Somalia ‘Now in Good Standing’ With World Bank

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The World Bank on Thursday said it is normalizing relations with the Federal Government of Somalia after 30 years.

The bank noted the Somali government’s “strong record of fiscal, political, social and economic reforms in recent years” in making the move.

“Normalizing relations means that the country is now in good standing with the World Bank,” World Bank Country Manager Hugh Riddell told VOA Somali. “It means that going forward Somalia will be able to access grants, grants financing for poverty reduction.”

He said the new grants will help Somalia invest in basic needs of the Somali people.

News of the World Bank’s move came just a day after the International Monetary Fund announced it had secured “sufficient financing pledges” to provide comprehensive debt relief to Somalia. More than 100 IMF member countries have pledged to provide US$334 million in financing, IMF said.

The African Development Bank and African Development Fund approved a framework for $122.55 million to clear Somalia’s arrears on the same day as the IMF announcement.

Somalia owes more than $5 billion to external creditors and hopes to achieve debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.

Riddell said the nod from the World Bank does not mean that Somalia will borrow more money. This was in response to concern from Somali observers that the improvement in financial standing by the Somali government could translate into borrowing and taking on more debt.

“This does not mean that Somalia will have access to lending, there will be no loans from the World Bank; the financing that will come will be purely grants,” Riddell said.

“Somalis need not worry that this will lead to borrowing by the Somali government, and the World Bank money will be purely 100 percent grants,” he added.

Riddell says the bank has been working closely with the Somali Ministry of Finance and the central bank since 2012. He praised the reforms made.

“Some of the basic reforms that have taken place over the past seven years have been increasing revenue generation, not only Mogadishu port, Mogadishu airport but also increasingly the private sector,” he said. “That means that the government is able to generate its revenues from businesses, and those businesses are happy to pay increasing amounts of tax to the government because of the transparency that is now in the budget system and the oversight of the expenditures that is now carried out by the Ministry of Finance.”

He also said that Somalia’s Auditor General has been carrying out annual audits of the budget and is reporting to the parliament. He said laws have been passed that enabled the central bank of Somalia to carry out supervisory functions in the financial sector of remittances, as well supervise the new Somali banks that have been formed.

The Somali prime minister has welcomed the move by the World Bank and the African Development Bank, and described it as a “landmark milestone.”

Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire tweeted: “#WB & #AfDB announce to reengage #Somalia, clear arrears & ultimately relieve the country of the debt burden under the HIPC Initiative, paving the way 4 tremendous foreign direct investment! Our commitment to reform begins to pay dividends. Deeply indebted!”

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Nigeria Registers 1st Coronavirus Case as Africa Braces for Pandemic

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Nigerian officials have confirmed a case of coronavirus in the country, the first confirmed case in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa is braced for a potential coronavirus pandemic as experts warn health systems on the continent could be overwhelmed.  However, experts say the apparent delay in the virus reaching Africa has given health officials precious time to prepare.
According to Nigerian officials, the confirmed case is an Italian national who works in Nigeria and returned to Lagos from Milan, Italy earlier this week.  He is now being treated in a Lagos hospital, and is said to have no serious symptoms.

The case has raised fears of a potential coronavirus outbreak in one of Africa’s most densely populated cities.


Single cases of  the coronavirus have been detected in Egypt and Algeria, but so far, there has been no large-scale outbreak on the continent. The World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned Thursday that no country can assume it is safe from the virus.  

“This virus doesn’t respect borders. It does not distinguish between races or ethnicities,” he said. “It has no regard for a country’s GDP or level of development. The point is not only to prevent cases arriving on your shores. The point is what you do when you have cases.”

The apparent delay in any African outbreak has given the continent time to prepare. Until this month, only two laboratories in the  whole of Africa were able to test for the coronavirus. The World Health Organization says now more than half of sub-Saharan countries are equipped to diagnose the virus.  

“It’s not as extensive as we need it to be, and the testing that’s going on in countries isn’t as complete as we’d like it to be,” Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo is from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security told VOA. “But the fact that we’ve been able to stand this up in relatively short amounts of time, I think represents progress.”

A man wearing face mask walks at the Yaba Mainland hospital where an Italian citizen who entered Nigeria on Tuesday from Milan on a business trip, the first case of the COVID-19 virus is being treated in Lagos Nigeria, Feb. 28, 2020.

It’s feared that an undetected outbreak could rapidly escalate into a health crisis. Around 80 percent of people with the coronavirus have only mild symptoms, meaning the true prevalence is likely underreported. Most fatalities have occurred in those with underlying health problems.

But a pandemic in Africa would overwhelm medical facilities, says  Dr. Nathalie MacDermott of King’s College London.

“It’s an issue when it comes to managing other medical problems. So, that means that people with heart disease and things aren’t necessarily able to visit the hospital or to get an appointment,” she said. “And subsequently, we could see increased mortality from other medical problems, simply because they can’t access the health system.”

Experts say many African nations must improve disease surveillance and operations to trace the spread of infection. They also warn that in the event of a global pandemic, the international community must be ready to step in and help countries with weaker health systems.

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South Africa to Bring Home Citizens Under Coronavirus Lockdown in China

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South African officials will soon begin to repatriate at least 132 South Africans from Wuhan, the epicenter of the global coronavirus epidemic, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced late Thursday.  
The decision contradicts official Chinese advice that foreigners in Wuhan will fare best if they remain in place. The move comes as global deaths begin to grow rapidly.  
Ramaphosa’s office stressed that none of the evacuees are ill.  
“None of the affected individuals has been diagnosed with the virus nor have they exhibited any symptoms thereof,” a statement read.

“Upon arrival in South Africa, they will be placed in quarantine for 21 days as an additional precautionary measure. Government has been in constant communication with the families of all affected individuals and relevant departments have made the necessary arrangements to receive them,” it said.  
While Ramaphosa’s office did not answer numerous calls seeking comment, and did not say when people might begin to return, Health Ministry spokeswoman Dr. Lwazi Manzi told VOA that officials have one strong message for South Africans: Don’t panic.  
“People must absolutely not panic,” she said. “We’re not bringing back here people who have coronavirus. These are people who are very well, who are fine. Nobody has coronavirus. There are people who have requested to come home for various reasons. Some of them are students who have finished their studies. Some of them are people who finished whatever it is they’re doing in business or at leisure, and they really just need to get back home and get out of the lockdown conditions in Wuhan. And also just to sort of reiterate that we are bringing back citizens from Wuhan from that epicenter who are under lockdown. And we are bringing them back upon their request so that they can continue with their lives that they were living here in South Africa.”

Virus reaches Nigeria

Africa has been largely spared since the virus began to surface late last year. Most of the cases are in China. Nigeria this week reported its first confirmed case.  
South Africa’s National Institute for Infectious Diseases applauded the move to repatriate South Africans and stressed that there have been no confirmed cases yet in South Africa. The institute’s Dr Kerrigan McCarthy said authorities continue to monitor the situation.

“To date, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Africa and the NICD continues to test for possible cases,” she said, adding, “133 persons to date have been tested for SARS-COV, of whom 89 met the case definition for persons under investigation, as of the 28th of February. We continue to monitor trends of COVID-19 globally and in the African region to improve our knowledge of the disease and to continually enhance our surveillance and response.”
South Africa’s government has implemented temperature testing and health screening at Johannesburg’s Oliver Reginald Tambo Airport, the continent’s busiest, and Health Minister Pakishe Aaron Motsoaledi has assured the population that the government has contingency plans in place, including designated treatment facilities and a 24-hour hotline.  
Manzi added that two South African nationals are being treated in Japan after testing positive for the virus on the Princess Diamond Cruise Ship. However, she added, neither patient is showing symptoms and both will be kept under medical care until they are fully recovered.  


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Ethiopian-American Protesters: 'President Trump, Stop Pressuring Ethiopia'

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Ethiopians in Washington gathered Thursday to support the country’s Nile dam project and voice displeasure over the U.S. role in the negotiations.

At issue is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 90% of its freshwater, has asked for safeguards to slow the filling of the dam to avoid affecting the Nile water level. Ethiopia has said it plans to begin filling the 145-meter-high dam later this year. Planners say it will take four to seven years to fill.

Dozens of demonstrators rallied in front of the U.S. State Department carrying Ethiopian and American flags and signs with slogans including “America Should Mediate, and Not Coerce!”

Many protesters expressed anger at the perceived favoritism of U.S. mediators toward Egypt in the dispute. The U.S. Treasury Department is playing a lead role in mediating technical discussions among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the construction of the dam, one of the largest infrastructure projects in African history.

Protesters believe Treasury, along with World Bank mediators, are biased toward Egypt. This week Ethiopian negotiators temporarily walked away from discussions, according to state-owned media.

“This dam is being built with the Ethiopian people’s expense and America is siding with Egypt,” protest participant Dawit Galaso Alambo told VOA’s Amharic Service. “We don’t think this is right. Ethiopia should have the right to use its own water and that is its international right. We also want to remind the people and government of America that they can’t meddle by taking sides and disregard the right of Ethiopia to use its own water.”

Once complete, the dam is expected to be the largest hydropower project on the continent, producing 6,000 megawatts of electricity and exporting power to neighboring countries. This is a source of pride for many Ethiopians who do not want the country to make concessions.

“Ethiopia is the uncontested owner of the Nile. Our water is ours. We have every right to do whatever we want,” said Muhedin Siraj Mohammed in Amharic, a resident of the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, while attending the protest. “There is some pressure at the moment and there are some activities preventing work. And we are here to let those who are part of that realize and stress that this is our right,” he said.

Ethiopian-Americans rally against the Trump administration’s involvement in negotiations over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, in Washington, Feb. 27, 2020. (Habtamu Seyoum/VOA)

William Davison, International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia, said Ethiopia’s temporarily walking away from negotiations is a “blow to the process.” Negotiators had hoped to have a technical agreement among the three countries by the end of this month, a deadline that now appears unattainable.

“Now we have to wait and see what the next schedule is,” he told VOA via Skype. “I think the Ethiopian government spokesmen have termed this as a postponement. So not suggesting that the meeting has been canceled forever, but only that they need more time to prepare for it.”

Davison said Ethiopians believe the World Bank rules give downstream countries too much power to veto upstream projects. The country also worries that U.S. military ties with Egypt favorably dispose it to Egyptian arguments in the dispute.

“Ethiopia feels that the international community is, in some way, set up to rule against it or come down on the other party’s side in terms of this general issue and that’s why they have been reticent about having third party involvement,” he said.

Davison said Ethiopia also believes that third-party observers are overstepping their role in the process.

“The U.S. and the World Bank were supposed to be observers, but it seems to be some form of mission creep with those third parties now actually drafting agreements,” Davison said. “And as we discussed these are an agreement that is not to Ethiopia’s liking. They feel that it places too many obligations upon them in terms of protecting Egypt’s water rights.”

This story originated in the Africa Division with reporting contributed by VOA Amharic Service’s Habtamu Seyoum.


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