Africa Media Review for August 15, 2022

Illegal Logging in Africa and Its Security Implications
African countries are estimated to lose $17 billion to illegal logging each year. This is part of a global market with an economic value of $30 to $150 billion. The net profit from the illegal charcoal trade alone in Africa is estimated to be as much as $9 billion,  “compared to the [$]2.65 billion worth of street value heroin and cocaine in the region.” High-value timber species are in immense global demand, with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reporting that Africa’s share of rosewood exports to China rose from 40 percent in 2008 to 90 percent in 2018. Illegal logging also amplifies the effects of climate change by worsening deforestation and reducing biodiversity. This is especially apparent in the Congo Basin and peatlands, comprising one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. If disturbed, it could release the equivalent of 20 years of U.S. fossil fuel emissions. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Fearing a Major Climate Setback, U.S. Urges Care of Congo River Basin
The United States will work with local leaders here in the Congo River basin to ensure that planned fossil-fuel extraction won’t result in a climate catastrophe, U.S. officials said this week, echoing environmentalists who fear the project will undermine efforts to combat global warming. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, was aimed partly at advocating protection of a vast rainforest and carbon-rich peatland as the country moves to auction nearly 30 oil and gas blocks. The brief stop coincided with Blinken’s tour of three African nations, an itinerary intended to promote partnerships with the United States as Russia and China make inroads on the continent. Environmentalists are particularly worried about the potential destruction of the flooded forest, an area larger than England, where the mud measures up to 30-feet deep. They have warned that disturbing the ecosystem could set off a “carbon bomb,” representing up to three years worth of global carbon dioxide output. Washington Post

Kenya Election Outcome Set to Be Announced with Media Giving Ruto Narrow Lead
Deputy President William Ruto led a tight presidential race against opposition leader Raila Odinga, official results reported by media showed on Monday, with an announcement from electoral authorities due at 1200 GMT. Slow progress by the electoral commission in tallying Tuesday’s vote have fed anxiety in East Africa’s most economically advanced country…In its latest announcement on Saturday of officially verified results with a little more than a quarter of votes counted, the commission put Odinga in the lead with 54% and Ruto on 45%. Subsequent tallies by Kenyan media groups and Reuters, however, put Ruto at 51-52% and Odinga at 48%. The tallying centre where the announcement will be made was packed with party officials who were entertained by musicians calling for calm. Purity Njeru, the electoral commission’s head of communications, said the declaration of the presidential winner would be made at 1200 GMT. Reuters

Observers Laud Kenya for Increased Number of Women in Polls
More women ran for office, and won, in the just concluded Kenyan General Election compared to the previous ones, a result of efforts by state agencies working together to improve enabling political environment for female candidates. By Saturday, at least seven counties, of the 47, had elected female governors, an improvement from the expiring term where four counties were led by female governors. Official results also showed that 22 women, out of the confirmed results for 108 seats, had been elected. Seven of them had won back their seats. This tally excludes the 47 seats allocated to women contenders only, and whose holders are known as Woman Representatives. A preliminary report by the joint observation mission of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) have lauded the changes that have seen political parties field more women candidates in this year’s election. East African

Can Kenya’s New Leader Fill Uhuru Kenyatta’s Large EAC Shoes?
The new Kenyan president inherits large shoes worn by his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, a master of soft power whose popularity rose exponentially in the East African Community (EAC), especially in his second term due to his bridge-building efforts. President Kenyatta goes down in recent history as the leader who restored a semblance of integration at a time when the EAC looked like it would collapse following several years of squabbles over trade and security among partner states. Kenyatta was a builder, linking the region through major infrastructure development, including the standard gauge railway, new highways, port and aviation projects. With such high credentials, the region expects his successor to pick up from where he left off, and there is hope that some of the long pending issues around regional trade and integration will now be resolved by new players. But are Raila Odinga and William Ruto cut out for the task? The winner of the election may not have much choice, as the region expects continuity and stability. Some of the issues may just need political goodwill to implement as the Kenyatta administration has been hard at work. Such include lifting of trade barriers and finishing projects that are in progress. East African

Tensions Brew over Ethiopia’s Controversial Mega-Dam
Ethiopia’s massive hydroelectric dam project on a tributary of the Nile has raised regional tensions notably with Egypt, which depends on the huge river for 97% of its water supply, and with Sudan. Ethiopia said Friday it has completed the third filling of the mega-dam’s reservoir, a development that could raise further tensions with its downstream neighbours. At 6 695 kilometres, the Nile competes with the Amazon for the title of world’s longest river. It is a crucial supplier of water and hydropower in a largely arid region. Its drainage basin of more than three million square kilometres covers 10 countries: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The two main tributaries – the White Nile and the Blue Nile – converge in Khartoum before flowing north through Egypt and into the Mediterranean Sea. Around 84 billion cubic metres of water is estimated to flow along the Nile every year. AFP

‘Stakeholders’ Reject Extension of South Sudan’s Transitional Period
A group of “like minded” South Sudanese stakeholder have “categorically” reject the extension by the parties of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) period. Calling themselves “Like-Minded Stakeholders for a New Political Dispensation in South Sudan”, the group called for immediate reversal of the decision. South Sudanese parties to the 2018 peace deal recently signed a roadmap extending the transitional period for 24 months, starting February 22, 2023. The extension of the transitional government period ideally means that South Sudan will not hold the country’s general elections in February 2023. “Like-minded” stakeholders, in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune, said the transitional government term had already been extended twice in the pre-transitional period and “failed to achieve sustainable peace”. The statement was issued after the group met to deliberate on the unilateral extension of the transitional period by the coalition government. Sudan Tribune

Somali President Urges Stability in Somaliland amid Deadly Election Disputes
Somali Federal government leaders have called upon the political leaders in Somaliland to maintain stability and resolve differences through dialogue. Recent protests and clashes in the breakaway region killed five people. In a short video released by the president’s office Friday night, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called on the Somaliland ruling party and opposition leaders to resolve their political differences through dialogue to avoid instability. Mohamud urged the leaders to avoid further violence and resolve their differences themselves using processes they have in place, or the region will require foreign intervention to stem the election dispute. He says there must be peace, administration, law and order, and that is something very valuable – a value that becomes even more important when it’s lacking. He says he is calling on the political leaders on both sides, traditional leaders, religious leaders, civil society leaders and different public groups to resolve the outstanding issues through negotiations. He called on the upper house of Somaliland, known as Guurti, to stand up in resolving the election dispute that resulted in a massive protest against the current president Muse Bihi Abdi. Thursday’s protests and clashes between opposition supporters and the security forces claimed the lives of at least five people and wounded 100 others, including numerous security officials. Voice of America

Cash-Strapped Nigeria Implements 5% Tax on Mobile Services
Nigeria, Africa’s biggest wireless market, is moving ahead with a proposed 5% tax on voice calls, mobile data and text messages to tackle a mounting fiscal crisis. Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed announced the implementation of the tax, delayed since last year, in an emailed statement that highlighted the government’s strained financial picture. As of April, Africa’s biggest crude producer spends more on debt servicing than it brings in revenue. “Although Nigeria is celebrated as the largest economy in Africa, translating this wealth into revenues remains a challenge,” Ahmed said. The statement did not say when collections of the levy, which is in addition to a 7.5% value-added tax on calls and data, will begin. Communications Minister Isa Pantami earlier this month asked the government to reconsider the tax on the grounds that it could slow the expansion of one of the country’s fastest-growing sectors. A similar tax introduced by West African neighbour Ghana was blamed for a slowdown in mobile-money revenue by MTN Ghana in its first half results. Ghana, also facing a fiscal crisis, introduced a 1.5% e-levy in May to boost government revenue and reduce its burgeoning budget deficit.Nigeria has one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world, at 6% in 2019, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The government generated 1.63 trillion naira (about R61.4 billion) in revenue in the four months through April, against 1.94 trillion naira in debt service payments for the period. Bloomberg News

What’s Behind the Violent Protests in Sierra Leone?
[Video] Curfew imposed following rare anti-government demonstrations. Calm has returned to Sierra Leone following rare violent protests. The government imposed a nationwide curfew after at least 21 demonstrators and six police officers were killed. Hundreds of people, angry at the rising cost of living, protested on Wednesday in the capital Freetown and in the north. Demonstrations soon turned violent with some calling for President Julius Maada Bio to resign. The president says the unrest is “terrorism”, instigated by Sierra Leoneans living abroad. How should the government respond? And could record-high fuel and food prices spark social unrest elsewhere in the region? Al Jazeera

The First U.N. Ship Carrying Ukrainian Grain for Africa Prepares to Depart.
This shipment will eventually make its way to Ethiopia, which is on “the edge of famine,” according to Marianne Ward of the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. “This food will make a huge difference for them,” she said. “The big message for us is the world needs the food of Ukraine.” Last year, Ukrainian grain is estimated to have fed 400 million people, according to Ms. Ward, and the absence of shipments from Ukrainian ports blockaded by Russian warships in the Black Sea has had profound repercussions around the globe. Prices have soared and tens of millions of people, mostly in the Middle East and Africa, have been put at risk of famine. At least five countries are now experiencing famine-like conditions and another 20 are on the “watch list for famine,” said Denise Brown, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine. Pivdennyi Port is the last of the Odesa region’s three main ports to come online following months of hiatus since the start of the war on Feb. 24. On Aug. 1, the first ship loaded with Ukrainian harvest departed the Port of Odesa, following an agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to allow the export of roughly 20 million tons of grain that had been stuck in Ukrainian silos since the beginning of the war. New York Times

Fintech Firms Ramp Up Investments in Kenya’s Microfinance Space
Microcredit banks in Kenya are attracting overseas online intermediate financing firms that are seeking a foothold in the East African state’s vibrant fintech ecosystem. This comes on the back of Africa’s increasing shift from the traditional banking system to a digital model, because of the pandemic-induced adoption of paperless transactions…In December, President Uhuru Kenyatta was seen to nip the mounting microdebt crisis in the bud by signing into law the Central Bank Amendment Bill 2021, which brought digital lenders under the central bank’s control. The Bill gives the regulator the power to licence digital lenders in the country as well as ensure the existence of fair and non-discriminatory practices in the credit market. “This is to provide the central bank with the authority to regulate the digital lenders. This is something which has been long overdue, that we’ve come all this way and we are looking forward to it becoming law and to ourselves fixing this lacuna that has been here for quite some time,” central bank governor Patrick Njoroge told the media in November last year. Under the new regime, lenders will, from September, have to apply for approval of interest rates on their loans, disclose all terms of their credit to borrowers and have also been barred from sharing information of loan defaulters with third parties. The central bank has gazetted the digital credit providers regulations 2022, which will require all digital lenders to apply for licences from the banking regulator before September.  The central bank is expected to streamline the operation of the industry and cushion Kenyans against predatory lenders. Mail & Guardian