How Myanmar became destination for trafficked East Africans

On a Facebook page routinely appearing in the East African region, ‘models’, saleswomen and teachers of English are invited to apply for jobs ranging from marketing, language classes and translation.

And the promised pay is hefty, by East African standards. One offer for a ‘sales specialist’ promises one to earn Thai Baht (TBH) 7,5000 (about KSh256,000 or $2,098) per month. A bilingual translator could earn up to $3,000, mostly to work at a call centre where clients are foreign speakers of English or some other language. It is an added advantage if you can speak Chinese and are white, but good looks generally will do you fine.

The qualification, the advert shows is simple. You must be a university graduate, good at communication skills and have a “cheerful” personality. What is more, a human relations manager whose salary is Ksh150,000 ($1,229) can more than double their take-home if they recruit more workers. One offer says they will get $139 times the number of employees under their watch.

Flight ticket guaranteed

The jobs also require one to have fast typing skills and that one must be able to relocate to Thailand with a promise to have their visas sorted and a flight ticket guaranteed.

This type of recruitment, it turns out, has gotten more East Africans travelling in droves to Thailand, but ending up enslaved in Myanmar, according to a bulletin by the Kenyan Foreign and Diaspora Affairs ministry.

One survivor, recently rescued from Myanmar, told The EastAfrican they were duped into the jobs but were moved to an unknown location as soon as they landed in Thailand, initially on a tourism visa. That place turned out to be a remote location inside Myanmar, a country under a state of emergency since last year when the military junta deposed a democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

“They said they wanted their employees to be taught English so they can speak fluently to their clients,” Martha* said.

“After we arrived, they took our passports and we were moved mostly through remote locations. They said they were avoiding dangerous security points. But they had not told us we would end up in Myanmar,” she explained.

Rescued

Martha, a Kenyan, was among 24 East Africans rescued in September from Myanmar in a concerted effort by the Kenyan and Laos government with HAART Kenya and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The group also included a Burundian and a Ugandan. Earlier, a group of 13 had also been rescued after the Thai military responded to distress calls.

The Kenyan Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs said on Wednesday that the Laos security forces had rescued another group of six, collaborating with the UN agencies. But the response has been to only those who manage to sneak out their call for help.

“Already, one young Kenyan has died as a result of a botched operation by quack doctors operating in the so-called special economic zones in rebel controlled areas in Myanmar,” the Kenyan ministry said, suggesting organ harvesting is fuelling the trafficking. Officials did not reveal the identity or gender of the dead Kenyan. But most of those rescued recently have been all women.

“Others who have been rescued have returned home in crutches and with broken limbs after being beaten severely by up to 20 gang members operating in the factories.”

Coordinated gangs

The gangs are coordinated, given that travelling between Nairobi and Myanmar is treacherous. With no direct flights and no diplomatic missions between any east African country and Myanmar, travellers are lured as though they are going to Bangkok, a popular destination for tourists, and famous for its blind masseuses. Others are advertised as jobs in Mae Sot, a town in Thailand near the border with Myanmar.

“The jobs that are purported to be in Mae Sot town in Thailand are fake. The cartels use Mae Sot as a bait. As soon as one lands in Mae Sot, they are whisked across the river to the factories in Myanmar,” the Kenyan government warned on Wednesday.

“Kenyans continue to fall prey to online job scammers, who are unrelenting in their search for innocent Kenyans to sell to Chinese cartels. Many of the agents, wanted by the police, are still advertising sales and customer care jobs purported to be in Thailand with impunity, well aware that there are no such jobs.”

Since August, Nairobi says 75 victims of trafficking have been brought back home. They include ten Ugandans and a Burundian, rescued in cooperation with the governments of Thailand, Laos, IOM and HAART Kenya. Authorities estimated there could be more still trapped, as there at least 30 distress calls pending rescue.

Those rescued say they had to work long hours and the pay was not forthcoming. Those trafficked were mostly women under 35. They also said they were working in an area controlled by rebels opposed to the junta in Myanmar. Nairobi says “the rebels provide protection to the Chinese criminal cartels” who sometimes threaten Thai and Laos government officials planning rescue operations.

Kenya now says it will raise supervision on any East African travelling to Thailand through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to purge anyone travelling after getting an ‘online job’ there. In addition, those travelling to Thailand on ‘tourist’ visas will have to show exact address and return tickets even though the government said it invites any Kenyans “to Thailand and other countries in the region who come for legit work and leisure but not as victims of trafficking”.

At least 2,5O0 Kenyans work and study in Thailand, according to official government records.

“Some are teachers, doctors, IT professionals, international civil servants working with UN agencies and others doing business. We have Kenyans who have lived in Thailand for over 30 years and married Thai citizens.”

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On a Facebook page routinely appearing in the East African region, ‘models’, saleswomen and teachers of English are invited to apply for jobs ranging from marketing, language classes and translation. […]

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Hopes for big finance at Cop27 fade in climate of war, high energy prices

Big business more than ever is under pressure to channel money into curbing climate change – and yet the chances of UN talks providing the necessary spur have slimmed as the Ukraine war, high energy prices and geopolitical tensions take precedence.

In interviews, more than a dozen US and European finance leaders were pessimistic the climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt starting November 6 can make clear progress.

What they want are signals on the pace of regulation that would allow company boards to plan their climate policy.

But as governments have lately been distracted by world events, they fear countries will fail to provide any major new commitments.

“Geopolitical relations going into COP27 are at one of the worst levels in recent history,” said Luke Sussams, head of ESG and Sustainable Finance, EMEA at Jefferies.

“The age-old dilemma of climate finance, facilitated between the developed and the developing world, will of course be critical. We, I don’t think, are too optimistic that many resolutions will be met in that regard.”

Emissions must drop

A UN report published in October underlined the urgency of the climate problem and that emissions must drop 43 percent by the end of the decade to prevent the worst impacts of a hotter planet.

The best hope could be to prevent the progress so far being undone.

“Avoiding a rollback of existing pledges and commitments… could probably be considered a success,” Benedict Buckley, research analyst at ClearBridge Investments, said.

Many companies made pledges to cut emissions last year, but like many governments, they have yet to work out how those will be implemented.

More than 550 financial firms are members of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, aiming to cut their emissions and push companies in the real economy that rely on their financing to do the same, but the pace of action has been slow.

Not enough done

“The reality is that not enough has been done in the last 12 months – some would argue we have moved backwards,” said Hortense Bioy, Global Director of Sustainability Research at Morningstar.

The biggest disruption since last year’s Glasgow climate talks has been the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a major oil and gas exporter.

Europe in particular has been forced to rethink its previous reliance on Russian gas and to seek alternatives. In the short term that includes coal, undermining a deal the UN summit in Glasgow to phase out its use. However, as this year’s high oil and gas prices have rewarded those producing fossil fuels.

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Big business more than ever is under pressure to channel money into curbing climate change – and yet the chances of UN talks providing the necessary spur have slimmed as […]

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Yellowstone, Kilimanjaro glaciers likely to vanish by 2050: UNESCO

Glaciers at many UNESCO World Heritage sites including Yellowstone and Kilimanjaro National Park will likely vanish by 2050, the UN agency warned Thursday, urging leaders to act fast to save the rest.

The warning followed a study of 18,600 glaciers at 50 World Heritage sites — covering around 66,000 square kilometres (25,000 square miles) — which found glaciers at a third of the sites were “condemned to disappear”.

The study “shows these glaciers have been retreating at an accelerated rate since 2000 due to CO2 emissions, which are warming temperatures”, UNESCO said.

The glaciers were losing 58 billion tonnes of ice every year, equivalent to the combined annual water use of France and Spain, and were responsible for nearly five percent of observed global sea-level rise, the agency explained.

Condemned to disappear

“Glaciers in a third of the 50 World Heritage sites are condemned to disappear by 2050, regardless of efforts to limit temperature increases,” UNESCO said.

“But it is still possible to save the glaciers in the remaining two thirds of sites if the rise in temperatures does not exceed 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial period.”

Countries have pledged to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — a goal the world is set to miss on current emission trends.

“This report is a call to action,” said UNESCO head Audrey Azoulay, ahead of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt starting on Monday.

“Only a rapid reduction in our CO2 emissions levels can save glaciers and the exceptional biodiversity that depends on them. COP27 will have a crucial role to help find solutions to this issue.”

Gone by 2050

In Africa, glaciers in all World Heritage sites will very likely be gone by 2050, including at Kilimanjaro National Park and Mount Kenya, UNESCO warned.

In Europe, some glaciers in the Pyrenees and in the Dolomites will also probably have vanished in three decades’ time.

The same went for glaciers in the Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks in the United States.

The melting of ice and snow is one of the 10 key threats from climate change, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published in February said.

Glaciers at many UNESCO World Heritage sites including Yellowstone and Kilimanjaro National Park will likely vanish by 2050, the UN agency warned Thursday, urging leaders to act fast to save […]

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Countries seek joint approach to fight climate change in Horn of Africa

Development organisations predict that up to 5 billion people will face water shortages by 2050 globally as the climate change bug continues to bite and the effects intensify.

The Horn of Africa region is already highly affected by climate change and is facing the worst drought ever experienced in the last four decades.

Besides the impacts of climate change, other significant trends and issues affect the continent, including rapid population growth, with urbanisation rates expected to triple by 2050.

In a hybrid meeting held both physically and via zoom at Nairobi’s Trade Mark Hotel, stakeholders deliberated on how to deal with development issues in the Horn of Africa, especially regarding climate change and its effects.

The gathering was the second to be held this year and for the third time in history. Dubbed the Horn of Africa Resilience Network (HoRN) learning event, the annual event brings together stakeholders, including representatives from both national and regional governments, development partners and private sector actors. Other participants include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) bilateral mission representatives and academic and research institutions.

Stakeholders follow proceedings during the HoRN learning event in Nairobi On October 26, 2022. Dr James Nyoro, an agricultural economist and food security expert from kenya, outlined some gains made in g climate change adaptation in the past few years. PHOTO | RACHEL KIBUI | NMG

Knowledge sharing

The HoRN acts as a platform for interaction and knowledge sharing among stakeholders. It is also an opportunity for creating partnerships through engaging in effective multi-stakeholder partnerships to leverage the comparative advantages critical to making developing countries and communities more resilient and self-sufficient. During the forum, participants also explore discussions around the future of resilience in the Horn region.

On October 26, participants at the HoRN learning event discussed climate change, its effects, the future, resilience and the development agenda, among other related subjects. Under the theme ‘Climate change adaptation and resilience: Managing risks for a more resilient future’, the half-day event brought to light various issues through cultural lenses, livelihoods, economies, health and access to fundamental rights that affect local communities in the region.

Climate shocks and stresses

“Everyone around the globe is vulnerable to climate change. Even though other countries are more vulnerable, climate shocks and stresses are increasingly impacting all of us,” said Laurie Ashley, the Resilience and Climate Adaptation Advisor-Centre for Resilience at USAID.

She noted that most impacts of climate change are related to water— too much of which results in flooding and too little of which results in drought — as is the current situation in many places within the HoRN region.

Climate change has threatened development progress and exacerbated inequality, including increasing water and food scarcity, the need for humanitarian assistance and displacement.

USAID, Ms Ashley noted, has developed a new climate change strategy for 2022-2030 with six ambitious targets that sustain the gains already made in building resilience in the face of climate change-related shocks and stresses.

The strategy is built on the understanding that without urgent action, climate change could push an additional 100 million people into poverty by 2030. The strategy’s targets include adaptation, which will improve the climate resilience of 500 million people, and finance, through which USAID will mobilise $150 billion in public and private finance for the climate agenda.

Residents of Mtito Adei in Kenya’s Makueni County fetching water from a dam. The Horn of Africa region is already highly affected by climate change and is facing the worst drought ever experienced in the last four decades. PHOTO | RACHEL KIBUI | NMG

Reduce carbon emissions

Under the mitigation target, USAID will collaborate with countries to support activities that reduce, avoid, or sequester an equivalent of six billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. Through the Natural and Managed Ecosystems target, there will be support for the conservation, restoration, or management of 100 million hectares, with a climate change mitigation benefit. Under the Critical Populations target, USAID will support its partners to achieve systemic changes that increase meaningful participation and active leadership in climate action for indigenous people, local communities, women, youth, and other marginalised and underrepresented groups in at least 40 partner countries.

“Achieving these targets will require a holistic approach — every USAID sector, mission, and the programme has a role to play as we work towards more resilient systems in areas like agriculture, energy, governance, infrastructure, and health,” said Ms Ashley.

“With all hands on deck and using locally-led and equitable approaches, we will greatly increase our ability to address current and evolving climate risks,” she added.

In her opening remarks, USAID Acting Mission Director for Kenya and East Africa Sheila Roquette called for the adoption of a joint implementation approach, saying it would yield the maximum results needed to ensure communities become resilient and interventions lead to desired results.

“Only together can we achieve resilient systems guided by national and regional priorities. There is a need for greater and strengthened regional and cross-border collaboration to advance resilience in the region,” said Ms Roquette.

Climate change adaptation

In his presentation, Dr James Nyoro, former governor of Kenya’s Kiambu County, who is also an agricultural economist and food security expert, outlined some gains made regarding climate change adaptation in the past few years.

Significant policies and strategies have been formulated in Kenya, which include the National Climate Action Plan 2008/2022, National Climate Change Response Strategy 2010, the National Disaster Management Authority strategic plan, and Vision 2030 for the development Strategy for Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands. 

Regarding climate mitigation, several approaches have been adopted. They include enhancing the use of green energy in Kenya by up to 85 per cent, enhancing reforestation and afforestation (the current government proposes to have every citizen plant at least three trees over the next five years), enhancing efficient energy utilisation methods and popularising the use of renewable energy in rural areas.

Dr Nyoro stressed the need to ensure the engagement of community members across the board. In addition, there is a need to employ measures that focus on climate change adaptation. Such measures include promoting climate-smart agriculture and sustainable, regenerative and conservative tillage, enhancing capital-intensive precision agriculture, solarising streets and water sources, enhancing drought and flood management and developing more early maturing drought-resistant crops.

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Development organisations predict that up to 5 billion people will face water shortages by 2050 globally as the climate change bug continues to bite and the effects intensify. The Horn […]

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Uganda, Rwanda to beat Kenya in dollar millionaires growth

Kenya will trail Uganda and Rwanda in terms of growth in the number of super-rich individuals with investible assets worth more than $100 million over the next decade, due to more conducive business environments in the two East Africa Community states.

Kenya is projected to post a 55 percent growth in the number of centi-millionaires over the next 10 years to 2032, trailing Rwanda at 70 percent and Uganda at 65 percent, said a report by research firms New World Wealth and Henley & Partners.

Globally, Vietnam, India and Mauritius are expected to post the fastest growth in centi-millionaires in the decade at 95 percent, 80 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

The report said Kenya remains strong in wealth creation partly due to well-developed and neutral news media outlets that form investment decisions.

“It is important that most major outlets in a country are neutral and objective. A well-developed financial media space is especially important as it helps disseminate information to investors,” the report says.

Besides a favourable financial media, Kenya remains a favourable holiday destination for the centi-millionaires. The country is ranked the 9th top holiday destination for the mega-rich, with the Hamptons in the US, leading the pack.

Read: Tanzania has the only dollar billionaire in East Africa: report

“American centi-millioanires travelling to Kenya for the annual migration boosts the nation’s tourism industry, with luxury hotels and lodges such as Giraffe Manor (the most Instagrammed hotel), Kichwa Tembo tented and Angama Mara cashing in to accommodate the moneyed guests” Maryanne Maina, the chief executive officer of Swan Maison Concierge Paris, said in a comment in the report.

A separate report by New World Wealth and Henley & Partners last month ranked Nairobi fifth in terms of the number of dollar millionaires. The report showed Nairobi has 5,000 high net worth individuals (HNWI).

The report showed Nairobi is also home to 240 multi-millionaires, who have a net worth of more than $10 million, and 11 centi-millionaires, who are worth more than $100 million. It, however, does not have a dollar billionaire.

Kenya has 8,500 dollar millionaires, according to the Africa Wealth Report 2022, which was released by the same firm in April. This means that Nairobi is home to 59 percent of Kenya’s HNWIs, underlining its status as Kenya’s economic hub and richest city.

However, no African city made it to the list of the top 20 cities globally that have the highest number of dollar millionaires, which was dominated by US cities.

Henley & Partners Chief Executive Juerg Steffen noted that 14 of the Top 20 wealthiest cities in the world are in countries that host formal investment migration programmes, and actively encourage foreign direct investment in return for residence or citizenship rights.

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Kenya will trail Uganda and Rwanda in terms of growth in the number of super-rich individuals with investible assets worth more than $100 million over the next decade, due to more conducive […]

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IMF warns of looming recession in 2023 as shocks persist

The International Monetary Fund has warned that a global economic recession could be apparent next year if the war in Ukraine and other economic shocks persist in the near term.

The projections for the growth rate of the global output (Gross Domestic Product) this year remain 3.2 percent as earlier predicted, down from 6 percent in 2021, and is forecast to reduce further to 2.7 percent in 2023.

Read: Brace for impact, some of East African woes are self-inflicted

The global slowdown is a result of the Russian war in Ukraine, rising costs of living caused by persistent and relentless inflation pressures, and the reduced economic activity in China due to consistent lockdowns, dimming the global growth prospects, IMF said.

“The 2023 slowdown will be broad-based, with countries accounting for a third of the global economy expected to contract this year or next,” said Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, IMF’s chief economist and research director.

“The worst is yet to come, and for many people, 2023 will feel like a recession. Despite the slowdown, inflation pressures are proving broader and more persistent than anticipated.”

Read: East Africa’s economic recovery prospects facing headwinds

Global inflation is expected to peak at 9.5 percent in the third quarter of 2022, and is broadening beyond food and energy, IMF said.

Should the war in Ukraine persist, inflation continue to broaden and the dollar continue to appreciate, IMF says, there is a 25 percent chance GDP growth could drop to below two percent and a 10 percent chance it could reduce to 1.1 percent.

Read: Africa facing recession, a first in 25 years says World Bank

“Increasing price pressures remain the most immediate threat to present and future prosperity by squeezing real incomes and undermining microeconomic stability,” Mr Gourinchas said.

The growth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to drop to 3.6 percent in 2022 down from 4.7 percent last year.

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The International Monetary Fund has warned that a global economic recession could be apparent next year if the war in Ukraine and other economic shocks persist in the near term. […]

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How Kafala system in Arab Gulf states is leading to the death of Kenyan girls

Eunice Wanjiku is long dead and forgotten. In the Kenyan records at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – she is just another name.

By the time she died at the hands of her employer in Saudi Arabia, Wanjiku, 23, had lost most of her liberties.

In death, they had taken away her last liberty: Her name. After that, she was ‘unidentified.’ Unknown. Her family only learnt about Wanjiku’s death two years after her demise.

Tortured by her employer, humiliated, raped, and later killed – Wanjiku is today a statistic.

For the love of diaspora remittances, now amounting to $3,718 million in 2021, the government has turned a blind eye to multi-billion-shilling house-help trade as long as the dollars can flow to the coffers.

In 2014, the government attempted to close Gulf’s house-help trade due to the reported abuse of domestic workers. But, after a few months, it was re-opened for a dubious reason.

Latest statistics from Central Bank show that for the first eight months of this year, Kenya received Ksh22.65 billion ($187 million) from Kenyans living in Saudi Arabia as the country emerged as the third largest source of our remittances after the US, which brought in Ksh188.8 billion ($1.5 billion), and UK’s Ksh25.4 billion ($210 million).

Last month, the story of an emaciated Diana Chepkemoi, who was ailing and held against her will, touched many Kenyans.

Diana had gone to the Gulf hoping to save money to pay for her university education.

Kenyans’ uproar rescued Diana before becoming a statistic – and she has now returned to university.

But 23-year-old Beatrice Waruguru, whose disfigured body was brought back in May, was not as lucky.

The five-hour stand-off at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, as her mother refused to sign papers to protest the torture her daughter was taken through, is a painful reminder of how the maid trade system is rotten.

Kafala system

The government knows that migrant workers in Jordan, Lebanon, and all Arab Gulf states have in place the archaic Kafala system, which ties the legal residency of a migrant worker to their employer for a specific period. During the days of slavery, this was called indentured labour. 

Unlike in the West, where migration targets highly educated workers, the Gulf countries target migrants from vulnerable families to work as domestic servants in this Kafala system – where you can only buy your freedom.

In the Gulf, the girls sign documents written in Arabic. The handlers then take away the girls’ passports, thus restricting their right to any movement. After that, any escape could only take you to a detention camp.

During slavery in the Caribbean, some enslaved people were set free after paying the masters who had “bought” them the shipping and purchase fee.

Today, migrant domestic workers in the Gulf are employed on similar terms. However, they can only earn freedom if they pay their “sponsors” some hefty amount calculated as the agency recruitment fee, visa fee and air ticket.

The stories that come from the Gulf – and told by survivors – are straight from Satan’s compound.

When Slaida Vugutsa was killed in Saudi Arabia last year, she was partially buried by her murderer in the desert – before somebody stumbled on the grave.

It took several months before her family received the body. At the airport, they were inconsolable– and angry. 

Last week, the family of Linet Akinyi, 24, who has been missing for three years, got the news that her body is in a Saudi morgue.

Blind eye

As the flow of dollars increases, the government has turned a blind eye to the number of cadavers of young girls that arrive at JKIA and continues to watch as agencies send more girls to the death traps of domestic labour. 

And it is not that they don’t know. In September last year, the PS in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Macharia Kamau, told a parliamentary committee that 41 Kenyans had died in Saudi Arabia within nine months, apparently of cardiac arrest.

That means we lose approximately two girls every week. The scandal is that we don’t seem to see it as an indictment of how we treat our poor.

There is a deep history behind this Kafala system. Historians argue that slavery had always been a fixture of the Persian Gulf societies, and the rich had always imported cheap labour from East Africa, which was regarded as a reservoir of slaves destined for the Middle East markets.

The efforts to eliminate the slave trade in the 19th century had limited impact on Gulf slavery as the British patrol ships could not, at times, outrun the dhows.

More so, the British had to face the powerful Persian Gulf sheikhdoms. As a result, it signed treaties with some of these entities, which allowed them to retain domestic slaves – and to enslave the slave descendants.

In 1916, the British government – which had colonised the Gulf – signed a treaty with the Sheikh of Qatar, allowing the Sheikhs to retain their black slaves as long as they “accord the negroes fair and just treatment”.

At best, the British did not interfere with local forms of slavery as long as they did not threaten the colony. At worst, they did not care.

By this time, some Saudi families had started to import what historians call indentured labour, where those kidnapped or lured to the Kafala system were contracted to serve for several years without the option of leaving – unless they bought their freedom.

Indentured labour

Today, in the Gulf states, we still hear stories of Kenyan girls asked to purchase their freedom by refunding the money used to recruit and ferry them into indentured labour. 

This type of labour was popular in the 19th-century British empires, and it is a pity that it still thrives – and that we still allow our citizens to get enslaved.

If you read the literature on Caribbean slavery and its indentured labour, the similarities with Kafala system will shock you.

You will find that indentured labour from India replaced slave labour, which explains the immense Indian population in some Caribbean islands. 

As the successor to slavery, indentured labourers operated in the same space as slaves – and some had been kidnapped to work as waged labourers.

In the British colony of India, this type of labour was called “coolie,” and the indentured labourers were once shipped and used to build the Kenya-Uganda railway in 1890. Many of these never found their way back home.

We know from the Gulf that the emancipation of enslaved Black people did not change their status since they had no place to go or means of subsistence.

Some historians have argued that the British popularised the current Kafala system to control the flow of migrants into the pearl hunting trade in the ocean, a lucrative business.

Rather than Britain’s control of these migrants, it allowed the employers to be in charge of their visas and delegated responsibility to the employers.

In essence, the British government left the migrant labourers outside its purview. That was in the 1920s.

Today, in Lebanon, for instance, Article 7 of the Labour Law expressly excludes migrant domestic workers from any labour protection.

As a result, they cannot enjoy a minimum wage, a limit on working hours, overtime pay, a weekly rest day, and freedom of association. 

Thus, the girls we usually send to Lebanon to work under the Kafala system get trapped in regulations that mimic slavery.

In all these cases, workers cannot leave or change jobs without their employers’ consent. If they leave their employers without permission, they risk losing their legal residency and face detention and deportation.

Because domestic servants’ visa and freedom of movement is at the discretion of private entities, all stories emanating from the Gulf start with the employers seizing passports – meaning they have control of their subjects.

Amnesty International has raised all these issues in the Middle East. They have told governments that the Kafala system is subjecting domestic workers to unpaid labour, forced labour, physical abuse, rape, and dangerous working conditions.

In all the cases we have heard, the recruiting agencies in Nairobi have no say on the recruits once they pass through our “door of no return” – to borrow the name given to the place slaves boarded their ships in West Africa.

The number of girls dying in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries is alarming. Yet, we still continue to send hundreds of them into servitude – allowing them to be trapped in the Kafala labour system that has been dismissed by human rights bodies as a new form of slavery.

Dr Alfred Mutua, who has been picked as the next Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Diaspora must streamline this trade – or stop it.

How many more should die before we stop this trade?

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Eunice Wanjiku is long dead and forgotten. In the Kenyan records at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – she is just another name. By the time she died at the […]

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Uganda’s fuel smugglers: The Opec Boys (anti-)heroes of the marginalized?

Smuggling in the Ugandan border region of West Nile has a long and chequered history. It straddles the fine line between legitimacy and legality.

Governance and conflict researcher Kristof Titeca has studied smuggling in the border region since 2003. He explains the dynamics.

What’s the history of smuggling in Uganda’s West Nile region?

The term smuggling often brings strongly negative connotations, and is often associated with criminality and violence. However, smugglers aren’t always associated with these negative connotations by the communities in which they are embedded.

The West Nile region in Uganda illustrates this dynamic. This area is located in northwestern Uganda, and borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.

When colonialists introduced the borders demarcating Uganda, Zaire/Congo and Sudan, this divided ethnic groups but didn’t stop the interaction between them. Continued untaxed trade – or smuggling – was considered legitimate.

In addition, smuggling – both then and now – is viewed as a survival mechanism.

For example, during successive wars and rebellions affecting the region, many people fled across borders. When former Ugandan president Idi Amin (a West Niler) was ousted from power in 1979, the residents of West Nile feared revenge and fled to eastern Congo and southern Sudan. Similarly, violence in southern Sudan in the early 1990s, and in more recent times, forced many (South) Sudanese to flee to northern Uganda. Smuggling constituted an important livelihood for many during these times, and laid the basis for contemporary trading networks and practices.

Smuggling is also linked to people feeling marginalised or oppressed. And the West Nile region feels marginalised by the Yoweri Museveni regime.

Also Read: How Epra lost war on fuel marking job

Smuggling in this border region has to be understood in this context: as a way of making ends meet despite of – and in opposition to – a regime perceived to marginalise them. Smuggling is regarded as legitimate employment. And an important form of social mobility, a rags-to-riches story present in the wider social imaginary of the population.

How pervasive is smuggling in Uganda?

Data from the Bank of Uganda and Uganda Bureau of Statistics shows that in 2018, Ugandan informal exports – or smuggled products – were worth US$546.6 million. For their part, smuggled imports were worth US$60 million.

But these numbers are an underestimation as they are based on data from official border posts, which excludes goods smuggled through many unofficial smuggling routes.

Moreover, the data shows that for the DRC – which in 2018 accounted for almost half of Uganda’s informal trade value – informal export and import figures are almost always higher than the formal ones.

What does the story of the Opec Boys tell us?

The Opec Boys – a term used to refer to fuel smugglers operating in the region – are a telling illustration of the dynamics of smuggling in the West Nile.

In my research, I have studied the Opec Boys at different moments in their history over the last 20 years.

Their roots can be traced to the late 1970s and early 1980s. This was when much of the population of north-western Uganda fled to neighbouring DRC and Sudan after the overthrow of the Amin regime.

During this time, a number of exiled young men made a living from smuggling fuel. They didn’t stop doing so upon their return to Uganda. They started an organisation that came to be known as the Opec Boys. Many other young men returning to their home areas, with no education or assets, were drawn into this fuel business.

They would sell smuggled fuel in jerrycans on street corners in the region’s major urban centres. There was a general shortage of petrol stations in the area, and their fuel was cheaper. The Opec Boys got their smuggled fuel in different ways: some smuggled it themselves from Congo, others used “transporters” who were mostly young(er) boys on bicycles, smuggling the fuel via back roads to avoid security officials. Others bought their fuel from truck drivers, who equally smuggled their fuel into Uganda.

The Opec Boys were the most important supplier of fuel in the area until the late 2000s. Around this time, the increased number of fuel stations, and the changing tax regime in DRC pushed many of them out of business. While they still exist, their activities are less prominent.

What did they come to represent?

The Opec Boys were considered an important social-economic and political force in two major ways.

First, they came to constitute an important manifestation of what sociologist Asef Bayat’s calls “un-civil society”. This is an unconventional, uninstitutionalised form of civil society. It operates through ad hoc, direct and sporadic action through which it represents the interests of the urban informal sector. This definition applies to the Opec Boys.

Particularly during the 1990s and 2000s, they would – led by a charismatic leader – come to the defence of actors within the urban informal sector, such as market vendors or motorcycle taxi riders. They, for example, intervened when urban authorities wanted to forcefully remove streetside kiosks by blocking roads and organising protests.

Second, in doing so, they are an illustration of historian Eric Hobsbawm’s “social bandits”. This is through their links to the population and their composition – young, unemployed men, and (certainly in their early phase) often ex-rebels considered “natural material for banditry”.

Their smuggling activities provide employment to, and absorb, a potentially dangerous group: low-skilled, landless young men. In a region with a history of rebel groups, this is seen as an important stabilising factor, allowing for the voicing of discontent through trading activities rather than illegality.

For these reasons, attempts to take formal action against smuggling in the West Nile region often lead to demonstrations and riots.

In February 2022, for instance, riots erupted in Koboko town. These were directed against Uganda’s tax collecting agency – the Uganda Revenue Authority.

Protestors set the authority’s offices on fire after tax collectors allegedly hit and injured a suspected fuel smuggler (the authority denied this happened). The smuggler was reportedly carrying 320 litres of fuel in sixteen 20-litre jerrycans from the DRC. During the riots, one person was shot dead and several others wounded.

Months earlier, the shooting of a suspected smuggler also led to violent demonstrations.

However, this doesn’t mean all smuggling is romanticised. Smuggling in goods such as drugs or weapons is looked at very differently, and doesn’t have the same legitimacy and popular support.

In sum, smuggling is looked at as more than a strictly economic activity; it’s a social and political one. In local social imaginaries, it’s seen as an act of resistance, a way to fend for oneself in difficult circumstances.

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Smuggling in the Ugandan border region of West Nile has a long and chequered history. It straddles the fine line between legitimacy and legality. Governance and conflict researcher Kristof Titeca has studied smuggling in […]

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Tanzania, DR Congo rank poorly on digital life quality: report

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Tanzania are among the countries with the worst digital quality of life globally, occasioned by slow internet speed, high costs of internet, and other factors.

The 2022 Digital Quality of Life Index, produced by Dutch network company Surfshark, reveals that DRC citizens have the least digital wellbeing, out of the 117 countries surveyed, with Tanzania ranking 107.

The index measures the quality or speed and affordability of internet in the countries along with the availability and strength of electronic infrastructure, security, and government.

Kenya was ranked the highest in East Africa, but 78th globally, with Uganda coming second in the region and 98th globally. There was no data on Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan.

DRC came last, particularly in electronic infrastructure which assesses how developed and inclusive a country’s digital infrastructure is; and in electronic government that assesses how advanced and digitised the government services are.

Kinshasa also came last in electronic security, which measures how safe and protected people feel while in the digital space in the country. Uganda was ranked to have the second least affordable internet globally.

According to the Surfshark report, electronic infrastructure and government are the leading determinants of citizens’ digital well-being, as many countries that ranked low in these also ranked low in the overall index 92 percent of the time.

Internet affordability and quality are the least important factors of the quality of life, the report says.

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Ebola survivors to forego sex for 90 days

Ebola survivors have to wait for at least three months before having sex again unless they use condoms as one the preventive ways to curb spread of the disease, the Ministry of Health has advised.

“Before returning home, Ebola patients will have their blood tested in the laboratory to ensure the virus is no longer in their body. However, people who have recovered from the illness should not have sex for at least three months unless they use condoms,” the Ministry of Health’s advisory reads in part.

The executive director of Uganda Virus Research Institute, Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, said although Ebola is not considered a sexually transmitted infection, in some studies, experts have found the virus in sperms after recovery.

Dr Ataro Ayella, a clinical epidemiologist, who has managed previous Ebola outbreaks in Bundibugyo in 2007, Liberia in 2014, and DR Congo in 2019, told Monitor in a separate interview yesterday that Ebola can be transmitted sexually and the virus can stay in the semen for up to three months. This means transmission can occur even if the survivor has no symptoms of the disease.

“Besides having got cured of the disease, a relapse or reinfection could occur… The reinfection depends on the immunity of the person and other co-existing diseases,” Dr Ayella added.

Scientists say studies done in Liberia indicate that a woman was infected with Ebola following sexual intercourse with a male Ebola survivor.

Dr Charles Olaro, the Ministry of Health’s director for curative services, said the Ebola virus hides in testes after recovery.

Asked when the three-month count down starts, Dr Olaro said “from the time they (survivors) get discharged”.

Dr Ayella explained that the virus can hide in other places such as backbone fluid and eyes.

“The nature of the virus gives it ability to survive for long in reserves in the body (brain, spinal fluid, semen, placenta and eyes) even when the patient is declared cured…The virus can be stored alive in the semen for long since it is conducive environment for its survival, unlike other body fluids,” Dr Ayella explained.

Several people who spoke to Monitor urged the government to conduct more sensitisation.

Ms Grace Aine, businesswoman in Kampala, said: “The Ministry needs to sensitise the population. I am sure not very many people know about this despite the number of Ebola outbreaks this country has had. I am sure people will abide if they know the risk involved, after all they are saying protected sex is okay.”

Mr Alex Ariho, a resident of Kampala, said: “This message needs to be taken to people who need it the most, the sex workers. Emphasise the need for protected sex since they are saying with protection, it’s okay.”

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Kenya Power to spend $331,000 in pilot transition to electric vehicles

State-owned Kenya Power has said it has started the process of phasing out vehicles that run on fossil fuels for electric ones as a way of adopting “sustainable ways of doing business.”

The company, mandated to distribute electricity to final retail consumers in the country, said in a statement on Tuesday that it has set aside $331,372 in this financial year to facilitate the pilot stage of the transition.

This first stage will involve the purchase of three electric vehicles, two pick-ups and one four-wheel-drive, and the construction of three electric vehicle charging stations in Nairobi, to be used by the company and for demonstration to the public.

According to the statement, Kenya Power has already invited bids for the construction of an e-mobility network infrastructure system (Enis) for the initial charging stations, which will allow payment through mobile money and credit cards.

Acting Managing Director Geoffrey Muli said the company is initiating this transition as a demonstration of its commitment to “substantially reduce its carbon footprint,” adding that they will also purchase electric two-wheelers and three-wheelers for its operations.

“We must play our rightful role to combat global warming by championing mitigation measures such as adoption of electric motorisation,” he said.

Mr Muli was speaking at the Swedish Embassy in Nairobi during the launch of electric two-wheelers, produced by Swedish firm Roam Motors, which are being introduced in the Kenyan market.

He said Kenya Power will purchase 50 such electric motorcycles in the medium term.

“The company has also established a liaison office, which acts as our one-stop shop, to champion the company’s e-mobility business,” Kenya Power said in the statement. “Through this office, Kenya Power is working with other stakeholders to support the development of the e-mobility eco-system.”

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Stiffer penalties for human traffickers in Tanzania

Tanzania has approved amendments to the local anti-human trafficking laws to include tougher penalties such as lifetime jail-terms and fines of up to Tsh200 million ($86,000).

Attorney General Dr Eliezer Feleshi said the country needed to implement punitive measures to effectively shut down the vice.

Read: UK, Dar partner to fight child trafficking and abuse in Tanzania

Also read: 22 Kenyans rescued from human traffickers in Laos

The Human Trafficking (Amendment) Bill fixes a minimum jail term at 30 years for offenders of trafficking and hands judges free rein to impose a life sentence depending on the nature of the case.

“We have amended section 5(4) which showed that a convict may be jailed for 10 to 20 years to a minimum imprisonment of 30 years depending on the nature of the case,” the AG said last week.

Serial human traffickers may be handed life sentences while first offenders would pay Tsh100 million ($43,000) fine.

Read: Tackle escalating human trafficking in Horn of Africa, IOM says

Also read: UN uncovers human trafficking at refugee camp in Malawi

Najma Murtaza, the deputy chairperson for the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs had suggested a tougher punishment to repeat trafficking offenders (serial traffickers).

Another MP, Salome Makamba said human traffickers were wealthy people, hence the need to hit them hard with large sums in fines.

“I want us to slap bigger fines because these are people with no economic problems,” she said.

Human traffickers are paid between $5,000 and $15,000 to transport a single person, mostly from Ethiopia and Somalia, through Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique to southern Africa states, a bulletin by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) indicates, suggesting existence of networks in these countries who collude to traffic people.

Read: Burundi, South Sudan: East Africa’s weak link in human trafficking

Also read: Human trade is alive and thriving across East Africa

The IOM estimates that over 15,000 illegal immigrants pass through Tanzania every year, mostly from Ethiopia, Somalia, Burundi and Rwanda on transit to South Africa and its neighbouring states.

Other key destinations for their human cargoes are Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, India and China, data from IMO showed.

Read: Covid-19 fueling rise in human trafficking, UN warns

Victims of serial traffickers are women and children for domestic work (household), crop farms, mines and the informal business sector.

Tanzania is a leading transit route for trafficking due to its geographical position and longer and porous land borders and the Indian Ocean routes with pirate ports in Zanzibar, Tanga, and Mtwara.

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Tanzania has approved amendments to the local anti-human trafficking laws to include tougher penalties such as lifetime jail-terms and fines of up to Tsh200 million ($86,000). Attorney General Dr Eliezer […]

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TotalEnergies walks a tightrope as fresh hurdles threaten to delay pipeline project

International oil major TotalEnergies will on October 10 answer to charges of environmental and human rights abuse before the European Union parliament in Brussels in a new threat to the actualisation of its East African Crude Oil Pipeline (Eacop) and related upstream oil projects in Uganda’s Lake Albert region.

The European parliament has summoned chief executive Patrick Pouyanné to Brussels to justify the project that the lawmakers denounced last week.

He will appear before the parliamentary Committee on Environment, Food and Natural Resources, as well as that of Human Rights. The outcome will determine how the company navigates this latest crisis.

Hit by opposition from environmentalists on one side and beleaguered by financiers on the other, Total is now walking a tightrope as it pushes ahead with the Eacop.

Last week, the European Union parliament passed a resolution calling for the French oil major and its joint venture partners to delay the projects by one year, to address environmental and human rights concerns.

That decision was dismissed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who said the country will look for alternatives if Total obeys the European Parliament.

The oil company, siding with President Museveni, has also vowed that the projects – now in the development phase – will not be halted.

As Total pondered how to navigate this crisis, President Museveni was on a warpath with the company, whose 62 percent stake makes it the biggest shareholder in Eacop. Uganda National Oil Corporation (UNOC) and Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation own 15 a percent stake each, with China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) owning eight percent shareholding.

First, while meeting ruling party MPs’ caucus on September 16, the president warned that should TotalEnergies cave in to pressure from the EU parliament and halt Eacop or pull out of the project agreement, he is ready to drag them to the international court of arbitration.

He later tweeted dismissing the EU parliament’s resolution but more significantly, he fired a warning shot at the French oil giant.

“We should remember that TotalEnergies convinced me about the pipeline idea; if they choose to listen to the EU parliament, we shall find someone else to work with,” read the tweet on September 16.

Total is a corporate citizen of the EU and could be swayed by the lawmakers.

However, it is obvious that the EU parliament’s resolution has shaken government officials in Uganda’s ministry of Energy, as well as those at TotalEnergies and the Eacop Company, who have all previously been very economic with information. They are all now scrambling to volunteer information about the project, either through media briefing or on their websites.

For example, the Eacop Company this week uploaded on its portal the status of compensation of project affected persons (PAPS) – a key tenet on which the EU censure is partly based, as well as the environmental and social impact assessment.

Before the Brussels resolution, this information was not available.

Displaced persons

With construction slated to start by end of this year, only 331 out of a total of 9,513 Eacop’s PAPs in Tanzania will be physically displaced and have been selected for replacement housing, but the website says “construction of these houses is ongoing” without giving completion timelines.

In Uganda, out of 3,648 PAPs, only 203 will be physically displaced, and majority of these have elected for replacement housing. These too are under construction according to the website, but no completion dates are given.

The EU parliament resolution puts the figure of those affected at more than 100,000 – mainly farmers, who are already being displaced from their lands without prior and fair compensation, a number that the resolution also quotes as putting communities at imminent risk of displacement.

Uganda government agencies are also sweating to dispel claims that Eacop will cross numerous protected ecosystems, which will be impacted by the heated pipe operating at 50 degrees Celsius. Officials counter that there only five small rivers and out of the 1,443km of the pipeline, only eight percent is a forest reserve.

Protected areas

The EU resolution called for an end to the extractive activities in protected and sensitive ecosystems, including the shores of Lake Albert, referring to the 132 wells that Total plans to dig into the Murchison Falls National Park.

“They will find it very hard to navigate past this,” said Omar Elmawi, co-ordinator of the Stop Eacop campaign, a network of organisations opposed to the project.

“This project has many problems. The biggest amongst them is the human rights violations,” he added.

EU parliament resolutions often bite those targeted if the European Council, the arm that implements policy, adopts them. So far, the council has said little.

TotalEnergies has kept a brave face in the face of the EU parliamentary resolution’s far reaching ramifications, which could put on hold the $10 billion investment.

The project was signed off in February this year by TotalEnergies with joint venture partners CNOOC and Uganda National Oil Company.

Since the resolution was passed on September 15, the French oil giant has played the sovereignty card, tweeting that Uganda and Tanzania are sovereign states that have made the strategic choice to exploit their natural resources to contribute to the development of their countries, and as such, are not bound by resolutions of the EU parliament.

“TotalEnergies recalls the significance of the Lake Albert/Eacop project for Uganda and Tanzania, and we shall do our utmost to ensure the project is carried out in an extremely exemplary manner in terms of transparency, shared prosperity, social and economic progress and sustainable development, including the environment and respect for human rights,” said Pouyanné.

“The EU resolution to stop the construction of pipeline is not binding on all nations in the world, Europe, European Commission or even a sovereign country like Uganda or Tanzania,” said Ali Ssekatawa, the director of Legal and Corporate Affairs at the Uganda Petroleum Authority.

“The progression of our project will go ahead, and even rigs that are needed to extract oil have reached Mombasa, and efforts are underway to bring them to Hoima and Buliisa so that they start operating,” Ssekatawa added.

Sticking with schedule

Indeed, executives of TotalEnergies and state-owned UNOC say the projects will proceed according to schedule, with site preparation for the two upstream oil production infrastructure at Kingfisher and Tilenga currently underway.

The joint venture partners – TotalEnergies, CNOOC and UNOC – target commercial production of oil and gas in 2025, and are prepared to defy EU calls to delay the project.

The projects main infrastructure is a $5 billion 1,443km long pipeline from Hoima in western Uganda to the Tanzania port of Tanga.

The EU resolution piles on a series of financial and reputational crises that Eacop faced as well as protests in several cities over the project. There were also delays and postponement due to tax disputes between Uganda and TotalEnergies.

For instance, the shareholders were expected to announce financiers that would put in the project’s debt financing before end of July 2022, according to Peter Muliisa, the chief legal and corporate affairs officer at UNOC.

But UNOC chief Proscovia Nabbanja says the shareholders are yet to reach financial close for the project and are still raising equity contributions, which will make up 40 percent of the required $5 billion, while the remaining chunk is debt financing, which “is proceeding as planned.”

She revealed that all International Finance Corporation standards on the environmental and social impact assessment, land acquisition process and technical standards – which are key to obtaining financing – have been achieved and verified by independent auditors hired by lenders.

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Rwanda, DR Congo differ on M23 threat, offer parallel solutions in French mediation

Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo agree that M23 and other armed militia are a major security threat and are hurting bilateral ties. However, the two countries are prescribing different solutions to the problem.

This week in New York, presidents Felix Tshisekedi of DR Congo and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame met under mediation of French President Emmanuel Macron. They agreed to resume talks on how to tackle the M23 threat.

“The two presidents agreed to act together to obtain, as soon as possible, the withdrawal of the M23 from all occupied regions and the return of displaced people to their homes, with the support of the United Nations and their partners in the African Union, the East African Community and the Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR),” the DR Congo presidency said in a statement.

The dispatch said President Kagame and President Tshisekedi “have also agreed to intensify their co-operation in the long term to fight against impunity and put an end to the action of armed groups in the Great Lakes region, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). These efforts will take place within the framework of existing regional peace initiatives, including the Nairobi process.”

Kigali did not release the “joint statement” but indicates that the leaders had discussed solutions to the conflict in the DR Congo’s eastern region.

The New York meeting, however, was preceded by harsh words for Rwanda by President Tshisekedi in a speech on Tuesday at the UN General Assembly.

He said that Rwanda was undermining peace efforts in the DRC.

“Despite my goodwill for the search of peace, some neighbours have found no better way to thank us than to aggress and support armed groups that are ravaging eastern Congo,” he said.

President Tshisekedi added: “In defiance of international law, [Rwanda] has once again not only interfered in the DR Congo since March by direct incursions of its armed forces, but also occupies localities in North Kivu province by an armed terrorist group, the M23, to which it provides massive support in terms of equipment and troops.”

President Kagame hit back a day later, noting that the insecurity situation in eastern DRC had exposed Rwanda to “cross border attacks that are entirely preventable”.

“The blame game does not solve the problems,” he said in his speech to the UN General Assembly.

“There is an urgent need to find the political will to finally address the root cause of instability in eastern DR Congo. These challenges are not insurmountable and solutions can be found. This would ultimately be much less costly in terms of both money and human lives,” President Kagame added.

Tensions have persisted, with officials from both governments telling The EastAfrican that no progress has been registered since the height of hostilities earlier this year.

“There is no improvement in relations at all. DR Congo has insisted on Rwanda as its scapegoat for the insecurity in the east, even when they have so many rebel groups operating there,” a Rwandan official said on condition of anonymity.

Kinshasa sees Rwanda as a state aggressor, particularly with the capture of Bunagana town by the M23 rebels. Rwanda sees the DRC as a supporter of former genocide masterminds FDLR group, which is hiding in DR Congo.

“Bunagana has to be free for RwandAir to be allowed to resume flights to DR Congo. This is DR Congo saying, ‘M23 is Rwanda’,” a DRC official told The EastAfrican.

Takeover

Since June, M23 rebels have controlled Bunagana town in the North Kivu province that borders Uganda.

The advance of M23 culminated in the suspension of RwandAir flights to the DRC, as well as the shelling of rockets into Rwandan territory by the Congolese army.

This week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told France 24, that the only way to achieve peace is through “serious” discussions between the DR Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

“We need to have a joint perspective to avoid this situation that always takes us backwards when we make progress.

“These countries need to understand each other. These countries must co-operate effectively for the security of the Congo and also to guarantee security in Rwanda and Uganda.”

The DRC and Rwanda had opened dialogue under a Joint Commission. But the two countries have only had one meeting, in late July. Previously, the Joint Commission had not met for 10 years.

After the resurgence of the M23 rebels, this year the DRC accused Rwanda of supporting the Congolese rebels militarily and in the supply of arms.

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Uganda increases surveillance as it confirms six more Ebola cases

Uganda’s Ministry of Health on Thursday reported six new cases of Ebola, raising the total number of confirmed cases to seven.

On Tuesday, the country confirmed the first fatality from the disease after a 24-year-old man died in Mubende District, central Uganda, and was confirmed to have been infected with the virus.

“As of today, we have seven confirmed cases – one confirmed Ebola death and seven probable [Ebola] deaths. We have listed 43 contacts [of the victims] and we are doing contact tracing,” said Dr Henry Kyobe, the Ebola Incident Commander.

Read: Focus on prevention, no vaccine for rare Ebola strain, Uganda told

He added that they forecast an increase in infections but actions are underway to protect the population and health workers.

“There are trial drugs using the monoclonal antibody technology. Largely, the treatment is mainly on supportive care. This [Sudan] strain has no vaccine,” Dr Kyobe said.

“For now we are concentrating on making sure we inform the population about what it is, guiding them on the measures to be able to protect [themselves], guiding them to show us where contacts are –identify them to be able to get patients early in care.”

Read: Kenya on high alert after Ebola outbreak in Uganda

Also read: South Sudan on high alert after Ebola outbreak in Uganda

Meanwhile, health authorities in Uganda are increasing surveillance and contact tracing of Ebola cases, widening their nets to many more parts of the country in a bid to control the spread of disease.

Health ministry spokesperson, Emmanuel Ainebyoona, told The East African on Thursday that the ministry had mapped out 13 districts, in the proximity of the Mubende epicentre, for contact tracing with more than 42 contacts identified by Thursday.

“We have also deployed our rapid response teams to all these districts which will orient health workers and prepare them for a possible outbreak,” he said.

The rapid response units will also be tasked with activating district health task forces, risk communication to communities and evaluation of laboratory preparedness in all the 13 districts earmarked as vulnerable.

Earlier in the week, Dr Diana Atwine, Uganda’s Permanent Secretary at the Health ministry, expressed worry over the fact that the country only has in store vaccines for the Zaire strain that has twice affected it, but not for the current Sudan strain it now faces.

According to Mr Bayo Fatunmbi, the head of disease prevention and control at the World Health Organization office in Kampala, vaccines for the Sudan Strain are currently being tested.

The Sudan strain was first recorded in Sudan in 1976 and in Uganda in 2011.

Uganda has experienced three Ebola outbreaks with its deadliest being that of 2000 that killed hundreds of people, including the lead medic Dr Matthew Lukwiya.

Around the country public places, authorities have heightened surveillance and are encouraging hand washing and proper disposal of waste.

In Mubende district which is the current epicentre of the outbreak, local leaders have ordered markets and entertainment places to close while crowded parties and burial are being restricted.

On Wednesday, the ministry of health issued new measures and standard operating procedures to inform national response to curb the spread of the contagion to both health workers and the public.

These measures include hand hygiene and proper use of Personal Protective Equipment; cleaning and waste management; safety with laboratory samples; managing exposure to the virus; burial protocol; and reducing home transmission risk.

Uganda’s neighbours Kenya and South Sudan have already heightened surveillance for the disease after Kampala confirmed its first case earlier in the week.

South Sudan has stepped up vigilance along its borders with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ainebyona said that Uganda is currently not worried about the border areas since the outbreak is far from border districts.

Ebola is a highly contagious disease transmitted to people from animals and rapidly spreads through human-to-human infection.

First identified in 1976 in the DRC, the virus, whose natural host is the bat, has since set off a series of epidemics in Africa, killing around 15,000 people.

Human transmission is through body fluids, with the main symptoms being fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea.

Outbreaks are difficult to contain, especially in urban environments.

People who are infected do not become contagious until symptoms appear, which is after an incubation period of between two and 21 days.

At present, there is no licensed medication to prevent or treat Ebola, although a range of experimental drugs are in development and thousands have been vaccinated in the DRC and some neighbouring countries.

The worst epidemic in West Africa between 2013 and 2016 killed more than 11,300 alone. The DRC has had more than a dozen epidemics, the deadliest killing 2,280 people in 2020. It is currently battling another outbreak

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Campaigners want health funding cuts reversed amid Africa crises

Global leaders have been challenged to reverse funding cuts to vital health services for women, children and adolescents caused by Covid-19, conflict and climate change.

Civil society groups and health professionals, speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, said there was an urgent need for targeted investment in programmes and policies to tackle the devastating social and economic impact of crises, including the food crisis in Africa and the conflict in the Democratic of Congo (DRC).

 “It is essential for citizens to be heard at the highest levels of government and leadership. Leaders need to understand what people want, and to play their part as champions in creating robust and responsive health systems and communities,” said Helen Clark, the board chair of Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), at a breakfast meeting on Thursday.

Covid-19 has led to food price hikes and the overall rise in the cost of living in most African countries. Some countries have been limiting access to food and other essentials, even if food is available at increased prices in local markets.

Read: Drought-ravaged Horn of Africa in need of funding: envoy

About 5.5 million children in East Africa are facing high levels of malnutrition due to the compounding effects of Covid-19, intense drought, and the Ukraine crisis. About 97 million more people are living on less than $1.90 a day because of the pandemic, increasing the global poverty rate from 7.8 percent to 9.1 percent.

Data from the World Health Organisation, for instance, shows that in 2021 alone, 25 million children did not receive the basic vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis on account of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.

Further, conflict in Africa increased women’s mortality by 112 deaths per 100,000 person-years which translates to a 21 percent increase above the baseline.

The DRC continues to witness one of the most complex and long-standing humanitarian crises arising from conflict. More than 27 million people face severe and acute food insecurity, with nearly 5.5 million IDPs forced to move sometimes several times. Some 500,000 refugees and asylum seekers are hosted in neighboring countries.

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Kenya’s Ruto: Climate crisis ‘Africa’s biggest problem’

Kenya’s President William Ruto on Wednesday asked continental colleagues to see the climate crisis as Africa’s biggest problem, suggesting more financial focus on taming its effects.

Speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, the President indicated while the world should focus on rebuilding from the Covid-19 pandemic and other crises, Africa may find itself hurt more by climate change, in spite of contributing the least of its causes.

“While these are important issues affecting the entire world, the greatest challenge that connects our world is Climate Change: unfortunately, due to many pressing concerns, CoP27 has not been given the prominence it deserves,” he told a gathering of African leaders at the continental meeting of the 3rd Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC).

The Committee is expected to push for one voice for the continent ahead of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (CoP27) due in Egypt in November this year.

Africa produced under four percent of greenhouse gases, the pollutants that have caused global warming over the past decades, contributing to irregular climate such as frequent floods, longer droughts as well as the spread of pests like desert locusts.

Adaptation funding

Senegalese President Macky Sall, the current African Union chairman, said Africa must be given its adequate share of resources to adapt to climate change.

“It is legitimate, fair and equitable that Africa, the continent that pollutes the least and lags furthest behind in the industrialisation process, should exploit its available resources to provide basic energy, improve the competitiveness of its economy and achieve universal access to electricity,” President Sall told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. 

“We see adaptation funding not as aid, but as a contribution by industrialised countries to a global partnership of solidarity, in return for efforts by developing countries to avoid the polluting patterns that have plunged the planet into the current climate emergency,” he said.

Under the Paris Agreement on climate change, developed countries are to raise $100 million annually for mitigation programmes in developing countries. The pledge has never been fulfilled, however.

An earlier dispatch from Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had indicated President Ruto would insist on more focus on climate change because Kenya sees most other problems tied to it. According to President Ruto, African countries have already been doing their bit to ensure mitigation, including 10 percent of GDP annual allocations.“

African countries will need financial and technical support for a just transition to low carbon, clean technologies to drive our industrial and productive sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure development and job creation.

“It is my hope that we will, at CoP27, call for enhanced adaptation efforts, fulfilment and implementation of pledges.

“Building resilience to address the multiple crises and risks, while ensuring the impact of climate change on Africa remain high on the global political agenda, and must remain a priority for CAHOSCC.”

President Ruto gave his maiden speech to the Assembly, as head of state, on Wednesday night. Watch here

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Ruto to rally African leaders on climate change

enya’s President William Ruto will use his maiden trip to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York to rally African peers to raise their voice on the danger of climate change.

Africa is expected to be take the biggest hit from climate change.

Dr Ruto is expected in New York on Tuesday afternoon to attend the 77th UN General Assembly. He will be travelling from London where he had attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Monday.

A tentative programme from the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Ruto will meet African heads of state to discuss climate change and its effects, including the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa and flooding in Sudan.

“In his capacity as Coordinator, President Dr Ruto will also chair a meeting of the Conference of African Heads of State on Climate Crisis (CAHOSCC),” said a dispatch from the Ministry on Monday.

“The 77th UNGA coincides with the worst drought in the Horn of Africa with many countries in the region, including Kenya, are experiencing unprecedented effects in the last forty years.

“At the United Nations Headquarters, Kenya will seek to promote its foreign policy at the multilateral system including enhancing participation in the quest for realisation of SDGs and global leadership in emerging issues including climate change.”

Dr Ruto is scheduled to address the General Assembly for the first time as head of state, although he had given a speech here in 2016 then as Deputy President representing President Uhuru Kenyatta.

According to the schedule of speeches publicised by the UN, he will speak in the afternoon on Wednesday just after the Slovenian representative.

US President Joe Biden will kick off the speeches and will be followed by representatives from Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Zambia, Libya and Moldova.

As is tradition, leaders converge in New York every September for the UNGA where they give speeches, hold bilateral meetings and attend mini conferences on issues important to their countries.

This year’s UNGA theme is “A watershed moment: Transformative solutions to interlocking challenges”, under which leaders are expected to discuss the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the global energy crisis, climate change, and the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In his inauguration speech last week, Dr Ruto promised to place climate change among priority items to deal with.

“Among the central concerns of my government will be climate change. In our country, women and men, young people, farmers, workers and local communities suffer the consequences of climate emergency,” he said, suggesting he will encourage alternatives to fossil fuels.
“Africa has the opportunity to lead the world. We have immense potential for renewable energy. Reducing costs of renewal energy technologies make these the most viable energy source. We call on all African states to join us in this journey.”

Egypt is due to host the upcoming UN Conference of Parties (Cop27) on climate change in November. And African countries have demanded financial backing to pledges meant to lower temperature rise and for technological transfer to help adapt to changes. 

At the UN, Kenya is finishing its final year as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and Dr Ruto is expected to meet with various leaders whose countries sit on the Council.

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Tanzanian minister calls for talks over water shortage in the capital

Tanzania is organising a meeting of stakeholders to discuss ways of ending water shortage in the capital Dodoma.

Minister for Water Jumaa Aweso on Sunday announced plans to convene the meeting when he launched the third phase of the country’s Water Sector Development Program, a five-year initiative estimated to cost $6.5 billion.

He said the meeting will be attended by officials from the Ministry of Finance and Planning and development partners.

He, however, did not confirm when the meeting would take place.

Aweso said the national capital of Dodoma should be supplied with adequate water to meet the demands of a growing city.

Residents and leaders have for a long time complained of water crisis in Dodoma.

Earlier this year, Tanzania and the African Development Bank signed a $125.2 million loan agreement for a project that will help address water shortages in three districts in the country’s Dodoma region.

Read: Dar es Salaam hit by power, water rationing as rivers dry up

The Dodoma Resilient and Sustainable Water Development and Sanitation Program (Phase I) is set to benefit more than two million residents in the Bahi, Chemba and Chamwino districts, which have suffered droughts and recorded high population growth.

Last November, the country’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam faced power and water rationing blamed on low water volumes in rivers and dams following a drought.

The dire situation has prompted the Law and Human Rights Center (LHRC) to call on the government to take short and long-term measures to mitigate the situation.

The LHRC urged the government to adopt strategies to ensure sufficient supply of water, including digging deep wells, monitoring water sources and taking measures to ensure they work efficiently. The LHRC also urged the government to allocate a sufficient budget for water harvesting projects.

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Tanzania is organising a meeting of stakeholders to discuss ways of ending water shortage in the capital Dodoma. Minister for Water Jumaa Aweso on Sunday announced plans to convene the […]

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How two Kenyan nurses swindled Boston state out of $100 million

Before the law caught up with them, Winnie Waruru, 42, and Faith Newton, 52, lived large in America.

One drove a Maserati, an Italian luxury brand known for its exclusive styling, and the other one a Range Rover. As dollar millionaires, they kept their lives private and few Kenyans had heard about the two nurses whose fortunes seemed endless. In addition to their lavish lifestyles, they had five properties in the US and operated 40 bank accounts.

The US government now claims that the two Kenyans swindled Boston state out of $100 million in healthcare fraud. They are alleged to have paid kickbacks to obtain referrals and retain patients over a five-year period.

US detectives watched their transactions that ran into millions of dollars for many months.

Last week, Waruru pleaded guilty before US Senior District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr, who has scheduled sentencing for January 12, 2023, according to a release by US Attorney Rachael Rollins. Newton’s case will continue.

Detectives allege that between January 2013 and January 2017, the two used Arbor Homecare Services LLC as a conduit to siphon $100 million from MassHealth and Medicare – a program that provides health coverage primarily for people with low incomes – by claiming refunds and filing false statements. They then closed down the company.

With a budget running into billions of dollars, MassHealth, which pays for personal care attendants, medical equipment, and specific prescription, has been a target of swindlers who first apply to become providers through registered companies. The healthcare company nurses are supposed to attend to vulnerable members and then bill the programme for reimbursement.

Both Waruru and Newton were accused of “conspiracy to commit health care fraud” and for billing for healthcare services that they never provided. They are also charged with making false statements to MassHealth.

The federal government has filed a civil action to seize the duo’s properties and freeze their bank accounts, which held millions of dollars.

The court papers say that Newton was part-owner and operator of Arbor Homecare Services LLC, while Waruru was a licensed practical nurse. On paper, Waruru was “employed” by Arbor Care Homecare Services, but, according to court records, she was more than that.

To get more money, they are said to have entered into “sham” employment relationships with family members of MassHealth patients and purported to provide unnecessary medical care, billed as “visits”. For example, Arbor would reimburse a relative staying with a relative member for fictitious nurse visits in a scheme that went undetected between January 2013 and January 2017. It would then make claims to MassHealth.

The two are also said to have been paying kickbacks to patients under their care to retain them as part of Arbor Homecare Services LLC. Detectives alleged that Waruru “caused Arbor to bill MassHealth over $1.2 million (Sh120 million) in fraudulent nursing visits” and “passed money from Newton to two Arbor patients in order to retain them.”

By luring the patients into the scheme, the two billed for services that were neither rendered nor needed.

According to the prosecutor, “Arbor, through Newton and others, developed employment relationships” with patients’ relatives who purported to offer services. They would also pay kickbacks for patient referrals, regardless of medical necessity requirements, in a scheme that saw Arbor’s income run into millions. By entering into “sham” employment relationships with patients’ family members, according to the prosecution, it was easy for Arbor to purport “to provide home health aide services that were not medically necessary and routinely billed for fictitious visits that did not occur”.

For instance, said the charge sheet, “Waruru and Arbor billed MassHealth for Waruru’s skilled nursing visits, many of which she did not perform, were medically unnecessary, or were not approved by a physician.”

According to the civil complaint, Newton targeted low-income, disabled, and/or people with mental health issues. Additionally, Newton is alleged to have laundered the illegally acquired wealth.

The court records indicate that Arbor was registered by a Mr Njoroge Muiruri, a registered nurse, and it ceased to exist in 2017 after he filed a certificate of cancellation with the Massachusetts Secretary of State. It is not clear whether the company folded due to the investigations.

The indictments of health care fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering conspiracy, and money laundering each offer a jail term of up to 10 years, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the amount of the money involved in the laundering.

The conspiracy to pay kickbacks, make false statements, and make a false statement in health care matters each provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.

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Before the law caught up with them, Winnie Waruru, 42, and Faith Newton, 52, lived large in America. One drove a Maserati, an Italian luxury brand known for its exclusive […]

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Consumers in Kenya hit by fuel and electricity cost shocks

Kenya’s economic situation deteriorated further as consumers woke up to a record increase in fuel and electricity prices in the same week that the nation’s new leader, President William Ruto, was sworn in.

The record-high fuel surcharge comes at a time when the government and the International Monetary Fund have agreed to end the fuel subsidies that have been cushioning consumers.

The abolishment of the fuel subsidy has seen prices surge by about 15 percent, inflicting more pain to households and businesses that are grappling with the skyrocketing cost of living.

In addition to the removal of the subsidy, the situation has been compounded by the weakening shilling against the dollar, and the annual inflation adjustment levy of 6.3 percent.

The levy will be imposed on imports, including fuel (petrol, diesel and kerosene), by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) from October 1.

The levy will result in an increase of excise duty on products such as fruit juices, bottled water, beer, and motorcycles, according to KRA’s Legal Notice on Draft Rates of Excise Duty for Inflation Adjustment 2022.

The shilling fell to a low of Ksh120.41 against the dollar on September 14 from Ksh120.33 against the greenback on September 9, increasing the debt repayment obligations of an economy grappling with over Ksh8.6 trillion ($71.66 billion) debt.

President Ruto, under the Kenya Kwanza coalition, were elected on a platform of economic transformation, administration of justice to all, and the financial empowerment of the masses, popularly known as “hustlers”, through his bottom-up economic model.

Rising retail prices

The regulator, Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra), said the new retail prices of fuel are in line with the cost of imported refined petroleum products and the government’s policy to progressively remove the subsidy.

Following the changes that took effect on Thursday, the retail price of a litre of petrol, diesel and kerosene in Nairobi has increased by Ksh20.18 ($0.16), Ksh25 ($0.2) and Ksh20 ($0.16) to Ksh179.13 ($1.49), Ksh165 ($1.37) and Ksh147.94 ($1.23), respectively.

Epra had retained the retail prices of fuel for July and August, with the pump price for super petrol, diesel and kerosene in Nairobi trading at Ksh159.12 ($1.32), Ksh140 ($1.16) and Ksh127.94 ($1.06), respectively. Earlier, Epra said in a statement that the average landed cost of imported super petrol, diesel, and kerosene for the month of August declined by 24.31 percent, 13.9 percent and 19.07 percent, respectively.

The regulator also noted that although the subsidy on super petrol has been removed, a subsidy of Ksh20.82 ($0.17) per litre of diesel and Ksh26.25 ($0.21) per litre of kerosene had been retained to cushion consumers.

Without the subsidy, the retail prices of diesel and kerosene would have been Ksh185.82 ($1.54) per lire and Ksh174.19 ($1.45) per litre, respectively.

Also read: Kenya’s oil dealers warn of looming fuel crisis

Inflation

The country’s overall inflation rose for the sixth consecutive month to 8.5 percent in August, from 8.3 percent in July, largely driven by high fuel and food prices.

This is against the government monetary goal of five percent, with a flexible margin of 2.5 percent on either side in the event of adverse shocks.

During the week, Epra also raised electricity prices by 15.7 percent, reversing the reduction by 15 percent in January this year.

The regulator also increased the pass-through cost including fuel, forex and inflation adjustments, pushing the price of a kilowatt hour unit to Ksh25.3 ($0.21) for domestic consumers who use more than a 100 units in a month.

KRA’s move to implement the annual inflation adjustment levy will make life even harder for the struggling taxpayers.

The indexation of specific rates of excise duty to adjust for the inflationary erosion of collected taxes was introduced through the Excise Act 2015.

However, the manner in which the new rates were to be adjusted has been reviewed and revised since the Act took effect in December 2015.

In 2017, the adjustment of the specific rates of Excise duty was initially proposed to be made once every two years.

But the proposal was reversed in 2018 to every year, according to consultancy firm Ernst &Young through its Tax Alert (2020).

The Finance Act (2020) amended the provision in the Excise Duty Act relating to annual inflation adjustment by requiring KRA’s Commissioner General to seek an approval from the Cabinet Secretary for Treasury and Planning to adjust the specific rates of duty.

Thereafter, the adjustment notice is expected to be set before the National Assembly within seven days of publication and approved by the Assembly within 28 days.

High taxation

The government has come under heavy criticism for the increase in fuel prices in the country through over taxation, with the cost per litre of fuel consisting close to 50 percent taxes.

Barely two weeks ago, Kenya Pipeline Corporation (KPC) warned of an imminent fuel shortage in Nairobi and the western parts of the country due to the delayed compensation to oil marketing companies.

KPC, which is mandated to transport, store and deliver petroleum products to consumers, said the risk of fuel stock-out has increased owing to low uplifts of AGO (diesel).

In a letter to the Principal Secretary in the state department of Petroleum and Mining, Andrew Kamau, dated September 7, KPC managing director Macharia Irungu said the timely delivery and replenishment of petrol and kerosene has been adversely affected owing to the low uplift of diesel.

“Our mandate to transport petroleum through the multiproduct pipelines to the KPC storage locations has been greatly affected by the low uplifts witnessed since beginning of July 2022,” said Mr Irungu.

“As you are aware AGO (diesel) being the carrier product of all other grades in the pipelines is the most affected with the daily average uplift volume dropping from 11,500 cubic metres to 9,000 cubic metres, marking a 30 percent drop. This has directly affected timely delivery and replenishment of MSP (petrol) and DPK (kerosene).”

According to KPC the low uplifts has led to stock-outs and delays in the replenishment of petrol, illuminating kerosene and jet fuel in the KPC locations.

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Cybercriminals on the continent target East African firms most

Businesses in East Africa have reported the highest number of cyber-attacks in Africa, implying the rising threats that come with massive digital transformation.

A survey by audit firm KPMG focusing on 300 companies, both large corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), reveals that about three in 10 businesses in the region have fallen victim to cyber-attacks.

The survey blames this on “rapid development and adoption of digital technology across business sectors with limited expertise and awareness around technology and digital infrastructure.”

About nine in ten firms in the region are currently undertaking a digital transformation or have already finished transitioning, compared to 82 percent in West Africa.

John Anyanwu, Africa cyber lead at KPMG, said many economies in the continent have managed to shake off pandemic woes and the effects of other shocks to increase “consumption and adoption of digital technologies at grassroot level.”

The threats

But cybercriminals have revamped their tactics to prey on unsuspecting organisations, primarily posting ransomware, business email compromise and data leakage threats to firms across the continent.

“Today, there is a much larger focus needed on not only mitigating threats, but in the way organisations are set up to deal with them,” said Anthony Muiyuro, cyber lead at KPMG East Africa.

Even so, a quarter of firms across the continent are yet to develop any form of strategy to prevent or deal with cyber-attacks, with only 34 percent of those with a strategy having independent cyber and information security functions.

“This function should be a strategic focus, cut across all business functions. Therefore, establishing an independent information security function is touted as a critical success factor for mature information risk management,” Mr Muiyuro said.

In East Africa, where there is the most threat, 77 percent of businesses have well-defined and regularly reviewed cyber strategies, even though all countries in the region except the Democratic Republic of Congo have established cyber security legislation that requires some form of information protection.

Budget constraints and shortage of skills still hinder African companies’ efforts at building strategies and security operation centres.

While 55 percent of African firms said they are planning on recruiting cybersecurity professionals in the next 12 months, more than two-thirds of the companies find it hard to recruit and retain qualified personnel.

A 2022 report by the International Systems Audit and Control Association estimates that there are currently three million cyber security job vacancies globally that remain unfilled, and this is projected to rise to 10 million in the next few years.

Other challenges that impair organizations’ ability to establish cybersecurity strategies include an influx in the number of security alerts reported, difficulty managing and analyzing related data, and lack of documented processes.

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How Kenya’s unemployment rate rose highest in East Africa

The number of Kenyans out of work has doubled over a decade of infrastructure-fuelled economic growth and faster adoption of technology that has left East Africa’s largest economy with the highest unemployment rate in the region.

World Bank data shows 5.7 percent of Kenya’s labour force was out of work in 2021, up from 2.8 percent when the Jubilee administration took over in 2013.

In the same period, unemployment as a portion of the labour force fell from 2.9 percent in 2013 to 2.6 percent in Tanzania while the rate went up in Ethiopia from 2.3 percent to 3.7 percent.

In Uganda unemployment rose from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent while in Rwanda the rate rose from 1.2 percent to 1.6 percent.

The Kenyan economy has grown by an average of 5.0 percent but this growth has come from capital-intensive infrastructure projects which have not trickled down to the average citizen.

Analysts say the country’s private sector has also rapidly taken up technology that saw massive job cuts, especially in the services like insurance and banking.

Kenya’s unemployed is almost twice the 2.7 percent East African average, with Rwanda having the lowest rate of unemployment at 1.6 percent.

Tanzania, which had a higher rate of unemployment than Kenya in 2013, has lowered its rate below second-placed Ethiopia and third-placed Uganda in the region.

“One of the reasons is the greater adoption of technology which led to a rise in unemployment. Remember banks and fintech shedding jobs?” Prof XN Iraki, an economist at the University of Nairobi, said.

“Secondly, there has been less than expected economic growth, we never reached the magical 10 percent envisaged in Vision 2030. The growth has also been driven by large capital projects which are not labour-intensive.”

The incoming government has the difficult task of kick-starting an economy deeply troubled by high inflation and a lack of jobs.

The Kenya Kwanza administration faces the uphill task of delivering poll promises on jobs, cost of living, economic reforms, infrastructure and housing amid a public sector job freeze and a slump in the private sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The situation is worsened by the more than one million young people who graduate from colleges and universities annually in an economic setting that is plagued by reduced hiring on the back of sluggish corporate earnings.

Companies have also been shedding jobs due to technology. For instance, the rise of mobile banking has allowed lenders to reach customers directly, reducing the need for physical locations in a move that has also led to massive job losses among clerical staff.

Banks shed 6,574 clerical jobs between 2014 and 2019 as they move towards digital banking over mobile phones, allowing lenders to employ technology to eliminate mundane tasks, manage costs and increase efficiency.

Prof Iraki says that over the last decade most of the country’s resources have also been spent unwisely, especially by county governments, which devolved corruption and failed to stimulate the economy by consuming Exchequer issues instead of funding development.

The Jubilee administration also failed to deliver job growth due to unfriendly practices like the failure to settle half-a-trillion shilling pending bills that killed many small businesses due to cash flow constraints.

Latest Treasury statistics show pending bills climbed to Sh504.7 billion at the end of the last financial year in June, a 40.39 percent jump over Sh359.5 billion the previous year, making it the biggest annual jump on record.

“Resources sucked into the public sector after devolution were not as efficiently used as expected. They would have created more jobs if they were in the private sector,” Prof Iraki said.

“The regulatory environment has also not been friendly to job creators. Beyond covid-19 stimulus, we have rarely stimulated our economy.”

Kenya has a youth bulge, with 18-34-year-olds making up 25 percent of the population, and those below 15 making up 43 percent.

This part of the population can be a blessing or a curse, for instance fuelling crime and social unrest. Without jobs, insurance or pension when they advance in age, they will weigh heavily on the state’s health and social spending.

Prof Iraki said for businesses the huge number of unemployed youth could bring labour costs down and would be ideal for companies producing goods for exports.

A large number of jobless youth, however, means companies do not see market potential as they will not be able to afford goods and services, thus making the country unattractive for investments targeting local consumers.

“High unemployment rate could put pressure to reduce wages and salaries and investors should be cheered by such low wages. But the low purchasing power would discourage them too unless they are producing for the export market,” Prof Iraki said.

“This might not have a big effect regionally because labour mobility is not that high in Africa. But we have seen Kenyans seeking jobs abroad.”

Kenyans are indeed going abroad in search of jobs with the Central Bank of Kenya Diaspora Remittance Survey indicating 63.6 percent of Kenyans in East Africa left their motherland in search of jobs.

The exodus has not always meant better fortunes given the Survey indicated that income levels are lowest in Asia and East Africa where the majority of respondents earn less than $2,000 per annum, which is a pointer to the type of jobs held by migrants.

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Kampala reels under burden of unbearable noise and air pollution

Early Sunday morning, a booming voice off the speaker of a church about 100 metres from my house in Kampala’s Kawempe suburb, wakes me up and keeps me awake all the way to 7am when I finally decide enough is enough.

I head to the church to ask whoever is responsible to reduce the noise. To my surprise – and dismay – there are only two people in the church: preaching to an empty house.

My pleas to have them reduce the sound fall on deaf ears, and I will have to endure their utterly unnecessary noise for the whole day.

Uganda’s Noise Standards and Control Regulations restrict noise levels to 40 decibels in residential areas and 60 decibels in commercial areas.

Sacred cows

In my estimates, however, this particular church – and indeed most churches in Kampala – emit noise levels not below 100 decibels at any one time. According to Ugandan law, this is an offence punishable by up to 18 months in jail or a fine of up to Ush18 million – or both.

There are many churches that send out preachers onto the streets daily or on particular days and the cacophony of noise from the speakers they use and hooting from vehicles.

“Places of worship, bars and schools that are set up in residential areas are always bound to emit unacceptable levels of noise, but it is Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) that is mandated to regulate them because it is the body that issues the operating licenses,” says Tony Achidria, the senior communications officer at the National Environment Management Authority.

But it seems like KCCA lets many entities abuse their licenses and be disruptive. In February, Dorothy Kisaka, the executive director of KCCA, hosted over 1,000 Kampala bar owners to address the increasing noise pollution in the city.

She noted that most complaints to city authorities concerned “noise pollution, from operations of the bars and people of faith within the five zones of the city,” KCCA said in a news release.

Churches and street preachers seem to get away with noise pollution because people are afraid of inflaming religious sentiments.

In February, Hudu Hussein, the Resident City Commissioner of Kampala city, issued a 30-day ultimatum to street preachers. “Our good pastors, we love you so much but I am giving you an amnesty of 30 days to evacuate the streets. We want a more serious city. All pastors, vendors, beggars and other groups should leave the city,” Hussein said.

His decree got various reactions, with some people supporting him, and others condemning him. Preachers warned Hussein over his hard line he had taken.

Less than a month later, Mr Hussein was transferred from the city to Yumbe, 520km north east of Kampala, in a reshuffle announced by President Yoweri Museveni in March.

Away from the preachers, most Kampala shop owners now place loudspeakers in front of their shops advertising their range of products – exacerbating the cacophony already created by unrelenting motor vehicle horns and sirens that characterise Kampala streets.

The noise makers include more sirens from VIPs than ambulances, police and fire trucks as well as hooting from the thousands of commuter taxis and boda bodas.

Such sleep disruption can lead to sleep disorders while over-exposure to noise pollution can lead to hearing loss.

A recent report by the WHO estimated that up to 1.1 billon people aged between 12 and 35 around the world are at risk of hearing loss due to the noise pollution that now characterise many of the world’s metropolises.

According to Achidria, the major contaminants are dust from unpaved roads, use of wood fuel, burning of domestic solid waste and motor vehicle emissions.

He added that industries contribute the least pollution because they are regularly monitored, and that his organisation was ramping up monitoring across the city to collect enough data that will be used to sensitise the public.

Besides noise and air pollution, increasing water pollution also continues to threaten lives in Kampala, with the biggest offenders being people’s homes because of poor waste management.

“Again, industries don’t pose a serious problem in water pollution because they are few in number and are easily monitored. Monitoring at domestic level is difficult because the homes are way too many,” Mr Achidria said.

The National Water and Sewerage Corporation, mandated to distribute water and manage sewage in the country, says it spends hefty sums of money on treating water to make it fit for human consumption hence the high price of a unit of water, now at Ush4,300 ($1.1). This follows an increase in the past three months.

Still, researchers have found the presence of pathogenic bacteria in the water. The contamination is due to poor waste management and badly-designed pit latrines and release of waste into streams that flow to Lake Victoria.

The poor waste disposal poses a big risk of cholera, typhoid fever and dysentery breaking out in communities that rely on water from these sources, and Kampala has had many outbreaks of cholera in the recent past.

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Uproar over proposal by African leaders to invest in fossil fuels

Climate lobbyists have faulted African leaders over their retrogressive proposal on investment in fossil fuels despite scientists warning that countries should move away from the production and use of the fuels.  Fossil fuels are made from plants and animals that decompose to form natural gas, petroleum and coal.

Scientists have persistently warned that the production of such fuels contributes to greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, which are responsible for the changing climate. This call on investments was done during a meeting held in July by Africa’s technical committee on energy in their 41st Ordinary session, which adopted the African Common Position on Energy Access and Just Transition.

Amani Abou-Zeid, the African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, said such investments push for favourable outcomes in energy and infrastructure. “This is an important and major step forward in ensuring and confirming Africa’s right for a differentiated path towards the goal of universal access to energy, ensuring energy security for our continent and strengthening its resilience, while at the same time acting responsibly towards our planet by improving the energy mix,” he said.

The leaders suggested that natural gas, green and low carbon hydrogen and nuclear energy will play a crucial role in expanding modern energy access in the short to medium term while enhancing the uptake of renewables in the long term for low carbon and climate-resilient trajectory.

Read: ADOW: Why continent should lead the Green Revolution

The damning proposal comes at the backdrop of the backing of the European Union’s recent vote in favour of a new rule that will consider fossil gas and nuclear projects “green,” making them eligible for lost-cost loans and subsidies.

The climate activists now warn that this plan would distract from the clear need for renewable energy such as the use of solar, and embracing fossil fuels, while also shifting dangerous nuclear technologies shunned by Europeans on African soil.

Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, said in a joint statement from the lobbyists that African leaders should be maximising this potential and harnessing the abundant wind and sun, which will help boost energy access and tackle climate change. “Africa is blessed with an abundance of wind, solar and other clean renewable energies.  What Africa does not need is to be shackled with expensive fossil fuel infrastructure, which will be obsolete in a few years as the climate crisis worsens,” said Mr Adow.

This new call is ahead of the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27), a global climate change meeting that will be held in November in Egypt.

Mr Adow added: “It would be a shameful betrayal of African people, already on the front line of the climate crisis, if African leaders use this November’s COP27 climate summit on African soil to lock Africa into a fossil fuel-based future. Africa does not need the dirty energy of the past, it needs forward-looking leadership that can take advantage of the clean energy of the present and future.”

Dr Sixbert Mwanga, the coordinator of Climate Action Network Africa, urges leaders to transfer those resources to renewable energy such as solar, wind, and geothermal, which are safer for the planet. “At COP27, we call for the African Union and African leaders to announce the utilisation of these sources for the benefit of our people and leave aside fossil fuel development for export.”

Read: ATELA: What agenda will an African champion bring to COP27?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which brings together science experts on climate change, warned in its latest report that human activities such as fossil fuel production and use adversely affect our climate. Lorraine Chiponda, Africa Coal Network Coordinator, reiterated this, saying the world needs to cut carbon emissions to prevent catastrophic climate impacts.

“The globe already has seen the temperature rise and we will exceed 1.5ºC by 2030 and suffer an increase in intensity and frequency of climate disasters. The prospect that African leaders are presenting and pushing for gas developments and investment is overwhelming and reckless given the climate impacts that threaten the lives of millions of people in Africa having seen worsening droughts and hunger, recurring floods and cyclones,” she said.

“We have seen in the past the acceleration of gas projects in Africa is another colonial and modern Scramble and Partition of Africa amongst energy corporations and rich countries. Fossil fuel projects have neither solved energy poverty in Africa where 600 million still live in energy poverty nor brought any socio-economic justice to Africans. We shall continue to strengthen calls for a people’s just transition away from fossil fuels,” she added.

One of the contested fossil fuel projects in Africa is the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP), which will be in Uganda and Tanzania. Coordinator #StopEACOP Omar Elmawi said it is time for Africa to invest in green energy that supports and meets African needs and not extract oil and gas for Europe’s needs as we leave all the impacts and destruction to be faced by the African people.

Joab Okanda of the Pan Africa Senior Advocacy Advisor, Christian Aid feels that Africa is being shortchanged by its own leaders. “The African Union is in danger of falling for the con of African gas at a time when other countries are investing in renewables, which will be what powers development and progress in coming decades. It would be the ultimate betrayal of African people if their leaders missed the opportunity to become a renewable energy superpower by locking us into a doomed experiment with fossil fuels that is hurting Africa through climate breakdown.”

SOURCE

Climate lobbyists have faulted African leaders over their retrogressive proposal on investment in fossil fuels despite scientists warning that countries should move away from the production and use of the […]

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Kenya threatens ban on Facebook over hate speech

Kenya has threatened to shut down Facebook over its failure to improve content moderation on hate speech in the run-up to the August 9 elections.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has given the social media giant seven days to adhere to recommendations on taming online hate speech on its platform in the country.

The state agency said Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has been reluctant to take action to combat the spread of hate speech, propaganda and disinformation, escalating the risk of violence ahead of the elections.

Read: Misinformation rears ugly head as Kenya poll campaigns heat up

As such, the commission has asked Facebook to urgently increase the number of content moderators in Kenya, expand its capacity to cover content expressed even in indigenous languages, and deploy integrity systems to “mitigate risk before, during and after the upcoming Kenyan election.”

This follows an investigative report by human rights organization, Global Witness, which revealed that Facebook approved several adverts promoting hate speech in both English and Kiswahili languages.

Jon Lloyd, a senior advisor at Global Witness, said that Facebook approved content that violates its own policy and community standards since it qualified as hate speech and ethnic-based calls to violence.

“Much of the speech was dehumanising, comparing specific tribal groups to animals and calling for rape, slaughter and beheading. We are deliberately not repeating the phrases used here as they are highly offensive,” Mr Lloyd said while presenting the findings to the NCIC.

NCIC Commissioner Dr Danvas Makori said Facebook’s inaction toward the inappropriate content on its platform is an outright violation of the Kenyan Constitution and threatens the peace of the country, especial during this election period.

“The freedom of expression does not extend to propaganda, incitement to violence, hate speech, or advocacy of hatred,” he said. “Facebook violates our laws because they have allowed themselves to be a medium of hate speech, incitement, misinformation, and disinformation.”

Dr Makori said that the commission has already engaged Meta’s representative in the country and informed them of the requirements failure to which the company’s operations in the country will be suspended until they abide.

Last Wednesday, Facebook published a statement saying it is working to “ensure a safe and secure” general election in Kenya.

“We’re investing in people and technology to reduce the spread of misinformation and remove harmful content across our apps,” Mercy Ndegwa, Meta’s Director of Public Policy for East and Horn of Africa, said in the statement.

However, according to Global Witness’ report, Facebook still allowed hate speech and spiteful adverts to run on the platform even after declaring its efforts against it.

Motaung petition

Meanwhile, Meta is fighting a court battle with Daniel Motaung, a South African national who was employed as a content moderator for Facebook in Kenya.

Motaung’s petition, also filed against Meta’s local outsourcing company Sama, alleges that workers moderating Facebook posts in Kenya are subjected to irregular pay, inadequate mental health support, refusal to join trade unions and violations of their privacy and dignity.

Read: Facebook faces suit over work conditions in Nairobi office

Last week, a group of human rights organisations, including Global Witness and Article 19, criticised Meta, saying it was actively trying to silence Motaung.

Recently, a report by Mozilla also revealed how social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, were used to propagate disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech in Kenya during the electioneering period.

Dr Makori said Twitter and TikTok have taken quick action to curb the menace, but Facebook has been slow, even refusing to promote the commission’s peace messages while allowing inappropriate content to continue.

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Kenya has threatened to shut down Facebook over its failure to improve content moderation on hate speech in the run-up to the August 9 elections. The National Cohesion and Integration […]

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