved
this month, is not unique. It is only the latest in a series of
similar lending programmes the IMF has approved in central Africa in
the past four years.
Nearby Gabon received a $642m bailout in 2017, while Republic of Congo
got $450m in July. Both governments are oil producers like Equatorial
Guinea, with comparatively high gross domestic product per capita but
poor records on graft and public finance management.
The governments in all three countries have been accused of profiting
Rights groups and creditors challenged the IMF before it bailed out
Republic of Congo, questioning the logic of funding a government
accused of misappropriating large portions of its oil revenues and
failing to honour its private debts.
Now, eight civil society organisations, including Human Rights Watch,
have sent a joint letter to the IMF asking it to delay its decision on
Sarah Saadoun, a researcher who works on corruption for Human Rights
Watch, said the IMF programme would serve as a badge of validation for
the Equatoguinean government, sending the wrong signal to potential
partners about the state of the country’s politics.
“The IMF [will be giving] them the imprimatur of reform and that
signals something to investors,” Ms Saadoun said.
“In a country where rule of law and corruption are perennial issues
for investors, that signal is very, very valuable for them.”
The IMF declined to comment. In October, it said the programme would
help to promote financial stability, economic diversification, good
governance and transparency.
Mr Obiang has ruled Equatorial Guinea with absolute power since 1979,
when he overthrew his uncle in a violent coup. His regime has outlawed
most opposition parties and arbitrary detention, extrajudicial
killings and torture are all common.
American oil groups discovered giant crude deposits in the country’s
maritime waters in the mid-1990s. Oil production has since generated
billions of dollars in annual revenue for Mr Obiang’s administration
but failed to improve the lives of most Equatoguineans
GDP per capita in the country of 1m people is among the best in Africa
and higher than Turkey, Brazil and China, and yet its social
indicators are some of the worst in the world.
The oil windfall funded a huge infrastructure building spree that has
given the country some of Africa’s finest roads but also seen money
misspent on boondoggles such as new luxury cities.
The building bonanza collapsed, along with the economy, after the 2014
crash in the price of crude, which provides nearly all government
“Equatorial Guinea is not a country that needs $200m,” said Gabriel
Obiang Lima, the minister of mines and hydrocarbons and one of the
president’s sons. “We make that in two months.”
Mr Lima said the government had agreed to the IMF programme as an act
of “solidarity” with the five other countries in the Central African
Economic and Monetary Community, which share a currency.
Most were hit hard by the oil price crash and began talks with the IMF
for a regional programme in 2015. Chad, Cameroon and Central African
Republic have also received support in the past four years.
Mr Lima dismissed the criticism from international human rights
organisations and pointed to Equatorial Guinea’s evolving
relationships with international bodies as proof that the country has
“They are giving the indication of the development of the country,” he
said. “[We already have an] agreement by IMF, we already have an
agreement by the World Bank, how come those organisations don’t want
to read or respect the report of [international institutions]?”
But the regime’s critics increasingly see the IMF and World Bank as
part of the problem, arguing that their engagement with the government
legitimises the economic crimes committed by members of the
president’s family such as his son, vice-president Teodoro Nguema
Better known as Teodorin, the deputy leader was convicted by a French
judge in 2017 of siphoning off payments from investors to fund a
lavish international lifestyle including a sprawling collection of
yachts, supercars, mansions and fine art.
“Why would they bail out a violent kleptocracy with public money the
amount of which could easily be covered in the blink of an eye by
Teodorin selling a few of his cars in France?” said Simon Taylor,
co-founder of Global Witness.
Tanzania and Rwanda in push to reshape East African logistics @TheAfricaReport
Rwanda and Tanzania individually signed two mega-infrastructure deals
in the last week in moves that will undoubtedly reshape the East
African region politically and economically. Kenya stands to lose
Tanzania signed an agreement to link its new railway line to Burundi
and the DRC, while a similar deal with Rwanda is said to be in its
The transport ministers of the three countries signed the deal in
Kigoma, Tanzania, on 3 December.
The first phase of the joint deal will start in Kigoma and end in
Gitega, the capital of Burundi, 240km away. It will then be extended
into eastern DRC.
Each country will have to get funding for its own section, Tanzania’s
transport minister, Isack Kamwelwe, said at the signing ceremony.
The first phase of Tanzania’s Standard Gauge Railway (SRG), covering
202km from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro, is almost complete.
The second phase will connect Morogoro to the administrative capital
of Dodoma, even as the East African country also revamps its old
metre-gauge railway to enhance connectivity.
When complete, the new railway line will cover 1,457km, connecting Dar
and the Lake Victoria port city of Mwanza.
In May 2018, Rwanda and Tanzania agreed to redesign their joint
railway plan, which will start at the Isaka dry port and end in
Kigali, to use electric powered trains.
In late November, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli said that the two
countries are in the final phases of negotiating a deal to build the
The Isaka-Kigali line will cost $2.5bn, with Tanzania paying $1.3bn
and Rwanda $1.2bn. Rwanda will then incur additional costs to extend
it to Rubavu and Bugesera, where it is constructing its largest
Kenya’s preeminence under threat
The deals give Tanzania an upper hand in East Africa, as its Central
Corridor blueprint will make its commercial capital of Dar es Salaam
the primary route to the sea for the region’s landlocked nations.
It also shows the far-reaching effects of the collapse of the
‘coalition of the willing’, a loose grouping of three East African
countries – Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda – that had agreed in 2013 to
construct mega-infrastructure deals together.
The coalition collapsed as diplomatic relations between Uganda and
Rwanda worsened, and Tanzania’s new president, John Magufuli, worked
to rebuild economic relations with the country’s neighbours.
Uganda is Kenya’s trade route to Rwanda and eastern DRC, and the
frosty relations between the two, which saw border closures, affected
trade in the region.
The biggest beneficiary has been Tanzania, which shares direct borders
with Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, and Uganda.
Uganda chose the Tanzania route to the sea, abandoning the plan to
build an oil pipeline jointly with Kenya. It cited, among other
reasons, the costs of land compensation in Kenya.
Rwanda also pulled out of the railway line plan because, as its then
finance minister, Claver Gatete (now minister of infrastructure),
said: “The Kenyan route would be expensive and time consuming.”
Rwanda has also inaugurated an $80m inland port, built by Emirati DP
World, 20km from the capital, Kigali.
Meanwhile, Rwanda announced that it had signed a deal with Qatar
Airways, which will see the Gulf airline take up 60% of the redesigned
Bugesera International Airport project.
It is still unclear what will happen to the preceding deal with
Mota-Engil of Portugal, which began works on the airport two years ago
with a concession to run it for 25 years – and an option to extend by
another 15 years.
Before the redesign, the project cost was $800m and a capacity of 4.5
million passengers, with the first phase due to be complete by early
Mota-Engil had injected $418m into the first phase by March, when
media reports indicated the company could be pulling out due to
Mota-Engil’s likely pullout will make it the second company to
withdraw from the project, after a Chinese state construction firm in
In addition promising the greenest airport on the continent, Rwanda
now plans for Bugesera to be one of the largest airports in the
In the redesign the first phase, valued at $1.3bn, will accommodate
seven million passengers, while the second phase, which will start by
2032, will increase the capacity to 14 million, the Rwanda Development
Board said in a series of tweets on 9 December.
As East Africa begins a new decade, Kenya’s dwindling position as East
Africa’s trade hub will face even more competition from Tanzania and
While Tanzania is working to make its corridor the natural route to
the landlocked countries, Rwanda has been working to centre itself as
a conference and events hub. The new deals bring them closer to this
future, even as they iron out their financing models.
The erosion in Kenya's Geopolitical Lynch pin status is turning exponential.
South Africa Risks Becoming a 'Forgotten Country,' Top Banker Warns @business
South Africa must move quickly to implement the reforms needed to
salvage its status as an investment destination and breathe life into
the struggling economy, a senior banker said.
“SA is rapidly becoming a forgotten country and has stopped being
talked about as an investment destination,” James Formby, the chief
executive officer of FirstRand Ltd.’s Rand Merchant Bank, wrote in
Johannesburg-based newspaper Business Day.
“It’s no longer five to midnight, it is midnight. We cannot afford to
wait any longer to turn things around.”
Implementing greater fiscal discipline, dealing with corruption,
providing a stable supply of electricity and easing labor laws are
among the major challenges South Africa must address, he said.
While the government battles to find consensus on the best way forward
with these because of ideological differences and factions within the
ruling party, there are some quick wins that can be capitalized on.
A good place to start accelerating change is at the nation’s
state-owned power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., Formby said.
The debt-ridden firm is struggling to the keep lights on and has been
labeled by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. as the nation’s greatest threat.
“While I appreciate the enormity of the challenge to fix Eskom, a new
CEO has been announced and the best thing he can do is share his plan
and implement it without fear of political interference,” Formby said.
An effective plan to restructure Eskom’s balance sheet and stabilize
the grid by dealing with operational issues should be done without
delay, he said.
While South Africa’s cash-strapped national carrier South African
Airways was correctly placed in business rescue recently,
“if more action is not taken and fiscal discipline is not instilled
across the state, SA risks permanent damage to the economy.”
Gross domestic product in Africa’s most-industrialized economy
contracted for the second time this year in the third quarter.
A downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service, the only major ratings
company that still assesses South Africa’s debt at investment grade,
is almost inevitable.
“Further downgrades mean the cost of borrowing rises, not just for the
government but also for banks and every ordinary business and
individual,” Formby said. “The transmission of higher borrowing costs
will retard economic growth.”
Getting the private sector involved in important infrastructure
projects means “policy makers don’t need to think too hard” about
solutions but can rely on partnerships with businesses to progress its
development agenda and absorb some of the risks of funding and
delivery, the CEO said.
“Doing some things now that send the right message is far more
valuable than promises or endless debates and further years of
contemplation while the country slides to an economic also-ran,” he
09-DEC-2019 :: Ramaphosa's South Africa reported -0.6% Q3 2019 GDP.
President Ramaphosa, however, was awarded the Grand Croix de l’Orde
National du Merit, on behalf of the Grand Master, His Excellency
President Alpha Conde of the Republic of Guinea.
The two biggest beasts in Sub Saharan Africa are essentially providing
fewer opportunities and their Citizens have been becoming worse off
year after year for more than five years now.
Nigeria Cries Fowl: Presidential Policy Makes Chicken, the National Dish, a Rare Bird @WSJ
LAGOS—One of the largest restaurant chains in the largest economy in
Africa keeps running out of chicken. Its name is Chicken Republic.
In recent weeks, Nigeria has been in the grip of a run on chicken—a
culinary conundrum since chicken and rice is the most popular pairing
in Nigerian cuisine.
Johnny Rockets ran out of wings. Mr. Bigg’s, a chain of chicken shops,
has closed branches because it couldn’t source drumsticks. KFC
branches are boasting that, unlike their rivals, they have a steady
supply of their most important ingredient.
In this country of 200 million, some of Nigeria’s most recognizable
pop and movie stars have issued statements expressing the anger of
“I don’t get it... a chicken place wey no get chicken,” said Funke
Akindele Bello, one of Nigeria’s most famous actresses, to her almost
one million followers, in pidgin English. “Excuse me?!”
The reason is a policy fowl by Nigeria’s protectionist president. This
summer Muhammadu Buhari shocked the country and its neighbors by
closing the country’s land borders to all goods.
The move was intended to stop rampant smuggling and help enforce a
decade-old directive that chicken and rice should be made with only
locally farmed ingredients.
The announcement, part of a “Nigeria first” pivot, is popular with
farmers and local producers who want a bigger stake of Nigeria’s $400
For years, the majority of the country’s chicken and rice was smuggled
across the border with the tiny nation of Benin.
The birds came on the back of motorcycles, taxis, trucks, canoes,
bicycles, wheelbarrows or in buckets atop women’s heads. Traffickers
usually paid off the customs officers in cash, or sometimes food.
President Buhari’s border closure was intended to stimulate domestic
production enough to reduce an annual food import bill of some $4
billion and pry the country away from smuggled produce.
The problem is that Nigeria currently produces less than one-third of
the poultry and around half of the rice it consumes, according to
Benin doesn’t actually have much chicken of its own to sell to
Nigeria. So it imports chicken from foreign countries, then exports it
In 2015, Benin imported almost as much whole frozen chicken as the
U.K. and almost as much rice as China, making the country of 11
million the world’s fourth-biggest buyer of foreign rice, according to
the World Trade Organization.
At least 85% of Benin’s chicken slipped across the porous border into
Nigeria, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These days,
Benin imports about half the chicken it used to; it was the world’s
sixth-largest buyer of rice last year.
Now the border is patrolled by operatives from Nigeria’s National
Security Agency, the CIA’s partner institute on the ground, under a
mission code-named “Exercise Swift Response.” Dozens of trucks
carrying chicken and rice have been impounded.
Because chicken can’t get through to Nigeria, Benin was stuck with way
more than it could use. Thousands of frozen chickens have been buried
in shallow graves; disposing of them that way was cheaper than
Now, the vast cold stores that once held tons of poultry on the Benin
side are empty.
Smugglers who could once pay a small bribe to bring truckloads of
chicken across the border are now hacking frozen birds into pieces and
wedging wings and breasts into boxes, handbags or car doors.
Rice is poured into jerrycans that are filled with a tiny amount of
oil at the spout to disguise the contraband inside. At night,
smugglers on motorbikes ride in convoys of 10 with boxes of chicken
strapped across their shoulders.
“We go in teams because it’s safer,” said one smuggler who gave his
name as Tunde. “If the customs officers come, we discard the chicken
Nigerian soldiers have expanded nighttime patrols of the land border
and searches of small boats sailing along the waterways.
On local news channels, uniformed customs officers parade around
tables festooned with yellow jerrycans and boxes of smuggled rice, as
if it were a drug bust.
The government claims the closure has been a roaring success,
recording record revenue for rice and chicken arriving at sea ports
that is taxed at 70%.
“We are sharpening our skills and the odds are now against the
smugglers,” said Joseph Atta, spokesman for Nigeria’s customs
The price of a single bird in Nigeria has soared more than 30% to as
high as 1000 Naira, or $3.50, according to farmers, almost the same
price as a ram.
Dozens of Chicken Republic branches have been forced to turn customers
away or offer their signature chicken with spicy jollof rice dish,
without its key ingredient.
“We will just have to see if the government will budge… is this going
to continue?” said Deji Akinyanju, the founder of Chicken Republic.
Yahuza Chicken, a popular spot set in a garden in Abuja, has begun to
open at 1 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. due to lack of its core product.
“We have never seen this kind of scarcity before,” said Abubakar
Abdullahi, the manager. The store had to raise prices by almost 40%:
“We are pleading with our customers to bear with the price hike.”
In Lagos, customers have begun swapping tips on which restaurant
branches have stocks and where lines are longest.
“When I found chicken last week, two people stopped me to ask which
outlet I bought it from,” said Deborah Dede, a customer.
“Osun state has sold out of chicken,” said Adiobun Kolawole, a
25-year-old who in June set up his own chicken-breeding business in
the southwest, Supreme Imperio Farms, to capitalize on the market
“I have 500 birds and they sell immediately, but even if I had 50,000
it wouldn’t be enough.”
Last year KFC ran out of chicken across the U.K. for 24 hours after
problems with its supplier. “The chicken crossed the road, just not to
our restaurants,” KFC’s U.K. office tweeted.
In Nigeria, the company says it has an entirely domestic supply so it
isn’t affected by the import ban and is rolling out its new
Celebration Feast menu. The chain has increased prices. KFC has 16
stores in Nigeria. Chicken Republic has more than 60, and Mr. Bigg’s
More price surges are expected as Nigeria moves into the holiday
season, where demand for poultry soars as Christian families from
across the country traditionally slaughter and eat hens on Christmas
Grace Emmanuel, an Abuja resident, said she will have a different item
at Christmas for the first time. “Chicken is fast becoming the
exclusive preserve for the rich,” she said. “This year I think I will
take a small amount of beef instead.”
@HEBobiwine live in concert @mailandguardian @simonallison
Bobi Wine arrives at the Johannesburg City Hall at 10pm on a Sunday.
He is five hours late. No one cares.
The soft drinks ran out long ago, but the alcohol kept flowing and the
air inside the grand but dilapidated building is thick with cannabis
He enters the hall from the back and is mobbed by a tide of supporters
in red berets who are ululating and screaming his name.
His personal security have to push people away with some force to
clear a path to the stage.
It is not clear what this event is. It could be a campaign rally,
complete with merchandise stalls, banners (“Ugandan President 2021”)
and seated lines of dignitaries on the stage.
It could also be the hottest hip-hop concert in town, with a
1000-strong crowd ready to sing along to one of East Africa’s most
It is both of those things, of course; but the cognitive dissonance is
not lost on Bobi Wine as he gets on stage and, briefly, takes his seat
next to the besuited elders.
He’s wearing jeans and a beige blazer — hardly rockstar attire —along
with his signature red beret.
He fidgets uncomfortably in his chair and then he can’t take it
anymore. “I just want to jump on stage now and start the show,” he
says quietly. And then, shouting: “START THE SHOW!”
And so he does.
He grabs a microphone and bounds to the centre of the stage. He raises
a fist to the gilded ceiling. “People power!” he screams. “Our power!”
the audience screams back.
The band strikes up the intro to Mazzi Mawanvu, one of his old
classics, and Bobi Wine launches into song. The audience knows every
Bobi Wine grew up in the slums of Kampala — the “ghetto president”, he
calls himself — and made his name by blending Afrobeat, reggae and
Jamaican dancehall into his own distinct sound.
It was only in 2017 that he officially began his political career,
winning the parliamentary by-election for the Kyaddondo East
He ran as an independent, but one who was opposed to the decades-long
presidency of Yoweri Museveni.
Soon, other politicians endorsed by Robert Kagulanyi — that is Bobi
Wine’s real name — started winning too, and so Museveni’s
administration cracked down with force.
Last year, Bobi Wine’s driver was shot dead, and Bobi Wine was
detained and charged with treason. He was also beaten while in police
That was not all. The government has done everything in its power to
prevent Bobi Wine from performing his music in Uganda.
His concerts have effectively been banned, although he keeps finding
inventive ways to defy the authorities.
In May, at the Kampala Sheraton, he came on unannounced to play one
song at a performance by fellow reggae artist Maddox Ssematimba.
Rather brilliantly, Museveni was rumoured to have been in a conference
hall at the same hotel at the same time — the president would have
heard the bass line.
For a born entertainer, being prevented from taking the stage may be
the biggest sacrifice of all. “Of course I missed it, I missed the
stage as an artist,” he said as made his way to the front of the hall.
“It feels amazing. It feels amazing to be able to perform.”
The crowd is almost exclusively Ugandans living in South Africa. They
have driven here from all over Gauteng and some have flown up from
Durban and Cape Town.
They are overwhelmingly young, and overwhelmingly male. There is an
almost religious fervour in their support for Bobi Wine, and they keep
saying the same things.
“He’s a youth like me,” says Kelvin, 27. “I need change. Museveni is
an old man who has been there for too long.”
“I came here to watch my new president,” says Beker, 35. “We are tired
of being treated like animals. Bobi Wine will give us a say in our own
Miti Jamil, the vice-chairperson of the Hammanskraal branch of Bobi
Wine’s People Power movement, has a more personal connection. He is 37
now, exactly the same age as Bobi Wine.
All the way back in 2005, when Jamil was trying to raise funds to
travel to South Africa, Bobi Wine played a benefit concert for him in
his home village of Mbale.
The singer had heard that Jamil was working on youth empowerment
projects and wanted to help. Ten thousand people came to the concert,
and Jamil kept all the gate receipts, which worked out to a profit of
2.5-million Ugandan shillings (about R15 000 at the time).
“Bobi Wine has changed my life. He’s my role model,” says Jamil.
Fortune, in his mid-20s, also knows Bobi Wine from Uganda. They grew
up in the same slum. Fortune is a sound engineer and he learnt his
trade in Bobi Wine’s studio in Kampala. He is sound engineering
tonight’s performance —
Bobi Wine did not travel with his band, so he has put together a
collection of Ugandan musicians based in South Africa to help him.
“Let me tell you one thing about Bobi Wine. Bobi Wine likes to gather
people around. Ever since I’ve been seeing him, he wants to gather
people around,” says Fortune. “The chances for him to be president,
it’s like, 95%. Uganda is full of youth and we are supporters.”
The oldest man in the venue is probably Christopher Kibuuka, a
65-year-old medical doctor based in Krugersdorp. Kibuuka has seen this
Decades ago, he was the Southern African representative for none other
than Yoweri Museveni, who was then a rebel fighting for power. “We
can’t afford to make the same mistake,” he said.
Disappointed by Museveni’s authoritarian bent, Kibuuka was a founding
member of the Forum for Democratic Change in 2001, the largest
opposition party in Uganda, along with its leader Kizza Besigye.
Over the past couple of years, Bobi Wine has overshadowed Besigye,
despite the latter’s long track record of resistance to the
But none of that matters, says Kibuuka. “I am not a member of Bobi
Wine’s movement. But I strongly believe that all hands are needed on
deck to bring down one of the most oppressive regimes Africa has ever
Up on stage, Bobi Wine is rolling out the hits. By Far. Freedom.
Kyalenga. As a politician, he is still inexperienced and relatively
untested. Critics say he’s light on policy and wonder what he’ll do if
he ever actually gets power.
But as a musician, he’s at the top of his game. He works the crowd
like the old pro that he is, and they hang on to his every word.
He blurs the boundaries between his two identities. In an interlude
between tracks, with the band keeping up a gentle rhythm, he tells his
“We have to work together to take down that old dictator.” They roar
Bobi Wine is back on stage, and he hasn’t missed a beat.