Monthly Archives: November 2015

Africa and Australia – the Collaboration of two Continents – Episode 4

In this episode of AfricanPod, we take a look at Africa and Australia – the collaboration of two continents.baobab

These two continents that are so far apart, and challenges in collaboration is a significant issue. These include a range of cultural, political and social gaps that needs bridging.

The challenges remain, but progress has also been made by many individuals and organizations. One individual that has made a difference is Camilla Coffey.

Camilla is associated with the New South Wales chapter of the Australia Africa Business Council, and has considerable experience in bringing African and Australian businesses together.  She has also travelled around Africa over the last decade.

Among other talents, Camilla Coffey specialises in connecting people and promoting ethical business development in Africa.

I spoke to Camilla on the phone to Sydney, where she shares her experience.

Here are some quotes from the interview:

“It is not all war, and famine and disease…”

“Africans want to thrive, and want to do well, and do well with so little”

“You can pass through a township (in Africa) and see someone’s washing on the line and their white will be the whitest white you’ve ever seen…   the most beautifully clean clothing – and you think how has he done it? I can’t get my clothing that good.”

“I get a buzz out of seeing people making shoes out of disused tyres”

“You must see an African sunset”

“There is an image problem for Australians when they think about Africa”

“There is a lot of competition for Africa against Asia and Latin America”

“There is a challenge for African businesses to grow large enough to get onto a Stock Market before they can get foreign funding and interest from Australians”

Nigeria Slaps MTN with 5 Billion Dollar Fine

In this episode of AfricanPod, Muhammadu Buhari’s government in Nigeria has a strong message for multinational companies, and it is this: a government’s regulatory power can always be exercised to ensure multinational companies remain at par with the law, and not above it.  

A multi-national Telecommunications giant in Nigeria MTN, has been slapped with a fine of more than five billion dollars by the Nigerian government. Yes, that is billion with a “B.”

“B,” as in “bravo.Logo.cdr 2

The fine is a record-breaking punishment for MTN, one of the largest and powerful telecommunications company in Africa, operating in countries including Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and South Africa. The company’s services are also available in some parts of the Middle East.

Just last month, MTN was judged as the Most Admired and the Most Valuable African brand.

But that brand is now under pressure over the huge fine. The immediate fallout from the fine is the resignation of the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Sifiso Dabengwa. This is in addition to the company’s share price on the Johanesburg Stock Exchange taking a dive, leading to temporary suspension of trading.

Also, the Johannesburg Stock Exchage appears to take a dim view of suspicions that MTN failed to notify the Exchange in a timely fashion after it learned about the historic fine from the Nigerian government.

MTN’s offence, according to Nigeria, was simple, and spelled out as “failing to deactivate 5.2-million unregistered SIM cards (active) on its network.”

But it goes deeper than that, as it is believed that the Nigerian government imposed the hefty fine after the kidnapping of a former finance minister, Chief Olu Falae.

You guessed it: the kidnappers used a phone on MTN network to demand a ransom. And the trouble is, the Sim Card was unregistered, making it impossible to track down the owners – or possibly, the kidnappers.

The 5.1 billion dollar fine is a colossal amount of money, representing more than 20% of Nigeria’s annual budget and twice the MTN annual group profits.

Let’s say at the very worst, MTN will recover from the 5.1 billion dollar fine, but most certainly not so fast. Already, the company is trying to negotiate with the Nigerian Authorities to reduce the fine.

Sure, if the Nigerian government is able to recoup the entire five billion dollars, well, it would be pretty good for its budget.

But the boosting of its annual budget is not likely the reason why the Nigerian government slapped the fine on MTN.

It is very likely a reflection of Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari’s renewed effort to bring order to Nigeria, restore respectability and deal with deeply entrenched penchant for breaking rules.

President Buhari is a retired Army Major General and was military Head of State from late 1983 to August 1985. He was no democrat at the time.

However, having passed the age of 70 and calculating that he had nothing to lose but a better legacy to leave, he made an unlikely run for the Presidency which he won and was sworn into office in the first half of 2015.

He has since stamped his authority on Nigeria, openly declaring that no longer will anyone be allowed to flout rules without consequence, and that includes multi-national companies.

So MTN is experiencing life in President Buhari’s new Nigeria, at the cost of more than five billion dollars.

Of course, time will tell how truly revolutionary the new Nigeria under Buhari will turn out to be.

But for now, MTN and other mobile phone telecommunications providers will take seriously the Nigerian government directive that all sim cards must be registered to their owners – or disconnect service to existing sims cards that are still unregistered.

MTN was careful to stress that the resignation of their Chief Executive Officer was an “an honourable” gesture and did not mean that Sifiso Dabengwa was at fault for the unregistered SIM card debacle in Nigeria.

In a new globalised world where many multinational companies are richer and often more powerful than many sovereign nations, the Nigeria versus MTN development is an interesting one that draws attention to the actions of other conglomerates including Germany’s Volkswagen car company and BP.

BP was held responsible for the historic Gulf of Mexico Oil spill five years ago while Volkswagen was caught cheating on emissions test – the so called global Diesel Deception.

Multinational companies do some good, including employing millions of people, but their reach and power sometimes get in the way, making it necessary for regulatory authorities, even in small and weak countries to show some teeth.

On this occasion, the Nigerian government appears to be calling the shots in imposing a hefty fine on MTN as an example that can be easily referenced in Africa.

For more comments and analysis on issues affecting Africa and the world – the good news and the bad news in Africa, subscribe to AfricanPod, available on iTunes Podcast, Youtube, and soon on Google’s Android Podcast.

 

 

World Bank and IMF are “Bloodsucking Institutions,” says a Rogue Ambassador – AfricanPod Episode 2

“What is the real benefit of having to choose between two rotten apples?” That’s one of the thought-provoking questions in the latest episode of the AfricanPod, available on iTunes PodcastYoutube (search for AfricanPod), and coming soon to Android and Google Podcast Platform.

Let me introduce the Rogue Ambassador who is speaking for Ghana and calling the World Bank and IMF “Blooodsuckers!”2

The gentleman is British, with a long diplomatic career, having joined the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the early 1980s as a member of the Diplomatic Service.

Through all his years in the service, Craig Murray refused to be a regular diplomat, and it would take two decades before he was pushed aside as an ambassador gone rogue.

I met Craig Murray many times in Ghana as a Journalist during the relatively earlier days of Ghana’s continuing experiment with democracy. I interviewed him in live studio sessions extensively, and Craig is nothing but a “rogue,” that is, he is unpredictable but also likable with undeniable intellectual attractiveness.

He is deeply interested in shining light on matters political, wherever he smells chaos, corruption, incompetence and human rights abuses.

In his position as Deputy High Commissioner to Ghana during the crucial 2000 general elections, Craig Murray was a lone diplomat from the international community campaigning, yes, campaigning vigorously to ensure a free and fair election.

He freely named and shamed politicians whom he believed were bent on rigging the election.

In the normal course of events, such public advocacy on the part of a diplomat in a foreign country was wholly unconventional – but the unconventional arena is where Craig Murray found his calling.

One and a half decades on, Murray, now an ex-diplomat speaks for Ghana and Africa.

Prior to his dismissal as ambassador, Craig Murray served in Uzbekistan in 2002 where he publicly declared that “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy,” pointing to numerous reports of torture and abuse of power.

After his dismissal, he told the Guardian newspaper that (quote) “you don’t have to be a pompous old fart to be an ambassador”

Writing in the Guardian some years ago, Nick Paton Walsh said Craig Murray’s “…distinctly undiplomatic assessment of Uzbekistan’s human rights record propelled him into a lengthy battle with the (UK) Foreign Office. He was subjected to a humiliating disciplinary investigation, had his personal life publicly shredded and suffered a string of health problems. He became the rogue ambassador.”

So Craig Murray knows the cost that can come with being outspoken against governments and powerful institutions – and yet he continues to lock horns with powerful institutions on behalf of Africa.

These days, the former ambassador is settled into a private role as a more fearsome and outspoken human rights activist, along with commenting on issues on politics, economics, finance and international relations.

In that self-appointed role, the rogue ambassador has come out to speak for Ghana, warning the country to stay away from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Referring to IMF and the World Bank as, – quote – “bloodsucking institutions,” Mr Murray says he prays that one day Ghana will escape the grip of the “blood-suckers.”

The rogue ambassador’s concern is pivoted on the poor power supply across Ghana at the moment – a phenomenon called “Dumsor.”

At the height of Dumsor, most of the country will have power for no more than 12 hours, and then darkness for 24 hours.

Craig Murray is angry because as he says, just ten years ago, Ghana had the most reliable electricity supply in all of Africa and the highest percentage of households connected to the grid, ahead of every other nation on the continent.

The Volta River Authority, a power generation organisation which delivered power was set up in 1961 under the auspices of Ghana’s first President and Pan-African giant, Dr Kwame Nkrumah. The VRA, just one of the few enormous undertakings of Dr Nkrumah proved to be world class and enduring – and extremely beneficial for the West African nation.

But that, according to Craig Murray, was only until what he called the neo-liberal ideologues of the IMF and World Bank couldn’t stand to see the successful public owned and run enterprise – because they considered it a threat to their own decades-long narrative that such enterprises always fail.

Somehow, IMF and the World Bank misled Ghana to break it all up into different pieces: production was separated from distribution and then private sector Independent Power Producers were hurriedly introduced.

The result?

There are more power cuts now than the country has ever experienced in its entire history as an independent nation.

To be fair, the story is likely more complex and complicated than that.

Craig Murray however keeps the focus on the problem as he sees it, speaking for Ghana and Africa, and contending that the IMF and the World Bank, propelled by the United States are on a dangerous course to ruin Ghana.

If the rogue Ambassador is right, then the question is what are Ghanaians themselves and their leaders doing about it?

Do Ghanaians and their leaders really know what the IMF and the World Bank really is?

Do they think the IMF and the World Bank exists to enrich their lives?

Someday soon, someone needs to explain the true interests of the World Bank and the IMF. Because here is the thing: no self-respecting nation goes begging the IMF and the World bank for loans.

Every self-respecting nations knows how to put its own house in order, takes care of its own affairs, and without words tells IMF and the World Bank to get lost.

It appears Ghana – and much of Africa – is simply too impotent and too poor to find the right words for IMF and the World Bank.

In the meantime, another general election is planned for next year – and the usual noise about who can do the job best is getting louder.

But the political discourse in Ghana leading up to the election seems to have already reached a conclusion: and that is, the whole exercise is going to be a poor choice between “chaos and incompetence.”

Some say between chaos and incompetence, one would be better than the other – but then what is the real benefit of having to choose between two rotten apples?

The Rogue Ambassador may continue speaking for Ghana and Africa, but countries in Africa – and Africa itself – must learn to get smart and find its own strong voice to keep the World Bank and IMF at bay.

Here at AfricanPod, we think it is only then can it stop giving its people the false choice between chaos and incompetence.