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‘Africa’s income inequality levels a ticking bomb’

The World Economic Forum (WEF), a global non-governmental organization creating a platform for views exchange on investment, economic and developmental issues across the world last week gathered African Head of States, business leaders and think tanks in Cape Town, South Africa for the Africa 2019 Edition.

The Forum came at a time where Africa and the world were still struck by the attacks on foreign nationals by South Africans in Johannesburg, popularly known as Xenophobia or Afrophobia. The attacks were concentrated on middle class commercial outposts, targeting foreign traders and hawkers who according to South Africans were taking up their jobs and trading space.

On Nigerians in particular the horrific burning down of trading facilities, business properties and assets was reported to be fueled by Nigerian alleged dealings on illicit drugs and organized criminal activities in turn eroding community ‘s moral fabric sending South African youngsters to sorry state of addiction and disorganized lives .

Conversations at the forum have attributed these attacks on inequality and inability of African governments to create significant and sustainable means of livelihood for its people. “It is corruption, poor administration, unequal distribution of resources and high levels of poverty that fuels this influx of Nigerians and other nationals out of their home countries in the first place,” said Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili, former World Bank Africa Vice President during a panel discussion on unemployment.

 The renowned Nigerian scholar, researcher and global think tank further added that it was South African government’s failure to create meaning jobs for its citizens as well that builds up its citizen frustration “Crime is a result of inequality and frustration that comes with clear segregation in resources allocations and the means of production,” she said.

The panel which President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi was part of underscored that remedies to African unemployment crises must focus on the post millennial generation, a crop of youngsters aged between 15 and 25. Current statistics according to the World Economic Forum indicates that South Africa’s unemployment rate is at 29 % with unofficial statistics understood to be at around 40 %. The continent’s largest economy Nigeria is home to around 23 % unemployed citizens, with the figure projected to reach levels of 30 % next year.

This week the World Bank released staggering figures signaling Africa’s largest economy will run short of funds to finance its national budget because of eroded domestic revenue generation base caused by poor and ineffective tax collection mechanism. In Kenya, the largest East African economy unemployment rate is 11 %, one of the continent’s lowest, whereas next door in Ethiopia the figure is well around 20 %.

“In the entirety, on average, in every African population, a quarter is far away from finding a job by any means or whatsoever” underscored the World Economic Forum. In particular Botswana’s high income equality and high unemployment rate was highlighted as a seriously ticking bomb for an economy of just over 2 million people.

Last week during the build of the Cape Town Forum, another global anti-poverty and injustices confederation Oxfam International released African inequality analysis report titled “A Tale of Two Continents”. In the report Oxfam highlights that three African billionaires today have more wealth than the poorest 50% or 650 million people across the continent.

Wealth of the bottom 50% of the African population is 22.98 billion US dollars while wealth for the three richest billionaires in Africa is 28.8 billion US dollars, being Nigerian industrialist Aliko Dangote at USD 14.1 billion, South Africa –British diamond and mining magnet Nicky Oppenheimer at USD 7.7 billion while South Africa’s luxury goods business tycoon and diversified investment magnet Johann Rupert brings USD 7 billion dollars to the trio-elite pie. This is according to Forbes 2019 Billionaires List.

The report also shows how rising and extreme inequality across Africa is undermining efforts to fight poverty. “A Tale of Two Continents” reveals that while the richest Africans fortunes are increasing, extreme poverty is rising in the continent. The report also looks at how unsustainable levels of debt and a rigged international tax system are depriving African governments of billions of dollars in lost revenue each year – money that could otherwise be invested in education, healthcare and social protection.

Oxfam says the continent is rapidly becoming the epicenter of global extreme poverty. While the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day has plummeted in Asia, this number is rising in Africa. The World Bank estimates that 87% of the world’s extreme poor will be in Africa by 2030, if current trends continue.

"Africa is ready to rise – but only once its leaders have the courage to back a more human economy that works for the many and not a few super-rich men. They can achieve this by investing in inequality-busting, universal and quality public services like health and education and by developing truly progressive tax systems. These are particularly powerful for women and girls living in poverty. They can also back a transformation towards decent and dignified work that protects the rights of workers, especially in the age of the African Free Trade Area and the new digital era.” Said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

The report features a first-ever ranking of African nations on their commitment to tackling inequality. The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index, developed by Oxfam and Development Finance International, ranks countries on their policies on social spending, tax, and labor rights – three areas the organizations say are critical to reducing inequality.

South Africa and Namibia take first and second place respectively, with their strong social spending and a progressive tax system. Nigeria meanwhile has an unenviable distinction of being at the bottom of the Africa ranking, as well as the global ranking for two years running.
 In other staggering highlights Oxfam‘s “Tale of Two Continents” shows that the most unequal country in Africa, Swaziland, is home to one billionaire, Nathan Kirsh, who is estimated to have $4.9bn.

If he worked in one of the restaurants that his wholesale company supplies on a worker’s minimum wage, it would take him 5.7 million years to earn his current level of wealth. In Africa’s largest economy the combined wealth of the 5 richest Nigerians is more than enough to end poverty in Nigeria. Nigeria’s girl population makes up 60% of the more than 10 million children who do not go to school.

 Furthermore Oxfam notes that 75% of the wealth of African multi-millionaires and billionaires is held offshore, as result the continent is losing $14billion annually in uncollected tax revenue. Dangerous and unsustainable levels of debt are hurting social spending. In 2018, Angola spent 57% of government revenue on debt repayments while public spending was cut by 19% between 2016 and 2018. Similar trends are present in Ghana, Egypt, Cameroon and Mozambique. In addition the report says African women and girls are also most likely to be poor. They also stand to lose the most when public services like healthcare and education are underfunded.

In Kenya, a boy from a rich family has a one-in-three chance of continuing his studies beyond secondary school. However, a girl from a poor family has a 1-in-250 chance of doing so. Women and girls also bear the brunt of failing healthcare systems, clocking in hours of unpaid care work looking after sick relatives. In Malawi, women spend seven times the amount of time on unpaid care work than men.

"African political and business leaders face a clear choice. They can stay on the path of increasingly extreme inequality, where poverty continues to rise while wealth in the hands of a tiny elite and foreign companies’ spirals. Or they can choose another way: towards a more prosperous and equal Africa that invests in and respects the dignity of its entire people,” added Ms Byanyima

At the Africa World Economic Forum, Karan Bhatia Google Vice President, Global Public Policy and Government Affairs noted that African government needs to invest in the right infrastructure and put in place the right policy and legal frameworks, “African states need to build a digital culture where its young people can tap into technological advancements and the digital revolution, the right regulation climate will also be key in achieving any meaningful results” he said.

 Nigerian Tycoon, Founder and Executive Chairman of Zennith Bank, the country’s largest commercial banking outfit by market capitalization highlighted that it was high time governments and domestic private sector come together to mobilize resources for their economic transformation “The government needs to come up with policies, bespoke for earmarked economic sectors and that can only happen if the private sector itself was part of the policies formulation,” he said.

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Business

Slight growth in GDP as economy battles return

28th July 2021
Peggy-Serame

Botswana’s economy showed slight growth signs in the first quarter of 2021, following a devastating year in 2020.

During 2020, the entire second quarter was on zero economic activity as the country went on total lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

Diamond trade plummeted to record low levels as global travel restrictions halted movement of both goods and people and muted trade.

The end result was a significant decline for the local economy, at an estimated 7 percent contraction, just marginally below the 2008/09 global financial crises.

According to figures released by Statics Botswana this week, the country’s nominal Gross Domestic Product for the first quarter of 2021 was P47.739 billion compared to a revised P45.630 billion registered during the previous quarter.

This represents a quarterly increase of 4.6 percent in nominal terms between the two periods.

During the quarter, Public Administration and Defence became the major contributor to GDP by 18.4 percent, followed by Wholesale & Retail by 11.4 percent. The contribution of other sectors was below 6.0 percent, with Water and Electricity Supply being the lowest at 1.6 percent.

Real GDP for the first quarter of 2021 increased by 0.7 percent compared to a contraction of 4.6 percent registered in the previous quarter.

The improvement in the first quarter 2021 GDP reflected continued efforts to reopen businesses and resume activities that were postponed or restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The real GDP increased by 0.7 percent during the period under review, compared to an increase of 1.2 percent in the same quarter of 2020.

The recovery in the domestic economy was observed across majority of industries except Accommodation & Food Services, Mining & Quarrying, Manufacturing, Construction, Other Services and Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing.

The overall slow performance of the economy was mainly due to the impact of measures that were put in place to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Non-mining GDP increased by 4.1 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 4.0 percent increase registered in the same quarter of the previous year.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing industry decreased by 2.0 percent in real value added during the first quarter of 2021, relative to a contraction of 5.2 percent registered during the same quarter of 2020.

The main driver of the unfavorable performance stems from a decrease in real value added of Livestock farming by 3.0 percent.

Mining and Quarrying registered a decrease 11.4 percent in the real value added, this was mainly influenced by the drop in the Gold and Diamond real value added by 17.5 and 12.5 percent respectively.

Diamond production in carats went down by 12.1 percent while the tonnage of Gold produced went down by 17.5 percent.

The poor performance of the diamond sub-industry is attributed to the reduction in production due to a lower grade feed to the plant at Orapa in response to heavy rainfall and operational issues, including continued power supply disruptions.

With regard to Gold is due to diminishing resource base which affect production.

The Manufacturing industry recorded a decline of 7.4 percent in real value added during the first quarter of 2021, compared to a decrease of 2.3 percent registered in the corresponding quarter of 2020.

The deep low performance in the industry is observed in the two major sub-industries of Beverages & tobacco and Diamond cutting, polishing and setting by 57.0 and 38.5 percent respectively.

The reduction in Beverages is attributed to alcohol sale ban imposed during the quarter under review in order to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On the other hand, exports of polished diamonds went down by 24.9 percent compared to a decrease of 11.5 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year.

The construction industry recorded a decline of 4.8 percent compared to an increase of 4.3 percent realized in the corresponding quarter in 2020.

This industry comprises of buildings construction, civil engineering and specialized construction activities. The industry is still showing signs of the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. The industry recorded a negative growth of 7.4 percent in the previous quarter.

Water and Electricity Water and Electricity value added at constant 2016 prices for the first quarter of 2021 was P506.2 million compared to P378.2 million registered in the same quarter of 2020, recording a growth of 33.8 percent.

In the first quarter of 2021, Electricity recorded a significant growth of 62.4 percent compared to a decrease of 67.6 percent recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2020.

The local electricity production increased by 22.4 percent while Electricity imports decreased by 33.3 percent during quarter under review. The water industry recorded a value added of P231.3 million compared to P209.0 million registered in the same quarter of the previous year, registering an increase of 10.7 percent.

Wholesale and Retail Trade real value added increased by 11.4 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to an increase of 5.5 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year. The industry deals with sales of fast moving consumer goods.

Diamond Traders recorded a significant growth of 112.7 percent as opposed to a decline of 22.7 percent recorded in the corresponding quarter last year. The positive growth is due to improved demand of diamonds from the global market.

The Transport and Storage value added increased by 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared to a 2.4 percent increase recorded in the same quarter of the previous year.

The slight improved performance of the industry was mainly attributed to the increase in real value added of Road Transport and Post & Courier Services by 4.3 and 2.1 percent respectively.

The slow growth was influenced by a significant reduction in Air Transport services of 69.7 percent due to reduced number of passengers carried. Rail goods traffic in tonnes went down by 6.4 percent and passenger rail transport was not operating during the quarter under review.

Accommodation and Food Services Accommodation and Food Services real value added declined by 31.7 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to a decrease of 4.4 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year. The reduction is largely attributed to a decrease of 42.1 percent in real value added of the Accommodation activities subindustry.

The suspension of air travel occasioned by Covid-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering the borders of the country and hence affecting the output of Hotels and Restaurants industry. COVID-19 restriction measures resulted in reduced demand for leisure and conferencing activities, as conferences are largely held through virtual platforms.

Finance, Insurance and Pension Funding industry registered a positive growth of 8.3 percent due to the favorable performance from monetary intermediation and Central Banking Services by 16.4 and 5.4 percent respectively during quarter under review.

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Business

Chobe Holdings secures P16 million for dark days

28th July 2021
Chobe Holdings

It is still tough in the tourism industry — big players in this sleeping giant are not having it easy, but options are being explored to keep the once vibrant multibillion Pula sector alive until the world gets back to normalcy.

One of the primary measures against the spread of Covid-19 is to stay home; this widely pronounced precaution against the global contagion that has claimed over 4 million lives across the world is however a thorn in the flesh of one of the major industries in the global economy — the tourism sector .

This sector is underpinned by travel – an act which is the virus‘ number one mode of spread, especially across borders.

Chobe Holdings Limited, one of Botswana’s leading high end eco-tourism giants said its survival strategies are underpinned by well-crafted stakeholder engagements in the mist of these unprecedented times of muted trading activity.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Chobe continued to invest in and strengthen its relationships with key stakeholders in both its traditional markets and the SADC region,” the company directors updated shareholders this week.

To keep the business afloat, the company which owns and operates some of the exquisite tourism destinations along the banks of the mighty Chobe said it has triggered its existing available debt financing avenues.

Chobe revealed that its current overdraft of BWP 25 million has been extended on favourable terms.

The company shared that it has negotiated a further USD 1.5 million (over P16 million) standby loan with a flexible settlement terms and preferable cost implications to the bottom line.

“We are confident that the Group has sufficient cash inflows, cash reserves and un-utilized prearranged borrowing in place to settle any liabilities falling due and support the smooth recovery of operations in the short and medium term,” the company directors said, noting that they will retain the flexibility to vary operations should market conditions change.

Early this year, Chobe announced that the ongoing crisis in the tourism industry forced the company to draw from its prearranged overdraft facility of P25 million to the extent of P11.6 million.

Last year Chobe’s occupancy levels around its lodges and hotels went down 89 percent. This resulted in unprecedented revenue decline of 93% to P27.78 million from the P373.94 million in the previous year ended February 2020.

Operating profits went down 159% with profit after tax down 170%, mirroring a loss of over P67 million.

Chobe management said during the last half of the financial year they have done all they could to contain costs across the company’s operations.

During the last half of the year Chobe’s marketing and reservations teams continued to pursue the “don’t cancel but defer policy”.

“We thus continue to hold advance travel receipts, to the value of about P34 million at the financial year end,” the company revealed early this year.

Chobe said it continues to engage Government, through HATAB and BTO to prioritize the vaccination of workers in the tourism sector.

“Throughout the pandemic we have ensured that employees are trained in and comply with COVID-19 infection mitigation protocols as well as ensuring that all visitors to our remote camps and lodges as well as our staff and contractors are tested for COVID-19 before reaching the camp or lodges,” the company said.

However, the company said vaccinating the tourism staff will provide the best way to ensure that both employees and guests are protected from the virus.

“We continue to manage our cashflow through stringent cost control measures, balanced against the protection of the Group’s physical assets and the wellbeing and retention of its people,” the company said.

Chobe has successfully retained its top management through the pandemic.  To this end the company directors continue to closely monitor the Group’s recovery from COVID-19 and adjust salary reductions to support operations and aid retention.

Domestic and regional travel resumed during the second quarter of the 2020/21 financial year with the Group opening a strategic mix of camps and lodges.

A comprehensive domestic, regional and international marketing plan was put in place to support these openings.

International travel resumed in the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year with occupancies forecast to steadily increase, albeit from a low base, through the second quarter.

The company is optimistic that forward bookings are strong for the 2022/23 financial year.

“There is pent-up demand from our traditional source markets to travel now, but this is tempered by uncertainty and access constraints,” the company stated.

“Both the domestic and international markets are sensitive to such uncertainty, and it is critical that both the private and public sector work together to develop and publish clear, authoritative and consistent travel information in order to build confidence”

Chobe entered the pandemic with the Shinde camp rebuild in progress — one of its high end camps and this was completed in the first half of the 2020/21 financial year accounting for the majority of the Group’s capital expenditure for that period.

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Business

De Beers Q2 production jumps in response to strong rough diamond demand

28th July 2021
De-Beers -jwaneng-mine

De Beers Group, the world’s leading rough diamonds producer by value and Botswana’s partner in the diamond business, ramped up its production in the second quarter of 2021, in response to stronger demand for rough diamonds in the global markets.

The London headquartered diamond mining giant revealed in its production report this week that rough diamonds output  increased by 134% to 8.2 million carats in the three(3) months  of quarter 2 2021, “reflecting planned higher production to meet stronger demand for rough diamonds”.

This was against the backdrop of curtailed demand in the same quarter last year, mirroring the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns across southern Africa during that period.

In Botswana, where De Beers sources majority of its rough diamonds through partly government owned Debswana, production increased by 214% to 5.7 million carats. The percentage jump mirrored planned low production in the second quarter of 2020 where output was adjusted to market demands and implemented Covid-19 protocols.

Debswana operates four (4) Mines: Jwaneng Mine- being its flagship producer and largest revenue contributor. Jwaneng Mine which is the wealthiest diamond mine in the world by value is envisaged for multi-billion expansion to an underground operation in future to stretch its existence by few more decades.

The underground project which is anticipated to cost a whooping P65 billion will be the world‘s largest underground diamond mine.

The company which accounts for over 65 % of De Beers’s global production also operates Orapa Mine- one of the world’s largest by area, Letlhakane Mine currently a tailings treatment operation and Damtshaa Mine which is under care and maintenance following market shrink in 2020.

Namibia production decreased by 6% to 0.3 million carats, primarily due to planned maintenance of the Mafuta vessel which was completed in the quarter and another vessel remaining demobilized.  In Namibia De Beers sources diamonds both in land and marine through Namdeb and Debmarine respectfully.

In South Africa-the spiritual home ground of De Beers Group, production increased by 130% to 1.3 million carats, due to planned treatment of higher grade ore from the final cut of the Venetia open pit, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown in Q2 2020.

Production in Canada increased by 14% to 0.9 million carats, primarily reflecting the impact of the Covid-19 measures implemented in Q2 2020.

De Beers said consumer demand for polished diamonds continued to recover, leading to strong demand for rough diamonds from midstream cutting and polishing centers, despite the impact on capacity from the severe Covid-19 wave in India during April and May.

Rough diamond sales totaled 7.3 million carats (6.5 million carats on a consolidated basis), from two Sights, reflecting the impact of the reduced Indian midstream capacity on Sight 4, compared with 0.3 million carats (0.2 million carats on a consolidated basis) from two Sights in Q2 2020, and 13.5 million carats (12.7 million carats on a consolidated basis) from three Sights in Q1 2021.

The H1 2021 consolidated average realized price increased by 13% to $135/ct (H1 2020: $119/ct), driven by an increased proportion of higher value rough diamonds sold.

While the average price index remained broadly flat, the closing index increased by 14% compared to the start of 2021, reflecting tightness in inventories across the diamond value chain as well as positive consumer demand for polished diamonds.

Full Year Guidance Production guidance is tightened to 32–33 million carats (previously 32-34 million carats (100% bases)), subject to trading conditions and the extent of any further Covid-19 related disruptions.

When commenting to 2021 quarter 2 production figures, Mark Cutifani, Chief Executive of Anglo American- De Beers parent, said the entire Anglo American Group delivered a solid operational performance supported by comprehensive Covid-19 measures to help safeguard the lives and livelihoods of its workforce and host communities.

“We have generally maintained operating levels at approximately 95% of normal capacity and, as a consequence, production increased by 20% compared to Q2 of last year, with planned higher rough diamond production at De Beers” he said.

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