Zambia asks to defer its debt payments
On Tuesday, September 22, Zambia’s government announced that it was running out of cash to service its debt, and asked holders of its three eurobonds, worth a total of $3 billion, to defer interest payments worth almost $120 million until April. The deferment makes Zambia the first African country to default on its debt since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government placed blame for the default on a combination of declining revenues—partially driven by decreases in the price of copper, a natural resource that makes up 70 percent of Zambia’s export earnings—and increasing unbudgeted costs caused by the pandemic. As a result of the default, Fitch Ratings downgraded Zambia’s credit rating to “C” from “CC.”
Zambia is not the only African country to face COVID-induced difficulties with debt. Twenty-nine African countries have already participated in the G-20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative, enacted in April to allow low-income countries to concentrate their resources on fighting the pandemic. For more on this topic, see “The unfinished agenda of financing Africa’s COVID-19 response.”
Parliamentary and trade updates in Kenya
On Monday, September 21, Kenya’s chief justice David Maraga advised President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve the country’s parliament, stating that parliament had failed to meet a constitutional provision that stipulates that one-third of seats be occupied by women. Currently, women hold 22 percent of seats in the Kenya’s lower house of parliament and 31 percent in the upper house. In a letter to Kenyatta, Maraga wrote that parliament had “blatantly failed, refused, and/or neglected” to implement the gender rule. However, on Thursday, High Court judge Weldon Korir granted temporary orders stopping the move to dissolve parliament, stating that it raised “substantial questions of law” and ordering a hearing on the issue.
Meanwhile, the United States has stipulated that Kenya support Israel’s political and commercial interests as a condition for a U.S.-Kenya bilateral trade deal currently under negotiation. U.S. objectives include for Kenya to commit to “discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel” and for the elimination of politically-motivated nontariff barriers on trade from Israel. Lobby groups in Nairobi, Kenya, including the East African Tax and Governance Network and the East African Trade Network, have argued that the inclusion of a third party in the negotiation agenda could make the agreement risky and undercut Kenya’s reputation.
In Kenya news, the country introduced its first licensed investment fund for citizens living overseas. The fund, managed by the African Diaspora Asset Managers investment firm, is expected to provide a safe and regulated means for Kenyans living overseas to invest in development projects across the country. The Kenyan diaspora sent an estimated $3 billion in remittances to Kenya last year, and remittances in the first half of 2020 exceeded those sent in the first half of 2019 despite volatility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Political updates in Somalia and Ethiopia
On Wednesday, September 23, Somalia’s parliament unanimously confirmed Mohamed Hussein Roble as the country’s new prime minister. Earlier this year, the parliament removed now-former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire from the position in a no-confidence vote, citing his inability to prepare for democratic elections and manage the unstable security situation posed by al-Shabaab militants. Roble, who previously worked at the International Labor Organization, was appointed as Somalia announced its plan for the upcoming elections.
Notably, in recent months, Somalia has been in talks to revise its electoral system, with initial moves to reform the system to one-person, one-vote as opposed to its current clan-based voting system. The proposed reforms for universal suffrage will not be enacted, however, as the authorities confirmed that the upcoming legislative election will see electoral delegates vote in the members of parliament, who will then elect the president in early 2021, a format similar to that of elections in recent years. Importantly, the upcoming elections will include double the number of delegates of previous ones. Meanwhile, attacks by al-Shabaab (and responding U.S.-led airstrikes) continue, which experts predict will only increase as the election moves closer as al-Shabaab seeks to exploit the fragility of governance institutions and thwart the election.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia continues to face domestic unrest. Spurred by the death of pop star and activist Hachalu Hundessa of the Oromo ethnic group earlier this summer, internet shutdowns, protests, and reactive violence have continued in recent months, leading to the deaths of hundreds. Already, about 2,000 people have been charged in the related violence, including prominent opposition figure Jawar Mohammed, who was charged with terrorism-related offenses, telecom fraud, and other crimes relating to the violence that erupted in July.
In Ethiopian economic news, in an effort to block illegal trade, illicit financial flows, and cash hoarding, the government announced a new set of bank notes earlier this month. Importantly, Ethiopians must replace their old notes in just three months. According to Quartz Africa, local banks have been calling for such a move in recent years, as over 113 billion Ethiopian birr circulates outside of the formal banking system, which creates liquidity problems for the banks.
Neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden deserve a honeymoon from cynicism – USA TODAY
Presidents over the decades have tried to preach against cynicism in the citizenry, but cynicism is a natural blowback to deceit and corruption.
| Opinion columnist
“The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism,” declared former president Barack Obama two years ago. But as we enter the final days of another demagoguery-drenched presidential campaign, it is time to give cynicism the credit it deserves. In an era of clueless voters, conniving candidates and media bias, cynicism can be one of the most effective checks and balances on political power run amok.
In modern American history, the most audacious liars have been the greatest self-proclaimed enemies of cynicism. “The only deadly sin I know is cynicism,” declared President Lyndon Johnson in a 1967 press conference on how the Vietnam War was going great. In a 1973 nationally-televised speech, President Richard Nixon declared, “I reject the cynical view that politics is inevitably, or even usually, a dirty business” prior to deluging viewers with false claims on the burgeoning Watergate scandal.
In 1994, President Clinton derided citizens who “indulge themselves in the luxury of cynicism” for betraying the American soldiers who died on D-Day in 1944. In 1997, Clinton declared that people can make America “better if we will suspend our cynicism.” This is the Peter Pan theory of public service: if only people believed government has magical powers, politicians could achieve miracles. After his impeachment, Clinton castigated “fashionable cynicism” as “self-indulgent arrogance that has no place in America.” But it wasn’t cynics’ fault that Clinton helped make presidential candor an endangered species.
Cynicism is a natural blowback to deceit
George W. Bush exploited the revulsion against Clinton, promising America “a fresh start after a season of cynicism” when he launched his presidential campaign in 1999. In his first inaugural address, President Bush touted positive thinking about politicians as civic duty, lecturing Americans of their “calling” to make a “determined choice of trust over cynicism.” In the same 2002 State of the Union where he uncorked “the Axis of Evil” to pave the way to war with Iraq, Bush declared, “Deep in the American character, there is honor, and it is stronger than cynicism.” Bush repeatedly rebuked the cynicism of anyone who refused to cheer his invasion of Iraq.
Barack Obama exploited the revulsion against Bush, proclaiming in 2007 that “my rival in this [presidential] race is not other candidates. It’s cynicism.” Six years later, President Obama exhorted college graduates to beware of the “creeping cynicism” and people who “warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner.” He did not seize that opportunity to how he acquired the prerogative to order drone killings of American citizens on his own decree.
Politicians denouncing cynicism are akin to used car salesmen telling customers to ignore the clunking sound from the engine during a test drive. Cynicism is blowback from decades of deceit. Most of the major political power grabs in modern history have been propelled by official falsehoods, as have all the major wars since 1950. Perpetual bipartisan chicanery explains why only 20% of Americans trust the federal government nowadays.
Cynicism often arises because politicians judge themselves by their rhetoric while citizens judge them by their (mis)deeds. The alternative to cynicism is pretending that politicians are more honest than they sound. Are politicians, like underage delinquents, entitled to have all their prior offenses expunged?
Cynicism is necessary because the political playing field is often tilted in favor of servility. Politicians are almost never held personally responsible for their falsehoods, follies and fiascos. Thanks to pervasive federal secrecy and surveillance, rulers hold far more cards than citizens. People have been schooled and hectored to submit, to believe and to reflexively defer to officialdom. Scores of millions of people will unquestioningly obey no matter what Washington commands.
Cynicism is a form of political damage control. An ounce of cynicism can save a pound of repenting. Cynicism functions as a brake on political steamrollers. Timely doubts loudly expressed can stop presidents from driving a nation over a cliff or into a foreign quagmire.
Don’t intellectually disarm yourself for political aggressors
Politicians seek to banish cynicism without repenting their rascally ways. Why should citizens intellectually disarm themselves in the face of political aggressors? Why should they accept the passive obedience that was preached for centuries to the politically downtrodden? Are citizens obliged to continually cast their common sense and memories overboard as if they were seeking to placate an angry pagan god?
The derision of cynicism goes to heart of citizens’ role in a democracy. If citizens have a duty to believe, then politicians are entitled to deceive. If citizens are obliged to trust, they become sacrificial offerings for the next political con job. A cynic is often merely someone who trusts politicians as little as politicians trust each other.
Cynicism is simply a discount rate for political honesty. Even cynics should not presume that all politicians are perfidious all the time. There are decent folks in every profession. Instead, citizens should judge politicians like federal judges treat accused criminals — 97% of whom are convicted.
Cynicism can be pro-freedom, spurring resistance rather than resignation. Stalwart citizens should be cynical when politicians concoct new pretexts to subvert freedom of speech and press, cynical when politicians conspire to violate the Constitution, cynical when politicians seek to drag America into new foreign conflicts, and cynical when politicians propose sweeping new federal programs to replace disgraced boondoggles. Most importantly, citizens should be cynical when politicians absolve themselves for all the damage they have inflicted on this nation.
Winning politicians often enjoy a honeymoon after Election Day, but neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden deserve any honeymoon from cynicism. “Think well of your masters” will be the death of democracy. The more cynical Americans become, the less power politicians can seize.
Politics Podcast: There Just Isn’t Good Evidence That ‘Shy’ Trump Voters Exist – FiveThirtyEight
This is the final(!) preelection installment of Model Talk on the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast. Galen Druke talks to editor-in-chief Nate Silver about the latest polling shifts in key battleground states and whether there is any reason to believe that “shy Trump voters” will deliver an upset win for the president on Election Day. (The evidence suggests there isn’t.)
You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.
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