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Satchu's Rich Wrap-Up
Tuesday 16th of February 2021

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As Adam Curtis’s new series Can’t Get You out of My Head starts on BBC iPlayer, we publish excerpts from editor Tom Hodgkinson’s 2018 interview with the documentary maker

From The Century of the Self to HyperNormalisation, the journalist Adam Curtis has consistently exposed stories and truths that lay hidden to others. 

His BBC blogs feature brilliantly researched articles on, for example, the history of think tanks and their relationship with battery farming and Google. 

Always entertaining and always a provocative, original voice, he refuses to spout liberal platitudes and makes up his own mind. 

This bold voice has found him millions of fans across the world, and he is gaining a new audience among the teens and 20-somethings.

I recorded two interviews with Curtis and what follows is edited highlights from our exchanges. We start by discussing the so-called power of the tech titans. Adam argues that a simple way to remove their grip on us would be to stop believing in their magic.

Adam Curtis: When we say: “Facebook is a dark, manipulative force”, it makes the people in charge seem extremely powerful. The truth is that people within the advertising and marketing industry are extremely suspicious about whether online advertising has any effect at all

The internet has been captured by four giant corporations who don’t produce anything, contribute nothing to the wealth of the country, and hoard their billions of dollars in order to pounce on anything that appears to be a competitor and buy it out immediately. 

They will get you and me to do the work for them – which is putting the data in – then they send out what they con other people into believing are targeted ads. But actually, the problem with their advertising is that it is – like all geek stuff – literal. It has no imagination to it whatsoever. 

It sees that you bought a ticket to Budapest, so you’re going to get more tickets to Budapest. It’s a scam. In a way, the whole Facebook/Cambridge Analytica thing played into their hands because it made it even more mystifying. 

I’ve always thought John Le Carré did spies a great service because he made it seem as if there were endless depths of mystery and darkness when in fact, if you’ve ever researched the spies, they are (a) boring and (b) useless. I mean really, really useless. 

I researched MI5 once and they hardly ever manage to capture any traitors… it’s usually someone else who points them in the right direction. And in a way I think that’s true of this. 

The tech companies are powerful in the sense that they’ve got hold of the internet, which people like me think could be a really powerful thing for changing the world and disseminating new ideas, and they’ve got it in this rigid headlock. 

To do that, they’ve conned everyone into thinking that their advertising is worth it. And in the process, they’re destroying journalism.

Tom Hodgkinson: Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are surely clever and manipulative though?

AC: I’m sure some really bad stuff went on. There’s no question about that. But where’s the evidence that it actually swayed elections? What we lost in the hysteria about it all, is the sense of: why did people really vote for Brexit and Trump? 

I maintain that all the evidence points to the fact that there is real anger and a sense of isolation in Britain and America. The results reflected that. 

For 20 years, they’ve been offered no choice between the political parties. They’ve been given this enormous button that says “Fxxk off” and they’ve pressed it. That’s a rational thing to do. 

The problem with the professional classes is that they don’t know how to deal with that. Instead they turn to these other reasons, which of course are there. 

But it’s like they’re looking at a little part of something much, much bigger, which involves having to make political choices about what might have gone wrong in your society. 

Everyone goes: “Oh that’s magical!” about the internet, but so what? That’s actually just so banal. People go: “Oh it’s terrible, they’re manipulating us!” or: “They know so much about me!” 

Well, what do they know about you? Your shopping? That’s it? What they don’t know, actually, are all the things that you’ve forgotten which are your real intelligence, and that world that you live in your head, day by day – which is rich and extraordinary.

TH: That’s a lovely thought. So we should really be saying they’re stupid and they’re boring?

AC: Yes, and all they really know about you is your shopping.

TH: There are good things about the internet.

AC: The internet is all sorts of things. The real problem is that we’ve grown up in a period of high individualism and, in a period of high individualism, the one thing you don’t notice is power. 

You’re supposed to be an empowered individual yourself. What’s disappeared out of the language is power. We just don’t see it. We just blindly go through the world, not seeing that there are powerful forces.

TH: We tweet instead.

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AC: We’re in this very funny paradoxical moment in history, which is full of moments of dynamic hysteria, yet everything always remains the same. We get this wave of hysteria – angry people click more! – and those clicks feed the systems and nothing changes. 

It’s a rational machine model. The idea of artificial intelligence is a very limited, machine-like idea. What we’re ignoring is all those other aspects of human beings, which we don’t really acknowledge because they’re so inbuilt in us and have been for millions of years.

TH: Like the romantic side of life?

AC: It’s partly the romantic side but it’s also our ability to move through a cluttered environment, like a street – while dreaming of extraordinary images and visions of things that have never happened, but just come from the depths on no one knows what

I mean the thing is our scientists have no real idea what consciousness is – so I think it’s a bit difficult to build some form of real intelligence when you don’t even know how your own one really works. 

So the tech AI people are in the midst of a massive PR drive to persuade us that really we are no more than simple machines – which means we will agree humbly to be fitted into their stupid machine decision trees

We think intelligence is about playing Go. But practically no one plays Go. Or chess. Real intelligence is being able to walk through an incredibly crowded street on a busy evening, nimbly, when you don’t even think about it, while at the same time recalling memories and replaying things in your brain. 

What I’m saying is that human beings have been reduced to a very simplified version of themselves, which they’ve accepted, in order to fit into this machine model, both of society and the internet. 

But we are extraordinary and we can do extraordinary things. We are so much more than what they are forcing us to accept.

TH: So where should we be looking for the positive ideas? In HyperNormalisation you make the point that people have retreated, the politicians are just managers, there’s no vision of the future. Or there is, but it’s a bit negative.

AC: Or apocalyptic.

TH: Can you see anyone around the world, writers, politicians, anybody who’s got something positive to say?

AC: Well, I’m sure there is someone somewhere because things do change. I’m a journalist and journalists are very good at analysing what is happening now and trying to report it. 

I suspect you have to look at the two things that have been marginalised in this static world. One is science, and one is religion. 

Science has gone from something that in its glory days was going to change the world to becoming an adjunct of the dark doomsayers which just tells you if you eat this you will die. It’s become co-opted by the managerial system, it’s about how many pieces of fruit you should eat each day – between seven and 15, I think [laughs]. 

And it’s got stuck because there are all these things it can’t explain. For example, it tells you there’s stuff called dark matter and they know it’s there because they can’t see it, which is remarkably like the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

It means it’s lost its purchase on our imagination of awesomeness. The other thing is religion. Religion is waiting in the wings because in an age of individualism, the one thing you cannot deal with is the idea of your own mortality. 

You cannot conceive of what lies beyond you because the world is you. I think part of the apocalyptic mood of our time, part of it, not all of it, is coming from the Baby Boomer generation beginning to face the inevitable fact of their mortality and they’re a bit like Ayn Rand

When she was asked: “Don’t you fear death?” she said: “No, of course not, because I won’t die, the world will die.” 

What she means is that, if you’re an arch individual like she was, the world is in your head and that’s it. 

And that’s a very lonely place to be. What religion is really doing is offering consolation in the fear of death: there’s something beyond you.

TH: Particularly before the Reformation, the whole point of the Church was that if you live your life well and religiously you’ll be saved and go to heaven.

AC: But we captured that idea in this country with socialism, which co-opted those religious ideas and said we can work together to create something that will be great in the future, not necessarily for you, but for other people. 

Look, the real politics of the future is going to have to square the circle. It’s going to have to allow you to still feel that you are an individual and in control of your own destiny.

TH: Isn’t that anarchism?

AC: No it isn’t anarchism. To be honest, anarchism has been captured by the notion of individualism just like everything else has, just like Thatcher was. What I’m talking about is something I wouldn’t give an old term to…

TH: What could it be called?

AC: Its roots are going to lie in two places: one is the fusion of keeping the idea of individualism yet giving you a sense of being part of something, but you are not a slave to it, and the other is that you are going to re-energise the idea of science and fuse it to the idea that there is a purpose to your life. 

And the internet is the thing that could do it, except the bastards have got hold of it and done the opposite and have isolated us even more. 

We are being made to do this work for free for them and they feed us stuff and we remain in our little bubbles. Well that’s wrong. I mean in a way, I would argue for the nationalisation of the internet.

TH: To become a public utility?

AC: Yes, in which people can configure it in a way in which you don’t have to make money out of it. It’s there, it works.

TH: Like Royal Mail. The Royal Internet!

AC: No, I’m not going to join your folky world [laughs] – that’s the bit I divide from you on. What I’m saying is that this is a very limited view of society, it’s a management view of society. 

Meanwhile Trump is a distraction. He has really provided us a pantomime villain. He wakes up in the morning, gets his smartphone, tweets something really outrageous. Within nanoseconds the managerial liberals are looking at their smartphones going: 

“This is outrageous, typical capitalist, how can he say this?” 

At which point, they’re locked into a feedback loop of anger, fury and outrage. 

Meanwhile, outside the theatre, outside the pantomime, people like Mike Pence, and all the large techno financial, managerial complex are quietly getting on with what they really want to do, which is things like privatising armies. Really, they are. 

The managerial liberals are locked in the theatre with Trump. And that is where all our journalism has gone.

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26 MAR 18 :: “It’s no use fighting elections on the facts; it’s all about emotions.”
Law & Politics

The CEO of Cambridge Analytica Andrew Nix [now terminated] has said the following;

“We just put information into the bloodstream to the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape. And so this stuff infiltrates the online community and expands but with no branding – so it’s unattributable, untraceable.”

“It’s no use fighting elections on the facts; it’s all about emotions.”

“So the candidate is the puppet?” the undercover reporter asked. “Always,” replied Nix.

It’s all in plain sight now but what will be done? It’s a pivotal moment for Western Democracies and others further afield. It is indeed an extraordinary outcome. 

A 1997 US Army Quarterly concluded “One of the defining bifurcations of the future will be the conflict between information masters and information victims.” and this has come to pass.

In an extraordinary boomerang, The US’ adversaries have turned social media on its head and used it as a ‘’Trojan Horse’’ via psychographic profiling and micro-targeting at a mass scale.

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Mudam-se os tempos, mudam-se as vontades, Muda-se o ser, muda-se a confianca; Todo o mundo e composto de mudanca, Tomando sempre novas qualidades. Luis De Camoes

— Time changes, and our desires change. What we believe—even what we are—is ever- changing. The world is change, which forever takes on new qualities.

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A ‘took kit’ to support the farmers’ protest is more dangerous than the intrusion by Chinese troops into Indian territory! @PChidambaram_IN
Law & Politics

India is becoming the theatre of the absurd and it is sad that the Delhi Police has become a tool of the oppressors

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To a patriarchal, caste-ridden, feudal society that has no concept of the individual it comes as a shock to learn that a young woman might actually have formed her own conclusions about the state of the country and the planet. @ranjithoskote
Law & Politics

To a patriarchal, caste-ridden, feudal society that has no concept of the individual except as an actor performing a preordained script, it comes as a shock to learn that a young woman might actually have formed her own conclusions about the state of the country and the planet.

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“In Haiti, people never really die,” my grandmothers said when I was a child

In the Haitian vodou tradition, it is believed by some that the souls of the newly dead slip into rivers and streams and remain there, under the water, for a year and a day. Then, lured by ritual prayer and song, the souls emerge from the water and the spirits are reborn. 

These reincarnated spirits go on to occupy trees, and, if you listen closely, you may hear their hushed whispers in the wind. The spirits can also hover over mountain ranges, or in grottoes, or caves, where familiar voices echo our own when we call out their names. 

The year-and-a-day commemoration is seen, in families that believe in it and practice it, as a tremendous obligation, an honorable duty, in part because it assures a transcendental continuity of the kind that has kept us Haitians, no matter where we live, linked to our ancestors for generations.

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Sun Tzu Maestro
Law & Politics

''The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting''

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So far this year, the number of weekly reported cases has fallen by almost half, from more than 5M cases in the week of January 4 to 2.6M cases in the week starting February 8 – just five weeks. @DrTedros

The number of #COVID19 cases globally declined for the fifth consecutive week. So far this year, the number of weekly reported cases has fallen by almost half, from more than 5M cases in the week of January 4 to 2.6M cases in the week starting February 8 – just five weeks.

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08-FEB-2021 :: We are at peak vaccine euphoria

We are at peak vaccine euphoria

Global covid19 cases [are] falling at just under 2%/day @video4me

No one wants to think that

If you have a "normal" pandemic that is fading, but a "British variant" that is surging, the combined total can look like a flat, manageable situation. @spignal

They fancied themselves free, wrote Camus, ―and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.

We've updated our preprint on the transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01, aka B.1.1.7, with new statistical and modelling methods. 

Headline: we estimate VOC is 43–82% more transmissible than preexisting variants.

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.2136

Dollar Index 90.299

Japan Yen 105.52

Swiss Franc 0.8892

Pound 1.3972

Aussie 0.7787

India Rupee 72.70

South Korea Won 1100.05

Brazil Real 5.3696

Egypt Pound 15.600

South Africa Rand 14.4197

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Gap between Brent’s Apr & May contracts has soared to 60 cents in backwardation as buyers willing to pay up for prompt barrels, BBG reports @Schuldensuehner

#Oil in panic mode due to US supply disruptions. Close to 1m bbl/d of US output has been lost after freezing temperatures caused power cuts. Gap between Brent’s Apr & May contracts has soared to 60 cents in backwardation as buyers willing to pay up for prompt barrels, BBG reports

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Police have arrested a man along Kampala Road after he was found flogging an effigy of a person he accuses of engaging in election malpractice, stating that, "he should be punished for the crimes he has committed." @DailyMonitor

PHOTOS: Police have arrested a man along Kampala Road after he was found flogging an effigy of a person he accuses of engaging in election malpractice, stating that, "he should be punished for the crimes he has committed." @DailyMonitor

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Turning To Africa Spinning Top

Democracy from Tanzania to Zimbabwe to Cameroon has been shredded.

We are getting closer and closer to the Virilian Tipping Point

“The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street''

Political leadership in most cases completely gerontocratic will use violence to cling onto Power but any Early Warning System would be warning a Tsunami is coming

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10 NOV 14 : African youth demographic {many characterise this as a 'demographic dividend"} - which for Beautiful Blaise turned into a demographic terminator

Martin Aglo, a law student from Benin, told Reuters: “After the Arab Spring, this is the Black Spring”.We need to ask ourselves; how many people can incumbent shoot stone cold dead in such a situation – 100, 1,000, 10,000?

This is another point: there is a threshold beyond which the incumbent can’t go. Where that threshold lies will be discovered in the throes of the event.

The Event is no longer over the Horizon.

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Tanzania: How long can its COVID-19 strategy hold? @africaarguments @Chahali

It is difficult to say how long Tanzania can maintain this course of action. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the president could start to find himself being pressured from different political angles.

Through nearly five years in office, the president has consolidated his powerbase and tightened his grip. But COVID-19 was not part of the plan. 

The pandemic has created new dynamics, and the more the disease – and the response to it – threatens the interests and lives of his allies, supporters and partners, the more President Magufuli could see his grip start to loosen.

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The politicians who mismanaged the pandemic committed "social murder" and must be held accountable, writes @bmj_latest @KamranAbbasi @EricTopol

Merkel pronounced “You cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation...the limits of Populism are being laid bare.”

Merkel pronounced “You cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation...the limits of Populism are being laid bare.”

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States with such rulers can get “seized by senility and the chronic disease from which [they] can hardly ever rid [themselves], for which [they] can find no cure”

Ibn Khaldun explained the intrinsic relationship between political leadership and the management of pandemics in the pre-colonial period in his book Muqaddimah 

Historically, such pandemics had the capacity to overtake “the dynasties at the time of their senility, when they had reached the limit of their duration” and, in the process, challenged their “power and curtailed their [rulers’] influence...” 

Rulers who are only concerned with the well-being of their “inner circle and their parties” are an incurable “disease”. 

States with such rulers can get “seized by senility and the chronic disease from which [they] can hardly ever rid [themselves], for which [they] can find no cure”

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Ebola survivors have antibody spikes months after recovery suggesting chronic latent infection @JTSglobalhealth

The first known emergence of Ebola Zaire—the hottest subtype of Ebola virus— happened in September, 1976, when the virus erupted simultaneously in fifty-five villages near the Ebola River. 

Ebola Zaire is a slate-wiper in humans. It killed eighty- eight per cent of the people it infected. Apart from rabies and the human immunodeficiency virus, H.I.V., which causes aids, this was the highest rate of mortality that has been recorded for a human virus. 

Ebola was spread mainly among family members, through contact with bodily fluids and blood. Many of the people in Africa who came down with Ebola had handled Ebola-infected cadavers. It seems that one of Ebola’s paths wends to the living from the dead.

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Fig. 1: EBOV-GP HIV-1 pseudo-typed virus neutralization assay @nature


During longitudinal follow-up, antibody responses fluctuated in a ‘decay–stimulation–decay’ pattern that suggests de novo restimulation by EBOV antigens after recovery. 

A pharmacodynamic model of antibody reactivity identified a decay half-life of 77–100 days and a doubling time of 46–86 days in a high proportion of survivors. 

The highest antibody reactivity was observed around 200 days after an individual had recovered. 

The model suggests that EBOV antibody reactivity declines over 0.5–2 years after recovery. In a high proportion of healthy survivors, antibody responses undergo rapid restimulation.


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The Harrowing Journeys To Safety Of Asylum-Seekers During A Pandemic @NPR

Stuck on a stalled motorized inflatable raft in the open sea, 15-year-old Tsedal began to panic.

She and the other passengers, more than 60 migrants from the African countries of Eritrea and Sudan, had set off from neighboring Libya, where their lives had become unbearable. 

They were trying to cross more than 100 miles of the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.

Repeated distress calls brought no help. The passengers were suffering from dehydration and sunstroke. Two babies on board cried with such anguish that Tsedal could feel their wails deep in her chest.

"Everyone kept screaming, 'We are all going to die!' " says Tsedal, an Eritrean whose last name NPR is withholding because she's a minor whose life is often in danger. 

"The raft seemed to be sinking. We believed we would disappear with it under the water."

When they were finally rescued after six days at sea, several passengers were already dead. 

According to international law, the rescue vessel was supposed to take the survivors to the closest safe port, which was in Malta. Instead, the crew shipped the passengers back to Libya, the place they had fled for their lives.

The April journey, which NPR reconstructed based on passenger interviews and legal testimonies, illustrates what human rights groups say has turned into an assault on asylum rights during the pandemic. 

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says more than 60 countries around the world are using COVID-19 as an excuse to skirt international law by closing borders and ports to asylum-seekers. 

That has contributed to an increase in delayed rescues at sea and unlawful expulsions of asylum-seekers to dangerous places.

In South Asia, for instance, Rohingya refugees found themselves adrift for weeks in the Andaman Sea because of border closures. 

In the United States, the Trump administration used obscure public health laws to deport refugees and children during the pandemic. 

Greek authorities have repeatedly expelled asylum-seekers back to Turkey, prompting UNHCR to rebuke Greece and other southern European nations for blocking the path to asylum during the pandemic.

"These are fundamental breaches of refugee law," says Gillian Triggs, UNHCR's assistant high commissioner for protection. 

"My concern is that as COVID subsides — and it must, eventually — many of these countries will leave these restrictive border practices in place."

Though the pandemic slowed global migration in 2020, tens of thousands still crossed seas and deserts to find refuge. 

More than 3,000 migrants died while fleeing, two-thirds of those en route to Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration. 

The IOM says the numbers may be significantly higher because the pandemic has interfered with recording deaths and investigating shipwrecks.

Tsedal knew the sea crossing could be deadly. But she could no longer stay in Libya, where she has endured exploitation, abduction, assaults and even enslavement.

She says she's been on her own since her father, who raised her, died when she was 11. She is not in touch with her mother.

"I don't have my father or my mother but I do have God," she says. "I believe God will take care of me."

"A way out"

A guarded girl with a survivor's skill for problem-solving, Tsedal says she began 2020 with optimism. 

A Libyan doctor had recently helped her escape three years of captivity by trafficking gangs in the towns of Bani Walid and Shwayrif. 

He led Tsedal and other formerly enslaved girls to Tripoli, Libya's capital, where he helped them register with the local office of the U.N. refugee agency and found them work and lodging. 

Tsedal cleaned a nearby pharmacy and made enough to afford at least one meal a day.

She lived with two other Eritrean girls. At night in their bare room, they huddled around the cellphone they shared and laughed as they watched videos of Charlie Chaplin.

Then came the pandemic. Tsedal lost her job. She soon couldn't afford food. And these were the least of her problems. 

Trafficking gangs had turned up in her neighborhood, dragging migrants out of their rooms to hold them for ransom or sell them into slavery.

"The worst years of my life were with these gangs," she says. "They do whatever they want with you. I was very desperate, and I tried to find a way out."

A couple of older Eritreans who lived in her building paid a smuggler to secure a spot for Tsedal on a raft bound for Europe. 

The other migrants aboard told Tsedal they would try to steer to either the Italian island of Lampedusa or the island nation of Malta, the two closest outcrops of the European Union.

"I did not know these places," she says. "But the others said they were nice."

Tsedal remembers huddling with a few women and the two babies in the middle of the raft. A ring of young men sat on the edges, shielding the women and children from the sea's cold waves.

As the sun rose the next day, another young Eritrean aboard, 18-year-old Abdu Mahmoud, filmed videos on his phone of the blue sky and calm sea.

"We were sharing loaves of sugary bread," Mahmoud says. "We were happy to be away from Libya."

From Eritrea to Libya

NPR spoke to Tsedal and Mahmoud by phone several times in the last six months, assisted by translators in Arabic and Tigrinya.

Tsedal was 8 when she fled Eritrea with her father, Hishe, who had spoken out against its repressive government and faced imprisonment, she says. 

President Isaias Afwerki has ruled Eritrea with an iron fist since 1993, when the country won independence from neighboring Ethiopia.

"My father would tell me, 'There is no democracy in Eritrea, so we have to go somewhere where we can breathe," she says.

They first went to neighboring Sudan, where Hishe found work as a day laborer. Tsedal remembers how he sang as he stirred pots of a thick porridge called asida for their meals. Three years later, his work dried up, so they had to move again.

Before the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, the North African country was a magnet for migrant workers. 

Libya's civil war made it dangerous and lawless. Still, Tsedal says her father knew other Eritreans who were making a living in Tripoli.

Hishe and Tsedal crossed the desert into Libya in August 2016. She held her father's hand as they walked for days in the blazing sun with several other migrants, following smugglers who led them across the border. 

Eight days into the journey, Hishe collapsed and died. Tsedal says the extreme heat and lack of food and water seemed to destroy her father, who was diabetic. 

The smugglers left his body on the side of the road, and said Tsedal belonged to them. They told her to call her relatives to send money and buy her freedom. She was 11 years old.

"I was very young, I didn't have a phone," she says. "And there was no one I could call."

She says the smugglers sold her to trafficking gangs, who then sold and resold her to men who she says repeatedly raped her.

"They would bring four or five men to abuse me," she says. "They would also beat me. This was my life."

Stories like these are common from young Eritreans trapped in Libya, according to Meron Estefanos, an Eritrean Swedish journalist who runs the Stockholm-based Eritrean Initiative on Refugee Rights.

"They get tortured, they are starved, rape is very common," she says. "And even if they escape, even if they get to Tripoli, they are robbed, harassed, abused. They have nowhere to turn to. That's why so many are so desperate to cross the sea."

"God will be with me"

After three days on the Mediterranean, Tsedal and Mahmoud say, their raft's engine stopped working. Everyone was out of food and almost out of water. The sea was choppy.

"We realized we couldn't control the boat anymore," Mahmoud says. "We were left to the mercy of the waves and the wind."

Several passengers repeatedly dialed emergency numbers for help. The coast guards of Malta and Italy did not pick up. But someone got through to Alarm Phone, a nonprofit that runs a hotline for migrants in distress at sea.

Alarm Phone determined that the raft was in the search-and-rescue zone of Malta, the EU's smallest member state.

Maurice Stierl, a migration researcher and Alarm Phone spokesperson, says his colleagues immediately tried to alert Malta's Armed Forces. But the phone just rang and rang.

"It's incredible, right?" he says. "It's an emergency hotline, and they don't pick up."

When the Maltese finally did answer, they told Alarm Phone that Malta's ports were closed due to COVID-19.

"And this also applied to people in distress at sea, that no one could enter Maltese territory," he says. "It was an excuse."

The Armed Forces of Malta did not respond to NPR's request for comment on this exchange. 

In a statement at the time, the government said the raft was Libya's responsibility and called on nearby vessels to assist.

Tsedal and Mahmoud say no one on the raft knew the borders were closed. Their plight grew more dire as they waited. Dehydrated passengers drank seawater and collapsed. 

Three young men drowned in the rough sea after trying to swim toward a passing ship. 

A few hours later, Mahmoud says, two teenage boys
 crouched next to him began to sob uncontrollably. 

"Then they jumped into the sea and yelled, 'I'm going home!'" he says. "It's like they were hallucinating. They were trying to swim toward something that wasn't there. They drowned."

Tsedal thought she might be hallucinating too. The stress seemed to jolt her to the past. She could almost see her father and hear his gentle voice. 

She remembered how he died in her arms. Then she spotted an empty jerrycan on the raft and held it close.

"I told myself, if we sink, then I will hold this and float as long as I can," she says, "and hope God will be with me."

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The Harrowing Journeys To Safety Of Asylum-Seekers During A Pandemic @NPR [continued]

The sea route between North Africa and Europe is one of the most treacherous in the world for migrants. 

Since 2014, more than 17,000 asylum-seekers have either died or disappeared on this route, according to IOM. Hundreds have died since the pandemic began.

"There is absolutely no excuse for delays in assistance," says Safa Msehli, a spokesperson for IOM. 

"Under international law and maritime conventions, states are under the obligation to prioritize saving lives at any cost." That includes during a pandemic, she says.

Tsedal and Mahmoud say they had almost given up hope when a couple of fishing boats arrived nearly three days after they called for help. By then seven passengers had died.

The fishing vessels pulled up next to their raft. The crew helped the survivors aboard. Mahmoud remembers crew members explaining in English what was going on.

"They told us that Malta's authorities sent them to pick us up because we had women and children with us," Mahmoud says. "They told us they would take us to Malta."

The next evening, however, the migrants saw a familiar coastline: Libya. They were back where they started — back in the place they fled.

''I did not want to get off the boat," Tsedal says. "I tried to hide so they wouldn't find me. But they did, and they dragged me out."

Five passengers suffering from extreme dehydration died en route to Libya, bringing the total deaths to 12.

The crew handed the migrants over to Libyan immigration police, who arrested the survivors and imprisoned them in the Tarik al-Sikka detention center in Tripoli. 

UNHCR representatives say the migrants were psychologically traumatized and had suffered severe sun and fuel burns at sea.

Libya's detention centers are crowded, filthy and dangerous. Doctors Without Borders has evidence of Libyan prison guards selling detained migrants to traffickers.

Tsedal escaped the facility after three months, along with several other teenage girls. She says they tied their scarves into a rope and scaled a wall while the guards prayed. 

A month later, Libyan human rights activists helped free some of the other migrants, including Mahmoud.

Defending the right to seek asylum

Malta's Prime Minister Robert Abela later acknowledged that his government commissioned the fishing vessels to take the African migrants back to Libya, calling the operation a "rescue." He said Malta was closed because of the pandemic.

Refugee rights advocates in Malta jumped on the case. They have closely monitored their government's escalating attempts to restrict asylum since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Europe.

Migrants Captured In Libya Say They End Up Sold As Slaves

"Because of the pandemic, the government is emboldened," says lawyer Neil Falzon, a former director of UNHCR's Malta office who now runs the Aditus Foundation, a refugee rights nonprofit.

He says Maltese authorities have also packed migrants onto tourist vessels and kept them at sea in international waters for weeks to prevent them from applying for asylum. 

Malta has refused to allow commercial vessels to bring rescued migrants to its ports. Falzon says the EU country lets Libya's coast guard enter Maltese waters and take migrants back to Tripoli.

International maritime law says countries are obligated to save distressed boat passengers in their territorial waters or in parts of the sea where they're responsible for rescues.

Maltese authorities, Falzon says, "need to face legal consequences."

Paul Borg Olivier, a lawyer and former mayor of Valletta, Malta's capital, is representing Tsedal, Mahmoud and the other survivors of the April pushback, as well as the families of those who died. 

In a lawsuit filed last November, he accuses Maltese authorities of contributing to the deaths of 12 migrants on the raft by delaying the rescue, and violating the human rights of survivors.

"The aim is to defend the migrants but, at the end of the day, to defend the right to seek asylum and the right to life," Borg Olivier says. "That's in danger because of the pandemic."

Maltese authorities did not respond to NPR's requests for comment. Malta's leaders have repeatedly argued that the country is too small — only half a million people reside on the island — and cannot accept more migrants. 

In November, Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo acknowledged that Malta has partnered with the Libyan coast guard to keep migrants from entering Maltese waters. 

Writing on Facebook, he said more than 6,000 migrants have been prevented from entering Malta since the pandemic began. 

The EU has also been criticized for funding Libya's coast guard to keep migrants from crossing.

The leaders of Malta, Greece, Italy and Spain say the EU has left them to manage the bloc's migration alone. 

They say the EU's new migration pact does not press ultranationalist member states such as Hungary and Poland to accept even one recognized refugee.

Relief and resignation

Borg Olivier says the court case involving Tsedal and the other migrants sent back to Libya is expected to take months. 

He hopes a judgment in the migrants' favor will allow them to at least apply for asylum, "which is their legal right," he says. 

He also hopes the case will resonate beyond his small country and remind nations that using the pandemic to undermine asylum rights is illegal — and inhumane.

Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch's refugee and migrant rights division, warns that nations "can't undo overnight a lot of the damage that has been done."

Deportations continue in the United States, for instance, despite President Biden's pledge to significantly boost America's refugee admissions. 

In the EU, Frelick says, the 2015 migration crisis — during which more than a million asylum-seekers arrived — hardened attitudes against migrants. 

"Policies intending to bar access to asylum were already brewing," he says. "COVID-19 was used almost retroactively as a rationale."

In Libya, migrants continue to live under threat of exploitation and violence. 

In the past year, especially since the pandemic broke out, the IOM's Msehli says, there has also been an increase in "arbitrary arrests" of migrants in their homes. 

Human rights groups have, however, lauded the release of asylum-seekers from a notorious detention center.

At the end of last year, the U.N. refugee agency resumed emergency evacuations of the most vulnerable asylum-seekers stuck in Libya. 

Tsedal is now in a U.N. camp in Rwanda, where, she says, she has enough to eat and does not have to hide from trafficking gangs. 

She is awaiting to see what countries will accept asylum applications from the camp. She says she wants to go to school and learn how to help other abused girls like herself.

She worries about her friends still stuck in Libya, including Mahmoud, who fled Eritrea at 13 and was kidnapped and tortured by trafficking gangs after he crossed into Libya.

He and other migrants take turns guarding the building in Tripoli where they live to alert the others when gangs show up.

"If we have money they take the money," Mahmoud says. "And if we don't have money — and we never have enough of it — they take us."

Meanwhile, as the pandemic devastates economies around the world, a surge of people will be forced to move to find work, according to U.N. agencies. 

Europe is already seeing early signs of this, in the rise of impoverished young men from West Africa trying to cross the Mediterranean to Spain's Canary Islands. 

More than 600 people have died on that route since the beginning of 2020.

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IMF and Kenyan Authorities Reach Staff-Level Agreement on a Three-Year, US$2.4 Billion Financing Package
Kenyan Economy

February 15, 2021

The IMF team and the Kenyan authorities reached staff-level agreement on a 38-month program to help the next phase of the country’s COVID-19 response and a strong multi-year effort to stabilize and begin reducing debt levels relative to GDP.

The economy is picking up from an unprecedented shock suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Notwithstanding the recovery, uncertainty remains in a durable return to the path of strong, sustainable, and inclusive growth.

The authorities have already begun reversing some of the earlier extraordinary measures introduced at the outset of the shock, while maintaining others. 

Building on the steps already taken, the program would support the authorities’ efforts and provide resources to protect vulnerable groups.

Washington, DC – February 15, 2021 : A staff team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) led by Mary Goodman conducted virtual missions to Kenya from December 9 to 17, 2020 and from February 4 to 15, 2021 to undertake negotiations on a combined 38-month program under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) and Extended Credit Facility (ECF) arrangements.

At the end of the mission, Ms. Goodman made the following statement:

“I am pleased to announce that the Kenyan authorities and the IMF mission team have reached agreement on economic and structural policies that would underpin a 38-month program under the EFF and ECF arrangements for about US$2.4 billion

The staff-level agreement is subject to IMF management approval and Executive Board consideration, which is expected in the coming weeks. 

The program will support the next phase of the country’s COVID-19 response and the authorities’ plans for a strong multi-year effort to stabilize and begin reducing debt levels relative to GDP, laying the ground for durable and inclusive growth over the years to come.

Kenya was hard hit at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, but growth has been recovering since mid-2020 and heading into 2021 . 

The authorities’ forceful early actions cushioned the pandemic’s economic impact, and real GDP growth is projected to have contracted by just -0.1 percent in 2020. 

Inflation remained within the central bank’s target band, reaching 5.7 percent in January, while financial sector vulnerabilities have been contained and the banking system remains well capitalized overall. 

The external sector proved resilient against the backdrop of the shock, with horticultural exports and remittances performing well. 

The reopening of schools and removal of pandemic containment measures are expected to underpin a growth rebound to 7.6 percent in 2021, even as some sectors of the economy face continuing headwinds.

The Kenyan authorities have begun to roll back some of their extraordinary economic support measures. 

With the pickup in activity, the earlier temporary personal and corporate income tax cuts as well as the reduced VAT rate were discontinued at end-December, shoring up tax revenues. 

To maintain the cushion for the low income earners and for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), the Authorities did not reverse the personal relief on income tax and the lower turnover tax (1%) for small businesses introduced in April 2020. 

Many households and businesses continue to benefit from the temporary debt relief agreements reached with their banks, and borrowers accounting for a total of 54.2 percent of loans had entered such rescheduling agreements by end-2020. 

Overall, the authorities’ decision to pause fiscal adjustment this year will allow accommodating health, social, and development spending to support the recovery, complemented by accommodative monetary policy.

The mission team agreed with the authorities on a program to support the next phase of their COVID-19 response. 

The authorities’ program aims at reducing debt vulnerabilities through a multi-year fiscal consolidation effort, centered on raising tax revenues and tight control of spending, which would safeguard resources to protect vulnerable groups

It would also advance the structural reform and governance agenda, including by addressing weaknesses in some SOEs and ongoing efforts to strengthen transparency and accountability through the anticorruption framework

Finally, it would strengthen the monetary policy framework and support financial stability.

The program charts a clear path to reduce the vulnerabilities crystallized by the COVID-19 shock. 

Building on steps the authorities have already taken, the strong multi-year consolidation effort will deliver a primary balance that would stabilize debt as a share of GDP and put it firmly on a downward path over the course of the program. 

This will free up resources for private investment, setting a strong footing for durable growth coming out of this global shock. The program will also form a strong basis for support from other development partners.

COVID-19 continues to pose risks for the global economy and for Kenya. Risks generally remain to the downside, and projections are subject to extraordinary uncertainty. 

Accordingly, the program incorporates flexibility, including by recognizing near term uncertainties about tax yields due to challenges from the COVID-19 shock in key sectors like hospitality. 

As the authorities evaluate risks in the SOE sector, the program will support their plans over time to develop a strategy to address weaknesses in vulnerable SOEs within the scope of the limited available fiscal space. 

The team looks forward to close engagement with the authorities to evaluate the evolving landscape over the course of this year and achieve the program’s goals.

The mission team is grateful to the authorities for the candid and constructive discussions and their strong efforts to ensure success of the upcoming program.

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Summary of the IMF-Kenya agreement. @reubenmuhindi
Kenyan Economy


1) Fiscal consolidation for the next 3 yrs 

2) Parastatals' restructure/privatization

3) Visible anticorruption measures

4) Expansionary monetary policy 

Key goals: 

1) Reduce public debt

2) Increase tax revenue

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Kenya Eyes $2.27 Billion Eurobond in Shift Back to Foreign Debt @markets @herbling
Kenyan Economy

Kenya plans to raise more money from foreign than domestic sources as it rearranges its borrowing portfolio to take advantage of appetite for high-yielding debt.

The East African nation intends to raise 123.8 billion shillings ($1.13 billion) in sovereign bonds in the next four months and an additional 124.3 billion shillings during the fiscal year starting in July, according to the National Treasury. 

The funds will help finance the budget.

The government is tilting away from high-interest domestic borrowing to maximize concessional and semi-concessional external debt, Treasury said its medium-term debt management document. 

Commercial foreign loans will be limited to financing projects with high financial and economic returns, according to the document submitted to the National Assembly on Feb. 11.

The Treasury is targeting a foreign-to-domestic net-borrowing ratio of 57:43 in the plan covering 2021-24, compared with 21:79 in the past fiscal year. 

The government has previously said it wants to limit its external debt exposure to mainly concessional loans.

“It is a good time to issue a Eurobond, as there is certainly appetite for higher-yielding debt,” said Yvonne Mhango, head of sub-Saharan economic research at Renaissance Capital. 

“Given the stretched fiscal finances, concessional loans would be a more affordable and sustainable source of financing. Either way, the proceeds of the foreign loan will help the authorities shore up foreign exchange reserves and support the shilling.”

Kenya’s public debt stood at 7.28 trillion shillings by the end of December, equivalent to 65.6% of gross domestic product in nominal terms, according to the government data. 

The Treasury wants the statutory debt ceiling lifted to above 9 trillion shillings to accommodate anticipated fiscal deficits from 2021-22, according to the document.

A target to narrow its fiscal deficit to 3.5% of GDP has eluded Treasury, which now expects to hit that goal by 2024-25, according to the document. 

This year, the nation estimates a financing hole at 8.9% of GDP.

Treasury is expecting 82.5 billion shillings in World Bank budget support this fiscal year and 74.3 billion shillings next fiscal year. It received $1 billion in the last fiscal year.

From the International Monetary Fund’s rapid credit facility, Kenya expects to receive 78.8 billion shillings in the current period and 54 billion shillings in 2021-22.

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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February 2021

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