Russian tech giant dashes hopes for smartphone

personality, Tech, World Bank

Yandex instead announced a new smart speaker that uses the voice of "Alisa"—a virtual assistant similar to Amazon's Al
Yandex instead announced a new smart speaker that uses the voice of “Alisa”—a virtual assistant similar to Amazon’s Alexa

Russian internet giant Yandex disappointed tech enthusiasts on Monday by failing to unveil what many hoped would be a highly anticipated Russian-made smartphone.

Speculation has been mounting for years that Yandex—which dominates internet services in Russia—will put forward its own mobile device to rival giants like Apple, Samsung and Huawei.

Excitement reached fever pitch when Yandex announced it would be holding a presentation at its glossy Moscow headquarters, with Russian media reports anticipating a smartphone launch that would be a major step for the company.

But Yandex instead announced a new smart speaker that uses the voice of “Alisa”—a virtual assistant similar to Amazon’s Alexa—that will cost around 40 euros.

Asked by disappointed journalists about the potential smartphone, Yandex representatives said only: “We are not commenting on this question.”

Yandex started in the 1990s as a search engine similar to Google but has since expanded into every corner of the Russian internet, developing maps, taxi and food order apps that Russians use every day.

A Russian-designed smartphone—the YotaPhone—was launched in 2013 but has failed to catch on and tech observers have been waiting anxiously for Yandex to jump into the field.

Tom Morrod, research director at IHS Markit, said that once Yandex does enter the market it will likely be with a mid-range option aimed at supporting its services.

“Non-hardware companies are often happy to take a mid-market position, without hoping to make money. Yandex’s smartphone would likely run on Android but they would put their own environment on it, with all their apps that you probably will not be able to delete,” he said.

“It’s about getting people locked into their ecosystem, collect data and advertise,” he added.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-11-russian-tech-giant-dashes-smartphone.html#jCp

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Beginner’s Guide to Edge: Blockchain Wallet & Security Platform

International Finance, World Bank

Edge began as a bitcoin wallet and a business directory known as AirBitz. Edge now plans to expand into the world of security, offering the Edge Security platform to ease concerns about large-scale data breaches. Edge started as AirBitz in winter of 2014 with the business directory and wallet that the brand is currently known […]

https://wp.me/p94Zms-1ZR

EIB and African Development Bank to support private sector investment in Nigeria with Development Bank of Nigeria backing

Africa, International Finance, international News, News, World Bank

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EIB and African Development Bank to support private sector investment in Nigeria with Development Bank of Nigeria backing

The European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank have agreed to support the creation of the new Development Bank of Nigeria to strengthen lending for business and agriculture investment in the country. The European Investment Bank has finalized a US $20-million equity stake in the new financing institution, alongside US $50-million equity participation from the African Development Bank.

The Development Bank of Nigeria has been created by the Federal Government of Nigeria to address financing challenges hindering private sector investment in the country. The Bank is called to play an important and catalytic role in providing funding and risk sharing facilities to micro, small and medium enterprises as well as small corporates.

“The Development Bank of Nigeria will overcome the funding gap in the micro-, small- and medium-scale enterprises space and help businesses unlock opportunities across Nigeria. DBN’s ambition is strengthened by the financial and technical support of international partners, including the European Investment Bank and African Development Bank. The new institution builds on international experience and uses a business model that has demonstrated proven success to enhance private-sector investment across Africa and around the world where other financing options are inadequate or absent,” said Tony Okpanachi, Managing Director of the Development Bank of Nigeria.

“Private sector businesses are critical to the development of the Nigerian economy as they possess huge potential for employment generation and output diversification. Nevertheless, there has been under-performance of these businesses and this has undermined their contribution to economic growth. Among the issues affecting their performance, the shortage of finance, particularly investment finance, occupies a very central position. The Development Bank of Nigeria is expected to contribute to mobilizing significant long-term financing to an important yet underserved sector with high development potential,” said Stefan Nalletamby, Director of the Financial Sector Development Department at the African Development Bank.

“New private sector investment is crucial to create jobs and enable businesses to expand and limited access to long-term financing holds back economic growth. The European Investment Bank is pleased to support the new Development Bank of Nigeria to strengthen private-sector investment in Africa’s largest economy. We look forward to continued close cooperation with Nigerian and international partners to ensure that once fully operational the new Development Bank of Nigeria can help harness the country’s economic potential,” said Ambroise Fayolle, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank (EIB).

Addressing the investment gap holding back private-sector investment

At present, new investment essential for companies to expand and create jobs is hindered by limited access to commercial banks. It is estimated by the Development Bank of Nigeria that only 5% of the 37 million entrepreneurs and small businesses in Nigeria that contribute to 50% of GDP can access credit in the financial system.

Building on broad international support

Other international financial institutions including the World Bank, Germany’s KfW and the French Agence française de développement (AFD) will also support the new bank alongside backing from the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Original source: AfDB
Published on 19 April 2018

Nigeria’s oil production Dips again; Lowest Production recorded in six months

2019 Elections, Africa, economy, Oil, Petroleum Products, PMB, War, World Bank

Nigeria’s oil production dropped by more than 82,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 2.022 million b/d in March 2018 — compared to the output in the preceding month, according to estimates released by the ministry of petroleum resources.

The ministry figures showed that oil production, including condensates, averaged 2,022,716 bpd in March, down from a high of 2,105,656 bpd in February. It was the lowest oil production by the country in the last six months.

The ministry provided no reason for the decline.

Sabotage attacks on oil production and exports facilities had seen Nigeria not able to produce up to its maximum capacity of around 3.2 million bpd. In 2016, oil production dropped significantly to 1.4 million bpd, and the Nigerian economy slipped into recession.

On Monday, Shell said operations at Forcados terminal, one of Nigeria’s main oil export routes, were ramping up after a momentary shutdown at the Trans Forcados Pipeline (TFP).

Forcados terminal exports an average of 262,000 bpd, according to loading schedule.

The terminal experienced low injection of crude around March 27, following a shutdown of the TFP, a Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) spokesman told TheCable Petrobarometer.

According to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), about 300,000 bpd of oil were shut in at Forcados terminal alone in 2016, following the declaration of the force majeure that year.

South Africa and Nigeria are crucial for continental initiatives

Africa, Facts, International Finance, international News, Politics, World Bank
South Africa and Nigeria are crucial for continental initiatives
Africa will benefit from both countries backing free trade, and from cooperation between the continent’s two giants.

The impressive turnout at the African Union’s Extraordinary Summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on 21 March showed the continent’s united fervour to boost its economic opportunities. Delegations from 50 countries, including 27 heads of state, attended the summit in Kigali.

NasarawaThe fact that there were almost as many leaders present as attend the bi-annual AU summits contrasts with the majordivisions within the AU on much-needed reforms of the institution. Countries seem to agree on boosting intra-African trade, but disagree on strengthening the AU itself.

At the January AU summit, 23 countries signed up to the Single African Air Transport Market and 30 have signed the AU’s Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community on Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment.

Even though many hurdles lie ahead in establishing the free trade area and even more in allowing free movement of Africans across the continent, these agreements are important first steps. The AfCFTA initiative in particular has been hailed as a major achievement, paving the way for greater intra-African trade and more economic opportunities for all African states.

However while 44 countries signed the agreement, two of Africa’s biggest economies, South Africa and Nigeria, didn’t. Due to their economic, military and diplomatic strength and their history of driving change in Africa, these two countries are crucial for such initiatives. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa did attend the Kigali summit, and made upbeat statements about the benefits of the AfCFTA.

South Africa did sign the Kigali Declaration – showing its intent to sign the free trade deal in future, pending finalisation of outstanding aspects of the agreement. South Africa in fact proposed the drawing up of such a declaration, says the country’s Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies. Ratification of the AfCFTA would also need the nod from South Africa’s Parliament.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari decided at the last moment not to attend the summit, citing the need for further consultation. According to local reports, concerns were raised by private-sector organisations such as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. This came as a blow to Rwanda, the event’s host, and its President Paul Kagame, current AU chairperson.

Nigeria has a major role to play in Africa’s free trade deal. In fact, Buhari leads a country that has historically been at the forefront of getting the AfCFTA off the ground. The creation of such a free trade area was first mooted in the Lagos Plan of Action that followed a summit in Nigeria’s commercial capital in 1980. The 1991 Abuja Treaty on establishing the African Economic Community was the forerunner of the AfCFTA and trade experts often still refer to the process as the Abuja road map.

Nigeria initially proposed to host the secretariat of the AfCFTA. The country is also the undisputed leader of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – one of Africa’s most pro-active regional economic communities. Within the AU, Buhari has also been appointed the lead head of state on the AU theme for 2018 – winning the fight against corruption: a sustainable path to Africa’s transformation.

So why did Nigeria stay away?

While the only official explanation has so far been that the decision was put on hold ‘for further consultation with local stakeholders’, it is also clear that some Nigerians might not see intra-African trade in the same way as, say, South Africans do. Nigerians have in the past been on the receiving end of South Africa’s strong economic drive on the continent – the cellphone giant MTN being one obvious example.

This was also one of the reasons given for strong opposition in Nigeria to Morocco’s application to join ECOWAS at the end of 2017. Morocco is one of the biggest investors on the continent, especially in West Africa – and there have been fears that greater access via ECOWAS agreements on free movement of people and goods could threaten local businesses in Nigeria.

However Nigeria is also a major exporter and investor on the continent in financial services, manufactured goods, agricultural products and the like. Trade experts concur that in the long run, the AfCFTA can be a win-win for all, especially the bigger economies. Former United Nations Economic Commission for Africa head Carlos Lopes commented during the summit that Nigeria would come around on the trade agreement – although he later tweeted that it had missed a symbol of historic significance by not signing.

Clearly the two giants of sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria and South Africa, both have a lot to gain from greater intra-African trade. In the past, strong cooperation between South Africa and Nigeria has led to major advances, such as the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity into the AU.

In his new book on Nigerian and South African foreign policy, The Eagle and the Springbok, University of Johannesburg Professor Adekeye Adebajo calls South Africa and Nigeria the two ‘Gullivers’ in their respective regions. After a ‘lost decade’ where ‘Africa’s indispensable bilateral relationship’ between South Africa and Nigeria was marked by competition and diplomatic squabbles, there is a need for greater cooperation between these African powers, together with others such as Algeria, Ethiopia or Angola, he says.

‘The combined political clout of these two states represents a potentially formidable force in shaping Africa’s integration and representing the continent’s interests on the world stage,’ he says.

The AfCFTA and other AU initiatives need both South Africa and Nigeria. Ramaphosa has so far indicated that he is committed to regional integration and intra-African trade. Now is a good time to strengthen diplomatic links with Nigeria to keep the Abuja road map on track.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant

Source: ISS

Africa must steer the rules of the international financial sector

Business, International Finance, international News, World Bank
Although tax evasion is illegal and tax avoidance isn’t, both erode sustainable development in Africa.

The release of the Paradise Papers last year and the Panama Papers in 2016 revealed the role tax havens play in facilitating tax avoidance, tax evasion and illicit financial flows. The Panama Papers showed dealings associated with tax evasion and illicit dealings, while the transactions uncovered by the Paradise Papers involved largely tax avoidance.

Both flows negatively affect sustainable development in Africa, but tax evasion tends to generate a bigger response than tax avoidance, and subsequently provokes stronger political will to crack down on tax havens. Understanding the differences between tax evasion and avoidance, their influence in Africa and whether they qualify as illicit financial flows is essential when developing effective responses. Both are attempts by an individual or corporation to pay fewer taxes – but while tax evasion is illegal, tax avoidance isn’t.

In practice, the distinction between the terms is not always clear. The Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development describes tax-avoidance practices as existing in a grey area that exploits differences in legal standards across countries, weak legal systems in some countries and different interpretations and acceptance of norms on international taxation. Whether these practices qualify as illicit financial flows is complicated.

There is general agreement that tax avoidance practices are the financial side of criminal activity and efforts to define them contain common elements, but many definitions still exist. One that has increasingly gained traction is ‘cross-border transactions of money illegally earned, transferred or used’. Of particular relevance to the leaks of the Paradise and Panama Papers is determining whether the flows are illicit, which takes into account both the legality and the legitimacy of the flow.

As tax evasion is illegal while tax avoidance is legal, focusing only on legality could undermine the application and effectiveness of international efforts to combat the problem. Determining what constitutes illicit financial flows also depends on the legislation of a particular state, due to differences in legal frameworks.

So international mechanisms designed to tackle tax-related illicit financial flows can be impaired by differences in national legislation, as well as a lack of capacity or willingness to enforce the laws.

Assessments that judge the legitimacy of a flow take into account factors such as rules, customs and fairness. It is widely considered legitimate for an individual to avoid paying taxes, but illegitimate for an individual to evade paying taxes. This distinction is important for determining whether an action is classified as tax avoidance or evasion. Thus, as illustrated by the World Bank, tax evasion is considered an illicit financial flow while tax avoidance is not.

Illicit financial flows fuel criminal economies, contribute to violence, perpetuate existing inequalities, subvert government institutions and undermine the integrity of legal and financial systems. They have even inhibited achieving some of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals in sub-Saharan Africa. Tax avoidance and evasion reduce the funds available for sustainable development in Africa.

But beyond monetary losses their consequences are even more serious. While both thwart Africa’s development, flows that are classified as tax evasion – and thus illicit financial flows – generate much more swift and tough international responses. Specifically this shapes the perception and treatment of tax havens.

One problem in developing cohesive international frameworks for cracking down on tax havens is contrasting views about the value and threat of tax havens. This includes tensions between stakeholders from developed, northern nations and those from developing southern countries.

Some argue that tax havens might have a positive effect on the global economy, facilitating greater global investment and allowing firms and individuals opportunities for tax avoidance to sidestep poorly designed tax systems. But evidence increasingly shows that these ‘treasure islands’ help facilitate crime and drain Africa’s resources.

The African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting showed that African actors and illicit financial flows figuredprominently in the Panama Papers. This is problematic for Africa, as northern counterparts tend to have a stronger voice and greater leverage in the creation and enforcement of laws and regulations governing the financial sector. No African nations are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and only South Africa belongs to more than one of six influential international financial institutions.

Also, when the OECD and the G20 designed the Common Reporting Standard – a standard for information exchange and the basis for bilateral agreements between states – they did so without meaningful consultation of low-income states.

The result, the Financial Transparency Coalition explains, is ‘a system designed by wealthy nations, with wealthy nations in mind, making many of the prerequisites impossible for countries that don’t have sizable tax administration budgets or advanced technical capacity’. Also, some wealthy countries choose to share information predominantly or exclusively with other wealthy countries.

Various responses are needed to combat tax avoidance, tax evasion and illicit financial flows more broadly – but increasing the contribution of African states in international financial institutions is essential. Africa must have a voice within international financial institutions to ensure that regulations, policies and responses reflect African priorities. This will help ensure that priority is given to the flows that most negatively affect sustainable development.

Without this participation, Africa’s relationship with tax havens will continue to be one of pain and no gain.

Marcena Hunter, Senior Research Analyst, Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime

Is Côte d’Ivoire becoming a wildlife trafficking hotspot?

Corruption, Facts, Politics, World Bank
coteTackling corruption is a priority in stopping the spread of this damaging transnational organised crime.

Since 2016, Côte d’Ivoire has recorded at least five major wildlife-trafficking events involving seizures and arrests. The most recent was in January, when 578kg of ivory and over half a ton of pangolin scales, leopard skins and other items were seized. According to media reports, the pangolin scales were probably poached and harvested in Côte d’Ivoire, while the elephant tusks came from West, East and Central Africa.

These seizures and arrests were the result of multiple investigations aimed at dismantling networks of wildlife traffickers. The investigations are being carried out by Côte d’Ivoire’s Transnational Organised Crime Unit and the Ministry of Environment, Water and Forests with assistance from the Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement (EAGLE Network) – a non-governmental organisation that fights wildlife trafficking.

Based on available information, the problem in Côte d’Ivoire seems smaller in scale than in other countries in the region (such as Nigeria or Guinea) or elsewhere on the continent, such as East and southern Africa. But recent seizures may only represent the tip of the iceberg, and could provide a long-overdue glimpse into both the crime and the networks that run it. Continued investigations will undoubtedly allow a better understanding of the phenomenon.

According to reports, pangolin scales and elephant ivory are the most trafficked wildlife products in the country. These products come from Côte d’Ivoire and other countries in the region, such as Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Liberia, and are believed to be destined for Asian markets. This makes Côte d’Ivoire both a country of origin and of transit. 

Although poaching has long since been recorded in Côte d’Ivoire, the country has only recently been flagged for wildlife trafficking activities. A TRAFFIC report published in December 2017, which presents data on pangolin seizures and trafficking routes between 2010 and 2015, makes little reference to Côte d’Ivoire. The main states that feature in West Africa are Nigeria, Guinea and Liberia. This highlights the need for more information on the scope and scale of wildlife trafficking in Côte d’Ivoire.

The main challenge is preventing the country from becoming a trafficking hub. Several internal factors make the country particularly vulnerable.

For a long time, the government has failed to prioritise conservation and anti-wildlife trafficking measures. The forest police and other bodies tasked with managing, preserving and protecting wildlife lack human, financial and material resources. Those involved in the illegal trade of protected species receive relatively light penalties, limited to a fine of 3 000 to 300 000 CFA francs (between €4.57 and €457), and two to 12 months in jail. There is little indication that authorities are planning a tougher stance which might be a grave oversight, given that wildlife crime is likely to grow.

Corruption generally enables organised crime. The EAGLE Network says some level of corruption among public officials is recorded in 85% of arrests of alleged traffickers. Trafficking in protected species is considered lucrative, and the corruption it breeds undermines the integrity of governance systems, including security and justice, and fuels the business of trafficking.

Wildlife trafficking is also related to other forms of trafficking and transnational organised crime. At the mass seizure in January, some of those arrested were found with evidence that could be linked to human trafficking, illicit arms, drug trafficking and money laundering. Unless action is taken fast against wildlife trafficking, criminal networks will widen their footprint in Côte d’Ivoire, compounding organised crime and corruption in the country and beyond.

To tackle the problem, Côte d’Ivoire’s government must acknowledge that wildlife trafficking is a form of transnational organised crime with potentially dire consequences for the country. A first step should be the toughening of existing legislation. United Nations Resolution 71/326, adopted in September 2017, calls on states to make ‘illicit trafficking in protected species of wild fauna and flora a serious crime’.

To prevent criminal networks from deepening their presence and impact in the country, Ivorian police and justice officials must step up investigations and increase monitoring and surveillance. This requires upskilling and raising the awareness of security forces – including water and forestry agents, police and customs. To dismantle transnational networks, cooperation between the police, intelligence and judicial authorities of affected countries must be strengthened.

Most important of all however in the fight against wildlife trafficking, is tackling corruption in the management and protection of fauna resources.

William Assanvo, ENACT Regional Coordinator West Africa, ISS

This article was first published by the ENACT project.

Picture: © WWF Global Photo Network/Flickr

Ease of Doing Business, 2018

Facts, international News, Politics, World Bank

Ease of Doing Business, 2018

map

1. NZ

2. Singapore

3. Denmark

6. US

7. UK

14. Australia

18. Canada

20. Germany

28. Spain

31. France

34. Japan

35. Russia

46. Italy

60. Turkey

72. Indonesia

78. China

82. S Africa

92. Saudi

100. India

124. Iran

145. Nigeria

188. Venezuela

Source: World Bank