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Tue,22Jan2019

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Review: Harare North & An Elegy for Easterly

 

 

Elegy for EasterlyHarare North

Harare North, Brian Chkwave, 230pp, Jonathan Cape
An Elegy for Easterly, Pettina Gappah, 27pp, Faber and Faber

 

These excellent books were both forged through the traumas of Southern Africa’s most famously troubled country. Where Brian Chikwava’s writing bounces and crackles with energy, Petina Gappah’s elegant and powerful prose strips away the layers to leave just the essential, however much this may hurt. They are very different Zimbabwean ventures – this is Chikwava’s first novel since he won the Caine prize for Seventh Street Alchemy in 2004, and thus eagerly anticipated, while Gappah delivers her first collection of short stories – but the underlying political and social realities of the last decades in Zimbabwe are the driving forces in both works. ?

 

Harare North follows the most unlikely of antiheros, a ‘Green Bomber’ pro-Mugabe youth-militia member who arrives and survives in a London squat. An Elegy for Easterly presents chapters of lives, from maids to diplomats, powerful widows and shack-dwellers. Neither writer allows their characters to be predictable. Chikwava skilfully manipulates the tale of a good-hearted boy who doesn’t know any better, grasping at the structure the militia can provide, and by the end we are grieving for him. Gappah’s characters stay rooted in universal human dilemmas, pinned by circumstance to the difficult situations they find themselves in.

 

Letter from Moscow

 

Africans are no longer welcomed as they once were during the era of international socialist solidarity; in fact they now have to take extreme care whenever they travel around the city

 

With more than 12m people, Moscow is Europe’s biggest city and a melting pot of sorts for Russia’s 100 or so different ethnic groups. But Moscow is not Russia. In speed and style, it has been playing catch-up with Western capitals since it shed communism in the 1990s.?

 

Moscow’s powerful mayor Yury Luzhkov, in office since 1992, has spent billions of dollars from the well-padded city budget to give the city a facelift. The drab concrete apartment blocks have given way to brightly-coloured residential towers and glass buildings for investment banks and oil companies. Luzhkov’s government has encircled the city with ring roads and created a business district called ‘The Moscow City’, his answer to La Défense in Paris and Lower Manhattan in New York. Under construction here is the Federation Tower, a 600m steel-and-glass symbol of new Russian wealth and power, designed by British architect Norman Foster to be Europe’s tallest building. ?

 

Muscovites are the richest people in Russia, which explains the stark differences in lifestyle between Moscow and the faraway provinces. Grocery stores and supermarkets such as French discount retailer Auchan have been springing up everywhere. But Moscow was never a cheap option for expatriates and immigrants: for the third year running it has been designated as the world’s most expensive city.?

 

African food is rare here but there are two Ethiopian restaurants downtown, in Krasnaya Vorota and Zemlyanoi Val. Lovers of North African food can visit one of three Moroccan restaurants.??

 

Not-so-cosmopolitan

 

?Moscow’s Metro is a showpiece. Built in the 1930s, the 230km-long underground network is known for the design of its marble stations, many of them decked with mosaics, chandeliers, sculptures and precious materials. Each of its lines is identified by a colour, the Red Line running from south-west to north-east. ?

 

Unlike London, Paris or New York, Moscow never had a resident community of Africans and there is little racial harmony here. The Red Metro Line is a living metaphor for many dark-skinned residents who regard it as a danger zone to be avoided on certain days of the year and at certain times of the day because of frequent assaults and attacks from the city’s skinhead population.

 

?“It is no secret that blacks get beaten up on Hitler’s Birthday or People’s Unity Day by skinheads and football fans on the Red Line,” says Msangi Nsangu, who heads the Association of African Students. “Every time we venture out, it’s like going to a war front, especially in the Metro, where escape is difficult.”?

 

In private encounters and within the confines of their apartments or around the kitchen table, Muscovites are jocular, witty, superstitious and generous. But there is also a deep feeling of otherness rooted in years of relentless communist indoctrination that makes them unwilling to cosy-up to foreigners, especially those with non-Slavic looks.?

 

Moscow’s largest concentration of Africans is in the south-west, at Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University, which attracted thousands of scholarship students from developing countries in the days of proletarian internationalism. Now there are fewer than 1,000 Africans there, down from 2,300 in the 1990s, as stipends have all but dried up and the welcome mat has disappeared. ?

 

Doctor Lyubov Ivanova, a lecturer at the Moscow State University’s Institute of Asian and African Studies, attributes frequent attacks on African immigrants to the poor image of the continent projected in the Russian media. “The image of Africa as an extremely poor continent is stressed to raise the level of self-esteem of the Russians,” Ivanova said. “A mindset has been created in which Africans are used as scapegoats to redirect social aggression and as the only way for showing masculinity by declassified Russian youngsters.” lTai Adelaja

 

Pumping in the Petrodollars

 

Brimming with foreign reserves, the Gulf states have been expanding their investments into North Africa – following Dubai’s lead – as part of their diversification away from oil

 

Petrodollars recycled into investments in the Maghreb and Egypt have been giving the economies of North Africa a huge boost, even if the current financing climate may now put some of the racier projects on ice. Playing to the south Mediterranean’s strength as a logistical hub for Europe, and the geographical proximity of millions of European tourists, the Gulf states have planned ports, industrial zones and massive leisure complexes. The emerging local middle class is also luring investors into North Africa’s financial markets.?

 

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – made some bad choices in the previous oil boom. The two energy crises of 1973 and 1979 pushed oil to levels, in today’s prices, close to $100. Suddenly coffers were overflowing and petrodollars were recycled into a generous welfare system and a large-scale public investment programme, building infrastructure and industries. When oil prices slumped, the fragile political structures characteristic of GCC states meant that rather than take the political hit to reduce welfare, it was infrastructure projects that got axed and industry suffered.?Gulf sovereign fund purchases

 

But since the mid-1990s, the GCC states have been opening up their economies, expanding their private sector and maintaining prudent fiscal policies, while expanding local stock markets. Dubai, ahead of the game, started pushing its wealth into developing property and infrastructure, creating free zones and gambling successfully on tourism and trade to take advantage of its key transport location. The Emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, rather than trying to centralise everything in a South Korean-style chaebol, created several competing entities such as Emaar, Sama Dubai, Damac and Nakheel. Able to negotiate directly with governments to win contracts, these companies have also benefited from state financing. ?

 

The vitality of these enterprises is impressive. Before 2004, Dubai Ports World (DPW) operated just four international ports. Now it employs 30,000 people in 30 countries, managing 55 port terminals. In Egypt, the company won the build, operate and transfer (BOT) contract for El Sokhna, the country’s largest privately-owned port, which sits astride the international trade route between East and West. In Algeria, DPW runs the port of Djen Djen. It also operates concessions in Djibouti and Senegal, and considers Africa a natural part of its expansion. DPW has now become the third-largest port operator in the world behind Hutchison and PSA International. The Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority, which often follows DPW’s lead, has the contract to run the free zone in Morocco’s new Tanger-Med port complex, 35km east of Tangiers.

 

Images of dubai?

 

Tanger-Med is emblematic of how things are changing in Morocco. Pushed through by a dedicated royal economic planning unit, Agence Spéciale Tanger Méditerrané, it wants to replicate Dubai’s success in becoming a logistics hub for its region, stimulating local industry by opening free trade zones next to the large deep-sea ports where giant roll-on roll-off tankers berth.

 

?There is a synergy between the Gulf states, whose oil boom has made cities sprout out of the desert, and North African countries seeking to integrate into the world economy. Seeing images of Dubai in 1990 and the Dubai that runs a quarter of the world’s port-side cranes today, it is not hard to understand how the story has inspired others.?

 

The somewhat ponderous Abu Dhabi Investment Fund (a sovereign wealth fund that manages around $640bn) is a classic portfolio investor with a broad but conservative mandate. It was joined in 2002 by the more nimble Mubadala, which was set up to invest in sectors that helped develop Abu Dhabi’s own economy. The trend is found across the GCC, as the region’s states seek to diversify away from hydrocarbons. Increasingly they act like private equity players, purchasing management stakes and seeking acquisitions that could add value.

 

?Infrastructure, energy and finance are key targets for Abu Dhabi. Sonatrach, the Algerian energy giant, has linked with Mubadala and SNC Lavalin to build a 1,200 MW power plant at Hadjeret Ennous. In 2007 Sonatrach, Dubai Aluminium Company and Mubadala combined to launch a $5bn aluminium project. Harnessing Algeria’s cheap gas to run a 2,000 MW power plant, the complex is aiming for annual production of 700,000 tonnes a year. ?

 

“These investments are often characterised by joint ventures, between sub-divisions of government holding companies in the Gulf contracting with government agencies in North Africa, working with large energy or producer companies, or setting up joint investment funds,” says Rachel Ziemba, lead analyst for oil exporting economies at US think-tank RGE Monitor. “Leveraging the skills and experience learnt at home, companies like Emaar have launched themselves first into Lebanon and Jordan, and then into North Africa, and increasingly into Sub-Saharan Africa too.” They have not been half-hearted in their spending. In 2006, Gulf investors provided 40% of Egyptian foreign direct investment.?

 

Tanger-med teamwork?

 

Horizon Tangiers Terminal, a consortium of Horizon Terminals Limited (owned by Dubai’s ENOC group), Kuwait-based IPG and Morocco’s Afriquia SMDC, won the BOT contract for a bulk fuel terminal at Tanger-Med, helping Morocco to provide cheap fuel in the western Mediterranean.?

 

The use of joint ventures has implications for any future activities, post-credit-crunch, in view of the ambitions of Morocco and others to expand south of the Sahara. Already Moroccan banks have found homes in Senegal, Gabon and Mali. An interesting evolution of this trend would be the maturation of a company like the Moroccan Agence pour l’Aménagement de la Vallée du Bouregreg (AAVB) into a property developer in its own right, raising finance locally and hoping to bid for contracts such as the rebuilding of Gabon’s waterfront boulevard. In conjunction with AAVB, Emaar is developing the Bouregreg valley into a huge tourist complex, with a marina, office space and housing. Specialists from across the globe are taking part in the planning and execution.?

 

Capital transfusion

 

?A transfusion of skills between the Gulf and North Africa is taking place, despite tensions over the importing of workers and materials, which echo criticism made of Chinese-built infrastructure projects. Despite construction being a tried and tested way of making a dent in unemployment – a problem in North Africa – the GCC companies often bring in their own workers. Locals may resent any exploitation and repatriation of profits.?

 

Algeria in particular has reacted, causing delays to Emaar’s plans for multibillion dollar investments in Algiers, and forcing the Dubai-based company to accept a smaller tract of land. Redevelopment of the Bay of Algiers, a new university campus and a technology park should however see the light of day. The oil wealth Algeria has accumulated is perhaps one reason for this coolness towards Gulf investors. While Tunisia and Morocco cannot hope to raise the financing necessary for these mega-projects, Algeria can aspire to – and therefore wants – better terms.?

 

There are now worries about the financing model being used by Gulf contractors. Dubai’s property developers tend to use a minimal amount of equity financing, relying a great deal on debt. As the global lack of appetite for risk bites, the higher cost of borrowing is going to constrain projects. Large tourism and property development projects such as the Dubai Towers hotel in Casablanca may escape more difficult times. But as a senior advisor to the Abu Dhabi Investment Fund explains: “Securing property financing has become more difficult as a result of the credit crunch. Loan-to-value ratios have become more conservative, and investors are paying more attention to cash flow coverage. Equity financing has to be available for a larger slice of the project. As a result, some speculative projects may have a hard time finding property financing.”

New look for Carthage revamp

 

Tunis bids to become a new
finance hub. Read more.  

 

?The future is a little uncertain. The domestic banking system in the GCC is reliant on external financing. Many analysts believe Dubai has borrowed too much, and the result is a real focus on problems of liquidity. The collapse of the oil price has not helped. Though Abu Dhabi may bail out Dubai, it is unclear if this will be limited to the flagship projects. ?

 

In late August, three Gulf banks said they would raise $2.8bn to create two funds to invest in infrastructure and agriculture in the region. Why, asked the chairman of Ithmaar Bank, Khalid Abdulla-Janahi, should we leave all the infrastructure deals to the Deutsche Banks and JPMorgans? That was then. At the peak of the boom, creating the Gulf’s first investment bank made sense, as it surely will again a year or two from now.

 

?The region has both the need, and means to pay for, a vast array of infrastructure, across the energy, transport, health, and tourism sectors. But for now, North Africa’s building sites may not be quite as busy.

 

How the provinces shape up

 

South Africa’s nine provinces are bitterly divided by the falling out in the ANC. At the ANC conference in Polokwane last December, Thabo Mbeki got 40% and Jacob Zuma 60% in the race for the party presidency. That split is now reflected in the national political realignment.

 

?Four of the nine provincial branches of the ANC supported Mbeki; Zuma won the rest. The Mbeki supporters are: Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Limpopo and the North West. The Zuma supporters are: Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Free State and the Northern Cape. Zuma just beat Mbeki in Northern Cape and Free State.

 

?Mbeki said he will endorse neither Zuma nor the new Congress of the People; but the 40% who voted for Mbeki at Polokwane are likely to back the breakaways. Most of the group’s support comes from Western Cape, Eastern Cape, North West and Limpopo, and so these provinces could become heartlands of the new party.?The ANC Youth League and Women’s League were evenly split at the national level.

 

The ANC Youth League split between Mbeki and Zuma in the provinces as well. The breakaway party wants to win key provinces in next year’s elections and key cities in the local elections afterwards. ?

 

At its national convention on 1-2 November, supporters of the breakaway party sang the same songs and used the same symbols and traditions as the ANC. Speakers for the new party strongly defended the corruption-busting Scorpions police unit, abolished by parliament in late October. The Scorpions had investigated Zuma and several of his supporters for corruption.

 

?The former premier of the Eastern Cape, Nosimo Balindlela, ousted by Zuma supporters, resigned from the ANC in early November. Other senior Eastern Cape officials resigned with her, including former ANC provincial spokesman Andile Nkuhlu, Amathole regional leader Moses Qomoyi, and Youth League members Nkosifikile Gqomoand and Thabo Matiwane.?

 

Among the new party’s grander ambitions is a plan to reform South Africa’s electoral system, including a modification of proportional representation to a system that closely ties MPs with specific constituencies. It also wants a directly-elected president. But it cannot make headway on these without a national election win.

 

Back to South Africa, the death of unity

 
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