(AllAfrica) Signature of a Grant Agreement for the Contribution in the Response Plan for the Syrian Refugees Crisis in the Arab Republic of Egypt in the Education Sector

The Grant Agreement was signed on behalf of the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt by the Minister of International Cooperation and on behalf of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development by Mr. Abdulwahab Al-Bader, Director-General of the Fund.

The Grant Agreement was signed on behalf of the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt by the Minister of International Cooperation and on behalf of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development by Mr. Abdulwahab Al-Bader, Director-General of the Fund.          Photo Credit: Kuwait Fund

PRESS RELEASE

A Grant Agreement was signed today in Cairo between the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, whereby the Kuwait Fund provide a Grant in the amount of US$ 20 Million to help finance projects aimed at relieving socio-economic impacts in the education sector within Egyptian host communities of Syrian refugees.

The Grant Agreement was signed on behalf of the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt by Her Excellency Dr. Sahar Ahmed Mohamed Abdel Moniem Nasar, Minister of International Cooperation on behalf of the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt, and signed on behalf of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development by Mr. Abdulwahab Al-Bader, Director-General of the Fund.

The Projects aim to address the education needs of Syrian refugees in host communities in the Arab Republic of Egypt, by raising the level of educational services provided to them, by supporting projects in the educational buildings sector, to ensure the continuity of providing the required education services in the areas where there is a concentration of refugees.

The Projects consist of the construction and equipping of about 30 schools with multiple educational stages in the Provinces of Cairo, Geza, Alexandria, Demyat, Deghaliyah and Sharquiah. The Projects are expected to start at the beginning of Year 2016, and to be finished before mid-Year 2017.

The total cost of the Projects is estimated at about US$ 20 million and the Kuwait Fund Grant will cover 100% of the cost.

It is worth mentioning that the number of development finance extended by the Kuwait Fund are 40 loans to the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt or to public entities in the Arab Republic of Egypt with a total amount of about KD 721 million (equivalent to about US$ 2.4 billion). The Fund has also provided Egypt with ten technical assistance and other grants with a total amount of about KD 2.983 million (equivalent to about US$ 9.8 million) allocated for financing technical and economic feasibility studies for certain projects and financing other activities. Kuwait Fund also administered two grants provided by the Government of the State of Kuwait to the Arab Republic of Egypt, amounting in total to about KD 4.8 million (equivalent to about US$16.8 million) for the purpose of reconstruction of some schools that were affected by the earthquake in 1992, and the reconstruction of some villages that were damaged by floods in 1995.

Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development in Kuwait City is AllAfrica.com’s premium partner. 

The press released was published on AllAfrica.com. 

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The future of jobs: What will survive by 2020, what won’t and what it means for Africa (Mail & Guardian Africa)

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65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist

Young Entrepreneurs At i-Hub The African Tech Hub (Photo/Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images).

Those that believe we are about to launch into a fourth industrial – or “smart” –  revolution say that it is driven by developments that will see society simplify things, remove bottlenecks and do more with less. It will bring together previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and genetics and biotechnology – all building on and amplifying one another.

MANY industry observers believe that we are on the cusp of a Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The first Industrial Revolution, driven by steam, created new manufacturing processes. The second was driven by electricity which led to many new inventions and witnessed the expansion of steel and petroleum. The third is the one we are living through now – when IT and electronics have transformed our lives and manufacturing has gone digital.

By SAMANTHA SPOONER

Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, argues that this distinct stage – the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” – isn’t a continuation of the third revolution because of the speed of current breakthroughs, which have no historical precedent, and are disrupting almost every industry in every country. For example, engineers, designers, and architects are combining computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology to pioneer a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume, and even the buildings we inhabit.

Whether you believe this constitutes a new revolution or whether it’s a continuation of the third revolution, one thing is certain, it will cause massive disruption. This reality is examined in a new report by the World Economic Forum, The Future Of Jobs, which imagines how jobs in their industry will change up to the year 2020, and the new skills needed to drive them.

The jobs that won’t survive, ones that will

The report, which covered 15 economies accounting for about 1.86 billion workers or approximately 65% of the world’s total workforce, found that there will be hard times ahead with job gains unable to offset expected losses – estimated at a total loss of 7.1 million jobs – in the next five years.

So what jobs are most at risk?

According to estimates in the report, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. The jobs most at risk are concentrated in routine white collar office functions, such as office and administrative roles – expected to account for two-thirds of job losses.

The jobs that are looking to “win” and gain a total of 2 million jobs are in computer and mathematical, and architecture and engineering related fields. Manufacturing and production roles are also expected to see a further bottoming out but are also anticipated to have relatively good potential for up-skilling, redeployment and productivity enhancement through technology.

So those choosing college degrees today should hedge their bets on a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) course – although there is a heavy emphasis on the need to specialise within this.

As for the job title to aim for, the report described two new and emerging job types which stood out due to the frequency and consistency with which they were mentioned across practically all industries and geographies.

The first is the role of data analyst, which companies expect will help them make sense and derive insights from the torrent of data generated by technological disruptions. The second is the role ofspecialised sales representative, as practically every industry will need to become more skilled in commercialising and explaining their new offerings to unfamiliar businesses, government clients or consumers.

How will this affect Africa?

The impact on African can be looked at in two ways  – either that this will bring huge opportunity, or that it will perpetuate poverty and increase inequality.

In the past the biggest beneficiaries of innovation tended to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital. The demand for highly skilled workers has increased while the demand for workers with less education and lower skills has decreased. So it is natural to assume that the less skilled African labour force – principally employed in subsistence agriculture and the informal sector – who have low literacy rates and great barriers to acquiring a quality education will suffer greatly in the “catch-up” to the fourth revolution.

For example, the next stage of 3D printing, and its increasing affordability could badly hit cottage industry manufacturing and metal smiths (known as jua kali in East Africa).

Behind in STEM

In another example of the lag; sub-Saharan Africa research in terms of STEM – the skill area expected to make the greatest gains – the continent significantly lags behind other subject areas. Excluding South Africa, research in the physical sciences and STEM makes up only 29% of all research in the region, compared to an average of 68% in Malaysia which had the same research output as Africa in 2003. It gets worse: the share of STEM research in sub-Saharan Africa has declined by 0.2% every year since 2002.

For the fourth industrial revolution to be considered in terms of an “opportunity” for Africa will be down to how fast Africans can redesign their education systems, adopt to new technologies and whether they can afford them. Otherwise the continent will remain on the consumption, not production end.

This is not be an impossible task. Already we are seeing increased attention in STEM education in Africa: there is more investment – for example last year the Mastercard Foundation announced a $25 million commitment to the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences – and more institutions, like theInternational Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering (2ie) in Burkina Faso are starting to crop up.

One thing about this new era of change is that being led by technology and innovation – it can provide limitless opportunity and the outcomes are going to be hard to predict.

Paul Clark, an Africa specialist at Ashburton Investments, explains that this can give a positive outlook for Africa’s incorporation into the revolution describing how Africans have been strong adopters of new technologies and that Africa has even leap-frogged existing developments. A case in point is how with more than half of all the mobile money platforms in the world, sub-Saharan Africa is leading the globe in rolling out financial products to masses of people who were previously excluded from this area of the formal economy.

Read more at mgafrica.com

Hellofood to sell food online in Kenya (IT News Africa)

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KFC Kenya and South African sea food restaurant, Ocean Basket, have partnered with Hellofood to sell food online. According to Hellofood it will now deliver food bought from the two restaurants on its online platform to customers across Nairobi.

by Staff Writer IT News Africa

KFC Kenya and South African sea food restaurant, Ocean Basket, have partnered with Hellofood to sell food online. (image credit: idiva.com).

In line with the partnership, both food chains will be looking to maximise on sales by tapping into the robust online market fuelled by a young tech savvy generation and a rapidly ballooning middle class in the country.

Duncan Muchangi MD, Hellofood Kenya said, “There is a paradigm shift on how Kenyans eats, more and more people have realised that they can order for food online from their mobile phones or computers and have it delivered to their office as they work. We are happy to partner with KFC and Ocean Basket to continue to offer this convenience.”

Read more at IT News Africa 

Senegal to construct express railroad to link new airport- Official (Star Africa)

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The cost of the Regional Express Train (TER) to link Dakar and the Blaise Diagne International Airport in Diass (AIBD) is estimated at 507 billion CFA francs, according to Abdou Ndene Sall, Secretary of State for the National Railway Network.

“The TER will cost nearly 507 billion CFA francs, broken down as follows: 366 billion for the section Dakar-AIDB, 86 billion for the rolling stock (11 wagons) and 55 billion CFA francs (15%) for the reserves,” Mr. Sall told the privately-owned daily l’Observateur.
The Secretary of State stressed that the TER construction work will begin before the end of 2016 and will last 36 months.

In his New Year’s message, President Macky Sall had announced that the TER would serve 14 stations and transport up to 115,000 passengers a day in less than 45 minutes from Dakar to Blaise Diagne Airport.

As for the railroad between Dakar and Kidira, a city on the border with Mali, Abdou Ndene Sall indicated that 754 billion CFA francs would be mobilized for its renovation.

Read More at Star Africa 

(UN News) Half the population of Central African Republic faces hunger, UN warns

Two and a half million people in the Central African Republic (CAR) are facing hunger. Photo: WFP/Bruno Djoye

20 January 2016 – An emergency food security assessment by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners has revealed that half the population of the Central African Republic (CAR) – nearly 2.5 million people – faces hunger.

This marks a doubling in the number of hungry people in a one-year period, as conflict and insecurity have led to limited access to and availability of food.

“Three years of crisis have taken a huge toll on the people of CAR,” said Guy Adoua, WFP Deputy Country Director in the country, in a press release.

“Families have been forced so often to sell what they own, pull their kids out of school, even resort to begging, that they have reached the end of their rope. This is not the usual run-of-the-mill emergency. People are left with nothing,” he added.

According to the assessment, one in six women, men and children struggles with severe or extreme food insecurity, while more than one in three is moderately food insecure, not knowing where their next meal is coming from.

“WFP is extremely concerned by this alarming level of hunger. People not only lack enough food but are also forced to consume low-cost, low-nutrient food that does not meet their nutritional needs,” added Mr. Adoua.

The report shows that the 2014-2015 harvest was poor and that food prices remain high as farmers have not tended their fields due to insecurity, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes and abandon their land and livelihoods.

Further clashes erupted in late September as much of the food security data for the assessment was being collected. That violence fuelled more displacement as people were slowly returning home. Nearly 1 million people are still displaced inside CAR or seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.

The report recommends continued emergency food assistance to displaced families and returnees; food and technical assistance to farmers to recover; creating safety nets through programmes such as the school meals programme; and providing support to rehabilitate the infrastructure through food-for-assets activities.

Meanwhile, WFP is providing emergency food and nutritional support to those most vulnerable and plays a crucial role in supporting recovery efforts. The agency’s programmes focused on cash-based transfers and local food purchases going into school meals for thousands of children boost the local economy and people’s livelihoods.

“We must help the most vulnerable, who need emergency food assistance to survive, yet we also need to focus on people across CAR so they can recover and rebuild,” stressed Mr. Adoua.

In December 2015, WFP provided food for nearly 400,000 people through general food distributions, cash-based transfers, nutrition support and school meals, as well as food-for-assets activities, but $41 million is required so that it can respond to urgent needs through to the end of June. To date, WFP’s operation is only 45 per cent funded.

This article was published in the United Nations News Centre.

(Washington Post) What Stacey Dash gets very wrong when she calls for ending BET and Black History Month

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 1.53.13 PMBy Janell Ross | January 21

So, there really was no need — no need at all — for The Fix to weigh in on the mushrooming controversy about this year’s crop of all-white Oscar nominees.

This is interesting and arguably important cultural news — not politics, per se. But it became political when the actress and Fox News commentator Stacey Dash decided to share her views on it. Then, while she was at it, Dash decided to tell millions of people that the celebration of Black History Month and the very existence of the cable entertainment network, BET, are counterproductive and perhaps even racist endeavors, that should be ended.

Just to be clear, this is what Dash said:

We have to make up our minds. Either we want to have segregation or integration. If we don’t want segregation, then we need to get rid of channels like BET and the BET Awards and the [NAACP] Image Awards, where you are only awarded if you are black. If it were the other way around we would be up in arms. It’s a double standard. Just like there shouldn’t be a Black History Month. You know, we’re Americans, period. That’s it.

Dash has a right to her opinion. She has a right to express it where she wishes. And we also have a right to point out that, on both the facts and the philosophy behind them, she is just about dead-wrong in ways that matter far from the entertainment news page.

Dash’s comments — part and parcel of a set of widely deployed but utterly false equivalencies — are essentially repeated, with some modifications, somewhere in America every day. They form a portion of almost any discussion of race on and in conservative media outlets. They come up at public events as if they are really novel and grave philosophical questions. And, because this pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook is so widely believed, they are ideas that really shape our politics and all too often linger in the background of horrible news events.

And, of course, on Wednesday we saw just how quickly Dash’s ideas leaped from her mind to the Fox News audience to the loudest bullhorn in all the land: Donald Trump. Trump repeated Dash’s sentiments in a Wednesday television interview.

Now, there are just a few problems.

First off, Dash got her facts plain wrong.

The BET Awards, hosted by Black Entertainment Television (BET) since 2000, aim to recognize talent in whatever shape, form or racial and ethnic package, particularly that which may not be celebrated elsewhere. And in the 15 years since the awards were created, white artists, actors, technicians and entertainers of all races and ethnicities have been nominated and won BET Awards. Most have been black, but certainly, really, not all.

To get specific, a quick look at the names of nominees for BET Awards since 2012 and the count of non-black artists nominated approaches two dozen. And that, again, is just the last three years. The same can be said about other years and BET Award winners.

And BET’s non-awards programming — while reasonable fodder for other critiques, I would say — also by the way includes white, black, Latino and Asian actors. Doubt that? Take a look at the cast list for shows such at “The Game,” “Being Mary Jane” and others. We could go on.

Finally, while the NAACP Image Awards were created in 1967 to recognize the “outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts, as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors,” there is nothing about that criteria, the list of nominees or award winners since that must be or is all-black.

In that list of nearly two dozen non-black people nominated for BET Awards are people like Justin Timberlake, Iggy Azalea and others. Singer Sam Smith won a BET Award last year (that story is interesting for other reasons too). Latina actresses America Ferrera and Sophia Vergara have each been nominated for NAACP Image awards four times. White actresses Dakota Fanning and Sandra Bullock have also been nominated. Angelina Jolie has also received more than one Image award nomination. And, little people like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Carlos Santana, Bono, Al Gore and Smith have all won NAACP Image Awards too. That’s all true.

BET exists in part because networks like MTV refused to air music videos created by black artists. Something similar can be said about the still-apparent reluctance of the Academy — the trade group behind the Oscars — to meaningfully diversify, and the many studios, producers and directors in control of content or the performances ultimately considered for a golden statue. And we can look to Oscar’s long history, its nominee list and a rundown of past winners to prove that too.

Sally Stiebel and Mark Ein attend the BET Honors 2012 Pre-Honors dinner at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on January 13, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)
So those are the facts. Now what about the broader social and political philosophy embedded in Dash’s comments? Think on this for just a moment, because the following list is also connected to Dash’s jumbled ideas.

How often have you heard some person express somewhere the notion that white Americans aren’t allowed to name an organization, a school, an event, a place “the white” anything? For these people the tyranny of political correctness makes such a thing impossible.

How often have you heard that racial and ethnic minorities are, unfairly, free to do just the opposite, subjecting white Americans to a kind of ceaseless, in-your-face reverse bigotry and themselves to a type of elected segregation each day? How many times have you heard someone say that the very existence and name of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and any number of historically black colleges, universities and organizations represent a modern-day kind of racism which is bizarrely accepted because the people who benefit or are at the helm are not white? Finally, how many times have you heard someone say some version of this: “Where is/why can’t we have a ‘White History Month?'”

This is harsh, but it must be said. We don’t believe that anyone allowed to use the stove alone is actually that obtuse. This is only the kind of thing that a person can say after first deciding to willfully ignore or embrace half-truths and falsehoods concocted to distract or even displace the well-documented reasons that black organizations and institutions exist. And, you also have to be willing to ignore what they do and who they serve now. Further, to believe that white history, white contributions to the arts or anything else are ever neglected, rejected or omitted wholesale in any setting in the United States requires all of the same.

White Americans are the group with the longest and richest history of race-related violence, racial exclusion enforced by violence and intimidation and — even as of today — allowing all manner of major and essential social structures and services to remain substantially separate and unequal. White Americans have benefited from this system and still do today. Some more than others, to be sure, but, that’s the truth. And, maintaining these distances and benefits typically rank among the goals of those who seek to create exclusively white institutions, organizations and places today.

To put this really simply, the NAACP and the KKK are not the same. Black History Month and a white nationalist celebrations are quite different. They don’t do the same things. They don’t have the same goals, and they have not shaped America in the same ways. To pretend that such a thing is even close to true is to tell oneself a mighty set of mind-warping lies. It insults the bravery of the men and women — black and white, Latino, Asian and Native American — who did the work to secure hard-won bits of equality. It ultimately gives those who engage in this line of thinking cover to avoid truths about this country’s racial past and present. But that does not make it accurate.

Dash’s claims that the existence of Black History Month and things like BET, the BET Awards and the NAACP Image Awards are what impede American progress toward racial oneness lie somewhere between that school of thought and what her defenders will no doubt say is genuine hope. They will claim that Dash was expressing a sincere and well-intentioned wish that black culture, black art, black history, black life will take a place at the table with every other venerated, researched and carefully documented American thing. They will insist that, on its face, there is nothing at all wrong with that.

They will insist that should be a goal in a pluralistic and democratic society. They will ignore what is and talk about what should be. They will pretend that if black, Latino and Asian Americans just stopped talking about race and ethnicity and shuttered every institution and organization created to recognize, accept, educate, employ or empower them when no one else would, racism itself would somehow magically disappear.

Yes, for those who agree with Dash, racism will dissipate via the ultra-reliable route of denial.

What we can say about Dash — an actress best known for co-starring in the 1995 movie “Clueless,” a spin-off TV show and playing the female lead in a series of films and television shows marketed primarily to black audiences — is that she picked a mighty odd place to dive deep, given her own career history. Dash’s acting resume (click the link above) includes a multi-episode arc on a show called The Game. One of those episodes ran on BET after the show switched networks and BET essentially rescued it from cancellation.

The inaccurate information and false equivalencies she dispatched in that Fox News interview rest on Dash’s shoulders. She said them. But Fox also began making Dash a network regular, providing social and political commentary after the actress declared herself a Mitt Romney voter in 2012, was attacked for it online and later made some disparaging comments about President Obama. That appears to be about the sum total of Dash’s commentator credentials.

There are many well-informed black, Latino and Asian actors and actresses who may even share Dash’s views who could have been summoned to explain them without the factual problems and absurd equivalencies that riddled everything Dash said. They probably wouldn’t have expanded their view on what’s really an inside-the-entertainment-industry controversy to include so many other things or at least have been mindful of where and how they have earned their own living. And certainly, there are many, many black conservative historians, social and political scholars, former candidates, political consultants, pollsters and researchers who, at the very least, know something about American history and their own respective industries.

It’s really up to Fox News to answer this question: Why aren’t more of those people on air?

UPDATE: This post has been updated to include information about Dash’s role on a BET television program.

The article was published in the Washington Post’s The Fix.

(AfricaNews) Equatorial Guinea begins polls’ census

Photo Credit: AfricaNews

5 days ago

Equatorial Guinea has began the election census process on Friday in preparation for the Presidential elections.

The official radio station announced that the voters’ census for the presidential election will begin on January 15 and finish on January 30.

The presidential election is planned to take place in November, but according to some sources in Malabo, it could be moved forward to June. The previous election saw a total of 291,000 registered as voters.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has lead the country since 1979. His regime has always been under criticism for its repression to opponents.

In a joint press statement, three opposition political parties – The Social Democracy Convergence(CPDS), the Innovation Citizens (CI) and the right center Union (UCD) questioned the legitimacy of the census and also put forward their lack of transparency to the whole system.

With the discovery of oil in Equatorial Guinea in 1990s, the country has been able to rip big but this has not reflected in lives of its citizens. Low life expectancy, limited access to basic facilities and high child mortality has continued to retard the growth of its citizens.

The article was published on AfricaNews.

(CNN) Finally, a video game hero for Africa

Updated 5:26 AM ET, Wed January 20, 2016

(CNN) When Madiba Olivier set out to make Cameroon’s first video game with his newly opened studio Kiro’o Games, he had to do it with just $100 and daily power outages. And those weren’t even the most difficult challenges for the Yaounde-based developer.

An early design for Enzo, the hero of Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan

An early design for Enzo, the hero of Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan

“We had difficulty finding funds and showing investors that we are not a scam,” recalls Olivier. “We had people telling us, you are just another African scam on the internet. That was very humiliating for me.”

Recently, he has proven the doubters that he means business. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Kiro’o Games has raised over $50,000 to create the country’s first African role-play game: Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan.

Unlike most fantasy games, this one features an African hero, and creates an alternative world inspired by African folklore and mythology.

“At first, the idea was to make games about ninjas,” notes Olivier. “But then I realized many gamers were bored of the same story and the same heroes. That’s how the idea to create an African fantasy came out. I wanted to break what I call ‘the exotic world’ image of Africa.”

The hero of the game, Enzo Kori-Odan, is the ruler of Zama — a diverse country free of an imperialist past but now threatened by a coup. The story centers around Enzo and his wife Erine, and their fight to regain the throne. The hero’s power comes from the collective energy of his ancestors, a force known as the Aurion.

“I think people with good eyes will see a lot of symbols about the African challenge,” says Olivier. “Geopolitics is not about who will rule the world, but about deciding what the goal of the human race will be.”

Kiro'o Games employs 18 people, and is one of several video game studios gaining prominence in Africa.

Aurion is just one example of what experts say is an industry growing at hyperspeed, thanks in large part to sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

“It allows gamers to be invested in the process. Considering that funding for a game is rather difficult to come by, crowdfunding certainly makes sense in this market,” notes Pippa Tshabalala, a South African video game writer and TV presenter.

For Olivier, the release of Aurion is just the beginning of a lifelong ambition to make Kiro’o Games the leader of gaming in Africa.

“We have an advantage with our colonial past, in that we can relate to people from different countries. We need to find a place in the games industry that will make us the center of gaming world trade,” he says.

So what are his ambitions for 2016 and beyond?

“We want to be the biggest publisher and we plan to go into mobile gaming too,” he notes. “We have spent the past ten years running from poverty. So the next ten years? We’ll spend it running towards prosperity.”

The article was published in CNN. 

(TIME) Corruption in Military Defense Spending Could Be Behind Rise in Africa Terror Attacks

Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kabore (L) and Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi (R) visit the Splendid hotel and the Capuccino cafe on January 18, 2016 in Ouagadougou, following a jihadist attack by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) late on January 15. West African nations will "fight back" after a Burkina Faso hotel attack that left 29 dead and showed jihadist fighters expanding their reach in the region, Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi said on January 18, 2016. Friday's attack on a four-star hotel, which left at least 29 dead, half of them foreigners, came weeks after an attack on a luxury Mali hotel in Bamako claimed by Islamists that left 20 people dead. / AFP / ISSOUF SANOGOISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore (L) and Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi (R) visit the Splendid hotel and the Capuccino cafe on January 18, 2016 in Ouagadougou, following a jihadist attack by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) late on January 15 / AFP / ISSOUF SANOGOISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Aryn Baker @arynebaker Jan. 18, 2016

A series of recent terror attacks across Africa have raised fears of a new wave of extremist violence

From Somalia in the east to the Western Sahel, Africa’s hotspots started getting hotter over the past week with a series of terror attacks that have raised fears of a new wave of extremist violence. Terrorism analysts have posited that al-Qaeda is vying for attention and territory with upstart ISIS in a region rife with instability. But as much as terrorist groups thrive on government weakness, military corruption also plays an important role, according to a new report on corruption in military defense spending in Africa.

Transparency International, a U.K.-based research organization that tracks corruption and perceptions of corruption worldwide, gave every single African country surveyed (47 out of 54) a failing or near-failing grade when it comes to preventing graft in their defense sectors. Defense spending is on the rise across the continent, notes the report, but without better tracking on how that money is spent, there is little to ensure that it will go to the areas that need it most in a new era of terror attacks, namely counter-terror and security programs. “With such limited oversight on military spending, there are many opportunities for corruption and graft that can in turn contribute to rising insecurity in the region,” says Leah Wawro, Transparency International’s program manager for conflict and insecurity. Corruption, adds co-author Eléonore Vidal de la Blache, the Africa project manager, can lead to black-market arms sales to terror groups, or, in some cases, bolster funding for those groups.

The report’s release on Monday capped a week of back-to-back attacks across Africa. Even as scenes of a devastating suicide bomb and grenade attack on a pair of luxury hotels and a café popular with foreigners unfurled in Burkina Faso, killing at least 29 people from nine different countries, reports started coming in of the kidnapping of an Australian couple in the country’s north, then an ambush on an aid convoy in neighboring Mali that killed two soldiers. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, and the group, or its affiliates, is thought to have been behind the kidnapping and the assault in Mali. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab militants affiliated with al-Qaeda claimed to have killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers in a Friday attack on a remote base in Somalia’s southwest, where the African Union is trying to bring peace. And on Jan. 13, two female suicide bombers attacked a mosque in a town near Cameroon’s border with Nigeria during morning prayers, killing 10 in the latest of a series of suicide bombings attributed to the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram terror group, which is based in Nigeria.

In the wake of the attack in Ouagadougou, which followed the same pattern as a similar attack in the Malian capital of Bamako in November, the prime ministers of Mali and Burkina Faso agreed to share intelligence and conduct joint security patrols in their efforts to tackle the rising terror threats in the region. But that is not likely to be enough, say the authors of the Transparency International report.

One of the biggest problems, according to the report, is how such corruption can decrease morale among soldiers, especially when commanding officers pocket salaries meant for those in the lower ranks. Such siphoning of funds is rampant in Nigeria, where soldiers have regularly deserted their posts because they say they lack sufficient supplies and weapons to fight against Boko Haram. On Friday, the recently elected President Muhammadu Buhari ordered an investigation into corruption allegations going back nine years, saying that graft among senior ranks of the military hindered the fight against an Islamist insurgency in the north of the country. Sambo Dasuki, the former national security advisor under Buhari’s predecessor and rival, Goodluck Jonathan, was arrested in December, in the wake of a government commission finding that he, along with other senior officials, allegedly pilfered some $5.5 billion meant for equipping, supplying and paying soldiers taking on Boko Haram. Dasuki has denied the charges, calling the findings “presumptive, baseless” and lacking in “diligence.”

Members of the Jonathan administration say the allegations that graft hampered the military’s counter-terror abilities are unsubstantiated. Wawro, of Transparency International, calls the claims justified. “Absolutely, corruption is undermining the fight against Boko Haram [in Nigeria]. When soldiers’ salaries are pocketed, when they see their commanders driving fancy cars while they struggle to eat, they are more likely to sell weapons and other supplies. They are more likely to take bribes, and they are more likely to allow arms or drugs to be smuggled across borders.” They are also more likely to desert, she adds, further undermining confidence in the military, and the government.

It’s not just Nigeria. Kenya’s armed forces also stand accused of being involved in bribe taking, arms sales, and worse. A recent report by Journalists for Justice, a Nairobi-based, non-partisan organization that seeks to broaden citizen understanding of international criminal justice and combat government impunity, details how Kenyan soldiers in Somalia are working in cahoots with the al-Shabaab terror group to levy “taxes” on the illegal smuggling of sugar and charcoal through the Somali port of Kismayo. “This is problematic when the KDF [Kenya Defense Force] is supposed to be fighting al-Shabaab, and when elsewhere in the country al-Shabaab forces claim to have killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers,” says Vidal de la Blache. “What you are seeing is a direct link between the ability of al-Shabaab to arm and sustain itself and the corruption within the Kenya defense establishment all the way to the top.” Rather than promise an investigation, the Kenyan government has dismissed and denied the allegations.

It is impossible to know whether there is any direct link between the weekend attacks in Burkina Faso and corruption within that country’s military establishment, says Wawro. But the country is one of the worst ranked in the Transparency report. “What you can say about any country that scores an “F” [as Burkina Faso does] is that there is no one to hold the military to account about what is being done to prevent these attacks, and how the increase in funding we are likely to see after an attack like this will be put to use.” That, she says, creates a level of distrust between the people and their government, one easily exploited by terror groups.

While the report points fingers at African governments for failing to track military spending, the report’s authors aren’t letting the U.S. and France, the principal financial backers of many of Africa’s counter terror efforts, off the hook. “We are not seeing [these countries] taking the kind of actions needed to address the problem,” says Wawro. Kenya’s military, she notes, is a major recipient of U.S. military aid. “So, if you look through a winding lens, U.S. money is indirectly filtering in to support terrorism.” That, she says, is reason enough for the foreign backers of African counter terror programs to insist on greater transparency in spending, lest their assistance end up funding another terror attack.

The article was published in TIME Magazine. 

As More Pay by Smartphone, Banks Scramble to Keep Up (NYT)

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Ryan Craine hates carrying cash and finds writing checks to be a headache. He doesn’t do much of either anymore — he mostly uses his smartphone to pay for things.

Mr. Craine, a 28-year-old tech support worker in Washington, D.C., uses Apple Pay at the stores and restaurants that accept it. About 20 times a month, he turns to Venmo, a digital wallet for transferring money from one person to another, to pay his share of rent, meals, groceries and utility bills. To refinance hisstudent loans last year, he went to an online lending start-up, Earnest.

Mr. Craine’s money choices point to the millennial-led shift toward new digital financial services, a change in behavior that threatens to upend the consumer banking industry. The popularity of the services has left the major banks rushing to adapt, even as they have regained their footing after the financial crisis.

If the banks fail to meet the challenge, Brian Moynihan, the chief executive of Bank of America, warned in November, “it may allow part of our industry to be forever taken away from us.”

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Americans in their 20s and early 30s, analysts say, offer a glimpse of tomorrow’s banking market. “Their relationship with the financial system is very different — it’s an electronic one, on their smartphones,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “That can and will be very disruptive to the banking system.”

Money is pouring into so-called fintech start-ups. And major technology companies — Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Samsung — are all entering consumer banking, typically starting with digital payment apps.

Investment worldwide in start-ups focused on retail banking markets rose to nearly $6.8 billion in 2015, according to CB Insights, a research firm. That is more than triple the $2.2 billion in 2014.

The major banks have all taken steps to address the new reality. Citigroup, for example, has teamed up with Lending Club, an online lender. In October, the bank set up a separate unit, Citi FinTech. In a memo to the staff, Stephen Bird, the new chief executive of global consumer banking, said the bank had reached a “pivotal point,” when “technological change is intensifying” and “competitors are everywhere.”

In an interview, Mr. Bird called the new unit the “spearhead” of the bank’s move into the future. The long-range goal, he said, is to provide an array of banking and money management services that are as effortless to use as ordering and paying for a ride on Uber.

For young Americans, most relationships with the financial system are electronic. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

“It’s a big opportunity for us if we can move fast enough,” Mr. Bird said. “It’s both an opportunity and a threat.”

While the fintech insurgents are moving and growing quickly, they must overcome big challenges of their own before reshaping the industry. They are still relatively small and niche players in the sprawling retail banking business. They are not deposit-taking institutions, where consumer savings are insured by the government.

They also lack the legal and regulatory apparatus that traditional banks have built over many decades. Already, some of the new services are facing regulatory scrutiny. In November, Apple, Google, Amazon, PayPal and Intuit formed a Washington-based advocacy group, Financial Innovation Now, to promote policies to “foster greater innovation in financial services.”

Still, some banking habits are changing across the population. In 2010, 40 percent of Americans with bank accounts visited a physical branch once a week, while only 9 percent made a mobile transaction weekly, according to survey research by Javelin Strategy and Research. By 2014, the percentage reporting weekly visits to bank branches fell to 28 percent, while the weekly mobile banking share tripled, to 27 percent.

Vanessa Montes de Oca, 20, lives in Covina, Calif., and she combines being a college student with part-time work at a nearby Sam’s Club. She has an account at Chase Bank, but uses it only to receive her direct-deposit paychecks and to make debit payments. She has no credit cards, viewing them a path to overspending and financial peril.

So Ms. Montes de Oca chose a new credit card alternative, Affirm, to make purchases at an online clothing retailer, UNIF. In the last year, she has made five purchases, ranging up to $460. She pays Affirm in installments over three to 12 months.

Vanessa Montes de Oca, 20, a fashion design student, has a variety of cases for her iPhone 6s, including one lined in pink fur. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

The information she gave Affirm, typing into her smartphone, was her name, address, cellphone number and the last four digits of her Social Security number. Her credit and purchase approval came back in a few seconds.

She used the Affirm smartphone app without qualms. It seemed, she said, a “solid service” — smooth and fast, with the payment amounts and terms clearly stated. That screen in her hand, she added, is where she pays bills, communicates and seeks answers. “Most of the business of my life is on my phone,” said Ms. Montes de Oca, who is also a Venmo user.

The migration to mobile computing may well work to the advantage of the digital-only entrants as people of all ages become more comfortable using a smartphone as the remote control for their finances.

Wealth management services, for example, skew toward an older demographic. At SigFig, a San Francisco start-up that offers an online investment advisory service, the average user is 47 years old. Still, the share of SigFig users tapping in from mobile devices has increased steadily, to 50 percent.

“People have such a daily relationship with their smartphones now, almost no matter what their age,” said Mike Sha, chief executive of SigFig.

Venmo is riding a surge of popularity, mostly among millennials. The volume of payments through Venmo, a unit of PayPal, more than tripled in the most recently reported quarter, to $2.1 billion.

Venmo, according to William Ready, senior vice president for products and engineering at PayPal, is beginning to cross generations, as younger adults persuade their parents to use the smartphone app for sending money and splitting payments.

Yet the cross-generational embrace seems to be going slowly. Mr. Craine, the tech support worker, urged his parents, who are in their mid-50s, to use Venmo. But they are not yet converts.

“I tried,” Mr. Craine recalled, “but they are reluctant to deal with money that way on a smartphone.”

Madeleine Fleming, 25, an online product manager who lives in Brooklyn, ran into the same obstacle when she tried to persuade her mother, who is in her late 50s. “She’s a lot less tied to her phone than I am,” Ms. Fleming said.

Ms. Fleming frequently sends small, monetary gifts to friends and relatives with get-well or cheer-up messages. For example, she says, a cousin who is a teacher in New Orleans had a tough week recently. Ms. Fleming sent her $10 via Venmo, with a note of encouragement that urged her to buy herself a drink.

“It’s a small thinking-of-you gesture,” Ms. Fleming said. “I think it’s the next level of thoughtfulness.”

Read More at the NYT.com