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Unique regional status to South Africa’s rooibos tea can turn fortunes for crop
13 August 2021, 8:24 AM

Come December, when farmers near Cape Town harvest rooibos leaves, they will become the first generation to grow and sell a tea with a unique regional status, a designation awarded to other such products as French champagne or Irish whiskey.

The rooibos tea, whose name means “red bush” in Afrikaans – the language of South Africa’s earliest European settlers – was the first African product to get such a status in the European Union in June.

Farmers and agriculture experts now hope the EU’s treatment of rooibos could help boost demand and improve the crop’s profitability.

These rosemary-type shrubs are indigenous to a small area of the drought-prone Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces.

“We expect there to be a considerably bigger market so definitely we will expand now that there is more stability and economic viability,” said 61-year old Deon Zandberg, a manager at Vanrhynsdorp farm.

Rooibos – commonly drunk as a tea, infused in drinks and used in beauty products – dates back hundreds of years to South Africa’s Cederburg region where it grows naturally and has become more popular over the years.

Grown over 70 000 hectares of land, the industry produces around 15 000 tonnes of rooibos annually, with half of that exported to countries like Japan, Germany and the Netherlands.

The sector is made up of around 350 commercial and 100 emerging farmers, who have battled dry conditions for successive years that have dented yields and drove prices higher.

Industry officials were now working on getting similar protected designations of origin for rooibos from the World Trade Organisation.

“With more value it means farmers can invest more in sustainable farming,” said South African Rooibos Council director Dawie de Villiers.

He hoped the EU nod would mean rooibos could be sold at a premium much like champagne when compared with other sparkling wines.

 

China’s President Xi leads in the construction of a ‘Great Wall of Immunisation’
13 August 2021, 6:14 AM

The 5th of August 2021 will go down in history as a momentous day in the development of global human solidarity. The day marked the inaugural meeting of the International Forum on Covid-19 Vaccine Cooperation. It took place amid the backdrop of rising concern over what some has come to refer to as “vaccine nationalism”, or vaccine apartheid. Apart from the annihilation of millions of people around the world that the advent of Covid-19 has brought with it since 2019, the pandemic also exposed the often hidden yet glaring socio-economic universal inequities.

As the scramble for the manufacturing of vaccines intensified, it all became an exclusive game for the rich countries to play whilst the poorer nations watched helplessly.

There has been too much Geopolitics clouding what is essentially a health issue – Covid-19. As things stand, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is on track galvanising international cooperation in an effort to undertake studies to get to the bottom of the origin-tracing of Coronavirus.

The global human solidarity shone through during the recent meeting – a first of its kind –attended virtually by several heads of state and senior government ministers who gathered to map outlasting ways of cooperating against the scourge of the pandemic.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the meeting that China will strive to provide two billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to the rest of the world, effective immediately, especially where the need is dire such as in the developing nations. Beijing, President Xi said, plan to ensure that within the remaining few months of this year millions of doses would have reached the relevant targets wherever they may be in the world.

In addition, China has offered a whopping one hundred US dollars ($100 million) “to the Covid-19 vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX)”. This is a facility that the African Union (AU) in particular hopes to utilise in order to gain improved access to the Covid-19 vaccines and distribute to the more than 50 of its member-states in Africa. China’s President Xi told the inaugural gathering that this was his country’s way of “fulfilling its commitment to making vaccines a global public good”.

This is indeed encouraging development for the poorer nations of the lopsided world order. It is reassuring to know that the wealthy states, or some of them, are not inward-looking and are evidently concerned about the health challenges of the less fortunate states.

South Africa’s Minister for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Dr Naledi Pandor, at the same meeting, led a chorus of appreciation for China’s remarkable role in supporting “The Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator as well as the COVAX”. She appealed to all countries to work together with China in pursuit of the global public good objectives.

When Covid-19 first broke out, too much time was wasted on playing politics rather than being preoccupied with finding health solutions to what is clearly a health matter. How sad. Sad because global leaders are signatories to a series of Rome Statutes that binds them to international cooperation.

Multilateral forums such as the UN and its many other arms, coupled with organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Commonwealth of Nations, continental and regional bodies, etc, are morally duty-bound to pursue the ethos of global public good in the interest of a very complex human race. As we speak, there are way too many countries that are yet to vaccinate their populations. Not because the failure is their choice, but simply because they lack the means to fulfil the public good in their countries. They lack the financial muscle to purchase the vaccines from mainly the so-called First World countries that are leading in the race for vaccine manufacturing.

Where poorer nations are able to cobble together the exorbitant funding to purchase vaccines from their wealthy counterparts, too often they are ordered to wait their turn right at the back of the queue. It is in this light that Beijing’s hand of humanity deserves praise. Covid-19 is not about politics and should not be. It is a matter of life and death for the rich as well as the poor alike.

The difference, of course, is that medical technologists, scientists and various medical scholars concur over the empirical evidence that vaccination does form a wall of protection against the pandemic. In fact, this is why I find conspiracy theorists that refuse to be vaccinated to be really a vexatious issue. But that’s a debate for another day. Yes, because vaccines are a weapon to defeat the pandemic, not a tool for scoring brownie points.

Councillor Du Ping, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in SA, said in a statement this week: “As the largest developing country and a responsible member of the international community, China has always been committed to promoting a global community of health for all. Despite the enormous pressure of its own vaccination and prevention against imported cases, China has been making every effort to increase production capacity, taking the lead in developing vaccines as a global public good, and helping the world build ‘a Great Wall of Immunization’ as soon as possible,” she said.

She revealed that China has already donated vaccines to more than 100 countries and currently export vaccines to more than 60 countries worldwide, “with a total amount exceeding 770 million doses, ranking first in the world”, Councillor Du added.

As the world wrestles with the indiscriminate pandemic that respects no borders, the international community ought to follow China’s example of practising true multilateralism and seeking solidarity with other countries, irrespective of the inherent Geopolitics.

Many Western nations have themselves developed vaccines and also selling them to the needy client-states. This is where the WTO need to intervene and put their foot down by waiving Patents in an effort to accelerate global access to the vaccines by all nations, developed and developing alike.

A generous universal vaccine contribution to COVAX would also go a long way if coupled with an effective public relations campaign aimed at encouraging every Covid-19 vaccine-manufacturing country to contribute towards what Beijing correctly regard as “a global public good”. In that way, human solidarity will triumph over sectarian Geopolitics that blatantly inhibits collective human progress.

 

Sudan nearing decision about handing Bashir to ICC, prosecutor says
12 August 2021, 9:51 PM

Sudan will not decide before next week at the earliest whether to hand over former President Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face charges of atrocities in the Darfur conflict, the ICC chief prosecutor said on Thursday.

The Sovereign Council, a joint military and civilian body overseeing Sudan’s transition towards democracy, must approve measures on joining the court and handing over suspects before Bashir can be turned over.

“I was informed that a meeting … is scheduled for next week and we’ll see what that brings,” ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan said in a news conference at the end of his first visit to Khartoum.

“Ultimately the decision to cooperate and how to cooperate, is one to be decided by Sudan, not by me,” he said. Khan said he had not discussed with Sudanese officials a potential date for Bashir to be turned over.

ICC arrest warrants for Bashir, who ruled the country for 30 years until he was ousted in 2019, accuse him of atrocities in crushing a revolt in western Darfur in the early 2000s. Bashir has denied the charges.

Bashir is imprisoned in Sudan as he stands trial on domestic charges arising from the 1989 military coup that brought him to power and repression of protests against his rule.

The ICC and Sudan’s justice ministry on Thursday signed a memorandum of cooperation, Khan said.

Conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003 after mostly non-Arab rebels rose up against Khartoum. Some 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes. Government forces and mainly Arab militias were accused of atrocities, charges that authorities at the time denied.

Khan plans to visit Darfur in November and submit a report on progress to the UN Security Council.

Zambians vote in tight presidential election, internet restricted
12 August 2021, 9:39 PM

Zambians kept voting at jammed polling stations after polls closed on Thursday, pointing to a high turnout in a showdown between President Edgar Lungu and main opposition rival Hakainde Hichilema that looks too tight to call.

Polls officially closed at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) but voters were still casting ballots at many stations visited by Reuters in Lusaka as darkness fell. The law allows those in the queue to vote after the official close of polls.

But as millions cast their ballots, social media platforms were restricted in the country, internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said.

“Real-time network data confirm that social media and messaging platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Messenger are now restricted in #Zambia on election day in addition to the earlier WhatsApp restriction,” NetBlocks said in a tweet.

Zambia Information and Communication Technology acting director-general Mulenga Chisanga did not answer calls for comment.

The restriction of internet access could fuel tension and suspicion about the outcome of the vote.

Lungu said in a statement late Thursday he had directed the army to send reinforcements to three provinces where violence had broken out and a provincial chairman of his ruling party had been killed.

He blamed the violence on the opposition and said that it had meant the vote in those provinces was not free or fair.

An Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) spokeswoman said on state radio appropriate action would be taken against those involved in the killing.

Lungu and Hichilema voted at different stations earlier and were both confident of winning the vote. The close contest, however, raised the possibility of a run-off.

ECZ says it expects to declare a winner within 72 hours after polls close.

First time voter Elijah Musona waited six hours to vote.

“I hope that whoever wins will promote peace, promote unity and whoever loses can clearly accept defeat,” Musona, an 18-year-old school leaver said after voting in the affluent suburb of Kabulonga in Lusaka.

The winner of the election faces the task of steering Zambia‘s flagging economy, which became the continent’s first country during the coronavirus pandemic to default on its sovereign debt in November.

J.P. Morgan said in a note that the election process could drag on for weeks, potentially stalling much-needed economic reform execution and negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Some 54% of registered voters are 34 or younger, statistics from the electoral agency show.

Political analysts said this could help Hichilema, who is facing Lungu for the third time and has placed the economy front and centre of his campaign.

Zambia’s economy will be among the continent’s slowest growing this year, the IMF estimates.

Zambia, Africa’s second-largest copper producer, owes in excess of $12 billion to external creditors and spends 30%-40% of its revenues on interest payments on its debt, credit rating firm S&P Global estimates.

In office since 2015, 64-year-old Lungu narrowly defeated Hichilema, the CEO of an accountancy firm before entering politics, in a disputed election the following year.

The President has touted the new road, airport and energy projects he has overseen as laying the groundwork for economic development and growth.

But so far his debt-financed infrastructure splurge has failed to pay economic dividends, and unemployment remains high.

US to reduce Kabul embassy to core staff amid Taliban gains
12 August 2021, 8:56 PM

The United States will reduce staff at the embassy in Kabul to a “core diplomatic presence” and send troops to the airport to assist as the Taliban made rapid gains in Afghanistan, officials said on Thursday.

The news, first reported by Reuters, is one of the most significant signs of concern in President Joe Biden’s administration about the security situation and the failure of the Afghan government to protect key cities.

“We’ve been evaluating the security situation every day to determine how best to keep those serving at the embassy safe,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“Accordingly we are further reducing our civilian footprints in Kabul in light of the evolving security situation,” Price said.

We expect to draw down to a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks,” he said, adding that the embassy was not closed.

Price said additional US troops would be sent to the airport in Kabul to help with the movement of embassy staff.

There are thought to be about 1 400 staff remaining at the US Embassy in Kabul. Officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the reduction in staff was “significant.”

The military mission in Afghanistan is set to end on Aug. 31, and roughly 650 troops remain in the country to protect the airport and embassy.

The White House notified some members of Congress about its plans ahead of any announcement, two congressional aides said.

A source familiar with the situation said that the United Kingdom was expected to make a similar announcement about relocating staff.

Afghanistan’s third-largest city, Herat, was on the verge of falling to the Taliban on Thursday amid heavy fighting, as the militant group also established a bridgehead within 150 km (95 miles) of Kabul.

The spiraling violence and the militants’ swift advances prompted the United States and Germany to urge their citizens to leave the country immediately.

A US intelligence assessment this week said the Taliban could isolate Kabul within 30 days and take it over in 90.

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