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Bye bye Bob – did you come so far for so little?



I can’t believe he is gone – albeit decades overdue – and I find it difficult to imagine Zimbabwe without him.

If ever there is a case study for the perils of clinging too long to power in Africa, Robert Gabriel Mugabe is it; a cautionary tale for every leader trying to die in office.

If he had stepped down after his second, or even third term – about 1995, I reckon – he would have been revered in the way a true leader should. There would have been museums and archives set up his honor, an annual Mugabe lecture by the finest brains on the planet. There would have been scholarships in his name and he would have been on advisory panels along with Jimmy Carter and the rest of the world’s sage elders. Like the late president of Botswana, Ketumile Masire, who got it right after two terms, Mugabe could have sat on his farm waiting for the wise and the good to beat a path to his door seeking counsel.

Instead Mugabe spent the most of the last two years being vilified, spat at, mocked and howled down by the mob. I saw him at the World Economic Forum in May, in Durban, and it made me sick to my guts; the poor man could hardly walk let alone keep his eyes open. I blame those around him too who kept him on the throne in the interests of their paycheques.

It was a sadder sight when I compared it to the first time I interviewed Mugabe, all clipped, groomed and sharp suited at State House in Harare, way back in April 1994 with the autumn sun glinting through the window and lawnmowers humming across the carpet of green grass outside. Those were halcyon days for Mugabe, respect among his educated people – with one of the highest literacy rates in Africa – was in abundance. Any criticism of the big man was met with reproving stares.

“That is our president,” people used to say.

On this warm autumn day Mugabe was at his schoolmasterly sharpest, always ready to take advantage of any gap in knowledge.

“Who told you that?” he used to say if you really caught him out, trying to dismiss you as if you were a sixth former. Remember, if he hadn’t bid for power, liberating his country,  he could have ended his working days as a colonial headmaster.

READ MORE: Zimbabwe beware: the military is looking after its own interests, not democracy

As the years wore on I interviewed him many times and he rarely disappointed even if some of his quotes, even in the sharp days, were bizarre.

I remember a day at the Harare Book Fair, in 1995, when Mugabe went off on a rant against gays and lesbians displaying their books on the stalls. He called them the association of sodomists and sexual perverts. When he came out of the fair I asked him on camera what he had against gay people.

“I do not believe men should have children through wombs,” says Mugabe. It underlined the old man’s vehemence when he had a bee in his bonnet.

Once we dashed to an impromptu roadside speech by Mugabe to a large crowd of Zanu-PF Women’s League in Samora Machel, the main road through Harare. We arrived in a rush and my cameraman hastily set up his tripod and fiddled with the camera. All the while Mugabe was watching us out of the corner of his eye as he ranted on against gays in ChiShona, his mother tongue. As soon as the cameraman switched on and looked down the lens, Mugabe switched to English.

“Let them be gay in Europe, let them be gay in America, they will be sad people here,” says Mugabe with a dismissive wave of his arms. He knew that soundbite would fly around the world on the new wires; and it did.

READ MORE: Lessons for South Africa’s Jacob Zuma in Robert Mugabe’s misfortunes

This is one reason why Mugabe survived so long, he was a wily old fox (even the cleverest foxes couldn’t have dreamed up some of the big man’s dodges) who knew how to manipulate divide and rule. Woe betide anyone who upset him. He sent a couple of my colleagues to the torture chamber and one of them died very young as a result. More than a few of his opponents disappeared and tens of thousands were killed in Matabeleland in the Gukurahundi of the early 80s.

All of this he brushed off with his trademark arrogance. One summer night, I pushed a microphone under his nose as he walked away from a state function and asked him why he was sheltering Haile Mariam Mengistu – the former president who is wanted for the deaths of many thousands of his fellow Ethiopians – who lives in luxury in Harare.

“Why can’t we give shelter to a legitimate refugee?” says Mugabe on the night. Well, Bob, there are refugees and then there are fugitives from justice.

As Mugabe walked away to his Mercedes he grumbled to one of his flunkies that it was the reason he didn’t like talking to whites (that must have been me) because they asked stupid questions. Arrogance told him that the latter was true even though the previous question was, pardon me, as true as Bob. That sense of self-importance that dates back to the days when his indulgent mother let him read books instead of herd cattle with his brothers back in his rural home in Zvimba.

Now it has all come home to roost. Everyone has turned on Mugabe: his comrades, his people and even those who worshipped him in better days. What a sad end to what could have been one of the most shining political careers in Africa. He won’t be remembered as a fox; more as a skunk.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe spent 10 years in prison, years in exile, years suffering headaches of building a new post-colonial society amid cold war politics and threats from apartheid South Africa across the border. I have one last question for him before he swans off into an uncertain retirement: Did you come so far for so little?

Current Affairs

Haute-Couture Designer Karl Lagerfeld Has Died




Haute-couture designer Karl Lagerfeld has died at the age of 85, French media reported on Tuesday.

German haute-couture designer Karl Lagerfeld, artistic director at Chanel and an icon of the global fashion industry for over half a century, has died, a source at the French fashion house Chanel said on Tuesday. He was 85.

Lagerfeld, instantly recognizable in his dark suits, pony-tailed white hair and tinted sun glasses, was best known for his association with Chanel but simultaneously delivered collections for LVMH’s Fendi and his own eponymous label.

French celebrity online magazine Purepeople said Lagerfeld died on Tuesday morning after being rushed to a hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine just outside Paris the night before.

A spokesman for Chanel was not immediately available for comment.

Lagerfeld was artistic director at Chanel. A spokesman for Chanel was not immediately available for comment. -Reuters

Sudip Kar-Gupta

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Current Affairs

The Coffee Farmers Betting On Blockchain To Boost Business




 On a bustling street near the shiny new international airport in Ethiopia’s capital is a small coffee roastery with big dreams. 

Nearly 40 Ethiopians – a third of them women – sift, roast and package prized Arabica beans for export to Europe under the Moyee brand, founded by a Dutch social entrepreneur.

The roastery, together with the innovative use of blockchain technology to ensure the supply chain is transparent, represents an attempt to keep as much of the profits as possible in Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries.

“It’s the world’s favorite drink. We drink over 2 billion cups a day,” said Killian Stokes, who set up the Irish branch of Moyee.

“The industry’s worth $100 billion and yet 90 percent of coffee farmers in Ethiopia live on less than $2 a day.”

That is partly because most exporters process the beans elsewhere, but also down to price fluctuations and other factors that make coffee growing a precarious business.

READ MORE | Ugandan Firm Uses Blockchain To Trace Coffee From Farms To Stores

To make things fairer, Moyee has created unique digital identities for the 350 farmers it currently works with – meaning buyers can see exactly how much each individual grower is paid, with prices set at 20 percent above the market rate.

Now the brand, whose slogan is “radically good coffee”, wants to use blockchain to take that to the next level – allowing buyers to tip farmers, or fund projects such as a new planting program, through a mobile app.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a recent report that blockchain had huge potential to address challenges smallholder farmers faced by “reducing uncertainty and enabling trust among market players”.

The technology, used to underpin cyber-currencies like Bitcoin, allows shared access to data that is maintained by a network of computers and can quickly trace the hundreds of parties involved in the production and distribution of food.

Once entered, any information cannot be altered or tampered with.


Siobhan Kelly, an advisor to the Food Systems Programme at the FAO, said blockchain would ultimately be “much bigger than the internet”. 

“Within 10 years – it’ll take probably 10 years – it’s going to be a major revolution, for everything,” said Kelly.

Fruit farmers in Caribbean nations are also looking at using blockchain to attract better-paying customers, bring traceability and build a credit trail. 

“It’s an innovation that is poised to empower local farmers in the Caribbean region,” said Pamela Thomas, executive director of the Agriculture Alliance of the Caribbean (AACARI), a regional network of nearly 100,000 farmers.

AACARI’s project has two components: auditing by accredited professionals to ensure farmers adhere to the Global GAP (good agricultural practices) standards, and a digital marketplace where buyers can find detailed information about the produce. 

Global GAP is a voluntary standard required by many European and U.S. supermarket chains.

Vijay Kandy, whose company is building the blockchain platform, said the auditing process would allow farmers to deal directly with buyers – bypassing the middlemen that many currently rely on – and make access to credit easier.

“One reason why buyers from faraway places or different countries go through middlemen is because they rely on them to make sure farmers are following these good practices,” he said.

One such buyer is London-based Union Hand-Roasted Coffee. 

The company sources its coffee directly from growers’ cooperatives to ensure higher quality, pays farmers more than minimum price set by the global Fairtrade organization, and works with more than 40 producer groups in 14 countries.

“We currently undertake direct interviews to verify farmers have been paid, but it’s very time- and labor-intensive to do that and to record all that data,” said Steven Macatonia, who co-founded Union in 2001.

“So to have a much more simple system where we can get a confirmation that payment has been received and how much that is, that could be hugely beneficial,” he said.

Price fluctuations and the impact of climate change make coffee a particularly challenging crop to grow.

“Large companies’ profits usually increase when prices are low, but the profit for farmers does not, and in some cases it may cost them money to produce coffee,” said Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. 

Davis’s latest research shows climate change and deforestation are putting more than half of the world’s wild coffee species at risk of extinction.

Ethiopia – the birthplace of Arabica, the world’s most popular coffee – is of particular concern. Up to 60 percent of the land used to grow coffee could become unsuitable by the end of the century, Davis found. 

“The more a farmer is paid, the more resources he will be able to devote to climate resilience,” he said.   

Both Davis and the FAO’s Kelly however cautioned that blockchain technology was not going to be a “quick fix”, with farmers around the world facing multiple challenges.

“Farmers need access to affordable seeds, to affordable finance and credit when they need it … and these things are not going to be given by blockchain,” said Kelly. -Reuters

-Thin Lei Win @thinink

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Current Affairs

Morocco Looks To French As Language Of Economic Success




Morocco’s economy is getting lost in translation.

With so many students dropping out of university because they don’t speak French, the government has proposed reintroducing it as the language for teaching science, maths and technical subjects such as computer science in high schools.

It also wants children to start learning French when they start school.

The country’s official languages are Arabic and Amazigh, or Berber. Most people speak Moroccan Arabic – a mixture of Arabic and Amazigh infused with French and Spanish influences.

In school, children are taught through Arabic although they don’t use it outside the classroom. When they get to university, lessons switch to French, the language of the urban elite and the country’s former colonial masters. Confused? Many are.

Two out of three people fail to complete their studies at public universities in Morocco, mainly because they don’t speak French.

The linguistic morass has stymied economic growth and exacerbated inequalities in the North African country, where one in four young people are unemployed and the average annual income runs at approximately $3,440 per person, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – less than a third of the world average.

The plans to broaden the teaching of French go to the heart of Morocco’s national identity.

They would overturn decades of Arabisation after independence from France in 1956 and have triggered a furor in parliament, where members of the Islamist PJD party, the senior partner in the coalition government, and the conservative Istiqlal party view them as a betrayal.

The disagreement has delayed a vote on the changes.

“Openness to the world should not be used as an excuse to impose the primacy of French,” said Hassan Adili, a PJD lawmaker.

Proponents say the changes reflect the reality that French reigns supreme in business, government and higher education, giving those who can afford to be privately schooled through French a huge advantage over the majority of the country’s students.

“In the Moroccan job market, mastery of French is indispensable. Those who do not have command of French are considered illiterate,” said Hamid El Otmani, head of talent and training at the Confederation of Moroccan Employers.

Even before parliament votes on the changes, Education Minister Said Amzazi has okayed the roll-out of French in some schools, declaring its use in teaching scientific subjects as an “irreversible choice”.

Like many Moroccan politicians, his children received a private education.

“When decision-makers start sending their children to public schools, only then can we say that we have a successful education system,” said Jamal Karimi Benchekroun of the co-ruling socialist PPS party.

Amzazi did not respond to a request for comment.

Frustration over jobs and poverty has fueled periodic protests in Morocco, but the country has avoided the sort of instability suffered by other North African states, where pent-up anger has triggered uprisings and provided fertile ground for Islamist extremism.

King Mohammed VI, the ultimate power in Morocco, has proven adept at introducing limited reforms in response to popular protest. He has spoken publicly about the need to teach foreign languages to students to reduce unemployment and has made the economy a top priority.

Last year, he sacked the minister for finance after calling on the government to do more to boost investment.


Problems with language are not unique to Morocco. In neighboring Algeria, another former French colony, students are also schooled in Arabic only to be greeted “en francais” in university and the workplace.

French’s pre-eminence reflects Paris’ continuing influence in the region. France is the biggest foreign direct investor in Morocco and large companies such as carmakers Renault and Peugeot employ tens of thousands of people.

Privately-run universities such as the International University of Rabat (UIR) have courses geared toward high-growth industries such as aerospace and renewable energy and offer tuition in French and English.

But a year at UIR can cost up to $10,000 in fees, way beyond the budget of most Moroccans. They go instead to non-fee paying public universities, where the abrupt transition to studying in French is frequently a burden for students and their lecturers.

“Sometimes we find ourselves giving French language courses during economy classes,” said Amine Dafir, economy professor at Hassan II University, a public institution in Mohamedia, near Casablanca.

Hamid Farricha, 37, dropped out of his applied physics and computer science degree at Hassan II University during the first year. He dreamed of becoming an engineer but the language barrier meant he struggled to keep up.

Trying to find Arabic translations for French scientific words was a drain on his time.

He switched instead to studying mechanics at a vocational school. He still had to master French to get hired.

“The biggest challenge after earning my diploma was writing a CV and sitting for job interviews in French,” Farricha said.

He got a job as a technician at a plant repairing car frames, paid below Morocco’s minimum monthly salary of 2570 dirhams, or $270.

Farricha was one of the lucky ones. Morocco’s economy cannot absorb all the young people looking for work. Around 280,000 graduates entered the labor force last year but only 112,000 jobs were created.

The unemployment rate for graduates is 17 percent, above the national rate of 9.8 percent, according to data from Morocco’s planning agency.

Morocco’s reliance on small and medium-sized companies which do not typically employ graduates, and austerity drives which have cut public sector jobs are part of the reason for the high rate of graduate unemployment.

The education system is also failing to prepare students for work.

In addition to high dropout rates, Moroccan students score badly compared to peers on international tests, and at university level, students oversubscribe to social science fields at the expense of technical subjects, according to an IMF report in late 2017. That means many don’t have the skills employers are looking for when they graduate.

Even for roles not requiring a degree, French is a must. On the French website of Morocco’s job promotion agency, almost all employers were looking for French speakers, including for jobs as guards, waiters, cooks and drivers.

Determined to get ahead, Farricha worked on his French while employed at the plant. He read newspapers and books in his spare time and gave himself a daily list of new expressions and vocabulary to learn.

He went back to university in 2014 for a degree in French law and is studying for a masters in diplomacy and international arbitration.

To meet his living costs, he teaches French to other students. -Reuters

Ahmed Eljechtimi

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