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External Capital Support Has Sustained China’s Non-Life Expansion

Posted on 02 May 2013 by Africa Business

LONDON, UK
Direct premium in China’s non-life sector annually grew by 23% on average during 2009-2012, according to a new report from A.M. Best Co. Amid rapid premium growth, non-life insurers faced solvency pressure relative to capital and surplus levels, as evidenced by the peak amount of new capital and subordinated debt issued by non-life insurers in 2011 and 2012. This report analyzes the factors that impact the solvency level of major non-life insurers as grouped by average capital adequacy levels over the past three years, and assesses whether each sector can sustain these levels under current growth rates and operating profitability.

For a full complimentary copy of this report, please click the following link: A.M. Best Special Report: China Non-Life.

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ICG’s Conjectures on Eritrea: Realistic and Probable or Wishful and Imaginary?

Posted on 27 April 2013 by Africa Business

Eritrean Center for Strategic Studies, ECSS

On 28 March last month, the ICG released a report entitled: “Eritrea: Scenarios for Future Transition”. Unfortunately, as we illustrate below[1], ICG’s primary sources are mostly the same circle of personalities and entities that harbor a hostile agenda against Eritrea while its basic presumptions are predicated on a superfluous predilection to project a calamitous trend of imminent “doom and gloom”.   As it happened, these skewed approaches have rendered its scenario analysis extremely flawed, and, rather wishful and imaginary.

Political forecasting is not, admittedly, an exact science; it is a messy business indeed.   Still, it’s critical usefulness cannot be glossed over.   The architectures of conflict prevention and management depend on perceptive and sufficiently reliable early warning systems for a timely prognosis of fault lines and trends in order to avoid or mitigate crisis conditions.   But this task requires, in the first place, the existence of a potential crisis-situation as well as objective, neutral and dispassionate appraisal of political realities and trends on the basis of full and accurate information.  The ICG report is found wanting on all these critical parameters.

The ICG’s current report is a follow-up of its last report on Eritrea released on 21 September 2010 with the title “ERITREA: A SIEGE STATE”.   It was claimed then that the report was compiled in ten years of thorough field research that the think tank conducted inside and outside Eritrea.[2] ICG experts visited Eritrea for extensive interviews with senior government officials and canvassed the opinion of various internal sources of their choice.  But even then, there was a lingering impression among most knowledgeable observers of the Eritrean reality that the ICG was more inclined in corroborating a certain pre-conceived narrative rather than honestly and fairly depicting a balanced and nuanced picture.

This time around, the gloves are off and the ICG appears to have discarded all pretentions of objectivity and neutrality.  The ICG claims that it was denied entry to Eritrea although this remains contested by officials in Eritrea’s Foreign Ministry.[3] Whatever the case, and although the ECSS understands that the ICG did maintain some perfunctory communication with the Eritrean Mission to the UN5, the current report is conspicuous for its failure to cite official and neutral and credible sources for countervailing opinion and/or the validation of the facts and events that are described with authority.

Furthermore, and as we highlight below, the welter of information that the ICG cobbled together essentially emanate from rumorsand innuendos6 that are attributed to undisclosed sources.  This is rationalized by considerations of confidentiality.[4] Nonetheless, it casts deeper doubt on the validity of its postulates and conjectures since these “confidential interlocutors” that provided the baseline data may well be affiliated to fringe groups that espouse certain political agendas.   A cursory analysis of the 156 footnotes attached to the report illustrates that 71 % fall in that category. This is unduly large.  And, as we intimated above, the remaining references are virtually recycled data provided by the usual, Eritrea-bashing, hostile elements and groups. These glaring shortcomings of data collection and validation can only dent the reputation of the ICG besides carving out a gaping puncture on the reliability, coherence and probability of the “scenarios of transition” that it envisages.

For purposes of illustration, we cite below some of the outlandish rumors that the ICG blindly replicates in its report without questioning their validity.

· Isaias’s disappearance from public view for several weeks in April 2012 amid rumours of his illness and death made evident the lack of a succession plan;[5]

· During the latter half of 2012, more rumors circulated about disagreements inside the regime on the direction of the country, as well as Isaias’s leadership;[6]

· In November 2012 there were rumors of a round of arrests and “freezing” of senior military leaders including the defense minister, Sebhat Ephrem;[7]

· There are rumors the skeptics have asked the President to step aside and support a smooth, internal transition, so as to avoid the country’s collapse….[8]

· The military …appears to have maintained a certain degree of autonomy, such that it has reportedly (sic) questioned Isaias’s capacity to retain control and asked him to consider a transition at various points in the recent past;[9]

· The posters created for the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of liberation… portray Isaias in the image of Jesus Christ, the shepherd of the people, leading elders of both low and highlands;[10]

· Isaias has been grooming his son for succession;[11]

· The incident of 21 January 2013 is described as an event that was “not unprecedented” but as “the most recent in a number of unreported events”.[12] The report further states “the government reportedly negotiated with the soldiers, and in the end, the Ministry’s employees were released”.[13]

All these assertions are at variance with the true facts and represent gullible regurgitation of wild stories that normally thrive in the grape vine. In a nutshell, the litany of rumor-inspired, unsubstantiated, facts; the blunders of methodological omission and commission, are too many for ICG’s prognosis and “scenarios of transition” to be taken seriously.  After all, if the diagnosis of a presumed illness is wrong in the first place, the prescribed antidote will not only be useless but it may turn out to be toxic.

We now revert to examine in some detail the ICG’s substantive conjectures.

1. Aggravated Ethnic and Religious fault lines

The ICG report paints a curiously explosive picture in regard to potential ethnic and religious conflicts and strife in Eritrea.   To drive the point home, it opines:  “Eritrean diversity, especially the Christian–Muslim divide”,[14] may usher in social upheavals.  The ICG waxes alarmist particularly in other sections of the report when it warns: “existing ethnic and religious divisions may come into play in a confrontation between military factions…leading to a disastrous civil war”,[15] (emphasis ours).

This sudden, doomsday, prognosis is not only utterly wrong, but it contradicts the ICG’s own report as spelled out in its previous report, which was the result, by its own admissions, of ten years meticulous research in Eritrea.  This is what the ICG had to say on the same subject in its September 2010 report:

Despite occasional conflict (sic) and the marked diversity, Eritrea has by and large avoided the kind of serious interethnic and religious strife associated with the region. Economic lifestyles, cultures, faiths and ethnicities have mostly coexisted peacefully. Church and mosque have stood side by side, occasional clashes notwithstanding.[16]

National cohesiveness and identity in Eritrea is, indeed, robust by all accounts; transcending parochial sentiments and allegiances to exclusive ethnic and/or religious sectarianism.  Whatever it’s other problems, the Eritrean polity has been blessed with ethnic and religious harmony that has further been reinforced in the past twenty two years of independence. The periodic communal/tribal infightings that erupt in virtually all the neighbouring countries and, the deep sentiments of religious/ethnic marginalization that characterize diverse communities in our region are literally inexistent in Eritrea.  These have come about as a result of history, the long years of armed struggle as well as judicious government policies anchored on equality of rights and opportunities for all its constituent parts.  The ICG’s new narrative of a volatile, worrisome, trend towards “ethnic/religious civil war” is thus a malevolent chimera that exists only in the minds of Eritrea’s detractors.

2. Forceful nation building

The ICG describes, in a rather deprecating manner, Eritrea’s normative trajectory of nation building as a failed, “forceful process”.[17]

This statement provokes a host of questions both in terms of abstract political theory as well as underlying motive.  In the ICG’s inexplicable view, nation building in the Eritrean case is found to be “forceful” because the “PFDJ has been seeking to further entrench the notion of a single national identity as defined during the struggle”[18]?  In the first place, Eritrean national identity was not forged or invented during the 30 years of liberation war.  Present-day Eritrea was shaped by European colonialism as is the case in the rest of Africa.  And in any case, the post-liberation political process could not have occurred on an artificial and centrifugal setting of polarizing a cohesive national society along ethnic and religious identities if that is what the ICG is alluding to.  The politics of ethnic institutionalization pursued by some countries in the region and that have been enshrined in their Constitutions is certainly not a positive example that must be emulated by Eritrea.  These political precepts are not only dangerous and a recipe for perpetual strife but they are not also warranted by the Eritrean reality.  In as far as ethnic/religious harmony during the armed liberation struggle is concerned; Eritrea’s positive experience had attracted almost universal accolades from all historians and political pundits associated with those times.[19] ICG’s concerns for that period are thus difficult to comprehend.

3. Peace with Ethiopia

The ICG’s position on this cardinal issue is difficult to decipher.  The imperative for Ethiopia to abide by its treaty obligations and to respect international law; the enhancement of regional peace and security that this would entail is not examined from its legal and political perspectives and is curiously absent from its lengthy discourse.  It is totally ignored in the Executive Summary where the ICG suggests various “recommendations” purportedly to address all the critical problems that require urgent solution.

In the sections where it broaches the subject, its point of departure is a presumptive acknowledgement that there are no indications “for unprecedented opening or softening of the previous policy”[20]on the part of Ethiopia.  The ICG then concludes, even if not in so many words, that the compromise must emanate from Eritrea.  What follows next is simply absurd.   The ICG quotes an anonymous “Eritrean analyst” to state:

“… In the event of a regime change, the Generals cannot last long without making peace with Ethiopia… Eritreans would propose negotiations on the status of Badme; a decision the population would not contest….there is no way for the Eritrean nation to survive as it is, if it does not make peace with Ethiopia.  It will, simply, collapse.[21]

The ICG then proceeds to outline steps that a “transitional government” could be expected to take … to open negotiations with Ethiopia in the eventuality/scenario of a Peaceful Transition to Multiparty Democracy.[22]

This analysis is too crass and simplistic to merit serious exposition.   Obviously, the ICG has no clue and is out of sync with mainstream Eritrean political opinion. Even the inconsequential Eritrean armed groups that Ethiopia supports for subversive reasons would not contemplate making concessions on Badme or any other sovereign Eritrean territories.  Apparently, the ICG also suffers from an acute lapse of institutional memory.  Because this is what it had to say in its previous report:

The international community, in particular donors and the Security Council, repeatedly failed to pressure Ethiopia to comply.  Eritrea’s sense of outrage heightened, notwithstanding that the Claims Commission ruled that it violated international law during its military operation in may 1998, in effect, had started the war.[23]

The key point is that the Eritreans felt Ethiopia was once again being appeased by an international community that was tacitly or explicitly hostile to Eritrea. The already deep-rooted sense of isolation and betrayal was reinforced.[24]

The international community erred seriously in 2002 in not putting greater pressure on Ethiopia to fully implement the Boundary Commission’s findings.[25]

4. The Vulnerabilities of the Eritrean State:

Perhaps because of its sources or for reasons better known to it, the ICG’s overarching intention seems to prove not only the “extreme vulnerability of the Eritrean Government” but even the “non-viability of the nation itself”.  The “inevitable collapse of the State and the threat this poses to regional security”, as well as the “weakness and fragmentation of the opposition… and the difficulty of reconciling the political cultures of PFDJ members and Diaspora leaders” are invoked for greater dramatization.

And, to cap it all, the ICG quotes again, an anonymous but “long time observer of the Eritrean reality”, who states:

“Is the system reformable from within…even after Isaias’ removal? …Is Isaias’s absence from the Eritrean political system the answer to all the problems of the nation? Ultimately will Eritrea ever be viable as a nation?”[26]

With all these hyperbole in the background, the ICG considers “six scenarios of transition” which are all permutations of, and predicated on, the sequel after the “prior removal of the President”, by whatever means.  Indeed, in almost all the sections that follow, the ICG emphatically envisions and calls for “the President’s exit”, which it describes as “if not the sole one”, but “still as the absolute sine qua non for transition”.  Isaias’s exit … “is about surely a precondition for anything much to change”,[27] we are reminded time and again!

What is pushing the ICG to dwell on and forecast cataclysmic developments in Eritrea in the times ahead?  Surely, this cannot be a logical extrapolation from the isolated incident that transpired on January 21st early this year.  As we emphasized in the first part of this article, ICG’s almost singular reliance on hostile sources may partially explain this muddled output.   But one would have expected the ICG to consult more objective diplomatic and other sources as well as published materials.  Although we do not subscribe to the underlying concept and analytic methods employed, the annual Index of Failed States,[28] for instance, ranks Eritrea in the upper middle rung, i.e. less prone to potential turmoil than Ethiopia and other countries in the region.  ICG’s obsession with its conjecture is thus difficult to comprehend.

The other intriguing element in the whole report is the obvious disconnect between the recommendations in the Executive Summary and the rest of the report including the “six transition scenarios”.  In the Executive Summary, the recommendations have two parts: the first option dwells on proposals for coordinated action by regional and international players in order to “promote talks with President Isaias Afwerki and the current leadership with a view to avert chaos and further displacement of populations”.[29] The second option focuses on residual measures that must be taken by the “US, EU and countries with special relations with Eritrea” in the event of “transition”.[30] But, as explained above, the entire report then swerves into a different discourse anchored on the agenda of imminent, inevitable and necessary “regime change”.   One is led to believe that the two parts of the article were written by two groups of researchers with disparate views and conclusions.  And these were not reconciled when the end product was published.  The report thus fails even to meet minimum editorial standards.

5. External intervention

The ICG does not conceal its overriding aim of establishing a case for external intervention. The scenarios it envisages for such an eventuality are however puzzling.  This is what it has to say in its scenario of External Mediation or Domination.[31]

Dragged for various reasons, Addis Ababa and Khartoum could play at their intervention in two ways: either a political agreement on how to establish peace (perhaps through IGAD) and setting a closely mentored government or by splitting the country in effect into zones of influence as has happened in south-central Somalia. Alternatively, should a regional agreement over Eritrea not be reached, they could offer direct or material support to competing Eritrean factions in order to satisfy their national and regional security interests.[32]

In the last scenario of Regime Change with Ethiopian intervention, the ICG envisages a positive role being played by the new post-Meles leadership in which the latter offers a transitional leadership in Asmara a fresh diplomatic start, reopening economic ties and providing support for a non-partisan, inclusive, political initiative.[33]

We have never come across such a brazen and horrid apology or advocacy of colonialism under the disguise of academic research work.  In the first place, what would be the contents of a “fresh diplomatic start” by Ethiopia and what are the dividends to Eritrea?  If the ICG is privy to any “concessions” that Ethiopia is prepared make to respect the border rulings of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission in the event of a “transition”, it does not spell them out in the report.  And in any case, the ICG had categorically asserted in previous sections of the same report that there will not be any “new opening on the border problem on the part of the new Ethiopian government” thus throwing the gauntlet to Eritrea for any progress on that front.  So what is this fresh diplomatic start?  The re-opening of economic ties is another riddle that begs more nuanced answers.  Although mutual benefits that may accrue from bilateral trade may not be discounted, the asymmetric advantages to Eritrea are not clear particularly as the report does not at all discuss economic issues and development strategies and policies in Eritrea, Ethiopia or the region as a whole.  Ethiopia’s potential support for a “non-partisan, inclusive, political initiative” only underscores the authors’ utter ignorance of the political dynamics in the region.  In the first place, Ethiopia – the old regime as well as its successor – is enmeshed in the political quagmire of ethnic and highly partisan politics in its own country.   In Eritrea, Ethiopia’s futile policy of regime change has been pursued in the last ten years by mainly propping up what it calls the “Kunama and Afar Liberation Fronts”.   And, in a report where incoherent and mutually contradictory conclusions appear in successive paragraphs, the ICG also states:

Any Ethiopian intervention would likely have a security rather than a democratic agenda.  Hawkish responses are conceivable; Ethiopia could seal the border or seize the opportunity to support one faction in Asmara.  It might even take advantage of instability to achieve one of the longstanding goals of hard-liners, control of the port of Assab in order to end the country’s land-locked status.[34]

The positive role that the ICG assigns to other regional actors similarly provokes more questions than answers.  The ICG professes to be keenly aware of grave fault lines that obtain in the region’s countries in its multiple publications. It has written extensively on the dangers posed by the precarious leadership transition in Ethiopia (though without dwelling on the challenges this poses, as well as the internal dynamics of instability in the country).   It has also written, in its recent reports, on what it has termed as the “embattled situation of the ruling National Congress Party in Sudan”, as well as the “electoral unrest in Djibouti”.[35] Yet despite its gloomy predictions on the potential consequences of these fault lines, it argues for entrusting Eritrea’s troubled neighboring States with the responsibility of “managing change in Eritrea”.  This haphazard and ill-advised advice is indeed  confusing and difficult to fathom.    The ICG advocates, on the one hand, for an “urgent need for transition in Eritrea to ensure its stability” and for the “benefit of the entire region”.[36] At the same time, it envisages this change to come about through the intervention of Eritrea’s neighbors when each of them is embroiled in perhaps deeper political quagmire.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the ICG did not set out to appraise the reality in Eritrea in good faith.  It must have started its research work from a pre-conceived conclusion.  The end result is not really a professional and objective work of situation analysis but a catalogue of biases and suggestive conjectures.


[1] In both the current report and its predecessor, the ICG makes repeated reference to individuals and entities that espouse hostile attitudes towards Eritrea, being at the same time ardent champions of regime change. The list includes Bereket Habteselassie, Berouk Mesfin (a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies who finds it difficult to divorce  from the version of the Ethiopian government when writing on Eritrea)  Dan Connell, Gaim Kibreab, Kjetel Tronvor, Leonard Vincent (author of Les Erytheens and cofounder of a Paris-based anti-Eritrean radio station), Martin Plaut, Tekeste Negash who is opposed to Eritrean independence, and Yosief Ghebrehiwet a permanent contributor of anti-regime articles in the Gedab News, a website devoted to Eritrean division and referred to repeatedly in ICG reports. Other entities of similar category referred to in the ICG reports are the TPLF website aigaform.com, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders.

[2] International Crisis Group, Eritrea the Siege State Africa Report No.136 31 September 2010 p.1

[3] ECSS interview with Dr. Fessehatzion Petros, Foreign Office, Asmara,

[4] International Crisis Group, Eritrea: Scenarios for Future Transition African report No.200 28March 2013, p.2, see fn. 6.

[5] Ibid, p.7

[6] Ibid, p.8

[7] Ibid, see fn.41

[8] Ibid, p.16

[9] Ibid, p.10

[10] Ibid, see fn. 62

[11] Ibid,  p.22

[12] Ibid,  p.6

[13] Ibid,  p.4

[14] Ibid, see fn. 2.

[15] Ibid, p.24

[16] ICG, Report No.136, p.17

[17] ICG Report 200 see Executive Summary.

[18] Ibid, p. 12

[19] Reference to witnesses made by several close observers which among others included: Basil Davidson and Dan Connell.

[20] ICG Report No.200, p.24.

[21] Ibid, see fn.140.

[22] Ibid, p.26

[23] Ibid, p.21

[24] ibid

[25] Ibid, p.25

[26] Ibid, see fn.118

[27] Ibid, p.21

[28] Failed States Index , 2010,2011,2012

[29] ICG Report No. 200; see Executive Summary.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid, p.25

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid p.27

[34] Ibid, p.27

[35] Ibid p.28

[36] Ibid.

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IMF Concludes Article IV Consultation Mission to Ghana

Posted on 15 April 2013 by Africa Business

ACCRA, Ghana, April 15, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ A mission from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), led by Christina Daseking, visited Accra during April 2-12, 2013, to conduct discussions for the 2013 Article IV consultations. The mission met with President Mahama, Vice-President Amissah-Arthur, Finance Minister Terkper, Bank of Ghana Governor Wampah, other senior officials, members of parliament, and representatives of the private sector, think tanks, trade unions, and civil society.

At the end of the mission, Ms. Daseking issued the following statement:

“Economic growth continued at a robust pace of 8 percent in 2012 amid rising fiscal and external imbalances. A growing public sector wage bill, costly energy subsidies, and higher interest cost, pushed the fiscal deficit to about 12 percent of GDP. The external current account deficit also widened to 12 percent of GDP, while unadjusted fuel and energy prices and a tightening of monetary policy helped keep inflation in single digits.

“The growth momentum has continued into 2013, with rising inflation pressures. While activity in the non-oil sector is dampened by energy disruptions and high interest rates, increased oil production should keep overall economic growth close to 8 percent. A weaker outlook for cocoa and gold exports will leave the current account deficit around 12 percent of GDP. The mission projects a reduction in the fiscal deficit to 10 percent of GDP this year, about 1 percent higher than the budget projections, assuming a delayed adjustment in utility tariffs.

“Despite Ghana’s strong economic potential, short-term stability risks have risen. Ghana’s strong democratic institutions and favorable prospects for oil and gas continue to attract significant foreign direct investment (FDI). Yet, low external buffers and a rising domestic debt ratio expose the economy to risks, such as weaker terms of trade, reduced capital inflows, or unanticipated spending needs. Energy sector problems could curtail growth, while excessive government domestic borrowing is raising the cost of credit to the private sector. Both factors have been identified as key growth constraints in Ghana. The mission’s still positive assessment of the economy is contingent on the authorities’ resolve to confront these challenges decisively.

“The mission strongly supports the government’s ambitious transformation agenda, centered on economic diversification, shared growth and job creation, and macroeconomic stability. Rebuilding buffers to safeguard stability is now the immediate priority. This requires lower budget deficits to contain external pressures and keep debt sustainable. In due course, this will also allow for a reduction in interest rates. Going forward, successful economic transformation will require a realignment of spending, away from wages and subsidies toward infrastructure investment.

“A ballooning wage bill, if untamed, will bring debt to levels that could endanger the government’s transformation agenda. The wage bill in 2012 rose by 47 percent, with much of the factors explaining the increase not yet quantified. In addition, deferred wage payments from the single spine salary reform were twice the level included in the supplementary budget. The mission urged the government to gain control over the wage bill. It recommended a thorough audit of the 2012 payroll and welcomes that the government has already started this process.

“The government’s deficit target of 6 percent of GDP by 2015 will keep public debt high and buffers low. The mission recommended an additional fiscal adjustment of 3 percent of GDP by 2015, using a combination of revenue and expenditure measures. This would lessen the public debt burden and raise official reserves toward the authorities’ target of more than 4 months of imports—up from 2.8 months currently. This target is consistent with the mission’s own analysis of optimal reserves, which suggests that a cover of 4.2 months of imports would provide a reasonable cushion against plausible shocks.

“The mission shared the Bank of Ghana’s views on keeping a tight monetary policy stance, for the time being. Both actual inflation and inflation expectations have risen recently, with upside risks from the sharp increase in government borrowing. To strengthen the signaling role of the policy rate within the inflation-targeting framework, the mission recommended narrowing the gap with current market rates. Successful fiscal consolidation will allow an easing of interest rates in due course, provided inflation expectations decline to levels consistent with the achievement of the target.

“On its return to Washington D.C., the team will prepare a staff report that is tentatively scheduled to be discussed by the IMF’s Executive Board in mid-June.”

 

SOURCE

International Monetary Fund (IMF)

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South Africa should use its BRICS membership to address Africa’s poor infrastructure

Posted on 30 March 2013 by Africa Business

South Africa should leverage its position in BRICS to increase investments in the development and upgrade of Africa’s inadequate infrastructure, says David Humphrey, Global Head of Power and Infrastructure at Standard Bank Group.

He was speaking on the side-lines of the fifth BRICS summit taking place in Durban this week (March 26-27, 2013). South Africa joined BRICS in 2010, the powerful bloc of the world’s leading emerging economies, including Brazil, Russia, India and China.

It is estimated that Africa will need to invest at least US$100-billion in the next decade to upgrade its infrastructure, if it is to realize the economic growth potential presented by its existing newly found vast mineral and other natural resources, such as coal, iron ore, oil and gas, says Mr Humphrey.

His views come amid ongoing concerns about the poor state of Africa’s infrastructure and implications for the continent’s economic growth. A recent World Bank study found that the poor state of infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, including electricity, water, ports, roads, rail, ports and information and communications technology, reduced national economic growth by two percentage points every year and cut business productivity by as much as 40%.

Mr Humphrey says the need for rapid development of Africa’s physical infrastructure is now widely seen as key in unlocking the continent’s vast untapped potential and higher economic performance. He argues that with properly targeted infrastructure in place Africa’s GDP and associated economic and social multipliers could be much higher than it is at the moment. He says although some African countries have committed substantial investments in infrastructure, more people with the specialist skills needed to deliver enabling legislation, regulation and deal execution are needed now if Africa is to address its huge investment backlogs and to keep up with the growth momentum.

It has been estimated that Africa’s collective GDP will increase from $1,6-trillion in 2010 to $2,6-trillion in 2015 and that economic growth will expand by an annual average real rate of 5,5% during this period. Seven out of 10 of the world’s fastest growing economies in the next decade will be in Africa. The continent’s growth is being driven by a number of factors, particularly the discovery of new and unexploited mineral deposits across the continent.

Mr Humphrey says all these resources will require substantial investments in physical infrastructure if they are to be fully developed and the socio-economic spin-offs realised.

“Africa’s GDP will not grow at levels that it could unless countries move faster in investing in and implementing infrastructure plans. South Africa and its well developed infrastructure sector can act as the catalyst within the BRICS partnership to help the continent to help deliver the extensive development and upgrade of its road, rail, energy and port infrastructure that is needed. Inadequate infrastructure is responsible for holding back potentially higher levels of economic growth,” says Mr Humphrey.

His views also come amid efforts by the South African government to lobby its BRICS partners to have the bloc’s proposed development bank headquartered in Africa, and whose key purpose would be to fund various developmental projects in the regions where BRICS countries are located.

“South Africa needs to use its membership of the powerful BRICs bloc to ensure that development efforts directed at Africa are channelled more at addressing the debilitating challenge of infrastructure the continent faces. If Africa’s problem of infrastructure is resolved, there is a strong chance that GDP levels could be way higher than projected.”

 

Source: StandardBank.com

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First Monday: A.M. Best’s Leading Analysts Explore Property/Casualty, Life/Annuity & Health Segments of US Insurance Industry

Posted on 05 March 2013 by Africa Business

Founded in 1899, A.M. Best Company is the world’s oldest and most authoritative insurance rating and information source.

OLDWICK, N.J., March 5, 2013—A.M. Best Co.’s Review & Preview episode of “First Monday” features commentary by leading analysts representing the company’s official view on the property/casualty, life/annuity and health sectors of the U.S. insurance industry. Click on http://www.ambest.com/v.asp?v=firstmonday313 to view the video program.

The March 2013 episode of “First Monday” includes:

· US Property/Casualty: Reserve Adequacy, ERM Remain Critical:
Group Vice President Anthony Diodato discusses the personal and commercial segments, saying the factors that concern A.M. Best the most revolve around reserve adequacy, pricing discipline and risk management; Group Vice President John Andre says pricing improvements in the U.S./Bermuda reinsurance market are not enough to offset interest rate pressures, leaving managements challenged to keep investors happy:
http://www.ambest.com/v.asp?v=fmpropertycasualty313

· US Life/Annuity: Pressure on Insurer Earnings Creeping In:
Group Vice President Ken Frino and Vice President Stephen Irwin explore the continued effect of the “lower for longer” interest rate environment, and say they’re paying close attention to asset allocations and de-risking activities, and expect to see continued retrenchment in the variable annuity segment: http://www.ambest.com/v.asp?v=fmlifeannuity313

· US Health: Insurers Proactive amid Reform, but Unknowns Linger:
Assistant Vice President Sally Rosen and Frino talk about how carriers have positioned themselves to navigate the new health care operating environment, but say that a wait-and-see stance is required to see exactly how new emerging operating structures and governance impact the landscape: http://www.ambest.com/v.asp?v=fmhealth313

Each month, “First Monday” will provide A.M. Best’s point of view concerning timely topics or growing trends that are affecting (re)insurance company operations, and in some cases, the analytics behind Best’s Credit Ratings process.

Go to http://www.ambest.com/v.asp?v=firstmonday313 to view the latest edition of “First Monday.” The next edition of “First Monday” will premiere April 1, 2013. To suggest topics for A.M. Best’s analytic teams to address, send an e-mail to FirstMonday@ambest.com.

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A.M. Best’s Leading Analysts Discuss Africa’s Insurance Industry, the U.S. Economic Forecast and Persistent Asbestos Insurance Losses

Posted on 07 February 2013 by Africa Business

Founded in 1899, A.M. Best Company is the world’s oldest and most authoritative insurance rating and information source.

A.M. Best Co.’s latest episode of “First Monday” features commentary pertinent to the Africa insurance industry by A.M. Best’s leading analysts. Click on
http://www.ambest.com/v.asp?v=firstmonday213 to view the video program.

The February 2013 episode of “First Monday” includes:

·    Sizing Up Africa’s Untapped Insurance Potential: Carlos Wong-Fupuy, senior director of analytics for A.M. Best Europe – Rating Services Ltd., and Yvette Essen, director of industry research, Europe and emerging markets, explore the potential Africa holds for the insurance industry, despite great market and economic diversity from country to country:
http://www.ambest.com/v.asp?v=fmafrica213

·    US Economy Mired in Slow-Growth Doldrums: Jim Gillard, assistant vice president, economic and industry research, looks at what expected in the near term for the U.S. economy, saying that one area that could give it a lift amid low interest rates and high unemployment is the housing market, which has been on the mend: http://www.ambest.com/v.asp?v=fmgillard213

·    Asbestos Losses in Property/Casualty Sector Not Letting Up: Assistant Vice President Gerard Altonji says that the U.S. property/casualty industry is posting nearly $2 billion in asbestos losses each year and these losses show no sign of slowing down; as a result, the ultimate cost of such claims has been increased to an estimated $85 billion: http://www.ambest.com/v.asp?v=fmaltonji213

Each month, “First Monday” will provide A.M. Best’s point of view concerning timely topics or growing trends that are affecting (re)insurance company operations, and in some cases, the analytics behind Best’s Credit Ratings process.

Go to http://www.ambest.com/v.asp?v=firstmonday213 to view the latest edition of “First Monday.” The next edition of “First Monday” will premiere March 4, 2013. To suggest topics for A.M. Best’s analytic teams to address, send an e-mail to FirstMonday@ambest.com.

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GAMBIA RISKED FACING EU’s AID CUT

Posted on 21 January 2013 by Amat JENG

Amat Jeng

 

The Gambia is feared loosing millions of Euros in financial aid from its main donor – the European Union (EU), amid its President Jammeh’s outright rejection of the governance reforms that the EU has seen as an iron fist.

The block – comprising 27 member states – has demanded The Gambia government to reform it political governance and structure in order to improve the country’s governance and human rights situations.

The Eu has presented a 17-point demand to The Gambia government; but Jammeh has persistently rejected the proposal, viewing it as a foreign woven-mechanism, meddling in his rule of the West African state. The EU has also scheduled a meeting – EU Article 8 Intensified Political – with the government slated for January this year, during which the demands are to be discussed.

 

In a cabinet meeting on recently, President Jammeh denounced and rubbished all the demands by the EU saying that there is no need to meet with the EU because “none of their demands is subject for discussion”.

 

The EU says it demands are prompted by the significant deterioration in the human rights situation in The Gambia in recent months, notably the execution of nine death row inmates, the forced closure of independent radio stations and newspapers, the trial against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and the arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists and human rights defenders.

 

Among the reforms that they are demanding from the government are: the upholding of moratorium on the death penalty with immediate effect, revision of laws on freedom of expression and media regulations within 24 months, provision of information regarding the recent executions, including location of burial to the families.

 

President Jammeh’s strong refusal of these reforms could render some ramifications on the government and the people of The Gambia.

Cutting aid to a country that has been high dependant on foreign aid, could pinched seriously on the government’s coffer, because it cannot fend for its 1.8 million people – two third of which live on the breadline.

 

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Radio station ransacked, equipment seized in DRC

Posted on 05 December 2012 by Africa Business

NEW YORK, December 5, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ All sides of the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo should halt attacks on journalists and media outlets, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today after a radio station was attacked and taken off the air.

 

The offices of Radio Solidarité, a community station in the town of Sake, were ransacked on Friday by rebels belonging to M23, a group of former army officers who have seized towns in the eastern part of the country, according to the station’s journalists, the U.N.-backed station Radio Okapi reported. The rebels also confiscated equipment, including a generator and microphones, local press freedom group Journaliste En Danger reported. The station has not been able to broadcast and remains off the air, local journalists said.

Amani Kabashi, a spokesman for M23, denied to CPJ that the rebels had attacked the station.

“We condemn the attack on Radio Solidarité and the seizure of its equipment and call on authorities to immediately investigate the incident,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “Both sides of this conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo must stop attacking journalists and news outlets.”

M23 rebels had controlled Sake until Friday, when they started to withdraw after a cease-fire agreement was negotiated with the Congolese government, according to news reports. Sake has been a battleground town in the war between government forces and M23 rebels.

 

 

CPJ has documented several attacks on journalists and news outlets amid the conflict in the eastern DRC. Authorities temporarily jammed Radio Okapi in the capital, Kinshasa, on Saturday. At least five other news outlets, including the daily Le Journal, Ngoma FM, Radio Soleil, Radio Liberté, and Radio Télévision Autonome du Sud Kasaï, were censored in 2012 in connection with their coverage of army mutineers rebelling against the government, according to CPJ research. The government imposed a ban on broadcast talk programs on the conflict in eastern DRC in August, according to news reports. Several journalists have also reported being threatened in reprisal for their reporting on the subject.

 

SOURCE

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

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Four Seasons Arrives in Tanzania: Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti Now Open

Posted on 03 December 2012 by Africa Business

SERENGETI, Tanzania, Dec. 3, 2012 — Following a rebrand and an extensive upgrade, Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, Tanzania officially opened its doors today.

Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, Tanzania officially opened its doors today, the first Four Seasons in Sub-Saharan Africa. (PRNewsFoto/Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts)

The Serengeti National Park is considered by many as the best in Africa and is one of Tanzania’s most famous natural wonders. The Lodge is the first Four Seasons in Sub-Saharan Africa and marks the introduction of the brand to the region with two additional properties planned in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and an exclusive beach resort on the island of Zanzibar.

With a total of 77 guest rooms, including 12 suites with plunge pools and five free-standing villas with private swimming pools, the Lodge offers guests the ultimate in privacy. Each room has an elevated open-air sundeck, which provides views over the Serengeti and a truly intimate wildlife experience to its guests.

The design of the property reflects both contemporary African architectural style and its surrounding landscape – with the centrepiece of the Lodge comprising of a two storey great house that includes a choice of both indoor and outdoor dining options: Kula’s, an International and African buffet-style restaurant; Maji Bar, an a la carte restaurant and bar; and Boma Grill, offering authentic African grilled dishes using locally sourced produce. The Sundowner Bar boasts spectacular sunset views and a wine cellar where guests can sample wines from across the African continent.

Four Seasons Safari Lodge offers guests a unique opportunity to be immersed in the Serengeti from a safe and ecologically responsible environment, while still being pampered amid the unspoiled wilderness. Elevated wooden walkways weave throughout the property, connecting the great house and guest rooms with a free-standing Spa complex housing six treatment pavilions and a fitness centre. From the serenity of the Lodge’s outdoor infinity pool, guests overlook an active watering hole that attracts a daily variety of wildlife, including elephants.

Suitable for guests of eight years and above, Four Seasons Safari Lodge is also home to its own Discovery Centre featuring museum quality exhibits and a lecture hall for guests to learn about the local wildlife, environment and culture.

“It’s great to be in Africa, where each day brings a new wonder,” says James Kostecky, general manager and Four Seasons veteran. As an avid photographer with a keen sense of adventure, he points out, “This Lodge is an excellent opportunity for first time safari travellers, families and groups to experience the natural beauty, astounding wildlife and fascinating culture of the Serengeti.”

SOURCE Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

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Commercial Real Estate Outlook Dims Amid Persistent Economic, Political Concerns, Roundtable Survey Shows

Posted on 04 August 2012 by Africa Business

 

Outside Core Markets and Multifamily, Pricing and Capital Access Remain Flat

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Commercial real estate market and capital conditions appear to have weakened again and are not expected to improve much over the coming year, except for pockets of strong activity and price appreciation in core “gateway markets” and the multifamily (apartment) segment, according to The Real Estate Roundtable’s Q3 Sentiment Survey, released today.

Jeffrey DeBoer, President and CEO of The Real Estate Roundtable - www.rer.org. (PRNewsFoto/Real Estate Roundtable)

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20120215/DC54467)

Whereas an overwhelming 74 percent of Q2 survey participants judged current conditions to be at least somewhat better than a year earlier, only 60 percent expressed such views in the latest survey.  Looking ahead, the percentage of commercial real estate executives who expect conditions to be better one year from today dropped from 69 to 58 between Q2 and Q3.

“Our latest survey underscores the fragility and unevenness of the commercial real estate recovery — which closely tracks the pace of the broader U.S. economic recovery and which remains limited to top-notch assets in major metro markets,” said Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer. “Given the pervading sense of uncertainty hanging over the economy, the elections, looming budget and tax issues awaiting action on Capitol Hill, increasingly complex and overlapping regulatory burdens, and escalating worries about the Euro zone, it’s not surprising that commercial real estate executives’ expectations for the year ahead are relatively lackluster,” he added.

Reflecting renewed economic and political concerns, all three indices in The Roundtable’s Sentiment Index fell since the last survey, conducted in April. The overall index, which early this year began to rebound from a sharp drop in late 2011 (rising from 59 in Q4 2011 to 68 and 70 in the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2012), slid to 63 in the latest survey.  Similarly, the “current index” was on a positive trajectory in the first half of 2012, rising from 66 to 71 in Q1 and Q2, respectively — only to fall back to 64 in the latest survey.

The hints of cautious optimism that emerged in the January-February survey (producing a “future index” value of 70) began to evaporate by mid-year, when the Federal Reserve downgraded its projections for U.S. economic growth after three consecutive months of disappointing jobs data.  With CRE executives recalling last year’s economic roller-coaster and expressing concern about a potential repeat of similar shocks this year, the future index tumbled from 70 to 69 to 62 over the first three quarters of this year.

“Commercial real estate continues to face pressure from underlying economic problems, along with an erosion of property values and equity throughout much of the country, and a massive amount of loans coming due,” DeBoer said. “This survey confirms that policy action is needed to restore a climate for job creation, to spur long-term business investment, and to help bridge the equity gap hindering the refinancing of hundreds of billions in maturing commercial mortgages.”

In The Roundtable’s view, foreign capital represents a significant potential source of equity that could help “re-equitize” commercial real estate and rebalance “underwater” loans, thereby easing borrowers’ ability to get new financing and avoid potential default or foreclosure.  But, as DeBoer testified before Congress last summer, an arcane and discriminatory tax law — the “Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980″ (FIRPTA) — is unnecessarily impeding foreign equity investment in U.S. commercial real estate. As a first step toward reform, The Roundtable urges administrative repeal of a 2007 IRS notice that significantly expanded the law’s scope.

The Roundtable also continues working with national real estate trade groups to encourage a more robust recovery of the commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) market, whose roughly $32 billion in projected issuance for 2012 is a far cry from the $230 billion issued at the market’s peak in 2007. Given that CMBS debt is used across the United States to finance “Main Street” real estate, a healthy secondary market for commercial mortgages will not only ensure a broader recovery in commercial real estate markets, but it will strengthen financial institution balance sheets across the board.

In the latest Sentiment Survey — on both debt and equity availability — fewer respondents (than in the Q2 survey) saw current conditions as better than those of a year ago; there was a corresponding increase in the percentage of respondents who felt debt and equity conditions were about the same or somewhat worse than a year ago (Q3 2011). As for future conditions, there was a similar drop in the percentage of respondents who expect better conditions one year from now — with a corresponding increase among those who expect little change (or slightly worse conditions) by this time next year.

A similar dynamic appeared on questions regarding future expectations about asset values. Specifically, there was a 16 percent decline (from Q2 to Q3) among survey respondents who believe property values will increase at least somewhat by this time next year, and an 18 percent increase among those who believe prices will stay about the same or worsen somewhat.

The quarterly Sentiment Survey seeks to capture feedback from a broad range of real estate industry segments, asset classes, ownership vehicles and capital structures, including owners and asset managers, financial services firms and operators.   A PDF of the survey report is available online at www.rer.org.

About The Real Estate Roundtable Sentiment Survey: The Real Estate Roundtable Sentiment Survey is the industry’s most comprehensive measure of leading real estate executives’ confidence in financial and real estate markets.  The survey, conducted by FPL Advisory Group, captures the perspectives of senior real estate executives, including CEOs, presidents, board members, and other executives from a broad set of industry sectors including owners and asset managers, financial services firms and operators.

SOURCE Real Estate Roundtable

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