Wednesday, March 21, 2018

‘Black Panther’ Fans Can Find Glimpses of Wakanda in Africa
By Andrew Meldrum 
March 21 at 4:34 PM

JOHANNESBURG — Want to go to Wakanda? The blockbuster success of “Black Panther” has created a new, compelling vision of Africa as a continent of smart, technologically savvy people with cool clothes living in a futuristic city amid stunning landscapes.

The hidden, high-tech kingdom is fictional, of course. But the movie successfully weaves together many different aspects of the continent to depict Wakanda. For fans who long to visit, there are many real places to consider.

“The movie references a lot of different African cultures and tribes,” says Meruschka Govender, a “Black Panther” fan who blogs about travel at and calls herself an “African travel activist.”

“I loved the Afro-futurist costumes, production and black consciousness themes. I really hope that it changes the narrative of African travel and inspires people to travel more the continent,” she added.


In South Africa, Johannesburg is a good place to start. “Joburg” is a dynamic, cosmopolitan African city, full of commerce, high-rise architecture and nightlife that is redolent of Wakanda.

The high-speed Gautrain can whisk you from O.R. Tambo International Airport to Johannesburg’s shiny financial center Sandton, with its modern skyscrapers. The train is quick, clean and pleasant.

Joburg’s Braamfontein district is hip, edgy and fun. University students and hipsters frequent the coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques. By night there are fun bars and jazz clubs. The striking Nelson Mandela suspension bridge leads to gritty downtown Johannesburg. Braamfontein has come up in the past 10 years from a derelict, dangerous spot to a great place to visit.

Rocky Street in Yeoville is a bustling, hustling strip full of people selling their wares. South Africans, as well as Zimbabweans, Congolese and people from all parts of Africa are there. Security is a concern in Johannesburg, but if you are alert and careful, don’t flash your cell phone or cash, it can be a manageable city.


“Black Panther” highlights the contrast between Africa’s cityscapes and the landscapes of the countryside.

The tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho has that rural, traditional, spiritual side of Africa, where the Border Tribe in “Black Panther” resided. Lesotho has dramatic mountain scenery and picturesque rondavels, the round, thatched dwellings where many rural families live. Most distinctive are the woven, cone-shaped hats and the brightly colored Basotho blankets worn over the shoulders of many in Lesotho. Those blankets feature prominently in the movie.


With historic towers and churches dating back to the fourth century, Ethiopia has many sites that suggest Wakanda. The country was never colonized and its people are very proud of that, just as the people of Wakanda are proud of their history of independence. The obelisks of Axum and the churches of Lalibela, carved out of rock, speak of ancient traditions. Ethiopians wear flowing embroidered cotton robes and also like their reputation as the place where coffee was first grown and served, which you can appreciate with an Ethiopian coffee ceremony.


Victoria Falls, where the Zambezi River spectacularly plummets 350 feet (106 meters) to make one of the world’s largest waterfalls, is located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The awe-inspiring falls throw up a perpetual mist that supports a lush rainforest. The indigenous Tonga people called the falls “Mosi-oa-Tunya” which means “Smoke That Thunders.” It’s a fabulous place to visit and may bring to mind the waterfall fight scene from the movie.

Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is another city that is reminiscent of “Black Panther.” Perhaps the place that best captures the juxtaposition of modern and rural Africa is Nairobi National Park, just 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from the city, where you can see rhinos, giraffe and elephants, and look over their shoulders to see the office towers of the city in the background.

East Africa’s expansive savannas, with flat-top acacia trees, seen in Maasai Mara park and Tanzania’s Serengeti park, look like they are right out of a sweeping movie scene.

But maybe the best place to get that Wakanda feeling is the Wits University campus in Johannesburg. To be surrounded by smart, opinionated, articulate students, fashionably dressed in colorful, sharp clothes, full of hope and plans for themselves, their country and their continent is to feel the heart of the Afro-optimism of “Black Panther.”
Parents Shocked After Son ID'd As Bomber: 'We Had No Idea of the Darkness That Mark Must Have Been In'
MAR 21, 2018 | 2:00 PM
Los Angeles Times
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley comments on what they know about the bombing suspect.
Investigators detained and questioned two roommates of the Austin bombing suspect Wednesday as officials sought to determine whether Mark Anthony Conditt had any help as he terrorized Texas' capital city over the last month.

One of the roommates already has been released, while the other was still being questioned, Austin police said in a statement on Twitter, declining to release any names because no charges had been filed.

Officials also announced they had filed a federal bomb-possession charge and arrest warrant against Conditt late Tuesday, shortly before the suspected bomber blew himself up early Wednesday morning following a brief police chase in the Austin suburb of Round Rock.

"Hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement officers worked together to identify and locate Conditt," U.S. Atty. John F. Bash said in a statement. The affidavit supporting the complaint, which might give details on how officials zeroed in on Conditt, remained under seal Wednesday afternoon.

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Officials warned that Conditt may have planted or mailed more bombs before killing himself, and more than a dozen square blocks of his hometown of Pflugerville, a northeastern suburb of Austin, were evacuated as officials searched the area.

While investigators have not revealed a possible motive for Conditt's actions, a portrait emerged Wednesday of an introverted Christian conservative who had been home-schooled and worked at a local manufacturing company before being fired last year.

In a statement released to CNN, Conditt's parents said they were in shock and grieved for the victims in the string of bombings.

"We are devastated and broken at the news that our family could be involved in such an awful way," the family said. "We had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in.

"Our family is a normal family in every way. We love, we pray, and we try to inspire and serve others. Right now our prayers are for those families that have lost loved ones, for those impacted in any way, and for the soul of our Mark. We are grieving and we are in shock."

In Pflugerville, federal and local law enforcement officials searched two sheds and trash bins outside the Conditts' multistory home. The shades were drawn, and a U.S. flag flew out front.

Austin police homicide Det. David Fugitt said Conditt's family has been "very cooperative," adding that officials didn't have any indication the family knew Conditt was involved with the bombings.

"They have gone above and beyond to answer any questions we have had," Fugitt said.

"They're having a difficult time," Fugitt said. "It's understandable with everything they have had to deal with. This is certainly a shock to the conscience. They're taking it in stride. They're having a difficult time as well, which would be expected."

Conditt took classes at Austin Community College between 2010 and 2012 and was home-schooled, according to college officials and social media posts from his mother, who said he graduated high school in 2013.

"He's thinking of taking some time to figure out what he wants to do....maybe a mission trip," said a Facebook post from Danene Conditt, which included a photo of Mark Conditt.

In an old blog under Mark Conditt's name, started apparently as part of a community college class assignment, the author wrote in 2012 that he was conservative but "not that politically inclined," writing posts opposing abortion, favoring the death penalty and arguing that gay marriage should be illegal.

"I view myself as a conservative, but I don't think I have enough information to defend my stance as well as it should be defended," read the blog's biography page. "The reasons I am taking this class is because I want to understand the US government, and I hope that it will help me clarify my stance, and then defend it."

In a post in favor of the death penalty, the author wrote, "Living criminals harm and murder, again - executed ones do not." The blog's final post is dated May 2012.

One of Conditt's former friends, Jeremiah Jensen, 24 — who was home-schooled in Pflugerville and attended the community college at the same time as Jensen — said that Conditt's blog posts for class were being taken out of context in media reports.

"Certainly a lot of the home-school community in Pflugerville, Texas, is conservative and a lot of kids were raised that way," Jensen said. "I think a lot of people jump to conclusions and want to make him out to be a conservative terrorist. But I think it has more to do with loneliness and anger than it has to do with anything else."

Conditt was smart, "straight-laced" and "definitely came off as a little intense, and it was hard for him to get along with people and make friends," said Jensen, now a freelance journalist living in Dallas. "A lot of people didn't really understand him or how to speak his language."

But "he was actually a very kind person, when I knew him," said Jensen, adding that the two had not spoken for several years.

Community college officials said that he was a business administration major and did not graduate, but that he left in good academic standing. His last classes were in 2012.

"We are working with Austin Police Department to provide any information they need," college spokeswoman Jessica Vess said in an email.

Information about Conditt's home schooling could not be obtained from Texas state education officials. "Texas has no authority over home schooling, and we don't keep any type of school records on such," said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

Jeff Reeb, a neighbor of the Conditts since they moved to the area 17 years ago, described Conditt as "a quiet youngster" who played with Reeb's grandson.

Conditt, who had two younger sisters, moved away from home in recent years and bought a house but returned to visit, Reeb said.

On Conditt's blog in 2012, he listed his hobbies as cycling, parkour, tennis, reading and listening to music. The Conditt home has a deck, a trampoline, a treehouse and a pool in a large, grassy yard.

"They're church-going people, extremely good neighbors. I like them a lot," Reeb said, adding that he was surprised to see reporters arrive at his street, the first clue the bombing suspect could be someone he knew.

Reeb said he saw the Conditts daily and last saw the suspect visit his parents last week — which would have been after the bombings began.

"I was hoping they were wrong," Reeb said of reports identifying Mark Conditt as the bombing suspect, adding that he didn't recognize Conditt in surveillance footage from an Austin FedEx store that showed the bomber with long, blond hair. "I'm not sure I still believe it. It makes no sense whatsoever."

Another of the Conditt family's neighbors, Beverly Canales, 56, a stay-at-home mom, said she did not know the family, although her two daughters, ages 23 and 24, attended Austin Community College about the same time Mark Conditt did.

They were scrutinizing photos of the suspected bomber Wednesday, comparing them to high school yearbooks and trying to remember whether they had seen him.

"Our little town of Pflugerville had our own Unabomber," she said.

Mark Roessler, 57, lived across the street from where Conditt lived with his two roommates, and he sometimes chatted with Conditt and Conditt's father, who came over occasionally to help remodel the home.

"It's a quiet neighborhood, and he blended right in," Roessler said.

Roessler said he saw two young men coming and going from the home recently but did not realize Conditt had roommates. When he left for his job as a manager at a medical device company at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Roessler was met by FBI agents with guns drawn who surrounded the area and evacuated homes

"I feel for the family and for the father," Roessler said. "Having two sons of my own, I can only imagine what he is going through. The whole Austin community was living in fear. … Everybody is relieved, but still not understanding and waiting for answers."

Conditt worked for several years at a local semiconductor manufacturer, Crux Manufacturing, before he was fired in August for poor performance, according to KVUE-TV.

The business' owner, who spoke to the television station anonymously, said Conditt "seemed like a smart kid who showed a lot of promise" and worked in purchasing and sales.

"He was very quiet and introverted" and did not have any confrontations with management," the owner said, adding that he was given several warnings for not meeting expectations before he was fired. "He would prioritize things in his own way."

An employee outside Crux on Wednesday who asked not to be identified said company officials were not answering questions.

Investigators began zeroing in on Conditt over the last two days, and officials were moving to make an arrest at a hotel in the suburb of Round Rock when Conditt began driving away, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said at a news conference.

The vehicle ran into a ditch, and as officers approached, the suspect detonated an explosive that killed him and knocked one officer back, Manley said. Police fired a single shot at the car.

Conditt's death followed days of rapid developments in the case.

On Tuesday, a bomb inside a package exploded on a conveyor belt at a FedEx shipping center in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio and about 60 miles from Austin. One worker was treated at the scene for minor injuries.

It was the fifth in a series of bombings this month that left two people dead, four others injured and the state capital shaken.

"I really wish that I could have spoken to him one more time before he went down this path," Jensen said of Conditt. "I wish I had known that he was struggling or that, you know, or had some sort of an inkling to reach out to him. … It's in the dark that people start getting angry and sad and eventually go off the deep end."
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Pflugerville, Texas; Pearce from Los Angeles.


2 p.m.: The article was updated with additional reaction.

12:40 p.m.: The article was updated with information on Conditt's roommates and further details of the investigation.

11:09 a.m.: The article was updated with additional details and reaction.

9:40 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times staff reporting, including comments from neighbors.

6:50 a.m.: This article was updated with an official identifying the suspect and quotes from Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and Mayor Steve Adler.

3:30 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details.

This article was originally published at 3:10 a.m.
Austin Bombing Suspect Bought Some Materials at Home Depot
New York Times
MARCH 21, 2018

Law enforcement responded to an area of Round Rock, Tex., where the police say a bombing suspect blew himself up in his vehicle. Credit Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

PFLUGERVILLE, Tex. — An intense, three-week manhunt in a series of bombings that has terrorized Austin, Tex., came to an explosive end on Wednesday when the suspect, a 23-year-old unemployed man who had purchased bomb-making materials at a local Home Depot, drove into a ditch and blew himself up.

The suspect, Mark Anthony Conditt, whom authorities had identified via surveillance footage and other clues left behind in one of the country’s worst serial bombing cases, was dead at the scene, the authorities said. One police officer was blown back by the blast and another officer fired his weapon.

“The danger that has been causing so many people in Austin and across Texas to be so concerned has been eliminated,” Gov. Greg Abbott told local television.

Officials said Mr. Conditt’s motive was not immediately clear, but a picture of his life was beginning to emerge: He was a home-schooled student who never graduated from community college. He described himself on a blog as “not that politically inclined” but expressed conservative views on issues like gay marriage and the death penalty. Friends and neighbors described him as a loner.

“Sometimes he was a very intense person,” said Jeremiah Jensen, a friend from the local home-schooling community in Pflugerville. “He could sometimes get frustrated. There were times he could get angry over a misunderstanding.”

A city that has been on edge for weeks as several makeshift bombs exploded without warning — on doorsteps, on a sidewalk and, most recently, in a FedEx shipping center — saw the long-running drama coming to an end. But authorities warned that with the bomber’s obviously extensive preparations, it might not be entirely over.

“Two very important things before we can put this to rest. One, we don’t know if there are any other bombs out there and if so, how many and where they may be,” Mr. Abbott said on Fox News.

“Second, very importantly, we need to go throughout the day to make sure that we rule out whether there was anybody else involved in this process,” he said.

Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, told a local television affiliate that Mr. Conditt bought at least some of his bomb-making supplies from a Home Depot in Pflugerville, a small town about 20 miles northeast of Austin where the suspect lived.

“He did have a battery pack, and he had nails,” Mr. McCaul said.

The crucial break for investigators, Mr. McCaul said, came when Mr. Conditt walked into a FedEx office to mail a package earlier this week.

“From there, we could get surveillance video of him, get his vehicle, his license plate number, identify the individual, go to the Home Depot where he bought the stuff, and eventually, with his cellphone, be able to locate him, which they did this morning,” Mr. McCaul said.

A federal criminal complaint charging Mr. Conditt with unlawful possession and transfer of a destructive device was filed on Tuesday night, the authorities said Wednesday, along with a warrant for his arrest.

Also on Wednesday, the Austin Police said they had detained Mr. Conditt’s two roommates. One was questioned and released; the other was still being questioned as of Wednesday afternoon. Neither roommate was identified.

Earlier in the day, local police and state troopers went door-to-door in the five blocks around Mr. Conditt’s house and told residents they were evacuating the area for their safety as federal agents worked to remove and dispose of homemade explosives found inside the residence.

As they arrived, federal agents notified neighbors, and then approached someone at Mr. Conditt’s home, said Mark Roessler, 57, an information technology manager who lives across the street.

“I watched the truck come down the street and shove the car out of the way, and they started announcing, ‘This is the F.B.I. We’re here to serve search warrants,’” Mr. Roessler recounted. “And then within a few minutes this individual came out the front door. They were giving him clear instructions, had him remove his shirt, and walk toward them.”

Mr. Roessler said he had never seen the person who emerged from the house. “He was wearing some dark pants and a white T-shirt, looked like he had just woken up,” he said.

A string of bombings this month have put Austin, Tex., on high alert.

Law enforcement authorities spent hours closeted with Mr. Conditt’s parents in their white clapboard home with an American flag hanging outside.

“We do not understand what motivated him to do what he did,” the Austin police chief, Brian Manley, told reporters.

Mr. Conditt was a quiet, “nerdy” young man who came from a “tight-knit, godly family,” said Donna Sebastian Harp, who had known the family for nearly 18 years.

He was the oldest of four children who had all been home-schooled by their mother, Ms. Harp said, but he had also attended Austin Community College, although college officials said he did not graduate.

“He was always kind of quiet,” she said. “He was a nerd, always reading, devouring books and computers and things like that.”

She said there had never been any hints of violence, until Wednesday morning, when she received a text message from Mr. Conditt’s mother. It read, “Pray for our family. We are under attack” — a reference to a spiritual assault by Satan, Ms. Harp said.

The Conditt family is affiliated with Calvary Chapel of Austin, according to the church’s office manager, Dean Miller. It is an evangelical church that meets in a former grocery store in Pflugerville. Its members believe the Bible prohibits same-sex marriage.

It was not immediately clear how involved Mr. Conditt was in the church, but he argued against same-sex marriage in a post he wrote on a blog he created for a political science class at the community college.

“Political protection of a sexual practice is ludicrous,” Mr. Conditt wrote. “I do not believe it is proper to pass laws stating that homosexuals have ‘rights.’”

McKenna McIntosh, another student in the course, said Mr. Conditt’s views as reflected on his blog were “clear as day.” In a biography on the site, Mr. Conditt described himself as a conservative but said he was “not that politically inclined.” His six posts, which date from January to March 2012, also included arguments in favor of the end of sex-offender registries and in support of the death penalty.

“Living criminals harm and murder, again,” he wrote, “executed ones do not.”

In the post, he pointed to Larry James Harper, a Texas fugitive who killed himself in 2001 as the police closed in after he escaped from prison. He compared him to another escapee, George Rivas, who was captured.

It seemed almost to foreshadow his own fate.

“If he had wanted or wished for death, he would have just shot himself, like his fellow Texas 7 escapee, Larry Harper, who committed suicide, rather than be captured and re-incarcerated,” Mr. Conditt wrote.

Detective David Fugitt with the Austin police said Mr. Conditt’s family was cooperating and was allowing investigators to search the property, including several backyard sheds.

“We are devastated and broken at the news that our family member could be involved in such an awful way,” the family said in a statement published by CNN. “We had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in. Our family is a normal family in every way. We love, we pray, and we try to inspire and serve others. Right now, our prayers are for the families who’ve lost loved ones, for those impacted in any way, and for the soul of our Mark. We are grieving and in shock.”

Real estate records show that Mr. Conditt and his father, William Conditt, bought a house together in Pflugerville in 2017, and family friends said the younger Mr. Conditt was remodeling it.

But neighbors said they saw little of him.

“I think he was pretty much a loner,” said Jay Schulze, a network engineer who lived about two blocks down, adding that Mr. Conditt spent most of his time with his parents.

A neighbor of Mr. Conditt’s parents, Jeff Reeb, 75, said the Conditts had never expressed concerns about their son to him.

“I can tell you nothing about him personally, except that he was a nice, young kid,” Mr. Reeb said. “He always seemed like he was smart. And he always seemed like he was very polite.”

Austin has been in the grip of the wave of attacks since March 2.

The first explosions hit African-American residents whose families are well-known in the city’s black community, though two white men were injured by an explosive triggered by a tripwire on Sunday.

The suspect is believed to be responsible for at least six bombs that killed at least two people and wounded five. Four bombs detonated in various locations in Austin where they had been left. Another detonated at a FedEx distribution center in Schertz, Tex., near San Antonio, and a sixth was found, unexploded, in a FedEx facility near Austin’s airport.

The attacks began when a package bomb detonated on the porch of an Austin home, killing Anthony Stephan House, 39. That was followed 10 days later by two bombs that were found outside homes, one of which killed a 17-year-old man.

The first three bombs were apparently detonated when they were picked up or jostled. Later, a package bomb exploded outside another Austin home, set off by a tripwire. The bombs at the FedEx centers were found on Tuesday.

The suspect’s vehicle was traced to a hotel in Round Rock, just north of Austin, Chief Manley said, where a SWAT team surreptitiously surrounded the hotel and called other specialized units. But the suspect drove away before those teams could arrive.

Officers followed the suspect, who stopped in a ditch off Interstate 35, and SWAT officers approached the vehicle on foot.

“The suspect detonated a bomb inside of the vehicle, knocking one officer back” and slightly injuring him, the police chief said. Another officer fired his gun at the vehicle.

Michael Luna, a guest at a Red Roof Inn near the confrontation, told a local news channel that he heard the explosion from the bomb, which sounded as if it had gone off 100 to 200 yards away, when he was smoking a cigarette in the parking lot. Mr. Luna, who said he had been in the military, said that the explosion sounded like two grenades going off at the same time, and that he heard a pop afterward that might have been gunfire.

The section of Interstate 35 near that confrontation was a traffic nightmare for hours as commuters moved at a glacial pace in the southbound lanes, many of them presumably unaware of what had happened. State troopers barred access at several ramps along that stretch of the highway.

By Wednesday morning, aerial video footage of the area from KVUE, a local television affiliate, showed a red sport utility vehicle with blown-out windows next to a blue tarp, surrounded by investigators’ vehicles.

Manny Fernandez reported from Pflugerville, Tex., Jack Healy from Denver, and Jessica Bidgood from Boston. Reporting was contributed by Jonah Engel Bromwich and Michael Gold in New York and Michael Wolgelenter and Richard Pérez-Peña from London.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Rwanda's Kagame Hosts African Leaders Meeting to Sign Free Trade Deal
Daniel Mumbere
Africa News

The African Union Extraordinary Summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area that is being held in Kigali, Rwanda is steadily making progress despite earlier setbacks including snubs by Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.

The Free Trade Area is one of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063 and aims to deepen the integration process, by allowing Africans to trade and move freely across the continent.

The project is being driven forward along with other key related initiatives such as the Single African Air Transport Market and the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and the African Passport.

By signing and ratifying it, we would signal that we are determined to play our part as a global player while promoting the continent’s economic interests as one, through a single African market.

The Kigali Extraordinary Summit was agreed to during the ordinary session of the Assembly of the Union held in Addis Ababa in late January 2018.

Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame who also took over as chair of African Union pledged to achieve free movement of persons this year.

Nigeria’s Buhari opted out of the Kigali conference on Sunday, saying he wanted further domestic consultation on the continental deal after media reports said labour unions in Africa’s largest economy warned against the deal.

The Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat urged countries to overcome fears and self-interests as they continue to be barriers of regional trade and growth.

Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, who also doubles as the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers said the agreement should come into force as soon as possible.

“By signing and ratifying it, we would signal that we are determined to play our part as a global player while promoting the continent’s economic interests as one, through a single African market,” she said.

Intra-Africa trade currently stands at about 14 per cent with the agreement expected to facilitate an increase to about 52.3 per cent by 2022.
CFTA: Africa Positions for “the World’s Largest Free Trade Area”. What are the Implications?
19 MARCH 2018

As African heads of state and government meet in the Rwandan capital Kigali to formally sign the much-talked about Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) this Wednesday, Rafiq Raji looks at what lies ahead. Is Africa ready?

More than two years after the signing of the Sharm-el-Sheikh Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) agreement in June 2015 – which brought together member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), East African Community (EAC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) – trade ministers from all of Africa’s 54 countries, including those of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which already have a common external tariff, met in Niamey, the capital of Niger, in early December last year to agree final terms for the African Union’s Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA).

By and large, they made good progress. However, there are still issues to iron out. Member states have yet to agree on tariffs on all goods, for instance although on services, they successfully closed the book.

Intra-African trade grew by 8% in the first nine months of 2017, with Guinea, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, and Sierra Leone in the lead.

In order to make a meaningful impact, the CFTA will have to improve the quality as well as the quantity of intra-African trade. The objective of the CFTA is primarily to engender more intra-African trade, which currently comprises just 15% of the continent’s total merchandise trade. When compared with intra-regional trade in other continents – 67% in Europe, 58% in Asia and 48% in North America – this is quite low.

Efforts, thus far, at improving the low trade interactions within the continent, have clearly not been very effective. There are signs of improvement, though. According to most recent data from Cairo-based African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), intra-African trade grew by 8% in the first nine months of 2017, with Guinea, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, and Sierra Leone in the lead. This is definitely better than the marginal 0.6% growth to $156.94bn recorded in 2016.

Even so, there is still much road to cover before intra-African trade recovers to the 2013 peak level of $174.9bn. And as recently as 2015, intra-African trade growth was almost 9%. Afreximbank attributes the latest recovery to rising commodity prices, “improved regional trade across regional economic communities and some countries’ increased focus on promoting intra-African trade.” This could be the start of a paradigm shift.

Trading within and keeping up

After the jamboree likely to herald the signing of the CFTA, the various heads of government may as usual go back to their capitals and do little to implement the accords. However, things could be different this time: the need for improved intra-regional trade relations is now almost existential.

With additive manufacturing, automation and other fourth industrial revolution innovations likely to maintain the insurmountable advantage of developed economies, African manufactures will only thrive if they are traded within the continent. And since it is only by trading more with each other that this could be achieved, African governments will need to ensure hassle-free market access for African-made goods. This is the underlying motivation behind the CFTA.

To meet the continent’s needs, however, more of African countries’ predominantly primary commodity international trade will have to be pared down. For example, instead of exporting so much of their cocoa to Europe and the US, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire should keep more of the crop at home to produce chocolate and other cocoa-related manufactures. Batteries used to power electric vehicles could be manufactured in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, where the key input, cobalt, is found in abundance, instead of exporting the mineral to China.

Were the CFTA able to boost the quality of trade as much as the quantity, it could be truly groundbreaking. Considering how hard it has been to achieve even the slightest consensus on trade integration, however, this is probably too much to ask. But politicians cannot go on talking about the need for greater beneficiation without ever taking any concrete action.

To meet the continent’s needs, however, more of African countries’ predominantly primary commodity international trade will have to be pared down. For example, batteries used to power electric vehicles could be manufactured in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, where the key input, cobalt, is found in abundance, instead of exporting the mineral to China.

Strangely, the bulk of the small intra-African trade is in manufactures. But these tend to be goods like processed food products, cement, and so on, which are not complicated to manufacture. And even these supposedly simpler manufactures have to contend with cheaper imports in some African countries.

EPAs and other trade agreements

The CFTA signing will still be a work in progress. Negotiations on such important issues like intellectual property rights, tariffs for some goods, what constitutes proper competitive behaviour and so on, are still ongoing. Besides, there is the bigger issue of how African countries would extricate them selves from constraining bilateral and multilateral trade agreements with developed economies, which at first glance seem beneficial to African countries but on further scrutiny have been found to be ultimately detrimental to their long-term industrial development.

The European Union’s Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) top the list. In 2016, for instance, Africa’s trade with the European Union was valued at €262bn ($324bn), with a relatively small trade deficit of €28.6bn.

However, the fact that 62% of Africa’s exports were primary products and 71% of its imports were manufactures puts that deficit in a different light.

Thus, African countries will in addition to trading more with each other also need to exclude outsiders with as much zeal, at least for a while.

Vision to reality

When the CFTA vision becomes a reality, intra-African trade could increase by at least 50% over the next five years, according to some estimates. A market of more than 1.2bn people with a combined GDP of $2.2 trillion is a far stronger bulwark against limiting external trade forces than the tiny ones that inevitably get overwhelmed in negotiations with big countries – even as stand-alone economies – like the US, Britain and China.

Incidentally, even these countries which already trade a great deal within their own continents are becoming increasingly isolationist.

So, just as African countries are beginning to find trade unity, previously globalist and more integrated ones abroad are beginning to flirt with insularity. Benedict Oramah, president of Afreximbank, put it succinctly in remarks he made in early December:

When the CFTA vision becomes a reality, intra-African trade could increase by at least 50% over the next five years. A market of more than 1.2bn people with a combined GDP of $2.2 trillion is a far stronger bulwark against limiting external trade forces.

“While the speed with which the CFTA has been concluded appears to indicate Africa’s preference for unity, we have to be mindful that the attainment of the ultimate goal of the CFTA of strengthening Africa’s role in global trade may be more difficult to achieve under the wave of isolationism sweeping across other markets.”

In any case, the trade barriers that really require attention on the continent would barely surface in negotiations or be amenable to them. For instance, infrastructure – which with its terrible state and its huge financing deficit ($93bn per annum) adds to logistical costs and retail prices – is one of the reasons why African goods are not competitive.

Non-tariff barriers like that would require not just collaboration between African governments but a sense of initiative by each of them.
Africa’s Free-Trade Future
Mar 20, 2018

With the launch of the African Union's long-awaited Continental Free Trade Area this month, African leaders have an opportunity to set their countries on a path toward social and economic transformation. But they will first need to come together to ensure that the new framework's power is not merely symbolic.

LUSAKA – When African leaders launch the massive Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) on March 21, 2018, at a summit in Kigali, Rwanda, their top priority should be to avoid rolling out something that is either hollow or redundant. The CFTA – one of 12 flagship programs under the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063 framework – could double intra-African trade and bring enormous benefits to the continent. But much will depend on the arrangement’s final shape.

One positive sign is that the CFTA will include trade in services, which already contribute more than 50% of African countries’ GDPs, on average. A growing body of research suggests that services will provide new social- and economic-development pathways for Africa. In their recent book The Unexplored Potential of Trade in Services in Africa, Nora Dihel and Arti Grover Goswani of the World Bank marshal data to show that services have the potential to provide much-needed employment and incomes for ordinary people across the continent.

Service industries such as communications, transportation, banking, insurance, energy, education, and health are key drivers of development, while both tourism and construction currently have high growth potential. Moreover, for many young professionals, services are the only way to earn a living. And with the emergence of entrepreneurial universities – where course work and dissertations produce business propositions rather than just paper degrees – vibrant services markets will become more necessary than ever.

But Dihel and Goswani also warn of “regulatory hurdles.” African policymakers will need to go beyond the initial framework that has already been agreed under the CFTA, to identify sectors that can be brought into the fold of a wider, integrated services market. And a comprehensive framework to establish the terms and conditions of trade and investment in specific sectors, and to attract investment, should follow.

In selecting sectors to promote, the focus should be on infrastructure and areas where countries have already made market-access commitments through the World Trade Organization. That implies that policymakers should concentrate on communications, tourism, banking, transport, and energy, followed by education, health, and construction services. One positive development came earlier this year with the establishment of the AU’s Single African Air Transport Market, which covers 23 countries and 70% of air travel in Africa.

As for trade in goods, the main goal of the CFTA is to open up markets through a broad reduction in tariffs. But before that can happen, African countries need to agree on a common schedule for lowering their import barriers. That will require potentially complex negotiations among multiple stakeholders. To simplify matters, it will be important to keep the number of negotiating parties to a minimum, perhaps by forming country groupings. Beyond that, a fairly short timeframe for negotiations should be established, so that talks do not bog down.

Beyond across-the-board tariff reductions, policymakers will also need to designate sensitive and excluded products in a way that promotes regional value chains, including in agro-processing, chemicals, and automobiles, as well as in the services/logistics inputs that constitute up to 60% of the value of final products. Policymakers should also impose a cap on the maximum value of imports that can be excluded. On the whole, African trade already comprises relatively few product lines, which means that if the most-traded products are excluded, intra-African trade will suffer, and the entire CFTA will be rendered redundant.

Although trade under the CFTA regime will not begin until there are established rules of origin, participants have at least agreed to follow the World Customs Organization’s recognized criteria for determining “value addition,” “material content,” “substantial transformation,” and whether goods are “wholly obtained.”

Still, producing product-specific rules for 6,000-odd goods can take a very long time (it has taken the WTO over 27 years). To expedite the CFTA, African countries could agree to a general minimum threshold of 20-40% for value addition and a maximum of 60-80% for non-originating material. And in the meantime, work on determining substantial transformation and other product-specific rules could continue, albeit with a set timeframe.

A critical objective in setting the CFTA’s product-specific rules of origin should be to promote the production and trade of inputs and other intermediate products within Africa. The CFTA should enshrine the principle of “Made in Africa,” even as it recognizes that some inputs will necessarily be sourced from abroad.

One hopes that African heads of state will turn up in large numbers to the AU Kigali summit this month. The launch of the CFTA is a major milestone for Africa. It will permanently change the continent’s economic geography and defining narrative. African leaders should use the occasion to send a clear message to the rest of the world that Africa is ready for a social and economic transformation.

Francis Mangeni is Director of Trade, Customs, and Monetary Affairs at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
Robots and Automation: How Africa Is at Risk
19 March 2018
BBC World Service

US companies could move manufacturing operations back home due to falling costs of automation
Within less than two decades it will be cheaper to operate robots in US factories than hire workers in Africa, a new report warns.

Falling automation costs are predicted to cause job losses as manufacturers return to richer economies.

Some analysts say poorer countries could be less impacted by this trend, however the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) suggests otherwise.

But its report adds African nations have time to prepare for the change.

"African countries must not shy away from manufacturing, but instead prepare by increasing access to internet, investing in technical skills and promoting technological innovation," said Karishma Banga a senior research officer at ODI.

"If done well, automation can present important opportunities for African countries by improving labour productivity in manufacturing," she said.

It has been suggested that poorer countries will not as be affected by automation because they have less money to invest in it.

"Our research shows that this is overly optimistic. Currently the cost of operating robots in furniture manufacturing is still higher than labour, but this will not be the case within 15 years", Dirk Willem te Velde, director of the Supporting Economic Transformation programme at ODI, said in a statement.

ODI's report, Digitalisation and the Future of Manufacturing in Africa, found that in furniture manufacturing, the cost of operating robots and 3D printers in the US will be cheaper than Kenyan wages by 2034.

In Ethiopia, ODI predicts robotic automation will be cheaper than Ethiopian workers between 2038 and 2042.

This gives the continent between one to two decades to build up its capabilities in sectors less at risk of automation, "such as food and beverages, garments, metals", the report writes.

It advises African nations to expand access to broadband and develop locals' technical skills through vocational training, technology hubs, and a bigger focus on STEM subjects in African educational bodies.
African Governments Are Withholding Millions of Dollars Meant to Increase Internet Access
Somali athlete Abdullah Bare Kuulow browses the internet at a cyber-cafe after a training session as part of their preparations for the 2012 London Olympic Games in Somalia's capital Mogadishu March 14, 2012. Picture taken March 14, 2012. Not fully connected yet. (Reuters/Feisal Omar)

Abdi Latif Dahir
Quartz Africa

At just 22%, Africa is the region with the lowest levels of internet use in the world. But as a new research shows, countries continue to fall short of financing projects aimed at removing barriers to internet access in rural, remote, and poor urban areas—even when they have those funds.

The joint report, from the Web Foundation, the Alliance for Affordable Internet and UN Women shows that 37 countries on the continent have what is known as the Universal Service and Access Funds (USAF). The purpose of these funds, usually collected through levies on telecommunication licenses, appropriations from the government as well as grants and donations, is to promote connectivity to underserved communities. Yet an estimated total of $408 million remains unspent in government coffers, with disbursement rates remaining low over the years.

Across Africa, just four countries—namely Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda—carried a zero balance. But even then, the authors questioned how transparent their distribution mechanism was, and referenced the timely allocation of funds in Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire to laws requiring authorities to spend the money every fiscal year. Just three countries explicitly planned to improve internet connectivity for women and girls through the USAF funds.

The internet has a vital effect on economic growth and social transformation. But while the internet contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) stands at 3.7% globally, it averages 1.1% in Africa. The continent also has the slowest internet speeds in the world, while high data costs and inadequate infrastructure keeps millions from achieving universal digital access. Besides, governments from Ethiopia to Cameroon, Egypt to DR Congo continue to shut down the internet or block access to social media outlets— costing economies millions of dollars in revenue.

To ensure internet access is a reality for all, governments could use their USAFs to provide subsidized access to devices and connect Wi-Fi in community spaces like schools and libraries. The report says the unspent $408 million could be used to help provide digital skills training to nearly 16 million women and girls.
There’s a Crucial Link Between Better Road Networks and International Trade for African Countries
Contractors work on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway construction project in Athi River Kenya
Smoothing things over. (Reuters/Thomas Mukoya)

Yinka Adegoke
March 20, 2018
Quartz Africa

I recently asked a business acquaintance how long it took to travel by road between DR Congo’s two biggest cities, Kinshasa to Lubumbashi. There was a long sigh, a pained look, then a helpless shrug. “It could take a week or two.”

DRC is Sub Saharan Africa’s largest country but this seemed remarkable. A Google Maps search tells you the 1,451 miles (2,335 kilometers) between both cities should take 36 hours, but as my contact noted, it’s not quite that straightforward. A similar distance in the US, from New York to Oklahoma City, (2,373 km), would take take 22 hours, says Google.

The DRC conversation came to mind while reading a report (pdf) from London School of Economics’ International Growth Centre, which argues that despite years of trade liberalization and tariff reductions across Africa, the impact has been significantly limited by the internal costs of moving goods within African countries and between neighbors.

The high cost of moving goods from or to ports eats into the benefits of free or lower tariff trade. Research shows a one-day reduction in inland travel times could lead to a 7% increase in exports, the equivalent to a 1.5 percentage point reduction on importing country tariffs. Other research shows a 10% drop in transport costs could increase trade by 25%.

As is likely in the case of DRC, 2015 research estimated the cost of transporting goods could be up to five times higher (per unit distance) in some sub-Saharan African countries when compared to the US. In Ethiopia it’s thought to be 3.5 times while in Nigeria it’s said to be 5.3 times higher.

Some of the recent infrastructure partnerships and investments such as those backed by China give some hope that it won’t always be this way. But the LSE report cautions that just building better road and rail networks has not been enough to win meaningful cost reductions. A plethora of challenges include the price of fuel, labor, and equipment, unnecessary regulations, bureaucracy and cartels, among others.

Put another way, it’s great if my agribusiness can get its produce to ports in a day rather than a week, thanks to improved transport, but that’s not much use if it still takes two weeks to get through customs and the other “officials” to reach my international buyers. As the authors say, “Even though the required number of days has been falling, exporters and importers require 50% more time to get exports to market in Africa than in East Asia.”

The last point the authors note is how globalization’s lower or free tariffs create unequal outcomes within a country due to the high cost of transporting goods. This impact is notably different between urban and rural areas. So the prices of imported goods might fall in urban/port city areas but by not as much in rural locations. This exacerbates regional inequalities.

It might be all rage to bash free trade in the age of Trump and, to some extent, Brexit, but there’s is still much for African countries to gain from fully opening up. But to achieve that, to paraphrase that boring old aphorism, charity really has to begin at home.
Nicolas Sarkozy, Ex-President of France, Is Held for Questioning on Libyan Cash
New York Times
MARCH 20, 2018

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, left, welcomed Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya to the Élysée Palace in 2007. Credit Franck Fife/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

PARIS — Former President Nicolas Sarkozy of France was questioned by the police on Tuesday as part of an investigation into whether his 2007 election campaign received illegal financial support from the Libyan regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Mr. Sarkozy, 63, was taken into custody in Nanterre, northwest of Paris, after answering a police summons, according to a French judicial official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, in line with department policy.

Under French law, Mr. Sarkozy can be held for up to 48 hours before either being released or formally placed under investigation and charged.

The corruption investigation involving Mr. Sarkozy and his 2007 election campaign was opened in 2013, but Monday was the first time he had been questioned by police in that case. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Brice Hortefeux, a close ally of Mr. Sarkozy’s and one of his interior ministers, was also summoned for questioning by the police on Tuesday as part of the investigation.

In France, complex criminal cases are handled by special magistrates with broad investigative powers. Defendants placed under formal investigation do not automatically go to trial: Magistrates can drop cases they believe have insufficient evidence.

The suspicions behind this case first emerged in 2012, when the investigative news website Mediapart published a report suggesting that Mr. Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign had received up to 50 million euros, or nearly $62 million at current exchange rates, from the regime of Colonel Qaddafi, the longtime Libyan strongman who was killed in 2011. Such support would have violated France’s strict campaign finance laws, which cap spending and prohibit foreign funding.

Since those first reports, aides to Mr. Sarkozy and middlemen who knew him and who acted as political and financial intermediaries between France and Libya have come under close scrutiny by the police and the news media.

In 2015, Claude Guéant, a top aide and former interior minister to Mr. Sarkozy, was charged in connection with the investigation.

Ziad Takieddine, a French-Lebanese arms dealer who had introduced Mr. Sarkozy to Colonel Qaddafi, told Mediapart in 2016 that he had personally delivered suitcases with €5 million in cash to Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Guéant shortly before the 2007 election. Both politicians denied the account by Mr. Takieddine, who has also been charged in the investigation.

In January, Alexandre Djouhri, a French businessman who is close to Mr. Sarkozy and who also acted as a financial intermediary with Libya, was arrested in London in connection with the investigation. The French authorities are seeking his extradition.

Mr. Sarkozy won the 2007 election but failed to secure a second term in 2012. He later went on to head the center-right party Les Républicains and tried to mount a political comeback, but he lost in the party’s primaries for the 2017 presidential elections.

Since the end of his presidency, Mr. Sarkozy has faced multiple corruption inquiries, which are at various stages, and he has always denied any wrongdoing. In some cases, the charges were dropped; in others, investigations are continuing.

In the so-called Bettencourt affair, for instance, in which Mr. Sarkozy was suspected of manipulating the heiress to the L’Oréal fortune into financing his 2007 campaign, the charges against him have been dropped.

But in another case, involving illegal overspending during his bid for re-election in 2012, he has been ordered to stand trial.

In yet other cases, people close to Mr. Sarkozy have been charged and his name has been cited, but he has not been charged himself. Of those cases, the one involving suspicions of Libyan financing is the most complex and, potentially, the most serious for the former president.

Follow Aurelien Breeden on Twitter: @aurelienbrd.
Sarkozy: France's 'Bling-Bling' President Dogged by Legal Woes
20th March 2018

Nicolas Sarkozy, who governed France as a tough-talking rightwing president from 2007 until 2012, is a divisive figure in French politics who has been dogged by legal cases since leaving office.

Taking a hard line on immigration, security and national identity, the 63-year-old attempted a comeback during last year's presidential campaign.

Sarkozy tried to bury his "bling-bling" image, which he earned during his time in office owing to his love of the high-life, by casting himself as a defender of the "down-and-outs against the elites".

But the man known universally in France as "Sarko" was humiliated in the rightwing's primary vote, finishing third behind Francois Fillon, who served for five years as prime minister under Sarkozy.

The ex-president's lavish lifestyle -- he is married to former top model Carla Bruni -- and failure to make good on many of his promises while in power had relegated him to a one-term presidency after he lost to Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012.

- Pugnacious -

The son of a Hungarian immigrant father has a pugnacious style which is seen as an asset by his admirers but a liability by his detractors who fault his apparent lack of self-control.

Many remember when Sarkozy visited the 2008 agriculture show in Paris -- a fixture on any top politician's calendar -- and said "get lost, dumbass" to a man who refused to shake his hand.

His temper also flared during a televised debate before last year's primary vote, when he slammed as "disgraceful" a question on fresh claims that he received millions in campaign funding from the regime of late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

Born on January 28, 1955, the football fanatic and cycling enthusiast is an atypical French politician.

He has a law degree, but unlike most of his peers did not attend the exclusive Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), the well-worn production line for future French leaders.

After he won the presidency at age 52, he was initially seen as injecting a much-needed dose of dynamism, making a splash on the international scene and wooing the corporate world.

Sarkozy was also the first French president to divorce, remarry and have a child -- his fourth -- while in office.

Sarkozy had refused to respond to a summons for questioning in the case, which drew heightened scrutiny in November 2016 when a businessman admitted delivering three cash-stuffed suitcases from Libya as campaign contributions.

By the end of his term however he had the lowest popularity ratings for a post-war French leader. His successor, Hollande, went on to score lower.

After his humiliating 2012 defeat, Sarkozy famously promised that "you won't hear about me anymore" before turning to the lucrative international lecture circuit.

But few observers were surprised when he returned to frontline politics in 2014, standing for and winning the leadership of the conservative UMP party, now renamed the Republicans.

- Legal turmoil -

A host of legal troubles failed to deter Sarkozy's comeback bid in 2016.

In July 2014, he became the first former head of state to be taken into custody for questioning which led to charges for corruption, influence peddling and violation of legal secrecy.

In that case, he is accused of conspiring with his lawyer to give a magistrate a lucrative job in exchange for inside information on an investigation into the financing of his 2007 campaign by L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

On Tuesday, he was taken into police custody again as part of the inquiry into the alleged financing of his 2007 presidential run by Kadhafi.

Sarkozy's questioning comes weeks after a former associate, Alexandre Djouhri, was arrested in London as part of the financing probe.

He is being held ahead of a hearing in Britain on March 28, and faces a hearing on extradition to France in July.

© 2018 AFP
France’s Sarkozy Detained Over Allegations of Bribery by Libya
French President Nicolas Sarkozy greets Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi as he arrives for dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Dec. 10, 2007. (Maya Vidon/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock)

By James McAuley
Washington Post
March 20 at 9:57 AM

PARIS — Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was taken into police custody early Tuesday over allegations that he illegally accepted 50 million euros ($68.5 million) from the government of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi to finance his successful 2007 presidential campaign.

The detention of Sarkozy — France’s president between 2007 and 2012 — represented a major development in what is now likely to become an explosive political scandal. For years, Sarkozy denied allegations that he took money from Gaddafi, and Tuesday marked the first time that authorities have questioned the former president.

If the allegations are true, it would mean that Sarkozy knowingly violated France’s campaign finance laws, which in 2007 capped campaign funding at 21 million euros ($28.8 million).

Under French law, authorities can hold a suspect in custody for up to 48 hours, at which point they can decide whether there are sufficient grounds to launch a formal investigation.

The case against the former center-right president has been brewing for years.

 An armed police officer stands guard outside the headquarters of the central office for the fight against corruption and financial and fiscal crime (OCLCIFF), on Tuesday, in Nanterre, outside Paris, during the detention of former president Nicolas Sarkozy. (Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)
In 2012, Mediapart, a French investigative news outlet, published a report suggesting that Sarkozy’s campaign had taken 50 million euros from Gaddafi’s government.

In November 2016, Ziad Takieddine, a French-Lebanese millionaire, claimed that he had personally overseen the cash transfer of 5 million euros ($6.3 million) from Libya to Sarkozy’s entourage in 2006, when Sarkozy was France’s interior minister. Takieddine said he delivered the money to Claude Guéant, Sarkozy’s chief of staff.

In January, Alexandre Djouhri, a French businessman and former Sarkozy associate, was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport in connection with the probe but was released on bail.

The Libya probe adds detail to what was known to be a complicated relationship between Sarkozy and Gaddafi.

After his victory in 2007, Sarkozy welcomed Gaddafi to France for a state visit. But by 2011, Sarkozy had established France as a leading player in the NATO coalition that ultimately topped Gaddafi’s regime.

The latest allegations only intensify public scrutiny of Sarkozy, who is already set to stand trial in a separate case concerning allegations that his unsuccessful 2012 reelection campaign also received illegal funding. Sarkozy has denied those accusations, too.

Sarkozy would not be France’s first former head of state to face a conviction after leaving office.

In 2011, Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy’s immediate predecessor who also led the center-right party, was given a suspended sentence of two years for the misuse of public funds, although the conviction pertained to activities dating to his tenure as mayor of Paris, not to his presidency.

James McAuley is Paris correspondent for The Washington Post. He holds a PhD in French history from the University of Oxford, where he was a Marshall Scholar.  Follow @jameskmcauley
Ex-French President Sarkozy Held on Gadhafi Claims
Associated Press 

FILE - In this Dec. 10 2007 file photo, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, greets Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace, in Paris. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was placed in custody on Tuesday March 20, 2018as part of an investigation that he received millions of euros in illegal financing from the regime of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS (AP) — In the latest judicial setback for the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy was placed in custody on Tuesday as part of an investigation that he received millions of euros in illegal campaign financing from the regime of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

A judicial source with direct knowledge of the case told The Associated Press that Sarkozy was being held at the Nanterre police station, north-west of Paris. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Sarkozy has vehemently and repeatedly denied wrongdoing in the case, which involves funding for his winning 2007 presidential campaign.

Though an investigation has been underway since 2013, the case gained traction some three years later when French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine told the online investigative site, Mediapart, that he delivered suitcases from Libya containing 5 million euros ($6.2 million) in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff Claude Gueant.

A lawyer for the 63-year-old Sarkozy did not immediately respond to a message from the AP seeking comment.

Investigators are examining claims that Gadhafi's regime secretly gave Sarkozy 50 million euros overall for the 2007 campaign. Such a sum would be more than double the legal campaign funding limit at the time of 21 million euros. In addition, the alleged payments would violate French rules against foreign financing and declaring the source of campaign funds.

A former top aide of Sarkozy, former minister Brice Hortefeux, was reportedly questioned on Tuesday but was not detained. Sarkozy can be held up to 48 hours and could be placed under formal investigation after his hearing.

In the Mediapart interview published in November 2016, Takieddine said he was given 5 million euros in Tripoli by Gadhafi's intelligence chief on trips in late 2006 and 2007 and that he gave the money in suitcases full of cash to Sarkozy and Gueant on three occasions. He said the handovers took place in the Interior Ministry, while Sarkozy was interior minister.

Takieddine has for years been embroiled in his own problems with French justice, centering mainly on allegations he provided illegal funds to the campaign of conservative politician Edouard Balladur for his 1995 presidential election campaign — via commissions from the sale of French submarines to Pakistan.

Takieddine made his accusations at a time when Sarkozy was taking part in the presidential elections' primary to be the candidate of the right-wing party The Republicans. Sarkozy lost in the first round, ending third behind Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe.

Fillon's own campaign was destroyed by corruption allegations. The former front-runner in the presidential race was charged over the allegations and he suffered a big loss in a vote won by Emmanuel Macron.

According to Le Monde newspaper, investigators have recently handed to magistrates a report in which they detailed how cash circulated within Sarkozy's campaign team.

In January, a French businessman suspected of playing a role in the financing scheme, Alexandre Djouhri, was arrested in London on a warrant issued by France "for offenses of fraud and money laundering." Le Monde said French investigators are also in possession of several documents seized at his home in Switzerland.

Sarkozy, who was president from 2007-12, had a complex relationship with Gadhafi. Soon after becoming the French president, Sarkozy invited the Libyan leader to France for a state visit and welcomed him with high honors. But Sarkozy then put France in the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes against Gadhafi's troops that helped rebel fighters topple his regime in 2011.

It is not the first time that Sarkozy faced legal troubles. In February 2017, he was ordered to stand trial after being handed preliminary charges for suspected illegal overspending on his failed 2012 re-election campaign. Sarkozy has appealed the decision.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Who Murdered Rio Councillor Marielle Franco?
Marielle Franco paid for those efforts with her life. Her assassination was clearly meant as a warning to those who would follow in her footsteps.

By Michael Royster
The Rio Times
March 19, 2018

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon was blithely finishing the third part of his desultory philippic on Brazil’s confusing “presumption of innocence” — admittedly an abstruse topic — when Rio’s reality intervened. City councillor Marielle Franco was assassinated while sitting in the back seat of a car.

A man (Anderson Gomes) universally identified as “her driver” was also executed; an unidentified woman in the front passenger seat was only slightly injured—none of the bullets that entered the car struck her.

What do we know about this killing? We know Ms. Franco had been in a meeting in downtown Rio. We know she got in the car and (at least) one car followed her. We know that in a (relatively) deserted area of Rio at 11PM, a car overtook Ms. Franco’s car and nine shots were fired into her car. We know where the bullets came from.

What don’t we know? We don’t who the surviving passenger is. We don’t know where Ms. Franco was going in the car. We don’t know if it was one car or two that ambushed Ms. Franco; we don’t know who was in the car or who fired the shots. We don’t know who ordered the crime.

Why don’t we know these things?

Clearly, the identity of the surviving passenger is being withheld, because she probably knows the answers to many things essential to the investigation. Her own life may (or may not) be in danger—nine (nine) shots entered the car and killed the other passengers. Was she knowingly spared by the assassins, clearly professional hitmen?

We don’t know who fired the shots, because among other reasons, the murder happened in a street where there were no surveillance cameras to film the hitmen as they committed the crime. Professional killers know their territory.

We don’t know who called for the hit—although suspicion has fallen on two separate groups: (a) an organized drug lord syndicate; or (b) the so-called “militia” composed of past and present cops moonlighting as gangsters.

Most suspicion has fallen on the militia. The bullets used were from a shipment bought by the Federal Police in Rio de Janeiro over ten years ago but somehow “lost” by the Postal Service. Bullets from the same shipment had been used in another (as yet unsolved) gangland style killing in 2016.

Moreover, the prime long-term objective of the federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro is to clean up the local police, universally acknowledged to be both corrupt and violent.

The evildoers in Rio’s militia are firmly entrenched, and protected by powerful politicians. They stand to lose all their ill-gotten gains if the federal investigations are successful.

Ms. Franco’s city council position, in Portuguese, is “vereador”. The word comes from the Latin root “verus” or truthful, as in “veritable” or “verify”. The historical function of “vereadores” was to oversee and verify actions of the executive branch.

That is precisely what Ms. Franco had been doing, noisily and relentlessly, during her terms as “vereadora” — demanding truth from those in power.

Marielle Franco paid for those efforts with her life. Her assassination was clearly meant as a warning to those who would follow in her footsteps.

That is scary.

Michael Royster
The Curmudgeon moved to Rio over forty years ago, and has pretty much remained here ever since. He's been writing political commentary for The Rio Times for eight years. He used to refer to himself as a WASP (look it up) but doesn't any more because it embarrasses him.
The Assassination of a Black Human Rights Activist in Brazil Has Created a Global Icon
Demonstrators rally against the death of Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco who was shot dead in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Kiratiana Freelon
March 18, 2018
Rio de Janeiro

When Michel Temer became the president of Brazil in May of 2016, replacing the impeached Dilma Rousseff, he nominated a 23-member cabinet of all white men. His bold rejection of diversity shocked women and blacks, who had grown accustomed to at least some minimal representation in national politics. Four months later, Marielle Franco, a black lesbian woman hailing from the Maré favela, received the fifth-most votes in the Rio de Janeiro city council elections. Her dominant win and her subsequent follow through on her promises gave hope to many Brazilians who longed for representation and had grown tired of Brazil’s corrupt and disconnected politicians.

That hope didn’t last long.

On the night of Mar. 14, Franco, 38, was assassinated in her car after leaving a black women’s empowerment event that she had organized. Of the nine shots fired, four hit her head. Her driver, Anderson Pedro also died. The news of her death quickly spread through messaging and social media networks. According to Piauí, over the next 42 hours, Franco became the subject of more than 3.6 million tweets from 400,000 users in 54 countries and in 34 languages—more than the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff.

By the next morning, there were already vigils, and protests planned in 15 cities across Brazil. More than 20,000 people showed up in Rio de Janeiro’s Cinelandia neighborhood the night she was buried. These protests spread across the world as people in New York City, Paris and even Buenos Aires held gatherings and protests in her honor.

Although Franco had yet to enter Brazil’s divisive national politics, her assassination reverberated with people nationally and internationally. Brazil lost a politician who helped those who had long been ignored—women, the poor, and blacks. But with her death, it seems the world has gained a martyr.

“She was deep in the fight and she seemed to do it with so much compassion,” said Claudia Bernett, an American who attended the Mar. 16 protest in New York’s Union Square. “She was blazing new paths and actively changing how women are defined and regarded—this is something I would hope to emulate in my life.”

Marielle Franco dedicated her life and political career to defending human rights. She grew up in the Maré favela, one of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous and poor squatter communities. A free college-prep course led to her matriculation at one of Brazil’s elite universities, Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. There she studied social sciences and decided to pursue human rights work when one of her best friends was killed by a stray bullet during a shootout between drug dealers and police in the Maré favela.

After 10 years working in Rio’s human rights commission, she ran for city councilwoman representing the liberal Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL). Her 2016 campaign, branded the Brazilian feminist color of purple, introduced 50 ideas to help women, Afro-Brazilians and the poor. When elected, she became the only black woman representative on the 51-person council and one of only seven women. Of the 19 potential laws that she introduced, two became laws.

“Her greatest victory was simply just being there and representing us,” said Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus, an Afro-Brazilian college professor who plans to run for a seat on the Brazilian congress in the October 2018 national elections. “It was a victory for all the groups who have been historically excluded. Her occupation of this space; the approval of her laws; her presence in the debates; realization of events; all of this are indicators of her success.”

Her death is still being investigated, but many people think her recent denouncements of Rio de Janeiro’s police may have led to her assassination. The bullets used in her murder were from a batch bought by the Brazilian federal police in 2006. These bullets were also used in a 2015 18-person massacre in São Paulo.

As public security in Rio de Janeiro has deteriorated, Franco’s recent work focused on violence and police brutality in favelas, which disproportionately affects young black men. Human rights workers refer to this as the genocide of black people in Brazil. Afro-Brazilians make up more than 70% of the country’s murders, many at the hands of police. More than 1, 000 people were murdered by police last year throughout the state of Rio de Janeiro.

It reads: Another murder of a young man at the hands of the Policia Militar. Matheus Melo was leaving church. How many more will need to die for this war to end?

Another tweet denounced the 41st battalion of the Policia Militar, widely known as Rio de Janeiro’s most deadly police squad.

Most of the protests in the coming week will not only honor her, but also acknowledge the police violence that blacks suffer in Brazil. Franco’s assistance wasn’t limited to civilians. It was revealed that she also extended help and support to families of police who were killed in Rio de Janeiro. Rose Vieira’s son, a policeman, was killed in 2012 and she sought help from the human rights commission of Rio de Janeiro, where Franco worked for 10 years.

”Just to give you an idea, Marielle did not have a car at this time,” she told “She wasn’t even a councilwoman. She arrived [at my house] by train. I can’t say that this person did not help me. Who would come all the way to Duque de Caxias, another city by train just to help? Only Marielle.”

Staying true to her mission to protect Rio de Janeiro’s vulnerable communities, Franco also recently became the leader of a commission that will monitor the recent federally imposed military intervention. The intervention, which aims to improve Rio’s public security, was criticized by Franco as being ineffective.

Franco and Anderson were buried on the evening of Mar.15. This week Franco’s supporters are planning more protests across Brazil and the world.
Just as U.S. Media Does With MLK, Brazil’s Media Is Trying to Whitewash and Exploit Marielle Franco’s Political Radicalism
Glenn Greenwald

ON SUNDAY NIGHT, Brazil’s most powerful television outlet, Rede Globo, devoted 45 minutes of its highly watched “Fantastico” program to the assassination of Rio City Council Member Marielle Franco and the killing of her driver, Anderson Gomes. This story has dominated headlines in Brazil for a full week, and, as protests proliferate around the country, it continues to be covered as a major story by news outlets around the world.

This was not a case in which Globo has elevated a story to major prominence. This was the opposite: Globo trying to take hold of a story that has exploded through citizen-driven online activism and anger without any need for bolstering from major media outlets.

For once, Brazil’s major media has been a bystander in this story, not its driver. Globo could see that the reaction to Marielle’s killing was growing, getting stronger, moving in directions that make many Brazilian elites extremely uncomfortable. Last night’s “Fantastico” coverage was Globo’s attempt to get this story under control — under its control.

There were parts of “Fantastico’s” reporting that were genuinely informative and journalistically excellent — particularly Sonia Bridi’s detailed, evidence-based exposition of how this horrific crime was carried out with such chilling professionalism and competence, convincingly showing that whoever engineered the murders knew exactly how police would investigate and exactly how to prevent detection.

That terrorizing fact is an important piece of the puzzle when understanding who ordered Marielle to be killed; whoever killed the activist who devoted herself to denouncing police abuses is intimately familiar with how the police function.

Other parts were genuinely moving and beautifully presented, particularly the interviews with Marielle’s devastated widow Mônica, and, separately, with Marielle’s 19-year-old daughter, her parents, and her sister. The prominent inclusion of Anderson’s life and death, and the delicately handled and wrenching interview with his grieving widow, was commendable given the temptation to forget about the death of Marielle’s driver.

The show also did justice to how remarkable and inspiring was the trajectory of Marielle’s life: from poverty, deprivation, and single motherhood at 19 as a black woman in a favela to a master’s degree in sociology, human rights activism, and political empowerment through massive voter support in her 2016 election to the City Council.

This was not an insignificant media moment in Brazil. A black, leftist lesbian from the sprawling Maré favela, and from the socialist PSOL party, was honored and glorified on one of Globo’s most important media platforms, while millions of ordinary Brazilians around the country, far away from Rio and São Paulo, watched. They prominently featured, rather than hid, Marielle’s wife.

The perspectives of prominent leftist politicians and activists were respectfully included. And they condemned and vilified the right-wing politicians and judges who have used the internet to spread disgusting lies about Marielle designed to malign her with toxic stereotypes of black women from favelas (she was pregnant at 16, married to a notorious drug dealer, supported in her election by a drug gang: all demonstrable lies). All of that is worth celebrating.

BUT MARIELLE WAS, first and foremost, a political person: a radical in the best and most noble sense of that word. It’s her radicalism that made her such an inspiration to so many ordinary and voiceless citizens, and a threat to so many powerful and corrupt factions. Her political activism, her political beliefs, were Marielle’s core, a major part of her identity, the centerpiece of what made her a figure of such singular force and power.

The crime that ended her life was also purely political. There is no way to meaningfully understand Marielle’s life and assassination without a candid, clear, and honest discussion of her politics. What makes her story such big news is her politics, which in turn produced the political motives that caused powerful people to want her dead.

These are the most difficult, most complicated, and most important subjects to cover when reporting on Marielle’s life and death: her relentless and brave activism against the most lawless police battalions, her opposition to military intervention, and, most threateningly of all, her growing power as a black, gay woman from the favela seeking not to join Brazil’s power structure, but to subvert it.

It’s not a coincidence that the last event she attended, the one where she was followed and then killed upon leaving, was titled, “Young Black Women Changing Power Structures.”

And it was these subjects that “Fantastico” avoided almost entirely — except when they brazenly manipulated them for its own purposes. The only segment purporting to describe Marielle’s politics was an extremely banal, condescending discussion of the definition of “human rights,” which “Fantastico” basically reduced to an anodyne, uncontroversial declaration that all humans are born free and should be treated equally: propositions that virtually every Brazilian politician from right to left would happily endorse. They drained Marielle’s politics of its vibrancy, radicalism, and force, and converted it into a simplistic comic book of empty clichés that nobody would find objectionable.

Extinguishing Marielle’s real political sensibilities were necessary to achieve Globo’s real objectives here. The emotions from Marielle’s brutal assassination are overwhelming and powerful. The question is, to what ends will those emotions be directed? What outcomes will they foster? What views and movements will they strengthen?

Ultimately, what “Fantastico” was really up to here became extremely clear by the end of its coverage. They took the still-expanding power of Marielle’s story and tried to reduce its power — limit it — to a simple, apolitical human interest story, something that made you cry and feel sad and empathetic and maybe angry, but not in any way that would make you embrace Marielle’s causes or crusades for justice or devote yourself to the political agenda she symbolized.

Globo and its comrades in elite culture see a serious danger in the aftermath of Marielle’s killing, for good reason. They see that it is awakening — emboldening — traditionally powerless people to the cruelties of extreme societal inequality and the intolerable racist criminality of its police forces.

It is galvanizing favela residents to organize and mobilize. It is pointing an accusatory finger not at drug traffickers and ordinary criminals — the favored Globo narrative — but at the very forces used by the country’s elite to impose its will and secure its privileges: its military, its police, and its traditionally white, male, rich political system.

It was those factions and those policies which Marielle had devoted her life to fighting — not just in defense of the pleasing, unchallenging, clichéd notions of “human rights” that “Fantastico” centered. Those who feel threatened by Marielle’s activism and political principles see that her death is strengthening those things — and desperately want to re-direct these powerful emotions away from what she believed and inspired, toward something less disruptive, less threatening to status quo power.

That’s why “Fantastico” went heavy on the powerful human emotions of this story — the grieving, weeping relatives, the killing of a hardworking father who supported his baby by working as a driver, the anger we all feel when human life is violently extinguished, the mournful music that made us feel tearful — and ignored the scarier political aspects of Marielle’s life.

Globo knows it can’t stop or limit the powerful emotions, so it wants to render them apolitical and thus, harmless. It wants all of this sadness and indignation to fall into a black hole of political irrelevance, like one of the TV network’s emotion-heavy soap operas, in which Marielle’s killing has no meaning beyond just making people angrier still about the violence plaguing Brazil.

But far worse than the suppression of Marielle’s political beliefs was “Fantastico’s” one attempt to politicize her death — by trying to exploit Marielle to reinforce support for a policy that Marielle despised: Michel Temer’s recent military “intervention” in Rio de Janeiro, the first time since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1985 that the military is occupying a major city.

After 45 minutes of building emotional sadness and anger over Marielle’s death, “Fantastico” tried to channel that into manipulating, exploiting, and subverting Marielle’s political causes. Immediately following the segments about Marielle, “Fantastico” devoted one segment to the horrific killing of a child last week in a Rio slum, the Complexo do Alemão, and then immediately went live to one of its reporters in Brasília, describing how Temer was meeting that very moment with ministers to consider more funding for the military invention.

And it was at that moment “Fantastico’s” odious, menacing agenda became crystal clear. It wasn’t just to stomp out the possibility that Marielle’s killing would galvanize support for her life’s political project. It was far worse: to try to ensure that Marielle’s death could be exploited to strengthen everything she fought to subvert. The message from “Fantastico” was as obvious as it was odious: Now that we just spent all this time making you so sad and angry about Marielle’s brutal assassination, you must see why Temer’s military intervention is so justified.

PSOL officials and other left-wing activists instantly recognized the ugly agenda at play and denounced it on social media by pointing out that Marielle vehemently opposed military occupation as a gross waste of resources that would solve nothing and make everything worse, while directly threatening democracy.

PERHAPS THE REASON I’m particularly sensitive to this distortion scheme is because I’ve seen exactly this reprehensible media tactic used so effectively in the U.S. During the 1990s, a vicious, ugly debate consumed the U.S. over whether to declare Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday.

And it was easy to understand why this was so controversial. King was a true radical, hated by many. He railed against the evils of capitalism. He urged the most oppressed populations to rise up. He uncompromisingly condemened U.S. imperialism. In a speech given one year before he was killed, devoted to denouncing the U.S. role Vietnam War, he called the U.S. government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” as well as the leading exponent of “the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.”

So, if you’re an American political or economic elite, and know that you can’t erase the memory of someone with such threatening, disruptive views, what do you do? You erase all the views that you find threatening when allowing him to be celebrated, and convert what he symbolizes into something simplistic, clichéd, and unthreatening. On King’s holiday, his contempt for capitalism and denunciations of U.S. imperialism are rarely mentioned. Few Americans know about them now. He is instead just spoken of as a symbol of elementary, vague conceptions of racial equality that few people outside of malicious fringes openly reject: He has been reduced to his lowest common denominator and the genuinely disruptive parts of his worldview and activism have been deliberately erased from his history.

And just as “Fantastico” tried last night to exploit Marielle’s memory into support for a policy she had spent the last month of her life opposing — military intervention in Rio — the U.S. government now exploits the pleasant memory of MLK into support for militarism and imperialism, something he hated with all of his being. The U.S. military actually uses King’s name and image in its propaganda, as if the mere fact that its killing force is now racially integrated would make King proud and supportive of U.S. violence and its various killing machines:

This is what many in Brazilian media and political elites are now trying to do with Marielle. They know she will not be forgotten, and that the anger and disgust at her brutal assassination is not going away. So the project is now underway to drain her of her radicalism and disruptive energy and instead, convert her into a generic and pleasant symbol, so that they can exploit her for their own ends, including to generate support for status quo-perpetuating policies that she loathed.

Last night’s “Fantastico” episode was the first step in that project. It’s the responsibility of those who believe in Marielle’s vision and activism — not just in Brazil, but around the world — not to allow this gross revisionism and exploitation to succeed.

Disclosure: Glenn Greenwald’s husband, David Miranda, served alongside Marielle in the Rio de Janeiro City Council, in the same party, and she was a personal friend of both.