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Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

There is one main conversation in the bars, cafes and shebeens at the moment – anywhere, in fact, where the chattering classes convene to put the world to rights and that is, of course, the elections in Zimbabwe. 

All over the world people are tuning in to radio and television broadcasts, checking their smartphones and accessing online news for up-to-date reports, commentator’s views and on-the-ground reportage.  It’s fair to say that after the eventual toppling of Robert Mugabe in November last year, it was hoped that the overthrow heralded a new dawn in Zimbabwean politics and that the seeds of reparation and new growth might be able to be sown.

 And with the date set for a democratic election, as promised by coup master Emmerson  Mnangagwa it seemed the people would have their say with a clear choice between the ruling ZANU PF party under his ostensibly temporary leadership and opposition party,  Movement for Democratic Change party under Nelson Chamisa. 

Yet as of now, the situation in the country is volatile, hostile and disbelieving as early results appear to show a significant win for ZANU PF and Mnangagwa over the MDC and Chamisa, in spite of pre-election polls which appeared to show both parties more or less neck and neck.  Already there are accusations of vote rigging and election fraud and there have been ugly clashes on Harare’s streets between MDC supporters and the army with soldiers opening fire, three people dead and many more injured. 

 Home e Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu warned that the government “will not tolerate any of the actions that were witnessed today….“The opposition… have perhaps interpreted our understanding to be weak, and I think they are testing our resolve and I think they are making a big mistake.” Not exactly words of diplomacy, peace-keeping and reconciliation.  As the French say ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose’ (the more it changes, the more it’s stays the same)

It’s hard to fathom where this one is going.  It’s reasonable to predict further clashes and more deaths  before the week is out.    Zimbabweans have grown suspicious of politicians, suspicious of elections and with good cause.  Under Mugabe the concept of a free and fair election was laughable, as was the idea that he would ever have tolerated a result which went against him and thus, no vote ever did.  Nonetheless hope springs eternal in the human heart and it was felt that this time it might be different, that this time international observers might actually be free to observe and that the process would be truly transparent and honest. 

And of course, who is to say that this is not the case?  It may be that the results so far do reflect the views of the majority of the people – it just doesn’t feel like that to the many voters who want real change and who were buoyed pre-lection by the promising polls.  The choice, of course, was far deeper than the superficial alternatives of one party and leader against another.  Mnangagwa,  although he effected the coup and coup de grace to Mugabe, was his long-time political ally and at 75 represents the old guard of Zimbabwean politics, with all the negative associations that implies; whilst lawyer Nelson Chamisa, at 40, speaks with a new voice for a new generation of voters and a new era in political thinking.

It is, of course, in sharp contrast to our own recent change of leadership which saw the orderly handover of the premiership from HE Lt. Gen Ian Khama Seretse Khama to incumbent HE Mokgweetsi Masisi in a democratic process in keeping with the prescribed electoral code.    Just the other side of a shared border yet the contrasts between the two countries and how such affairs are conducted couldn’t be starker.  Around the world Botswana rarely makes the headlines, save when a record-breaking large diamond is discovered beneath the Kalahari sands or a member of the British royal family makes one of their regular visits.  No news is good news, as they  say!

As far as Zimbabwe is concerned, we can only wait and watch.  The country is desperately in need of an era of stability in order to begin the long process of economic recovery.  Mugabe raided the national coffers with systematic and ruthless theft and the richer he grew the more his people starved.  He left it both broken and broke and it will take decades to recuperate and re-grow. 

Productivity has been almost non-existent for years, what with the lack of raw materials, scarcity of jobs and a nation of people facing an everyday struggle to find and afford the barest of necessities.  What is needed now is a government of national unity, not one of further division and distrust and reparation can only come about with the help of foreign aid. 

Zimbabwe’s rulers know that the widespread perception overseas that they have rigged an election would block the country’s reintegration into the international community and deny it the huge bailout package needed to avoid economic meltdown but with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling on the country’s  political leaders and people to exercise restraint and reject any form of violence and Colm O Cuanachain, Acting Secretary General of  Amnesty International urging authorities to launch “a prompt and effective” investigation into the deadly military crackdown, it’s not looking  promising from the outside in. “People must be guaranteed their right to protest,”   O Cuanachain said.  That would certainly be a sea change in politically-oppressed Zimbabwe!  Perhaps someone should explain that to the army?

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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