News

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Trump’s “Muslim travel ban” may be cancelled by court

The Supreme Court will hear a challenge on Wednesday to President Donald Trump’s latest effort to limit travel from countries said to pose a threat to the nation’s security. The case, a major test of presidential power, will require the justices to decide whether Mr. Trump’s campaign promises to impose a “Muslim ban” were reflected in executive orders that restricted travel from several predominantly Muslims nations, reports the New York Times.

The policy restricts entry by more than 150 million people from seven countries, five of them predominantly Muslim. These are, in alphabetical order, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. It’s the third version of a ban that triggered chaos and protests at American airports when Trump signed the first executive order a week after taking office, wrote Bloomberg.

Is “Muslim ban” legal?

 Just a week after he took office, President Donald Trump issued the first of his travel bans, causing a great chaos at the nation’s airports and starting a cascade of lawsuits and appeals. Fifteen months later, after two revisions of the ban and a sustained losing streak in the lower courts, the Supreme Court took up the case in its last scheduled argument of the term. A decision is expected by late June.

 The case, Trump v. Hawaii, No. 17-965, concerns President Trump’s third and most discussed ban aimed to fulfill his campaign promise to secure the nation’s borders. Challengers to the latest ban, issued in September, said it was tainted by religious animus and not adequately justified by national security concerns.

 Among the questions the court must examine is whether Trump’s call during his presidential campaign for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” can be considered evidence that the travel ban is rooted in anti-Muslim bias. The justices will also review his post-inauguration tweets and retweets, which opponents say provide further evidence.

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Is the mysterious Hawala money exchange safe?

After a fatal shooting on the M1 highway in Johannesburg was linked to the secretive, and often illegal, mean of money transfer called Hawala, we have decided to shed some light on the concept.

The so-called Hawala originated centuries ago, in South Asia during the 8th century, and is still used as a means of transferring money throughout the world today. Its name comes from the Arabic word for trust. So what is it about? According to Investopedia, it is a method of transferring money without any money moving. Interpol’s definition of hawala is “money transfer without money movement.” Hawala is an alternative remittance channel that exists outside of traditional banking systems. Transactions between hawala brokers are made without any documents and written agreements because the system is heavily based on trust and the balancing of hawala brokers’ books.

Who uses hawala?

Hawala is especially useful for migrant workers who frequently send money to relatives and friends in their countries of origin. Therefore, hawala facilitates the flow of cash between developing countries, where formal banking is often too expensive or difficult to access. To encourage foreign exchange transfers through hawala, dealers sometimes exempt expatriates from paying fees. The system is also simple, as one only needs to find a trusted hawaladar (hawala dealer) to transfer money.

As an example: Let’s say a foreign worker in South Africa wants to send money to his West African family. All he needs is to contact the local hawala man. You pay him the money – there is no receipt, only his word. He will then contact his local contacts in your homeland, and someone of them will give your family the money. What are hawala commission rates, you may ask. The provisions vary wildly, from 2 to ten percent, but due to the nature of business they are usually way lower than most banks charge for an international transfer.

Is hawala legal?

As the benefits of hawala are apparent, so are the disadvantages. The market is unregulated, and the people sending money away often have no guarantees at all that it will reach their friends and families. In addition to that, as these transactions are never archived or taxed, local governments see them in a very negative light. Therefore, this concept has been made illegal in many countries, such as India, as it is understood to be a form of money laundering because the very features that make hawala an attractive avenue for legitimate patrons also make it attractive for illegitimate uses. It provides anonymity in its transactions, as official records are not kept, and the source of money that is transferred cannot be traced. Besides, corrupt politicians and the wealthy who would prefer to evade taxes can use it as well.

Hawala is therefore likely to continue unless the regular banks will do the only reasonable thing and lower the fees for international transfers significantly. Only then will the negatives of hawala be more significant than the benefits.

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The startling truth about Chinese investments in Africa

The topic of rising Chinese influence in Africa is a sensitive one, not only from a business perspective, but also from the political. Therefore, we would like to share an edited article by Deborah Bräutigam, as written for the World Post. Ms. Bräutigam is the Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy and director of the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. 

Westerners generally look at China as a new imperial power in Africa: bad news for Africans. But is this really the case?

Just before his visit to Africa last month, former secretary of state Rex Tillerson accused China of using “predatory loan practices,” undermining growth and creating “few if any jobs” on the continent. In Ethiopia, Tillerson charged the Chinese with providing “opaque” project loans that boost debt without providing significant training. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton sang the same tune, warning Africans to beware of this “new colonialism.”

But researchers who have explored China’s role in Africa suggest that many of the things our politicians believe about Chinese engagement are not actually true.

1. Jobs and training

Take jobs and training. Lina Benabdallah, a political science professor at Wake Forest University, studies Chinese investments in African human resource development programs. “Africans are being invited to Chinese universities. China is offering scholarships,” she said. “When Africans are thinking about technology and skills, they are thinking of China as a valid option.”

Surveys of employment on Chinese projects in Africa repeatedly find that three-quarters or more of the workers are, in fact, local. This makes business sense. In China, textile workers now earn about $500 a month — far more than workers in most African countries. Chinese investors flocking to set up factories in low-cost countries like Ethiopia are not thinking about importing Chinese workers. Like U.S. and European factory owners who moved their factories to China in past decades, Chinese firms are now outsourcing their own manufacturing to cheaper countries.

2. Predatory lending

Are the Chinese engaging in predatory lending? Here, researchers can also shine light on a murky subject. Scholars at Boston University and Johns Hopkins University have been painstakingly assembling databases of Chinese loans provided since 2000.

In Africa, we found that China had lent at least $95.5 billion between 2000 and 2015. That’s a lot of debt. Yet by and large, the Chinese loans in our database were performing a useful service: financing Africa’s serious infrastructure gap. On a continent where over 600 million Africans have no access to electricity, 40 percent of the Chinese loans paid for power generation and transmission. Another 30 percent went to modernizing Africa’s crumbling transport infrastructure.

Some of these were no doubt pork barrel projects and white elephants: airports with few passengers, or bridges to nowhere. African presidents, like others, love to cut ribbons and leave legacies of big buildings. Chinese companies will receive nearly all of the contracts to build this Chinese-financed infrastructure. Questions have been raised about its quality. Yet on the whole, power and transport are investments that boost economic growth. And we found that Chinese loans generally have comparatively low interest rates and long repayment periods.

3. Land grabs

“Land grabs” — a term used for any purchase, rental or theft of relatively large amounts of land — are controversial around the world, but especially in Africa, where colonial powers like Britain and France grabbed nearly the entire continent. The stories that China was now a “land grabber” in Africa seemed to make sense. However, this was not the case and was, in fact, only supported by rumors.

A research team at the International Food Policy Research Institute and at Johns Hopkins University collected a database of 57 cases where Chinese firms (or the government) were alleged to have acquired or negotiated large (over 500 hectare) amounts of African farmland. If all of these media reports had been real news, this would have amounted to a very alarming 6 million hectares — 1 percent of all the farmland in Africa.

We spent three years tracking down every single case. We travelled from Madagascar to Mozambique, Zimbabwe to Zambia. We confirmed that nearly a third of these stories, including the three above, were literally false. In the remaining cases, we found real Chinese investments. But the total amount of land actually acquired by Chinese firms was only about 240,000 hectares: 4 percent of the reported amount.

The stories of large-scale land grabbing and Chinese peasants being shipped to Africa to grow food for China turned out to be mostly myths. As researchers at the Center for International Forestry Research concluded after their own rigorous research: “China is not a dominant investor in plantation agriculture in Africa, in contrast to how it is often portrayed.”

To be sure, increased Chinese engagement comes with significant and very real challenges for many Africans. Traders complain about competition from Chinese migrants. In our research on Chinese factories in Africa, we’ve interviewed African workers who now have jobs but complain about Chinese bosses who expect long hours at low pay.

China is often lambasted as a nefarious actor in its African dealings, but the evidence tells a more complicated story. Chinese loans are powering Africa, and Chinese firms are creating jobs. China’s agricultural investment is far more modest than reported and welcomed by some Africans. China may boost Africa’s economic transformation, or they may get it wrong — just as American development efforts often go awry.

You can read the original article here

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Google launches Africa-only search app

The IT and advertising giant Google has released a specialized search app in 26 African countries. Its goal is to reduce users’ costs by cutting the amount of data needed to display results by up to 40 per cent, reports the Financial Times. Charles Murito, country head for Kenya, where Google’s sub-Saharan Africa headquarters is based, said the launch of Google Go was driven by the vast majority of smartphone users in the region having low-powered phones with small memories and unstable and expensive data connections.

The company, a subsidiary of Alphabet, is working with telecoms companies MTN and Vodacom to ensure the app, which takes up only 5MB of storage, works on 2G networks. “Someone in Turkana [in northern Kenya] shouldn’t have any worse an experience that someone in New York just b ecause they don’t have as good a device or connection,” Mr Murito said to FT.

“Google Go gives the same search results but with a better, lighter and faster experience.” Its rollout comes amid a massive expansion of smartphone use across the continent. Googles estimates there are some 230m smartphones in sub-Saharan Africa but this will almost double by 2020. Many have less than 1GB of RAM and very little storage. Kiswahili, a language used widely in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda is available on the app and other local languages will be rolled out soon, Mr Murito said.

The app is only available on Android phones but Mr Murito said this would cover 90 per cent of smartphone users in sub-Saharan Africa. Google Go was launched in India in December and the company, plans to roll it out elsewhere. Google launched YouTube Go, which operates on similar principles, a few months ago.  

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Nerds unite: The amazing Comic Con is coming to Africa

All fans of the Big Bang Theory, as well as of the Marvel and DC comics heroes can celebrate. The legendary Comic-Con is coming to South Africa. The event will be held at the Kyalami International Convention Centre on September 14-16.

The comic extravaganza will see African comic enthusiasts, geeks, gamers and nerds alike come together in their superhero outfits and feast on the three-day event, which will be similar to the already established Comic Con San Diego or Comic Con Seattle.

Tickets are already available through the South African platform Computicket. Ticket sales will consist of two launch phases, each with different pricing. Attendees who purchase tickets during Phase One will pay slightly less, although there is a limited number of tickets available. The prices vary from 120 rand (about 10 USD) for a one day ticket to 350 rand (about 30 USD) for the whole event.

Comic-Con is one of the most significant pop-culture events in the U.S., and the African version will also feature almost everything pop culture, from superhero comics to gaming – plus a host of international stars you have become accustomed to in mainstream media. It will also be used to promote new series and movies, comic books, anime, and manga.

Probably the most exciting prospect for series lovers is that there will be discussions with members of the “Game Of Thrones” and “The Big Bang Theory” casts. There will also be a cosplay competition, for fans dressed up as their favorite characters.

You can buy the African Comic Con 2018 tickets here.