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The secret of Namibia's 'fairy circles' may be explained at last
The marks on the ground in the Namib desert resemble a vast sheet of
polka dots, or to the less romantic observer, perhaps a bad case of
In local myths, the bare, red circles fringed with grass are
footprints of the gods, or patches of land once poisoned by the breath
of a subterranean dragon. But even among scientists, who strive for
more convincing theories, the curious, repetitive patterns have proved
hard to explain.
Since “fairy circles” became the focus of scientific study,
researchers have proposed a host of ways by which the bare discs of
soil may form. One idea points the finger at underground termites that
engineer the landscape above their heads. Another proposal claims the
patterns, which can grow to 25 metres wide, arise from natural
competition between desert grasses.
14-NOV-2016 :: Here comes President @realdonaldTrump
Law & Politics
Donald Trump won the US election all ends up and for the first time
since 1928 won the Presidential vote, the Senate, the House and will
decide the Supreme Court’s composition. It is a breath-taking win
especially when you consider that Trump was an insurgent candidate and
his Make America Great Again movement similarly an insurgent movement.
Trump confounded the pollsters and the traditional media echo chamber
and was ranked a rank outsider at 4-1 in a two horse race just a few
short hours before the final result was known. The result in the US
mimicked the Brexit result and what is clear to me is that we are
watching a populist wave or zeitgeist (some have characterised it as a
‘’whitelash’’) which has now swept the United Kingdom and the US and
has Italy (where Matteo Renzi has called for a Referendum), France
(where Marine Le Pen is the most popular politician by a street) and
the Netherlands all in its crosshairs.
Comic-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, co-founder of Five Star, said
“ This is the deflagration of an epoch. It’s the apocalypse of this
information system, of the TVs, of the big newspapers, of the
intellectuals, of the journalists.”
And this is another important point, traditional media has lost its
position of control. It’s been upended by the internet which allowed
insurgent politics to broadcast over the top.
I am a Seller of Ian Bremmer’s rather hyperbolic critique. Putting a
Stop-Loss into play with the Syrian rebels (who are a bunch of
ne’er-do-wells and paid mercenaries), reaching out to Vladimir Putin
indicate a trend-change in the way the US engages with the rest of the
World strikes me as an entirely sensible mid course correction. As
Trump has indicated China is the main adversary and its difficult to
understand why the US was seeking to send Vladimir into Xi Jinping’s
ready embrace. To triangulate China, the US needs Russia on its side
and not on China’s. erefore, I see Trump playing a Ronald Reagan
From an economic and trade perspective, I expect Trump to be much more
aggressive with China. I think the QE [Quantitative Easing] consensus
is now a busted Flush.
"He is the master of counter-reality programming" @POLITICOMag
Law & Politics
George Soros calls President-elect Trump a con man and would-be
dictator. #wef17 via Holger Zschaepitz
George Soros: Convinced Trump will fail because ideas contradictory.
#wef17 via Holger Zschaepitz
George Soros at #wef17: Europe is in process of disintegration. #wef17
via Holger Zschaepitz
George Soros at #wef17: People in the UK live in denial. via Holger Zschaepitz
George Soros at #wef17: A trade war can easily spiral into a real
(military) conflict via Holger Zschaepitz
.@MLP_officiel Le Pen Moves Into Lead in French Race, Le Monde Poll Shows
Law & Politics
Marine Le Pen is gaining support in France and has taken the lead in a
major survey of voters’ intentions for the first round of the
The populist leader of the National Front had between 25 percent and
26 percent support compared with 23 percent to 25 percent for
Republican candidate Francois Fillon, according to an Ipsos Sopra
Steria poll for Cevipof and Le Monde. In mid December, Fillon led with
about 28 percent and Le Pen around 25 percent.
Jammeh, who has ruled Gambia since 1994, is seeking a security detail and clearance to take his assets, the regional officials said
Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh is negotiating stepping down with
Mauritania’s president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz as regional forces mass
on the West African country’s borders to force him to cede power to
Adama Barrow, who won an election last month, two people familiar with
the situation said.
Jammeh, who has ruled Gambia since 1994, is seeking a security detail
and clearance to take his assets, the regional officials said, asking
not to be identified because a public announcement has not been made.
His request to stay in his home village of Kanilai has been denied,
they said. It wasn’t clear where he will go.
Barrow was due to be inaugurated Thursday but Jammeh had, after
initially accepting the result, disputed the result of the vote. The
Economic Community of West African States, which includes Senegal and
Nigeria, has insisted that the result be respected and has threatened
to take military action if necessary.
Mauritania’s government spokesman, Mohamed Lemine Ould Cheick,
wouldn’t comment on speculation of an amnesty at a press conference in
the country’s capital Nouakchott on Thursday.
“There is a certain optimism and efforts are continuing,” he said.
“All the parties are convinced of the need to find a solution.”
12-DEC-2016 :: The demographic bulge is now arriving at voting age. This is that moment, its importance cannot be gainsaid.
Africa is a very non-linear place but recent elections from President
Buhari of Nigeria through president-elect Barrow in the Gambia through
president-elect Akufo-Addo of Ghana (pictured below) is surely
signalling a trend-change is at hand.
The big picture point is in fact a demographic one. Many commentators
define the African population surge as a ‘’dividend’’ but what is
clear is that if it is allowed a Free and Fair vote its going be a
Terminator for a whole number of regimes. The demographic bulge is
now arriving at voting age. This is that moment, its importance cannot
Forced out of Towns in the Sahel, Africa's Jihadists Go Rural
Armed jihadist groups have developed a dangerous new strategy after
being chased out of most major towns they once held in Africa’s Sahel,
the vast expanse of arid, sparsely populated brushland that crosses
the continent along the southern edge of the Sahara desert.
Rather than trying to hold towns or urban districts, these groups –
which include al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram, the
Macina Liberation Front (FLM) and al-Murabitoun – are using bases in
the countryside to strike at provincial and district centres, often
forcing national armies to retreat and local state authorities to
abandon immense rural areas to jihadist control.
Global shocks, local differences Africa Confidential
Smaller countries outpace giants such as Nigeria and South Africa but
progress on regional integration and industrialisation is lacking
Economic conditions in Africa this year might best be symbolised by
the new railway boom, over a century after the failure of a colonial
plan for a route between Cairo and Cape Town. Today's routes are less
ambitious. Instead of colonial expansion, they are a belated attempt
at integrating the continent's 54 national economies and fostering
The railways are usually built by Chinese engineering firms, whose
costings and financing deals undercut all rivals for now. Yet China's
economic slowdown and diminished appetite for African commodities is
held up as a leading cause of lacklustre growth across Africa over the
past two years.
That is why Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been touring Africa in the
new year assuring governments of Beijing's continuing commitment to
the continent in a period of growing nationalism and protectionism
elsewhere. He's promising more railways. The latest on offer is a
rehabilitation of the legendary Tanzania-Zambia line. The Tan-Zam (or
Tazara) was legendary because it seemed to have no commercial logic.
That has changed with Tanzania's recent faster economic growth,
spurred by the exploitation of its gas and mineral reserves (AC Vol 58
No 1, The power and the glory).
Wang also breezed through Abuja, telling Nigerians about China's offer
of a US$40 billion plan for more railways, roads, ports and power
stations. To a recession-hit country, this offered some relief. For
President Muhammadu Buhari's government, the main question is how
quickly the finance can be tapped. Its budget this year has to bridge
a financing gap of around $10 bn., despite better prospects for the
economy thanks to a higher world oil price (AC Vol 58 No 1, Partisan
politics runs riot).
As the United States and Europe turn in on themselves, the only other
substantial economies targeting Africa are India, Japan and Russia.
India, another great builder of railways, is hosting the African
Development Bank (AfDB)'s annual meeting in May in Gujarat, the home
province of the very business-minded Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His
country is now Africa's fastest growing trading partner, even if its
financial muscle is way behind China's. Now it's true to say that
Africa's eastern seaboard looks to Asia – to China, India and Japan –
for most of its trade and investment.
Alongside Ethiopia, in East Africa Kenya and Tanzania are among the
continent's best performing economies, growing on the back of higher
agricultural exports, planned oil and gas production, and a more
integrated regional market
Meanwhile, the big corporate investors still have Africa on their
radar screens although the strategy has changed from the commodity
boom years of average growth rates of over 5% to a much more
discriminatory approach, based on identifying the highest and most
sustainable yields in an increasingly diverse economic landscape.
Germany's 'Marshall Plan' for Africa unveiled
Fighting poverty in Africa is not just a moral obligation, but also in
the self-interest of wealthy countries like Germany, German
Development Minister Gerd Müller said as he presented his long-awaited
"Marshall Plan" for Africa in Berlin.
"Germany and Europe have an interest to save people's lives, to limit
the effects of climate change and avoid 'climate refugees,' to prevent
mass migration and to help create a future for Africa's youth," Müller
His 33-page blueprint proposes a "new level" of equal cooperation
between Africa and western countries in areas such as education,
trade, business development and energy.
It also calls for better market acess for African exports, an end to
illicit financial flows from Africa and tax evasion by multinational
The document says African governments also have a role to play by
fighting corruption, ensuring good governance and improving the
situation for women. The ministry intends to spend an additional 20
percent of German development funds for Africa in countries that
undertake necessary reforms.
Business community remains cautious
The policy paper also calls for a greater role of the private sector
in Africa's development in the future.
"We need private financing for Africa in a new dimension," Müller
said, adding that public development funds should be a "catalyst" to
attract additional private investments.''
The minister's proposes different measures to attract more
investments, such as additional export credit guarantees for German
companies doing business in Africa. It also calls on African
governments to improve tax collection at home to find more funds.
So far, only 1,000 out of 400,000 German companies are present in
Africa. Corruption, political instability and excessive bureaucracy
are among the red tape business leaders cite as obstacles for more
investments on the continent.
"The proposals to ease the mobilization of private capital and more
private engagement on the continent make sense," Christoph
Kannengiesser, managing director of the Afrika Verein, an association
of some 600 German companies with business ties in Africa, said.
"But unfortunately the Marshall plan remains unspecific on how the
concrete measures and instruments will look like. The business
community is waiting for concrete instruments to be developed that we
can use," Kannengießer said.
In Berlin, many experts also remain doubtful whether the minister's
strategy will actually be implemented. Many proposals are not within
the responsibility of the development minister's docket. Issues such
as a better market access for African products cannot even be decided
by the German government, but would need to be discussed by the
Other ministries are yet to endorse Müller's plan. Some have even
started devising their own Africa strategies. Germany is currently
holding the presidency of the G 20 group of nations and Africa is
expected to feature prominently on the agenda.
Investors started to factor in Pravin Gordhan's fight-back against rogue policy-making @SAPresident
South African asset prices have of course been battling a ''Zuma''
haircut which began to ebb into year end 2016 [The Rand closed the
Year +11% versus the Dollar] as Investors started to factor in Pravin
Gordhan's fight-back against rogue policy-making. The Cause and Effect
was best witnessed around the time when David Van Rooyen momentarily
gained control of the Treasury. Policy-making is a factor for
Investors and in a low growth environment it will have an outsize
impact on returns.
One Zuma to another Zuma? The Economist
ALTHOUGH a jolly spot for surf and sun, Durban is hardly a centre of
African diplomacy. So it was a surprise when Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma,
the outgoing head of the African Union (AU), chose to deliver the
first-ever “State of the Continent” speech there last month instead of
at the AU’s grand headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s speech focused on high-minded plans for education
and agriculture. She acknowledged “pockets of problems” in war-ravaged
Burundi, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan, but only in passing.
Journalists fought to stay awake. The thin crowd had to be cajoled
into applause. South African cabinet ministers due to attend sent
lackeys instead. Back in Addis, the event fed the widely held view
that Ms Dlamini-Zuma spent her term at the AU with one foot in South
Africa, where she is jockeying to succeed her ex-husband, Jacob Zuma,
as president in 2019.
On an unrelated subject he argues that it is time for the ANC to have
a female president and that his ex-wife is the most qualified
candidate. Ms Dlamini-Zuma has said little about her plans beyond
blandly indicating that she would never refuse a request from the ANC
to serve the party. Judging by her Durban speech, she would welcome
such an opportunity.
Africa's Biggest Bank Chasing Nigerian Deals After Oil Slump
FirstRand Ltd., which is seeking an acquisition of mid-sized lender in
the continent’s most populous nation, is also considering one other
target after ending talks with two lenders because of differences over
price, Chairman Laurie Dippenaar said.
“Deals crop up,” Dippenaar, 68, said in an interview at the annual
meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “And the
tougher it gets with the oil price, we get approached.”
“We’ll keep looking until we find something that fits,” Dippenaar
said. “We’re not in it for the short term. It’s a very important
market, the second-biggest banking market in Africa after South
Africa. We’re not going to bet the bank on a Nigerian acquisition.”
An uptick in the oil price to above $50 a barrel should help avert a
crisis among small and medium-sized lenders, which are heavily exposed
to the energy industry, Dippenaar said.
“The government, if they had to, would intervene to prop up the
banking system,” he said. “It depends on how big the hole is.”
"The possibility of a devaluation is certain; the question is the timing" Nigeria Naira
That expectation by seven of the nine economists polled this week
comes even though Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele has said he
would not devalue the naira <NGN=D1>.
"The possibility of a devaluation is certain; the question is the
timing," said Aly-Khan Satchu, an analyst and investor at Rich
Management in Nairobi.
"They are eventually going to capitulate at some point this year, a
similar scenario to Egypt at the end of last year - a big devaluation
in the official rate."
Nigeria stubbornly held on to an official peg of 197 naira to the
dollar for 16 months, until June of last year, hurting the economy. It
subsequently floated the currency but maintained some measures to
prevent further weakening. The naira currently trades at 305 per
Dollar shortages meant the currency fell to close to 500 against the
dollar last week on the unapproved open retail market [nL5N1F3400].
If President Buhari thinks China is going to underwrite an overvalued
Naira i Think he is mistaken
Mozambique's default Economist
IN 2014 Mozambique seemed a good place to host the IMF’s “Africa
Rising” conference. The economy was buoyant, having grown by about 7%
a year for a decade. Offshore gas promised riches. Investors were
optimistic, so much so that, in 2013, they snapped up $850m of bonds
issued by a state-owned tuna-fishing company, with temptingly high
But Mozambique’s rise has halted. Those “tuna bonds” were the first
mis-step in a widening scandal that led the government to say on
January 16th that it would default on its debt.
Few members of the ruling party, Frelimo, want to shine too much light
on those loans since bigwigs may be implicated. Yet imposing
IMF-mandated spending cuts also carries risks. With less bounty to
spread around Frelimo may struggle to buy support in local elections
next year and in a presidential contest in 2019, says Alex Vines of
Chatham House, a think-tank. Its best hope may be to hold out for the
bountiful gas revenues expected in the middle of the next decade.
Regulators, meanwhile, are probing the banks that arranged both the
bonds and the secret loans, Credit Suisse and VTB. More may yet be
revealed about Mozambique’s fishy finances.
StanChart, Citigroup Said Hired for $800 Million Kenya Loan
Kenya’s government mandated four international banks to raise $800
million in syndicated loans that authorities need to boost
foreign-currency reserves and plug a widening budget deficit,
according to two people familiar with the agreement.
The East African nation’s Treasury informed the Nairobi-based units of
Citigroup Inc., Standard Bank Group Ltd., Standard Chartered Plc and
Rand Merchant Bank on Tuesday that they were appointed to arrange the
financing, the people said, asking not to be identified because they
aren’t authorized to speak about the matter.
The funds are expected to be made available to the Kenyan government
by February, the people said. Stanbic Holdings Ltd., the Kenyan unit
of Standard Bank, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request
for comment, and Standard Chartered Bank Kenya Ltd.’s spokesman didn’t
reply to a request for comment sent by text message. A Citigroup
spokeswoman said she would respond to a request for comment later,
while RMB declined to comment.
Kenya plans to raise 154 billion shillings ($1.5 billion) through
external borrowing in the current budget year that ends June 30. It’s
already secured $250 million from lenders led by PTA Bank, an East
African trade-finance lender based in Burundi, Treasury Principal
Secretary Kamau Thugge said last week. Thugge didn’t respond to a
text-messaged request for comment.
Kenya may opt to repay the syndicated loan over a three-year period to
avoid having too large a payment when its five-year Eurobonds fall due
in 2019, one of the people said.
"We will let you know when we do" the syndication, Treasury Secretary
Henry Rotich said when asked to comment on the loans syndication.
The World Bank has estimated Kenya’s financing gap at 9.6 percent of
gross domestic product in the 2016-17 financial year, from 7.2 percent