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

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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

As Wealthy Depart For Second Homes, Class Tensions Come To Surface In Coronavirus Crisis

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Topline: As New York City’s coronavirus cases exploded in recent weeks, residents fleeing to second homes have come under intense scrutiny and push-back, prompting officials in multiple states to create highway checkpoints screening for New Yorkers and a national travel advisory for the entire Tri-state area, highlighting the dramatic roles class and wealth will play in the pandemic. 

  • With over 56,000 coronavirus cases in New York, privileged New Yorkers with secondary homes are fleeing the City with massive effect on vacation home communities: the population of Southampton has gone from 60,000 a few weeks ago to 100,000 and rental prices in Hudson Valley rocketed from $4,000 to $18,000 per month—posing a threat to small-town hospitals that are ill-equipped to handle caring for high numbers of coronavirus patients.
  • In wealthy New England island communities like Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island that are heavy with secondary homes and short on hospital infrastructure, officials are going so far as to cancel all hotel, Airbnb and VRBO reservations while stationing state troopers and the National Guard to maintain flow on islands and, in the case of Rhode Island, instating 14 day mandatory quarantine on all people traveling to stay in the state from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.
  • As outrage has grown at the privileged fleeing the city while middle and working classes remain confined in New York City apartments, there’s been social media clapback at ostentatious displays of wealth in isolation: Geffen Records and Dreamworks Billionaire David Geffen ultimately deleted his Instagram of his $570 million megayacht captioned: “Sunset last night..isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus. I’m hoping everybody is staying safe” after it sparked outrage on social media.
  • New York City’s poorer boroughs are hit hardest by coronavirus: Brooklyn and Queens, where median income is  $56,015 and $64,987, respectively, remain the epicenter of COVID-19, compared to Manhattan with average income of $82,459, which has been less permeated by the virus and is home to many of Manhattan’s wealthiest enclaves—and those most likely to have residents with second homes elsewhere.
  • On Saturday, President Trump said he was considering quarantining parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, then, backed down and issued a domestic travel advisory for the tristate area that discourages residents of these states from non-essential domestic travel after “very intensive discussions” at the White House on Saturday night, said Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNN today: “The better way to do this would be an advisory as opposed to a very strict quarantine, and the President agreed.”
  • “Due to our very limited health care infrastructure, please do not visit us now,” reads a travel advisory from Lake Superior’s Cook County in Michigan, exemplifying vacation towns’ plea to travelers and second home owners across the country to stay away. 

Background: Coronavirus cases in the United States have skyrocketed to 124,000, with deaths doubling from 1,000 to 2,046 in two days. Since those with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic for days, their presence in remote communities may be deadly, as they can spread the virus and wreak havoc on rural hospitals. The clash between wealthy and poor, also creates state-versus-state hostility, as federal support is limited and essential to states overcoming coronavirus.

Alexandra Sternlicht, Forbes Staff, Under 30

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Moody’s Downgrades South Africa To Junk

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Credit ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded South Africa to junk status on day 2 of the country’s nationwide lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic reform plans have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. The downgrade adds salt to injury for South Africa as it currently struggles with a recession it slipped into in early March.

“The unprecedented deterioration in the global economic outlook caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak will further exacerbate South Africa’s challenges” said Moody’s.

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What You Need To Know About AfDB’s $3 billion “Fight COVID-19” Social Bond

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Landmark transaction, largest Social bond transaction to date in capital markets

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 27 March 2020 – The African Development Bank (AAA) has raised an exceptional $3 billion in a three-year bond to help alleviate the economic and social impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on livelihoods and Africa’s economies.  

The Fight Covid-19 Social bond, with a three-year maturity, garnered interest from central banks and official institutions, bank treasuries, and asset managers including Socially Responsible Investors, with bids exceeding $4.6 billion. This is the largest Social Bond ever launched in international capital markets to date, and the largest US Dollar benchmark ever issued by the Bank. It will pay an interest rate of 0.75%.

The African Development Bank Group is moving to provide flexible responses aimed at lessening the severe economic and social impact of this pandemic on its regional member countries and Africa’s private sector.

“These are critical times for Africa as it addresses the challenges resulting from the Coronavirus. The African Development Bank is taking bold measures to support African countries. This $3 billion Covid-19 bond issuance is the first part of our comprehensive response that will soon be announced. This is indeed the largest social bond transaction to date in capital markets. We are here for Africa, and we will provide significant rapid support for countries,” said Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group.

The order book for this record-breaking bond highlights the scale of investor support, which the African Development Bank enjoys, said the arrangers.

“As the Covid-19 outbreak is dangerously threatening Africa, the African Development Bank lives up to its huge responsibilities and deploys funds to assist and prepare the African population, through the financing of access to health and to all other essential goods, services and infrastructure,” said Tanguy Claquin, Head of Sustainable Banking, Crédit Agricole CIB.

Coronavirus cases were slow to arrive in Africa, but the virus is spreading quickly and has infected nearly 3,000 people across 45 countries, placing strain on already fragile health systems. 

It is estimated that the continent will require many billions of dollars to cushion the impact of the disease as many countries scrambled contingency measures, including commercial lockdowns in desperate efforts to contain it. Globally, factories have been closed and workers sent home, disrupting supply chains, trade, travel, and driving many economies toward recession. 

Commenting on the landmark transaction, George Sager, Executive Director, SSA Syndicate, Goldman Sachs said: “In a time of unprecedented market volatility, the African Development Bank has been able to brave the capital markets in order to secure invaluable funding to help the efforts of the African

continent’s fight against Covid-19. Not only that, but in the process, delivering their largest ever USD benchmark. A truly remarkable outcome both in terms of its purpose but also in terms of a USD financing”.

The Bank established its Social Bond framework in 2017 and raised the equivalent of  $2 billion through issuances denominated in Euro and Norwegian krone. In 2018 the Bank was designated by financial markets, ‘Second most impressive social or sustainability bond issuer” at the Global Capital SRI Awards.

“We are thankful for the exceptional level of interest the Fight Covid-19 Social Bond has raised across the world, as the African Development Bank moves towards lessening the social and economic impact of the pandemic on a continent already severely constrained. Our Social bond program enables us to highlight our strong development mandate to the investor community, allowing them to play a part in improving the lives of the people of Africa. This was an exceptional outcome for an exceptional cause,” said Hassatou Diop N’Sele, Treasurer, African Development Bank.

Fight Covid-19 was allocated to central banks and official institutions (53%), bank treasuries (27%) and asset managers (20%). Final bond distribution statistics were as follows: Europe (37%), Americas (36%), Asia (17%) Africa (8%,) and Middle-East (1%).

Press Release by the African Development Bank

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