|Monday 18th of November 2019
18-NOV-2019 :: The Lotos-Eaters and the UK Election
The United Kingdom European Union membership referendum took place in
the United Kingdom and Gibraltar on 23 June 2016. The Result was
17,410,742 votes [51.9%] for Leave and 16,141,241 votes [48.1%] for
Remain. The Pound crashed. Prime Minister David Cameron resigned by
July that Year. PM Theresa May stepped in but threw in the Towel three
years later and now Boris Johnson is Prime Minister and leading the
Charge towards an election on Tuesday 12th December where Boris is
seeking a decisive Mandate against Jeremy Corbyn.
"Courage!" he said, and pointed toward the land,
"This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon."
The Lotos-eaters is a Poem by Lord Tennyson
In ''The Lotos-Eaters'', The Brother Mariners lose themselves
''There is sweet music here that softer falls Than petals from blown
roses on the grass, Or night-dews on still waters between walls''
and it certainly is as if the the mighty United Kingdom has lost
itself in a Brexit reverie for more than three years now just like
those Mariners did in ''The Lotos-Eaters'' The cold blade of logic has
been blunted by information warfare struggles.
The US officer assigned to the deputy chief of staff (Intelligence),
charged with defining the future of warfare, wrote “One of the
defining bifurcations of the future will be the conflict between
information masters and information victims.”
This information warfare will not be couched in the rationale of
geopolitics, the author suggests in the US army war college quarterly
1997. but will be “spawned” - like any Hollywood drama - out of raw
emotions. “Hatred, jealousy, and greed - emotions, rather than
strategy - will set the terms of [information warfare] struggles”.
So here we are. Both Protagonists Boris and Jeremy are promising
Heaven on Earth.
“It would be optimistic to assume that the previously cohesive,
predictable approach to legislation and policymaking in the UK will
return once Brexit is no longer a contentious issue, however that is
achieved,” the ratings agency Moodys said. Moody’s said Britain’s 1.8
trillion pounds ($2.30 trillion) of public debt - more than 80% of
annual economic output - risked rising again and the economy could be
“more susceptible to shocks than previously assumed.”
Both of the main political parties have promised big spending
increases ahead of next month’s election.
“In the current political climate, Moody’s sees no meaningful pressure
for debt-reducing fiscal policies,” the ratings agency said.
Moody’s said the “increasing inertia and, at times, paralysis that has
characterized the Brexit-era policymaking process” showed how the UK’s
institutional framework has diminished. Moody’s, which stripped the
country of its AAA rating in 2013 and downgraded it again in 2017,
said it was lowering the outlook on Britain’s current Aa2 rating to
negative from stable, meaning the rating could be cut again.
This is a ''Never-Neverland'' World.
Boris Johnson and the Conservatives are in the Lead in most of the
Polls and the Brexiteer Nigel Farage has seemingly stood down with no
doubt promises of a Peerage. Jeremy Corbyn is however a formidable
Campaigner and You will recall Theresa May was a Shoe-in supposedly.
Of course, Corbyn's economic policies are a Nicolas Maduro redux and
if he shuts down all the Public Schools [which, of course, are
private] in a fit of pique, International money which in fact put the
Great in Great Britain will fly off in a blink of an eye. And on top
of all that You have Donald Trump turning up a day or so before the
election just in time to give Corbyn an almighty boost because in
reality the UK electorate see Trump as an ''Oaf'' Meanwhile, lurking
behind the curtain stage left are the likes of US businesswoman
Jennifer Arcuri [who] has accused Boris Johnson of brutally casting
her aside “like some one-night stand” and leaving her “heartbroken”
since he became prime minister and the controversy over their
four-year relationship became public.
“I’ve kept your secrets, and I’ve been your friend. And I don’t
understand why you’ve blocked me and ignored me as if I was some
fleeting one-night stand or some girl that you picked up at a bar
because I wasn’t - and you know that. And I’m terribly heartbroken by
the way that you have cast me aside like I am some gremlin ... He
should know me well enough to know who I am ... Shame on him for not
answering the phone.”
The Pound has risen from multi years lows like a Phoenix and has room
to rally further specially if Bojo builds a big lead. UK Gilts are a
Everything pivots on whether there is a clean and clear outcome. Its
very fluid and another hung Parliament is not to be ruled out
especially if Corbyn re ignites a ''Youthquake''
Johnson's Conservatives lead Labour by 10-17 percentage points, four polls published on Saturday show @Reuters.
A YouGov poll showed support for the Conservatives stood at 45%, the
highest level since 2017, compared with Labour on 28%, unchanged. The
pro-European Union Liberal Democrats were on 15%, and the Brexit Party
was on 4% unchanged.
A separate poll for SavantaComRes also said support for Johnson’s
Conservatives was the highest since 2017 with his party on 41% with
Labour on 33%.
The Conservatives have a 16-point lead over Labour, according to an
opinion poll published by Opinium Research.
A poll by the Mail on Sunday said Johnson’s party had a 15-point lead
Jennifer Arcuri: 'I've kept Johnson's secrets - now he's cast me aside like a one-night stand' @guardian
The US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri has accused Boris Johnson of
brutally casting her aside “like some one-night stand” and leaving her
“heartbroken” since he became prime minister and the controversy over
their four-year relationship became public.
In an outspoken interview with ITV’s Exposure, to be broadcast on
Sunday, the tech entrepreneur also tells the journalist John Ware that
Boris Johnson has refused to take her phone calls at Downing Street
and has cut her off before she could initiate a conversation.
Addressing her words directly to the prime minister, who actively
championed her business interests during his time at City Hall while
failing to declare their friendship, Arcuri says: “I’ve been nothing
but loyal, faithful, supportive, and a true confidante of yours.
“I’ve kept your secrets, and I’ve been your friend. And I don’t
understand why you’ve blocked me and ignored me as if I was some
fleeting one-night stand or some girl that you picked up at a bar
because I wasn’t - and you know that. And I’m terribly heartbroken by
the way that you have cast me aside like I am some gremlin ... He
should know me well enough to know who I am ... Shame on him for not
answering the phone.”
While Arcuri refuses to divulge the nature of their relationship she
is clear that they were very close for several years.
She tells Ware in the programme When Boris Met Jennifer that she
wishes he had declared their friendship and been above board about it
to avoid the resulting humiliation. She says it was clear that the
prime minister was “worried” about making the relationship public
because of all the questions that would be asked.
Referring to one recent call to Johnson, she says: “He heard my voice.
And I knew it was him. And he hung up. He said ‘Yes, hello’ and I
simply asked: ‘Why did you block me?’ I wasn’t calling to cause
problems, I merely just wanted a simple ... acknowledgement for what
On another occasion, shortly after Johnson became prime minister,
Arcuri says she was very keen to speak to him because she had heard
that reporters were contacting her friends.
“When I expressed the interest to want to speak to him, I was told:
‘There are bigger things at stake’, and I was brushed off as if I was
one of Kennedy’s girlfriends showing up to his White House
switchboard, you know, here to do my, you know, calling. And I felt so
disgusted and humiliated that I was told: ‘Bigger things are at stake;
never mind you, he’s too busy for you’.”
Arcuri said that, when she tried his personal phone on yet another
occasion, she was summarily passed to someone who spoke to her in a
language she believed to be Chinese.
THE MAN WHO SOLVED THE MARKET By Gregory Zuckerman @nytimes @opinion_joe H/T @hervegogo
There are few books in the investing world as well known as Burton
Malkiel’s “A Random Walk Down Wall Street.” First published in 1973,
it has never been out of print, and is now in its 12th edition. Its
thesis is that “a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s
financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as
one carefully selected by the experts.” To put it another way, the
market is so efficient that even professional investors have little
chance of beating it on a regular basis. If there’s one reason index
funds, which replicate the performance of market indexes like the S&P
500, now hold $4.3 trillion (yes, trillion) in assets, it’s that
millions of investors have come to realize that the “efficient market
hypothesis” Malkiel popularized is essentially correct. Emphasis on
“essentially.” Jim Simons is not a blindfolded monkey. A former
code-breaker for the United States government and a brilliant
mathematician, Simons founded the most successful investment firm the
world has ever seen. As Gregory Zuckerman notes in “The Man Who Solved
the Market,” even Warren Buffett’s track record — 20.5 percent
annualized returns since 1965 — doesn’t approach Simons’s average of
39 percent gains over a three-decade span. And that’s after his
company has taken a 5 percent management fee and 44 percent of the
profits. The question has always been: How does Simons do it? We know
that his firm, Renaissance Technologies, helped pioneer quantitative
investing, relying on complex computer programs rather than human
judgment, to make trading decisions. But we don’t know much else. The
81-year-old Simons can be engaging in person, with a wry sense of
humor (he may also be the last man in America who still smokes in his
office). But on the subject of his investing success, he is secretive
to the point of paranoia. Employees sign ironclad nondisclosure
agreements, and are told to avoid media appearances and industry
conferences. Zuckerman, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, says he
became fixated with cracking the Simons code. And though he doesn’t
entirely succeed, he divulges much more than anyone has before. More
important, despite the tendency to dot his book with such daunting
phrases as “combinatorial game theory” and “stochastic equations,” he
tells a surprisingly captivating story. It turns out that a firm like
Renaissance, filled with nerdy academics trying to solve the market’s
secrets, is way more interesting than your typical greed-is-good hedge
fund. Simons first began investing as a young man after receiving
$5,000 as a wedding gift. He was a commodities speculator for a short
time; watching soybean futures soar “was kind of a rush,” he told
Zuckerman. But within a few years, he and several colleagues were
thinking seriously about how they might create a computerized stock
trading system that could search — and I’m quoting Zuckerman here —
“for a small number of ‘macroscopic variables’ capable of predicting
the market’s short-term behavior.” In 1978, Simons left Stony Brook
University, where he had built its math department into one of the
best in the country, to start the firm that we now know as Renaissance
Technologies. The story Zuckerman tells is about how Simons and the
mathematicians and programmers he surrounded himself with found those
variables. They collected incredible amounts of historical data — not
just about stocks and bonds, but about currencies, commodities,
weather patterns and all sorts of market-moving events. They made
plenty of missteps along the way. But in time, they had gathered so
much data — and had computers powerful enough to ingest that data —
that the machines found profitable correlations no human could ever
suss out, much less understand. Zuckerman does a fine job of bringing
not just Simons to life but most of the other “quants” who played key
roles in creating Renaissance’s system. For the politically inclined,
one of the most interesting was the firm’s former co-chief executive,
Robert Mercer, the conservative billionaire who funded Breitbart News
and Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerman portrays Mercer as “a peculiar but
largely benign figure within the company” who liked to zing his
liberal colleagues, but mostly kept his own counsel. When his role in
conservative politics caused an outcry, Simons felt he had to ask his
longtime partner to step down as co-C.E.O. But even though Simons
himself was a liberal, he wasn’t happy about it. “He’s a nice guy,”
Zuckerman quotes Simons telling a friend. “He’s allowed to use his
money as he wishes.”When you get right down to it, Simons makes money
because human behavior will never be completely “efficient.” Those
short-term anomalies Simons — and other quants — unearth exist because
humans have always acted emotionally. “I think the market is
reasonably close to efficient,” another well-known quant, Clifford
Asness, once told me, “but there are a lot of little inefficiencies.”
Those little inefficiencies are what emotionless computers take
advantage of. Renaissance just happens to be better at finding them
than any other firm.
The Lotos-eaters BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
"Courage!" he said, and pointed toward the land,
"This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon."
In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.
And round about the keel with faces pale,
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.
Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them,
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem'd, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.
They sat them down upon the yellow sand,
Between the sun and moon upon the shore;
And sweet it was to dream of Fatherland,
Of child, and wife, and slave; but evermore
Most weary seem'd the sea, weary the oar,
Weary the wandering fields of barren foam.
Then some one said, "We will return no more";
And all at once they sang, "Our island home
Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam."
There is sweet music here that softer falls
Than petals from blown roses on the grass,
Or night-dews on still waters between walls
Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass;
Music that gentlier on the spirit lies,
Than tir'd eyelids upon tir'd eyes;
Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies.
Here are cool mosses deep,
And thro' the moss the ivies creep,
And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep,
And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep."
The Story of William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, The Dreamachine and von Bartha Widewalls
In 1970, a particular exhibition space opened in Basel. Galerie von
Bartha was entirely focused on hosting and presenting radical artistic
practices conducted by the proponents of Concrete and Kinetic art.
Gradually, the gallery started representing various artists, and
regardless of the art market tendencies it remained interested in the
legacy of the historically significant movements, those which defied
the representational canons.
Von Bartha organized other non-exhibition programs, and one of them
seems especially important today. In 1979, the art dealer Carl Laszlo
hosted the iconic writer William S. Burroughs and his peer, an
important author himself, Brion Gysin.
The invitation marked the twentieth anniversary of the publication of
Burroughs’ legendary book Naked Lunch, which he read at the event,
shocking the Basel society.
At the same time, the two men found Miklos von Bartha, the gallery
owner, who turned out to be the perfect individual to finally
construct The Dreamachine with, a special kind of an optical device
conceptualized by Gysin.
To revisit the iconic reading and the influence it made on the local
art scene, and to unravel the dialog between the founding fathers of
the Beat movement and the gallerist, Galerie Von Bartha is hosting a
proper retrospective focused on the individual and mutual work by
Gysin and Burroughs, including original construction plans and
prototypes of The Dreamachine, archival photographs along with the
works by other Beatniks.
Around the mid-1940s, William S. Burroughs met Jack Kerouac and Allen
Ginsberg. In New York, gradually he became a drug addict and moved to
Mexico where he wrote his first novel Junkie and shot his wife Joan
Burroughs was convicted of homicide in absentia and was given a
two-year suspended sentence. He then traveled through a few South
American countries to explore a drug called yage for which he believed
to provide the user telepathic abilities.
Between 1958 and 1959, the author wrote Naked Lunch while staying at
the legendary Beat Hotel in Paris with his collaborator and friend
Brion Gysin, who initially acted as a Surrealist painter until he
opened a bar in Morocco and started writing.
It was in Tangier that William S. Burroughs got introduced by the
cut-up technique invented by Gysin (who found it by accident in the
Dadaist legacy), and that is how he developed Naked Lunch. Gysin
emphasized their collaboration:
William Burroughs and I first went into techniques of writing,
together, back in room No. 15 of the Beat Hotel during the cold Paris
spring of 1958…
Burroughs was more intent on Scotch-taping his photos together into
one great continuum on the wall, where scenes faded and slipped into
one another than occupied with editing the monster manuscript… Naked
Lunch appeared and Burroughs disappeared.
He kicked his habit with Apomorphine and flew off to London to see Dr.
Dent, who had first turned him on to the cure.
While cutting a mount for a drawing in room No. 15, I sliced through a
pile of newspapers with my Stanley blade and thought of what I had
said to Burroughs some six months earlier about the necessity for
turning painters’ techniques directly into writing.
I picked up the raw words and began to piece together texts that later
appeared as “First Cut-Ups” in Minutes to Go.
As a result of mutual admiration, in the early 1960s Brion Gysin
designed the first Dreamachine, a flicker device aimed to expand the
viewer’s perception, with the help of mathematician Ian Sommerville.
This kinetic art object is an actual cylinder made of a perforated
paper tube illuminated from the inside by light bulbs and placed on a
turntable rotated at 78 or 45 revolutions per minute. The holes in the
tube were produced according to a special pattern developed by Gysin.
The observer is exposed to Dreamachine at eye level with their eyes
closed, and if the object is constructed properly, it emits light
waves (between 8 and 13 Hz), electrical oscillations present in the
human brain while relaxing.
The observer experiences increasingly bright, complex patterns of
color behind their closed eyelids (an effect similar when traveling as
a passenger in a car or bus), while the patterns gradually appear as
shapes and symbols in a swirl.
And so, The Dreamachine achieves a sort of a hypnagogic state and aims
to expand one’s perception. Although the experience itself may be
intense, one can stop it just by opening their eyes.
Looking from the contemporary stance, The Dreamachine was the result
of the constant exchange of the two artists who shared an interest in
the marginal, the obscene, the occult and the otherworldly.
The way they searched to overcome the limitations of the human mind,
and revolutionize the thinking process and therefore the society,
makes Burroughs and Gysin unprecedented figures in a broader context
of culture and humanities.
Here we go round the prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
The Hollow Men T.S. ELIOT
In 1530 Humayun, Babur's beloved eldest son and heir-apparent, was stricken by a fever. Despite the best efforts of the royal physicians, his condition steadily worsened
Driven to despair, Babur consulted a man of religion who told him that
the remedy “was to give in alms the most valuable thing one had and to
seek cure from God.”
Babur is said to have replied thus: “I am the most valuable thing that
Humayun possesses; than me he has no better thing; I shall make myself
a sacrifice for him. May God the Creator accept it.”
Humayun possessed a priceless diamond, they said, which could be sold
and the proceeds given to the poor... Babur would not hear of it.
“What value has worldly wealth?” Babur is quoted to have said.
“And how can it be a redemption for Humayun? I myself shall be his sacrifice.”
He walked three times around Humayun’s bed, praying: “O God! If a life
may be exchanged for a life, I who am Babur, I give my life and my
being for a Humayun.”
A few minutes later, he cried: “We have borne it away, we have borne
it away.”And sure enough, from that moment Babur began to sicken,
while Humayun grew slowly well. Babur died near Agra on December 21,
He left orders for his body to be buried in Kabul.
"Everywhere She Went Turned Bad," Says Man with Six Bankruptcies @BorowitzReport
Law & Politics
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In a blistering tweet on Friday, the
former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was accused of
leaving a trail of destruction by a man with six bankruptcies and
multiple business failures.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” wrote the man, who ran
the now defunct United States Football League into the ground and paid
twenty-five million dollars to settle fraud charges against a fake
university bearing his name.
“She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” tweeted the man, whose
lengthy roster of bankruptcies includes the Trump Taj Mahal (1991),
Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino (1992), the Plaza Hotel (1992), Trump
Castle Hotel and Casino (1992), Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts (2004),
and Trump Entertainment Resorts (2009).
“Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke
unfavorably about her,” continued the man, who founded such business
fiascoes as the Trump Shuttle airline, Trump Vodka, and Trump Steaks.
At the House of Representatives, Representative Devin Nunes vigorously
defended the man’s controversial tweets. “He is calling out someone
for creating disasters everywhere she goes, and no one is more
qualified to talk about that than he is,” Nunes said.
From Beirut to Baghdad and now in Tehran, Shiraz, Ahvaz, and all across Iran, the earth is shaking underneath the mullahs. With these crimes, #IranProtests #Iran @Maryam_Rajavi
Law & Politics
From Beirut to Baghdad and now in Tehran, Shiraz, Ahvaz, and all
across Iran, the earth is shaking underneath the mullahs. With these
crimes, the mullahs cannot evade from certain downfall. #IranProtests
its very Maryam Rajavi MEK and Pompeo
THE XINJIANG PAPERS 'Absolutely No Mercy': Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims @nytimes
Law & Politics
The leadership distributed a classified directive advising local
officials to corner returning students as soon as they arrived and
keep them quiet. It included a chillingly bureaucratic guide for how
to handle their anguished questions, beginning with the most obvious:
Where is my family?
“They’re in a training school set up by the government,” the
prescribed answer began. If pressed, officials were to tell students
that their relatives were not criminals — yet could not leave these
The directive was among 403 pages of internal documents that have been
shared with The New York Times in one of the most significant leaks of
government papers from inside China’s ruling Communist Party in
They provide an unprecedented inside view of the continuing clampdown
in Xinjiang, in which the authorities have corralled as many as a
million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others into internment camps and
prisons over the past three years.
Children saw their parents taken away, students wondered who would pay
their tuition and crops could not be planted or harvested for lack of
manpower, the reports noted. Yet officials were directed to tell
people who complained to be grateful for the Communist Party’s help
and stay quiet.
President Xi Jinping, the party chief, laid the groundwork for the
crackdown in a series of speeches delivered in private to officials
during and after a visit to Xinjiang in April 2014, just weeks after
Uighur militants stabbed more than 150 people at a train station,
Mr. Xi called for an all-out “struggle against terrorism, infiltration
and separatism” using the “organs of dictatorship,” and showing
“absolutely no mercy.”
The internment camps in Xinjiang expanded rapidly after the
appointment in August 2016 of Chen Quanguo, a zealous new party boss
for the region. He distributed Mr. Xi’s speeches to justify the
campaign and exhorted officials to “round up everyone who should be
The papers were brought to light by a member of the Chinese political
establishment who requested anonymity and expressed hope that their
disclosure would prevent party leaders, including Mr. Xi, from
escaping culpability for the mass detentions.
Even as the document advises officials to inform students that their
relatives are receiving “treatment” for exposure to radical Islam, its
title refers to family members who are being “dealt with,” or chuzhi,
a euphemism used in party documents to mean punishment.
The guide recommended increasingly firm replies telling the students
that their relatives had been “infected” by the “virus” of Islamic
radicalism and must be quarantined and cured. Even grandparents and
family members who seemed too old to carry out violence could not be
spared, officials were directed to say.
“If they don’t undergo study and training, they’ll never thoroughly
and fully understand the dangers of religious extremism,” one answer
said, citing the civil war in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State.
“No matter what age, anyone who has been infected by religious
extremism must undergo study.”
“Freedom is only possible when this ‘virus’ in their thinking is
eradicated and they are in good health.”
“The methods that our comrades have at hand are too primitive,” Mr. Xi
said in one talk, after inspecting a counterterrorism police squad in
Urumqi. “None of these weapons is any answer for their big machete
blades, ax heads and cold steel weapons.”
“We must be as harsh as them,” he added, “and show absolutely no mercy.”
He likened Islamic extremism alternately to a virus-like contagion and
a dangerously addictive drug, and declared that addressing it would
require “a period of painful, interventionary treatment.”
“The psychological impact of extremist religious thought on people
must never be underestimated,” Mr. Xi told officials in Urumqi on
April 30, 2014, the final day of his trip to Xinjiang.
“People who are captured by religious extremism — male or female, old
or young — have their consciences destroyed, lose their humanity and
murder without blinking an eye.”
In another speech, at the leadership conclave in Beijing a month
later, he warned of “the toxicity of religious extremism.”
While previous Chinese leaders emphasized economic development to
stifle unrest in Xinjiang, Mr. Xi said that was not enough. He
demanded an ideological cure, an effort to rewire the thinking of the
region’s Muslim minorities.
“The weapons of the people’s democratic dictatorship must be wielded
without any hesitation or wavering,” Mr. Xi told the leadership
conference on Xinjiang policy, which convened six days after the
deadly attack on the vegetable market
Ensuring stability in Xinjiang would require a sweeping campaign of
surveillance and intelligence gathering to root out resistance in
Uighur society, Mr. Xi argued.
He said new technology must be part of the solution, foreshadowing the
party’s deployment of facial recognition, genetic testing and big data
But he also emphasized old-fashioned methods, such as neighborhood
informants, and urged officials to study how Americans responded to
the Sept. 11 attacks.
“The struggle against terror and to safeguard stability is a
protracted war, and also a war of offense,” Mr. Chen said in a speech
to the regional leadership in October 2017 that was among the leaked
He and other party leaders ordered a quasi-military organization, the
Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, to accelerate efforts to
settle the area with more Han Chinese, the documents show.
When the mass detentions began, Mr. Wang did as he was told at first
and appeared to embrace the task with zeal.
He built two sprawling new detention facilities, including one as big
as 50 basketball courts, and herded 20,000 people into them.
He sharply increased funding for the security forces in 2017, more
than doubling spending on outlays such as checkpoints and surveillance
to 1.37 billion renminbi, or about $180 million.
And he lined up party members for a rally in a public square and urged
them to press the fight against terrorists. “Wipe them out
completely,” he said. “Destroy them root and branch.”
05-MAR-2018 :: China has unveiled a Digital Panopticon in Xinjiang
Law & Politics
Dissent is measured and snuffed out very quickly in China. China has
unveiled a Digital Panopticon in Xinjiang where a combination of data
from video surveillance, face and license plate recognition, mobile
device locations, and official records to identify targets for
detention. Xinjiang is surely a precursor for how the CCCP will manage
dissent. The actions in Xinjiang are part of the regional authorities’
ongoing “strike-hard” campaign, and
of Xi’s “stability maintenance” and “enduring peace” drive in the
region. Authorities say the campaign targets “terrorist elements,” but
it is in practice far broader, and encompasses anyone suspected of
Jeffrey Epstein wasn't trafficking women - and he didn't kill himself, brother says @MiamiHerald
Law & Politics
Mark Epstein gets angry when he is asked probing questions about his
brother. He curses, insists the questions aren’t relevant and
sometimes slams down the phone.
Mostly, he defends his older brother, Jeffrey Epstein, insisting he
wasn’t a sex trafficker at all.
“He was innocent and, until proven guilty, you are entitled to bail in
America,’’ said Mark Epstein, Jeffrey Epstein’s only sibling, next of
kin and likely heir to his brother’s estimated $500 million fortune.
Mark Epstein is talking, but only because he believes that his
66-year-old brother was killed, and he is challenging both the
Department of Justice and New York City’s chief medical examiner.
Baden, 85, and another noted forensic pathologist who reviewed Baden’s
findings, Dr. Cyril Wecht, 88, have both concluded that Jeffrey
Epstein’s injuries were more consistent with manual strangulation than
Epstein was found in his cell, allegedly on his knees, with a sheet
fashioned into a ligature around his neck, about 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 10.
Baden said Epstein had been dead for several hours, and his body
should have not been moved. Emergency personnel however, transported
him from the federal jail in downtown Manhattan to the hospital, Baden
Baden was present at the autopsy, which was conducted the next day by
medical examiner Kristin Roman. Both he and Roman agreed that the
cause and manner of death were not clear, so she designated it pending
further investigation, Baden said.
But just five days later, on Aug. 16, Sampson changed the cause of
death to suicide by hanging.
Epstein had three fractures on the left and right side of his larynx,
Baden said, and the chance of someone breaking three bones in their
neck as a result of a low-velocity self-inflicted hanging, while not
unheard of, is rare.
While damage to that bone is more common in cases of strangulation,
medical experts have also said it is more easily damaged in older
people like Epstein.
“It is amazing how much information you can get by interviewing the
prisoners in the nearby cell. Would the FBI have interviewed them if
they thought it was a suicide?”
Mark Epstein, while not providing details, believes that there were
people who wanted his brother dead, and he is concerned that his own
life, and the lives of other people, may be in jeopardy because
federal authorities have not fully probed the circumstances under
which his brother died.
“Jeffrey knew a lot of stuff about a lot of people,’’ Mark Epstein said.
Jeffrey Epstein began cultivating important clients as a trader on
Wall Street, his brother said. He said his brother was a math whiz
while growing up in Brooklyn and was accepted to and attended Cooper
Union, the renowned New York art, architecture and engineering school
where Mark, also a Cooper Union alum, would later serve a rocky tenure
as chairman of the board of trustees.
“People are calling Jeffrey a college dropout and make him out to be a
really bad character. But my brother went to Cooper Union and it’s
hard to get in there. He didn’t drop out. He didn’t need a degree, he
was really good at math and he didn’t let not having a degree hold him
Because Cooper Union did not have a mathematics major, Mark said his
brother applied to and was accepted into New York University’s Courant
Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
But ultimately Jeffrey accepted a low-level floor trader job with Bear
Stearns, and decided to apply his mathematical skills to the options
“He got involved with Wall Street when it was the Wild West,’’ Mark
Epstein said. “When we were young men he came home one day and he said
that if the general public knew what was taking place on Wall Street,
there would be a revolution. People would be appalled at how corrupt
Jeffrey Epstein did leave Bear Stearns, abruptly, causing speculation
that he had been under investigation for a securities violation.
Their parents, Seymour and Pauline, were married in 1952 and remained
together until his father’s death in 1991 at the Cleveland Clinic in
Ohio, where he was undergoing treatment for a heart condition, Mark
Mark said they were both close to their father, a laborer and
maintenance worker for the New York City Parks Department, and to
their mother, who worked as a secretary for an insurance company.
FBI investigators, for example, haven’t questioned Epstein’s former
cellmate, Nick Tartaglione, an ex-New York cop awaiting trial, accused
of four murders. Mark said that his brother claimed that Tartaglione
had assaulted him.
“This is all conspiracy nonsense,’’ said Bruce A. Barket,
“Remember this is not a one-cell cockamamie prison, this is a federal
prison in downtown New York City that housed John Gotti and El Chapo
[the drug Mexico lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman]. To accept all these
as facts is unbelievable.’’
Baden said the only piece of evidence they have seen of the death
scene is a photograph, presumably taken by prison officials, of the
cell after Epstein was removed.
The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier @man_integrated
Law & Politics
Control of key landmasses enables logistical operations at scale.
The US has one of the most important. China wants it.
More than 1,700 km from the nearest mainland (India), Diego Garcia is
the largest island in the Chagos Archipelago.
Originally discovered by the French in 1790, the British took control
in the 1800's. For NATO countries, it is an indispensible piece of the
DG is a unique installation.
Boasting runways long enough to land/launch even the massive B-52
Stratofortress bomber, robust naval resupply infrastructure, and one
of three US Air Force GEODSS optical space surveillance systems, DG
serves multiple roles.
The location, infrastructure, and natural resources make DG a
partially self-sustaining asset squarely in the middle of China's
Recall, China is using #BeltandRoad to control logistics assets
stretching from China to Europe.
Bond Market's Fate Hangs in Balance Before Trade-War Crunch Time @YahooFinance
Treasury investors just got one week closer to locking in their best
annual performance since 2011.
The reflation wager that had 10-year yields on the brink of eclipsing
2% for the first time in months faltered last week.
Investors’ frustration with the pace of progress in trade negotiations
was a key reason bond buyers emerged.
But signs of economic weakness in China, Japan and Europe were also at
work, and evidence of still-muted U.S. inflation added to the mix.
For the world’s biggest debt market, a lot may hinge on the next few
weeks, and whether the U.S. and China can reach a trade agreement.
The Trump administration is signaling that talks over a first phase of
a broad deal are in the final stages. But the Dec. 15 deadline for the
next round of tariffs is fast approaching.
With an accord, Treasuries’ roughly 7% return in 2019 could shrivel
and prove the bond bears right. But a breakdown could pave the way for
yields to tumble anew.
“The path of least resistance for Treasury yields is higher, but
critically it’s also dependent on a trade resolution,” Gene Tannuzzo,
deputy global head of fixed income at Columbia Threadneedle
Investments, said in a Bloomberg Television interview.
The trade standoff is “the biggest elephant in the room.”
After peaking at a three-month high of 1.97% on Nov. 7, benchmark
10-year Treasury yields have tumbled back to 1.83%, even after
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Friday that a deal will get done
“in all likelihood.”
U.S. and Chinese negotiators held “constructive discussions” in a
phone call Saturday to address core concerns of phase one of the trade
Meanwhile, comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell last
week left traders’ expecting around a quarter-point of easing next
He signaled satisfaction with the current policy stance but noted that
With the week ahead largely devoid of top-tier economic data,
bond-market volatility could be subdued, according to BMO Capital
Markets rates strategist Jon Hill.
“The pendulum had swung so far toward, ‘The Fed’s achieved a soft
landing, everything’s awesome,’” Hill said. “That got ahead of
itself,” and any disappointment on trade could see yields fall back
The 10-year yield’s low this year, of 1.43%, came in early September,
when new tariffs went into effect and worries intensified that trade
friction was sending the global economy into a tailspin.
For BMO, Treasuries’ sensitivity to expectations for the world economy
is evident in their strong correlation with the performance of China’s
currency. As Treasury yields sank this week, the yuan posted its
biggest slide since September, weakening to about 7 per dollar.
BMO estimates that the offshore yuan would need to strengthen to 6.93
per dollar for 10-year yields to touch 2%.
The correlation “shows the importance of global, not just domestic,
growth in setting the clearing level of U.S. rates,” Hill said.
In the eyes of Morgan Stanley strategist Matthew Hornbach, the U.S.
would have to remove tariffs it imposed in September for 10-year
yields to breach 2%.
“If we do get a trade deal and there’s a rollback of the September
tariffs, we’re very likely going higher in yields,” he said in a
Bloomberg Television interview. “If not, we’re very likely going
13-AUG-2019 :: The Feedback Loop Phenomenon
China has exerted the power of pull over a vast swathe of the world
over the last two decades. We can call it the China, Asia, EM and
Frontier markets feedback loop.
This feedback loop has been largely a positive one for the last two
decades. With the Yuan now in retreat [and in a precise response to
Trump], this will surely exert serious downside pressure on those
countries in the Feed- back Loop.
The Purest Proxy for the China, Asia, EM and Frontier markets feedback
loop phenomenon is the South African Rand aka the ZAR.
@jpmorgan Chase & Co.'s widely used index of emerging market foreign exchange is close to plumbing a new low @bopinion @johnauthers
The latest IIF data show why this is such a concern. The amount of
dollar-denominated debt issued in emerging markets has shot up in
recent years, in an understandable attempt to take advantage of low
rates. Dollar-denominated debt swamps euro- and yen-denominated debt.
Outside China, non-bank borrowers in other emerging markets have
racked up foreign currency debt (mostly in dollars) equivalent to more
than 20% of GDP. This is higher than on the eve of the Asian crisis of
the late 1990s.
Put in a different perspective, emerging markets now take a far bigger
share of total global debt than they did even before the Asian crisis.
Tightening liquidity in emerging markets, along with a strong dollar
and weak emerging currencies, therefore combine to spell potential
serious problems, particularly if the trade war cannot be steered to a
Russia's shadow presence in Africa: Wagner group mercenaries in at least 20 countries aim to turn continent into strategic hub @dailymaverick
The “godfather” and funder of Wagner Group is Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St
Petersburg-based oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” who has led Russia’s
push into Africa over the past three years, moving into a vacuum left
in part by the United States’ waning interest in the continent.
Russia is now the largest supplier of weapons to Africa; it has
military co-operation agreements and deals for military and police
training with more than half of African nations; and a series of
nuclear technology deals with Egypt, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and
Technically, mercenary activity is illegal in Russia and while the
Kremlin has consistently publicly denied any links, Wagner Group
functions as an undeclared branch of the Russian military.
Apart from being involved in hard combat, Wagner Group provides
weapons training, supports police and civilian intelligence services
and provides security protection for Russian personnel.
A former KGB operative now based in the West described Wagner’s
meteoric rise in Africa as one of the most successful GRU (Russian
military intelligence) operations of all time.
In June 2019, The Guardian revealed that documents obtained from the
Dossier Center, supported by the dissident Russian businessman Mikhail
Khodorkovsky, indicated that Prigozhin is behind a covert mission to
amplify Russian influence in Africa.
The documents show extensive Prigozhin-linked operations and the
Kremlin plotted to turn Africa into a strategic hub to displace US and
European powers. One of the goals is to see off “pro-western”
uprisings — an apparent reference to combating opposition movements.
The documents show “the Company” taking credit for the election of
Madagascar’s new president Andry Rajoelina and that Russia had
produced and distributed the island’s biggest newspaper.
Wagner also advised Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on how to crush
opposition protests in Khartoum, but the company has still been able
to maintain its relationship with the new administration brought into
power as a result of those protests.
The rapid success of the Wagner enterprise has also opened the way for
a second generation of Russian private military companies. Two new
companies, Patriot and Sew Security Services, have begun operations in
Africa during the past year.
The gruesome death of at least seven Russian fighters from the Wagner
group at the hands of insurgents in northern Mozambique on October 31,
2019 has brought new scrutiny to the existence of thousands of Russian
mercenaries in more than a dozen African countries.
Wagner’s activities — the full extent of which would shock many
Africans — were not high on the official agenda as Russian President
Vladimir Putin hosted 43 African heads of state at the Black Sea
resort of Sochi in an exhibition of Russian soft power in October.
Wagner is commanded by Dmitry Utkin who in 2016 received a medal for
bravery from the Kremlin. It was investigative journalist Denis
Krortkov, who had been tracking Utkin for years, who spotted Utkin at
the ceremony on a social media post.
Writing in 2016, journalist Aleksandr Gostev said that Putin’s
awarding of the medal to Utkin provided “the clearest indication yet
of the key role paramilitary mercenary formations have played in
Russian foreign policy”.
Utkin’s nom de guerre is “Vagner” allegedly due to his “affection for
the attributes and ideology” of Adolf Hitler’s Nationalist Socialist
regime and its beloved composer Wagner.
BuzzFeed journalist Mike Giglio, writing in April 2019, quoted Stephen
Blank, who has researched the Wagner group for the US Army War
College, saying the mercenary outfit had been funded “at times via
outsize state contracts directed to Prigozhin-owned companies, for
services such as catering at military bases.
“At other times, Wagner has funded itself via deals with foreign
governments. In the Central African Republic, it is compensated for
training the presidential guard and receives a percentage of profits
from the gold and diamond mines it guards.”
Wagner has a similar arrangement in Syria, where it takes a cut from
the operations of oil and natural gas fields.
Wagner’s shadowy war makes it difficult to determine the group’s exact
activities. It is only when it is swept up in news events such as in
Syria, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, or more recently
Libya, that its activities come to light.
Attempts at scrutiny have been complicated by the suspicious deaths of
three members of a Russian television team, the veteran Orkan Djemal,
Alexander Rastorguev and Kirill Radchenko, in the Central African
Republic in 2018, who were ambushed while making a documentary on
From what can be gleaned from sources on the ground — and the scant
open source information that is available — Wagner is present in at
least 20 African countries.
On 31 October Facebook suspended three networks of Russian accounts
tied to Prigozhin that it claimed were influencing operations hiding
behind fake identities that had “meddled in the domestic politics of
eight African countries” — CAR, Congo Brazzaville, Sudan, Mozambique,
Madagascar, Cameroon and Ivory Coast.
In 2016, Wagner expanded into the Middle East in support of Russia’s
mission to shore up Syrian President Bashar al Assad and combat ISIS,
where they were used as shock troops and sustained heavy casualties in
the two battles for Palmyra and at the hands of US airpower when they
attempted to capture the Conoco natural gas plant at Deir al-Zour in
Unconfirmed reports indicated that several hundred Wagner
paramilitaries were killed in the fighting.
Hence the jubilation expressed by Wagner paramilitaries when they took
over the abandoned US base at Manbij in North-East Syria in October,
after US President Donald Trump moved US troops out of the area (while
continuing to station US troops to protect the oil plant).
Though US Africa Command maintains one of the largest drone complexes
in the world in Djibouti, and has built a new complex in Agadez in
Niger, the US under Donald Trump has demonstrated little enthusiasm
In Libya, where Wagner forces are fighting in support of the rebel
General Khalifa Haftar, US special forces based in Misrata withdrew
from the country earlier in 2019 when the war erupted outside Tripoli.
Wagner first emerged in 2014 as part of the force that annexed Crimea
from Ukraine and then as part of Russia’s undercover support for the
separatist war in Ukraine’s Donbass region.
A private military force, not wearing official Russian uniforms,
offered plausible deniability for a military campaign that was never
officially acknowledged by the Kremlin.
Wagner’s first African adventure was in the Central African Republic
where it took on the Islamist Seleka rebels and the group has built on
this relationship to such an extent that the Special Security Adviser
to the CAR presidency is Valery Zakharov, a Russian national and a
Wagner’s rationale for its operations in Africa is that it is helping
defeat terrorists, Islamist insurgents and transnational criminals
that are destabilising the continent.
This is cleverly the same rationale that the US’s Africa Command
(Africom) has used in its engagement in Africa: though Africom talks
about building the capacity of African armies to defeat these forces.
What differentiates Wagner and makes them so valuable is their
willingness to fight on the frontlines: Wagner forces are fighting in
Mali, Libya, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Sudan.
There are unconfirmed reports of more than 1,000 mercenaries in Congo
Brazzaville and 2,700 troops stationed on Russian warships off the
coast of Mozambique.
Wagner’s ability to come in on the back of Russian military agreements
has given it an extraordinary reach. Unofficially, Wagner personnel
are in more than 20 African countries, a number that is growing.
With Nigeria on the verge of signing a military assistance deal, the
post-Zuma South Africa is the most important hold-out. But Wagner has
offices in most of the neighbouring states, including Botswana,
Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Mozambique and Lesotho.
As an ostensibly private commercial company, Wagner is following the
example set by the original “diamond dogs of war”, the South African
PMC Executive Outcomes (EO), and trading military support for mining
deals, especially when the host country can’t afford the bills.
In the 1990s EO helped the government of Sierra Leone beat back the
threat from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in exchange for a
stake in the country’s diamond fields.
Eeben Barlow, the brains behind EO, gave a briefing on his unique
business model to the St Petersburg economic forum in June 2010, at
which members of the Russian general staff were present.
EO had major successes in Sierra Leone and Angola (against Unita) —
and its successor SSTIP helped the Nigerian army dismantle the Boko
Haram caliphate in north-east Nigeria in 2015.
But the international community, including the US, opposed the spread
of mercenary armies, and EO was forced out or largely blocked from
The United Nations Mercenary Convention holds that the recruitment,
training, use and financing of mercenaries is a violation of
The outrage at EO’s interventions by NGOs and well-meaning others in
the West has not been matched in the international response to Wagner.
Like EO, where the troops were veterans of southern Africa’s wars,
many of Wagner’s fighters are battle-hardened veterans of the Chechen
wars, and now Ukraine and Syria.
Like EO, Wagner appears to be securing mining concessions, such as
those acquired in the CAR, and a Wagner-related company called M
Invest Ltd has acquired mining rights in Sudan.
However, unlike EO, which flew the flag of no country, Wagner
functions as an undeclared branch of the Russian military.
A detailed investigation of Wagner in The Atlantic magazine said:
“It’s fighters fly to Syria on Russian military aircraft, receive
treatment in Russian military hospitals, work alongside regular
Russian forces in operations, and are awarded Russian military medals
signed personally by Vladimir Putin.”
Wagner can do things that the Russian military cannot as it operates
in a world of smoke and mirrors.
Sean McFate, a former US paratrooper and author of The New Rules of
War: Victory in the Age of Durable Disorder, says:
“Shadow wars are a certain type of war where plausible deniability
eclipses firepower in terms of effectiveness. Think about how Russia
was in Crimea.
“In older war tactics, when they would put their heel on another
state, they’d send in the tanks. Now, in 2019, that’s not how they do
it. They have military backup, but they use covert and clandestine
means. They use special forces, they use mercenaries, they use
proxies, they use propaganda — things that give them plausible
deniability. They manufacture the fog of war and then exploit it for
Russia’s embrace of Africa is a superb irony because the Kremlin is
providing covert support to far-right nationalists and
anti-immigration racists in Europe and in the US it helped elect
Prigozhin was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in 2017 for
his hand in the Internet Research Agency, the troll farm that was a
key part of the GRU effort to help Trump win the US election in 2016.
Russia’s push is “strategic” and not about Africa as such but, as
Putin has made abundantly clear, about winning an undeclared war
against the West, especially the US and France.
This raises the prospect of Africa once again becoming the site of
great power competition that it was during the Cold War.
The net outcome could be a massive militarisation of the continent —
and future indebtedness to Russia as African countries buy up
expensive weapons systems and nuclear energy plants.
In Cameroon, where Wagner is advising in the battle against Boko
Haram, the Russians have sold anti-aircraft weapons that will have
little effect in fighting terrorism.
In April, Angola purchased expensive Sukhoi SU-30 fighter jets vastly
superior to any combat aircraft currently operating in southern Africa
and expressed interest in purchasing Russian S400 missile systems with
its highly developed electronic and software equipment capable of
mobile electronic snooping.
About 200 Wagner men are involved in protecting Russian military
intelligence officials at the Pico Basilé island spy base in
Equatorial Guinea. This base allows for the interception of signals
from almost all of the west coast of Africa. Over recent years the
base has been significantly enlarged.
So far Russia’s military scramble for Africa has happened on the cheap.
China spent hundreds of billions of dollars building its influence in
Africa through infrastructure projects and boosting economic ties, but
has a very light military footprint and no equivalent of Wagner.
Chinese mining operations at Tenke Fugurume in the Democratic Republic
of Congo are protected by American mercenary Erik Prince’s Frontier
Prince, whose now-defunct Blackwater security company was the most
notorious private military contractor operating in Iraq during the war
and was responsible for the Nisour Square massacre, is also involved
in Mozambique and South Sudan, and appears to be Wagner’s main
competition on the continent.
But though Prince has connections to the Trump administration where
his sister Betsy de Vos is Education Secretary, and was himself
investigated by Robert Mueller for trying to create a backchannel
between the Trump administration and the Kremlin via Seychelles, he
appears to be mercenary in the true meaning of the word.
He works with the Chinese, the Russians and, it is rumoured, the big
oil companies in Mozambique.
And he lacks the kind of big impact that has put Wagner on the map in
such a spectacular way.
Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin?
Just like the Gupta family scaled giddy financial heights in South
Africa through contracts with Jacob Zuma’s government, Yevgeny
Prigozhin amassed his power and his fortune through a catering
contract with the Kremlin.
Prigozhin grew up in Leningrad, Putin’s home city. He later served a
nine-year prison sentence on charges of robbery and on his release
branched out into the catering business.
This led to his nickname “Putin’s chef” after this former hotdog
seller who later opened an elite restaurant. In 2001 Putin,
accompanied by Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori, popped in for a
meal. Putin was so impressed he contracted Prigozhin to cater for his
51st birthday party in 2003.
After his encounter with Putin, Prigozhin secured lucrative contracts
to supply food to the Russian army and schoolchildren which soon
secured him a place at the table of Russia’s oligarchs — obscenely
wealthy, politically connected “businessmen” who enjoy a close
relationship with the Kremlin.
It was Russia’s oligarchs who enabled Putin’s rise to power. Later
Putin suggested they give up their political power and some of their
fortune in exchange for “safety, security and continued prosperity”,
as Masha Gessen wrote for the New York Times in 2014.
Some, like media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky, refused and were forced into exile.
Prigozhin’s rise has been described by opposition leader Alexei
Navalny as “a parable of Russia under Putin”
28-OCT-2019 :: From Russia with Love
I would argue Putin’s timing is exquisite and optimal and his Model
has an exponential ROI.
Russia’s clout on African soil runs on many tracks, and its expansion
is geared primarily towards hybrid activities. In Moscow’s offer for
Africa are mercenaries, military equipment, mining investments,
nuclear power plants, and railway connections.
Andrew Korybko writes Moscow invaluably fills the much-needed niche of
providing its partners there with “Democratic Security”, or in other
words, the cost-effective and low-commitment capabilities needed to
thwart colour revolutions and resolve unconventional Wars
(collectively referred to as Hybrid War).
To simplify, Russia’s “political technologists” have reportedly
devised bespoke solutions for confronting incipient and ongoing color
revolutions, just like its private military contractors (PMCs) have
supposedly done the same when it comes to ending insurgencies.
Once we look through the Optics of two nuclear-capable supersonic
bombers belonging to the Russian Air Force landing in Pretoria for the
aircraft’s first-ever landing on the African continent and, according
to an embassy official, only the second country in which it has made a
public appearance outside of Russia.
The first was Venezuela. Then we need to see this move for what it is.
It is meaningful.
Where Xi is fed up and speaks about the ‘’The End of Vanity’’ because
the ROI [outside commodities and telecoms for China] is negative,
Putin has created a hybrid model with an exponential ROI. I would
imagine he is on speed dial.
Big Saturday Read: Two Years After the Coup - The Economy (Part 2) @Wamagaisa
For all the shortcomings of his two year old administration, Emmerson
Mnangagwa might have been excused by many Zimbabweans and might have
been glorified as a hero, had he performed a Houdini Act on the
economy. True, the coup that catapulted Mnangagwa into power in
November 2017 took place against the backdrop of an on-going and
long-running economic quagmire. But he came in with great verve and a
show of undaunted spirit. He spoke a lot and promised much and in
doing so, raised great expectations. He touted it as “the new
dispensation” and promised to do things differently from the old
regime. However, his performance in the two years after the coup has
been flaccid at best. It has been a much ado about nothing affair
which has sunk the country into serious economic and political
doldrums. In any event, he lacks the licence to divorce himself from
the deep-rooted causes of that economic collapse, having been Mugabe’s
top lieutenant and chief enforcer since independence in 1980. It would
not be unfair to say that if Mugabe was the architect of the economic
collapse, Mnangagwa was more than a handyman. Two years on, Zimbabwe
is still in dire-straits, a ready example in many an economics class
of how not to run an economy. Some locals say things are worse than
when he arrived but even if that might be marked as an exaggeration,
the mere fact that he is being compared to his predecessor is damning
enough. The only way after Mugabe should have been upwards. But under
Mnangagwa Zimbabwe has failed to defy the economics version of the law
The indicators are not good. Although the government suspended
official year-on-year inflation data, the IMF put it at 300% in August
2019 and independent observers say it’s over 400%. There has been no
improvement on the employment front with more than 90% of the working
population unemployed. Companies continue to close down while other
have been forced to scale down operations. Loss-making public
enterprises are still draining the national coffers. The majority have
crossed over to the informal sector. More than 60% of the population
is in need of food aid, thanks in part to natural disasters but
largely to poor agricultural policies. There have been serious
shortages or increase in the prices of basics including fuel,
electricity, bread and cooking oil. Wages have fallen well below
inflation. There have also been continued cash shortages. Civil
servants have been striking with doctors and teachers leading the
pack. Hospitals are dysfunctional and some say there’s a slow genocide
taking place with thousands dying of curable ailments. Instead of
working to find an amicable solution, the government claims to have
fired doctors. But just as they did under the Mugabe regime, when they
experience as much as a cough, senior ministers hop on the plane and
fly to South Africa or overseas for medical treatment. There is
virtually no incentive on their part as public officers to ensure that
the healthcare system is fit for purpose. More of these indicators are
examined in greater detail in this article. Young Zimbabweans are
tired and exasperated. There is an overwhelming air of hopelessness.
They go to college and graduate. Mnangagwa, as Chancellor of all state
universities attends every graduation ceremony to cap them. It is
doubtful that the irony registers in his mind as he attends these
ceremonies, that the majority will be transitioning into redundancy,
thanks to the parlous economic conditions. If there is an opportunity
to leave, the average young Zimbabwean will grab it without
Already a big problem in the past, public debt has increased over the
two year period. The Finance Minister admits in his latest budget
statement, that public debt is “unsustainably high, due to the
accumulation of arrears, as well as expansion of domestic debt”. The
Minister admits that without alternative sources of funding, the
government has over-relied on domestic sources of financing which has
resulted in rising domestic debt. “Since 2017, there has been a huge
increase in domestic debt,” says Ncube.
In the previous budget, Ncube told the nation that from December 2017
the government had gone on a borrowing spree from the central bank.
Its overdraft facility at the RBZ rose from US$1.4 billion in December
2017 to US$2.5 billion in September 2018. In just 10 months the regime
had taken US$1.1 billion from the central bank. According to the 2019
budget statement, lending to government from the RBZ rose by US$1.11
billion between January and September 2018. The new Mnangagwa
administration had gone on spree of issuing Treasury Bills after the
coup - most probably to fund their election campaign. Civil society
watchdogs like ZIMCODD believe the public debt is understated and they
have called for a comprehensive audit so that a true picture is
revealed. For example, this year the government took over the US$1.2
billion legacy debt from commercial banks. This includes debts owed to
foreign airlines for airfares which the banks didn’t repatriate in
foreign currency due to shortages. This foreign currency crunch and
inability to repatriate profits has also dissuaded investors from the
country. However, in attempts to water down the severity of the
problem, Ncube says domestic debt has been reined in since the end of
2018. He attributes this to, among other things, what he calls “zero
recourse to RBZ financing including the overdraft facility”. In other
words, he says that the government has not borrowed from the central
bank. This claim is hard to sustain given that in the same budget
statement he also discloses that the government issued Treasury Bills
in 2019 to cover a ZWL$318 million cash advance and a ZWL$2.9 billion
overdraft both from the RBZ. Even if the claim is that some of the TBs
were for restructuring existing obligations it would still be
misleading to claim that there is zero financing from the central
bank. The enormous foreign debt that has stood for years is still
unpaid and is growing due to interest and penalties. It now stands at
US$8 billion according to the latest budget statement. More than 60%
of this debt is owed to bilateral creditors, with the remainder due to
multilateral creditors such as the World Bank and African Development
Bank. The bulk of foreign debt consists of arrears in principal,
interest and penalties. These arrears prevent Zimbabwe from accessing
lines of credit. As Ncube admits in the latest budget statement, “the
external arrears prevent the country from accessing new financing from
the IFIs, traditional bilateral and commercial creditors”.
Effectively, Zimbabwe is caught up in a debt trap. The country has
made token payments to the IFIs, says Ncube, in an effort to
demonstrate commitment to re-engagement to the creditors. However,
this tokenism is a pointless exercise, akin to pouring money down the
drain when it could be used to alleviate the plight of the poor. The
creditors are not impressed by the tokenism. Zimbabwe needs to attend
to major reforms that will rehabilitate its political brand. Creditors
are reluctant to be seen as if they are condoning a recalcitrant
A country with no friends?
The Mnangagwa regime might have used the goodwill and support it
enjoyed in the early months to find a benefactor willing to support it
with bridge financing to clear its arrears and unlock credit lines.
That could have provided a huge boost. This is how Myanmar was able to
clear about US$6 billion of its debts in 2013 with the help of Japan.
The help from Japan to pay off loans to IFIs and bilateral creditors
helped to unlock funds from those institutions while facilitating debt
cancellations. The Mnangagwa regime did not have the fortune of its
counterparts in Myanmar. It is not clear why none of the regime’s
allies came to its aid. For so long referred to by ZANU PF as an
“all-weather friend”, China balked at the request for US$2 billion
support. Not even China had confidence in the new regime, despite the
rhetoric. It had refused Mugabe’s requests a few years earlier. China
does support a limited amount of projects including the rehabilitation
of the Hwange Thermal Power Station and the expansion of the airport
in Harare. It is also building the new parliament building in Mt
Hampden. These sweeteners serve to maintain a relationship, but they
cannot obscure the fact that China refused to offer the much-needed
package in respect of which the Mnangagwa regime was desperate.
Mnannagwa's allies in the region are happy to offer him moral support.
When it comes to real economic assistance, they are nowhere to be
seen. When Zimbabwe defaulted on its energy bills to South Africa and
Mozambique, they simply stopped supplying electricity, plunging their
neighbour into darkness. Debt forgiveness for a neighbour in distress?
No. It's strictly business.
The currency issue is probably the biggest and most visible indicator
of Zimbabwe’s predicament. When Mnangagwa became president in November
2017, Zimbabwe had a multi-currency system, which had been adopted
since 2009 after losing the local currency to record-breaking
hyperinflation. However, a year earlier, Zimbabwe had introduced a
surrogate currency, called the bond note, which it said was equal to
the US dollar. The one to one equivalence was, of course, a command
fiction which only the government maintained. The Mnangagwa regime has
now officially abandoned the multi currency regime and introduced
mono-currency with the official return of the Zimbabwe Dollar on 24
June 2019. A few months earlier in February 2019, the government had
semi-liberalised the exchange rate, making the RTGS Dollar legal
tender and abandoning the pretence that the surrogate currency was
equivalent to the US Dollar. This attempt to push the maker towards
the RTGS Dollar in a multi-currency environment failed, leading to the
hasty introduction of the Zimbabwe Dollar in June. The net effect is
that the local currency has lost enormous value against the US Dollar
- more than 80% - from what it was worth at the time of the coup.
Therefore, whereas the surrogate currency was 1:1 with the US Dollar
in November ember 2017, it is now 1:15 on the official Interbank
Market and 1:20 on the parallel market. The problem is that while the
local currency lost value against the US Dollar, prices of goods and
services had already risen as if they were pegged to the US Dollar.
Furthermore, workers’ wages and pensions were not adjusted to keep at
pace with the currency changes. What changed was the prefix to the
figures, not the figures themselves. Until this month, pensioners were
still getting a measly $ZWL80. The new monthly pension announced by
NSSA may have risen by 150% but at ZWL$200 (or US$13) it remains a
pittance. A bag of Compound “D” fertiliser costs ZWL$400 which means a
pensioner who is farming must wait two months to buy a single bag.
Given these ridiculously low figures, it’s not surprising that
Zimbabweans cannot take the Finance Minister seriously when he
announces that he has made a surplus. It means absolutely nothing to
them. Likewise, it is hardly surprising when some make adverse
comparisons between Mnangagwa and his predecessor. Consequently,
workers and pensioners who were already complaining under Mugabe in
November 2017 are still impoverished under the Mnangagwa regime, with
no respite in sight. This is why the public healthcare system is at a
standstill and a serious administration would have declared a state of
The Professor’s Great Currency Gamble
Mthuli Ncube knew he was taking a great gamble when he abolished the
multi-currency regime and announced the new Zimbabwe Dollar as the
sole legal tender on 24 June 2019. Writing in the Financial Times, on
20 August 2019, Ncube described the return of the Zimbabwe Dollar as a
“simple economic and geopolitical necessity”. The multi-currency
regime had been “a tourniquet, not a cure” he said arguing that while
it brought stability it had eroded the country’s competitiveness on
the export market where regional currencies were weaker than the US
Dollar. However, “plenty of foreign exchange is required to stabilise
the introduction of a new currency and leaven inevitable inflation”
the Finance Minister conceded before adding, “Zimbabwe’s reserves
could not be described as abundant”. He indicated that Zimbabwe had no
prospect of getting foreign currency. “A fresh tranche of foreign
exchange in the required volume and time frame was impossible, he
admitted. The choice was between “short-term turbulence now or greater
anguish later”, suggesting that the government was under severe
pressure to introduce the currency. Indeed, attempts in February 2019
to rescue the situation by liberalising foreign currency trading and
designating the RTGS as the preferred currency had failed to yield the
desired outcome. “Change has to be driven more forcefully” write
Ncube, justifying the legal intervention designating the Zimbabwe
Dollar as the sole legal tender and banning the US dollar and other
currencies for local trading but also reaffirn=ming the command
approach to the economy. However, as with all currencies, the fate of
the Zimbabwe Dollar lies in its ability to inspire confidence and
belief in the market. As Yuval Harare has pointed out a currency is a
myth; a figment of the imagination which depends on the extent to
which it is believed. Its value holds if a significant number of
persons believe in it. The old Zimbabwe Dollar became extinct because
the market lost faith in it. Market actors could no longer believe in
it as a medium of exchange. The great test for the new Zimbabwe Dollar
is whether it succeeds where its predecessor failed. Already the
market refused to believe the government’s original order that the
Zimbabwe Dollar was equal to the US Dollar. This is why it is hovering
between 15 and 20 Zimbabwe Dollars to 1 US Dollar. It might hold if
the market believes in it, or it will fall further. In this regard,
the experience of the RTGS Dollar between February and June 2019 is
worth learning from. Ncube said the government was forced into a hasty
intervention by introducing the Zimbabwe Dollar as the sole legal
tender after realising that the RTGS Dollar was failing to establish
itself as the currency of exchange and instead the market was
re-dollarising. But there is no guarantee that the market will not
self-dollarise even with the command Zimbabwe Dollar. After all, when
dollarisation was adopted in 2009, it was not because the government
ordered it. Rather the market had already self-dollarised and the
government simply followed the market. The authorities will hope that
the Zimbabwe Dollar does not spiral out of control as happened to the
old Zimbabwe Dollar in 2008. If it does, Mnangagwa would have taken
Zimbabweans back to the dark place where his predecessor and mentor
took them a decade ago. It is sobering to think that this striking
feat cannot be ruled out.
In this regard, the perennial shortage of foreign currency remains
problematic. In November 2017, Zimbabwe was short of foreign currency.
The forex crunch begun years earlier and it prompted the government
to introduce bond notes touted variously as an export incentive and to
reduce cash shortages. The cash shortages had begun at the tail end of
2013, the same year that ZANU PF retained power exclusively following
a controversial general election which ended the Inclusive Government.
The Inclusive Government had ushered in a period of relative stability
on the economic front. But while Zimbabwe was spending foreign
currency, it was not generating enough of it. There was capital flight
after the 2013 elections and the demand of foreign currency
outstripped supply. In the end long queues formed at banks which could
only give very low amounts at a time. In 2017 the situation was dire
with shortages of fuel and basic goods becoming more common. The new
administration was expected to make things better, with renewed hopes
of foreign direct investment and new lines of credit. However, none of
that has happened leaving the country severely impoverished of foreign
exchange sources. It has had to rely on earnings from tobacco and gold
exports as well as remittances from the Diaspora. The government’s
policies in the gold sector have been counter-productive, as the
Finance Minister has admitted this week. He told a business event that
Zimbabwe was losing 30 to 34 tonnes of gold to South Africa through
smuggling. He also conceded that illegal exporters were avoiding the
formal system because of punitive rules which force them to surrender
a large part of their export revenues. The government was warned that
the parallel market would flourish because of its tough rules, but it
did not listen. Now it's counting the cost. The problem is for too
long the little foreign currency that came was abused by political and
business elites. They took advantage of access to the central bank,
getting forex at 1:1 and making profits on the black market or selling
goods at higher prices that did not record the implicit subsidies they
were getting. The central bank had a Foreign Currency Allocation
Committee, which gave cheap foreign currency on a preferential basis
to a select group of importers on the basis that they were importing
essential commodities such as fuel, grain, cooking oil and
electricity. These subsidies were not always reflected in the prices
charged by these importers and producers. It was a racket which made a
few elites wealthy in a sea of poverty. The facility has since been
removed for fuel importers. In the 2020 budget the Finance Minister
has undertaken to end the subsidies for grain importers. However,
there will still be subsidies ostensibly to protect consumers from the
rise in prices that will follow the marketisation of grain imports.
Whether these subsidies will make a difference in the racketeering
among elites is debatable.
A major problem during the Mugabe era was unbudgeted spending by the
government. This lack of fiscal discipline has been the government’s
major undoing. This meant the government breached its own budget
limits and ministries and spent beyond their lawful appropriations.
Only later would they seek condonation from Parliament. There is
currently a Financial Adjustments Bill, by which government intends to
seek condonation for systemic bouts of overspending since 2015.
Interestingly, there was more overspending in 2017 (US$4.5 billion)
and 2018 (US$3.5 billion) - the period covered by the Mnangagwa regime
than prior years (US$25 million in 2015 and US$1.5 billion in 2016).
It’s already clear that the government spent more than it had budgeted
for in 2019. The Finance Minister says in his latest budget statement,
“In 2019, spending outside the Budget and macro-economic shocks
disrupted attainment of the TSP targets. Refraining from unbudgeted
activities and borrowing from the Central Bank will, therefore,
constitute a key obligation for both Treasury and the Central Bank
Authorities from 2020.” This is the same thing he promised in the last
budget statement, which means the government is not living up to its
undertakings. The truth is that old habits die hard. These are the
same personnel who ran government departments during the Mugabe era.
They have continued to behave as they did during that period
regardless of Ncube’s exhortations. It doesn’t help that Mnangagwa has
defaulted on his promise of having a small government by which he
sought to distinguish himself from his predecessor. However, his
government has expanded over the two years. After initially trimming
the number of deputy ministers, he has added new ones, repudiating his
earlier undertakings. Deputy Ministers are not essential in a
bureaucracy that already has a Permanent Secretary who operates as the
CEO of a Ministry. They do not even sit in Cabinet in place of their
Minister when he or she is absent. The roles have been used as
instruments of patronage; a classic case of Jobs of the Boys, thereby
broadening the President’s sphere of loyalists and acolytes but at
Command Agriculture Scam
Zimbabwe was once regarded as the breadbasket of the region. This was
because it had a vibrant agricultural sector both in the commercial
and subsistence sectors. The country’s rainfall pattern has always
been erratic but the commercial sector has harnessed rainwater in
times of plenty, building dams and investing in irrigation
infrastructure. This infrastructure was also affected during the
chaotic land reform programme and efforts to rebuild it have been
marred by corruption. For example, the Auditor General revealed that a
company called Solutions Motors was given more than a million dollars
to supply irrigation equipment and vehicles for the Department of
Irrigation. The company did not deliver half the goods. This type of
corruption is systemic and one of the major factors of the Mnangagwa
regime’s failure to turn the economy around. More importantly,
however, is that the agricultural support program implemented by the
government since 2016 has been nothing short of a disaster. Launched
as Command Agriculture, Mnangagwa immediately claimed it as his
flagship program, well before the coup. But it turned out to be a
great scam. Sakunda Holdings was presented as the funding partner of
the program but in reality it was no more than a conduit for public
funds from the government. The government paid Sakunda which sourced
inputs and distributed them to the farmers via the Grain Marketing
Board. The reality was that Sakunda was no more than a middleman but
as the AG found out the systems were so compromised that there was a
conflict of interest and no way of monitoring whether Sakunda was
complying with its obligations. When senior civil servants in the
Ministry of Finance were questioned by the Public Accounts Committee
to account for huge payments to so-called suppliers under Command
Agriculture, they professed ignorance. To his credit, the Finance
Minister saw early on that Command Agriculture was a scam that could
not be sustained. His objections are encapsulated in the following
words from his latest budget statement, “The current financing model
for agriculture places an unfair share of the burden on Government ...
The model has created opportunities for arbitrage, leakages and
corruption, presenting a risk to macro-stability and the Budget.”
Ncube’s problem from the start of his tenure was that Command
Agriculture was his boss’ flagship programme. Now he had the daunting
task of telling him that it was a financially disastrous programme. He
has been sniping at it over the past year. But he has not succeeded in
getting rid of it altogether. He has a new name for it: Smart
Agriculture, a term that had pride of place in their political rivals
MDC Alliance’s manifesto. He says some state and private banks have
agreed to give loans to farmers, with the government standing as
guarantor. Given the high default rates under the previous guise of
the program, it is more than likely that the government guarantee will
be called. This means the government is still effectively funding the
programme. A public guarantee of debts by the government after all
counts as public debt.
Corruption was a major problem in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and as we have
already seen it is economically costly because of the leakages and the
expenses it adds to the cost of doing business for investors as they
are forced to pay unlawful rent to rent-seekers within the state
system. We have seen how corrupt dealings in the gold sector are
depriving the country of huge potential revenues that could be used to
deliver public services. When Mnangagwa took power, he promised to
fight it. However, as with most things under the regime, the
undertaking was based on deception. Two years into the regime, there
have been no major scalps. Instead, the regime has perfected the
technique of “Catch and Release”, whereby they arrest a big name, keep
them in custody for a few days before releasing them on bail. Even if
they are convicted at the Magistrates Court, they eventually get bail
pending appeal and the cases appear to get forgotten. In a few cases,
unfortunate ones like Prisca Mupfumira, are sacrificed and made to
stay in remand prison for a few months. Then she got bail. The matter
is then held in abeyance until it’s forgotten. Or technicalities are
raised and she escapes the charges. If parts of the justice system
itself are not corrupt, they are plagued by incompetence. This has
become so frequent under the Mnangagwa regime that people no longer
take notice whenever there is a high-profile arrest. They know in
advance how it’s going to end. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Earlier
this year Mnangagwa appointed a new anti-corruption commission. The
old one appointed during the Mugabe era had been fired last year on
grounds that it was failing to fulfil its mandate. The new ZACC began
with great verve but despite a few high-profile arrests there has been
no discernible progress. The AG produced an excellent report with a
vast number of potential cases of corruption. It remains to be seen
whether ZACC has taken up any of these leads to investigate and build
solid cases for prosecution. Before the new ZACC, Mnangagwa had
appointed an anti-corruption prosecution unit which he placed in his
office. The inappropriateness of setting up an anti-corruption
prosecution unit in the president’s office was highlighted at the
time. So far there is no evidence of fruits of this unit. In the first
few months of his presidency, Mnangagwa launched an amnesty program
whereby he extended amnesty to those who had allegedly externalised
vast amounts of money. He promised to name and shame offenders. After
building up great expectations, the outcome was a damp squib. He also
announced a new asset disclosure requirements for Cabinet Ministers
and senior public officers. The fact that it would be secret was
highlighted as a weakness. In the end, after the burial noise, nothing
was heard of the asset register. All this posturing is not new. When
Mugabe was the leader, ZANU PF had a Leadership Code which imposed
strict ethical requirements on Ministers and senior party leaders.
Built on socialist principles, they were only allowed limited amounts
of property. It was even included as a term in the Unity Accord which
brought ZANU PF and PF ZAPU together as one party. However, it was not
even worth the paper it was written on. They all went on a spree of
property accumulation, often by foul means. So when Mnangagwa makes
big promises on ethical leadership and anti-corruption, they are just
that: promises, but without substance.
The Missing Link
Mthuli Ncube is hopeful the economy will attain a 3% growth by the end
of 2020, up from -6.5% at the end of this year. Then again, when he
presented his maiden budget in 2018 his projected economic growth in
2019 was an ambitious 3.1%. What went wrong for the Mnangagwa
administration? Most of what went wrong has already been examined in
this article - policy weaknesses and inconsistencies, poor exports,
foreign currency crunch, egregious corruption and isolation. Natural
disasters such as drought and Cyclone Idai exacerbated an already
dysfunctional system. But for all his efforts on the economic front,
Mthuli Ncube has had no control over the political factors that are
critical to Zimbabwe’s revival. He thinks strengthening the Ease of
Doing Business reforms will help to improve Zimbabwe as an investment
destination. In this regard he is concerned with technical reforms.
The big elephant in the room however is political reforms. There is a
school of thought which focuses narrowly on economic aspects,
believing that the economic challenges can be resolved internally
within the discipline using economic tools. If the economists are
given space and they are allowed to deploy their tools, things will
get better whatever the politics. Another school of thought suggests
that the endeavours of economists will come to nought unless the
politics is sorted. The notion of de-linking economics from politics
in Zimbabwe’s context is unwise. Brand Zimbabwe is politically
damaged. The process of debt resolution which is critical to
Zimbabwe’s ability to access credit markets cannot be successful
unless Zimbabwe’s political brand is fixed and rehabilitated. The IFIs
and bilateral creditors to whom we owe arrears won’t negotiate with a
regime whose political brand is tainted. The abysmal human rights
record, covered in the last BSR is a cause for concern. They don’t
want to be seen as enabling a brutal and unrepentant regime. Likewise,
the response of IFIs and commercial creditors will take a cue from the
reaction of the international community to the re-engagement agenda.
In this regard, the Mnangagwa’s re-engagement agenda has so far been a
dismal failure. The poor conduct of the elections might have been
forgiven. But the killing of civilians on 1 August 2018 and again in
January 2019 did irreparable damage to the regime. The regime could
have diluted the use of excessive force by taking decisive action
against offenders. It has refused to do that. But even the Kgalema
Motlanthe Commission which was set up after the August killings has so
far proved to be a deception. Its long list of recommendations has not
been implemented. This failure to hold perpetrators to account does
nothing to improve the regime’s reputation. Even the sanctions issue,
a favourite scapegoat of the regime, could be resolved by investing
more efforts in the area of political reforms. The Finance Minister
reveals in the latest budget that the biggest "development partners"
are the US, UK and the EU, in that order. There is room for
re-engagement, but the regime has yet to learn that grandstanding in
international relations does not pay dividends. The importance of
re-engagement cannot be overstated. It would help to unlock the gates
of negotiating the burdensome public debt. Without resolution of the
public debt issue, it will be impossible to access lines of credit
that are necessary to kick-start activity in a number of areas of the
economy. Mnangagwa had a great opportunity and much goodwill when he
arrived on the scene, his shortcomings notwithstanding. That he
squandered it all at the altar of political expediency is hard to
explain because it is the political equivalent of self-immolation. His
invitation to the great gathering of capitalist barons and financiers
at Davos a few weeks after the coup was an invitation to treat; itself
a signal of the over-excitement and hype that gripped an audience
beyond Zimbabwe's borders. He had just toppled one of the world’s most
notorious leaders and he was enjoying the limelight. His supporters
sold him to the world as "pragmatic" and "business savvy". If they
were selling products on the market, they would have been guilty of
fraud and mis-selling. Even as early as Davos, he got overwhelmed by
the occasion and created seeds of doubt instead of optimism. The
overall performance in the two years since the coup: a lot of bluster,
an abundance of rhetoric, so many promises, but ultimately no
substance and reluctance to be change agents. Those who were hopeful
are grossly disheartened while those who foresaw disaster find no
comfort in saying we told you so. Prospects? The absence of competence
makes it improbable.
Uganda Resubmits China Loan Request for $2.3 Billion Railway @business
Uganda resubmitted a loan request to China for a 271-kilometer
(168-mile) railway linking its capital, Kampala, with the Kenyan
border after re-negotiating the contract price and improving security.
The government of East Africa’s third-biggest economy submitted the
application to the Export Import Bank of China in September to provide
85% of the project cost, Perez Wamburu, coordinator of the Standard
Gauge Railway Project, said by email.
The project cost was cut by $26 million.
The initial loan request was delayed after the lender sought a
comprehensive feasibility study, which has since been submitted, the
An additional link was added from Kampala to the nearby Bukasa port on
Lake Victoria as well as fencing for the entire railway route to
protect it from vandalism.
The spur to Lake Victoria, which the country shares with Tanzania and
Kenya, is set to handle imports and exports via the neighboring
Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan agreed in 2014 to build standard
gauge railways in their territories as part of a regional plan to cut
“Kenya and Uganda continue to discuss harmonization of construction
timelines and construction is expected to resume once the outstanding
issues are addressed,” Wamburu said.
Uganda has already acquired 126 kilometers of the corridor for the
Malaba-Kampala SGR with land acquisition for the route expected to be
concluded by June 2022, the official said.
14-OCT-2019 :: Xi Jinping "The End of Vanity" which I characterised at the time as a "a substantive linguistic recasting of China Africa by Xi Jinping"
I recall #FOCAC2018 and the famous photograph where all the Chinese
officials had a pen and paper and not one African official was taking
notes. Had they been taking notes they would have heard Xi Jinping
specifically speak of ‘’The End of Vanity’’ which I characterised at
the time as a ‘’a substantive linguistic recasting of China Africa by
I only recently discovered Ecclesiastes and clearly Xi was ahead of me
in this regard.
Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 2 Vanity[a] of vanities, says the Preacher 2 Vani-
ty[a] of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is
vanity. 11 There is no remembrance of former things,[c] nor will there
be any re- membrance of later things[d] yet to be among those who come
@Huawei's pitch to African mayors: 'Our cameras will make you safe' @mailandguardian @simonallison
Sean Liu begins his pitch with a feel-good story. After he graduated
from university in 2003, his first job was in the southern Chinese
city of Shenzhen. It was a rough town, he recalls; the kind of place
where motorcycle thieves could snatch your belongings at any moment,
and children could be kidnapped and never seen again.
Shenzhen is safe now, according to Liu. Kidnappings still happen, of
course, but now the outcome is different. In fact, Liu was watching
Chinese news recently and there was a clip about a child who had been
abducted and taken hundreds of kilometres away, into another province
all together. It took just 15 minutes for police to identify the
kidnapper, and just 24 hours to track him down and rescue the child.
“Why?” Liu asks, before proceeding to answer his own question. “In
Shenzhen there’s about two million video cameras in one city. The
population is about 20-million people. It’s not only the camera, but
also the artificial intelligence behind it on the cloud. So everybody
in Shenzhen city, you have any behaviour it could be recorded.”
Liu, a senior marketing executive at Chinese tech firm Huawei, is in
Mombasa, at an exclusive gathering of African mayors and local
There are officials present from all over the continent, including
Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somaliland, South Africa, Uganda and
The conference — organised by the Brenthurst Foundation, a
Johannesburg-based think-tank and lobby group — is academic in nature,
and it is not entirely clear why Huawei has been given an exclusive
slot to pitch its vision for the future of African cities.
It is a vision that revolves around surveillance, artificial
intelligence and 5G communication networks, creating a world where
your every movement is tracked, recorded and searchable.
Liu cannot get over the wonder of this new technology. Last time he
visited Shenzhen’s data management centre, his face was scanned and
suddenly the screen in front of him was full of photos.
“Photos of what?” he asks. Another rhetorical question, which he
answers: photos of himself, taken everywhere he had been in the city
over the past six months.
“I think this is a very encouraging story for African countries,” Liu concludes.
Christo Abrahams is Liu’s partner, and tags in at this point. This
unlikely pair of travelling salesmen — Liu is tall and thin, and
Abrahams is less tall and less thin — have distinct roles. Liu paints
the big picture; Abrahams is the details guy.
Abrahams is new to Huawei — he was previously chief technology
architect at South Africa’s State Information Technology Agency — but
no less enthusiastic for it.
“It’s game-changing technology,” he says, as he loads up slides that
outline exactly how Huawei’s Smart City infrastructure can
revolutionise urban management.
Smart water meters, smart electricity meters, smart street lighting,
smart traffic monitoring — all underpinned by cloud computing that
brings all the data together on a single platform, seamlessly managed
by artificial intelligence.
But the most important advance of them all, Abrahams intones solemnly,
is in security. “This area around public safety is very important. We
drive a philosophy where we say ‘safe city first, before smart city’.
Because if it’s not safe, no one will invest there.”
Abrahams cites the example of one town in Kenya where Huawei launched
a trial project, installing high-definition surveillance cameras and
training police to use it. “The crime rate was lowered by 46%!”
When asked, neither Liu nor Abrahams could tell the Mail & Guardian
the name of the Kenyan town in question.
When it comes to the technology behind Huawei’s Smart Cities project,
not everyone tells such uplifting stories.
In Xinjiang, in western China, human rights groups have carefully
documented how widespread surveillance, coupled with facial
recognition and artificial intelligence, has been used to suppress
members of the Uighur minority.
Human Rights Watch describes this technology as “algorithms of repression”.
An estimated one million Uighurs have been arbitrarily detained in
“re-education” camps in Xinjiang since 2017, and subjected to
ill-treatment and sometimes torture.
Outside the camps, severe restrictions have been placed on the Uighur
population’s freedom of movement and expression. Technological
solutions, such as cameras and smartphone apps that monitor movement,
have been used to enforce these restrictions.
The Diplomat explains: “What began as a traffic monitoring system
quickly morphed into a political tool with facial recognition
technologies constantly feeding information gathered from all possible
surfaces in China. The consequences of these cyber nightmares are well
documented in Xinjiang, where millions of CCTV systems track the
whereabouts of citizens, while a politically motivated algorithm, the
social credit system, works alongside to restrict physical mobility in
It is not just in China that Huawei has attracted controversy. The
United States has repeatedly accused the company of building
“backdoors” into its technology that would allow the Chinese
government to access data; and it has been accused of evading
international sanctions to supply Iran.
For African countries, an especially relevant example is in Ecuador,
an early adopter of the Smart Cities technology in 2011. As The New
York Times reported, footage from the 4 300 cameras that were
installed goes directly to the police, and “to the country’s feared
domestic intelligence agency, which under the previous president,
Rafael Correa, had a lengthy track record of following, intimidating
and attacking political opponents”.
These are issues that Huawei’s salesmen would prefer not to dwell on,
although it is not difficult to see the potential for abuse in the
technology they want to sell to African cities and governments.
After their pitch, Liu declines to be interviewed, but Abrahams is
happy to chat — and the more he chats, the more Orwellian he sounds.
“You want to get the perpetrator but he’s wearing a mask? How are you
going to get him?” he asks. “These recognition algorithms check what
clothes you’re wearing, what shoes are on your feet. It actually
checks your gait, because everybody’s gait is unique.
“They think it’s just your fingerprints or retina but everybody has a
unique gait. All those algorithms are working together to identify
“The nice part of that is your past now catches up with you. They can
take a side image of you and render your whole face, and run it
through the camera system, and they will know where you were the last
“Which mall, where you were, in what car you were driving, who is
always with you at the mall. They do all those associations through
“Human beings can’t process that amount of data, but give it to that
system. I can tell you, you will be blown away by the power of
artificial intelligence. You must see the algorithms this company has,
where AIs are developing the next generation AIs, without humans.”
Our conversation is interrupted by the queue of local government
officials wanting to speak to Huawei’s representatives. The pitch
appears to have worked.
“I found your presentation very interesting,” said one official from
Somaliland. “This big data, and smart cities, and that stuff. It’s the
stuff we need to do in Africa.”
Harmonisation pushes up intra-East African Community trade over 10% @NewTimesRwanda
Intra-regional trade within the East African Community (EAC) bloc rose
by 10.3 per cent last year, courtesy of harmonisation of cross-border
rules and procedures.
“Reforms taken under the Customs Union has also boosted intra-regional
trade,” Christophe Bazivamo, EAC deputy secretary general responsible
for productive and social sectors, said in Arusha November 11.
He said intra-EAC trade catapulted to $3.2 billion last year from $2.7
billion in 2016 and $2.9 billion in 2017.
They cite the operationalisation of the EAC Single Customs Territory
(SCT), the Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) and One Stop Border Post
(OSBP) and their respective rules and regulations as having a
multiplier effect on the ease of doing business in the region.
Alongside with these is enhanced customs operations inter-connectivity
in the region which has seen the introduction of Electronic Cargo
Tracking System to monitor the movement of traded goods across the
He noted that after 20 years of integration process, the intra-EAC
trade was as low as 12 per cent “whereas trade with other nations is
90 per cent”.