Thursday, December 14, 2017
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Egyptian singer gets 2 years in jail over music video

An Egyptian court jailed a little-known singer for two years on Tuesday for inciting debauchery, judicial sources said, after she appeared in a music video in her underwear and suggestively eating a banana.

Shyma’s song, titled “I have issues”, sparked controversy on social media in the conservative country.

The singer, who was fined 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($560), can appeal the verdict to a higher court.

The director of the video was also fined and sentenced to two years in prison, but in absentia. Both defendants were accused of inciting debauchery and producing a video harming public morality.

Shyma, whose real name is Shaimaa Ahmed, was arrested on Nov. 18 before being referred to the prosecution for investigation. She denied the accusations, saying the director included the controversial scenes without her consent.

Tens of young Egyptians were arrested in September for attending a concert in Cairo where a rainbow flag was raised. They were also accused of debauchery, harming public morality and other accusations.

Investigation opened into S. Africa’s largest corporate scandal

An investigation has been launched by the government into the largest corporate scandal in South Africa’s history, it was announced on Tuesday.

The investigation will be led by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and its affiliated organization the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), DTI spokesperson Sidwell Medupe said.

The DTI and CIPC have noted with great concern allegations of governance failures and financial irregularities at South African retailer Steinhoff, which led to the resignation of its Chief Executive Officer Markus Jooste, Medupe said.

The DTI and CIPC will investigate allegations related to non-compliance with the Companies Act and Regulations, said Medupe.

He said the DTI will suggest that the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA) also consider the circumstance with regard to the role of auditors in this instance.

Steinhoff International Holdings N.V. made headlines last week when its shares collapsed following the exposure of accounting irregularities.

The fallout, which started on Wednesday, has wiped off over 160 billion rand (about 11.7 billion U.S. dollars) of Steinhoff’s market capitalization. Lenders and other creditors have billions of dollars exposed to the company, which has expanded aggressively around the world.

Steinhoff’s meltdown has sparked fears of huge impact on pension funds and unit trusts which have invested heavily in the company.

The Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) could lose about 12.5 billion rand (about 919 million dollars) in investments due to the scandal, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration disclosed.

Also on Tuesday, the GEPF said it has taken note of the current concerns regarding possible lapses in governance at Steinhoff.

The GEPF assured its members, pensioners and beneficiaries that their pensions are safe.

As at March 31, 2017, the GEPF, through the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), owned about 28 billion rand (205 million dollars) in Steinhoff, which is about 10 percent of the shares of the company but 1 percent of the total assets of the Fund, the agency said in a statement.

“The impact of significant movement in the share price on the GEPF is significant but manageable,” said the statement.

The GEPF is monitoring the situation while awaiting further information from investigations by domestic and international regulators, and law enforcement agencies to decide on an appropriate course of action, the statement said.

IMF says Namibia’s economy to end 2017 in negative

Namibia’s economic growth is expected to enter negative territory in 2017 compared to a growth of 1.1 percent last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Tuesday at the end of its mission to the Southern African country.

The contraction comes as construction of large mining projects has been completed and as the government continues with its budget consolidation efforts.

“After years of exceptional growth, the economy has entered an adjustment phase. Growth is expected to turn slightly negative in 2017,” the IMF said at the conclusion of the 2017 Article 1V Mission to Namibian.

Growth is expected to resume in 2018 and accelerate thereafter to about 4 percent as production from new mines ramps up and manufacturing and retail activities recover.

Downside risks include volatile Southern African Customs Union (SACU) revenue, subdued commodity prices and fiscal slippage that could undermine policy credibility.

“With SACU revenue declining, significant fiscal adjustment is needed to ensure debt sustainability and macro-economic stability,” the IMF said.

Namibia’s economy shrank by 1.7 percent in the first and second quarters of this year.

Tanzania’s Magufuli decries airing of immoral TV programs

Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Tuesday castigated local television stations for airing unethical and immoral programs.

Addressing the 9th meeting of the parents’ wing of the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), Magufuli said such programs were against the East African country’s traditions.

“Some media outlets have been promoting erosion of our values by broadcasting unpleasant TV programs,” said the president.

He ordered the Ministry of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports and the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to enforce laws governing media operations to curb moral erosion.

Magufuli said TCRA had the mandate to suspend or take legal actions against any media outlet found guilty of violating regulations, yet the communications regulator was not taking any actions.

“I am urging relevant authorities to start taking immediate actions to curb moral erosion in our society,” he said.

Dlamini-Zuma eyes South Africa’s presidency

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a fierce campaigner against racial inequality whose hostility to big business has rattled investors in South Africa. She is also one of two front runners to be the country’s next president.

The 68-year-old is vying to succeed her ex-husband, President Jacob Zuma, as leader of the ruling African National Congress at a party vote this weekend, an outcome that would make her favourite for the presidency after a parliamentary election due in 2019.

A medical doctor and former chair of the Commission of the African Union, a pan-continental grouping, Dlamini-Zuma has pledged during her campaign to “radically” tackle the racial inequality that persists in South Africa 23 years after the end of white minority rule.

Backers of her main rival, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, say she is peddling populist rhetoric and would rule in the mould of her former husband, whose decade in power has been plagued by corruption scandals. Dlamini-Zuma declined to be interviewed for this story.

The choice between Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa will influence South Africa’s economic policy trajectory, as well the country’s role in Africa and beyond.

Investors are worried by Dlamini-Zuma’s hostility towards international companies, which she says form part of a “white monopoly capital” cabal dominating South Africa’s wealth.

“A Dlamini-Zuma victory would signal a sharp rhetorical shift towards more leftist economic policy,” said John Ashbourne, an Africa-focused economist at Capital Economics. “A further credit ratings downgrade would be almost inevitable.”

Yet Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters point to a commitment to changing the lives of South Africa’s black majority. Lynne Jones, a psychiatrist and author who lived with Dlamini-Zuma when they were students together in the English city of Bristol in the 1970s, says her determination to fight injustice is rooted in her own personal story.

Jones remembers a day four decades ago when Dlamini-Zuma lay on her bed and wept after being forced to miss her brother’s funeral because the apartheid-era security services had hounded her out of South Africa.

“She was fiercely intelligent and determined,” said Jones.

“Here was someone who had put their whole life on the line and given up home and family for what they believed. It was eye-opening.”

African Nationalist

The race between Ramaphosa, a unionist-turned-millionaire businessman, and Dlamini-Zuma is too close to call, political analysts say.

Her campaign team said that, they were confident she would be elected ANC leader.

Ramaphosa, who is popular among swathes of the ANC disillusioned with Zuma, is promising to end corruption, boost a flatlining economy and deliver jobs to the poor in a country where more than a quarter of the population is unemployed.

Dlamini-Zuma, by contrast, is an African nationalist and has the support of the influential ANC youth and women’s leagues, which both tend to support socialist policies.

Known for her fierce temper and hostility towards the West, she was described in one 2001 U.S. diplomatic cable on WikiLeaks as a “truculent and petulant foreign minister”.

Another cable to Washington suggested she could be charming.

“Belying her reputation as fierce and formidable, the Minister was soft spoken and smiling in this meeting – articulate but gentle, candid but warm,” Donald Gips, then U.S. ambassador to South Africa, wrote in 2010.

The most common criticism of Dlamini-Zuma is that she is beholden to Zuma and his powerful patronage network. Zuma has publicly endorsed her.

“She is bold and you can’t fool her. She is someone you can trust,” Zuma told a rally recently.

The couple met in Swaziland in the 1980s, when they were both in the ANC underground. They were married for more than a decade and have four children together.

Reliance on Zuma

In a rare interview last month, Dlamini-Zuma challenged her opponents to find any evidence of corruption in her long political career.

“I don’t loot government coffers. I’ve never done so, and I will not do so,” she told ANN7 television.

But for some senior figures in the ANC, she has not done enough to distance herself from the corruption scandals that have dogged President Zuma.

“She has not said anything on ‘state capture’,” ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said, using a South African term to describe private interests unduly controlling government funds.

Dlamini-Zuma says accusations that she is piggy-backing off Zuma are “insulting” given her career, first as a doctor to ANC leaders fighting apartheid and then as a cabinet minister under every South African president since 1994.

As health minister in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet, she laid the foundations for free public healthcare for the poor, took a hard line on smoking and made medicines more accessible.

As foreign minister she fostered friendships with African countries and emerging economies like China, even when this angered the West.

But she also made errors of judgment.

In 1996, Dlamini-Zuma awarded a contract for more than $3 million to a friend for a play, Sarafina II, to raise awareness about AIDS and was later found to have ignored tender rules.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said that paled in comparison to recent government malpractice. He said: “14 million rand in the Sarafina scandal now seems like peanuts when compared with the looting under Zuma.”

Liberia set December 26 for run-off presidential vote

After weeks of uncertainty, Liberia electoral overseer announced on Tuesday that, the runoff in Liberia’s presidential elections will be held on December 26, clearing a last hurdle in a protracted saga.

It means the final round of voting between the two leading candidates — ex-footballer George Weah and Vice President Joseph Boakai — can go ahead.

“I am pleased to announce that the 2017 presidential runoff elections will be conducted on Tuesday, December 26, 2017,” the president of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Jerome Korkoya, said.

“We realise that this day is immediately after Christmas Day,” he said, adding: “We call on all registered voters to make that one sacrifice, for the love of our democracy.”

The vote is seen as a crucial test of Liberia’s stability after back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003 and an Ebola crisis that killed thousands from 2014 to 2016.

Whoever wins will replace Liberia’s Nobel Peace prize-winning president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is also Africa’s first female elected head of state. She is stepping down after a maximum two six-year terms.

During her tenure, she steered the country away from the trauma of war, although poverty remains entrenched and has been one of the main election issues.

– ‘Fraud’ allegations –

The runoff date was announced after the Supreme Court last Thursday ordered the commission to proceed with the vote after it was delayed for a month by fraud complaints.

The Liberty Party candidate Charles Brumskine, who came third in the first round, claimed that ballot stuffing and false voter registration cards had marred the election — allegations backed up by second place Boakai.

But the claims were rejected by the National Elections Commission (NEC), which found that the parties of the two candidates had failed to provide “indubitable evidence” that the vote was tainted.

Weah won 38.4 percent to Boakai’s 28.8 percent in the first round of the election on October 10.

The runoff vote was triggered because no single candidate obtained more than 50 percent in the first round, which was described as free and fair by international and domestic observers, despite some reported delays.

Campaigning for the second round has been immediately opened and will end on December 24, the electoral commission said.

Both candidates have both promised to improve education and create jobs, but also have sharp differences.

Weah, 51, the first African player to win both FIFA’s World Player of the Year trophy and the Ballon d’Or, has leveraged his status as a revered figure among young people to boost his support.

After running unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2005 and in 2011, Weah became a senator in 2014 and says he has “gained experience”.

After more than a decade in government, Boakai, 72, campaigned as a natural transition candidate and presented himself as an everyman who transcended his humble beginnings.

He has tried to promote his record in government while distancing himself from Sirleaf, and also attempted to craft a more energetic image after earning the unfortunate title of “Sleepy Joe”, for sometimes falling asleep at public events.

– ‘Nobody wants to buy’ –

The delay in the vote has meanwhile led to many businesses feeling the pinch as customers have stayed home and the exchange rate has climbed in the absence of a resolution.

“Nobody wants to buy, people are keeping their money,” said Ruth Wollie last week, one of many female market traders who make up an important voting bloc for Liberian politicians.

“For us to sell 1000 LD ($8) per day is very difficult,” she added at her stall in Monrovia.

Liberia has two legal currencies: the Liberian dollar and the US dollar.

The country imports the vast majority of its food, and wholesale imports and taxes are payable in US dollars only, so fluctuations in the exchange rate can quickly make trading conditions difficult.

Christopher Pewee, a shoe seller in Paynesville, said the situation had “stagnated”.

“Investors are holding back investments, and the demand for US dollars is high. That’s why the rate has climbed,” he said, surrounded by brightly coloured flip-flops.

Uganda grateful to UN for $17m emergency refugee response fund

Aid workers attending to South Sudanese refugees in Ugand

The Ugandan government on Tuesday thanked the United Nations for the allocation of 17 million U.S. dollars in funding for thousands of refugees in the east African country.

Musa Ecweru, Uganda’s state minister for relief, refugees and disaster preparedness, said in an interview that the funding, from the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), will go a long way to meet the needs of the refugees in the country.

“We thank the UN for the support. We are grateful for the continued support from development partners and the UN towards refugees,” Ecweru said.

“We call for more support from our partners and international community to help us to respond to the refugee situation,” he said.

The 17 million dollars is part of the 100 million dollars announced by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to meet critical needs in under-funded emergencies in nine countries.

The other eight countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Cameroon, Mali, the Philippines, Eritrea, Haiti and Pakistan.

Uganda currently hosts about 1.5 million refugees, with over 1 million from the neighbouring South Sudan, according to UN statistics.

Burundi says will raise funds for 2020 election from citizens

President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza

Burundi plans to raise money for an election in 2020 by deducting part of civil servants’ salaries and taking contributions directly from citizens, a government minister said on Monday, as it seeks to replace dwindling external funding.

Until 2015, Burundi used external aid to pay for elections, but donors have suspended their assistance since a political crisis erupted when President Pierre Nkurunziza sought and won a third term.

Pascal Barandagiye, the minister for interior, said the government will also be seek contributions from every household, which will pay up to 2000 francs ($1.14) a year. Gross national income per capita stood at $280 in 2016, and close to 65 percent of the population live below the poverty line, according to World Bank data.

“The total amount of the election cost is not yet known … But as soon as the needed fund is got the fundraising campaign will be halted,” Barandagiye told a news conference. “That contribution should be given voluntarily, it shouldn’t be seen as a head tax.”

Students of voting age will contribute 1000 francs annually. Civil servants will contribute at least a tenth of their monthly salaries, Barandagiye said. Foreign help would also be accepted, he said.

Burundi has been gripped by a political crisis since April 2015, when Nkurunziza announced he would stand for a third term, which the opposition said violated the constitution as well as a 2005 peace deal that ended a 12-year civil war.

He won a vote largely boycotted by the opposition, but protests sparked a government crackdown. More than 700 people have been killed and 400,000 displaced to neighbouring countries. The economy has stagnated.

The aid-dependent nation now has to rely on domestic tax collection and modest revenue from coffee and tea exports. Key donors, such as the European Union, cut direct financial support to the government over accusations of human rights violations and the crackdown on opponents, which Burundi rejects.

At the end of October, Burundi’s cabinet adopted draft legislation seeking to change the current constitution to allow Nkurunziza to run for a fourth term in the 2020 election.

The proposed amendments, which are likely to go to a referendum by next year, seek to abolish the two-term limit and lengthen the presidential terms to seven years.

Fight against music piracy boosted in East Africa with unified laws

John Katana and Perry Alando
John Katana, member of prolific Kenyan band Them Mushrooms and Perry Alando, founder of the Talent Management Agency

East African Community (EAC) member states are set to harmonize their laws to boost cooperation in the fight against music piracy, an official said on Monday.

Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB) CEO Ezekiel Mutua told a media briefing in Nairobi that partner states have already developed draft policies and legislation that will be forwarded to the East African Legislative Assembly for enactment.

“The goal is to have uniform laws that will guide cooperation in combating music piracy that is responsible for stifling growth of the sector,” Mutua said.

The EAC comprises Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan.

Mutua said that once the economic bloc has a unified legal regime, it will reduce the level of music piracy in the region and help boost artists’ earnings, noting that growing regional integration has led to an increase in cross-border trade of music.

He said some of the trade involves pirated music moving from one partner state to another by criminal syndicates taking advantage of weak national laws.

Mutua noted that digital technology has contributed to the proliferation of pirated music because it enables unauthorized copies of music.

Low purchasing power in the region has also made piracy rampant, he said.

The Kenyan film content regulator is currently conducting a national awareness campaign to educate artists on how to prevent them from being victims of music piracy, Mutua said.

Evidence shows EU abetting migrant rights violations in Libya

European governments are “complicit” in grave human rights violations in Libya through their support for authorities there that often work with people smugglers and torture refugees and migrants, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

Determined to cut African immigration across the Mediterranean, the governments, via the European Union, have provided support to Libya, trained its coastguard and spent millions of euros through U.N. agencies to improve conditions in detention camps where Libya puts the migrants.

The advocacy group said up to 20,000 people were now held in these centers and subject to “torture, forced labor, extortion, and unlawful killings”, adding to similar allegations made by other rights organizations over the past months.

“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these crimes,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s head for Europe, said.

The European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission, was not immediately available for comment.

Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since July as Libyan factions and authorities have begun to block departures under pressure from Italy, the main landing point. More than 600,000 have made the journey over the past four years.

Amnesty said the Libyan coastguards – which the EU backs to intercept people heading for Europe – work hand-in-hand with people smugglers, including in torturing people to extort money.

“By supporting Libyan authorities in trapping people in Libya … European governments have shown where their true priorities lie: namely the closure of the central Mediterranean route, with scant regard to the suffering caused,” said Dalhuisen.

With Libya being largely a lawless states since the fall of veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi, some EU officials and diplomats chafe at what they see as being forced to rely on sometimes shady characters in the matrix of alliances between militias.

However, EU leaders meeting for their final gathering this year in Brussels on Dec. 14-15 will recommit themselves to this strategy, which they see as bearing fruit in the form of fewer sea crossings.

The presidency of Libya’s U.N.-backed government said last month it was a victim of illegal migration, not a source of it, and appealed to foreign powers to help stop flows from migrants’ countries of origin.