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The Paris Attacks

TERRORISTS OR  SCAPEGOATS? If what French President Francois Hollande said  is anything to go by, there has to be a huge question mark against these two “Al Qaeda attackers” who are said to have murdered 12 people on that fateful day.

“The Illuminati did it”, bleated François Hollande. Did the French president simply shoot from the lip or he hit the nail squarely on the head? In this two-part instalment, BENSON C SAILI puts the whole saga in context following two weeks of meticulous sleuthing.

Over the span of only three frenzied days that brought the entire globe to a practical standstill, an orgy of killings in the French capital of   Paris laid waste to a total of 20 lives, the deadliest terror attack in the country in nearly 55 years. The body count was not even half-done when names like Islamic Jihadists, ISIS, and Al Qaeda in Yemen – the providential scapegoats – began to be bandied around as the likely culprits by the Western media. This rash inference – call it the Rupert Murdoch line – was  made on the basis that the AK-47 wielding  attackers were chanting the trademark Jihadist kill-chant “Allahu Akbar”, meaning Allah, the Muslim God, was great.


Saleable as it was to the characteristically docile Western audiences, the Rupert Murdoch line did not wash with the French authorities themselves.  In a live, tongue-in-cheek television speech on January 9, only two days after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, François Hollande, the French President, said “the Illuminati were behind the shootings” in what he termed “a terrorist attack of the most extreme barbarity”.

In the mainstream Western media, “Illuminati” is a forbidden word. Resultantly, none of the huge-circulation print media as well as their  electronic counterpart in Europe and across the Atlantic quoted  Hollande verbatim. I was glued to Sky TV myself as a glum Hollande rendered his keening speech and I can wager you even the translator himself never used the word “Illuminati” once.


According to blogosphere translations of portions of Hollande’s speech, his exact words were, "Those who committed these acts; these terrorists, these ‘illuminated ones’, these fanatics; have nothing to do with the Muslim religion”. True, the term “Illumines” in French can also refer to “delusional people” but a rhetorical devise of the Illuminati is that they use double-speak, with one meaning intended for their ilk and another intended as a mass blindfold.


Hollande would never have been president if he was not Illuminati. It is telling, therefore, that he seemed redolent with rage at his own bedfellows for so blatantly setting upon his country. The  “Illumines” allusion was clearly a coded dig at the very monstrous order to which he belonged, a megaphone remonstration at a most egregious act of foul play. Paraphrased, what Hollande was saying was that Moslems had nothing to do with the atrocity: the terrorists were the Illuminati. Certainly, the concourse  of leaders who showed up for the “unity march” were not there as a gesture of solidarity, many of them anyway: they came to toast to the sacrifice and harvest first-hand the enormous haul of negative emotional energy on which they thrive. The unity march was a triumphant  march. To just give one example of how despicable some of these rascals we call presidents or prime ministers are,  Bibi Netanyahu, who was conspicuous by his presence, was just fresh from erasing 2310 men, women, and children from the face of the earth in the 2014 summer offensive on the Gaza  strip.


If Hollande was effectively flashing the middle-finger at the Illuminati for the crass barbarity wrought upon his people, exactly how did he know it was them? What forms did the Illuminati fingerprints take in the crime trail?


CHARLIE’S CASE OF CHEERS AND JEERS
First, let us familiarise ourselves with the ill-starred publication.   Charlie Hebdo is French for “Charlie Weekly”. The essential thrust of the magazine is satirical, meaning it employs humour, irony, caricature, exaggeration, or outright ridicule to expose and lampoon institutional ills or peccadilloes, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. It features cartoons, polemics, and jokes in the main, although it does carry a modicum of incendiary news items. It has been characterised as “irreverent and stridently non-conformist in tone, strongly secularist, anti-religious, and left-wing, and publishes articles that mock far-right politics, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Israel, politics, culture, and various other groups as local and world news unfolds”. In other words, it has a provocative, bare-knuckle approach which knows no sacred cows. Its circulation has ranged from 45,000 to 60,000 copies per print run, about a tenth of what the country’s popular news weeklies typically sell.


Founded in 1960 as a monthly, the magazine has a chequered and tumultuous history, with several incarnations between and betwixt. From 1961 to 1970, it was banned three times by the French government, one transgression of which was its mockery of the demise of iconic president General Charles De Gaulle. The slur on De Gaulle brought about its permanent ban though it promptly sprang to life again under a new guise, the very name it goes by today. In December 1981, it ceased to exist altogether, only to resurface twelve years later. It has been the subject of several lawsuits though it only lost one in which the complainant was its own employee.


The magazine can be vulgar to a point of being plainly insulting and all in the name of journalistic licence. It particularly reserves a special disdain for the world’s most eminent religious faiths. Some of its reprehensible portrayals in recent times have included a cover cartoon featuring rolls of toilet paper labeled “Bible,” “Koran,” and “Torah” under the headline “In the shitter, all the religions”.  François Hollande has been caricatured with a talking penis hanging out of his underwear and the country’s black Minister of Justice was once depicted as a monkey, which could well have been a racist gibe.  


Until the January horror, the magazine had been inching towards bankruptcy and had latterly laid off a number of employees. Its fortunes have now dramatically turned around: its first edition after the attack was on course to sell 5 million copies locally and abroad after the first print-run of 1 million copies sold out within half an hour of hitting the shelves. On Ebay, the popular online shopping megamarket,   purchasers eager to get their hands on a collector’s memento made mind-boggling bids of up to $82,400 per copy! A number of companies have pledged tantalisingly hefty sums to help the magazine sustain itself for the foreseeable future. Not all adversity is wholly adverse, seemingly.


THE MUSLIM OUTRAGE
The straw that finally broke the camel’s back, the smokescreen the  Illuminati used to chastise France for one reason or the other – in the bigger picture that is – on January 7 2015  was Charlie Hebdo’s almost morbid obsession with Muhammad, the founder of Islam and whose depiction the faith prohibits.


In 2006, not only did the magazine publish  demeaning cartoons of  Muhammad of its own but it also reproduced 12 controversial cartoons that had first appeared in a Danish paper and which drew lightning bolts of ire from the Islamic world.  In 2011, the magazine’s offices were fire-bombed and its website was defaced after one of its November editions featured a cartoon that cast Muhammad as a sadist. The prophet was satirised as its guest editor, with the following words issuing forth from his mouth: “100 lashes from the mouth if you don’t die laughing”. In September 2012, the magazine seemed to have   crossed a line when  it reeled off a series of cartoons of Muhammad some of which showed him stark naked.


Satire implies conscious sophistication but Charlie Hebdo was stretching it to a point of being plain foolhardy. When asked as to why his magazine seemed hellbent on knocking all taboos, editor Stéphane Charbonnier nonchalantly replied, “We have to carry on until Islam has been rendered as banal as Catholicism”. The response  had undertones of a smear agenda. This was not simply a principled publication indulging its love of a particular journalistic genre but a bunch of wayward satiricists with subversive motives.   


In the event, it  was not only Moslems who  were outraged. Western leaders too were troubled by the magazine’s stubborn refusal to show at least a modicum of sensitivity. At the time of his presidency, Jacques Chirac warned the publication of “overt provocations” which needed to be avoided. In the US,  a White House statement questioned the wisdom of  publishing  cartoons that profaned a revered religious figure like Muhammad.  On their part, the civilised elements of the Muslim world, represented by the Grand Mosque, the Muslim World League, and the Union of French Islamic Organisation, sought to tame the slanderous and sacrilegious publication by taking recourse to litigation, albeit to no avail.   


Meanwhile, the Moslem fundamentalists thought they had enough. In March 2013, Al Qaeda through its Yemeni branch, officially known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), issued its on fatwa against the magazine’s editor and 10 other “insolent infidels” who were a thorn in the side of its faith. Charlie Hebdo of course did not take the hitlist lightly: it posted a permanent police guard outside its premises. As things turned out, this was not a tight enough safeguard.  


THE STRIKE
On January 15 2015 at about 11:30 a.m., two armed masked men garbed in black bulldozed their way into the Charlie Hebdo premises and turned it into a killing field. When the deed was done, 12 people lay dead and 11 wounded, four of whom seriously. The dead ranged from ages 42 to 80 and included editor-in-chief Stéphane Charbonnie, four cartoonists, and three policemen. Of the wounded two remain  in critical condition.


The assailants, who kept chanting “Alahu Akbar” like they were airing a jingle, were  later identified as the brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, aged 32 and 34 respectively. They were Frenchmen of Algerian descent and have been linked to Al Qaeda. On their way out of the Charlie Hebdo building, they shot dead a policeman, an event that was captured live on amateur video, and hijacked one or two cars  in their getaway. Police launched a manhunt but it was not until the following day, on the morning of January 8,  that they were spotted northeast of Paris.

At one stage they robbed a police station,  later abandoning  their getaway car and vanishing  into a nearby forest.    
The following day, they were again spotted after they had hijacked a Peugeot 504 and police chased after them for about 27 km on a single highway OJ Simpson style. At some point, they vacated their vehicle and in the ensuing exchange of fire with police, one of them sustained a minor wound on his neck.  They still were able to escape the police dragnet on foot.


At around 10:30 a.m., they burst into a signage production  company where only two people were present, the business owner and a 26-year-old graphics designer. The latter was beckoned to stash himself somewhere  by the business owner without catching the eye of the two armed intruders. He hid in a card box under a sink in the canteen, where he tipped the police by mobile texting and  communicated with them for about three hours. Meanwhile, the strangers did not lay a hand on the business owner. He even made coffee for them and bandaged the wound of the injured fella. Later, a salesman arrived. He too was not harmed and  was allowed to leave. After an hour, the business owner was asked to depart the premises too.   


At around 5 p.m, police decided to storm into the building via the roof. The two terrorists didn’t want to die like cowards apparently.  They bounded out of the building with guns blazing but were promptly neutralised in a hail of gunfire that rang out from all around. Meanwhile, a secondary siege in a kosher supermarket 40 km away staged by an alleged ally of the two brothers ensued. The perpetrator, Amedy Coulibaly, killed 4 hostages before he was finally shot dead himself  by police. He had earlier killed a female police woman in the company of his girlfriend Hayat Boumeddiene who remains at large to date.


The deaths of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo building, the two Kouachi brothers themselves, Amedy Coulibaly, his four hostages, and the policewoman brought the total number of dead in the whole saga to 20. To most, it’s case closed:  the three main culprits are all dead, save for the woman. To the discerning, however, it is not as simple as that. There are a number of aspects about the whole incident  that raise more questions than answers.  For instance, were the so-called terrorists really terrorists? Were they for sure commissioned by Al Qaeda or were working under the auspices of the Illuminati as Hollande intimated?
These questions and precious others we address in the next and final installment.

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Travel ban unfair and unjustified – Masisi

7th December 2021
President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi

For the past two years, the world has been at combat with various COVID-19 variants. A new variant of concern which is considered to have a combination of the greatest hits (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta) has sent alarm bells around the world.

Botswana’s COVID-19 genomic surveillance, which actively monitors COVID-19 variants in Botswana, picked four samples that were concerning and discovered a completely new variant. In accordance with international obligations, as a responsible member state under the International Health Regulations of 2005, Botswana submitted the suspected new variant for the entire global scientific community to respond to this early finding. Shortly after, the Republic of South Africa, also submitted a similar concerning variant.

The new variant, ‘Omicron’ is named after the 15th letter of the Greek Alphabet to avoid public confusion and stigma.
The news spread like wild fire which resulted in European Union member states, the United Arab Emirates and United States of America imposing travel bans on Botswana and other sister SADC nations, resulting in drawing a wedge between nations.

In his address on the occasion of an update on Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has shunned the response by some countries to Botswana’s detection of the Omicron variant stating that it is unfortunate as it appears to have caused unnecessary panic amongst the public across the world. He considers it defeating the spirit of multilateral cooperation in dealing with this global pandemic.

“The decision to ban our citizens from travelling to certain countries was hastily made and is not only unfair but is also unjustified while remain confident that reason and logic will prevail, the harshness of the decision has the effect of our shaking our belief in the sincerity of declared friendship and commitment of equality and economic prosperity for us,” he said.

President Masisi has appealed to the nations that have imposed travel restrictions on Botswana to reflect and review their travel restrictions stance against the Southern African region.

African leaders and heads of state are in agreement on a matter. Some stating that the travel bans are ‘uncalled for, afro phobic, unscientific, strict, unfair and unjustified’. They have come out to bash the unilateral travel bans and request immediate upliftment of the restrictions imposed on SADC member states by European Union member states, the United Arab Emirates and United States of America.

While Batswana are banned from international travel, locally as at 26th November 2021, a total of 195 068 COVID19 cases and 2 418 deaths had been reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We have been steadily witnessing a decrease in the number of new cases and deaths in the last three months. We are currently reporting an average of less 10 infections per 100 000 people compared to 648 cases per 100 000 people at the peak of the third wave. We have also observed a gradual decline in hospitalizations across the country with an average of less than 10 patients at a time at Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital (SKMTH) and our other health facilities countrywide,” pointed out President Masisi.

Masisi encouraged Batswana not to despair as to date, all the nations’ key indicators remain stable. “This is comforting although it still does not warrant any complacency on our part in terms of behaviour and other attitudinal patterns towards this dreadful disease. We are actively monitoring the evolving situation in view new variant of concern,’’ he sternly advised.

Government through the different Ministries leading the different sectors, has been working tirelessly to prepare for potential outbreaks and a fourth (4th) wave. This will be achieved through; installing oxygen generating plants and increasing skilled human capacity.

With regards to the vaccination programme; as of 29th November 2021, an estimated One Million and Fifty Three Thousand Three Hundred and Sixty One (1 053 361) people translating to 75.7% of the target Batswana citizens and residents over the age of 18 years have received at least 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccines. A total of Nine Hundred and Fifty Thousand Nine Hundred and Seventy Three (950 973) people translating to 68.4% have been fully vaccinated. This number exceeds the 64% target Botswana has set to achieve by end of December 2021.

Masisi enthusiastically revealed that; “We are one of the three countries in Africa that have achieved the World Health Organisation target of vaccinating at least 40% of the entire population by December 2021. We are committed to ensure that all is done to reduce the transmission of the virus in the country.

More vaccines are being procured to ensure availability for those who have not yet received any dose. Government is also considering booster doses for those who may be identified as qualifying for them.”

President Masisi urged Batswana to continue observing the COVID-19 health protocols of social distancing, washing hands or sanitizing and wearing masks and avoid unnecessary travelling.

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China pledges a billion vaccines to Africa

7th December 2021

As COVID-19 pandemic continues to shake the world, China has promised to donate a billion coronavirus vaccines, advance billions of dollars for African trade and infrastructure, and write off interest-free loans to African countries to help the continent recover from the coronavirus pandemic. All these promises emerged at the Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Senegal at the end of November 2021.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China will provide one billion doses of vaccines to Africa when delivering keynote speech at the Eighth Ministerial FOCAC via video link on 29th November. Of those, 600 million would be via donations and the rest would be produced jointly by African countries and Chinese companies. In addition, China would send medical teams to help the continent deal with the pandemic.

President Xi also announced nine programmes that China will work closely with African countries in the next three years. He mentioned the medical and health program, the poverty reduction and agricultural development program, the trade promotion program, the investment promotion program, the digital innovation program, the green development program, the capacity building program, the cultural and people-to-people exchange program, the peace and security program. President Xi hailed China-Africa relations as a shining example for building a new type of international relations.

Furthermore, Xi said Beijing would pump US$10 billion into African financial institutions for onward lending to small and medium enterprises. He promised to extend another US$10 billion of its International Monetary Fund allocation of special drawing rights, which would help stabilise foreign exchange reserves. In addition, China will write-off interest-free loans due this year, to help the economies that had been ravaged by the pandemic. Last year, China also promised to write off interest-free loans due at the end of 2020.

Beijing pledged US$60 billion to finance Africa’s infrastructure at the forum in Johannesburg in 2015, and a similar amount when the gathering was held in the Chinese capital in 2018. But in the past few years, Chinese lenders, including the policy banks – Exim Bank of China and China Development Bank – have become more cautious and are now demanding bankable feasibility studies amid debt distress in the continent.

Besides seeking more money for projects, Xi said China would encourage more imports of African agricultural products, and increase the range of zero-tariff goods, aiming for US$300 billion of total imports from Africa in the next three years.

China would also advance US$10 billion of trade financing to support African exports into China. He said the country would also advance another US$10 billion to promote agriculture in Africa, send 500 experts and establish China-Africa joint agro-technology centres and demonstration villages. African countries are pushing to grow exports of agricultural products into China. At the moment, Beijing maintains an enormous trade surplus over the continent. African imports from China include machinery, electronics, construction equipment, textiles and footwear.

Meanwhile, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi summarized FOCAC achievements when meeting with journalists ahead the 8th FOCAC Ministerial Conference. Wang said that the FOCAC is a crucial platform for collective dialogue between China and Africa and an effective mechanism for practical cooperation.

He said since the inception of the FOCAC 21 years ago, Chinese enterprises have built over 10,000 kilometers of railways, nearly 100,000 kilometers of roads, nearly 1,000 bridges, nearly 100 ports, and over 80 large-scale power facilities in Africa.

In addition, they have assisted Africa in building over 130 medical facilities, 45 gymnasiums and more than 170 schools, and training over 160,000 professionals in various fields. Chinese medical teams have provided medical service to an accumulated number of 230 million, and China’s network service has covered around 700 million user terminals.

Yi said that the Eighth FOCAC Ministerial Conference was a great success. According to Yi, the success of the conference confirmed the strong will of China and Africa to work together to overcome difficulties and seek common development, and showed the huge potential and bright prospects of China-Africa cooperation.

Wang summarized the most important consensus reached at the conference as following: 1) both sides will promote the spirit of China-Africa friendship and cooperation; 2) China and Africa will work together to defeat the pandemic; 3) both sides will work to enrich China-Africa cooperation in the new era; 4) the two sides will work together to practice true multilateralism; 5) China and Africa will jointly build a China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era.

FOCAC, is one of the developments that came as a major shift in the dynamics of the China-Africa relationships came about in the 1980s when China embarked upon its “Opening up and Reform Policy” –a wide-ranging policy that gave birth to the new China. Economic and geo-strategic interests rather than the desire to export a specific political philosophy drive China’s current relationship with Africa.

For Africa though, the key problem is that our economies are weak in value creation. 
As argued by one economist, what workers and factories produce is produced more efficiently, with better quality and at lower cost, by other economies. “In such circumstances, making money is easier through rent than through value creation.

African governments should be capable of guiding their private sector towards value creation, a key factor for achieving a sustainable competitive edge in the global market. Furthermore, partnerships that Africa forges should be targeted to enhance such an environment”. The question remains as to whether China’s intervention in Africa will help address this challenge.

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COVID-19 has pushed cost of living up – report

7th December 2021

A report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) has given its outlook for the rise and fall of living costs around the world.

The report is based on current and past trends impacting the cost of living, including currency swings, local inflation and commodity shocks. In addition, it compares more than 400 individual prices across over 200 products and services in 173 cities.

The Worldwide Cost of Living (WCOL) rankings continue to be sensitive to shifts brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which have pushed up the cost of living across the world’s major cities. Although most economies are now recovering as covid-19 vaccines are rolled out, the world’s major cities still experience frequent surges in cases, prompting renewed social restrictions. In many cities this has disrupted the supply of goods, leading to shortages and higher prices.

The report highlights that “the inflation rate of the prices tracked in the EIU’s WCOL across cities is the fastest recorded over the past five years. It has accelerated beyond the pre-pandemic rate, rising by 3.5% year on year in local-currency terms in 2021, compared with an increase of just 1.9% in 2020 and 2.8% in 2019.”

However; supply-chain problems, as well as exchange-rate shifts and changing consumer demand, have led to rising prices for commodities and other goods. The most rapid increases in the WCOL index were for transport, with the price of a litre of petrol up by 21% on average.

Tel Aviv, a city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast tops the WCOL rankings for the first time ever, making it the most expensive city in the world to live in. The Israeli city climbed from fifth place last year, pushing Paris down to joint second place with Singapore. Tel Aviv’s rise mainly reflects its soaring currency and price increases for around one-tenth of goods in the city, led by groceries and transport, in local-currency terms. Property prices (not included in the index calculation), have also risen, especially in residential areas.

The cheapest cities are mainly in the Middle East and Africa, or in the poorer parts of Asia. Damascus has easily retained its place as the cheapest city in the world to live in. It was ranked the lowest in seven of the ten pricing categories, and was among the lowest in the remaining three. While prices elsewhere have generally firmed up, in Damascus they have fallen as Syria’s war-torn economy has struggled. Tripoli, which also faces political and economic challenges, is ranked second from the bottom in our rankings, and is particularly cheap for food, clothing and transport.

“Over the coming year, we expect to see the cost of living rise further in many cities. Inflationary expectations are also likely to feed into wage rises, further fuelling price rises. However, as central banks cautiously raise interest rates to stem inflation, price increases should moderate from this year’s level. We forecast that global consumer price inflation will average 4.3% in 2022, down from 5.1% in 2021 but still substantially higher than in recent years. If supply-chain disruptions die down and lockdowns ease as expected, then the situation should improve towards the end of 2022, stabilising the cost of living in most major cities.”

“The survey has been designed to enable human resources and finance managers to calculate cost-of-living allowances and build compensation packages for expatriates and business travellers. It can also be used by consumer-goods firms and other companies to map pricing trends and determine optimum prices for their products across cities. In addition, the data can be used to understand the relative expense of a city to formulate policy guidelines,” highlights the report.

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