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A fish market in the Ivory Coast
A fish market in the Ivory Coast<br /> &nbsp;

Trade is an often-prescribed cure for economic diversification and transformation in Africa. However, the COVID-19 crisis has posed unprecedented challenges and according to the World Trade Organization (WTO), trade will shrink between 13% and 32% this year. The added challenge for Africa is that even before the pandemic, the continent was a minor participant in the international trade arena with only 2 per cent of the global trade volumes. With current trade being affected so drastically and the acceleration of international de-globalization, robust global economic recovery is in peril. Africa is not only not immune to these trends, but a subject to them and in danger of being further sidelined. Yet, this does not come to say that trade cannot facilitate economic recovery because it can but it has to be “Trade 2.0”, trade reimagined for Africa’s context-specific scenario.

This new chapter has to be characterized by African countries prioritizing each other, focusing on intra-African trade and placing regional multilateralism above global aspirations, as no country can be competitive internationally until they are competitive regionally. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), to be implemented in early 2021, is the vehicle that has the full potential to deliver on trade’s promises.

It is the most ambitious trade project since the WTO itself and will create a single market for over 1 billion people with a GDP of more than $2.5 trillion, thus, transforming the continent into the largest free trade area in the world. The opportunities are vast since only 18% of the current trade is within Africa, a minor improvement from 10% in 1995, making it the least integrated continent. More than mere trade volumes, one needs to take into account the ability of trade to boost product sophistication, which is particularly important for the major commodity-exporting countries. The fact that 14.8% of global exports are manufactured goods as opposed to 41.9% of the regional ones, signals that product upgrading is more attainable through closer integration of neighbouring countries and can facilitate the long-promised diversification which in turn will allow for economic resilience in the face of shifts in demand. Further benefits from the AfCFTA are the reduced dependencies on foreign partners, especially when it comes to imports, and strengthened regional value chains. Finally, the agreement establishes co-operation and trust as the modus operandi on a very fragmented and poorly linked continent.

For trade to facilitate the post-pandemic economic revival, we need to focus on a few areas that are guided by the rule that what is best for the recovery is what is best for the long-term sustained growth.

First, we need to look beyond the immediate challenges and circumstances and commit to pivoting and perfecting the AfCFTA. Short-term tools such as establishing trade corridors for essential goods are stepping-stones for testing and perfecting the supply chains on which future trade will be based.                                

Second, need to keep our supply chains, which are heavily strained during the pandemic going. The cancellation of passenger flights has been a reasonable response to mitigate the spread of the virus but now that some African countries have been closed for almost 5 months, this has resulted in decreased air cargo availability and at least 30% price spike. Ports with poor automation levels have introduced extra procedures, which additionally slow down the movement of goods and are heavily impacted by the availability of labour. We have to focus on enhanced trade facilitation to keep goods moving.

Third, we need to incentivise investment into infrastructure, as poor trade logistics are the biggest barriers to trade on the continent. By 2040 there will be a 15 billion dollar gap between the infrastructure investment needed and the amount provided and that gap will be wider on continents like Africa where the population of young and fast-growing. When 1% of GDP is invested in infrastructure, economic output increases by 0.4% in the first year and 1.5 by the fourth year; in low and middle-income countries there is a $4 return for every $1 spent on infrastructure. The governments need to work on attracting investors and companies that will build infrastructure that is robust, sustainable and technologically advanced in order to serve as the backbone of trade logistics.

Finally, we must be aware and open to new opportunities. Earlier this month I spoke at the prestigious Dhaka Forum a new “Davos for the Global South” that discussed new opportunities for South-South cooperation between Asia and Africa. Such dialogues will remain important if Africa, and Asia, are to fulfil their development goals through trade.

Gergana Urdarevska is the managing director of Freezone Watch, a consultancy.

Hundreds of thousands of informal dwellers in Johannesburg are at high risk in the African epicenter of Covid-19. South Africa’s most populated city, Johannesburg, accounts for over 60,000 infections, with numbers on the rise.

Hostel squatters face an incredible hazard, resulting from the combination of dire health conditions, looming criminality, and overpopulation.

In the city center, the surroundings of the Jeppe Hostel are a crime hotspot, which locals prudently avoid. About 10 thousand male residents occupy the run-down complex, which has barely undergone any maintenance since the 1950s. Among informal workers such as trash collectors and queue marshals mingle petty criminals and – rumor has it – dangerous murderers.

A delicate equilibrium of power maintains the peace inside the hostel, under the leadership of Nduna (chief) Manyathela Mvelase.

“Since they banned gatherings of more than 50 people, I can no longer speak to everyone at once,” points out Nduna Mvelase. “I and my staff are no longer in control of what’s going on and we are becoming more concerned.”

Inside the hostel, the Nduna is an undisputed leader. The residents acknowledge his authority, having chosen him for his strength and capability to maintain order. But the pandemic could loosen his grip on his people, whom he hasn’t addressed in months and who are starting to feel the heat of an increasing social crisis.

“Some people died in a fight a few days ago,” Nduna Mvelase said. “Others were taken away when they tested positive”.

Life isn’t easier inside the Madala Hostel of Alexandra, where an estimated 10 thousand people overcrowd the complex. Kitchens and bathrooms are shared and brake fluid puddles the entrance to the dorms. The fifth floor was destroyed by a fire in 2013 and was never rebuilt. Most inhabitants never leave the hostel, but the many taxi drivers could bring the virus inside its walls, dreading an unstoppable spread.

“Let Covid come,” laughs ‘doctor’ Dladla lighting a smuggled cigarette on a kitchen flame. “I’m not afraid. If this virus hits us, we will deal with it. Like we deal with everything.”

Young Nokwanda (12) is fetching water for the mother at a communal tap nearby. “I haven’t been in school since I came from our home village in Kwa-Zulu Natal, two years ago,” she admits, “and I hardly leave the hostel. My friends are my neighbours, I play with them when I’m not busy with home chores.”

The hostel families try to avoid most contacts with the outside world. They avoid taxi drivers, who transport up to 20 passengers in one ride on their overloaded minibuses thus making themselves unaware carriers of a sneaky ill. They also shy away from the outside world and point at the ‘intruders’ uttering “Corona!”.

Health activist Charles Mphepho explains why their concerns are more than justified: “We are so afraid that the peak will go up and people will pass away. Things in the hostel are worse, people are not wearing masks and there is no social distancing. The behavior of the people is totally out of control.”

Mphepho lives in the Nobuhle Hostel in Alexandra. He, too, fears for his future: “My contract with the Gauteng Province ends next week. There are no more funds. All I can do now is to try and spread awareness with my neighbors, tell everyone to wear masks.”

Most informal workers who live in the Nobuhle Hostel have lost their source of income. Mkhuliseni Mtshali used to earn his daily bread as a trash collector, and could never make provision for a rainy day. “I was making some small money before,” he says, “but since lockdown I have been stuck here. I hope to start again soon, but I’m also scared of covid.”

A third complex in Alexandra hosts a community of women. At the Alexandra Ladies’ Hostel, some women have taken a stand to help others.

“Our running water comes through tanks built in 1972, it’s unhealthy and they drip like a waterfall every night,” complains Violet Mfobo, the chairperson of the hostel resident’s committee. “Nobody cares for us. We always go to the highway and toyi-toyi [protest]. This time we must go to the highway and pray.”

Lebo Ramabele, who works for the non-profit organization Friends for Life, is scared for the safety of the girls affected by HIV and for their access to healthcare. She tries to look after the vulnerable adolescents and young adults, but the pandemic overshadowed her usual optimism.

In the Jabulani Hostel of Soweto, the oldest residents still have memory of the fratricide violence which smeared the anti-apartheid movement with bloodshed and crime in the ‘90s. At Jabulani and other hostels of the township, south of the city center, the denial of a lurking tragedy is only as accentuated as the incidence of other deadly diseases and social ills, which cost tens of lives in the past few months.

“Six people lost their life in a shooting two weeks ago. Another resident just committed suicide,” mourns Sehluko Dladla, operation manager at the Jabulani Hostel and right hand of Nduna Mbekiseni ‘mamba’ Vilakazi. “We are working with the government to make this a better place, but some are taking advantage of Covid-19 to grab land and commit crimes. People also became more violent. We are tired of this.”

As the pandemic limbo accentuates poverty and purposelessness, the people’s morale is at its lowest. A young adult committed suicide two weeks after becoming a father, leaving his family in grief and disarray. “We don’t even have money for his funeral,” says one of the brothers. “The insurance won’t pay us out because he killed himself.”

Not far from the Jabulani Hostel, another community awaits the resumption of normal life. It’s the Merafe Hostel, where the municipality employed some residents to run a maintenance program. While their duty keeps them going, their marginalization and the state of their housing continue to worsen, at a time when unemployment in South Africa has passed 30%.

Both adults and the youth feel abandoned. “My children go out to play and I only see them in the evening,” confesses Hlengiwe Sibiya. “I can’t tell them to avoid the other children, but I’m scared for their safety. The other people at the hostel don’t understand how dangerous this virus is.”

Mjananda’s life is hardened by the addiction to nyaope. “I want out, but I need money for rehab. I wash cars and sometimes I’m forced to steal, but that’s only enough to buy another dose. The pandemic? It only makes things worse.”

Like Mjananda, many addicts received care and a helping hand from the volunteers of the Musawamaswazi Community Organization. They come to the hostel to receive support and stay away from ‘bad companies’. “We all have a past in jail,” comments Mjananda. “We belong to different gangs but we all live together.” His gang is called 26. A tattoo marks his allegiance to the fraternity, which he joined during his time behind bars. “I was convicted of murder, but I was innocent. Somebody stole my gun and set me up. Eventually I came out clean, but I had also taken on this drug addiction.”

An informal crèche safeguards the children of the hostel and orphans. The elderly matron Thandi Mgaga is doing all she can to teach them about social distancing and health measures, but the underlying state of her home makes it difficult for her to comply with these measures. “I was promised an RDP [subsidy] house about ten years ago,” she complains.

Even in such trying times, some people do not lose hope. The children of the Sgkihsiwe Production keep practicing inside Nobuhle Hostel, awaiting better days. Like them, guitarist Philani Mtembu uses his music to chase away the blues: “I am a maskandi artist. I can cheer up others with my guitar and love songs,” he says and smiles away.


MDA_20200630_01 – Alexandra, Johannesburg. Inside a communal room at the Madala Hostel. ©Manash Das.
Alexandra, Johannesburg. Inside a communal room at the Madala Hostel. ©Manash Das.
MDA_20200630_02 – Alexandra, Johannesburg. Nokwanda (12) hasn’t been in school for two years.  All her friends live inside the Madala Hostel. ©Manash Das.
Alexandra, Johannesburg. Nokwanda (12) hasn’t been in school for two years. All her friends live inside the Madala Hostel. ©Manash Das.


MDA_20200630_03 – Alexandra, Johannesburg. Residents of the Nobuhle Hostel during a police raid. ©Manash Das.
Alexandra, Johannesburg. Residents of the Nobuhle Hostel during a police raid. ©Manash Das.


MDA_20200630_05 – Soweto, Johannesburg. Nyaope is a low grade concoction of heroin, cannabis and antiretroviral products. ©Manash Das.
Soweto, Johannesburg. Nyaope is a low grade concoction of heroin, cannabis and antiretroviral products. ©Manash Das.


MDA_20200630_06 – Soweto, Johannesburg. Nyaope addiction creates a community of drugs, from which it’s impossible to evade. ©Manash Das.
Soweto, Johannesburg. Nyaope addiction creates a community of drugs, from which it’s impossible to evade. ©Manash Das.


MDA_20200630_07 – Alexandra, Johannesburg. Bongomusa Mdletshe (58) is  using a gas stove to fight the cold in the cement kitchen of the hostel. ©Manash Das.
Alexandra, Johannesburg. Bongomusa Mdletshe (58) is using a gas stove to fight the cold in the cement kitchen of the hostel. ©Manash Das.


MDA_20200630_08 – Soweto, Johannesburg. Doris (59) and Isac (65) Mdletshe are scared for the wellbeing of their children. ©Manash Das.
Soweto, Johannesburg. Doris (59) and Isac (65) Mdletshe are scared for the wellbeing of their children. ©Manash Das.


MDA_20200630_09 – Soweto, Johannesburg. An informal crèche houses the children of the Merafe Hostel. ©Manash Das.
Soweto, Johannesburg. An informal crèche houses the children of the Merafe Hostel. ©Manash Das.


MDA_20200630_10 – Soweto, Johannesburg. The aerial view of the Jabulani Hostel, which once used to be home to the mining immigrant force. ©Manash Das.
Soweto, Johannesburg. The aerial view of the Jabulani Hostel, which once used to be home to the mining immigrant force. ©Manash Das.


MDA_20200630_12 – Alexandra, Johannesburg. Long and dark corridors connect the sections of the hostels. ©Manash Das.
Alexandra, Johannesburg. Long and dark corridors connect the sections of the hostels. ©Manash Das.


MDA_20200630_14 – Jeppestown, Johannesburg. Food shops and butchers allow residents to be self sufficient. ©Manash Das.
Jeppestown, Johannesburg. Food shops and butchers allow residents to be self sufficient. ©Manash Das.


XPA_20200630_01 – Soweto, Johannesburg. A woman hanging her laundry in the hostel’s backyard. ©Alessandro Parodi.
Soweto, Johannesburg. A woman hanging her laundry in the hostel’s backyard. ©Alessandro Parodi.


Alessandro Parodi is a Johannesburg-based reporter with a passion for cultural studies and urban ethnography. He is a regular contributor to the Italian-South African weekly publication La Voce del Sudafrica and the travel magazine Nomad Africa. (Twitter: @apnews360)

Manash Das is a freelance photojournalist based in South Africa and India. His work mainly focuses on humanitarian issues, conflicts, and daily life. (Twitter: @manashdasorg)


Nuclear power plant cooling towers
Cooling towers of a nuclear power plant in Europe

Kenya has set its sights on joining the club of commercial nuclear power users. The country’s Nuclear Power and Energy Agency has submitted an environmental and social assessment report for a proposed US$5 billion nuclear power plant, which it says is on track to be completed in about seven years. A preferred site has been chosen near the coast in Tana River County, halfway between Mombasa and the Somalian border.

The document is available for public comment before the National Environment Management Authority can issue a license for construction to start.


Long-Term Plans

Studies based on the Kenya Vision 2030 development blueprint, introduced in 2008, show that the country will have to generate about eight times as much electricity by 2031 as it currently does to meet the expected energy demand.

With this proposal, Kenya joins nine other sub-Saharan African countries—Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia—that are considering or planning nuclear power programs.


President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a member of the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Photo via Twitter)
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a member of the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Photo via Twitter)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe announced an agreement had been struck with the Commercial Farmers’ Union to compensate farmers whose land had been seized during former president Robert Mugabe’s agriculture reform efforts in the early 2000s. He said Zimbabwe would pay US$3.5 billion in compensation for infrastructure but not for the land itself. He did not give details about the amounts to be paid to individual farmers or their descendants, nor how the country will be able to afford this large sum of money considering its dire socio-economic situation.

The Mugabe regime evicted 4,500 white farmers and redistributed the farms to black families as part of a land reform program to redress colonial imbalances.


Authoritarian Rule

Two days after Mnangagwa’s announcement, his administration deployed security forces to close down the capital Harare and arrest several dozen activists in response to mass demonstrations on July 31. The protest action, organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, was planned to coincide with a general strike against the deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country. Internationally acclaimed novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga was among the protesters who were arrested.

Resolving the land question was a precondition placed on Mnangagwa by Western powers in 2017 in order to lift crippling sanctions and reintegrate Zimbabwe into the global community. This could explain Mnangagwa prioritizing compensation for expropriated farms while maintaining the same hardline approach against dissent as his predecessor, who also used military force to quell civil disobedience.



A man sells camels at El Hirka Dhere livestock market in Mogadishu, Somalia, on July 30, 2020, a day before the Muslim festival Eid Al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice. (STR/AFP)
A man sells camels at a livestock market in Mogadishu, Somalia. (STR/AFP)

Muslims around the world were dismayed to learn that they would be unable to partake in the hajj, a pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca, this year due to Saudi Arabia’s closure of its borders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every Muslim is required to make at least on hajj in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able to do so.

For Somali Muslims, the closure of Mecca’s gates is not only a spiritual loss but also a significant economic one.

Crops and livestock make up 75 percent of Somalia’s total GDP and 93 percent of total exports as of 2018, most of which linked directly to livestock sales in the months leading up to the hajj. In normal years, livestock breeders would travel north to port cities in Somaliland or Puntland to sell their animals, which would then be shipped to Saudi Arabia to feed the millions of pilgrims descending on the remote desert town of Mecca. Forced to sell only domestically, many Somalis’ have had to lower their prices drastically.


The price of camels has dropped by nearly half


The humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger reports that the price for camels has dropped by nearly half, from US$1,000 a head to US$500. The prices of goats, sheep and cattle are similarly affected. All told, Somali livestock traders are likely to lose revenue of about US$500 million this year because of Saudi Arabia’s border closure.



As access to Internet services grows across Africa, the continent is realizing the potential economic benefit from taxing the multinational tech companies that provide digital services. The only problem is that there is very little existing legislative framework to do so.

Although Africa remains a very small slice of the total market that technology-based service providers cater to, companies like Uber, WhatsApp, Spotify, and Facebook are positioning themselves to capitalize on Africa’s expected population boom and rapidly growing youth population. Recognizing this trend, Kenya and Nigeria have begun to take steps to put legislation in place that would allow them to earn tax revenue from digital services.

On June 30, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta enacted the Finance Act 2020, which introduced a tax of 1.5 percent on the gross transactional value of income derived from digital trade and services, set to go into effect in January 2021.

And the Nigerian Finance Act 2019 that passed into law earlier this year makes provision for taxing non-resident companies with a “significant economic presence”, which includes businesses using digital transactions or providing local services without a bricks-and-mortar address in the country.


An aggressive tax policy could ultimately prove to be counterproductive


A potential downside to these laws is the prohibitive restraints it places on African tech start-ups, as some face the risk of being doubly taxed or unable to compete against Silicon Valley juggernauts that can weather such tax policies. And although Africa is in dire need of increasing its tax collection capabilities, an aggressive tax policy could ultimately prove to be counterproductive. It could be a disincentive to investment by global tech companies, which might prefer to rather invest in countries with much more favorable tax laws or those that lack any such legislation.


Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB)
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (Riccardo Savi/via AFP)

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), has been cleared of corruption following the conclusion of a second ethics probe, which the United States had insisted on. A three-person team found insufficient evidence to prove allegations of corruption and nepotism that whistleblowers had leveled against Dr. Adesina, and found his submission to be persuasive.

A report by the AfDB’s Ethics Committee and Board of Governors had cleared him of misconduct in April, but the US, which is the second-largest AfDB shareholder, rejected the internal investigation and insisted that an independent panel review the case. The panel, led by former Irish president Mary Robinson, reviewed all the evidence and agreed with the earlier finding.

The Americans’ demand for a second investigation into Dr. Adesina’s conduct sparked outrage among African states that hold shares in the AfDB, with Nigeria in particular pushing back against what they perceived as an imposition on the bank by a non-African nation.


Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB


The AfDB has been a key financier of major infrastructure projects, such as Mozambique’s liquid natural gas plant in Cabo Delgado province and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Inga III hydropower project. The AfDB has also committed US$10 billion in funding to assist in the fight against COVID-19 on the continent.

With his name cleared, Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB in August, running as the only candidate for the position and generally supported by the Bank’s African shareholders.

The full report of the auditors can be read here.


A fleet of small fishing vessels in Cape Verde in summer 2020. Photo via AFP
Cabo Verde, summer 2020. (Photo via AFP)

Good ocean policies can unlock new sources of wealth and transform Africa’s security, development, and governance prospects. A new study commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy shows that investing in oceans yields benefits five times higher than the initial outlay.

Over the next thirty years, the report says, these actions could provide net global returns of between US$8.2 trillion and US$22.8 trillion – as long as they are underpinned by blue economic principles and values.

The value of the blue economy concept is that it provides a way to sustainably develop ocean resources while ensuring the health of maritime ecosystems. This is why the idea has rapidly found favor in Africa and globally. The blue economy is now an integral part of the sustainable development discourse and has acquired significant political importance.

The African Union (AU) recognizes this vast potential. Since 2015, it has marked the African Day of Seas and Oceans on July 25 each year, promoting the oceans as the next frontier for the African Renaissance. Urgent action is now needed to accelerate economic growth and realize its benefits for the continent.


African states struggle to individually secure their seas enough to attract additional investments


Blue economic policies are globally recognized as an anchor for resilience and economic transformation. The United Nations Environment Programme recently suggested that including Sustainable Development Goal 14 on ocean resources in recovery policies can help future-proof global recovery from the dire impact of COVID-19.

To reinforce this message, Africa and the AU need to focus in 2020 on moving from plans to action. The continent has many maritime strategies, but implementation is lagging. Capacity constraints are part of the problem, and they could worsen as pressures to address COVID-19 intersect with enduring challenges such as the effects of climate change on the oceans.

This intersection is arguably creating a “perfect storm” for African decision makers. They need to decide how to transition to blue economies while buffeted by unfavorable political, economic, and environmental conditions.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development World Investment Report 2020 shows that the amount of foreign direct investment into Africa has rapidly contracted. There’s an increasing probability that the remaining flows will target established activities that deliver higher returns on investment. This will arguably privilege traditional and lucrative industries over emerging and sustainable ones associated with blue economies.


The AU should ensure that member states’ blue economic commitments continue to receive funding


Historical examples of post-recovery policies such as those from the 2008–2009 global financial crisis are also cause for concern. For instance, the rapid growth in carbon dioxide emissions tracked in its aftermath is indicative of a systemic preference for traditional industries and energy sources in which costs and harms are externalized and only apparent in the future. Most investments would then flow into shoring up these battered industries and getting them back on an even keel.

The AU aims to support states in their maritime endeavors, and AU reforms include setting up a dedicated blue economy office in 2021. There is no need, however, to wait until then for work to begin. Postponements cannot be afforded, for two reasons.

First, the ocean space available for African blue economy projects is constrained and becoming increasingly insecure. African initiatives not only have to compete spatially with established industries such as offshore oil and gas extraction, but might also suffer the consequences of mismanagement or accidents such as oil spills.

Second, the ocean spaces around Africa are perceived as increasingly insecure as transnational maritime crimes grow more sophisticated. African states are struggling to individually secure or govern their seas to a level sufficient to attract additional investments needed to anchor long-term economic recovery and growth.


Maritime collaboration is essential, because African countries’ individual bargaining power is weak


What is required is dedicated coordination and encouragement from international partners such as Norway, which hosted the last Our Oceans Conference in 2019. The AU, backed by its member states, should ensure that national commitments made at such events continue to receive funding.

These undertakings were given when there was consensus that the oceans should be prioritized. At the time, states didn’t envisage disruptions like COVID-19 that demand a focus on salvaging established interests. The AU must also help facilitate the enacting of innovative environmental regulations, such as creating marine protected areas, so that implementation remains on target.

The AU Commission could convene a series of virtual coordination meetings between member states, regional economic communities (RECs) and its departments, and specialized agencies. These include the Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources—which drafted the African Blue Economy Strategy—and the AU Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development. This can help deal with challenges such as states seeking economic recovery from COVID-19 by over-exploiting their maritime resources.

A division of labor between the RECs, the AU, and its agencies is also required. Regional bodies are key to blue economy strategies, and some, such as the Southern African Development Community, are already taking action. A consultative forum of RECs, member states, and other maritime organizations could boost momentum and share best practices and negotiation tools for collective bargaining about maritime regulations with states, regions, and at the UN.

Maritime collaboration is essential, because African countries’ individual capacity and bargaining power on the global stage is weak. Their leverage rests in numbers, and a common African position and negotiation strategy would increase their collective influence.

Commendable maritime precedents already exist. Between 1973 and 1982, the Organisation of African Unity coordinated state actions during the third UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It’s also taking place at the ongoing UN negotiations on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

With the economic and governance setbacks brought on by COVID-19, the leadership of the AU is key. Prompt, determined action is needed to reap the benefits of the blue economy and stimulate Africa’s renaissance.


Timothy Walker is a maritime project leader and senior researcher, and Denys Reva is a research officer, both at the Institute for Security Studies, South Africa


South Africa


South African energy company Renergen, which currently produces compressed natural gas, has opened bids for a share of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in the Free State province, the first of its kind for South Africa. Bidders must submit their interest in the project by August 27, with a formal auction date to be announced shortly thereafter.

The company’s Virginia Gas Project, which comprises exploration and production rights of 187,000 hectares of gas fields, is expected to start producing LNG in the third quarter of 2021.

The natural gas in these fields contains almost no higher alkanes (such as and butane), so it is relatively easy to liquify. It also contains rich helium concentrations, amounting to roughly half of the United States’ reserves – and the US is the world leader in helium production. Renergen plans to start producing helium in 2023.


Renewable Energy

Should the LNG project prove successful, it will make a huge difference in diversifying South Africa’s energy portfolio, which is dominated by coal for domestic use and for export. Renergen will partner with Total South Africa to distribute the LNG through Total’s filling stations, mainly for use by logistics companies’ trucks – the LNG will replace diesel.

The source of the Virginia Gas Project’s natural gas is primarily microbial, so it’s a sustainable resource. Producing a carbon-negative fuel is critical if South Africa is to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.


Cassava, also called manioc, is one of the DRC’s staple crops. The leaves and the tuberous root are used in a variety of dishes. (Junior D. Kannah/AFP)
Cassava, also called manioc, is one of the DRC’s staple crops. The leaves and the tuberous root are used in a variety of dishes. (Junior D. Kannah/AFP)

Researchers at the University of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have successfully formulated a new type of fertilizer that they claim can enrich soil for 400 years and help to increase agricultural output.

Professor Adrian Mwango, who supervised the research, says the fertilizer contains charcoal and organic matter. The fertilizer was tested in a banana plantation, and the researchers will continue to monitor its efficacy.


More than 65 percent of the population are employed in the agricultural sector


If this fertilizer were to prove even half as effective as claimed, it would make a significant difference to millions of citizens’ livelihoods. More than 65 percent of the country’s population are employed in the agricultural sector, according to 2019 World Bank data. It would also improve self-sufficiency in the DRC, which has seen sudden spikes in the price of foodstuffs during the COVID-19 pandemic as supply lines have faltered and cross-border trade has been disrupted.


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