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A New Dawn For Zimbabwe, But Is It Rosy?

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Zimbabwe

It’s three days before Christmas. Normally, at this time of the year, Merton Avenue, in Pretoria, South Africa, is an empty street. But today 3,000 people are pushing and shoving to get into the Zimbabwean embassy.

They all want to see Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s new president and the man who brought Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule to an end.

Inside the embassy, floor space is hard to find. There are people from all walks of life, from investors to lawyers to activists.

One of them is Ruvarashe Moyo, a Zimbabwean medical doctor living in South Africa.

“I came out today because I wanted to see the man who took out Mugabe. Many people back home don’t have adequate medical care, while there are thousands of specialists from Zimbabwe around the world. We are not at home because of the economic situation, so now I have hope that I may be able to go home soon. I am happy that the president’s speech was about reviving the economy and bringing us back home,” says Moyo.

Like the rest of hopeful Zimbabweans around the world, Moyo wants Zimbabwe to rekindle its former glory as Africa’s most booming economy.

Outside of land reform, Mugabe’s indigenization policies and allegations of rigged elections saw investors turn their backs on Zimbabwe, resulting in the economy tanking. The ruling Zanu-PF government invested heavily in health, education and parastatals. It meant, for most of the 1980s, public expenditure made up 45% of the GDP, according to the World Bank’s Zimbabwe Public Expenditure Review. It crowded out private investment and fueled inflation.

After 37 years, it means revitalizing Zimbabwe’s economy will not be an easy task.

“There is a lot to fix in the country, but the major thing to start with is fixing the economy so that people can have jobs and at least be able to sustain a decent living,” says Terrence Chitapi, a Zimbabwe-based economist.

According to Chitapi, Mnangagwa has said all the right things since his inauguration but needs to back up his words with action.

“From day one, he has spoken about a fresh start and people expected a quick turnaround of the economy and to see a strong push towards the respect of human rights, but so far we haven’t seen gigantic strides to turn these around,” he says.

READ MORE: Will Mnangagwa usher in a new democracy? The view from Zimbabwe

In fact, during the back-to-school period, Zimbabweans witnessed a price hike in school supplies, there is still no hard currency and street vendors, the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy, have been pushed off the streets for not having lisenses.

“There are actually people from the opposition who have been brutalized by the military. Even when they take street vendors off the streets, sometimes the way they conduct themselves borders on infringement of human rights and endangering lives of not only the vendors but also other passers-by which brings fear and is what Mugabe’s presidency represented,” says Chitapi.

When Mnangagwa was Vice President, he spoke about changes that needed to happen in policy matters, state departments, stabilizing the currency, and corruption. According to Anele Ndlovu, founder of the Zim-SA Forum, an organization that encourages investment in Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa is implementing change. The problem is the pace is slow.

Since he has been in power, Mnangagwa has streamlined government ministries from 26 to 22, revised the indigenization policy and announced the sale of some parastatals.

The biggest concern among Zimbabweans is whether the country will see real democracy.

Mnangagwa’s cabinet is similar to Mugabe’s and he appointed former army chief, Constantino Chiwenga, who led the “coup”, as his deputy.

“It was already a mistake to give the military that much power over politics and now to give the head of the military the position of Vice President shows these deals were made before, just so that they can get into high positions. I worry they might not want to leave and if people attempt to go to the streets, force may be used,” says another entrepreneur who refused to be named.

READ MORE: Morgan Tsvangirai: The Quiet Man Forced Into The Wrong Job

This move has left many Zimbabweans anxious. But, according to Ndlovu, this is a transitional government that might change if Mnangagwa wins this year’s elections.

“You can’t get into government and then try to change everything all at once. Things would fall apart. You need a proper transition but some ministers need to be retired because they have been there for too long,” he says.

Anele Ndlovu

Anele Ndlovu (Photo supplied)

At least doing business in Zimbabwe appears to be getting easier.

“People started getting permits quicker, it’s easier and faster to register a business and the visa processing has also become easier,” says Ndlovu.

To cut the budget deficit, Mnangwagwa’s government has invited bids for stakes in up to eight loss-making state-owned enterprises, including its national airline, Air Zimbabwe, sitting on a $300-million debt, and power utility, ZESA, which suffered a $224-million loss in 2016.

“If you give a private entity 35% of ZESA, for example, you know the way of doing business will change. They will be able to do collections, less corruption and it will be run properly. This is a very good move,” says Ndlovu.

Out of the 92 companies Zimbabwe fully or partly owns, 38 ran at losses amounting to about $270 million in 2016. Most of the parastatals have been losing money for years due to mismanagement and high operating costs.

“On big projects, like reviving Air Zimbabwe, the investor would want to know what securities they can get… There is a lot of interest from investors. For example, there is a delegation coming into Zimbabwe interested in agriculture and farming of soya and another Turkish delegation that wants to tour the country and see factories that are closed in Bulawayo and how they can get involved in the tourism sector.”

The Harvard Business Review agrees that investors could benefit if Mnangagwa continues to concentrate on economic revival.

“Mnangagwa’s first actions in office underscore how important he views economic recovery. Even before announcing his new cabinet, Mnangagwa installed a key reformist, Patrick Chinamasa, as Acting Finance Minister, tasked with tackling corruption and re-engaging with international institutions to unlock funds to ease liquidity shortages… In this environment, multinationals that are willing to accept some risk and invest in the country could benefit from first-mover advantages – but only if the new administration follows through with much-needed economic reforms,” reads an article in the publication.

Zimbabwe lost out on Africa’s recent growth boom but Ndlovu says those who are willing to put their money in infrastructure development, healthcare, agriculture, mining, technology and energy might have a big pay day as the economy is projected to grow more than 4.5% this year.

Back in Pretoria, as the crowd dispersed, the sky gradually turned a shade of purple and the stars began shimmering. It is dusk at the embassy but maybe a new dawn is on the horizon for Zimbabwe.

Current Affairs

Johnson & Johnson Moves to Limit Impact of Report on Asbestos in Baby Powder

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 Johnson & Johnson on Monday scrambled to contain fallout from a Reuters report that the healthcare conglomerate knew for decades that cancer-causing asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder, taking out full-page newspaper ads defending its product and practices, and readying its chief executive for his first television interview since investors erased tens of billions of dollars from the company’s market value.

J&J shares fell nearly 3 percent Monday, closing at $129.14 in New York Stock Exchange trading. That drop was on top of the 10 percent plunge that wiped out about $40 billion of the company’s market capitalization following the Reuters report Friday. J&J also announced Monday that it would be repurchasing up to $5 billion of its common stock.

Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, on Friday sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration calling on the agency to investigate the findings in the Reuters report to determine whether J&J misled regulators and whether its Baby Powder products threaten public health and safety.

J&J Chief Executive Alex Gorsky, in his first interview since the Reuters article was published, defended the company during an appearance on CNBC’s “Mad Money” with host Jim Cramer on Monday night. J&J knew for decades about the presence of small amounts of asbestos in its products dating back to as early as 1971, a Reuters examination of company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents showed. In response to the report, J&J said on Friday that “any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false.”

A Monday full-page ad from J&J — headlined “Science. Not sensationalism.” — ran in newspapers including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The ad asserted that J&J has scientific evidence its talc is safe and beneficial to use. “If we had any reasons to believe our talc was unsafe, it would be off our shelves,” the ad said.

J&J rebutted Reuters’ report in a lengthy written critique of the article and a video from Gorsky. In the written critique, posted on the company’s website, J&J said Reuters omitted information it supplied to the news organization that demonstrated the healthcare conglomerate’s Baby Powder is safe and does not cause cancer; that J&J’s baby powder has repeatedly been tested and found to be asbestos-free; and that the company has cooperated with the U.S. FDA and other regulators around the world to provide information requested over decades.

“Since tests for asbestos in talc were first developed, J&J’s Baby Powder has never contained asbestos,” Gorsky said in the video. He added that regulators “have always found our talc to be asbestos-free.”

A Reuters spokeswoman on Monday said the agency “stands by its reporting.”

Reuters’ investigation found that while most tests in past decades found no asbestos in J&J talc and talc products, tests on Baby Powder conducted by scientists at Mount Sinai Medical Center in 1971 and Rutgers University in 1991, as well as by labs for plaintiffs in cancer lawsuits, found small amounts of asbestos. In 1972, a University of Minnesota scientist found what he called “incontrovertible asbestos” in a sample of Shower to Shower. Other tests by J&J’s own contract labs and others periodically found small amounts of asbestos in talc from mines that supplied the mineral for Baby Powder and other cosmetic products into the early 2000s.

The company did not report to the FDA three tests by three different labs from 1972 to 1975 that found asbestos in the company’s talc.

The Reuters story drew no conclusions about whether talc itself causes ovarian cancer. Asbestos, however, is a carcinogen. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed asbestos-contaminated talc as a carcinogen since 1987. Reuters also found that J&J tested only a fraction of the talc powder it sold. The company never adopted a method for increasing the sensitivity of its tests that was recommended to the company by consultants in 1973 and in a published report in a peer-review scientific journal in 1991.

The ad J&J ran in newspapers Monday also pointed to an online talc fact page the company created with “independent studies from leading universities, research from medical journals and third-party opinions.”

That website has changed since early December, according to a Reuters review of online archives.

The website, for instance, no longer contains a section headlined “Conclusions from Global Authorities” that as recently as Dec. 5 listed organizations including the U.S. FDA, the European Union and Health Canada as among entities that have “reviewed and analyzed all available data and concluded that the evidence is insufficient to link talc use to cancer.”

On Dec. 14, the day Reuters published its report, that section of the website had been removed. It is not clear exactly when the online page changed.

The Canadian government released a draft report this month that found a “consistent and statistically significant positive association” between talc exposure and ovarian cancer. The draft report also said that talc meets criteria to be deemed toxic.

The draft report put forth proposed conclusions that are subject to a public comment period and confirmation in a so-called final screening assessment, Health Canada said.

If the conclusions are confirmed, Canadian officials will consider adding talc to a government list of toxic substances and implementing measures to prohibit or restrict use of talc in some cosmetics, non-prescription drugs and health products, Health Canada said.

A J&J spokeswoman said the company removed the website section after the Canadian government issued the draft report. “We chose to be conservative while that draft is under review,” the spokeswoman said.

While J&J has dominated the talc powder market for more than 100 years, the products contributed less than 0.5 percent of J&J’s $76.5 billion in revenue last year. – Reuters

  • Mike Spector, Lisa Girion and Ankur Banerjee 

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South Africa’s Tamaryn Green is first runner-up at Miss Universe pageant

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 Catriona Gray from the Philippines was crowned Miss Universe on Monday, the fourth time the Southeast Asian country has won the international beauty pageant.

Gray, a 24-year-old Filipino-Australian model, won the title in the Thai capital Bangkok where the pageant included for the first time a transgender contestant.

“My heart is filled with so much gratitude. There were moments of doubt where I felt overwhelmed and I felt the pressure,” said Gray, who wore a red and orange dress that was inspired by Mount Mayon, a volcano that erupted this year.

Miss South Africa, Tamaryn Green, 24 was the first runner-up, followed by Miss Venezuela, Sthefany Gutiérrez, 19.

Gray was asked during the contest about her views on legalizing marijuana and replied that she supported it for medical uses.

After she was crowned, Gray told reporters the question was “definitely relevant” and “an active topic”, in an apparent reference to the war on drugs in the Philippines that has killed thousands of Filipinos and caused international alarm.

Gray said during the pageant that working in a Manila slum had taught her to find beauty in difficult situations.

“If I could teach people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children would have a smile on their face,” she said.

Miss Spain, Angela Ponce, 27, made history as the first transgender contestant in the 66-year-old pageant.

Gray is the fourth Filipina to win Miss Universe and the second in three years. The pageant was shown live on the country’s biggest television network and dominated social media.

Salvador Panelo, spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said her win would put the country on the world map for its “beauty and elegance.”

“In her success, Miss Philippines has shown to the world that women in our country have the ability to turn dreams into reality through passion, diligence, determination and hard work,” he said.

The Philippines previously won Miss Universe titles in 2015, 1973 and 1969. – Reuters

  • Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Neil Jerome Morales 

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Youtube, Under Pressure for Problem Content, Takes Down 58 Million Videos in Quarter

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YouTube took down more than 58 million videos and 224 million comments during the third quarter based on violations of its policies, the unit of Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google said on Thursday in an effort to demonstrate progress in suppressing problem content.

Government officials and interest groups in the United States, Europe and Asia have been pressuring YouTube, Facebook Inc (FB.O) and other social media services to quickly identify and remove extremist and hateful content that critics have said incite violence.

The European Union has proposed online services should face steep fines unless they remove extremist material within one hour of a government order to do so.

An official at India’s Ministry of Home Affairs speaking on the condition of anonymity on Thursday said social media firms had agreed to tackle authorities’ requests to remove objectionable content within 36 hours.

This year, YouTube began issuing quarterly reports about its enforcement efforts.

As with past quarters, most of the removed content was spam, YouTube said.

Automated detection tools help YouTube quickly identify spam, extremist content and nudity. During September, 90 percent of the nearly 10,400 videos removed for violent extremism or 279,600 videos removed for child safety issues received fewer than 10 views, according to YouTube.

But YouTube faces a bigger challenge with material promoting hateful rhetoric and dangerous behavior.

Automated detection technologies for those policies are relatively new and less efficient, so YouTube relies on users to report potentially problematic videos or comments. This means that the content may be viewed widely before being removed.

Google added thousands of moderators this year, expanding to more than 10,000, in hopes of reviewing user reports faster. YouTube declined to comment on growth plans for 2019.

It has described pre-screening every video as unfeasible.

The third-quarter removal data for the first time revealed the number of YouTube accounts Google disabled for either having three policy violations in 90 days or committing what the company found to be an egregious violation, such as uploading child pornography.

YouTube removed about 1.67 million channels and all of the 50.2 million videos that were available from them.

Nearly 80 percent of the channel takedowns related to spam uploads, YouTube said. About 13 percent concerned nudity, and 4.5 percent child safety.

YouTube said users post billions of comments each quarter. It declined to disclose the overall number of accounts that have uploaded videos, but said removals were also a small fraction.

In addition, about 7.8 million videos were removed individually for policy violations, in line with the previous quarter. – Reuters

– Paresh Dave and Sankalp Phartiyal 

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