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Gaddafi’s Empire Of Tuna Fish And Hotels In Uganda

How African leaders stash their cash in Swiss banks and fishing boats.

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A few years ago I sat staring out onto the Mediterranean from the wrought iron balcony of an old café clinging onto the crumbling walls of the harbor at Syracuse, Sicily.

I can still taste the sublime ricotta-filled sfogliatella brought to my table with a tiny espresso by the lace-clad owner: the bronze, tightly wrinkled, skin on her wrists glimmering with confectioner’s sugar.

In this way, Sicily was predictable: buzzing mopeds, trembling verandas, and narrow laundry-strewn alleyways. Everywhere I walked I breathed in the smell of clams simmering in olive oil or heavy frying dough emanating from the cloistered alleys reaching up from the seafront.

Yet my journey to the island had taken a far less predictable course. I had reached Syracuse from the deep Pacific waters off Suva, the Fijian capital, an obscure route even for me. I had arrived off the coast of North Africa where I was following the tuna for an investigation into overfishing. Along this storied coastline I had stumbled across quite possibly the last thing I had expected: The sea bounty of one of the world’s most notorious dictators.

Encircling the outer reaches of the island were rows upon rows of aluminum-framed spheres bobbing in the ocean. Complex webs of floating tuna farms, which I discovered were part-owned by none other than the Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. This was the summer of 2009. Two and a half years before the colonel would be found cowering in a ditch in Sirte and murdered after his own fashion, in cold blood.

The revelation that Gaddafi was bringing deep red sashimi to my table was a surprise to say the least. I later discovered the fish farms represented a tuna empire stretching far and wide across southern Europe from Malta to Gibraltar, which had turned the Libyan leader and his cohorts into some of the biggest seafood players in the Mediterranean, allowing them to establish partnerships with major Spanish fishing firms and Japanese importers.

My ears pricked up. I wanted to learn more about Gaddafi’s money trail. A few months on from my visit to Syracuse, I found myself in a nightclub in the Kabalagala district of Kampala, where Gaddafi had built the city’s national mosque, listening intently in a dark corner as details were poured out to me of the Libyan revolutionary’s heavy investment in five-star hotels and shopping center construction across Uganda. By this time, details were also, independently, starting to emerge of his multi-billion investments in South Africa. Where did Gaddafi’s financial reach end I wondered? Five years, a revolution and a murder later, it would seem we are all still none the wiser.

Since the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, a small but dedicated task force of lawyers and forensic accountants from Britain, the United States (US) and France have been scouring the globe for the Libyan dictators missing fortune. Tight-knit teams taking on underground bankers and mute government officials on four continents.

Theirs is a thankless task chasing shadows, rumors and, when they get really lucky, spreadsheets. But Gaddafi isn’t the only quarry this small army of investigators have in their sights. As I write this, there are people hard at work tracking down the fortunes of fallen regimes from the deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak to the recently prosecuted former Liberian leader Charles Taylor and the disgraced Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

To lighten the load of a heavy train of thought we could pause to consider the bizarre excesses of our most recent fallen despots. Gaddafi, who we know was partial to sushi and the occasional gold AK47, also had a penchant for baby grand pianos, infinity pools and Pierre Cardin carpets and upholstery. Not to be outdone, Mubarak, more of a tapas man, boasted no less than nine luxury Spanish villas. Ben Ali, rather predictably kept tigers in one of his many palaces and was running out of garage space for his 47 limousines, including an armored Maybach worth $1 million.

In 2014, financial crime among the globe’s fallen dictators broadly relates less to their garish taste in sports car but a complex  range of activities such as tax avoidance or evasion, corruption, bribery, money-laundering, price fixing and drug trafficking. All out embezzlement has many different labels.

But, finding a definition for Hague charge sheets and fighting through the legal minefield to get a prosecution isn’t the biggest challenge. Finding the money after regime change is what takes real time and effort.

Last month, the US froze assets worth $458 million alleged to have been stolen from the country by the former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. A close relative of his admitted to keeping $100 million buried in his home, which we assume, given the bulk of cash, was a large property in itself.

Such an asset freeze could be seen as a major success. Yet Abacha’s iron-fisted military rule reached its zenith in 1996, almost 20 years ago. Nigeria has, in the last few weeks, petitioned the US for the return of the uncovered funds. But the sum is only a large drop in the ocean. After two decades, the whereabouts of the bulk of the estimated $5-billion fortune remains unclear. Nigeria isn’t even certain it has a claim on the US money.

It is a familiar pattern. In the wake of the Arab Spring, the ill-gotten gains hidden away by overthrown regimes remains one of Africa’s greatest modern mysteries. The king of Africa’s nation robbers is undoubtedly the disgraced and deposed Egyptian president, Mubarak, who amassed a fortune for his family, estimated between $40 billion and $70 billion, most of it is still missing. Gaddafi is thought to have taken some $30 billion out of the country.

In 2011, Tunisia’s Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for inciting violence and murder and also convicted of wide scale theft. Efforts to uncover the bulk of his assets painstakingly roll on. What is beyond dispute here is the missing cash and valuables would provide a desperately needed boost for post-Arab Spring states like Tunisia who are hoping for economic recovery.

At an international level there is some intent to reach into the shadows and find the money. The European Union (EU) recently reiterated its claims that the recovery of assets stolen by the former dictators and regimes of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt was a moral and legal imperative. A team is currently working with officials from the Arab Spring countries to find ways of speeding up the process.

The Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), a UN-World Bank project, also provides training and technical assistance to enable countries stripped of wealth. But its most important role is to foster ties between the countries seeking looted money and those sitting on it. That may simply be fixing meetings between their police, prosecutors and financial-intelligence experts. But there are concerns that the international response has led to only limited success in recovering misappropriated assets.

One country at the center of the money trail is Switzerland.  Ben Ali, like many dictators, liked to visit Switzerland or at least take his money for a holiday there. The Swiss, known for their impenetrable banking system, are in the face of growing pressure, probably doing more than they are given credit for.

In the last few years, Swiss officials have worked with the Tunisian government to recover two executive jets, worth an estimated $30 million, linked to the family of the ousted Ben Ali. Switzerland also quickly froze more than $60 million in funds held in Swiss bank accounts linked to the Tunisian family. In addition, the Swiss government reprimanded and fined three major Swiss banks for improperly handling accounts belonging to family and close friends of Ben Ali. But questions remain around Mubarak’s fortune. The former military leader’s protracted exit may have allowed him precious time to move money around and hide significant parts of his fortune in Switzerland and elsewhere.

According to Swiss officials working on asset recovery matters, the European country has helped return nearly $1.7 billion to countries affected by corruption. Switzerland proposed last month a new law to make it easier to freeze assets stolen and salted away by foreign leaders and return them to their countries of origin.

Yet as important as it is to follow the money, or the tuna in Gaddafi’s case, and return the misappropriated funds to the people, we cannot endlessly look to the past. The recovery of hard currency will ultimately not be the key factor in determining whether Egypt, Tunisia, Liberia or Libya become more prosperous, democratic nations.

The best thing we can do is gain a deeper understanding of how the money was so effectively stolen in the first place and how it can be prevented in the future. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was an army man and not a businessman. But, running a country with what was effectively a suspended constitution for 30 years allowed him to feed off every business deal in the country, benefiting from monopolies, bribery fees, red-tape and nepotism.

This applies as much to Tunisia as it does to often forgotten Liberia which claims to still be recovering from Charles Taylor’s grand theft. A few years ago, I interviewed Thomas R. Creal, an accountant from Chicago who has led the search into Charles Taylor’s missing millions for the United Nations.

Retained by Liberia, he and three law firms developed new strategies to follow the money involving filing civil damage claims against companies, governments and international banks that they contend aided Taylor in illegal transactions. The goal, after investigators have succeeded in freezing only around $8 million held by Taylor’s relatives and associates, is to win judgments for Liberia even if Taylor’s accounts cannot be found.

The estimates of Taylor’s hidden wealth from timber and diamond trades run from $280 million to $3 billion. Taylor himself claims to be a pauper. Stephen Rapp, the US ambassador at large for war crime issues and a former chief prosecutor on the case, said the hunt could continue for years.

“You will never find an account listed under Charles Taylor,” he says. “In all of these asset recovery cases of former leaders who have been accused of corruption or worse, it has taken a long time to achieve recovery. So this is not going to end.”

So what of preventative measures? All the plundering we have spoken of here has been linked to one key thing: a political elite’s monopolistic control of regulatory bodies with no accountability to the people they represent.

Charles Taylor

As a consequence, state officials have used their resources to suppress institutions, thereby producing dictatorships and a country whose socio-political and economic policies prioritize the interests of the political and economic elite.

With respect to the domination and control of government structures, existing laws needs to be strengthened in order to compel state officials to declare and disclose their assets and bank accounts. The potential for abuse is further exacerbated by the immunity from legal action enjoyed by the political elite across Africa. Changing laws which exempt presidents, governors and their deputies from prosecution while in office would be a significant step in many African nations.

As we know in South Africa, tenderpreneurship is a defining issue. All government contracts should go through public tenders and the lists of bidders and awardees be made publicly available. At the societal level, there also needs to be greater public awareness of what is happening.

Today, this can increasingly be achieved through freedom of information which would allow civil society organizations such as NGOs, the media, and labor unions, as well as individuals and whistleblowers, to challenge state institutions, and the anti-social practices of the government, its representatives and agencies.

In the absence of African leaders volunteering to host a summit dedicated to combatting corruption and establishing civil frameworks to overcome it, the best we can do is look to the African countries who are doing things right.

When he finally leaves this world, focus will inevitably fall on the personal riches of Robert Mugabe and his family. Enriched in recent years by huge diamond finds in the east of Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s treasury has reaped in billions and offered little transparency as to where the money has actually gone. When measured against neighboring Botswana the comparison is stark.

On a scale of zero to 100, where zero counts as highly corrupt and 100 as very clean, Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index gave Botswana a score of 65. The figure placed the country in 30th position out of 176 countries measured, the highest of any African country. Zimbabwe was given a score of 20, which placed it in 163rd place – on a par with Equatorial Guinea, and only slightly above Somalia and Sudan.

To understand what has been Botswana’s secret, Gareth Penny, the former CEO of De Beers and the Vice President of the Botswana Economic Advisory Council claims that business can play a role in ensuring transparency.

In his opinion, a stance on corruption doesn’t just have to be written into a constitution but adopted as a source of pride and a means to attract investment and create jobs.

“Botswana has been a democracy since its independence with working opposition groups and real freedom of speech and press and it has been led by strong, democratically elected presidents, who have taken an uncompromising stance on corruption,” he says.

“With the discovery of diamonds by De Beers, government brought in external and respected advisors to negotiate benefits for the country and not for specific individuals. This led to the creation of Debswana, a 50/50 joint venture between De Beers and government, which has been the driving force in Botswana’s economic development over the past 50 years. It is an outstanding example of a public-private partnership, which has acted in the interests of the country.”

But the lead can also be taken by technology. With more than 650 million owning mobile phones in Africa, people are becoming increasingly well connected, in turn providing a powerful opportunity for citizens to access critical information about their parliaments and to report on human rights violations, corruption and poor service delivery.

Crowdsourcing techniques like Kenya’s Ushahidi can be used to report incidents of bribes or corruption. Similar initiatives are springing up all over Africa; with stopthebribes.net in Nigeria, and No bakshish in Cameroon. These platforms allow people to make their voice heard.

In South Africa, where corruption is a growing concern and undermining the popularity of the ruling party, the African National Congress, the Open Democracy Advice Centre has created a platform where citizens can submit freedom of information requests. A data repository has been created online, enabling journalists, analysts and campaigners to utilize this information to hold government to account and campaign for improved service delivery.

ICT has the power to bring the voices of citizens closer to government and is a significant contributor to ensuring that governments serve the interests of their citizens.

To some, this might sound a little idealistic in the face of dictatorships but ICT improves transparency in more fundamental ways. For the new wave of despots and rogues, hiding cash in palace trap doors is becoming increasingly difficult.

Looking at the longer game, the very presence of ICT in government may not immediately decrease corruption and secret activities but it could leave the very thing that investigators burning the midnight oil are looking for: fingerprints and audit trails to ensure quicker prosecutions after a regime change.

Above all though, most African ruling parties and leaders still lack the political will needed to genuinely tackle corruption. Legislative gaps in dealing with corruption must be strengthened across African countries and the enforcement of internal anti-corruption controls within states must be improved.

One thing I would like to see, as someone who has spent years as an investigative journalist, is more quantifiable and hard-hitting studies on the impact of corruption on the poorest people on the continent.

We often only see the eye-watering figures and forget that corruption undermines the delivery of healthcare, public housing, access to water, sanitation and electricity. In an age where finding employment for Africa’s burgeoning youth is paramount, corruption also diverts financial and other resources that could have been used for development with respect to job creation; a fact that the Arab Spring showed can create the ultimate resistance to the corrupt who le

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Climate Explained: How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?

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How much climate change is natural? How much is man made?

As someone who has been working on climate change detection and its causes for over 20 years I was both surprised and not surprised that I was asked to write on this topic by The Conversation. For nearly all climate scientists, the case is proven that humans are the overwhelming cause of the long-term changes in the climate that we are observing. And that this case should be closed.

Despite this, climate denialists continue to receive prominence in some media which can lead people into thinking that man-made climate change is still in question. So it’s worth going back over the science to remind ourselves just how much has already been established.

Successive reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – mandated by the United Nations to assess scientific evidence on climate change – have evaluated the causes of climate change. The most recent special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees confirms that the observed changes in global and regional climate over the last 50 or so years are almost entirely due to human influence on the climate system and not due to natural causes.

What is climate change?

First we should perhaps ask what we mean by climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines climate change as:

a change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer.

The causes of climate change can be any combination of:

  • Internal variability in the climate system, when various components of the climate system – like the atmosphere and ocean – vary on their own to cause fluctuations in climatic conditions, such as temperature or rainfall. These internally-driven changes generally happen over decades or longer; shorter variations such as those related to El Niño fall in the bracket of climate variability, not climate change.
  • Natural external causes such as increases or decreases in volcanic activity or solar radiation. For example, every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips and this can cause small fluctuations in global temperature, up to about 0.2 degrees. On longer time scales – tens to hundreds of millions of years – geological processes can drive changes in the climate, due to shifting continents and mountain building.
  • Human influence through greenhouse gases (gases that trap heat in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide and methane), other particles released into the air (which absorb or reflect sunlight such as soot and aerosols) and land-use change (which affects how much sunlight is absorbed on land surfaces and also how much carbon dioxide and methane is absorbed and released by vegetation and soils).

What changes have been detected?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report showed that, on average, the global surface air temperature has risen by 1°C since the beginning of significant industrialisation (which roughly started in the 1850s). And it is increasing at ever faster rates, currently 0.2°C per decade, because the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have themselves been increasing ever faster.

The oceans are warming as well. In fact, about 90% of the extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases is being absorbed by the oceans.

A warmer atmosphere and oceans are causing dramatic changes, including steep decreases in Arctic summer sea ice which is profoundly impacting arctic marine ecosystems, increasing sea level rise which is inundating low lying coastal areas such as Pacific island atolls, and an increasing frequency of many climate extremes such as drought and heavy rain, as well as disasters where climate is an important driver, such as wildfire, flooding and landslides.

Multiple lines of evidence, using different methods, show that human influence is the only plausible explanation for the patterns and magnitude of changes that have been detected.

This human influence is largely due to our activities that release greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well sunlight absorbing soot. The main sources of these warming gases and particles are fossil fuel burning, cement production, land cover change (especially deforestation) and agriculture.

Weather attribution

Most of us will struggle to pick up slow changes in the climate. We feel climate change largely through how it affects weather from day-to-day, season-to-season and year-to-year.

The weather we experience arises from dynamic processes in the atmosphere, and interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans and the land surface. Human influence on the broader climate system acts on these processes so that the weather today is different in many ways from how it would have been.

One way we can more clearly see climate change is by looking at severe weather events. A branch of climate science, called extreme event or weather attribution, looks at memorable weather events and estimates the extent of human influence on the severity of these events. It uses weather models run with and without measured greenhouse gases to estimate how individual weather events would have been different in a world without climate change.

As of early 2019, nearly 70% of weather events that have been assessed in this way were shown to have had their likelihood and/or magnitude increased by human influence on climate. In a world without global warming, these events would have been less severe. Some 10% of the studies showed a reduction in likelihood, while for the remaining 20% global warming has not had a discernible effect. For example, one study showed that human influence on climate had increased the likelihood of the 2015-2018 drought that afflicted Cape Town in South Africa by a factor of three.

Adapting to a changing climate

Weather extremes underlie many of the hazards that damage society and the natural environment we depend upon. As global warming has progressed, so have the frequency and intensity of these hazards, and the damage they cause.

Minimising the impacts of these hazards, and having mechanisms in place to recover quickly from the impacts, is the aim of climate adaptation, as recently reported by the Global Commission on Adaptation.

As the Commission explains, investing in adaptation makes sense from economic, social and ethical perspectives. And as we know that climate change is caused by humans, society cannot use “lack of evidence” on its cause as an excuse for inaction any more.

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The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation

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Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.


As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.    

The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).

The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.

The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.

To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.

Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.

Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.

“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.

But South African businesses were affected too.

Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.

Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.

“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.

 Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected. 

Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.

“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.

Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).

Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.

Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.

The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.

Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.” 

Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.

There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.

A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.   

Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”

“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.

She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.

Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.

“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.

She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.

“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).

“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.

Women stop traffic while they hold up placards stating their grievences against GBV. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.

The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.

Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?

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How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap

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As the job market has evolved, so too have the skills required of seekers. But when 75% of human resources professionals say a skills shortage has made recruiting particularly challenging in recent months, it would appear as though the workforce hasn’t quite kept pace. Now LinkedIn is stepping in to help close the gap.

On Tuesday, the professional social network announced the launch of a “Skills Assessments” tool, through which users can put their knowledge to the test. Those who pass are given the opportunity to display a badge that reads “passed” next to the skill on their profile pages, a validation of sorts that LinkedIn hopes will encourage skills development among its users and help better match potential employees with the right employers.  

READ MORE | Not Just Equality, But Recognition Of Excellence

“We see an evolving labor market and much more sophistication in how recruiters and hiring managers look for skills. … We also see a changing learning market,” says Hari Srinivasan, senior director of product management at LinkedIn Learning. “The combination of those two made us excited about changing our opportunity marketplace to make the hiring side and the learning side work better together.”

So how exactly does it work? Let’s say a user wants to showcase her proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Rather than simply listing “Excel” in the skills section of her profile, she can take a multiple-choice test to demonstrate the extent to which she is an expert.

If she aces the test, not only will a badge verifying her aptitude will appear on her profile, but she will be more likely to surface in searches by recruiters, who can search for candidates by skill in the same way they might do so by college or employer. If she fails, she can take the test again, but she’ll have to wait a few months—plenty of time to develop her skillset.   

The tool has been in beta mode since March, and while just 2 million people have used it—a mere fraction of LinkedIn’s 630 million members—early results seem promising. According to LinkedIn, members who’ve completed skills assessments have been nearly 30% more likely to land jobs than their counterparts who did not take the tests.

READ MORE | Challenging The Gender Divide

“This has been a really good way for members to represent what they know, what they are good at,” says Emrecan Dogan, LinkedIn group product manager.

While new to LinkedIn, the practice of assessing candidates’ skills has been a standard among hiring managers for decades. But when research commissioned by LinkedIn revealed that 69% of employees feel that skills have become more important to recruiters than education, LinkedIn felt as though this was the time to give job seekers the opportunity to prove themselves from the get-go.

As important as the hard skills that members can put to the test through LinkedIn’s new tool may be, Dawn Fay, senior district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, encourages those on both side of the job search not to forget the importance of soft skills. “You wouldn’t want to rule somebody in or out just based on how they did on one particular skill assessment,” she says.

“Have another data point that you can use, question people about how they did on something and see if it’s something that can feed into the puzzle to find out if somebody is going to be a good fit.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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