Sunday, 20th May 2018


Articles that reflect opinion

Violence and conflict in sub-Saharan Africa forced 15,000 people from their homes every day in 2017, double the previous year’s figure, an international monitoring centre said on Wednesday, urging more help for those displaced within their own countries.

The region accounted for nearly half the 11.8 million people worldwide who were displaced within their countries by conflict last year, according to a report from the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Internal displacement is often a precursor to cross-border movement and can lead to further conflict as host communities struggle to accommodate newcomers, said Alexandra Bilak, director of IDMC.

“It’s a vicious cycle of vulnerability,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Bilak said the global community tended to focus more on the plight of people who flee across borders - refugees - often leaving those who flee within their countries without enough assistance.

“We hope this report will be a wake-up call. The numbers keep increasing and we’re not seeing the kind of responses that would be needed to prevent and reduce internal displacement,” she said.

Democratic Republic of Congo was the worst-hit country in Africa, with almost 2.2 million people forced from home last year, said the IDMC. 

South Sudan, Ethiopia and Central African Republic followed, together accounting for 2.1 million.

Internally displaced people (IDPs) remain under the protection of their government even when it is the cause of displacement.

They often move to areas where it is difficult to deliver aid, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

People who flee conflict usually remain in their countries and only cross borders if they still feel threatened, said Rishi Ramrakha, head of logistics in Africa for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Aid agencies must strike a balance between helping internally displaced people, refugees and host communities, he said, as resentment over newcomers receiving assistance can fuel conflict. 

In addition to the 5.5 million who fled conflict, 2.6 million people were forced from their homes because of storms and floods in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, said IDMC.

UNHCR has not yet released data on the number of people who fled across borders in 2017, but said that in 2016 there was an increase of 16 percent on the continent.


Over the last few years reports have surfaced of a range of African countries planning nuclear power plants.

At the moment, the only nuclear plant in operation in Africa is South Africa’s Koeberg, producing 1.86GW of power. This, according to some African leaders, is about to change.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recently made the astonishing statement that his country is planning 30GW of nuclear power by 2026. That equates to 16 times the current total of nuclear energy on the entire African continent.

Uganda is only one of a number of countries interested in nuclear power. Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom has boasted that it’s concluded nuclear power memoranda of understanding with Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan and Zambia. Uganda is also on the list.

Most African countries suffer from severe electricity shortages. The majority need to double their generating capacity to meet current needs.

According to International Energy Agency figures, Kenya, Sudan and Zambia are primarily dependent on hydroelectric power. A 2.4GW nuclear plant would double their electricity production. Nigeria’s dominant energy source is gas, and here it would take a 4.8GW nuclear plant to double its capacity.

Of the countries with Rosatom agreements, only Egypt has any concrete plans in place. A site for a 4.8GW nuclear plant has been identified at El Dabaa, on the Mediterranean Sea, and building is understood to be imminent. In the other countries, the location and scale of the projects have yet to be determined.

Elsewhere in the world countries like Germany, Belgium and the US are downscaling their nuclear plans or exiting it altogether. The reasons include perceptions of increased risk following the Fukushima disaster in Japan as well as economic factors.

The cost of electricity generation from solar photovoltaic and wind technologies has come down dramatically. It already costs less than power produced by nuclear plants and renewable energy is set to become even cheaper.

Given that South Africa has shelved its nuclear plans on affordability grounds, surely less resourced African countries would find investments like this even more difficult?

The loan agreements

Nuclear power agreements are notoriously shrouded in secrecy. But it’s possible to get a sense of Rosatom’s plans for African nuclear contracts by examining recent examples where details of mutual commitments have become public.

A deal struck with Bangladesh provides a useful benchmark against which to understand other deals that have been done with Russia. In the case of the 2.4GW Rooppur nuclear plant, Rosatom is providing most of a US$12.65 billion loan. This only covers the estimated construction costs. Interest accrual, possible cost overruns, operations and decommissioning are likely to amount to more than double of this initial outlay. That makes a total cost of roughly US$30 billion likely.

Egypt’s earlier mentioned El Dabaa project has a similar funding arrangement. Here Rosatom has given a loan of US$25 billion, which again is projected to only cover construction.

For both Rooppur and El Dabaa, the annual interest for their loan is around 3%. In addition, the loan is structured in a way that ensures repayments only start 10-13 years after the loan is made, to continue in annual instalments for 22-28 years thereafter.

The country receiving the nuclear plant initially pays very little, but when the repayments kick in, the country’s fiscus and electricity consumers are suddenly faced with a massive burden that most African economies will never be able to meet. By then the 3% annual interest could have increased the amount owed by as much as 40%.

The nuclear industry also has a history of cost overruns and construction delays. A country may therefore face a situation where it needs to service a higher-than-expected debt while being unable to recoup funds from electricity sales.

What is equally concerning is that the debt then places Russia in a position where it is able to exert disproportionate influence over a country’s affairs.

Zambia is eyeing a nuclear plant on the scale of Bangladesh’s Rooppur. The plant is expected to cost US$30 billion. Given Zambia’s total annual budget is US$7.2 billion this is clearly unaffordable. If one were to scale the Rooppur cost from 2.4GW to the 30GW nuclear power plants proposed by Museveni, the figure would be 15 times Uganda’s annual GDP of US$24 billion.

Cheaper options

Are there cheaper alternatives to nuclear power to alleviate energy shortages in Africa?

A great deal of hope was placed on the 40GW Grand Inga hydroelectric scheme on the Congo river. But the project isn’t going to come to fruition soon due to funding challenges.

The most promising solution seems to be through multiple small-scale power production initiatives, typically in bio-energy, solar heaters and photovoltaic modules. These provide cheaper electricity than nuclear and are in addition good job creators. With its extensive agricultural sector, all of Africa has great bio-waste energy potential.

Kenya has shown that there are excellent geothermal energy extraction possibilities along the Rift Valley.

Many countries, including Egypt and Kenya, enjoy ample sunshine, making them ideal for solar power generation. With the right incentives, these could drive an African energy generation boom.

* Hartmut Winkler is Professor of Physics at the University of Johannesburg.


West Africa’s infamous internet scammers have evolved, dropping their impersonations of online love interests, princes and U.S. soldiers in favour of hijacking corporate emails, costing businesses hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

It is a much more lucrative venture that works by gaining access to corporate email login details or passing off almost-identical addresses as the real deal, a scam known as Business Email Compromise (BEC), according to a report by cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike issued on Thursday.

These Nigerian rackets now dwarf other types of online criminal theft, amounting to at least $5.3 billion of losses between October 2013 and the end of 2016, said CrowdStrike and the U.S. FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

“There’s a disproportionate amount of criminal gains they get from it,” Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at California-based CrowdStrike, told Reuters. “The lion’s share of ill-gotten, fraudulent money is around these business email compromise attacks. It’s a huge problem for our customer set.”

Nigeria has become one of the hubs of BEC. Nigerian online fraudsters, known as “Yahoo boys”, became notorious for trying to pass themselves off as people in financial need or Nigerian princes offering an outstanding return on an investment.

The capers became known as “419 scams” after the section of the national penal code that dealt - ineffectively - with fraud.

Yahoo boys even impersonated a U.S. forces commander in Afghanistan to defraud people by asking for help in recovering the assets of deceased soldiers. It forced the commander to issue a Facebook statement saying he would never try to contact anyone asking for financial help. 

Now the scammers have bigger fish to fry, with the potential gains amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars a year, according to CrowdStrike.

Behind the fraudsters is an organised crime network with its hands in human trafficking, drugs, prostitution, money laundering and email fraud and cybercrime, the CrowdStrike report said. “The magnitude of this criminal threat has only recently begun to be understood,” it said.

The Black Axe gang sprang from Nigerian universities and now extends from Africa to North America, Europe and Asia. Its targets have ranged from semiconductor makers to schools in U.S. states including Connecticut and Minnesota, passing themselves off as executives and lawyers to trick employees into wiring sometimes millions of dollars a day into bank accounts.

From there, the money is quickly laundered through a series of bank accounts that can be traced to Hong Kong and China, where the trail often goes cold because diverging regulations foil monitoring, CrowdStrike’s Meyers said.

With that money, the Nigerian scammers are often enjoying the high life, said Meyers, noting social media accounts filled with pictures of them posing with luxury Mercedes cars, gold watches, jewellery and champagne. 

“It’s really hard to stop; you can’t stop it with anti-virus or any kind of software, it’s really kind of a human problem.”


The recent re-election of 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister of Malaysia has got some Zimbabweans wondering if ex-president Robert Mugabe could stage a similar comeback.

Mugabe was forced to step down in November after a military takeover backed by parliament and peaceful street demonstrations.

Rally opposition

"Inspiring stuff" was the initial tweet in reaction to the news of Mahathir's victory by former Mugabe ally, Jonathan Moyo. 

"If 92-year-old Mahathir did it by rallying opposition forces against Malaysia’s ruling party he led & which had been in power for 61 years, 94-year-old president Mugabe can also do it by rallying a (Grand National Union) of opposition forces against Zanu-PF he led, which ruled Zim for 38 years!" he added. 

Mahathir came out of retirement, joined the opposition and defeated his former protege, Najib Razak. In Zimbabwe incumbent president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is a former Mugabe right-hand-man. He is to stand as Zanu-PF's presidential candidate in elections due in July.

Moyo, a former university professor and cabinet minister who fled Zimbabwe after the army takeover, suggested Mugabe could return to active politics not as head of state, but to rally opposition forces "to restore legitimacy".

'Mugabe is not Mahathir'

Commentators have pointed out that when Mahathir first left office in 2003 he left Malaysia's economy in a robust state, while Zimbabwe's dire economic situation has been blamed on Mugabe's policies of the last 17 years.

Responding to Moyo's tweets, @TineyiMugere said: "Looks like Mugabe is overrated. Why doesn't he put his weight behind whatever cause so people can be the judge? Mugabe is not Mahathir by a country mile."

"It's not in the age professor plus we truly don't want Mugabe's weight anywhere. May (Mugabe) leave us in peace now after leaving us in pieces," said @NokuMagaa.


Political opponents in Zimbabwe have reportedly said that Vice President Constantino Chiwenga is posing a "security threat" in the country "as his hand in often dictatorial government decisions has been evident".

Last week, Chiwenga, the country's former military chief sacked at least 16 000 striking nurses over what he claimed was a "politically motivated" industrial action.

In a terse statement, Chiwenga described the nurses' strike as "deplorable and reprehensible", as the government had released $17 million to boost their pay and allowances, a report by AFP said.

"Government has decided in the interest of patients and of saving lives to discharge all the striking nurses with immediate effect," Chiwenga said at the time, adding that unemployed and retired nurses would be hired to replace those fired. 

Chiwenga's decision was, however, reversed by Mnangagwa, thus, fuelling speculation that the two were locked in a bitter power struggle.

'Strategic move'

The "shock sacking, according to New, put a spotlight on the former military commander's "overbearing influence on governance issues", which dated "back to the time he was the country’s top soldier".

A spokesperson for the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Jacob Mafume said that Chiwenga was behaving as if Mnangagwa was not his boss but a partner.

"He is paranoid out of control drunk with power," Mafume was quoted as saying.

However, in an interview with News24, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) senior researcher, Derek Matyszak maintained that although Chiwenga appeared influential, he was still taking orders from Mnangagwa.

Matyszak said that it was highly likely that Mnangagwa and Chiwenga were using their different approaches to government issues as a "strategic move".

Social unrest

"I don't think Chiwenga is running the show as some suggest, and I have not been provided with any clear evidence of this... It is possible that ED (Mnangagwa) uses this perspective to play good cop against Chiwenga's bad cop," said Matyszak.

Matyszak said that the industrial action by the nurses last week should also be seen in a context of the country's political dynamics.

He said that the trade unions were testing the new administration's tolerance of dissent. 

Matyszak said that the new administration was nervous about widespread industrial actions and was, therefore, using the nurses' strike to send a clear message to other trade unions, including the teachers' union that there was no room for industrial actions. 

"The purported firing (of nurses) is government exercising a strong-arm or strongman tactic in trying to resolve the dispute which is reminiscent of Mugabe's style of governance.

"Clearly government is nervous of social unrest, which can damage the 'Zimbabwe is open for business' catchphrase. It wants to send a clear message to others contemplating a strike," said Matyszak.


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