JP Morgan Chase wins £1.4 billon court battle against Nigeria

John Ifediora.

Editorial Commentary.

The fight against corruption is always a difficult one, especially when conducted against individuals and corporations with substantial resources to protect their interests. But the fight must go on; defeats and setbacks are inevitable as long as the effort remains steadfast, unwavering, and sustained by governments who adhere to rules of law and good governance. The recent setback to Nigeria's anti-corruption battle against JP Morgan Chase should serve as a clear reminder that governments in Africa and their justice minsters must come prepared and ready when taking on adversaries with deep financial resources to fend-off legitimate efforts to protect vital domestic economic interests. Louis Gross, a reporter with CITYA.M, covered the court proceedings in Nigeria v. JP Morgan Chase.

                                      JP Morgan wins £1.4bn court battle against Nigeria

By Louis Goss*

A High Court judge today ruled in favour of JP Morgan, after dismissing Nigeria’s $1.7bn (£1.4bn) lawsuit against the bank, over claims it acted negligently by transferring $875m to convicted an account linked to money launderer and former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete.

The ruling comes after Nigeria first sued JP Morgan in 2017, over claims the bank breached its duties by transferring millions to a company controlled by the former oil minister, during a long running dispute over the ownership of Nigeria’s OPL245 oilfield. The lawsuit alleged that JP Morgan had been “grossly negligent” in sending $875m to an account controlled by Etete’s own company, Malabu Oil and Gas, despite “red flags” around the transaction.

Specifically, Nigeria had claimed JP Morgan had breached its Quincecare duties, which require the bank to ignore customers instructions, if those instructions are likely to result in fraud. The country had also claimed it had been a victim of fraud, as it alleged the funds were later siphoned off to Etete’s “cronies,” after they were paid into Malabu’s accounts via three separate transactions between 2011 and 2013.

However, High Court judge Mrs Justice Sara Cockerill today dismissed Nigeria’s claim, as she ruled the country had failed to prove a fraud had actually taken place. The payments came after European oil majors Eni and Shell struck a deal to buy the OPL245 offshore oilfield in 2011. Last year, a Milan court cleared both firms and their senior executives of any wrongdoing through their involvement in the sale of the Nigerian resource.

A JP Morgan spokesperson said: “This judgment reflects our commitment to acting with high professional standards in every country we operate in, and how we are prepared to robustly defend our actions and reputation when they are called into question.”

The Federal Republic of Nigeria said it is “naturally disappointed” by the judgement, as the country said it will be “reviewing it carefully before considering next steps,” according to the Financial Times. “The FRN will continue its fight against fraud and corruption and work to recover funds for the people of Nigeria.”

Helen Taylor, a legal researcher at Spotlight on Corruption, said the verdict comes as a “huge setback in the fight against corruption” as she argued the ruling will give “a free pass to banks who choose to ignore financial crime.”

 

  • Louis Goss, reporter for CITYA.M. Publication is courtesy of CITYA.M. Photo credit: Getty Images.

 

 

 


Corruption blights the developing world but the US and Europe are accomplices

Kenneth Mohammed.*

State capture is growing on every continent but only because the west helps to launder and hide money stolen by kleptocrats

Last week, John Penrose, Boris Johnson’s anti-corruption tsar, resigned in protest at his leader’s apparent breach of the ministerial code during Partygate. In January, Lord Agnew resigned as a Treasury minister, angered at the government’s negligence in allowing fraud to occur in its Covid contracts and loans. Both were standing up against corruption through bad governance and poor leadership.

Last month, as part of the launch of its excellent publication Understanding Corruption, the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption held an event entitled Breaking Free from State Capture, featuring a keynote address by Mo Ibrahim. The Sudanese-British telecoms billionaire is a passionate advocate and campaigner for good governance and better leadership through his foundation, charged with making a difference in Africa, where state capture and crony capitalism have enfeebled the continent for decades.

Corruption, defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, is a complex and nuanced subject. Its consequences are deeply significant. It is a barrier to equitable and sustainable development, and it diverts resources from the poorest to the rich and the restlessly ambitious, creating inequity, exclusion and inequality. It deters foreign investment and distorts public expenditures. It is pervasive, deleterious and often likened to water, as it is seen as unstoppable, difficult to contain and always finds a way around barriers. It permeates our political and legal institutions and trickles down to the bedrock of our society, manifesting in fraud, bribery, extortion, embezzlement, cronyism and nepotism.

The word “corruption” can evoke images of past world leaders such as Mohammed Suharto, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, Slobodan Milosevic, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Alberto Fujimori or Arnoldo Alemán. More recently it can conjure up images of Nicolás Maduro, Isabel dos Santos, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. Clearly, corruption does not have a colour, gender or race. It has a credo though: power, greed and a total absence of integrity and accountability.

One could easily also come to the conclusion that corruption only occurs in developing countries. An understanding of the mechanics of illicit financial flows will change that opinion. Corruption facilitates the business of criminality that enriches actors through drug and human trafficking, money-laundering and financing terrorism. This financial network, enabled by lawyers, accountants, estate agents and others, stretches through the Americas and the Caribbean, eventually terminating in the US, EU, UK and its territories. These financial structures allow kleptocrats to easily hide the proceeds of their corruption.

State capture is a form of grand corruption and refers to systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence formation of a state’s policies and laws to their own advantage. These captors, through their personal connections to the political elite, gain a long-term economic stranglehold, not just by changing the rules but by the compounding over time of their interests, power and wealth. Over the last few decades, state capture has manifested in countries including Bulgaria, Hungary, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Angola, South Africa, Turkey and Malaysia. That is evidence that corruption does not just occur on any one continent.

Capture can take place when a small group has unfathomable influence over policy formation. Consider the National Rifle Association in the US where, even in the face of school shootings, they continue to block policy on gun ownership. Capture can also be a group of politicians in the same party, educated at the same university, stamping their elitist ideology on a country, closing ranks when there are allegations of corruption.

Ibrahim criticised the mismanagement of both natural and human resources, noting that more than 600 million African people were without electricity, which affects their quality of life, business and education. He asked and answered the question that has always been a conundrum: why is Africa so poor while it possesses so many natural resources?

He laid the blame squarely on corruption – aided by bad governance and poor leadership but more so by illicit financial flows entrenched in the US and Europe. He quoted the UN’s estimate that this amounts to more than $89bn (£75bn) a year – roughly 3.7% of Africa’s GDP – as money-laundering in the US and Europe enables the proliferation of corruption, supporting criminals and dictators. He also outlined how corporate practices need to be addressed through better governance. He singled out big corporations such as Starbucks, Apple and Google, which have all had tax avoidance schemes investigated. He omitted Meta, Microsoft and Amazon.He lamented the dire need for registers of beneficial ownership of companies, previously shrouded in secrecy but now suddenly under scrutiny in tracing and freezing assets of Russians. He omitted laws to promote transparency of party financing and lobbying, as called for by Penrose.

Ibrahim ended with a declaration that corruption needed to be confronted in Westminster and Washington before it could ever be dealt with effectively in Africa. The world needs more people like Mo Ibrahim.

*Written by Kenneth Mohammed. Publication is courtesy of The Guardian. Photo by Hollie Adam/AFT/Getty.

 


The US making anti-corruption a priority in its foreign policy

*Courtesy of Independent.

President Joe Biden issued a memo Thursday instructing the federal government to elevate anti-corruption measures as a central U.S. foreign policy and national security issue.

A report expected in about six months from an interagency review will recommend ways to strengthen corruption-fighting efforts.

Biden's memo directs agencies to identify how they can improve intelligence-gathering and combat illicit financial activities. It reaffirms Washington s commitment to sanction or pursue legal action against those involved in corruption, instructs agencies to work with international organizations to tackle the problem and emphasizes enforcement measures in foreign assistance programs.

The memo is aimed at delivering on a campaign promise. In a Foreign Policy essay written during the 2020 campaign, Biden pledged to “lead efforts internationally to bring transparency to the global financial system, go after illicit tax havens, seize stolen assets, and make it more difficult for leaders who steal from their people to hide behind anonymous front companies.”

On Wednesday, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against a number of Bulgarian officials and businessmen and their related entities, in what was said to be the department's single biggest action targeting corruption to date.

During Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Central America this week, corruption in the region was a major focus of his private conversations with foreign leaders. During her trip to the region next week, Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to raise the issue when she meets with the presidents of Guatemala and Mexico.

 

 


African Kleptocrats watch with unease as sanctions bite their Russian counterparts

The systematic looting of African economies by Africans is not news. While it remains the primary source of the continent’s perennial economic woes and has caused millions of premature deaths, the West’s sanctions against Russian kleptocrats have renewed interest on how to effectively return stolen assets to African countries. The United Kingdom and the United States have been very helpful in this effort in recent years but more needs to be done through asset forfeiture programs and prosecution to discourage Africans from despoiling their respective economies.

The article by Thorsten Benner and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira highlights and recounts  this scourge on developing economies and their potential to destabilize recipient economies.

 

*Kleptocracy isn’t just a Russian problem.

Benner, Thorsten and de Oliveira, Soares

Amid the revulsion caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the West’s belated retaliation against Kremlin-linked oligarchs stands out. Their power and influence, especially in London, have been carefully documented over the years by journalists such as Catherine Belton and Oliver Bullough braving tough libel laws.

With the help of numerous professional facilitators in London and a string of UK-controlled tax havens, oligarchs laundered the capital they accrued after “looting with Putin” and built strong links to the British upper crust. They emerged as respectable supporters of sports clubs, museums, universities, think tanks and political parties, co-opting large segments of the London elite in the process. In this manner, they maximised the global influence of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and helped convince him of the West’s cupidity and decadent character. Those who pointed out the resulting dangers were often dismissed as radical or unhinged, and their warnings went unheeded until much too late.

For now, the UK is taking a noticeably more piecemeal approach to sanctions on oligarchs than the European Union. But even if it finally dismantles Russian interests in London, a purely Russia-focused approach risks leaving the modus operandi of so-called Londongrad intact, not just in London but across Western financial capitals.

This is because there is nothing particularly Russian about it. It is in fact a worldwide reality, linking all Western capitals and financial centres to developing world autocracies and resource-rich states. If we retaliate only against Russian oligarchs, there is a clear danger that their professional enablers will be canvassing for business elsewhere.

Africa’s many offshore links are instructive here. The African super rich also resort to metropolitan lawyers, co-opted politicians, bankers, accountants, company incorporation executives, management consultants, lobbyists, estate agents and public relations experts for help in managing their interests. UK lawyers have facilitated the acquisition of London property for elite Nigerians. One of the UK’s most high-profile PR agencies, Bell Pottinger, went into administration after it was found to have pushed disinformation on behalf of clients such as the Gupta family of South Africa, allies of the former president, Jacob Zuma.

McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and PWC established close relationships with both the Angolan state and the private interests of the billionaire Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the country’s former president. Credit Suisse was fined £147m for serious failings in the bank’s due diligence for financial crime over loans to Mozambique which the UK’s financial services regulator found to be tainted with corruption – one of Africa’s most brazen scandals. Lisbon’s banks and law firms have long laundered Angolan money and conferred legitimacy upon Angola’s elite. Paris’s PR and media-for-hire are at the service of the Nguesso and Bongo ruling families in the Republic of Congo and Gabon respectively. Such efforts do not simply advance the global fortunes of oligarchs and their families. They establish strong networks of support for, and therefore fortify, authoritarian regimes back home.

These and many other revelations by the likes of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project draw a picture of African oligarchic connections with the West that are as troubling as those with Russia. Nor is the servicing of African kleptocrats simply a London problem. Some connections – Abidjan with Paris, Luanda with Lisbon – have strong roots, but the geography of service provision to kleptocrats is now massively globalised and diversified. It happens across every major Western financial centre, and has become an important business segment for non-Western financial centres such as Dubai, Hong Kong, Mauritius and Singapore.

As with Russian oligarchs, facilitators first launder stolen monies. They then launder questionable reputations and render African kleptocrats respectable as they and their families stream to the West for education, health, leisure, asset protection and conspicuous consumption, all to the detriment of the vast majority of Africans.

Without these facilitators, who are not rogue operators but rather the most prestigious service providers in every domain, the massive theft of African resources would be impossible to get away with. This clearly shows corruption as a transnational and collaborative phenomenon rather than the internal problem of poor countries it is often presented as.

What can be done? We need to use the current, perhaps short-lived, transatlantic consensus to achieve real systemic reform in the EU, North America and the UK, including in its overseas territories. This means targeting professional facilitators by circumscribing their practices and imposing costs for those who continue to play that role, as well as criminalising grey areas that have been amply exploited by corruption enablers. The recommendations in a recent report from the Chatham House think tank on the UK’s kleptocracy problem provide a roadmap for structural reform.

Some services provided to corrupt elites from authoritarian states will remain perfectly legal. But that does not mean that they have to be without costs for those choosing to provide them. In order to impose these costs, we need mandatory transparency standards that make sure we know about who provides services to corrupt clients. This will make it easier for civil society and the media to impose reputational costs.

Governments can also make sure their bottom lines are directly affected and decide to exclude any company from public procurement contracts that also chooses to provide services to corrupt authoritarian clients. A particular grey zone that needs attention is the work of lawyers that abuse attorney-client privilege in order to provide services to corrupt elites. Full transparency in party financing is a particular priority in countries such as France, the UK and Portugal. Educational, research and cultural institutions should sign a democracy pledge to the effect that they will not accept money directly or indirectly linked to authoritarian regimes. Crucially, we need to remove the impediments placed in the way of journalists, academics and civil society as they seek to investigate the links between professional facilitators and elites from authoritarian states.

If we do not do this while the political will exists, the current shift away from Russian business will simply lead top enablers to double down on their lucrative practices elsewhere in the developing world. We now know what this entails. Stopping the business models of the enablers would help people in the many poor states whose elites have a habit of siphoning off money and shifting it abroad – money that is needed to fund essential public goods. But more than anything, we in the West would help ourselves. Foreign kleptocrats are really holding up a mirror: if we paid attention, we would realise that our own elites are also susceptible.

Putin and his acolytes have always taken great pleasure in skewering the way the West holds the moral high ground. The former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who was recently nominated to the board of the state-owned Russian energy company Gazprom, served as the Russian president’s most effective example in this regard. Across the Western world, there are too many pocket-size versions of Schröder. Anti-democratic populists everywhere are cheering as these practices damage the credibility of democratic elites and corrode democracy from the inside. It is high time that we started cracking down on those who enable the corruption of authoritarian elites. And it is up to us. A clean-up is long overdue – so that we can look at ourselves in the mirror again.

*Courtesy of The New Statesman.


But of course, it is Africa. It is also Ethiopia

Editorial commentary.

Recent events in Ethiopia, as horrific as they are, no longer shock or disturb the sensibilities of Africans. They are normal activities in their natural habitats; they are also egregiously unacceptable. That Africans now see these events as unavoidable costs of incredibly bad leadership that have shaped their collective state of affairs and their future prospects is dispositive. What is not so clear is what they can do about it. Only less than three years ago Ethiopia held out hopes that African countries may yet indeed give their citizens reasons to believe that personal security in a stable and productive economic environment was possible after all. That was many months ago when the world thought Abiy Ahmed, the current Ethiopian prime minister, was refreshingly different from a long series of rotten African leaders. He was also awarded a Nobel Prize for peace; now they wish they could take it back. An October 9th, 2021 article by the Economist paints a dreadful picture of Ethiopia under Mr. Ahmed.

 ON ETHIOPIA

The Economist.

It was one of the grandest ceremonies that Meskel Square had ever witnessed. Part military parade, part cultural jamboree, the spectacle in the heart of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, was so lavish that one might have mistaken it for the inauguration of a president or the crowning of a monarch.

In fact, the focus of the pomp was Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister. He came to power when his predecessor resigned amid massive protests in 2018. Although the early months of his tenure involved mending relations with the opposition and signing a peace deal with Eritrea (for which he won a Nobel prize in 2019), his rule has since been marred by ethnic unrest, a slowing economy and a devastating civil war in the northern state of Tigray. The event on October 4th marked the start of his first full five-year term as prime minister, following elections in July.

The ceremony was in part a riposte to those questioning Abiy’s legitimacy, above all the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (tplf), which once called the shots in the country and is now at war with the central government. “We have reached a new era,” Abiy told cheering crowds (pictured), one in which power “emanates only from the genuine voice of the people via the ballot box”. But the voice was somewhat muffled by an opposition boycott and the decision to call the election off in a fifth of districts because of violence. Small wonder that Abiy’s Prosperity Party won more than 90% of the seats contested.

The show was also aimed at an international audience. Relations between Ethiopia and many Western countries have sunk to their lowest point in decades. Last month America said it would slap sanctions on officials involved in the war in Tigray if the parties (which also include Eritrean troops fighting alongside Ethiopian forces) did not start talks or allow food to reach those cut off by the government’s blockade of the state. Martin Griffiths, the un’s humanitarian chief, warned on September 29th that hundreds of thousands could starve. Abiy’s response was to expel seven senior un officials, accusing them of “meddling” in Ethiopia’s affairs.

In his speech Abiy declared that Ethiopia would never submit to foreign pressure. In the past such prickly talk typically masked a great degree of pragmatism, as Ethiopia attempted to win friends and gain international influence. For instance, it championed igad, a regional bloc, and contributed more peacekeeping troops to the un than almost any other country. It also cultivated close ties with China and America, becoming the latter’s eager ally in its “war on terror”. Ethiopia enjoyed such clout in Washington that when it invaded Somalia in 2006 to topple an Islamist government, America joined in.

The picture now is very different. Abiy’s decision to cosy up to Eritrea’s dictator, Issaias Afwerki, has divided igad. Ethiopia’s relations with Sudan have soured, leading to border clashes. Even more spectacular is the falling out with the West. Barely a week goes by without a rally against alleged foreign interference, or a statement by a senior official denouncing “foreign enemies”. A stream of conspiracy theories floods state media: that America is supplying tplf fighters with drug-laced biscuits, for example, or that un agencies are smuggling weapons. In August the government halted the work of Médecins Sans Frontières and the Norwegian Refugee Council, two aid organisations.

Three factors are contributing to Ethiopia’s growing isolation. The first is Abiy’s capricious approach to foreign policy, which is characterised by personal relationships rather than engagement with institutions. He has sidelined the foreign ministry and closed or downsized dozens of embassies. He has alienated foreign leaders with a string of unkept promises, such as those to allow aid to reach Tigray or to eject Eritrean troops. And he has infuriated America by buying drones from Iran and snubbing American envoys.

The second factor is the West’s perceived double standard. From 1991 to 2018, when the tplf dominated the Ethiopian government, America routinely turned a blind eye to its ally’s human-rights violations. Because the Ethiopian army was helping fight jihadists in Somalia, a brutal campaign against separatists in Ethiopia’s own Somali region drew scant condemnation. “The West emboldened the tplf and whitewashed its past sins,” argues Zelalem Moges, an Ethiopian lawyer. More recently, the administration of Donald Trump sided with Egypt and Sudan in their dispute with Ethiopia over a huge dam it is building on the Blue Nile. “Abiy genuinely believes the United States is trying to overthrow him,” notes an American diplomat. “He believes that he is this pro-American, liberalising market reformer that we have shunned.”

Most important is a disagreement about the wisdom of continuing the war. “Our demands are quite simple: end the war and our relations are by definition better,” says a European diplomat. African officials, though quieter, tend to agree. Even Russia and China, which Abiy hopes will plug any financial holes left by cuts in Western aid and military assistance, have been reticent. Both have opposed punitive measures in the un Security Council. China has also criticised American sanctions. But neither has offered Abiy much by way of practical support.

Abiy has hinted privately that he might be open to negotiations with the tplf. The special envoy of the African Union (au) to the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, has reportedly been given permission to sound out the Tigrayan leadership. But the tplf, which considers the au biased against it, may not accept its mediation. The prime minister, for his part, made no mention of talks in his inaugural address and seems determined instead to launch a new offensive. That may force the hand of America, which is deciding whether to suspend duty-free access for Ethiopian goods under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Already bad, relations between Ethiopia and its allies are set to sink further.

 


Nigeria at cross-roads: Completely lost but making good progress

 

 

Editorial commentary.

Like all nation-states before it, Nigeria is now confronted with stark existential choices --- stay the current course of self-delusion or boldly grapple with deep-seated unresolved issues that threaten to disintegrate it. The idea of a unitary Nigeria is appealing, but it requires extraordinary self-less effort and sacrifices that both its people and leadership are unwilling or capable of rendering. It may very well be that the opportunities it had for course-correction to keep it whole are no longer available. An October 23rd article on Nigeria by the Economist, as presented below, is instructive.

Africa’s biggest nation faces its biggest test since its civil war 50 years ago

The Economist. October 23rd, 2021.

Little more than six decades ago, as Nigeria was nearing independence, even those who were soon to govern Africa’s largest country had their doubts about whether it would hold together. British colonists had drawn a border around land that was home to more than 250 ethnic groups. Obafemi Awolowo, a politician of that era, evoked Metternich, fretting that “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression.”

The early years of independence seemed to prove him right. Coup followed coup. Ethnic pogroms helped spark a civil war that cost 1m lives, as the south-eastern region calling itself Biafra tried to break away and was ruthlessly crushed. Military rule was the norm until 1999. Despite this inauspicious start, Nigeria is now a powerhouse. Home to one in six sub-Saharan Africans, it is the continent’s most boisterous democracy. Its economy, the largest, generates a quarter of Africa’s gdp. Nollywood makes more titles than any other country’s film industry bar Bollywood. Three of sub-Saharan Africa’s four fintech “unicorns” (startups valued at more than $1bn) are Nigerian.

Why, then, do most young Nigerians want to emigrate? One reason is that they are scared. Jihadists are carving out a caliphate in the north-east; gangs of kidnappers are terrorising the north-west; the fire of Biafran secessionism has been rekindled in the oil-rich south-east. The violence threatens not just Nigeria’s 200m people, but also the stability of the entire region that surrounds them.

Readers who do not follow Nigeria closely may ask: what’s new? Nigeria has been corrupt and turbulent for decades. What has changed of late, though, is that jihadism, organised crime and political violence have grown so intense and widespread that most of the country is sliding towards ungovernability. In the first nine months of 2021 almost 8,000 people were directly killed in various conflicts. Hundreds of thousands more have perished because of hunger and disease caused by fighting. More than 2m have fled their homes.

The jihadist threat in the north-east has metastasised. A few years ago, an area the size of Belgium was controlled by Boko Haram, a group of zealots notorious for enslaving young girls. Now, Boko Haram is being supplanted by an affiliate of Islamic State that is equally brutal but more competent, and so a bigger danger to Nigeria. In the south-east, demagogues are stirring up ethnic grievances and feeding the delusion that one group, the Igbos, can walk off with all the country’s oil, the source of about half of government revenues. President Muhammadu Buhari has hinted that Biafran separatism will be dealt with as ruthlessly now as it was half a century ago.

Meanwhile, across wide swathes of Nigeria, a collapse in security and state authority has allowed criminal gangs to run wild. In the first nine months of this year some 2,200 people were kidnapped for ransom, more than double the roughly 1,000 abducted in 2020. Perhaps a million children are missing school for fear that they will be snatched.

Two factors help explain Nigeria’s increasing instability: a sick economy and a bumbling government. Slow growth and two recessions have made Nigerians poorer, on average, each year since oil prices fell in 2015. Before covid-19, fully 40% of them were below Nigeria’s extremely low poverty line of about $1 a day. If Nigeria’s 36 states were stand-alone countries, more than one-third would be categorised by the World Bank as “low-income” (less than $1,045 a head). Poverty combined with stagnation tends to increase the risk of civil conflict.

Economic troubles are compounded by a government that is inept and heavy-handed. Mr Buhari, who was elected in 2015, turned an oil shock into a recession by propping up the naira and barring many imports in the hope this would spur domestic production. Instead he sent annual food inflation soaring above 20%. He has failed to curb corruption, which breeds resentment. Many Nigerians are furious that they see so little benefit from the country’s billions of petrodollars, much of which their rulers have squandered or stolen. Many politicians blame rival ethnic or religious groups, claiming they have taken more than their fair share. This wins votes, but makes Nigeria a tinderbox.

When violence erupts, the government does nothing or cracks heads almost indiscriminately. Nigeria’s army is mighty on paper. But many of its soldiers are “ghosts” who exist only on the payroll, and much of its equipment is stolen and sold to insurgents. The army is also stretched thin, having been deployed to all of Nigeria’s states. The police are understaffed, demoralised and poorly trained. Many supplement their low pay by robbing the public they have sworn to protect.

To stop the slide towards lawlessness, Nigeria’s government should make its own forces obey the law. Soldiers and police who murder or torture should be prosecuted. That no one has been held accountable for the slaughter of perhaps 15 peaceful demonstrators against police abuses in Lagos last year is a scandal. The secret police should stop ignoring court orders to release people who are being held illegally. This would not just be morally right, but also practical: young men who see or experience state brutality are more likely to join extremist groups.

                                                              Things don’t have to fall apart

Second, Nigeria needs to beef up its police. Niger state, for instance, has just 4,000 officers to protect 24m people. Local cops would be better at stopping kidnappings and solving crimes than the current federal force, which is often sent charging from one trouble spot to another. Money could come from cutting wasteful spending by the armed forces on jet fighters, which are not much use for guarding schools. Britain and America, which help train Nigeria’s army, could also train detectives. Better policing could let the army withdraw from areas where it is pouring fuel on secessionist fires.

The biggest barrier to restoring security is not a lack of ideas, nor of resources. It is the complacency of Nigeria’s cosseted political elite—safe in their guarded compounds and the well-defended capital. Without urgent action, Nigeria may slip into a downward spiral from which it will struggle to emerge.


The African Genome Project...Where Human Life Began

*Article credit.

WHEN THE Mutambaras’ first son was a about 18 months old they began to worry about his hearing. The toddler did not respond when asked to “come to Mama”. He was soon diagnosed as deaf, though no doctor could tell the Zimbabwean couple the cause. Several years later their second son was also born deaf.

This time a doctor referred them to Hearing Impairment Genetics Studies in Africa (hi-genes), set up in 2018 by Ambroise Wonkam, a Cameroonian professor of genetics now at the University of Cape Town. The project is sequencing the genomes of Africans with hearing loss in seven countries to learn why six babies in every 1,000 are born deaf in Africa, a rate six times that in America. In Cape Town, where Mr and Mrs Mutambara (not their real names) live, a counsellor explained that the boys’ deafness is caused by genetic variants rarely found outside Africa.

What is true of deafness is true of other conditions. The 3bn pairs of nucleotide bases that make up human dna were first fully mapped in 2003 by the Human Genome Project. Since then scientists have made publicly available the sequencing of around 1m genomes as part of an effort to refine the “reference genome”, a blueprint used by researchers. But less than 2% of all sequenced genomes are African, though Africans are 17% of the world’s population (see chart). “We must fill the gap,” argues Dr Wonkam, who has proposed an initiative to do just that—Three Million African Genomes (3mag).

The evolutionary line leading to Homo sapiens diverged 5m-6m years ago from that leading to chimpanzees, and for almost all that time the ancestors of modern humans lived in Africa.

Only about 60,000 years ago did Homo sapiens venture widely beyond the continent, in small bands of adventurers. Most of humanity’s genetic diversity, under-sampled though it is, is therefore found in Africa. Unfortunately, that diversity is also reflected in the greater variety of genetic illnesses found there.

The bias in sequencing leads to under-diagnosis of diseases in people of (relatively recent) African descent. Genetic causes of heart failure, such as the one that caused the ultimately fatal collapse of Marc-Vivien Foé, a Cameroonian football player, during a game in 2003, are poorly understood. The variation present in most non-Africans with cystic fibrosis is responsible for only about 30% of cases in people of African origin. This is one reason, along with its relative rarity, that the illness is often missed in black children. Standard genetic tests for hearing loss would not have picked up the Mutambara boys’ variations. And such is the diversity within the continent that tests in some countries would be irrelevant in others. In Ghana hi-genes found one mutation responsible for 40% of inherited deafness. The same variation has not been found in South Africa.

Bias also means that little is known about how variations elsewhere in the genome modify conditions. With sickle-cell disease, red blood cells look like bananas rather than, as is normal, round cushions. About 75% of the 300,000 babies born every year with sickle-cell disease are African. The high share reflects a bittersweet twist in the evolutionary tale; sickle-cell genes can confer a degree of protection against malaria. Other mutations are known to lessen sickle-cell’s impact, but most knowledge of genetic modifiers is particular to Europeans.

Quicker and more accurate diagnosis would mean better treatment. The sooner parents know their children are deaf, the sooner they can begin sign language. Algorithms that incorporate genetic information, such as one for measuring doses of warfarin, a blood-thinner, are often inappropriately calibrated for Africans.

Knowing more about Africans’ genomes will benefit the whole world. The continent’s genetic diversity makes it easier to find rare causes of common diseases. Last year researchers investigating schizophrenia sequenced the genomes of about 900 Xhosas (a South African ethnic group) with the psychiatric disorder. They found some of the same mutations that a team had discovered in Swedes four years earlier. But those researchers had to analyse four times as many of the homogeneous Scandinavians to find it. Research by Olufunmilayo Olopade, a Nigerian-born oncologist, into why breast cancer is relatively common in Nigerian women, has revealed broad insights into tumour growth.

Dr Wonkam’s vision for 3mag, as outlined in Nature, a scientific journal, is for 300,000 African genomes to be sequenced per year over a decade. That is the minimum needed to capture the continent’s diversity. He notes that the uk biobank is sequencing 500,000 genomes, though Britain’s population is a twentieth the size of Africa’s. The plummeting cost of technology makes 3mag possible. Sequencing the first genome cost $300m; today the cost of sequencing is around $1,000. If data from people of African descent in similar projects, like the uk biobank, were shared with 3mag, that would help. So too would collaboration with genetics firms, such as 54Gene, a Nigerian start-up.

The 3mag project is building on firm foundations. Over the past decade the Human Heredity and Health in Africa consortium, sponsored by America’s National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust, a British charity, has supported research institutes in 30 African countries. It has funded local laboratories for world-class scientists such as Dr Wonkam and Christian Happi, a Nigerian geneticist.

There are practical issues to iron out. One is figuring out how to store the vast amounts of data. Another is rules around consent and data use, especially if 3mag will involve firms understandably keen to commercialise the findings. Dr Wonkam wants to see an ethics committee set up to review this and other matters.

At times he has wondered whether his plan is “too big, too crazy and too expensive”. But similar things were said about the Human Genome Project. Its researchers used the Rosetta Stone as a metaphor for the initiative and its ambition. In a subtle nod, Dr Wonkam has a miniature of the obelisk on a shelf in his office. It is also a reminder of how understanding African languages, whether spoken or genetic, can enlighten all of humanity.

*The Economist.


Reverse Migration to Africa ...Policy Makers Should Encourage this Spectacle.

*Article credit.

WHEN BANKS started to fail and protesters began filling the streets in 2019, Moussa Khoury resisted the temptation to leave his native Lebanon. After a massive explosion flattened part of Beirut, the capital, last year, he fixed his broken windows and stayed put. But in the end he could not withstand the collapse of Lebanon’s currency. Mr Khoury runs a startup selling vegetables grown in hydroponic planters. His customers paid him in liras, while his suppliers demanded hard currency. So in April he accepted an offer from an acquaintance who promised to invest in the business—if Mr Khoury moved it to Ghana.

More than 250,000 Lebanese probably live in west Africa. It is impossible to know how many have moved there since Lebanon’s economic crisis began in 2019, but the evidence suggests the number is large. A pilot of Lebanese descent living in Togo says Lebanese pack his flights to west Africa. Lebanon’s embassy in Nigeria reports a “noticeable increase” in Lebanese moving to the country. Guita Hourani, who leads a centre that studies migration at Notre Dame University-Louaize in Lebanon, says her office is flooded with calls from locals who want advice on how to track down relatives abroad, including in Africa.

Many Lebanese came to west Africa in the 19th century, disembarking (some say by mistake) from ships heading for America. The new arrivals proved remarkably successful, first as middlemen between locals and colonising powers, later as business owners and commodity traders. Today, for example, Lebanese reportedly control many of the companies in Ivory Coast that handle exports of coffee or cocoa.

Over a century of conflict, crisis and famine have scattered Lebanese all over the world. But these days Lebanese find it much easier to obtain visas from west African destinations than from America or European countries. Jobs are easier to get hold of, too. Someone always knows someone who has an opening, says Karim Maky, a Senegalese of Lebanese descent. Skilled workers are paid well. And most west African countries already have Lebanese churches, mosques and schools.

Some newcomers plan to stay for a while. Take Ibrahim Chahine, a young mechanical engineer who left Lebanon last year. Canada’s visa process was too cumbersome, he says. His applications to Gulf countries went unanswered. So when he got a job at a company run by Lebanese in Nigeria, he didn’t think twice. Within two weeks he had moved to Abuja, the capital. He expects to stay for ten years.

Mr Khoury is not so sure. He had hoped to use his startup to boost agricultural production in Lebanon, which currently imports nearly all of its food. Instead he is building a greenhouse in Accra, the capital of Ghana, with the aim of selling baskets of kale, leeks and lettuce to local supermarkets, restaurants and hotels. He plans to spend at least a year there. But his extended family is back in Lebanon. And he’s kept his operation there open. That’s because of nostalgia, he says, not profits.

*The Economist.

 


International Human Rights Law and Practice

By Illias Bantekas and Lutz Oette.

This unique textbook merges human rights law with its practice, from the courtroom to the battlefield. Human rights are analysed in their particular context, and the authors assess, among other things, the impact of international finance, the role of NGOs, and the protection of rights in times of emergency, including the challenges posed by counter-terrorism. In parallel, a series of interviews with practitioners, case studies and practical applications offer multiple perspectives and challenging questions on the effective implementation of human rights. Although the book comprehensively covers the traditional areas of international human rights law, including its regional and international legal and institutional framework, it also encompasses, through distinct chapters or large sections, areas that have a profound impact on human rights worldwide, such as women's rights, human rights and globalisation, refugees and migration, human rights obligations of non-state actors, debt and human rights, and others.

 


Hidden Toll of COVID in Africa Threatens Global Pandemic Progress

Sarah Wild.

Undercounting or ignoring cases of the disease on the continent could lead to new variants that might derail efforts to end the pandemic. Kenya and other African countries are reporting relatively few COVID cases, but studies suggest that the continent’s true burden of disease may be undercounted.

Africa has suffered about three million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic—at least officially. The continent’s comparatively low number of reported cases has puzzled scientists and prompted many theories about its exceptionalism, from its young population to its countries’ rapid and aggressive lockdowns.

But numerous seroprevalence surveys, which use blood tests to identify whether people have antibodies from prior infection with the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), point to a significant underestimation of African countries’ COVID burden. Undercounting could increase the risk of the disease spreading widely, hinder vaccine rollout and uptake, and ultimately threaten global efforts to control the pandemic, experts warn. Wherever the virus is circulating—especially in regions with little access to vaccines—new mutations are likely to arise, and it is crucial to identify them quickly.

Viral variants are already complicating vaccination drives around the world. New SARS-CoV-2 variants first detected in South Africa, Brazil and the U.K. have raised concerns that they could be more transmissible or make available vaccines less effective. And drugmakers are scrambling to develop vaccine boosters to protect against them. (The currently authorized vaccines still provide strong protection against severe disease and death.)

Undiagnosed transmission of COVID in African countries increases the risk of new variants taking hold in the population before authorities have a chance to detect them and prevent their spread, says Richard Lessells, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform in South Africa. That nation has the highest number of recorded cases on the continent (many of them caused by a new variant). And officials suspect that its surveillance network is only catching one in every 10 infections.

Mutations develop spontaneously as a virus replicates and spreads. While many of them are innocuous, they can sometimes make the pathogen more transmissible or deadly, as seen in the SARS-CoV-2 variant first detected in the U.K.

“If you allow it to continue to spread, it will continue to evolve,” warns Lessells, who was part of the team that first identified the new variant in South Africa. The threat of mutation is greater if the virus is moving unhindered through large swaths of a country’s or region’s population. Lessells emphasizes that Africa is not the “problem” and that new variants could just as easily emerge elsewhere. Rather the issue is vaccine equity. “It is clear that if we leave Africa behind on the vaccine front, then there’s clearly a risk that it gets more challenging to control transmission,” he says.

The underestimation of COVID cases feeds into a narrative that African countries do not need vaccines as urgently as other nations. After all, if there are relatively few cases and deaths, then some people may say, “Good, no problem––they don’t need vaccines,” says Maysoon Dahab, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Her research estimated that only about 2 percent of COVID deaths in Khartoum, Sudan, were correctly attributed to the illness between last April and September.

Many African countries have initiated limited vaccination programs, mainly procured through the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility. Vaccines are earmarked for health care workers and extremely vulnerable groups. They are simply not available to inoculate entire African nations in the short to medium term—both as a result of global demand and because of rich countries hoarding doses.

Currently, rich nations accounting for 16 percent of the world’s population have bought 60 percent of the global vaccine supply, wrote World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Foreign Policy last month. “Many of these countries aim to vaccinate 70 percent of their adult population by midyear in pursuit of herd immunity,” he wrote.

Vaccine-induced herd immunity is not likely for African countries in the near future. A spokesperson for COVAX co-leader GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, told Scientific American that the initiative aims to vaccinate 20 percent of people in its member countries by the end of the year. “COVAX’s work has only just begun: it is vitally important that manufacturers continue to support COVAX and governments refrain from more bilateral deals that take further supply out of the market,” the spokesperson said.

But if reported COVID cases are low, officials may struggle to persuade people to get a shot even if they are in a position to do so. The low reported disease numbers are bolstering vaccine hesitancy, warns Catherine Kyobutungi, executive director of the African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, Kenya. “People are asking why they need to be vaccinated when they’ve already gotten rid of the virus without vaccines,” she says.

Kenya has officially had 122,000 cases, but a nationwide blood-bank survey found that about 5 percent of more than 3,000 samples taken between last April and June contained SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. If extrapolated, this finding points to the possibility of millions of undiagnosed cases in Kenya, although some scientists say that the survey was not representative of the general population and could have had skewed results. Nevertheless, the country aims to vaccinate 30 percent of its population—a figure Kyobutungi describes as a “drop in the ocean”—by 2023.

Without widespread access to vaccines, African countries are relying on basic public health measures such as mask wearing and handwashing alone to control the disease’s spread. And, as with vaccination, people could dismiss these measures as unnecessary if the numbers misrepresent the risk of infection.

Governments may also take the statistics at face value and downscale their COVID surveillance efforts, Kyobutungi warns. That is, they may do so “until something terrible happens or, a year down the line, there’s a Malawian variant, a Ugandan variant or Sudanese variant,” she says. “If new lethal variants emerge in Africa, Africa gets cut off from the rest of the world, or the variants spread like the first cases in China. Then you have cases everywhere, and we need to vaccinate the whole world all over again.”

Others, however, are less concerned about undercounting and its potential consequences. Epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim, co-leader of South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee, says that the only way to completely protect the public is to presume “everybody is potentially infected” and institute universal health measures such as mask wearing. “Vaccines are an important part of our prevention tool box—probably the most important part,” Abdool Karim says. “But they aren’t enough on their own.”

Ngoy Nsenga, WHO Africa’s program manager for emergency response, agrees that variants are a concern and that the best response is implementing public health interventions. “Of course, we wish we could have vaccines to vaccinate everyone and stop the chain of transmission, but because of availability, that is not possible,” he says.

Without worldwide concurrent vaccination, COVID will continue to spread. With the disease, African countries are “here for the long haul,” Nsenga says. And if that is true for the continent, it could well be true for the rest of the world. “If any place, any country, is not safe in this world, no country will be safe,” he says.

*Courtesy of Scientific American.