Cryptocurrencies have made it into the mainstream this year, with crypto-backed bank cards, investment products and traders, both big and small, have got in on the action, driving the likes of bitcoin, ether and dogecoin to record highs.
In the developing world, crypto adoption is growing at breakneck speed. Young, fast-growing populations that lack access to traditional finance, but have smartphones, from Brazil to Botswana, are driving the surge in the use of cryptocurrencies.
James Butterfill, who is an investment strategist at CoinShares, the largest crypto exchange traded product provider in Europe, and Marius Reitz, the general manager in Africa of crypto exchange Luno discussed the social benefits of bitcoin for the developing world.
“In third-world countries, we are seeing the take-up of bitcoin. If you look at bitcoin volume growth, it’s massive,” Butterfill told Insider.
For example, according to a Statista survey of global consumers in February, nearly one in three of those polled in Nigeria said they owned, or used, cryptocurrencies, versus just 6 out of every 100 in the United States, in 2020.
El Salvador’s recent decision to make bitcoin legal tender is an example of how developing countries are using crypto. The World Bank recently said it would not work with the country on its cryptocurrency plans because of how volatile it believes these assets are.
The amount of bitcoin that changes hands in emerging economies is exploding. Trading volumes in Brazil have risen 2,247% year-on-year in 2021, while in Venezuela, where political turmoil has created hyperinflation and economic crisis, crypto trading volumes have risen 833% in the last 12 months, according to data provider Kaiko.
In Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, trading volumes have risen 128% year on year, and in Turkey, where inflation and economic decline have hit the lira, they’re up 143%, based on Kaiko’s data.
Bitcoin has been trading between $40,000 and $31,900 over the last month, but has moved between lows of $30,000 and to highs of as much as $63,500 over the course of 2021. Despite its volatility, consumers in developing countries love it.
There are about 1.7 billion people that are considered “unbanked”. However, around 48% of the global population has a smartphone and that percentage, in theory, have access to the internet, and therefore, cryptocurrencies, Butterfill said.
In Latin America, only 30% of the population over the age of 15 have a bank account, according to 2019 data by consultant Mckinsey.
“I think that really is a positive thing that bitcoin’s helping the unbanked be bankable,” Butterfill said.
A closer look at Africa
Crypto use has also grown in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
“One region that may go unnoticed in the development and usage of cryptocurrencies, is Africa. The continent is one of, if not the most promising, regions for the adoption of cryptocurrencies due to its unique combination of economic and demographic trends,” Luno’s Reitz said.
One of the key factors that is encouraging people in Africa to use cryptocurrency is the cost of transferring money. The World Bank reported in 2020 that sending money to Africa via traditional bank transfer cost an average fee of 8.9% compared to the global average of 6.8%.
Sending money abroad, or even receiving funds from overseas, is littered with additional costs, including exchange rates and this is where crypto is helping fill that gap.
“It’s either really expensive, or really difficult to do. So, with something like bitcoin, you can have an international bank account and it costs you virtually nothing, that’s what’s really powerful about it,” CoinShares’ Butterfill said.
The COVID-19 crisis has been devastating for much of the global economy. Yet while the effects on established markets have been well-documented, less is known about the pandemic’s impacts on low- and middle-income countries, which account for the majority of the world’s population. This is partly because official statistics generally fail to capture the impact on informal markets, such as street-vendor sales, in which large sections of those economies participate.
“These are the world’s most vulnerable people,” said Karlan, who along with Udry codirects Kellogg’s Global Poverty Research Lab. “The level of vulnerability is just fundamentally different in developing countries versus US and Europe, where even if someone is really low-income, they’re still better off than the poorest of the poor in developing countries, where the safety nets simply aren’t as strong.”
“We wanted to know the effect of the pandemic, and government policies to combat it, on individuals who rely on informal markets to sustain themselves and don’t have access to formal support mechanisms like social security or unemployment insurance,” Udry said.
Based on a phone survey of more than 30,000 people on three continents, the researchers found the pandemic’s impacts on developing regions to be deep, widespread, and negative: households across geographies and economic status reported significant drops in income and employment, as well as increases in food insecurity. And, crucially, few of these households reported receiving any kind of financial support.
As the authors write, for low- and middle-income countries, “the economic crisis precipitated by COVID-19 may become as much a public health and societal disaster as the pandemic itself.”
A global phone survey
While it’s not their normal method of data gathering, the researchers landed on a phone survey as the best method to use in a pandemic.
“It was like, ‘You want some data? This is the only way you can get it,'” Karlan said.
The method introduced a number of challenges for the researchers.
“We had to learn very quickly about how to conduct surveys by phone. You lose the trust and comfort that a face-to-face conversation engenders,” said Karlan.
To mitigate that loss, the researchers partnered with Innovations for Poverty Action to recruit local interviewers in each country, and took care to match languages, dialects, and accents between interviewers and respondents.
Another challenge: not everyone owns, or can easily borrow, a phone. “It meant we weren’t able to reach people without access to mobile phones,” Udry said. “That’s a whole set of vulnerable people we can’t get to until we’re able to go in person again.”
Due to this limitation, the study’s results likely represent a “best-case” scenario, as the interviews didn’t include those at the economic pyramid’s very bottom.
Ultimately the researchers conducted 16 surveys that were statistically representative of households in nine countries across Africa (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone), Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Philippines), and Latin America (Colombia), starting in April 2020. Most of the surveys were coordinated by Innovations for Poverty Action.
In total, they surveyed 30,000 people living in both urban and rural areas, as well as in or near refugee camps. The researchers asked about changes in employment, income, food insecurity, access to markets (such as for purchasing groceries), receipt of government support, and domestic violence.
Bad news across the board
The study found that the negative impacts of the pandemic on developing regions are large and broad.
For example, income dropped for households in all settings during the pandemic. Across the 16 surveys, the median share of households that reported an income drop was a “staggering 70%,” the authors write, compared with a median of 7% reporting an income increase. The median share of households that experienced job loss was 30%.
In general, similar proportions of households across all socioeconomic levels reported drops in income and employment.
Moreover, the median share of households that reported food insecurity was 45%, with wide variability within and between countries. In Sierra Leone, for example, 87% of rural households reported food insecurity, nearly double the median value.
The crisis may have also contributed to increased domestic violence. In Kenya, for example, violence against women and children rose 4% and 13%, respectively, during the early months of the pandemic.
And, for the most part, people were on their own to weather the storm. Overall, the median share of households receiving government or NGO crisis support was only 11%.
The authors note that the scale of disruption seems to eclipse those of other global crises like the 2008 Great Recession and the 2014 Ebola outbreak. “The biggest take-home for me is the spread of the effect,” Udry said. “I expected the effects to be serious but didn’t realize it was going to reach almost everyone.”
“What we found makes clear the kind of calamity low-income households in developing countries are facing,” Karlan agreed.
To make matters worse, if other historical events are any guide, COVID’s impact will be long-reaching. For example, children in the US born soon after the 1918 influenza pandemic experienced lifelong declines in education and earnings compared with baseline expectations.
“One of the main messages of modern economics is that even relatively short-run shocks can have long-term effects,” Udry said. “Long after the pandemic is gone, there are likely consequences for the growth of kids’ knowledge and declines in the asset holdings of the poor.”
The impact, unfortunately, is likely to be felt for generations.
The best way forward
The research also points to policies that could help address the pandemic’s dire economic impacts – and mitigate the effects of future crises.
One of the most promising tactics is mobile money transfers from the government or NGOs, which are fast and require no risky face-to-face transaction. “We can reach a lot of people quickly with these innovative payment mechanisms,” Udry said.
“We’ve helped them rapid-fire implement a targeted program of cash transfers to low-income households that were in the informal market,” Karlan said. “Now we’re helping the government use cell-phone data to refine and improve targeting methods, to help find low-income households and transfer them cash.” They’re exploring expansion of the strategy to Nigeria and Bangladesh.
Furthermore, the researchers say, governments and NGOs must build robust social support systems – with short-term components like Togo’s cash-transfer system and longer-term ones like skills training programs – to anticipate the next pandemic or economic crisis.
Granted, this wouldn’t be easy for the already cash-strapped governments of the countries studied here. But richer countries have an important role to play, partly for humanitarian reasons, but also because “disease transmission does not respect national borders,” as the authors write.
“We need some multinational players, like the World Bank, to help establish the methods, procedures, and technical knowledge for doing this,” Karlan said.
In general, the researchers agree that a more proactive, preventive approach is the right way forward.
“This crisis has been disastrous and widespread, with long-term effects,” Udry said. “We do have mechanisms that can help a lot of people, but we need to strengthen social security systems to provide greater resilience and support in the future. That’s the lesson to learn here.”
Karlan agrees. “We want our work to serve as a call to arms to groups,” Karlan said, “to do things like what Togo has done, to prepare for the next crisis.”
On that first night, as the lava flowed towards the city of Goma, it covered 13 villages and wiped out 3,629 homes, before coming to a halt half a mile from the city’s airport and less than two miles from one of its central markets. At least 37 people have been reported dead.
Nyiragongo is one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes – it last erupted 19 years ago – and its presence 10 miles from Goma casts a perennial shadow over the city. And yet, even since the 2002 eruption, which buried large patches of Goma in volcanic rock, the city’s population has swelled, largely as a consequence of the violent conflicts in the surrounding area, pushing hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in Goma.
Goma, the largest city in the region, has over the last two decades become a hub for the United Nations and countless humanitarian agencies and the economic opportunities that have come with the international presence. The city’s geographic proximity to the region’s mining riches, and its location just over the border from Rwanda, made it even more attractive to the entrepreneurial. In the calm years, Nyiragongo has come to be something of a tourist draw: travelers who come to Goma on their way to see mountain gorillas in the nearby Virunga National Park sometimes include a hike up Nyiragongo as part of their itinerary.
Now, two weeks after the initial eruption, the immediate danger from Mount Nyiragongo seems to have passed, and Goma’s residents are now faced with putting their lives back together.
For one of Goma’s residents, 40-year-old Moise Lukusha, it has been two weeks of misery and uncertainty.
On the first night, Elie, his 6-year-old son, went missing.
A frantic exodus
Lukusha was downtown when he learned of the eruption; as panic overtook Goma’s residents, he rushed home.
Two of his children -Elie, 6, and Gedeon, 9 – had been watching television in the living room when the eruption began, and everyone started to run. They went outside and got swept away in the crowds.
By the time Lukusha reached their home, Elie and Gedeon were gone.
Lukusha thought they might have gone to Sake, 15 miles away. Goma sits between Lake Kivu and Congo’s eastern border with Rwanda and, for those fleeing on foot, Sake was one of the only places to go. And so, Lukusha joined the thousands of people making their way to Sake.
But neither boy was there.
Gedeon had ended up aboard a truck taking people, free of charge, to another city, Masisi, about 50 miles northwest. There, a kind-hearted stranger took him in for three days, until she could arrange to have him ride in a car back to Goma. Back in the city, Gedeon knew his way back home.
But Elie did not turn up – not at their home in Goma, not in Sake, not in any of the reunification centers that had been set up for unaccompanied children.
“I lost my son and I’m still looking for him,” Lukusha texted, days later.
“The conditions were inhumane”
When the lava flow stopped early the next morning, people, fearing that their homes might be looted, began returning to Goma. All the while, earthquakes regularly shook the city. By the morning of May 25, the Goma Volcano Observatory had recorded 269 earthquakes since the eruption.
The highest magnitude reached 5.2 on the Richter scale, bringing down several buildings and homes.
Large cracks appeared in the ground, some snaking across main roads in central Goma. The tremors also damaged water distribution systems that had already been compromised by the lava flow, leaving 550,000 people without access to potable water. The local head of the French aid group Doctors Without Borders warned that residents were at a high risk of cholera.
Worse still, there were warnings of the potential for a second volcanic eruption and the explosion of deadly methane and carbon dioxide gases from Lake Kivu, which could kill hundreds of thousands within minutes.
On Thursday, May 27 – five days after the eruption – the local governor of North Kivu province ordered the mandatory evacuation of 10 of Goma’s 15 neighborhoods.
The announcement sparked an even bigger exodus than the first one.
Over the next 24 hours, over 400,000 people – nearly a quarter of Goma’s population – left the city on foot, on motos, on boats, or in cars, using the few available roads. Again, most headed towards Sake, causing a complete traffic blockage on the westbound road. Once the lava was cleared from the northbound road, others headed towards Rutshuru territory. A third flow of people went across the border to the east, into Rwanda. Yet a fourth run of people piled into boats and traversed 130 km to the southern tip of Lake Kivu, to seek refuge in Bukavu, the capital of neighboring South Kivu province.
The largest portion of the exodus, in the direction of Sake, included 100 armored vehicles and military trucks transporting hundreds of UN peacekeepers that had also been ordered to evacuate their bases. A separate convoy of 53 UN trucks carrying 250 staff and 1200 of their dependents would continue past Sake, and head south to Bukabu over land. With favorable weather and a Landcruiser, the 100 km journey along dirt roads could be traversed in 7 hours. With the evacuation traffic blockade, however, it took the UN convoy 40 hours to complete.
In Sake alone, a town with a population of 70,000, over 180,000 people arrived that Friday, including Moise, his wife and six of his children. From Kinshasa – the country’s capital, situated on the opposite end of the country’s vast geographical stretch across the African continent, and accessible only by plane – the government’s spokesman said that people fleeing to Sake should not expect more than “a minimum comfort.”
“Those that will go to Sake will not find the comfort they had in their homes because they are going to a zone that isn’t specially arranged to receive them,” Patrick Muyaya Katembwe, the spokesman, said at a press conference.
Sure enough, Lukusha and his family found no aid distributions when they arrived. The family slept outside, and food and basic goods were difficult to find or afford.
Marcelin, Moise’s 24-year-old step-son, said corn that would normally cost between 100 and 300 francs, was selling for 1000 francs in Sake. In a report detailing the situation, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs attributed the price increases to the near halt in economic activities in Goma and the massive spike in demand.
For most Congolese, 73 percent of whom live under the international poverty line of $1.90 per day, the costs in Sake were crippling. “Even to go to the toilet, we had to pay,” Lukusha would later say. The fee – 1500 Congolese francs, the equivalent of nearly 1 US dollar – was exorbitant.
“The way we lived in Sake, it was a nightmare,” Lukusha said. “The conditions were inhumane.”
Meanwhile, Lukusha was still searching for six-year-old Elie, going back and forth between Goma, Sake, and the other towns where people were seeking refuge. After days of this, he recalls sitting with his family on a soccer field in Sake amid crowds of evacuees, feeling certain that he would not see his boy again.
“The little means I had, I finished it all off searching for little Elie, to go to Minova, Masisi, Bweremana, everywhere. I lost everything I had,” he said.
False alarms and a city on edge
According to the International Organization for Migration, by Tuesday, June 1, about 160,000 of the 400,000 people displaced since the eruption of the volcano had already returned to their homes. They cited reasons that included unacceptable conditions in the refuge sites, a decrease in the magnitude and frequency of earthquakes, and fears that their abandoned homes would be looted.
Families scattered in the chaos of the evacuations were also gradually reunited. Of the 1,340 children reported missing, all but 332 are back with their families,, according to UNICEF and its partners.
All the while, the government continued issuing statements warning people to stay out of the “red zones,” saying that earthquakes were still happening daily even if not all of them were felt. On June 1st, for example, the Goma Volcano Observatory recorded 71 tremors, the majority of which were not felt by the population. Moreover, surface deformations indicated potential movement of magma under the city of Goma itself, and possibly Lake Kivu.
Further confusing the general population, the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority’s Lake Kivu monitoring team on Monday May 31, concluded that there is no imminent risk of gas explosions from Lake Kivu. But the local observatory was saying that lethal explosions were still a possibility.
There were also false alarms, further unnerving the battered population. There were also false alarms, further unnerving the battered population. Muyaya, the spokesman from the national government in Kinshasa, tweeted – and then deleted – that there had been an eruption “of weak intensity” at Mount Nyamulagira, another nearby volcano. Aerial surveillance soon confirmed that there had not, in fact, been an eruption. It was only smoke rising from charcoal production, a very common sight in the region.
Despite the ongoing evacuation order, Lukusha and his family were among those who had returned to Goma. That Sunday evening – eight days after the eruption – Lukusha was sitting in his living room when he looked up to see Elie at his doorstep, holding the hand of a stranger.
He pulled the boy into his arms. And, soon enough, Lukusha finally learned what had happened to his son over their long week of separation.
“Stay vigilant, stay vigilant”
In the chaos that broke out on the evening of the volcanic eruption, Elie had followed the crowd heading west, towards Sake. Near Mugunga, one of the neighborhoods in the outskirts of Goma, he followed people into the hills, where he fell asleep for the night.
The next morning, he continued through the wealthy neighborhood of Himbi, passing near the home that once belonged to Congo’s infamous dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. “The little one was truly tired, his feet swollen,” Lukusha would say, recounting the story as he’d been able to piece it together. “He slept by the entrance to a gated property.”
That’s where the owner of the home found him. The man assumed that Elie was a street kld and, taking pity on him, brought him some avocados, bread and a bottle of water.
The story then took a bizarre turn, according to what the man told Lukusha: the man decided he would adopt Elie.
The idea, though, quickly fell apart. At church that Sunday, the man said his pastor advised him that Elie’s parents were likely feeling frantic as they searched for their missing son.
“This, while we were searching for the child, going up to the center of Masisi, Minova, Bweremana, everywhere,” Lukusha said, incredulous.
Insider was unable to confirm the details of the story, and the pastor could not immediately be reached. Lukusha said it appeared that Elie – reunited with his siblings as they played in their home in Goma – was doing well.
For most of the city, this is still a time of limbo. It’s not clear what the recovery will look like, or how long it will take to get back to some semblance of normalcy.
There is also suspicion that the central government, 1000 miles away in Kinshasa, might be dragging out the relief effort in this long-neglected part of the country to maximize the political currency that comes with delivering help. On Saturday, June 6, just hours after Goma’s international airport was reopened, the country’s prime minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde touched ground with much fanfare, making a rare visit to the unstable but mineral-rich eastern part of the country.
As for Goma, it’s not yet clear if the city is truly safe yet.
“They say the city of Goma is still in danger. We don’t know if it’s true,” said Marcelin, Lukusha’s step-son. “Really we have no idea what is happening in our city because they send us [text] messages ‘stay vigilant, stay vigilant’ but I don’t even know if that means there was a second volcanic eruption.”
Nearly 19 million of the doses will be given through COVAX, the UN-backed global vaccine sharing program that helps vulnerable countries.
In total, 7 million of those doses will be donated to nations in South and Southeast Asia, including India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Philippines, and Vietnam. Another 6 million doses will be shipped across Central and South America, including to Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, and El Salvador. Approximately 5 million doses will be delivered to countries in Africa, coordinated through the African Union.
The remaining 6 million doses will be given directly to allies and countries seeing surges in COVID-19 cases, including Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Egypt, Iraq, and the West Bank and Gaza, the White House said.
“As long as this pandemic is raging anywhere in the world, the American people will still be vulnerable,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “And the United States is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated at home.”
“This is just the beginning,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said during a Thursday briefing. The doses will consist of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Zients confirmed.
Vaccine shipments will take place over the next several weeks. The US plans to share a total of 80 million excess doses with the rest of the world by the end of June – five times the amount any other country has committed to donating, according to the White House.
“A number of those are even going to go out as soon as today,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a news conference Thursday.
The White House reiterated that the US has secured enough supply to fully vaccinate Americans and the doses that will be shipped come from a surplus in the US stockpile.
The announcement comes ahead of Biden’s meeting in the United Kingdom with the Group of Seven nations next week. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan noted on Thursday that the US plans to work with those countries to help end the pandemic.
“Our goal in sharing our vaccines is in service of ending the pandemic globally,” Sullivan said during a White House coronavirus task force briefing Thursday. “Our overarching aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible.”
The organization’s global diffusion recently led a group of leading terrorism experts to describe ISIS as an “adhocracy,” better understood as a group of “structurally fluid organizations in which ‘interacting project teams’ work towards a shared purpose and/or identity.”
By maintaining this structure, the group’s leaders seek to harness the benefits of a transnational network spanning multiple regions and continents.
“All politics is local,” as the famous saying goes. But in the 21st century, all conflict is global, and organizations like ISIS are well-positioned to leverage the capabilities of its affiliates worldwide.
Another way to think about the Islamic State is as a venture capital firm. It is the investor that provides much-needed resources to the affiliates – or “provinces,” in the organization’s lingo – with the best potential for a high rate of return.
ISIS then gains an “equity stake” and can tout the success and momentum of its new startups. Armed groups that are sponsored by ISIS central in this way reap the benefits its operational and organizational capabilities, including financing, training, weapons, propaganda support and strategic direction.
Nowhere has this venture capitalist approach been more successful than in sub-Saharan Africa. A United Nations report from last year identified the Islamic State’s affiliate in Somalia as the “command center” for a “triad” of jihadist organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique, thereby linking its operations in East, Southern and Central Africa.
At the same time, ISIS involvement inevitably transforms the character and nature of affiliates, as evidenced by the beheadings committed by the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province, which mirror ISIS core’s brutal calling card.
Sub-Saharan Africa has long been in the crosshairs of groups waging global jihad. And with other areas of the world receiving the lion’s share of attention from Western counterterrorism forces, both al-Qaida and ISIS have taken advantage of the opportunity to grow their presence in the region.
Jacob Zenn, a scholar of African jihadist groups, has highlighted the importance of sub-Saharan Africa as a region where ISIS can achieve “breakout capacity,” or the ability to generate and maintain a high operational tempo of attacks.
ISIS provinces in West Africa and Central Africa respectively have the potential to conquer and hold territory in the Sahel and along the continent’s southeastern Swahili coast, in a manner similar to what ISIS core was able to achieve in Iraq and Syria during its peak.
The Islamic State’s shifting attention to sub-Saharan Africa should be seen as part of a deliberate strategy in a region where it is far easier to work across borders than in other parts of the world.
Throughout this process, what were once perhaps purely local groups can take on a transnational dimension to varying degrees. Even as they remain primarily driven by parochial concerns and grievances, ISIS affiliates can evolve to become more global in nature.
Several African jihadist groups have noticeably changed the way they fight after becoming ISIS affiliates, in some cases involving both tactical improvement and strategic evolution. These groups are now capable of launching more complex operations and are featured more prominently in ISIS propaganda.
The devastating attack on the town of Palma in March, which killed dozens of people, had some of the hallmarks of classic ISIS attacks, included the beheading of foreigners and the targeting of Western economic interests. It forced the suspension of French oil giant Total’s $20 billion liquefied natural gas project and related offshore exploration activities near Palma.
With a war chest possibly consisting of upward of $100 million, ISIS will maintain the ability to consistently seed new ventures and enhance existing ones, particularly those displaying progress.
The international community will need to pay close attention to see where the Islamic State is funding new affiliates, and where already existing branches or provinces are displaying improved skills and capabilities in an effort to blunt the impact of what has been, at least to date, a highly effective approach to keeping the “caliphate” alive.
Colin P. Clarke, PhD, is the director of policy and research at the Soufan Group, a global intelligence and security consultancy headquartered in New York City.
That facility houses between 1,000 and 2,000 Chinese navy personnel, according to various reports. About 12 km away, the US’s Camp Lemonnier military base houses 3,400 personnel.
Analysts say that while the US has always welcomed China’s support for UN peacekeeping operations and anti-piracy efforts in Africa, it is concerned China plans to expand its rights to set up bases, using them to extend its military reach and grow arms sales to African countries.
Luke Patey, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, said whether in Africa or the Arctic, the US did not want to see a challenger upset its dominant global military presence.
“Chinese participating in peacekeeping missions may not turn too many heads at the Pentagon, but China’s Djibouti base has military capabilities that extend far beyond the logistical needs of any peace or humanitarian mission,” Patey said.
US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, leader of US Africa Command, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee on April 20 that China “continues to expand their base in Djibouti into a platform to project power across the continent and its waters – completing a large naval pier this year.”
Townsend said Beijing sought to open more bases, tying their commercial seaport investments in East, West and Southern Africa closely with involvement by Chinese military forces to further their geostrategic interests.
China has not responded to Washington’s latest claims. But last year, when the US Department of Defence alleged in its annual report to Congress that Beijing was planning to set up more military bases in Africa, China’s foreign ministry denied the reports and urged the US to “abandon the outdated Cold War mentality and zero-sum game mindset, stop issuing irresponsible reports year after year.”
Jeffrey Becker, director of the Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Programme at the Centre for Naval Analyses, said that for China establishing a second African base was certainly a possibility as China’s interests in Africa and the surrounding regions continued to grow.
“Places such as Kenya and Tanzania on Africa’s east coast, or Namibia along the Atlantic, have been mentioned as possible locations,” Becker said.
“A second base in Africa would improve China’s ability to conduct a range of operations, including evacuating Chinese citizens in times of crisis and protecting China’s access to key maritime chokepoints in the region, which are critical to China’s trade and energy imports.”
Even if China were to open bases in those countries, Patey said “these plans may still pale in comparison to the hundreds of bases operated by the United States, but if enacted they would still extend China’s military reach far from its mainland and near waters.”
But US concern about China’s security presence in Africa was not especially grounded in national security rationale, according to Samuel Ramani, a tutor in politics and international relations at the University of Oxford in Britain.
Ramani said China and the US broadly supported a stable continental order and neither saw insurgencies or terrorism to their advantage. But Townsend’s comments reflected the US geopolitical rivalry with China and concerns about losing influence to China, Ramani said.
“It is about losing access to oil and mining resources, further erosion of US leverage in the UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] and China gaining more influence, perhaps in concert with Russia, on Indian Ocean security,” Ramani said.
He said Beijing had been cautious about its next moves concerning naval bases in Africa.
“Sao Tome and Principe was rumoured as a naval base in 2018 and there are persistent rumours about Namibia being the site of an army base. Overall though, I see China treading cautiously and not proceeding to establish a base in the near future,” Ramani said.
David Shinn, a former US diplomat and a professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, said the US had always been concerned about the global expansion of the PLA Navy, including its base in Djibouti.
“Over the short and medium term, I expect China will pursue dual-use port facilities in African waters rather than new military bases,” Shinn said. “That is one reason why China is pursuing so many equity investments in African ports.”
John Calabrese, director of the Middle East-Asia Project, said the US had been encouraging China’s participation in peacekeeping as a means of showing that it was indeed a “responsible stakeholder.” But he said potential concerns included the proliferation of weapons and the possible acquisition of basing rights.
Calabrese said China’s sudden need to evacuate thousands of expatriate workers from Libya during the Arab spring drove home the need for China to develop the capacity to protect its far-flung overseas interests and assets.
Further, Calabrese said the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative extended and deepened Chinese commercial activities in the zone around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa domain in East Africa, justifying the need for a military presence in and around critical waterways and choke points at the Western extremity of the Maritime Silk Road.
Besides making baby steps as a blue-water navy, China is a key player in the UN-led peacekeeping missions in Africa, known as the blue helmets. The number of Chinese peacekeepers in Africa peaked at 2,620 in 2015 and then declined to about 2,100.
Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, said “there is a longer-term worry that Beijing could use its peacekeeping deployments as an excuse for building up military bases in Africa, ostensibly to support the blue helmets.”
However, he said Western fears about China’s peacekeeping ambitions were overstated and that “China has adopted a fairly cautious approach to UN deployments since 2017 when it suffered fatalities in Mali and South Sudan.”
“China’s single biggest UN deployment is in South Sudan, where it has an infantry battalion. This is, of course, in part linked to China’s energy interests there,” Gowan said.
The elite Green Berets have been deployed to help defeat Islamic State insurgents accused of beheading children as young as 11 in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique.
US Army Special Forces soldiers are to train Mozambican marines for the next two months to counter the rapidly escalating insurgency from ISIS-linked terrorist group al-Shabab.
It comes after the US officially listed the group as a foreign terrorist organization last week because of its links to ISIS, who it pledged allegiance to in 2018 and who claimed its first attack in June 2019.
Mozambique, in southern Africa, represents the worrying spread of Islamic insurgency on the continent. Other nations facing ISIS-linked violence include Somalia, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and Libya.
The deployment of the Green Berets is “to prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism,” the US Embassy in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, said, The Times reported.
According to an Insider report last month, the Green Berets are called on to deploy worldwide, build lasting relationships with local groups friendly towards the United States, and then teach those groups how to kill effectively. The SF soldiers then begin going on missions with the locals and fight side-by-side.
The situation in the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, which began in 2017, became even more urgent last year, with up to 3,500 fighters regularly engaging with the military to capture key towns.
Children as young as 11 years old have been executed, according to Save the Children, that has spoken to displaced families that have described horrific executions by the Islamic insurgents.
One mother, Elsa, 28, whose name has been changed, told Save the Children: “That night our village was attacked and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children.
“We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too.”
Impoverished Mozambique, in southern Africa, had been relying on foreign mercenaries, mainly from South Africa, who have also been accused of human rights abuses.
An Amnesty International report found that both sides committed war crimes, with government forces responsible for abuses against civilians, something it has denied.
Cabo Delgado has a population of 2.3 million, most of whom are Muslim, and is one of the poorest provinces in Mozambique with high illiteracy and unemployment rates, according to the BBC.
Al-Shabab, not to be confused with the Somalian al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group of a similar name, means The Youth in Arabic.
It has found ready recruits among the unemployed young people from the area, al-Jazeera reported.
Although a ruby deposit and gas field were discovered in Cabo Delgado in 2009 and 2010, creating dreams of a better life for locals, these were soon undermined by violence and extreme flooding, the BBC noted.
A new president brings opportunity for a new strategy towards Africa, a continent that has too often been ignored by American presidents. President Joe Biden’s decision to back Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for head of the World Trade Organization is a step in the right direction.
Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian-American, will be the first African to hold the position. She has previously served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and had a 25-year career at the World Bank.
It’s a positive beginning, but really it was more the Biden administration running cleanup of his predecessor’s mess. Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy had been supported by the European Union, Australia, Japan, China, and African nations before the Trump administration blocked her.
There remains much to be done on encouraging trade and investment in Africa, combating transnational threats, taking on humanitarian crises, and preventing Africa from falling under the influence of China. Unfortunately, the Trump administration did very little on these fronts, making the problems worse and costing the US credibility.
They do not want to fall under the influence of neo-colonialism – neither that of the US, nor China’s, nor that of any other power. But lack of engagement and opportunity coming from the United States could force Africa to fall under China’s debt diplomacy.
Now, China is also making a push to very publicly provide Africa with vaccines and support on the novel coronavirus. China’s help is much appreciated. But, like its investments, vaccines will also create incentives for the recipients to be even more closely tied to China.
To counter this “vaccine diplomacy” from China, the US should provide Africa with COVID tests and supplies. African leaders and the public are frustrated by the lack of access to vaccines, which are being stockpiled by wealthy Western countries like the US. The continent requires more than 1.5 billion doses to meet its targets, but only about a million have been shipped to South Africa, with a few million more expected to arrive to select countries in coming months.
“We don’t always want to be the last people on the planet,” Kenya’s Minister of Health Mutahi Kagwe told the German news organization DW.
SinoPharm chairman Liu Jingzhen has promised that the Chinese vaccine will “take the lead in benefiting African countries,” and African diplomats like Rwandan Ambassador to China, James Kimonyo, have expressed their optimism about it. Already, Seychelles has begun vaccinating its citizens using the Chinese vaccine and Chinese state media is using this news to its own benefit, while accusing the West of turning a blind eye to Africa.
The obvious solution to counter this Chinese influence would be to provide African countries with American vaccines.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have shown efficaices that prevent illness from COVID at a 95% rate. China announced the effectiveness of its SinoPharm vaccine as 79%, but reports from Brazil and Indonesia put the effectiveness at 50.4% and 65.3%, respectively. Either way, the American vaccines are significantly more effective and have also been more thoroughly vetted for safety.
Other countries are already seeing the wisdom is sharing their vaccines. French President Emmanuel Macron has said wealthy nations should share up to 5% of their vaccines with the developing world. The Biden administration has expressed a commitment to the “equitable distribution of vaccines and funding globally” but, crucially, has said it will not be sharing any of the vaccines it has purchased with other countries until all Americans are vaccinated. Given how the initial vaccine distribution is extremely skewed towards wealthy countries, that leaves low and middle income countries at the end of a long line.
The administration has joined COVAX, the global initiative to distribute vaccines associated with the World Health Organization (WHO). The decision to join the program that over 160 countries had already signed onto is the right choice, but it is closer to the default that would have been expected of the world’s superpower, rather than a step above and beyond.
The US can provide more support in other ways
Given the “vaccine nationalism” in the United States, it is unlikely the US would be willing to provide a large number of vaccines to Africa. However, many African countries still lack access to sufficient amounts of COVID-19 test kits, let alone vaccines.
As of the first week of February, the Congo was testing fewer than 10 people per million every day, and Uganda, Madagascar, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, among other countries, are also lagging most of the world in testing.
After a slow start, the US now has access to enough testing, and the Biden administration has also discussed utilizing the Defense Production Act to increase production of tests. Some of those should be exported to address international needs.
With the Southern Hemisphere’s winter season approaching, countries on the African continent must get ready before outbreaks start to get worse. Last year, the first major spikes in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and other countries began around June and hit their peaks in July. But the WHO has warned that 2021 could be even worse than 2020, in part due to the breakout of new virus strains – such as the 501.V2 variant, which was first detected in South Africa.
This variant has also spread to a number of South Africa’s neighboring countries, including Mozambique, where at least 41 cases have been counted. Mozambique’s test positivity rate since January has been over 20%, indicating the need for more tests to catch undetected community spread.
The “COVID diplomacy” strategy is a real one. The needs of various African countries for help are very real, too. These things cannot be ignored.
Already the US is on the defensive in terms of diplomatic engagement and investment in Africa. They cannot cede this latest battlefield to China, either. Moreover, we cannot let this opportunity to save lives go to waste.
Ivor Ichikowitz is an African industrialist and philanthropist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. The views expressed are his own.
Dar es Salaam – Tanzanian President John Magufuli, Africa’s most prominent Covid-19 denier, disappeared from public sight 17 days ago. Now, he is widely rumored to be seriously ill with the same virus that he has dismissed and downplayed over the past year.
Last May, Magufuli declared that “Tanzania has beaten coronavirus” after ordering three days of national prayer. The president abruptly stopped updating the number of cases, and assured foreign tourists that Tanzania’s game parks and Indian Ocean resorts were open for business, leading to a wave of travel advisories cautioning travelers to avoid the country.
Since then, he has scoffed at wearing masks, criticized regional neighbours for imposing lockdowns, and rejected coronavirus vaccines until his government independently verifies them. In early January, Magufuli told the visiting Chinese foreign affairs minister, Wang Yi, that “there is no coronavirus in Tanzania.”
Then, after appearing at an event in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam on Feb. 24, Magufuli disappeared from public view.
This week, the leading newspaper in neighboring Kenya, the Daily Nation, wrote: “The leader of an African country who has not appeared in public for nearly two weeks is admitted to Nairobi Hospital for Covid-19 treatment, even as his government remains mum on his whereabouts.”
Within hours, speculation was rife that Magufuli had been secretly flown to Nairobi for emergency medical attention and later airlifted for treatment in India. Insider has not been able to confirm these reports.
“Latest update from Nairobi,” Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu tweeted this week.
Contacted by Insider, Lissu repeated the claim but did not provide evidence.
“Over the past month, the country has lost university professors, army generals, doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals of high public standing,” Lissu told Insider. “It is highly irresponsible, and in my view criminal, for the president to continue to deny the presence of coronavirus, spurn international help and repudiate the vaccines.”
Scores of Tanzanians and neighbouring Kenyans have taken to social media to demand answers, with the hashtag #WhereIsMagufuli trending on Twitter in both countries.
On Friday, government officials addressed the rumor for the first time and insisted that Magufuli was alive and well, but offered no proof.
“President Magufuli is in good health and continues to carry on with his normal duties,” Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said in a statement from his office. “I spoke to him (Magufuli) today and he sends his greetings to you,” Majaliwa insisted.
In a separate announcement, the commissioner of the southern Tanzanian region of Mbeya, Albert Chalamila, told journalists on Friday: “I spoke with President John Magufuli on the phone this morning … he is very strong and is continuing with his job.”
“WE WANT AN EXPLANATION, NOT THREATS”
Tanzania confirmed its first coronavirus case in March 2020, but a month later Magufuli – who has a PhD in chemistry – questioned the accuracy of the test results. Cumulative cases had reached 480 people and 16 had been reported dead from the coronavirus by April 29, but Magufuli ordered the country’s Health Ministry to stop releasing updates.
On Feb. 27, three days after his last public appearance, the government announced that Magufuli had presided over the swearing in of a senior public official and attended a virtual regional summit for the East African Community (EAC) trade bloc.
It was later revealed that Magufuli did not, in fact, attend the EAC summit after all, and was instead represented by his Vice President, Samia Suluhu Hassan.
Since then, Magufuli has remained conspicuously absent from public view, missing his customary Sunday church attendance for two consecutive weeks, an oddity for the devout Catholic.
On the streets of Dar es Salaam, Magufuli’s unexplained absence has been a source of both concern and frustration for many city residents.
“Instead of telling us the truth about Magufuli’s whereabouts, government ministers have been issuing threats against social media users. We want an explanation, not threats,” Innocent Mushi, a taxi driver, told Insider.
The death last month of Zanzibar’s first vice president, Seif Sharif Hamad, days after he announced he was hospitalized with the virus, and the death of Magufuli’s chief secretary at State House and head of the civil service, John Kijazi, from an unspecified illness exposed what many worries was the true extent of the pandemic.
“I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement on Feb. 20. “I also call on Tanzania to implement the public health measures that we know work in breaking the chains of transmission, and to prepare for vaccination.”
There have been reports of local hospitals being overrun by patients displaying Covid-19 symptoms, and shortages of critical care beds, oxygen and ventilators across major towns and cities in the country. The government denies these reports.
Unlike other East African countries, which have urged social distancing and encouraged the use of masks, it’s been business as usual in Tanzania. Public buses are crowded with passengers, with few wearing masks, while pubs and night clubs have been full of revelers. Local league matches at football stadiums and music festivals are ongoing across the country, usually packed to capacity.
Magufuli has continued to shun modern medicine and prevention methods such as wearing masks and social distancing. Instead, he has aggressively promoted unproven traditional remedies such as steam inhalation and a ginger-garlic-onion-lemon drink as the government’s official line of treatment and prevention against the virus.
Some hospitals have incorporated these remedies in their treatment protocols for patients displaying coronavirus symptoms.
PRAYERS, STEAMS, AND HERBS
During his five years in power, Magufuli has ruled Tanzania with an iron fist, in contrast to his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete’s softer touch, and turned the once progressive East African nation of 60 million people into one of Africa’s more repressive and secretive states, critics say.
Under his leadership, the government has arrested opposition leaders and activists and limited protests. In 2017, it shut down a privately owned weekly newspaper. Only the president and three other public officials are authorized to issue data on Covid infections and speak about the pandemic.
In January, Magufuli rejected coronavirus vaccines as other countries around the world scrambled for the inoculations, saying he will not allow his compatriots to be used as guinea pigs. “Vaccines are not good. If white people were able to bring these vaccines, they would have brought vaccines for AIDS, cancer or malaria,” he said in a speech.
The government’s chief spokesman, Hassan Abbasi, last month backtracked from claims that Tanzania was virus free, changing the new official narrative to “we have controlled the virus.”
Roman Catholic and Lutheran church leaders have in recent weeks begun pushing back against Magufuli’s virus denialism, urging the government to take the disease seriously.
Early this month, Charles Kitima, who leads an association of Catholic bishops, told journalists in Dar es Salaam that more than 25 priests and 60 nuns had died across the country within the last two months due to various causes, including “breathing difficulties,” which has become a euphemism for coronavirus.
Lissu, the opposition leader, has made the most of the moment.
“It’s a sad comment on (Magufuli’s) stewardship of our country that it’s come to this: that he himself had to get COVID-19 and be flown out to Kenya in order to prove that prayers, steam inhalations and other unproven herbal concoctions he’s championed are no protection against coronavirus,” he said on Twitter.
Ghana has become the first country to launch a nationwide program to deliver coronavirus vaccines with drones.
Zipline started delivering the shots on Tuesday as part of the WHO’s first shipment of vaccines through COVAX, its program that aims to provide poorer countries with enough doses to cover 20% of their population.
Zipline, a San Francisco startup, has been delivering medical supplies including blood, personal protective equipment, and vaccines since 2016 using patented, autonomous drones.
Doctors can use Zipline’s app to place orders and track shipments.
Zipline started the drone deliveries in Ghana on Tuesday when it distributed 4,500 doses across the Ashanti Region in the country’s south in 36 separate journeys in a partnership with the Ghanaian government and UPS.
Around 2.5 million doses will be delivered in Ghana using the drones, GAVI said.
“Not only does this make Ghana the world’s first country to deploy drones on a national scale for the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, but is also a giant effort in ensuring equitable access and enabling Ghana to fully utilize its healthcare infrastructure to deliver vaccines,” Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said in a statement.
COVAX shipped 600,000 doses of the vaccine created by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca to the capital, Accra, in late February.
But distributing vaccine doses globally is proving to be a mammoth task.
This is complicated further by storage requirements. Pfizer’s vaccine has to be transported at -94 degrees Fahrenheit through a system of deep-freeze airport warehouses and then refrigerated in vehicles using dry ice and GPS temperature-monitoring devices, while AstraZeneca’s and Moderna‘s can be transported at fridge temperatures.
Zipline told Bloomberg it has developed drones that can deliver “all leading COVID-19 vaccines.”
Zipline’s drones look like six-foot long airplanes
Each drone’s flight is fully automated and monitored from its distribution center. They can fly close to 100 miles round-trip on a single battery charge, travel up to 80 mph, and carry four pounds of cargo.
Orders can be scheduled in advance or placed on demand for just-in-time delivery, and drones can be launched within seven minutes of the company receiving the order.
Unlike conventional drones, Zipline’s drones resemble small planes. They are six feet long with an 11-foot wingspan, and, rather than landing themselves, drop boxes of supplies with a parachute attached to cushion their fall.