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Satchu's Rich Wrap-Up
Monday 30th of November 2020

Viva Diego! @NicolasMaduro

El mundo está de luto por nuestro hermano Maradona, el mejor futbolista de todos los tiempos. Un hombre sensible, amoroso y rebelde contra las injusticias sociales. El pueblo argentino, el venezolano y los pueblos del mundo, lo amaremos y recordaremos por siempre. ¡Viva Diego!

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Writer Peter Tasker wonders if we need a modern-day Yukio Mishima to shock us out of our complacency in this age of Netflix, Zoom and Uber Eats. #三島由紀夫 @NikkeiAsia


Can you imagine bestselling novelist Haruki Murakami leading a coup attempt against Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga? 

Or Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan taking a top general hostage in a British Army base and inciting a rebellion against Boris Johnson's government? 

Or any of the legions of writers and artists who regularly hammered U.S. President Donald Trump on social media choosing to die for their cause?

Probably not, but that would be the modern equivalent of what happened on Nov. 25, 1970, when the brilliant Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima and four accomplices invaded the office of the commander of Japan's Self-Defense Forces, called on his troops to topple the government of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, and then committed seppuku, or ritual disembowelment (vulgarly known as hara-kiri).

I can remember watching a BBC news report about the "Mishima incident," but was too young to know what it meant. 

There was ominous commentary about "rising Japanese militarism" and dark mutterings that such an extreme act was only to be expected from the Japanese.

Mishima had been nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but he was not just a writer. He was a major celebrity in Japan, the first to be described as a supasuta (superstar) by the media, and one of the best-known Japanese writers abroad. 

In the late 1960s the magazine Heibon Punch nominated him the "coolest male" in Japan in its Mr. Dandy awards, ahead of movie star Toshiro Mifune and baseball phenomenon Shigeo Nagashima.

Since his shocking suicide, establishment Japan has preferred not to dwell on the "Mishima incident," and only ultra-right-wing groups have seemed happy to mark the various anniversaries of his death. 

For the 50th anniversary, though, the vibe has been different. 

A few days ago, I managed to catch "Mishima: The Last Debate," a documentary that uses recently discovered footage of a face-off between Mishima and hundreds of radical students during violent street protests in 1969.

The film was released in March, but was still screening in Tokyo's central Shibuya district. I half-expected the audience to be dominated by elderly rightists in combat gear. I was wrong. 

There were women in their 20s and 30s wearing designer masks, some students, ordinary looking couples and solitary intellectual types. 

Although the film was advertised as a tense confrontation between violence-prone right and violence left-wing groups, the debate was mostly respectful on both sides, with Mishima's wit drawing gales of laughter from the students and, indeed, the cinema audience.

Other films about Mishima have been made this century. The late Koji Wakamatsu, a radical left sympathizer once known as the "Kurosawa of pink [erotic] movies," directed "11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate" (2012). 

This biopic offers a straightforward factual account of Mishima's last months. There is also a film version of "Spring Snow," the first and best volume in his "Sea of Fertility" tetralogy.

His books are still popular too. Mishima wrote intense, heavyweight novels conveying his philosophical ideas, but also less-serious fare as entertainment for the mass market. 

Interestingly it is the latter that has been doing particularly well these days. A light novel called "Yukio Mishima's Letter Writing Class" has consistently ranked in Amazon Japan's Top 10 for Japanese literature. 

Another entertainment called "Life for Sale" was the top seller of 2016 in the Japanese literature department of Kinokuniya, Japan's largest bookshop, with total sales topping 250,000. 

That one became a six-part series on Amazon Prime Video. 

At least 30 novels and essays have been translated into English, including "Life for Sale." 

There are also two more biographies. "Persona" is a meticulously researched doorstopper by Naoki Inose, novelist and ex-governor of Tokyo, and Hiroaki Sato. "Yukio Mishima" is by British author Damian Flanagan.

Another British Mishima enthusiast was the rock star David Bowie, who appears to have planned his own death in 2016 with Mishima-like artistic precision. 

Bowie painted a portrait of Mishima, which he hung on the wall of his Berlin apartment in the late 1970s. 

In the 1990s, he bought a bronze bust of Mishima by British sculptor Sir Eduardo Paolozzi at Sotheby's. 

More recently, he referred to the opening of "Spring Snow" in his 2013 album "The Next Day": "

Then we saw Mishima's dog / Trapped between the rocks / Blocking the waterfall."

The accent on the lighter, more humorous side of Mishima may have contributed to what seems to be a subconscious reassessment within Japan. 

There is also the fact that some of his political stances -- on validating the constitutional status of the Self-Defense Forces, on protecting Japan's traditional culture -- no longer seem extreme.

Another impression came to me forcefully while watching the debate between Mishima and the radical students who were occupying the University of Tokyo lecture hall. 

The cinema audience was agog at the huge moral issues that were being argued in a way that could never happen in today's world.

In his much-misunderstood book, "The End of History and the Last Man," Francis Fukuyama uses the ideas of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to speculate about what kind of landscape the post-historical "last men" will inhabit, once liberal democracy has triumphed everywhere. 

The answer is a world devoid of great art, struggle, risk, wisdom and self-knowledge. 

The last men, Fukuyama posits, "will be concerned above all for personal health and safety ... content to sit at home congratulating themselves on their own broadmindedness and lack of fanaticism."

Mishima's dislike of Anglo-Saxon liberal democracy came from Nietzsche. According to Damian Flanagan, "Mishima's bond with Nietzsche was described by Mishima's father after his son's death as of an intensity beyond imagination."

Mishima killed himself just 25 years after the end of World War II, far too soon to escape being dismissed as an unbalanced throwback to the age of militarism. 

Fifty years on, the last man is here, placidly enjoying his lockdown thanks to Zoom, Netflix and Uber Eats, totally comfortable with the prospect of a future controlled by artificial intelligence and big data. 

Perhaps we need a modern day Mishima to shock us out of our complacency.


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09-NOV-2020 :: The Spinning Top
Law & Politics

The demise of the Reality TV Star turned seriously vaudeville with Mr. Giulani mounting the last stand from the Four Seasons Total Landscaping next to Fantasy Island Adult Books across the street from the Delaware Valley Cremation Center.

“You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away - a man is not a piece of fruit.”

Counterintuitively, The Trump Vladislav Surkov Talking Points which of course always feature George Soros are strangely ineffective and a little like a receding tide.

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“2- a squad of 62 members participated in the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, 12 of them participated in the field to carry out the operations, 50 other elements provided the field team with logistical support to carry out the assassination” @ELINTNews
Law & Politics

“2- According to the leaked Iranian info, a squad of 62 members participated in the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, 12 of them participated in the field to carry out the operations, 50 other elements provided the field team with logistical support to carry out the assassination”

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“5- The assassination team cut off the electricity completely from this area. A Hyundai Santa Fe with 4 passengers, 4 motorcycles, 2 snipers, and a Nissan car booby-trapped were waiting” @ELINTNews
Law & Politics

“5- The assassination team, half an hour before the arrival of the Fakhri Zadeh convoy to the specific location, cut off the electricity completely from this area. A Hyundai Santa Fe with 4 passengers, 4 motorcycles, 2 snipers, and a Nissan car booby-trapped were waiting”

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“7- According to Iranian leaks, the leader of the assassination team took Fakhri Zadeh out of his car and shot him and made sure he was killed” @ELINTNews
Law & Politics

“7- After the car bomb was detonated, 12 operatives opened fire towards Fakhri Zadeh's car & first protection vehicle. According to Iranian leaks, the leader of the assassination team took Fakhri Zadeh out of his car and shot him and made sure he was killed”

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4 / no human factor was present at the scene of the assassination. An investigation into the assassination of the nuclear scientist reveals that the owner of the vehicle on which the machine-gun was installed left Iran on October 29. @AmichaiStein1
Law & Politics

4 / The operation lasted about 3 minutes, and no human factor was present at the scene of the assassination. An investigation into the assassination of the nuclear scientist reveals that the owner of the vehicle on which the machine-gun was installed left Iran on October 29.

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06-JAN-2020 :: The Assassination (The Escalation of 'Shadow War')
Law & Politics

“This is an aggressive show of force and an outright provocation that could trigger another Middle East war.”

At the beginning of From Russia With Love (the movie not the book), Kronsteenn is summoned to Blofeld’s lair to discuss the plot to steal the super-secret ‘Lektor Decoder’ and kill Bond. 

Kronsteen outlines to Blofeld his play Blofeld [read Trump]: Kronsteen, you are sure this plan is foolproof? 

Kronsteen [read Pompeo]: Yes it is because I have anticipated every possible variation of counter-move.

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Law & Politics

No-one has ever produced a safe and effective vaccine against a coronavirus. Birger Sørensen, Angus Dalgleish & Andres Susrud

What if, as I fear, there will never be a vaccine. I was involved in the early stages of identifying the HIV virus as the cause of Aids. I remember drugs companies back then saying there would be a vaccine within around 18 months. Some 37 years on, we are still waiting. Prof ANGUS DALGLEISH @MailOnline

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Participant in India’s @AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine trial sues after experiencing ‘severe adverse effect’ @rtenews
Law & Politics

An Indian man who helped test a coronavirus jab based on AstraZeneca’s candidate vaccine has filed suit, claiming that he suffered extreme side effects during his participation in the trial.

The plaintiff, identified in media reports as a 40-year-old man from Chennai, is suing the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) for Rs 5 crore ($676,000 USD). 

The individual alleges that he suffered serious neurological damage after taking part in the phase three trial of Covishield, the SII’s version of the Covid-19 jab being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. 

The man was purportedly told that the vaccine was safe and chose to participate in the program in “the spirit of public service.”

The lawsuit also demands that SII, AstraZeneca and the Oxford Vaccine Group immediately halt vaccine trials, in which some 1,600 volunteers are currently enrolled. 

Ten days after receiving the shot, the man complained of a pounding headache and experienced vomiting, his wife told local media. 

He was bedridden and acting abnormally before being transferred to the emergency ward of the Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Hospital. 

A review by the hospital concluded that the medical problems were not linked to the vaccine, and a medical official cited by Indian media claimed that the patient was “now alright” and had not incurred any expenses stemming from the health episode. 

The man’s discharge summary said he requested to leave the hospital and was recovering from “acute encephalopathy”. 

He also suffered from deficiencies of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, and was suspected of having a “connective tissue disorder.”

However, the man’s wife insists that he has not fully recovered and is unable to work as before. 

In September, SII briefly paused its clinical trials of Covishield after a recipient of the AstraZeneca jab showed adverse symptoms. 

India has faced criticism for not being more transparent about its Covid-19 vaccine trials. 

According to Science Magazine, SII is not using the same phase three testing protocol implemented by AstraZeneca, and has also declined to make its guidelines public.

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.1973

Dollar Index 91.678

Japan Yen 103.85

Swiss Franc 0.902920

Pound 1.334145

Aussie 0.739035

India Rupee 73.9774

South Korea Won 1105.94

Brazil Real 5.3444

Egypt Pound 15.625900

South Africa Rand 15.26460

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Turning to Africa The Spinning Top

So far Africa has dodged the Virus from a medical perspective though it remains in my view a slow burning Fuse and we all know by now ''viruses exhibit non-linear and exponential characteristics'

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For those who think Africa has been spared from COVID @fibke

(resending with correction in footnote: Global Burden of Disease classification at level 2, not 3)

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Six out of 10 Africans need a Covid vaccine, says the @_AfricanUnion @thecontinent_

If an eventual Covid-19 vaccine is comprised of two shots, this means Africa will need about 1.5-billion doses of a jab, said Dr Raji Tajudeen, who heads up public health institutes and research at Africa CDC.

It could cost as much as $15-billion to meet the African Union target, depending on the ultimate price tag of vaccines.

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I am pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the #Tigray region. @AbiyAhmedAli
Law & Politics

Our focus now will be on rebuilding the region and providing humanitarian assistance while Federal Police apprehend the TPLF clique. 

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On Wednesday, Abiy’s ultimatum expired; and on Friday he announced the beginning of the “final phase” of the military operation. @thecontinent_
Law & Politics

But the Tigrayan forces are likely to put up a fight. A diplomatic source told Reuters that the TPLF are mobilising civilians in the city, and “are digging trenches and everyone has an AK-47”.

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@PMEthiopia has launched an unwinnable War on Tigray Province.

Ethiopia which was once the Poster child of the African Renaissance now has a Nobel Prize Winner whom I am reliably informed

PM Abiy His inner war cabinet includes Evangelicals who are counseling him he is "doing Christ's work"; that his faith is being "tested". @RAbdiAnalyst

@PMEthiopia has launched an unwinnable War on Tigray Province.

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Ethiopia’s Problems Will Not End with a Military Victory @alyverjee
Law & Politics

As violence continues over control of the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, Ethiopia’s future remains unsettled, even if the conflict ends soon. 

Achieving the federal government’s security objectives in Tigray is unlikely to resolve both new and entrenched political challenges, and already delayed national elections, now expected in 2021, may prove a severe test of Ethiopia’s political order, and consequently affect broader regional stability

However, even if Abiy’s military objectives are quickly achieved, experiences of warfare in northern Ethiopia dating back a century suggest that it is much easier to capture territory than it is to hold it. 

It is unclear what a successful strategy for the federal government will be if it is able to capture Tigray’s urban centers but cannot command the widespread acceptance of Tigray’s people. 

While the fighting of the last few weeks may have significantly degraded the TPLF’s military capacity, it is unlikely that the federal government can entirely subdue the TPLF as a political entity, which retains the support of a substantial number of Tigrayans. 

Further, the TPLF’s historic capacity to wage guerrilla warfare from the rural mountains of Tigray may not be definitively eroded by its losses in conventional warfare.

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Ethiopia: Hospitals in Mekelle struggling to care for wounded as medical supplies run out; Red Cross ambulances evacuate the injured @ICRC
Law & Politics

"The hospital is running dangerously low on sutures, antibiotics, anticoagulants, painkillers, and even gloves," said Maria Soledad, the head of operations for the @ICRC  in Ethiopia The hospital is also lacking in body bags for the deceased. Food supplies are also low 

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As Ethiopia’s civil conflict intensifies, the future for Chinese investment is uncertain

The conflict between Ethiopia’s central government and local government forces in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region has sparked a humanitarian crisis with tens of thousands of refugees. 

It has threatened to destabilize a wider region in which China is heavily invested — a sobering reminder that grand plans, like China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), are only as good as ground truths allow them to be.

Despite all of Ethiopia’s success in recent years as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, ethnic and political rivalries are fierce and deep. 

And they haven’t gone away just because China has invested heavily there over the past two decades, or because Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending a war with neighboring Eritrea. 

“We want the Horn of Africa to become a treasury of peace and progress,” Abiy said in his Nobel lecture in December 2019. “Indeed, we want the Horn of Africa to become the 'Horn of Plenty' for the rest of the continent.” 

The Horn of Africa, which includes Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia, has long been an area of strategic focus for world superpowers. 

It’s where the Gulf of Aden meets the Red Sea, in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait opposite Yemen, a strategic waterway for oil that leads all the way to the Suez Canal. 

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States fought proxy wars in Ethiopia and Somalia. 

Now, both the United States and China have military bases in the tiny coastal country of Djibouti, at a narrow part of the Strait.

Much of China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) involves building a belt of land routes and a maritime Silk Road of sea routes around the world, for both economic and strategic purposes. 

China’s many investments in Djibouti and Ethiopia include a railway that connects them and is also meant to connect Tigray’s capital of Mekelle to Djibouti.

Long before Chinese investment started in earnest in the early 2000s, Ethiopia’s central government fought long wars with Tigray and Eritrea, then both northern Ethiopian regions. 

The war with Eritrea stretched over 30 years; the war with Tigray lasted 17. 

Both wars ended in 1991, when Eritrea declared independence and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) took over the central government. Tigrayans stayed in power until political protests elevated Abiy to the prime minister in 2018.

TPLF leaders have not gracefully accepted being shunted aside, despite Tigrayans making up just 6% of Ethiopia’s population. 

When Abiy started replacing Tigrayns in government, the TPLF left the unity party, retreated to Tigray, and conducted an election in September, in defiance of a government decision to postpone elections due to COVID-19.

Tigray’s regional militia is both well-armed and sizable with as many as 250,000 armed fighters. 

Its recent attack on a national government military base sparked the current conflict, which includes aerial bombing by the central government, in areas where Chinese companies have spent years building infrastructure. 

While in power, Ethiopia’s Tigrayan prime ministers invited in Chinese investment to build desperately needed roads, dams, industrial parks and more throughout much of Ethiopia, at a time when many Western investors saw Ethiopia as too risky.

“China was courageous enough to get involved in such a market,” says Ethiopian economist Getachew Alemu

“So it really helped us.  We used to have a huge backlog of demand for infrastructure, but we didn’t have the finance to finance it and push our economy forward. So, Chinese capital came as a savior for us.”

China counts the billions of dollars invested in or lent to Ethiopia as part of China’s BRI. By the Chinese government’s calculation, some 140 countries have signed on in some way, including 44 African countries, drawing closer to China over the past two decades under the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.

“Always standing on an equal footing, China respects African countries’ own decision-making rights, and lets African economies go into global markets through the Chinese market,” wrote Wei Jianguo, a former Chinese vice-minister of commerce in the Chinese Communist Party-run newspaper, The Global Times.

Wei counts China’s successes in Africa over the past two decades: building 3,750 miles of railways and roads, and “almost 20 ports, more than 80 large-scale power facilities…more than 130 hospitals and medical centers and more than 170 schools, which have brought significant progress to Africa’s economic and social development.” 

China’s approach in Africa has received mixed reviews from Africans. The African survey group Afrobarometer found in a survey in 36 African countries in 2014-15, that 63% of Africans surveyed had a favorable view of China. 

And some African leaders prefer Chinese loans because Chinese lenders aren’t particular, like the World Bank and IMF are, about human rights conditions, corruption levels and whether a project can generate enough economic growth to repay the loan.

But Chinese loans often have higher interest rates and shorter repayment schedules. By contrast, Abiy has equated loans from the IMF and World Bank as being like borrowing from your mother. 

Ethiopia now owes an estimated $16 billion to Chinese lenders, roughly half of Ethiopia’s total debt. Abiy has called for debt forgiveness for the world’s poorest countries, from all international lenders. 

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Welcome to Mekele @thecontinent_ @GetachewSS

The first time I visited Mekele, it was almost like visiting a foreign land, dissociated from the rest of Ethiopia. That is how I felt. Everything felt different, distant – but, in its diversity, I found a beautiful place worth visiting over and over again.

The Abay Cultural Restaurant stood out the most for me. The place is beautifully decorated and had many delicacies on its menu. I often ordered “tehlo”, a speciality dish from Adigrat, a city two hours from Mekele. It is a marinated meat, mixed with yogurt and berbere spice – an acquired taste.

The city has lots of bars – too many – to choose from, and the local “tela betes” – serving traditional homebrewed beer – were also great. I often went to the Abreha Castel Hotel bar. With its generous green space overlooking the city, it was great. 

There was also a bartender in his 70s, an Italian who would sing for me, suggest places to visit and wish me a great flight back to Addis

The music of Abraham Gebremedhin often made me dance, or attempt to dance, without even knowing a word of the meaning of his words. 

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10-JUN-2019 :: The "zeitgeist" of the Revolution in Khartoum was intoxicating

As I watched events unfold it felt like Sudan was a portal into a whole new normal.

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Russia’s Resurgence in Africa: Zimbabwe and Mozambique SAIIA

The 2019 Russia–Africa Summit is only the most visible sign that the Putin regime is interested in reawakening relations with African countries. 

This report takes a closer look at two examples of resurgent Africa–Russia relations: Zimbabwe and Mozambique. 

It gives a detailed mapping of Russian activities in these two countries, and shows how they have developed over time. 

While Russian actors are involved in a large number of projects in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the main focus is on three sectors: the extractive industries, the arms trade, and political cooperation. 

Russian involvement in Zimbabwe has been driven by, and gained momentum from, both countries’ status as targets of Western sanctions. 

Mutual attempts to evade these sanctions have boosted the relationship, which has been cemented by high- level corruption. 

While Mozambique has more international options than its neighbour, elite–elite relationships play a key part in its dealings with Russia. This includes shadowy collaboration in the military and political realms. 

In addition, Russian actors have played significant roles in both countries’ elections, with contentious results. 

Thus, while Russia’s involvement in African countries like Mozambique and Zimbabwe is considerably narrower and more elite-directed than, for example, that of China, it is still becoming a notable player in Southern Africa, and one that deserves more attention.

Russian exports to Africa are growing steadily, almost two-thirds are still going to Algeria and Egypt; primarily consisting of military equipment and grain.

The long-standing collaboration between the Soviet Union and both Mozambique and Zimbabwe can be seen in the coats of arms of the African countries (Figure 1) – both are decorated with the Russian Kalashnikov assault rifle (AK-47).

Over the last three years the REC has developed a close partnership with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and is using Afreximbank as a primary financing institution for Russian business interests. 

In December 2017 the REC signed an agreement with Afreximbank becoming a Class ‘C’ shareholder.

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28 OCT 19 :: From Russia with Love

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

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

Between 2006 and 2018 Russia’s trade with Africa increased by 335 per cent, more than both China’s and India’s according to the Espresso Economist.

Russia is now Africa’s leading supplier of arms. According to the Swedish think tank SIPRI, between 2012 and 2016 Russia had become the largest supplier of arms to Africa, accounting for 35 percent of arms exports to the region, way ahead of China (17 per cent), the United States (9.6 per cent), and France (6.9 per cent).

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

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.

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Mapped: The Top Export in Goods in Every #African Country (2018) @shen_shiwei

From Egypt to Senegal, #Africa has a diverse spectrum of exports. Primarily, these are resource-driven, with the top five exports being petroleum, gold, diamonds, natural gas, and coal. Interesting perspective.

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Kenya Shilling versus The Dollar Live ForexPros 110.05
World Currencies

On a YTD basis, the shilling has depreciated by 8.4% against the dollar

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.@DTBKenya The bank’s core earnings per share declined by 27.8% to Kshs 15.5, from Kshs 21.4 in Q3’2019, @CytonnInvest
N.S.E Equities - Finance & Investment

The Banks NPL coverage (having added interest in suspense) increased to 54.7% in Q3’2020 from 48.0% in Q3’2019

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.@Uber made big promises in Kenya. Drivers say it's ruined their lives. @NBCNews @hysperbole
Tourism, Travel & Transport

Work with Uber was so good that, about three years ago, after a year having driven a car he rented privately for 15,000 shillings a week (at the time, about $150), Munala, who is now 34, borrowed money from his sister for the down payment on a Toyota Passo, a compact car. 

And he took out a loan from Izwe, a pan-African microfinance and loan company.

Now, Munala figured, he could work for Uber and pay off the car. Then he could expand his business, buy another car and hire someone else to drive.

"I felt like I made it in life," he said.

Four years later, remembering those dreams makes him grimace.

Uber slashed its fares — and Munala's income. It also introduced new categories of cars, allowing smaller cars. 

And more people started to take the smaller cars because they were cheaper and more fuel-efficient.

That adversely affected the drivers who were already saddled with the larger, four-door cars with more powerful engines that Uber had previously required.

More and more drivers flooded the platform, changing the basic earning premise that had prompted people like Munala to take out loans to become drivers.

And car maintenance is costly. Fuel prices are high. Instead of owning an asset, Munala is saddled with growing debt.

Interviews with more than 80 current and former drivers in Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa show that, in Kenya's biggest markets, untold numbers of Uber drivers are drowning in debt.

Peter Mwinga, who quit driving for Uber last year, said he earns more selling fruit and vegetables out of the back of his Toyota Fielder, which he still has not paid off after three years as a driver. 

Standing next to the vehicle parked on the side of the road, filled with produce, he said he "wouldn't advise" someone to join Uber.

At the outset, Uber drivers were making 60 shillings per kilometer — about 97 cents a mile. 

The company took a 25 percent commission and established requirements for cars it would sign up: They had to be relatively new and about sedan size, and they had to have large engines, four doors and four seats.

The government paid little attention to the new company's entry.

Private taxis, however, balked, saying Uber was hurting their business. 

In a few instances in 2015 and 2016, Ubers were burned and drivers were harassed. 

Over time, however, as customers became accustomed to the convenience and lower prices, drivers lost their regular clients and had to move onto the app to stay in business.

Uber grew its ranks by approaching taxis at airports and mall parking lots.

"It didn't have to be a hard sell to drivers once the client numbers started going up," Julie Zollmann, a doctoral candidate at Tufts University who has been studying finance, technology and livelihoods in Kenya since 2010, said by email.

"It solved a big problem for independent drivers who were only otherwise getting a few trips per day and, at that time, the rates were significantly higher than they are now," she wrote.

After other digital taxi apps launched in Nairobi, Uber cut its prices by about 35 percent. 

Drivers who had taken out loans predicated on making 60 shillings an hour were especially upset. They were earning one-third less than they had expected.

"Every week, the sub-Saharan Africa team had a call to review the figures in the key performance indicator (KPI) tracker," Orlando said. 

"The primary metric used to assess the growth and success of a city was the number of trips, as opposed to revenues or profits. So there was every incentive to drive prices as low as possible."

In 2018, Uber launched a new category of cars. The ChapChap is a Suzuki Alto, a smaller, two-door ride that costs less than the cars that thousands of drivers had previously leased, rented or bought to meet the Uber standard.

ChapChap rides were priced accordingly, starting at just 16 shillings per kilometer. 

Kenyans would pool together to take a ChapChap and say it was nearly as cheap as a matatu, one of the unreliable ramshackle vans that serve as the national public transportation system.

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

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