VIF News Digest: International Developments (US, EU, Russia and Africa), 3 - 18 November 2019
The United States
Morgan Stanley sees U.S. underperforming in 2020 across markets: Bloomberg, 18 November 2019

Morgan Stanley predicted that American equities and corporate bonds will underperform peers next year, while the dollar weakens as growth outside the U.S. picks up. Challenges for the U.S. next year range from the risk that of peaked corporate earnings, high relative valuations on shares, and a ‘unique’ political risk in the run-up to the presidential elections. Thus “Stretched U.S. asset valuations will likely decline as U.S. growth slows, further weighing on the dollar as net portfolio inflows fall,” Morgan Stanley currency strategists led by Hans Redeker wrote. Click here to read..

Obama warns 2020 candidates about getting out of step with voters: Be 'rooted in reality': CNN, 16 November 2019

Former President Barack Obama used an appearance at a high-dollar donor confabulations on Friday to urge the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls to "pay some attention to where voters actually are", warning them about going so far on certain policies that they become out of step with voters.

Obama said that some Democrats were listening too closely to liberal Twitter and progressive activists, specifically singling out issues like health care and immigration, and in what amounted to a stern warning to the 2020 field, bluntly said that voters were "less revolutionary than ... interested in improvement", and warned about turning off certain segments of the electorate by not being "rooted in reality."

"My one cautionary note is I think it is very important for all the candidates who are running at every level to pay some attention to where voters actually are," Obama said, specifically saying he doesn't think candidates should be "diluted into thinking that the resistance to certain approaches to things is simply because voters haven't heard a bold enough proposal." Click here to read..

U.S., South Korea postpone joint military exercise, criticized by North Korea: CNBC News, 17 November 2019

The United States and South Korea on Sunday said they were postponing a joint military air exercise that North Korea has criticized as provocative. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and his South Korean counterpart made the announcement in Bangkok, where they were attending an Asia defense ministers’ conference. Esper told reporters he did not consider the postponement a concession to North Korea. “We have made this decision as an act of goodwill to contribute to an environment conducive to diplomacy and the advancement of peace,” Esper said.

Seoul and Washington had scaled back the exercise recently and changed the name, but North Korea strongly objected, calling it evidence of a lack of interest in improving relations. Click here to read..

Powell: U.S. debt is 'on unsustainable path', crimping ability to respond to recession: USA Today, 15 November 2019

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned lawmakers on Wednesday that the ballooning federal debt could hamper Congress’ ability to support the economy in a downturn, urging them to put the budget “on a sustainable path.” Powell suggested such fiscal aid could be vital after the Federal has cut its benchmark interest rate three times this year, leaving the central bank less room to lower rates further in case of a recession.

“The federal budget is on an unsustainable path, with high and rising debt,” Powell told the Joint Economic Committee, “Over time, this outlook could restrain fiscal policymakers’ willingness or ability to support economic activity during a downturn.” Powell also reiterated that the Federal was likely done with cutting rates unless the economy heads south. Click here to read..

Polish workers’ exodus from Britain is helping Germany: Bloomberg, 16 November 2019

More Polish workers returned home than left the country for the first time in nearly a decade, fuelled by Brexit concerns and a booming local job market. A record exodus from the U.K. drove the 85,000-net decline in the number of Polish citizens living abroad last year to 2.46 million, according to the latest data from the Warsaw-based Central Statistics Office. Poland’s unemployment rate is also hovering near the lowest since communist times, helping to boost wages as employers battle for workers.
The number of Poles working in the U.K. fell by 98,000 to 695,000 amid uncertainty about the terms that European Union (EU) nationals will be allowed to stay in the country following Brexit, as well as reports of anti-immigrant behavior, including incidents targeting Poles. The decline meant that the U.K. trailed Germany’s 706,000 Polish workers - the first time the country’s hasn’t topped the list since 2006. Poles are starting to return home as years of nearly 5 percent economic growth has left domestic businesses running out of workers.

That’s a reversal from when Poland joined the European Union in 2004, opening a rush of emigration on the lure of abundant jobs and higher wages in Western Europe. Click here to read..

General Elections 2019: Labour pledges free broadband for all: BBC, 15 November 2019

Labour has promised to give every home and business in the U.K. free full-fibre broadband by 2030, if it wins the general election. The party would nationalise part of British Telecommunications (BT) to deliver the policy and introduce a tax on tech giants to help pay for it. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC that the "visionary £20 bn plan would ensure that broadband reaches the whole of the country". But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was "a crackpot scheme".

Broadband packages in the UK cost households an average of around £30 a month, according to comparison site Cable, which people would no longer have to pay under Labour's scheme. According to a report from regulator Ofcom earlier this year, only 7 percent of the U.K. has access to full-fibre broadband. Julian David, chief executive of TechUK, which represents many U.K. technology firms, said, "These proposals would be a disaster for the telecoms sector and the customers that it serves. Click here to read..

Paris 'under control' after violence on ‘yellow vest’ anniversary: The Local, 16 November 2019

Paris police chief Didier Lallement has described the situation in Paris as 'perfectly under control' after earlier violent scenes in which a small group of black-clad protesters ran amok in the Place d'Italie. In spite of his confidence, however, there were still sporadic outbreaks of trouble as the evening went on, including a group of masked black-clad men who invaded the Chatalet les Halles shopping centre and let off some kind of small explosives.

Two big marches were planned in Paris - and hundreds more actions around France - to mark one year since the start of the 'yellow vest' protesters. Click here to read..

German parliament approves climate protection plan: DW, 15 November 2019

German lawmakers have voted to enshrine climate protection in law. The new legislation will target sectors like energy, transport and housing. It aims to cut Germany's greenhouse gas emissions to 55 percent of the 1990 levels by 2030. Parts of the so-called "climate packet" still need approval. "Every minister who doesn't stick to the goals will have to explain themselves to this chamber," said the Social Democratic Party (SPD) lawmaker Matthias Miersch in the parliament. The law will set goals in each government department to reduce CO2 emissions.

Incentives will also be introduced for businesses and agencies who operate in an environmentally friendly way. Click here to read..

Accused U.S. spy Whelan tracked since first Russia visit, built contacts using autographed book of disgraced KGB officer: Russia Today, 17 November 2019

Paul Whelan, a former US marine, currently waiting for trial in Russia on espionage charges, became a person of interest for Russian counter- intelligence as early as his first visit in 2007, the daily Kommersant claims. The 49-year-old corporate security director, who was arrested in Russia last December, is far from being the innocent victim of entrapment that his defense team says he is, the newspaper reported, citing anonymous sources. In fact, Whelan was considered suspicious by the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s intelligence agency, more than a decade ago.

Once on Russian soil, the man, who was serving in the US Marine Corps at the time, sought contacts with active and former employees of FSB, the report said. One of his contacts was even given a book by Oleg Kalugin, a disgraced former KGB general, who now lives in exile in the United States. The autobiography was signed by the author. Click here to read..

Russia continues ‘de-dollarisation’ as Brussels considers creating Pan-E.U. Payment System: Sputnik News, 17 News 2019

Last month, Russia reportedly lost $7.7 billion in foreign exchange reserves after it decided to replace the American currency with euros, yuan and gold. Russia is continuing its policy of abandoning the dollar and transferring its assets into other currencies. In particular, the Russian Central Bank clinched currency swap agreements with Iran, China and Turkey, which also have tense relations with the United States.

At the moment, Russia is continuing to move away from the dollar, transferring its assets intro such currencies as the euro and the yuan. In a separate development, the central banks of Poland, China and Russia moved to diversify their reserves at the expense of the dollar, buying 374 tonnes of gold in the first half of this year, which is the largest-ever acquisition by public institutions in the first 6 months of a calendar year, The Financial Times quoted the World Gold Council as saying in August. Click here to read..

One giant leap for robot-kind? Russian humanoid robots slated for spacewalks and moon missions: Russia Today, 12 November 2019

The Russian robot that travelled to the International Space Station (ISS) could soon be upgraded to carry out spacewalks and even participate in missions to the moon. The Skybot F-850, also known as FEDOR (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research), was used back in August when he came on board the Soyuz MS-14 carrying supplies to the ISS.

According to Yevgeny Dudorov, executive director of Androidnaya Tekhnika, the company which developed the robot, Fedor has bigger things ahead of him. The executive said that a robot similar to Fedor will be used to conduct maintenance on ISS’ hull, adding that the human-like machine could even be fitted with wheels to traverse the moon. Click here to read..

WMD-free Middle East agreement to be achievement of major significance – diplomat: TASS, 18 November 2019

An agreement on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) will be an achievement of major significance, if reached at an upcoming United Nations conference, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the Vienna-based international organizations Mikhail Ulyanov said in an interview with the Kommersant daily. "The establishment of such a zone will be a serious contribution to the efforts towards enhancing the non-proliferation regime, which is in Russia’s national interests. If the process gets off the ground and gains positive dynamics, and if it is crowned by a practical result (a draft agreement ready for signing) it will be an achievement of major significance," he said.

Speaking about the importance of the United Nations Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, due on November 18-22 in Russia, Ulyanov stressed that Russia along with the United States and the United Kingdom "bear special responsibility because back in 1995 we undertook to promote the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East." Click here to read..

Rwanda official on trial in Belgium over 1994 genocide: AFP, 4 November 2019

A former senior Rwandan official went on trial in Belgium on Monday accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide in his country. Friends and relatives of the alleged victims of 71-year-old Fabien Neretse were present as he arrived at the Brussels court, leaning on a crutch.

For the first time in a Belgian case, Neretse is explicitly charged with ‘genocide’ over 13 alleged murders between April and July 1994. He was arrested in France in 2011, but was not in detention, and presented himself at court. He denies all charges. Click here to read..

Zimbabwe minister charged with corruption costing $3.7 million: Reuters, 4 November 2019

The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) on Monday detained and charged a cabinet minister and long-time ally of President Emmerson Mnangagwa for abuse of office alleged to have cost the government $3.7 million, the second high-profile graft case this year.

Joram Gumbo, a minister in the presidency, was arrested on suspicion of directing a government-owned airline formed in 2017 to use a property owned by his relative as its headquarters, according to a charge sheet seen by Reuters. Click here to read..

UN calls for action as Somalia floods affect 200,0000 children: Al Jazeera, 6 November 2019

At least 200,000 children are among more than half a million people affected by flooding in Somalia, the United Nations children agency said, calling for decisive action to help those at risk of malnutrition and disease outbreak.
In a statement on Tuesday, UNICEF said thousands of families are living in makeshift camps or in the open and are in dire need of clean water, sanitation, safe shelter, health and food supplies. Click here to read..

Burkina Faso: Gunmen kill 37 in ambush on mining firm convoy: BBC, 7 November 2019

Five buses carrying staff of Canadian firm Semafo were ambushed on Wednesday about 40km (24 miles) from the eastern town of Boungou, reports say. A military escort vehicle was reportedly struck by an explosive device before gunmen opened fire.
It is said to be the third deadliest attack on Semafo staff in 15 months. Burkina Faso has been wracked by an Islamist insurgency that has killed hundreds of people in recent years. Click here to read..

In Kimberley, the world's diamond capital, illicit mining fight flounders: Reuters, 11 November 2019

The first South African project to bring illegal miners into the formal fold has been plagued by violence in diamond capital Kimberley, dealing a major blow to national efforts to stem a booming illicit trade.

The project was launched 18 months ago in Kimberley, the site of a 19th-century diamond rush that lured fortune-seekers from the world over. Mine owners granted more than 800 unlicensed, or informal, small-scale miners the right to legally mine around 1,500 acres of diamond-rich waste fields. Click here to read..

Germany's €1B push into Africa: Devex, 13 November 2019

Five years ago, Europe’s “migration crisis” vaulted German policy toward Africa to the top of Chancellor Angela Merkel's development agenda. While her coalition government agreed Germany needed a development policy that would help stem the flow of people from African countries to Europe, her cabinet struggled to agree on what that policy might look like.

This year, as the government began rolling out programs under its €1 billion ($1.1 billion) Development Investment Fund for Africa, Germany's development strategy for the continent is finally coming into focus — and it looks a lot like private sector growth. Most of the fund is dedicated to easing the entrance of German businesses into African markets or helping African businesses grow. Click here to read..

UN chief welcomes decision to delay formation of South Sudan unity government: UN News, 12 November 2019

President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar were expected to form a unified transitional Government by 12 November, in line with a September 2018 peace deal aimed at ending six years of conflict. Following a meeting last week in Uganda, held under the auspices of regional body Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the leaders and stakeholders agreed to extend the pre-transitional period by 100 days to allow critical tasks to be completed.

“The Secretary-General urges the parties to use this extension to make further progress on critical benchmarks, including security arrangements and the number and boundaries of states, to allow for the formation of an inclusive transitional government of national unity,” his deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said in a statement issued on Monday. Click here to read..

Ebola vaccine approved as second jab trialed: BBC News, 13 November 2019

A second Ebola vaccine is to be offered to around 50,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as part of a major clinical trial. The Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine will be used alongside a vaccine made by Merck, which has already been given to around 250,000 people.
Merck's jab has now been approved by the World Health Organization. More than 2,100 people have died in DR Congo, in the second largest Ebola outbreak on record. The WHO's approval of Merck's one-dose vaccine is based on it being satisfied of its safety and efficacy. The European Commission has also approved the vaccine. J&J's vaccine, which requires two doses given 56 days apart, will be available to adults and children over one, living in two areas of the DR Congo city of Goma, where there is no active transmission of the deadly disease. Click here to read..

Nigeria to form border force with neighbors Benin and Niger to fight smuggling: Reuters, 14 November 2019

Nigeria and neighboring countries Benin and Niger have agreed to set up a joint border patrol force to tackle smuggling between the West African countries, they said in a communique on Thursday.

Foreign ministers from the three countries met to discuss smuggling following a decision by regional giant Nigeria, which has Africa’s largest economy and biggest population, to close its land borders to trade until at least Jan. 31, 2020. Click here to read..

Attack on Fulani village kills 20 in central Mali: Reuters, 15 November 2019

At least 20 people were found dead after an attack on a Fulani village in central Mali, where communal violence has surged in recent months, the government said on Friday.

The attack on Wednesday follows a string of deadly clashes between herders and ethnic Dogon farmers who have long fought over land and resources. But the Fulani have increasingly become targets because of their perceived association with armed Islamist groups in the Sahel. Click here to read..

Kagame Receives Credentials From 12 New Envoys: allAfrica, 16 November 2019

Twelve new envoys presented their credentials to President Kagame, marking the beginning of their diplomatic engagement with Rwanda. The countries with envoys with residence in Rwanda include Germany, the Kingdom of Netherlands, Qatar and Zimbabwe. Additional countries presenting their credentials yesterday were Ireland, Hungary, Malaysia, Philippines, South Sudan, Spain, Botswana and Serbia with residence in the East African region.

Speaking to media after handing in their credentials, the envoys committed to work to improve the relations between the countries they represent and Rwanda, with specific emphasis on boosting trade and investment. Click here to read..

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