Morocco, which maintained one of the strictest border lockdowns in response to COVID-19, will begin to reopen its borders in phases starting next week. Moroccan citizens and expatriates will be allowed to return in the first phase beginning July 14, but only after presenting results from both a PCR (polymerize chain reaction) test and an antibody test. Foreign citizens stuck in Morocco will now finally be able to return home as well.
The severe border closures imposed on March 15 left many Moroccans stuck in foreign countries, including 500 in Spain, some without resources to support themselves during this forced exile.
A resumption of travel may help Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s state-owned national airline, alleviate some of the major losses it sustained after cancelling all routes due to the pandemic, though it is unlikely to return to its former fleet size as the pandemic persists.
Two Zimbabwean workers at a gold mine on the outskirts of Gweru in central Zimbabwe were shot by their Chinese boss on Sunday, June 21. The incident has rekindled long-standing tensions about Chinese nationals living in the southern African country.
A court affidavit submitted by the Zimbabwean police alleges that Zhang Xuelin shot Kenneth Tachiona five times, reportedly in both thighs, and another employee, Wendy Chikwaira, had his chin grazed by a bullet. Workers at Reden Mine in Gweru had confronted Xuelin over his alleged failure to pay their wages in US dollars, as had been agreed previously, according to the affidavit. US dollars are highly sought-after in Zimbabwe, which has experienced repeated cash shortages and inflation spikes since its currency was effectively abandoned in 2009.
The Gweru case brings to mind a 2010 shooting in neighboring Zambia. Two Chinese mine managers were charged with the attempted murder of eleven workers at the Chinese-owned Collum Coal Mine in Sinazongwe after a protest over pay and conditions became heated. Despite being a decade apart, the two cases demonstrate an ongoing pattern of African workers feeling disgruntled by the systemic imbalance of their relationship with Chinese interests.
The number of Chinese nationals in Africa has increased over the past two decades. At least 10,000 Chinese nationals now live and work in Zimbabwe, according to the Brookings Institute. The population in Zambia is significantly higher. Many of these migrants are employed as contractors for Chinese companies delivering extensive infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, and mining projects. This model of investment frustrates African executives, commentators, and workers, who argue that it deprives locals of employment and training opportunities. There is, however, evidence to suggest that Chinese firms employ, pay, and train Africans at similar rates as non-Chinese companies.
That sentiment reflects more deep-seated misgivings about the equity of large deals that African governments sign with Chinese companies. These include loans, construction projects, and extraction rights for natural resources. For example, in April 2019, Chinese firm Tsingshan committed to investing US$2 billion to mine chrome, iron ore, nickel, and coal in Zimbabwe, cementing China’s place as the country’s largest foreign investor. At the same time, Shanghai Construction Group is constructing a new US$140 million six-story parliament building, apparently a donation from the Chinese government. But many Zimbabweans are skeptical of such gestures. Few regard it as unadulterated altruism. And the lack of transparency fuels speculation.
China’s extensive leverage in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, does not look like the postcolonial partnership promised in the 1970s. Indeed, the legacy of racist settler colonialism provides an alarming comparison for Zimbabweans when they hear stories of managers shooting employees or, as happened in Zambia recently, Chinese vendors denying service to black customers.
This is a particularly sensitive time for Sino-African relations. In April, reports of African migrants in Guangzhou, home to China’s largest African community, being targeted for forced testing and quarantine, evicted from their accommodation, and denied hospitality went viral and sparked outrage on social media. Human Rights Watch accused Guangdong authorities of “textbook” discrimination. Many feel that it is one rule for the Chinese in Africa and quite another for Africans in China.
The COVID-19 crisis has also elevated concerns about debt, at a time when economic paralysis is hampering governments’ ability to maintain payments. About 20 percent of African government external debt is owed to China. According to reports, China has offered relief from interest-free loans, but these loans make up less than 5 percent of its total lending.
In a recent interview, former Zimbabwean minister Gordon Moyo, now director of the country’s Public Policy and Research Institute, described China’s lending as “illegitimate” and said the East Asian country was at risk of being “a new imperialist.”
Having been shot repeatedly in both legs, Kenneth Tachiona faces the prospect of being disabled for the rest of his life. But with a wife and five children, his concerns are very pragmatic. In an interview with VOA, he said: “Of course I want the law to take its course, but I’m now disabled, and for me, the most important thing is to be compensated adequately.” Money being his most pressing concern reflects the same hard realities facing his government.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has emphasized the importance of impartial justice in this case. Likewise, the Chinese embassy declared its respect for Zimbabwe’s right to handle the situation “in accordance with the law.” At the same time, however, they asked to see Zimbabwe “protect the safety as well as legitimate rights and interests” of Chinese nationals in the country. President Mnangagwa echoed the sentiment and did not accept the view that the shooting was reflective of “systemic and widespread” abuse by Chinese employers, as some prominent civil society groups have claimed.
With mounting debt, a health crisis, and uncertain support from the West, there is little prospect of Zimbabwe—or any of its neighbors—untangling itself from Chinese interests.
Jesse Samasuwo is a London-based analyst writing and researching international affairs, primarily focused on energy, trade, and politics.
Egypt’s El Nasr Automotive Manufacturing Company and China’s Dongfeng Motors have signed a deal for electric car production in Egypt. An agreement was signed on June 18, stipulating that El Nasr will produce 25,000 electric vehicles annually.
Not only is this a boon for Chinese car manufacturing, which according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers saw a 42 percent decline in the first quarter of 2020, but it also revives Nasr after the company shuttered its production plant in 2009.
This marks yet another expansion of China’s growing footprint in Egypt. Economic and political relations between the two nations go back to 1956, when Egypt formally recognized the communist government of the People’s Republic of China, making it the first Arab and African nation to do so. Since the 2011 Arab Spring, which saw the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s succeeding presidents Mohammed Morsi and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have made foreign relations with China a top priority.
For China, Egypt’s strategic location and its ownership of the Suez Canal make it an important ally as it expands its Belt and Road Initiative.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has initiated a program to convince highly educated expatriates to return and put their skills to use in service of the country. This charm offensive aimed at the diaspora makes sense as an effort to bring in not only immediate financial gain but also knowledge and expertise as the country finds itself in a precarious economic situation.
The energy industry is the backbone of the Algerian economy. As a result of falling oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on petroleum and gas exports, the country’ foreign exchange reserves have plummeted to record lows. The president’s charm offensive toward the diaspora makes sense as an effort to bring in not only immediate financial gain but also knowledge and expertise.
To facilitate this program, Tebboune has been pushing hard for constitutional reform. Among several other changes, it would eliminate a provision that in order to hold public office or another high functionary position, a candidate must hold exclusive Algerian citizenship. Given that most Algerians living abroad have dual citizenship, this provision denies expatriates a chance of entering into civic life.
A Major Hurdle for the President’s Plan
The Hirak movement in Algeria poses a challenge to Tebboune’s diaspora outreach. The popular movement has been mobilizing Algerians against the regime since February 2019, holding peaceful mass protests across the country every Friday—save for a brief suspension due to COVID-19—to demand, among others, the dissolution of both chambers of parliament and a fundamentally new constitution.
A coalition of trade unions gathered in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, on July 4 to restate demands to the government and motivate its members to take part in a mass general strike on July 8 and 9. The coalition’s demands have largely been focused on charges of corruption and poor economic management on the part of the ruling MPP party and President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.
The fact that the coalition successfully convened the general meeting is a strong sign that it will deliver on the threat of a strike, given that its spokesperson, Bassolma Bazié, had announced the group’s intention to hold such a meeting and a general strike on these dates about two weeks earlier.
Compounding a Crisis
The threat of a mass strike places further pressure on the Kaboré administration, which has been trying to get a handle on the spread of COVID-19 in the country while contending with a dire humanitarian crisis. More than 800,000 people have been internally displaced due to an escalating jihadist insurgency and food insecurity.
The pandemic has further put a grinding halt to most mining exploration in the country, which forms the backbone of the country’s exports, 75 percent of which is gold.
Earlier this week, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced the launch of the US$2.8 billion Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) Gas Pipeline project, which he promised would significantly improve power generation for domestic use and gas-based industries. In addition, the pipeline is anticipated to bring both greater infrastructure investment and employment to towns along the pipeline’s route, benefitting the provinces of Kano, Kaduna, Niger, Abuja, and Kogi State.
Nigeria has begun work on the first 200 kilometers of the 614-kilometer-long AKK pipeline route, which forms part of the planned 1,300-kilometer-long Trans-Nigeria Gas Pipeline, a project largely financed by China Export & Credit Insurance Corporation and several Chinese banks.
Nigeria formally joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in February 2019
Buhari’s promise of economic prosperity arising from this project underscores Nigeria’s slumping energy industry and regular power outages despite being Africa’s largest oil producer. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular took a heavy toll on the industry: at the conclusion of the first half of the 2020 fiscal year, oil and gas companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange reported a loss of about US$457.8 million.
China’s strong presence on this project reflects its broader infrastructure diplomacy in Africa, enacted through its Belt and Road Initiative, which Nigeria formally joined in February 2019.
Before being struck by a once-in-a-generation global pandemic, the Horn of Africa was already contending with a locust plague the likes of which hadn’t been experienced in several generations. A second, larger wave of the destructive desert locusts has been making its way across Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, threatening food security for millions of people and costing the region (along with Yemen) up to US$8.5 billion according to the World Bank.
The fungus has proven to be deadly to locusts while not harming other insects
The effectiveness of chemical pesticides to control locust swarms has been limited, at best, due to the swarms’ quick pace and size, along with limited resources as these nations and foreign donors focus on COVID-19. Thus, it fell to the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), an international research institute housed in Nairobi, Kenya, to devise more innovative and environmentally friendly means of tackling the locust problem.
One approach has been the use of a biopesticide developed from the Metarhizium acridum fungus, which has proven to be deadly to locusts while not harming other insects.
Commercial brands use this kind of fungus in their powder products. Such powders are mixed with oil and sprayed onto fields from planes or trucks. The fungus then penetrates the locust’s hard outer layer and starts feeding on the insect, sapping away
Another tactic homes in on locust pheromones, disrupting their biochemistry to break up swarms before they form and encouraging cannibalization among immature locusts before they gain the ability to fly.
A third approach is to introduce the protein-rich locusts as a foodstuff—either cooked or crushed—for people and animals. ICIPE is developing nets and backpack-vacuums to capture large numbers of locusts.
NovFeed, a Tanzanian company, has begun developing a low-cost, sustainable fish feed by raising black soldier fly maggots, then drying and grinding them up into a high-protein powder.
NovFeed co-founder Elisha Otaigo explains that these maggots have a higher protein, fat and micronutrient content than housefly maggots. Unlike houseflies, black soldier flies do not transmit diseases and reach maturity quite quickly. Just two to three weeks of feeding them organic waste gets the larvae to its highest nutrient state, and then they can be processed, to be used as an ingredient in fish feed.
Fish contributes to almost a quarter of the population’s animal protein diet
Animal products make up about 3.4 percent of Tanzania’s total exports, of which fish products make up the vast majority. The Tanzanian fishing industry also provides up to 4 million jobs—about 35 percent of all rural employment—and fish contributes to almost a quarter of the population’s animal protein diet.
Recent years have seen a decline in fisheries due to mismanagement and rising costs, making NovFeed’s innovation a boon to some of Tanzania’s poorest citizens.
Ghana recently completed phase one of a three-part process to develop the infrastructure for producing nuclear power in coordination with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The focus of the first phase was on conducting a series of studies on the rationale for and feasibility of introducing nuclear power to the national and West African energy grid, a tall order considering the steep costs of constructing and maintaining nuclear reactors.
Ghana’s current installed generating capacity of 4,132 MW comprises hydroelectric power (38 percent); thermal power fueled by oil, natural gas and diesel (61 percent); and solar power (1 percent). Actual availability, however, rarely exceeds 2,400 MW due to various factors, including inadequate fuel supplies. To meet the energy demands of its growing population, currently at about 28 million, requires the country to rely on the broader West African energy grid to supplement the shortfall.
Phase Two of the nuclear plan will include meetings with potential stakeholders, developing a government financing scheme and a framework for nuclear waste disposal protocols, and determining suitable sites for construction. Dr. Robert B. M. Sogbadjie, coordinator of the Ghana Nuclear Power Program, confirmed during a press conference that four sites have already been picked out, but did not disclose their locations. Phase two is anticipated to begin in 2024, with construction to be completed by 2030.
South Africa has had a nuclear power plant since 1984
Should Ghana succeed in this endeavor, it would make it only the second country in Africa to have nuclear power, alongside South Africa, which has had a functioning nuclear power plant—providing 5 percent of the country’s total energy output—since 1984. Furthermore, Ghana’s initiative on nuclear power could incentivize other African nations to do so as well, moving the continent away from fossil fuels while meeting the energy needs of a growing population.
The African Union (AU) has suspended South Sudan’s participation in meetings over its inability to pay financial contributions of about US$9 million for the past three years. Hakim Edward, deputy spokesperson for South Sudan’s ministry of foreign affairs, explained that the country had not been deprived of its membership, but South Sudanese diplomats may not take part in or contribute to African Union meetings. He said efforts were under way to resolve the matter.
The failure to pay its dues points to South Sudan’s economic woes as it tries to formalize a unity government, a critical component of the 2019 peace agreement that put an end to a bloody seven-year civil war. The deal was struck around the same time that the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report detailing how several South Sudanese officials had embezzled state funds, and how lucrative oil contracts had been used to fund armed militias engaged in the civil war.
The suspension risks hampering critical discussions
Suspending South Sudan’s participation in meetings is the result of new measures the AU implemented in 2018 to ensure member states fulfill their financial obligations. But it risks alienating South Sudanese and hampering critical discussions, especially as the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) struggles to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. South Sudan’s healthcare infrastructure is among the poorest on the continent, and millions of internally displaced people living in UN-protected camps are at high risk of contracting the virus.