Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nigerian Oil Production Falls As Militant Attacks Take Toll

VOA, MAY 31, 2016

LAGOS—Nigeria is Africa's oil king no more.

Months of militant attacks on pipelines and oil infrastructure in the southern Niger Delta region have crippled production in Africa's largest producer of crude.

The militant group behind the attacks, the Niger Delta Avengers, vowed in an early communiqué to reduce Nigeria's economy to "zero." They appear to be getting their wish.

Exports have fallen from about 2.2 million barrels per day to as low as 990,000 barrels per day, analysts say, making Angola Africa's largest producer of oil, at least for now.

The drop in production and the low price of oil globally are major reasons why Nigeria is expected to enter a recession in coming months.

Gail Anderson, research director at energy research and consultancy group Wood Mackenzie, says the militants have been careful in their sabotage.

"The attacks themselves have been well-targeted and they've been designed to cause maximum damage, and I think they've been quite successful in that respect," Anderson said.

Attacks hit hard

The NDA emerged earlier this year with a blog that took credit for a number of attacks on pipelines in the delta. It also listed demands, including apologies from politicians, the release of an imprisoned separatist leader and a redistribution of ownership of oil blocks.

After months of sabotage, Anderson estimates production has fallen by about 560,000 barrels per day.

Dolapo Oni, head of energy research at Ecobank, gave a more drastic estimate. Between pipeline repairs and militant attacks, Nigeria is probably producing no more than 990,000 barrels of oil every day, he said.

Crude has long been Nigeria's top export. Though President Muhammadu Buhari wants to wean the country off its dependence on oil, it remains the major source of revenue for the country's recently enacted $30.4 billion budget.

"We're not producing up to the level we need to produce, the government won't generate the amount of revenue it needs to generate from oil," Oni said.

Low oil prices and shortages of fuel and foreign exchange led Nigeria's economy to contract last quarter. It's expected to do the same this quarter, putting the country into a recession.

Repairs on the attacked pipelines will likely take weeks, Oni said, and that might not deter the militants. The militants blew up one pipeline in Bayelsa State twice, and warned its owners against repairing it, he said.

Past problems

Militancy in the Niger Delta is nothing new. The delta was the site of a years-long insurgency that only ended in 2009 when the government started paying off militants and offering them job training as part of an amnesty program.

That effort was criticized for not addressing the underlying issues fueling the militancy, namely the joblessness, poverty and pollution in many communities where people live next to oil production sites.

The government is winding down the amnesty program, but the NDA says it wants the program to continue. Oni said its unknown if any participants in the program are part of the new group, but the sophistication of their attacks suggests a high level of familiarity with oil infrastructure.

"They carry out attacks at specific times of the day, when they know they're able to strike without specific reprisal from the enemy," Oni said.

Buhari is headed to the delta this week to kick off the cleanup of Ogoniland, a region of Rivers State that has been extensively polluted by oil spills over the years.

Rehabilitating Ogoniland is one of the NDA's demands.

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Senate candidate. A Murder Plot. An Undercover Cop. A Giant Fiasco.


Ruth Ann Aron Green, a former U.S. Senate candidate who was once sentenced to prison for allegedly hiring a hitman to kill her husband, attempts to sell a memoir she has written about the experience at the…Image: Matt Roth/Washington Post

Feeling exiled and frustrated in her Florida condominium, Ruthann Aron decided she needed a makeover. Not of the cosmetic variety but of the cosmic — a public image redo, which would not be particularly easy nearly 20 years after the trial that put her in a Maryland prison for hiring a hit man to murder her rich urologist husband.

One step involved returning to Montgomery County, where all her troubles began and where she served on the county planning board and ran for the U.S. Senate. Another step involved hiring Victor.

Victor Wainstein, 41, is Ruthann’s attorney. She hired him because, in addition to the usual qualities that one looks for — intelligence, creativity — he agreed to temporarily set aside other clients and work for her, arriving every morning at her rented townhouse and working on nothing but the rebranding of Ruthann, recasting her role in one of the most infamous cases in Montgomery County history.

First, there is the court petition, a long-shot attempt to have her case reexamined.

“I can’t talk to you about that,” says Ruth Ann, 73. (That is how she spells her name now: Ruth Ann Aron Green, the Green being a shortening of her maiden name.) “Well, I can talk to you about the one,” she continues. “I, or Victor, can talk about the one we filed. But anything else we are thinking about filing, I can’t help at all.”

“Maybe I can help a little,” says Victor, a large man with earnest features. “If you Google her name now, all you find is a lot of artless stories that tell the story of 1997 in the way it was told.”

The news stories imply that Ruth Ann pleaded guilty, when in fact she did not plead guilty. She pleaded no contest, which is different from guilty, even if it was her voice on those tapes spelling out her husband’s name to a supposed hit man — “B like boy, A-R-R-Y” — and instructing him to look for a taupe Acura. (Her husband survived, by the way; the assassin was actually an undercover policeman.)

Now Ruth Ann has asked Victor to file a motion asking a Montgomery County court to overturn her plea, saying that she was bullied into making it and should receive another trial.

A hearing is scheduled for August.

Second, there is the book.

“It’s really four books for the price of one,” Ruth Ann likes to say, because the book, a self-published paperback memoir of her trial and life, is 764 pages and weighs 3.2 pounds on a bathroom scale. “The cover artist wanted to do this naked woman,” she sighs one day.

“Lady Justice,” Victor supplies patiently.

“Nude,” says Ruth Ann, who is small and slight and stylishly dressed. “I was knocked off my chair, it was like she was posing for Playboy. Finally, on the third draft, I said, ‘Listen, I don’t want a naked lady.’ ”

The new cover of “Corrupted Justice” has a bloody gavel on the front. For a time it also had a complete chapter missing that the publisher had accidentally omitted; Ruth Ann thinks that has been fixed.

She hopes to sell the book at festivals and bookstores.

Third, there is the general business of redefining what it means to be Ruth Ann these days, which sometimes spirals back to what it meant to be Ruth Ann 20 years ago, before all of this happened.

“You look at the popularity of someone like Donald Trump,” Victor offers, explaining Ruth Ann’s life. “What do people supposedly like about him? He’s an outsider. He’s not taking lobbyist money. I look at Ruth, and I say, ‘Guess what? In 1994 she ran for U.S. Senate as an outsider, a businesswoman, raised many of the same issues . . . she was the Trump of 1994, minus the bravado and the language and all of that.’ ”

In the coming weeks, Ruth Ann would like to get back to this version of Ruth Ann. The businesswoman. The politician. The fighter, but also the victim.

“Everyone else’s lives have moved on,” says Ruth Ann. “Mine is still stuck in 1997.” Since then, she says, she has been very misunderstood.

A well-known woman

Ruth Ann and Victor, in the townhouse, on the subject of Ruth Ann’s 1997 treatment in the media: “There were so many gender issues,” Victor says. “It was somehow viewed as if she was an aggressive . . . ”

“B***h,” Ruth Ann supplies.

Ruth Ann and Victor, in the townhouse, on the subject of her first attorney, whom she says forced her into the plea: “He presented, in the words of the ‘Godfather,’ a deal she couldn't refuse,” Victor says.

“No, he threatened me,” Ruth Ann says. (The attorney in question, Barry Helfand, says the accusation is false and “shocking”).

Ruth Ann and Victor, in the townhouse, on the subject of the townhouse:

“How did this house happen?” Ruth Ann throws up her arms and looks around at the dingy gray carpet and poorly insulated walls. “I’m going to throw a rock at Victor while I tell you how this house happened.”

The house happened, she explains, because although her comeback involved returning to Maryland, at the time she was still in Florida. A real estate agent identified a few houses; Victor, who lives in Montgomery County, looked at them, and she relied on his opinion.

“I have no comment,” Victor says. “I’m not going to speak against my client’s interest. That’s all I’ll say.”

“What, are you kidding around or are you serious?” Ruth Ann asks. “Are you saying it’s myfault that you rented me this house?”

“What I’m saying is that I was tasked one day to look at two townhouses. There was one that was not good. And there was this one. Between the two of them, I said this one was better than the other one,” he says.

“I think this house is a dump,” Ruth Ann says.

Dump is a relative term. The house is, however, a dump compared with the custom, two-acre Potomac home she lived in the last time she was in Montgomery County.

Before 1997, which is the way that she refers to everything that happened — “1997” or “the events of 1997” or “the troubled waters of 1997” — Ruth Ann Aron was a well-known name in the Washington area. A Cornell-educated New Yorker, she came to Maryland in the 1970s with her doctor husband and two young children, acquired a law degree at Catholic University and became a real estate developer. She completed several big deals.

In 1994, after winning a seat on the county planning board, she decided to run for Senate. Her campaign manager said she had been drafted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee: A self-made female millionaire was exactly the type of person that appealed to them. She was petite, with queenly features and impeccable style; a spitfire who attended target practice with the Montgomery County park police.

But the primaries got ugly. She was defeated by a fellow Republican, then sued him for what she said had been defamatory campaign ads. She lost, but her appeal dragged on for more than a year. It was June of 1997 before word came down that Ruth Ann could have a new trial on the defamation case because of a judicial error. By then, acquaintances speculated that she was planning a political comeback; police said she was planning something else as well.

On June 9, Ruth Ann walked into the lobby of a local Marriott hotel carrying a manila envelope containing $500. She handed it to an attendant, the attendant later recalled, and the next day the headlines read, “Former Senate candidate arrested in murder for hire plot.”

‘Like a kaleidoscope’

When Ruth Ann’s solicitation-for-murder trial came around, the emerging details only made the story stranger: Before the defamation case could go back to trial, Ruth Ann met with an acquaintance who owned a local landfill. She implied, he later said in court, that she wanted a certain witness from the case eliminated. The landfill owner went tolaw enforcement. Investigators outfitted him with a wire for his next meeting with Ruth Ann and gave him the phone number of an undercover detective who would pretend to be a hit man.

By the time Ruth Ann spoke with the supposed hit man, she had an addendum to her original wish. “There are two jobs,” she was recorded saying. The first job was the defamation witness. The second job was Barry Aron, her husband of 32 years.

“You want a car accident?” the detective asked in one conversation.

“Yeah,” she said.

“What about a suicide?”

“If it would pass muster,” she agreed.

The case walked the line between absurd and tragic. In the Marriott, Ruth Ann — a woman accustomed to dressing properly for many occasions — wore a trench coat, a floppy hat and glasses, as if she had purchased a criminal-mastermind costume from a Halloween shop.

When arrested, she told a police officer “maybe I just lost it,” the officer said. On a jail intake form she indicated that she had been a victim of domestic abuse, although this largely wasn’t made a part of her defense. At her trial, Barry Aron testified that he had recently asked for a divorce, and he later told reporters that the couple had slept in separate bedrooms for years. (Barry Aron, through an attorney, declined to comment for this story).

Ruth Ann didn’t take the stand on her own behalf. She says that she was overmedicated, on a cocktail of prescription drugs that had been given to her by her husband, and which caused her tohave a psychotic break. She was barely aware of what she was doing when she made those calls, she says. Her attorneys ended up using an insanity defense, introducing psychiatrists as expert witnesses and arguing that Ruth Ann had been entrapped, encouraged to go further than she otherwise would have with the hit-man plot.

“You ever look through a kaleidoscope?” she now says. “That was my mind. My mind looked exactly like a kaleidoscope.”

The judge declared a mistrial after a lone juror could not be persuaded that Ruth Ann was in her right mind and legally responsible for her actions. During her second trial, Ruth Ann pleaded no contest. In a no-contest plea, the defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges they will be sentenced for a crime. That plea, which she now says she did not fully understand, put her in prison for three years.

At the Montgomery County Detention Center and a pre-release facility where she served her time, staff members submitted updates on her progress. There seemed to be a chasm between how Ruth Ann understood her situation and how others did: “Ms. Aron struggled with adhering to the program’s rules and generally manipulated the staff for personal gain,” one staffer wrote. “She often portrayed herself as a victim . . . and attempted to use past history and mental illness as excuses for her criminal behavior.”

As her release date approached, Ruth Ann petitioned to get out early to attend her son’s wedding in New York. “I have been a model inmate,” she wrote. “Toiling long hours in the jail library helping others with their legal research needs.”

After her release in2000, she moved to New York and later to Florida, where she learned that serving her time and being embraced back into society were separate tasks.

“I always tried to live my life being very good to the people around me, and when I needed that very same quality it was nowhere in sight,” Ruth Ann says.

She tried to join the Florida Citizen Police Academy in Palm Beach but was informed she could not. Her insurance carrier dropped her because, she was told in a letter, “solicitation of murder is demonstrative of behavior and judgment characteristics that present an increased and unacceptable risk of loss insured under our policies.”

Twenty years of these frustrations led her to move back to Montgomery County last year, to this crummy townhouse, with piles of legal papers and boxes and boxes of the self-published books.

“This kitchen is a testament to my resiliency,” she tells Victor, dragging a stepladder over to a cupboard to search for a cooking spice. “A testament to my willingness, even at this point in my life, to stand on ladders . . . In no other kitchen would I have to go through this.”

A difficult life

On a Friday evening, Ruth Ann and Victor leave the townhouse. They go to Victor’s house to celebrate Passover. Ruth Ann brings the chicken soup.

“The secret is that it needs a little bit of seltzer,” she had confided while making the soup the afternoon before. “It makes the matzoh buoyant.”

In any event, life goes on.

One potential outcome of her attorney’s motion is that her case would go to trial again. And if it went to trial, Ruth Ann, a woman who had been free for more than a decade, who has the financial resources to live independently in Florida, to rent an additional townhouse in Maryland, to hire an attorney to fight her case, and hire a publicist to promote the book whose publishing she funded — one possibility is that Ruth Ann could be found guilty and go to prison again.

Why gamble?

“It’s a question that only a person who has gone through what she has gone through can answer,” Victor says one afternoon by telephone. “It’s easy to say, ‘Why don’t you just move on, why don’t you put this past you?’ Maybe that’s what another person feels like he would do. It speaks to how seriously and passionately she feels about what’s happened to her.”

There is no doubt that Ruth Ann is a complicated person, Victor says, or that she has lived a complicated life.

He acknowledges her past.

Ruth Ann’s father was brutally murdered in a 1994 robbery gone awry while Ruth Ann was fighting for the Senate seat. They were not close. He had called her “cruel” and written her out of his will; in her trial, Ruth Ann’s attorney claimed that her father had molested her.

Victor acknowledges her only son.

Her son, Joshua, was killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in his office on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center. She never got his body back, and her townhouse is filled with image after image of the handsome young man.

She is estranged from her daughter, Dana. In her memoir, in some of the sections that blame others for bad relationships, Ruth Ann is the one who inadvertently comes across as difficult. She doesn’t have many friends.

But all of this, all of her, has become a footnote in a life that has been reduced to one day in June of 1997. The events of 1997 have uncomplicated her life. They have made her life simple, because they have made her guilty, and her guilt overshadows everything else good and bad about eight decades of existence.

“There were all of these parts of her. She was a lawyer, a mother, a wife, a community activist,” Victor says. “And then in 1997, those parts of her died.”

There are so many other things in her life that cannot be undone, but — even if only by a legal, technical standard — maybe 1997 can.

The real story

“Is the table in here?” Ruth Ann asks Victor a few days later, on an early Sunday morning outside of the townhouse. They are going to an outdoor book festival in Kensington, Md.

“The table is where it was,” he says, nodding toward a card table waiting to be loaded into his SUV.

“Can you get it?” she asks. “Where is my pocketbook?” She disappears into the house and returns a few minutes later — not with her pocketbook, but with a crate containing a jar of candy that she hopes will draw people to her table at the book festival, and two red, white and blue pinwheels.

“Here are two pinwheels,’ she says. “I thought they would blow if we had a breeze, and if not, we could just blow on them.”

They get in the car and drive toward Kensington.

They hope this event goes better than the one the day beforein Annapolis. The audience consisted of one former business acquaintance and one reporter from a local newspaper who had been sent to cover the reading but did not seem to know exactly who Ruth Ann was. Eventually Ruth Ann stood up in the middle of the room and started reading the first chapter as a coffee grinder whirred in the background and a clerk wove past her, reshelving books. She did not introduce herself as a person who went to jail for hiring a hit man. She did not explain that she was infamous.

When asked by the reporter for more detail about her past, she said: “I’d rather not get into the whole story, but basically my mind imploded and my husband ended up putting me in jail. I never meant anything, I never pled anything, but I went to jail.”

At the Kensington festival, she unloads the table and the pinwheels and the books, which a few days earlier her publisher confirmed now contained the missing chapters. Other authors have tents and tablecloths and big, polished displays.

“Would you like some candy?” she asks a passing child, gesturing to the plastic candy bin. To her mother, she asked, “Can she have some candy?”

The little girl chooses a mini Butterfinger but does not say thank you. “You’re welcome,” Ruth Ann says.

A couple of hours pass. No books have been sold. Ruth Ann sends Victor off in search of a coconut ice.

Eventually a woman walks by the table. She stops. She looks. She takes a few steps backward and then comes over.

“Well, what do you know?” the woman says. “You’re Ruthann Aron.”

“Yes,” Ruth Ann says.

“Weren’t you accused of killing your husband or something?“

“No,” Ruth Ann says. “No, he’s very much alive.”

The woman shakes her head. “I can’t even remember the whole story. But I would have thought I’d hear something about you getting out of jail.”

“That’s because you don’t know the whole story. The real story,” Ruth Ann says.

She picks up a copy of the book and offers it to the woman, who doesn’t take it and moves on to the next table. Ruth Ann holds the book for a few more minutes before putting it down again.

Life Sentence On Habre, A landmark In The Global Fight Against Impunity, Says U.S

The United States on Monday welcomed the Extraordinary African Chambers’ (CAE) sentencing of former Chadian President, Hissene Habre to life in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that Habre was also convicted of charges of murder, torture, rape, and sexual slavery and sentenced to life in prison.

U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry in a statement by State Department in New York, said the ruling was a landmark in the global fight against impunity for atrocities.

The statement said Habre’s crimes were numerous, calculated, and grave.

According to the statement, beginning in 1982, Habre’s eight-year term as the president of Chad is marked by large-scale systematic violations.

It said Habre committed murder of an estimated 40,000 people, widespread sexual violence, mass imprisonment, enforced disappearance, and torture.

It added that without the persistence of his accusers and their demand for justice, Habre might never have faced a court of law.

“I especially commend the courage of the nearly 100 victims who testified.

“I hope the truths uncovered through a fair and impartial trial will bring some measure of peace to his thousands of victims and their families.

“As a country committed to the respect for human rights and the pursuit of justice, this is also an opportunity for the U.S. to reflect on, and learn from, our own connection with past events in Chad.

“I strongly commend the Senegalese Government, the Chadian Government and the African Union for creating the CAE that allowed for a fair and balanced trial.

“Let this be a message to other perpetrators of mass atrocities, even those at the highest levels.

“And including former heads of state, that such actions will not be tolerated and they will be brought to justice”, it said.

NAN recalls that a special court in Senegal sentenced Habre to life in prison after convicting him of crimes against humanity, torture and sexual slavery.

The verdict on Monday brings to an end a 16-year battle by victims and rights campaigners to bring the former leader to justice in Senegal.

He fled after being toppled in a 1990 coup in the central African nation.

In a judgment, Gberdao Kam, President of CAE court, said: “Hissene Habre, this court finds you guilty of crimes against humanity, rape, forced slavery, and kidnapping, as well as war crimes.

“The court condemns you to life in prison.”

He gave Habre 15 days to appeal against the sentence.

NAN reports that human rights groups accused the 72-year old of being responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people during his rule from 1982 to 1990.

Habre’s case was heard by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, a special criminal court set up by the African Union within the West African nation’s court system.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Two-Hour Test Kit Hailed As Boon To HIV Care In Africa

Cambridge scientist Helen Lee’s simple, mobile device will speed up detection and treatment rates

A revolutionary device developed by a team of Cambridge scientists is transforming the diagnosis of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. The machine – known as Samba (simple amplification-based assay) – can tell whether a person is infected with the virus within two hours of them giving a tiny blood sample. Virus carriers can then be offered immediate treatment and advice.

More than 20 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are thought to be carrying HIV, the virus that causes Aids. The chaotic conditions in some parts of this region – with transport, health services and electricity supply often poor or nonexistent – have made it extraordinarily difficult for doctors to keep track of infected individuals.

But the new analyser, the size of a small coffee machine, which was developed by a team led by Cambridge blood scientist Professor Helen Lee, needs no laboratory or trained staff. It can be carried on a motorcycle – often the only method of transport in remote regions – and its reagents can withstand high temperatures and humidity. “Basically, they will still work even if the heat goes above 50C,” said Lee.

In recognition of her team’s achievement in developing Samba, Lee has been named a finalist in the 2016 European inventor awards. Winners will be announced in Lisbon next week.

“The crucial point about our device is that it provides you with a simple signal,” Lee told the Observer. “If two lights are produced, that shows a person has been infected with HIV. If only one light shines, they are not infected. We can show it to a patient and explain to them exactly what the lights mean and what is going on. That is a very powerful way to convince someone of their condition.”

Working in close collaboration with charity Médecins Sans Frontières, Lee and her colleagues have tested Samba on 40,000 men and women in Malawi and Uganda since the first prototype was developed in 2011 and found it works extremely efficiently. Each test costs around £12 to administer.

“Now we are going to expand testing for HIV to pregnant women, mothers and newborn children, starting in Kenya,” Lee said.

The ability to make quick diagnoses is considered to be of crucial importance in controlling Africa’s HIV epidemic. Until now, people have had to travel to health centres to provide a blood sample and then return weeks later for the results of their test. Up to 70% of patients will fail to return and are designated “lost to follow-up”. Lee’s tests should help to cut that number dramatically. “We are taking the test to the people rather than the other way around,” she said.

This point was backed by Benoît Battistelli, president of the European Patent Office, which is running next week’s inventor awards. “The test brings reliable diagnostics of HIV infection to areas where they are needed most and will also allow monitoring of the efficiency of medical treatments without laboratory infrastructure,” he said.

Apart from giving reliable diagnoses of HIV infection, Lee’s device can tell doctors the viral load – the amount of live virus material – that is flowing through a patient’s bloodstream. This a critical parameter for gauging drug dosages, and was previously available only in advanced laboratory settings.

Samba works by drawing a blood sample from a patient and then feeding it into a disposable cartridge that contains chemicals including a particular genetic sequence found only in HIV. These chemicals do not require refrigeration and amplify the viral DNA to generate a colour change that appears on the cartridge. Two red lines on the side mean that person is positive for HIV. One line means they are uninfected. No line means that the test has not worked and needs to be retaken.

“So many devices for dealing with conditions like HIV are created in the developed world,” said Lee. “Then scientists try to adapt them to suit the developing world. That always causes problems. So we have designed our system to suit developing countries from the start.

Lee has set up a new company, Diagnostics for the Real World, backed by the US National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust, to raise money for manufacturing the device. There are also plans to use the system to test for other infectious diseases, including influenza and gonorrhoea.

Michelin-Star Taste For Volcanic Pepper Boosts Cameroon


Image: Spice Ace

The volcanic soil of the Penja valley in the West African nation of Cameroon produces the world's most coveted white pepper, prized by Michelin-starred chefs and sold by specialty online shops including Edelices Gourmet Food in the United Kingdom.
With a delicate musky flavor, Penja pepper fetches as much as 31.25 euros ($35.65) per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) at Edelices, compared with the equivalent of 2.80 euros for the ordinary white variety at Tesco supermarkets. It's one of three African foods to obtain the protected geographical indications label under a system that the European Union wants recognized worldwide.
"It's got herbaceous, grassy notes, with a great flavor, and it doesn't burn," said chef Lior Lev Sercarz, who buys about 150 kilograms (331 pounds) a year for his luxury spice shop La Boîte in New York's Hell's Kitchen district. "Most white peppers are mediocre because they aren't dried properly and a bit fermented and bitter. But I've never had a bad Penja pepper."
Originally from India, the peppercorn is a rarity in Africa. While Madagascar produces small quantities, Cameroon is the only country on the continent where it's grown on a large-enough scale to be reflected in export statistics.
Local lore has it that pepper was first brought to Cameroon by a French colonial officer, who planted the vine on his banana plantation in the 1930s. What's certain is that Penja pepper owes its rise to prominence to French entrepreneur Erwann de Kerros, who came across a farm while traveling in Cameroon in 1992, stayed for four years, and began cold-calling chefs and culinary journalists on his return to tell them about his discovery.
"I began sending samples around, from Paris to Barcelona to Madrid, and when they complained they couldn't grind it, I sent them pepper mills with Penja," De Kerros from the central French town of Notre-Dame-d'Oé. "I'm selling 400 spices now, but I still love Penja. It's the soul of my company. And it's been a very positive story for the producers, they are very well organized now."
Today, De Kerros, 45, runs Terre Exotique, a well-known spice company with almost $10 million in revenue. Among De Kerros' customers are Lior Lev Sercarz and the luxury department store Harrods in London.
Production has surged to 300 metric tons a year, from barely 18 tons five years ago, as prices paid locally have shot up more than fivefold, persuading hundreds of people to take up pepper farming.
"I have three children at the University of Yaounde and they're not complaining," Rosalie Mbantchoui, a farmer, said in between chanting religious songs with a half dozen women as they sat at the Penja market sorting peppercorns by size.
Before Penja pepper was awarded the label in 2013, farmers got about 2,500 CFA francs ($4.30) per kilogram, up from a paltry 600 francs in the 1990s, when it was barely known. Today, they receive at least 14,000 CFA francs ($24) a kilo.
The GI label protects qualities unique to the region where they are produced, such as Italy's Parma ham and France's Roquefort cheese. White honey from a Cameroonian forest and coffee beans from Guinea's Mount Ziama region also got the distinction in 2013.
"The GI label restricts the use of a product's name -- it means that no one else can use it," said Didier Chabrol, a social scientist at the French research institute Cirad who helped the farmers in Penja obtain the certification. "It boosts the reputation of a product and it really helps the producers, even the smallest ones."
The geographical indications system is a key stumbling block in trade talks between the United States and the EU, which are trying to sign the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership before the end of the year. While the U.S., which uses trademarks, opposes the global spread of the group's system, the EU has been rallying supporters.
So it's no coincidence that the African Intellectual Property Organization, a union of 17 mainly French-speaking countries, has been championing the label in Africa with French financial support and technical expertise. The organization is based in Cameroon, a former French colony.
"There are huge economic benefits," said Michael Blakeney, a law professor at the University of Western Australia who has advised nations from Asia to Africa on intellectual-property rights. "You can charge between 8 and 10 percent more for a product that's sold under the geographical indications label. Another benefit is that it protects rural economies: farmers remain where they are if their product is profitable."
That's all helped cement the pepper's reputation and convinced some Cameroonians to abandon traditional crops such as coffee and cocoa, said Rene Claude Metomo, 57, who owns the largest pepper plantation and heads the local farmers' cooperative.
"In just three years since 2013, we have welcomed some 200 new farmers," Metomo said in an interview at his spacious white-painted villa, with four cars including a Mercedes Benz 500 in the driveway, that overlooks the valley. "That's a strong message regarding the potential we have in Penja pepper cultivation."
Six more African products may be awarded the GI label in the near future, according to Paulin Edou Edou, general manager of the African Intellectual Property Organization.
"Only a few years ago, the notion of intellectual property was unknown in Africa," Edou Edou said. "Now, countries are lining up to have products registered."
The interest for Penja pepper from newcomers means the cooperative has its hands full to ensure that everyone receives training about the production process, including the correct use of fertilizers.
Pepper blooms at the start of the rainy season and matures between November and February. Vines require daily tending and it can easily take three years from planting to harvesting. After picking, the peppercorns are soaked in barrels of water to ferment for 10 days before they're gently mashed to remove the pulpy skins. They're then dried in the sun.
"The challenge in the near future won't be so much increasing the price; the challenge is to keep up the production standards outlined under the protocol for the GI label," said Chabrol. "If the enthusiasm for Penja pepper persists, it will become harder to ensure quality standards."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

G-7 In Sync With Japanese Prime Minister Abe's Own Agenda

From left, Eikei Suzuki, governor of Mie Prefecture, European Council President Donald Tusk, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, participate in a tree planting during a visit at Ise Jingu shrine in Ise, Mie Prefecture, Japan, Thursday, May 26, 2016, as part of the G-7 Summit.

ISE, JAPAN (ASSOCIATED PRESS)— Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and fellow leaders of the Group of Seven advanced economies began their summit Thursday by visiting Ise Shrine, the most hallowed site for Japan's indigenous Shinto religion — one of many aspects of the gathering that dovetail with Abe's long-term diplomatic and political agenda.

As host, to the extent that it can, Abe's government has shaped the G-7 program to showcase his own political and economic platform, taking "leadership in guiding the world by showing the best path forward for peace and prosperity," according to an agenda distributed by the Foreign Ministry.

The leaders started out their program with a visit to Ise (Ee-say) Shrine, a densely forested, austere landmark that is the holiest site in the Shinto religion. Before and during World War II, Japan's militarist government used Shinto to rally the population behind its invasion of wide swaths of Asia. After Japan's defeat, state Shinto was banned, but the conservative prime minister has used it as a way to promote traditional cultural and social values.

The leaders were greeted by Abe and then walked across an arched wooden bridge into the shrine. Abe accompanied U.S. President Barack Obama, who was the last to arrive, and the leaders joined a group of children in a commemorative tree planting ceremony. Abe made a visit a day earlier to the shrine to pray for a good summit.

Japanese officials said the intent was not to conduct any religious formalities at the shrine but to give the leaders a sense of "air, water, nature and atmosphere."

"Ise is the place to present the beauty of nature and the richness of our culture and long tradition," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yasuhisa Kawamura.

The annual summit brings together the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. After the shrine visit they were due to hold a working luncheon and then tackle a wide range of global issues, starting with the sluggish global economy.

Many of the issues to be discussed during their two days of talks are linked to Abe's policy priorities. They include maritime security — code for concerns over China's expanding presence in disputed areas of the South China Sea; initiatives on global health, including funding for fighting terrorism and pandemics; and a focus on women's empowerment, which Abe has promoted as "womenomics."

Obama arrived in Japan on Wednesday and had an evening meeting with Abe. After the summit ends on Friday, Obama plans to visit the peace park in Hiroshima, the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city on which the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb in 1945 in the closing days of World War II.

Both in the G-7 meetings and in "outreach" sessions with other countries' leaders on the sidelines of the summit, the agenda includes "quality infrastructure investment." Since taking office in late 2012, Abe has circled the globe, visiting dozens of countries to promote sales of Japanese infrastructure technology, especially coal and gas-fired power plants and bullet trains.

"We think Japan has demonstrated to the rest of the world what quality infrastructure is like," Kawamura said, "and we're very happy to share our experiences and expertise."

The summit is expected, however, to expand support, including development assistance loans, for building roads, power plants and other infrastructure around the world. The Japanese side was seeking a target of $200 billion in financing for such projects.

The leaders have other pressing issues to discuss, especially the migrant crisis facing European nations.

"Those who criticize us should rather think how to increase their assistance because what Europe provides is already massive," Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, calling for G-7 support and leadership. "And honestly speaking, if they don't take the lead in managing this crisis, nobody else will. I will appeal to G-7 leaders to take up this challenge."

Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, noted that a possible exit from the European Union by Britain, depending on a June 23 vote, is also hanging over the talks.

"Yes, the general atmosphere of our talks would be better if the U.K. would stay in the European Union," Juncker said.

Japanese officials have highlighted joint efforts on the migrant crisis, corruption and terrorism as other top priorities.

Initiatives Tokyo is proposing include plans to spend about $6 billion on education, training and job creation for 20,000 people in the Middle East, to help promote development and social stability in the region and counter the chronic unemployment and economic disparities that are contributing to extremism and violence, according to a summary of the plans provided by Japan.

On gender issues, Japan plans to help improve schooling conditions for 50,000 girls, mainly in Africa and South Asia, and provide training for 5,000 women in fields such as maternal and child health, it said.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Report: NFL Sought To Influence Study On Brain Injuries

MAY 23, 2016

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. speaks in Trenton, N.J. Pallone has found that National Football League officials improperly sought to influence a government study on the link between football and brain disease. Pallone's report says the league tried to strong-arm the National Institutes of Health into taking the project away from a researcher that the NFL feared was biased.

WASHINGTON (AP) — National Football League officials improperly sought to influence a government study on the link between football and brain disease, according to a senior House Democrat in a report issued Monday.

New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone says the league tried to strong-arm the National Institutes of Health into taking the project away from a researcher who the NFL feared was biased. The NFL had agreed to donate $30 million to the NIH to fund brain research but backed out after the institutes went ahead with a $16 million grant to prominent Boston University researcher Robert Stern. He's a leading expert on the link between football and brain diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Taxpayers are instead bearing the cost.

The NFL denied Pallone's findings. "The NFL rejects the allegations," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement Monday. The league acknowledged it had raised concerns about the study and a potential conflict of interest involving Stern, but McCarthy said the NFL had communicated its concerns through appropriate channels. It noted that the league stands behind its $30 million promise and that the government ultimately made the decision on funding the study in question.

Some of the members of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee who opposed Stern had also sought the grant. Critics say the NFL has long downplayed the link between football and brain damage, alleging that an NFL committee on brain injury had long ignored or minimized the link between repetitive head trauma and brain damage.

"This investigation confirms the NFL inappropriately attempted to use its unrestricted gift as leverage to steer funding away from one of its critics," Pallone said. "Since its research agreement with NIH was clear that it could not weigh in on the grant selection process, the NFL should never have tried to influence that process."

Pallone initiated the investigation after ESPN reported that the NFL had backed out of funding the NIH study because of its objections to Stern. Stern has been vocal about the connection between football collisions and brain damage and filed a declaration opposing a settlement between the NFL and former players, fearing that deserving players would not be compensated.

NFL Medical Director Dr. Elliot Pellman emailed the executive director of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, which raises private funding for NIH research, and said the league had significant concerns regarding Boston University "and their ability to be unbiased and collaborative." He asked the FNIH official, Dr. Maria Freire, to "slow down the process until we all have a chance to speak and figure this out."

The NFL's email was forwarded to Dr. Walter Koroshetz of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the NIH, who was in charge of selecting a recipient for the grant. He responded that there was "lots of history here" and that the NFL's had problems because the research would be "led by the people who first broke the science open, and NFL owners and leadership think of them as the creators of the problem."

Pallone found that NIH officials acted properly in not bending to the NFL's will. NIH policy prohibits donors from influencing which researchers receive grants, a process that relies on peer review.

Barry Wilner in New York contributed to this report.

Obama Lifts Decades-Old Arms Ban In His 1st Visit To Vietnam

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang shake hands at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, May 23, 2016. The president is on a weeklong trip to Asia as part of his effort to pay more attention to the region and boost economic and security cooperation.

HANOI, VIETNAM (AP) — U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday lifted a half-century-old ban on selling arms to Vietnam, looking to bolster a government seen as a crucial, though flawed partner in a region that he has tried to place at the center of his foreign policy legacy.

Obama announced the full removal of the embargo at a news conference where he vowed to leave behind the troubled history between the former war enemies and embrace a new era with a young, increasingly prosperous nation. Obama steered clear of harsh condemnation of what critics see as Vietnam's abysmal treatment of dissidents, describing instead modest progress on rights in the one-party state. Activists said his decision to lift the embargo destroyed the best U.S. leverage for pushing Vietnam on abuse.

"At this stage, both sides have established a level of trust and cooperation, including between our militaries, that is reflective of common interests and mutual respect," Obama said. "This change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself and removes a lingering vestige of the Cold War."

Obama also has more current motivations. His move was the latest step in a yearslong and uneven effort to counter China's influence in Asia. Obama's push to deepen defense ties with a neighbor was certain to be eyed with suspicion in Beijing, which has bristled at U.S. engagement in the region and warned officials not to take sides in the heated territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Obama claimed the move had nothing to do with China, but made clear the U.S. was aligned with the smaller nations like Vietnam. The United States and Vietnam have mutual concerns about maritime issues and the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, he said. While Washington doesn't take sides, he said, it does support a diplomatic resolution based on "international norms" and "not based on who's the bigger party and can throw around their weight a little bit more," a reference to China.

China outwardly lauded the lifting of a U.S. arms embargo, saying it hoped "normal and friendly" relations between the U.S. and Vietnam are conducive to regional stability. A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said bans are a product of the Cold War and shouldn't have existed.

China itself remains under a weapons embargo imposed by the U.S. and European Union following 1989's bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square. For Vietnam, lifting the arms embargo was a psychological boost for its leaders. The United States partially lifted the ban in 2014, but Vietnam has pushed for full access as it tries to deal with China's land reclamation and military construction in nearby seas.

It was unclear whether striking the ban would quickly result in a boost in arms sales. Obama said that each deal would be reviewed case by case and evaluated based on the equipment's potential use. But there would no longer be a ban based on "ideological division," he said.

"There's been modest progress on some of the areas that we've identified as a concern," Obama said, adding that the U.S. "will continue to speak out on behalf of human rights we believe are universal."

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang embraced the chance to enter a new era in U.S-Vietnamese relations. He praised the expansion in security and trade ties between "former enemies turned friends" and, standing next to Obama before reporters, called for more U.S. investment.

Ahead of the visit, in what was seen as a goodwill gesture, Vietnam granted early release from prison to a prominent dissident Catholic priest. Some U.S. lawmakers and activists had urged the president to press the communist leadership for greater freedoms before lifting the arms sale embargo. Vietnam holds about 100 political prisoners and there have been more detentions this year. In March, seven bloggers and activists were sentenced for "abusing democratic freedoms" and "spreading anti-state propaganda." Hanoi says that only lawbreakers are punished.

"In one fell swoop, President Obama has jettisoned what remained of U.S. leverage to improve human rights in Vietnam — and (has) basically gotten nothing for it," Phil Robertson, with Human Rights Watch, said.

Obama's arrival in Hanoi late Sunday made him the third sitting president to visit the country since the end of the war. The trip comes four decades after the fall of Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City, and two decades after President Bill Clinton restored relations with the nation.

Obama also made the case for stronger commercial and economic ties, including approval of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that is stalled in Congress and facing strong opposition from the 2016 presidential candidates. The deal, which includes Vietnam, would tear down trade barriers and encourage investment between the countries that signed it.

Critics worry it would cost jobs by exposing American workers to low-wage competition from countries such as Vietnam. Obama and Quang earlier attended a signing ceremony touting a series of new commercial deals between U.S. and Vietnamese companies valued at more than $16 billion. The deals included U.S. engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney's plans to sell 135 advanced engines to Vietnamese air carrier Vietjet, and Boeing's plans to sell 100 aircraft to the airline.

Obama's agenda also included separate meetings with Vietnam's prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and with the Communist Party general secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong. At a luncheon for officials, the president offered thanks for all who came before to "help our nations reconcile." He singled out U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who served in the Vietnam War, for special mention. He said veterans on both sides had showed "hearts can change and peace is possible."

Later Monday, Obama had dinner with CNN personality Anthony Bourdain, whose "Parts Unknown" food travelogue is one of the network's most popular nonfiction series. Bourdain was to discuss the purpose of Obama's trip to Asia and his interest in the people, food and culture of Vietnam.

A huge crowd gathered outside the restaurant and cheered when Obama came out.

AP writer Nancy Benac contributed to this story.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Nigeria, You Win! Your Development Plan May Be The 'Best In History'

NPR, MAY 20, 2016

Lariat Alhassan had lots of great paint to sell but no office where she could meet clients. And then she heard an ad on the radio that seemed too good to be true.

In 2011, Lariat Alhassan had a business in Abuja, Nigeria. Larclux Paint was the name. She sold house paint. And industrial paint. Textured paint. Paint that fills in cracks in your walls. It was a paint company. But a really small one.

"The employee I had was just me. I was the production manager. I was the marketer. I was delivery person. I was everything," says Alhassan, laughing. "Except the security."

That was the company. A woman in her late 20s and a security guard watching over a factory space she rented to make the paint.

Customers liked her paint. They would try it out, and say "This seems great. I'd like to place a big order. We'll come to your office to sign the papers," she recalls. And that is when things would get awkward.

"I kept telling them, no, no, no. You call me and whenever you want, I'll be there. I will just be there," she says.

She didn't have an office. Just her car. At this point the clients would often just back out. She couldn't afford an office without more clients. She couldn't get more clients without an office. She felt trapped. Stuck.

That was back in 2011. And then one day, she was at home listening to some music on the radio, when these ads came on. It seemed as if the radio was talking right to her, she recalled. It was for some sort of program to help small businesses.

"It may be small today but it won't be after You Win! the youth enterprise and innovation competition," said one ad. (You can hear it in the episode of Planet Money.)

The government was having a nationwide contest to give out US$58 million to young Nigerians trying to start or grow a small business,no experience necessary. Almost no strings attached. Just go to the website and sign up, said the ad.

Alhassan thought it was too good to be true.

"I just wanted to make sure I was safe and I wasn't going to be conned" she said.

But it was no scam. The government really was giving away millions of dollars. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, was the finance minister for Nigeria at the time. Her team set up the program. It was part of a massive nationwide plan to boost youth employment. About half of the young people didn't have jobs, according to the World Bank.

"Everyone wants to run something, start their own business. Be their own boss," says Iweala. "But the entrepreneurs often operate in an informal way. A lot of them are young people. And they want to expand their businesses but don't know how."

This is a problem around the world: How to get a small business to become a medium-size business that can become a big business. Because if you can figure out how to do that ... you can make a dent in all kinds of other problems: unemployment, poverty. You name it. But in the developing world, small businesses rarely take off like that.

One problem is just money. In someplace like the United States, if you have a two-person paint company and need to rent out office space or warehouse space, you can just take out a small business loan.

In the developing world, in places like Nigeria, it is very hard to get that kind of loan.When a whole business is just a person with a trunk full of supplies, it is hard for lenders, like a bank or the government, to tell the good businesses from the bad ones. It is risky making those kinds of loans. So d small businesspeople can't get loans.

The idea that Iweala and her team came up with to boost employment took all of this into account. It was a massive business contest the likes of which nobody in Nigeria had seen before. The amount of money they wanted to give away per person — roughly $50,000 — was out-of-this-world high. About 25 or 30 times the average annual income for a Nigerian at the time.

Iweala shopped the idea around the Nigerian government. People had all sorts of questions. How is the government going to decide which people to give the money to? And how will they make sure people don't divert the funds to some other use?

Iweala and her team's solution was to ask the entrants to submit a business plan: a few sheets of paper with an idea, maybe a chart or two, a budget. The government would read them all, pick the best ones and hand out the money.

Not everyone in the government was convinced that could work. Iweala remembers her colleagues saying things like, "These people have never written business plans."It's one thing if you say you're going to invite 40 people, 50. But we're talking [about] thousands."

But Goodluck Jonathan, the president of Nigeria at the time, liked the idea right away. He gave it the greenlight.

There were still problems to confront. How do you pull something like this off in Nigeria — a country where trust in government is notoriously low.

People outside the government, the people who would to apply to the contest, also needed convincing. "They said, 'Oh we've had so many government programs,' and 'It starts with promises and at the end of the day it's never implemented,' "says Iweala.

Then there was the worry that people running the contest would just give the money to friends and family. "That was the even bigger skepticism," says Iweala.

So Iweala's team had to make sure it was really clear how winners were getting picked ... and who was doing the picking. For the initial review of applications they lined up graders from a local business school. And all the names of the applicants were removed before grading.

About 24,000 people applied to the contest, which was also supported by other federal ministries, the World Bank, the U.K.'s Department for International Development and Nigeria's private sector.

For the second round, the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers was brought in to do part of the scoring. And the British Plymouth Business School did quality assurance. The applicants knew all of these checks and balances were in place, which upped their trust.

But that still left the hard question, how to score it Who were the best candidates to get the money? Was it the very best, or would that be wasted money because those people might succeed anyway and not need the money? And how could you tell the difference between the 1,200th and the 1,201st candidate in any meaningful way?

This is where they reached out to a researcher at the World Bank. "I typically come in when people have an idea and they want to know if it will work," says David McKenzie.

At this point, in mid-2011, Iweala wanted to launch the program in two months. McKenzie met with a few team members in the cafe of the J building at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. to hash out ways to grade the entrants and measure the results.

One idea was to just rank every entry and pick the best. From his research, McKenzie suggested a different course of action: Pick the winners somewhat randomly Sure you can look at the business plans and pick out the very best. And the very worst. Those are usually obvious. But after you have the outliers, he argued, just make it luck of the draw. It'll save a lot of trouble.

Plus if you do it randomly, you can measure the impact of winning by looking at the control group of non-winners, says McKenzie.

That was the plan.

They gave the contest the name: the YouWiN! Competition. And in late 2011, they started getting the word out. With ads, lots and lots of ads – in print, on TV and on the radio.

And that's how Alhassan, the paint seller, came to hear an ad for YouWiN! coming out of her bedside radio that day.

"Lots of people did not believe it," she says. But after hearing it a second and a third time, she said to herself: "Lariat, why don't you pick up this opportunity? Try. Try, and see if it will work out for you."

She took out her old laptop, plugged in her modem and went online and applied. A little while later she was one of the 6,000 invited to the next round. Where everyone would write their business plans.

The government provided some help. The applicants were invited to four day trainings held around the country. When Alhassan describes it, she said it felt like thousands of people packing into something like a concert hall. There were all kinds of applicants: A baker without enough machinery. A chicken farmer thinking of expanding to catfish and snails. Someone trying to start a computer school. Musicians. Dentists. People will all kinds of business plans.

"Boy it was intense. From morning to evening," says Alhassan. But they did get lunch. "And breakfast," she says, laughing.

Then she was asked to take what she just learned and write up a formal business plan. This was the real test. The real competition.

She sent it in and went home to wait. A little while later she got an email. Congratulations, it said.

"I felt I couldn't even control my emotions. I started jumping on my bed," she says. "My sister said what is wrong with you, have you won the lottery? I said yes. Yes. Yes."

Alhassan got 10 million Naira, for her business — equivalent to $65,000.

She brought on marketers. Salespeople. She bought them a car to get around, to get the word out. She got a truck for deliveries so it wasn't all out of her own trunk anymore. And she rented a proper office and a showroom. She decorated it with furniture she could be proud of.

"I can confidently say [to customers] now, 'Please come to my office. You can come here. What time? I'll be ready for you. I'll be waiting for you," she says.

Well, you might look at this and say, of course she was able to do this. She was given $65,000 — and it wasn't even a loan.

The real question is how her business does down the road — and all the other businesses as well, from the dentists to the chicken farmer who wants to expand into catfish. Was it worth it for the government? Did it create jobs?

The World Bank analyzed the YouWiN! Competition impact over three years and published a report a few months ago.

The report looked at the 1,200 winners of the contest and found they had created 7,000 jobs, real jobs that stuck around three years later. The competition cost $60 million to run. So that means each job cost about $8,500 to create, a way cheaper investment than any other program studied in the report.

Chris Blattman, an economist at Columbia University who researches poverty and global development, thinks the results are pretty remarkable.

"I remember reading it [and] my eyes [kept] kind of popping out of my head," he says. The thing that stood out to him most was that the winners, as a group, seemed to use the money pretty well. They didn't waste it. He says it was easier than expected to find small businesses that could use a big pile of cash to grow. Maybe way more people are constrained by not having enough capital than we think.

Nigeria has had two more rounds of the YouWiN! Competition. The latest round had more than 100,000 applicants and 1,500 winners.

As good as the first round was, 7,000 new jobs is still a small number in a country of 170 million people. It's clearly not going to solve the problem of unemployment.

But Blattman says, these results are extremely promising. So promising he wrote a euphoric blog post in October with the title: "Is This The Most Effective Development Program In History?"

But is it?

He stresses the question mark at the end of the title. It may not really be the best in history, he says, but he's quick to add: "It's probably the best I've seen so far. In history, it's the best one we've measured."

That's something, considering that in so many cases of job creation programs, nobody measures the results at all.

Big thanks to Jeff Mosenkis at the Institute for Poverty Action for all the help behind the scenes on this story.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Oil Prices Rise As Turmoil In Nigeria Adds To Global Supply Disruptions

MAY 20, 2018

SINGAPORE (REUTERS): Oil prices rose in early trading on Friday as turmoil in Nigeria, shale bankruptcies in the United States and crisis in Venezuela all contributed to tightening supplies.

Despite this, brimming inventories across the world were preventing supply shortfalls and sharper price spikes, traders said.

International Brent crude futures LCOc1 were trading at $49.10 per barrel at 0128 GMT, up 29 cents or 0.59 percent from their last settlement.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures CLc1 was up 39 cents, or 0.81 percent, at $48.55 a barrel.

ANZ bank said that unexpected supply disruptions across the world, excluding output falls in the United States, amounted to around 2.5 million barrels of daily production, virtually erasing a production overhang that had pulled down prices by over 70 percent between 2014 and early 2016.

"The supply disruptions inflicting the oil market continue to ratchet up... As these issues linger, we expect an increasing supply risk premium will price into the market," the bank said.

Nigeria's oil production showed further signs of strain on Thursday as intruders blocked access to Exxon Mobil's terminal exporting Qua Iboe, the country's largest crude stream.

Libyan output has also been hit by internal conflict.

Militant activity in the oil-rich Niger Delta has taken out some 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil production from other companies in Nigeria, pushing oil output in Africa's largest-producing nation to more than 22-year lows.

In North America, U.S. crude oil output has fallen 8.79 million barrels per day (bpd), down from a peak of more than 9.6 million bpd last year, as a wave of bankruptcies hits producers.

In Canada, production has also been cut as wildfires forced closures of around 1 million barrels in daily production, although output is gradually returning.

In South America, output from OPEC-member Venezuela is also stalling as its state-owned oil company PDVSA struggles with a cash squeeze amid a deep political and economic crisis.

Venezuelan crude oil output fell to around 2.53 million bpd in the first quarter of 2016 compared with 2.72 million bpd in the same quarter of last year, data from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) showed.

Despite the disruptions oil supplies to customers are not at risk, thanks to ongoing high output in the Middle East and Russia, and because of brimming oil inventories across the world, including the United States and Asia.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Radical ‘Avengers’ Threaten New Insurgency In Nigeria's Oil-Producing Delta

MAY 19, 2016

They call themselves the Niger Delta Avengers. Little is known about the new radical group that has claimed a series of pipeline bombings in Nigeria’s oil-producing region this year and evaded gunboats and soldiers trawling swamps and villages.

Their attacks have driven Nigerian oil output to near a 22-year low and, if the violence escalates into another insurgency in the restive area, it could cripple production in a country facing a growing economic crisis.

President Muhammadu Buhari has said he will crush the militants, but a wide-scale conflict could stretch security forces already battling a northern rebellion by hardline Sunni Muslim group Boko Haram.

Militancy has been rife over the past decade in the Delta, a southern region which is one of the country’s poorest areas despite generating 70 percent of state income.

Violence has increased sharply this year - most of it claimed by the “Avengers” - after Buhari scaled back an amnesty deal with rebel groups, which had ended a 2004-2009 insurgency.

Under the deal, more state cash was channelled to the region for job training and militant groups were handed contracts to protect the pipelines they once bombed. But Buhari cut the budget allocated to the plan by about 70 percent and cancelled the contracts, citing corruption and mismanagement of funds.

The “Avengers” have carried out a string of attacks since February that reduced Nigerian oil output by at least 300,000 barrels a day of output, and shut down two refineries and a major export terminal.

On Thursday the group emailed journalists a statement saying it was fighting for an independent Delta and would step up its attacks unless oil firms left the region within two weeks.

“If at the end of the ultimatum you are still operating, we will blow up all the locations,” it said. “It will be bloody. So just shut down your operations and leave.”

“To international oil companies, this is just the beginning and you have not seen anything yet. We will make you suffer,” it said.

Authorities have no hard facts about the group - such as its size, bases or leadership, Nigeria-based diplomats say.

Diplomats and security experts say it has shown a level of sophistication not seen since the peak of the 2004-2009 insurgency, which halved Nigeria’s oil output. They say it must be getting help from sympathetic oil workers in identifying the pipelines to cause maximum damage.

“Its scary. Their demands are impossible to meet so there will be probably more attacks,” said a security expert, asking not to be named.

In February the group claimed an attack on an undersea pipeline that forced Shell to shut a 250,000 barrels a day Forcados terminal. Last week, it took credit for blasting a Chevron platform, shutting the Warri and Kaduna refineries. Power outages across Nigeria worsened as gas supplies were also affected.

There have been other smaller attacks and this week another explosion, which bore the hallmarks of the group, closed Shell’s Bonny Light export programme.

The group mainly communicates via Twitter, with the location tracker switched off, and on its website.

Its members describe themselves there as “young, well travelled” and mostly educated in eastern Europe.

Given the lack of intelligence about the militants, the army launched a wide-ranging hunt across the Delta this week, sending gunboats into mosquito-infested creeks and searching villages in the middle of the night.

But some residents say such a heavy-handed military approach stokes dissent in the Delta where many complain of poverty despite sitting on much of Nigeria’s energy wealth. They say some villagers help militants to hide in the hard-to-access swamps.

“The military came at 12.30am with two gunboats ... they went from house to house. Many ran into the bush,” said Godspower Gbenekemam, chief of the Gbaramatu area.

“The military stayed on until about 5.30 am, during which nobody was able to move out,” he said. “We are not part of the people blowing up pipelines. We do not know them so the military should leave our community alone.”

Alagoa Morris, an environmental activist based in the Delta, said unless soldiers acted with restraint, more people would join the militants, with a risk of “the Niger Delta returning to another round of full-scale militancy”.

Big Guns, Big Bucks: U.S. Arms Sales To Libya And Nigeria Are Wrong

MAY 19, 2016

Announcements of American government willingness to sell arms to two questionable clients — one of three governments claiming legitimacy in war-torn Libya and the corrupt and incompetent military of Nigeria — raise serious questions about what is going on in Washington in the final months of President Barack Obama’s administration.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the United States was willing to provide arms to one of the three governments claiming power in Libya. Libya has fallen into chaos since a passel of rebels, the United States, European ex-colonial powers France, Italy and the United Kingdom, and a few Middle Eastern states overthrew Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. He had been in power since 1969.

At present in Libya there are three governments. One is based in Tobruk in the east of the country. It is dominated by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, an ex-CIA asset whose current relationship with the United States is not clear. A second government is based in Tripoli, the former capital. A third, recently baptized and currently protected by the international community, was brought to Tripoli and installed in hypothetical power.

It is this third government that Washington has now indicated its willingness to arm, ostensibly to provide it means to exercise authority over the other two putative governments, including disarming or incorporating them and the numerous other armed militias operating in Libya.

To provide arms to this regime is simply to inject more arms into an already weapons-rich environment. Providing it arms and the supply and training components that inevitably go with such sales is also to put money into the hands of U.S. arms producers and the contractors who go with the weapons concerned.

The second, perhaps even more dubious proposed sales are of 12 A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft, manufactured by Sierra Nevada Corp. of Florida to Nigeria. The ostensible purpose of this sale is to help Nigeria fight Boko Haram, which has operated for several years in the northeast of Nigeria. Boko Haram is certainly bad news. Its banner is one of Islamic extremism. Its most noteworthy crime was the kidnapping of some 276 Nigerian girls from a school in Chibok in 2014. It claims adherence to the Islamic State, although it is not clear that Boko Haram and the leadership of the IS are even pen pals and share more than a loose common theology.

Nigeria is, and has been for years, one of the most corrupt states on Earth. What its governments have been particularly adept at is taking the country’s very substantial oil wealth and not using it to meet the still basically poor country’s needs. It has been doing marginally better under a new president, an ex-general, Muhammadu Buhari, a U.S. Army War College graduate elected in reasonably democratic elections in 2015. Mr. Buhari has been saying some of the right things, but has yet to make any profound changes in how Nigeria operates. Why the United States should enter into an arms relationship with Nigeria on the basis of a conflict that basically has nothing to do with America is hard to understand.

Both the Libya and Nigeria proposed arms sales should not be pursued further. One has to wonder whether Washington politicians are not courting large contributions from America’s arms industry in this campaign year.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

[BUKOLA SARAKI]: Fantastically Wealthy

THE NATION, MAY 16, 2016

There is no question that Senate President Bukola Saraki is rich. But there are certainly questions arising from his prosperity-status. When an individual is stinking rich, the wealth may well be stinking. Or, put differently, when an individual is filthy rich, the wealth may well be filthy.

Saraki’s lawyer, Paul Erokoro (SAN), reportedly described him as “extremely rich”. Erokoro made Saraki’s riches public during his ongoing trial for alleged false assets declaration before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Abuja. Saraki didn’t need to become Kwara State governor in 2003 to make mega money, his lawyer argued. He was already rolling in money by the time he became a governor, his legal representative stressed.

It is thought-provoking that Erokoro, based on the asset declaration form Saraki submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) in 2003, reportedly “said he needed to point out that his client was very rich before he became Kwara State governor to erase the wrong impression created by the prosecution that, he could not have acquired the property he claimed to have, without obtaining loans from banks”.

A report said: “He said he had $22 million US dollars, about 12 million pounds, 2.6m Euro and about N4 billion in cash in his various accounts.” Apart from “the liquid asset,” the report stated: “Saraki said he also possessed landed property estimated at N2 billion and 15 vehicles valued at about N263.4m”.

The report continued: “He gave details of the vehicles he acquired as at 2003 to include: Mercedes X320, valued at N16m; Mercedes X500 worth N20m; Mercedes G500, valued at N6m; Mercedes V220 worth 2m and Ferrari456GT, valued at N25m.”

It also said: “Others are: Navigator, N15m, MN240 worth N8.5m; Peugeot 406, valued at N2.9m; Mercedes CLK 320 worth N9m; Mercedes E320 valued at N11m; Mercedes G500 bullet proof, worth N45m; Mercedes X500; Lexus jeep bullet proof, valued at N30m and Lincoln Navigator bullet proof worth N25m.”

Indeed, this is a rich collection of vehicles, and the logical question should be how Saraki acquired the vehicles, or how he acquired the capacity to acquire the vehicles.

The report added: “The lawyer was however silent on the source of his client’s wealth and how he came about all the property and cash he claimed to have possessed before he became governor in 2003.” Silence will not answer the loud questions Saraki needs to answer to clarify his claims: How did Saraki come to be so rich? What super explanations can explain Saraki’s super wealth?

It is noteworthy that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said its findings “showed that the defendant/applicant abused his office, while he was the governor of Kwara State and was involved in various acts of corruption as the governor of the state”. The anti-graft agency also said: “The defendant/applicant borrowed huge sums of money running into billions from commercial banks, particularly Guaranty Trust Bank, and used the proceeds of the loan to acquire several landed properties in Lagos, Abuja and London, while he was the governor of Kwara State”.

Consequently, Saraki is facing charges “ranging from anticipatory declaration of assets to making false declaration of assets in forms” he had filed with the Code of Conduct Bureau while he was governor of Kwara State. Saraki was also “accused of failing to declare some assets he acquired while in office as governor, acquiring assets beyond his legitimate earnings, and accused of operating foreign accounts while being a public officer”.

It is important to note that the EFCC said: ”Asset declaration form is not just any document. The person declaring his assets is expected to go before a high court judge to swear an oath. They swear to affidavit, so it is believed that all he swore to, and appended his signature to is the truth.” If so, it may well be that Saraki is yet to tell the whole truth, meaning that he would need to say how he made so much which enabled him to acquire so much.

It is relevant to consider Saraki’s trajectory before his trial. His profile said: ”Abubakar Bukola Saraki was born on 19 December 1962 to the family of Olusola Saraki, a senator (1979 – 1983) and a one- time Senate Leader of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and his mother Florence Morenike Saraki. He attended King’s College, Lagos from 1973 to 1978, and Cheltenham College, Cheltenham, London, from 1979 to 1981 for his High School Certificate. He then studied at the London Hospital Medical College of the University of London, from 1982 to 1987, when he obtained his M.B.B.S (London). He worked as a medical officer at Rush Green Hospital, Essex, from 1988 to 1989. He was a director of Societe Generale Bank (Nig) Ltd from 1990 to 2000.”

The biographical account also said: “In 2000, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Saraki as Special Assistant to the President on Budget…In 2003, he ran for the office of governor of Kwara State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and won. He was sworn into office in May 2003. He ran again for re-election in 2007 and won his second term. He was first elected to the Senate in April 2011, representing the Kwara Central senatorial district, and re-elected in the March 2015 elections… After his re-election in the 2015 general elections, Saraki was on 9 June 2015 elected unopposed as President of the Senate by an across the party alliance comprising PDP and APC Senators.”

This background gives no clue as to how Saraki could have made what he claims to have made before he became a governor. Perhaps more important than how much an individual has, the question of how such an individual came to have so much should be beyond a shadow of a doubt. The clarification of the sources of personal wealth is so crucial that it must not be a subject of speculation.

Saraki currently belongs to the All Progressives Congress (APC) which he joined from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but his Senate presidency is seriously imperiled, following an understandable backlash occasioned by his opportunistic subversion of his party’s calculations for the federal legislature. He may yet learn that party supremacy is supreme.

In the final analysis, an individual’s fantastic wealth cannot be left to the public imagination for explanation. This is the reality Saraki must face.

Oklahoma Trial Set In Death Of 'Cathouse' HBO Star, 3 Others

SUNDAY, MAY 15, 2016

Denny Phillips is led from an Oklahoma County Courtroom in Oklahoma City. Jury selection is scheduled to begin May 16 in the trial of Phillips and Russell Hogshooter, who are charged in the November 2009 death of Brooke Phillips, who had worked for a legal Nevada brothel featured on HBO, and multiple other people.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — It's been almost seven years since the bodies of a prostitute featured on the HBO reality series "Cathouse" and three other people were discovered inside a burning one-story brick Oklahoma City home that authorities later said was the center of a drug distribution and prostitution ring.

Come Monday, jury selection begins in the trial of two men who prosecutors say were involved in the Nov. 9, 2009, deaths of TV celebrity Brooke Phillips, Milagros Barrera, Jennifer Lynn Ermey and Casey Mark Barrientos.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Denny Edward Phillips and Russell Lee Hogshooter on six counts of first-degree murder — Brooke Phillips and Barrera were both 22 and pregnant — and one count of conspiracy. The men have pleaded not guilty.

Brooke Phillips, who wasn't related to Denny Phillips, was among the employees featured on the cable network's show about the Moonlite BunnyRanch, a legal brothel near Carson City, Nevada. "There's lasting memory," business owner Dennis Hof said. "We just loved this girl. This was a girl with no drugs, didn't drink hardly at all. It's totally mindboggling. This girl who didn't do any drugs got killed because she was in a drug house."

All of the victims were repeatedly shot and their bodies were set on fire. Phillips and 25-year-old Ermey were also repeatedly stabbed. Prosecutors allege that Barrientos, 32, was the target of the attack and that the women were killed to eliminate witnesses.

Two other men entered guilty pleas and are serving prison time for their roles in the deaths. Denny Phillips' defense attorney, Bill Smith, said he expects the trial to last up to six weeks but declined further comment. Defense attorneys for 38-year-old Hogshooter did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Hof and others who worked with Brooke Phillips at the Moonlite BunnyRanch said the upcoming trial revives memories of her and the shock they felt when they learned of her violent death. "It's the saddest day in BunnyRanch history," he said. "That sad day just keeps going on. It just doesn't go away."

Phillips, known professionally as Hayden Brooks, was "very outgoing," Hof said, and "loved to have fun." A co-worker, professionally known as Caressa Kisses, said she trained Phillips and worked alongside her the entire time she worked at the Moonlite BunnyRanch. Phillips was at the legal brothel for about two years and left about two months before she died.

"She just glowed beauty and radiated love," said Caressa, 29, who became emotional as she remembered Phillips' life. "She was a very beautiful girl. She was absolutely passionate about life." Caressa said she "got sick" when she learned how Phillips had died. "She left a safe place where she was loved," she added.

Testimony during earlier hearings revealed that Denny Phillips, 37, and one of the men who pleaded guilty were allegedly involved in illegal drug sales with Barrientos. Denny Phillips' former girlfriend, Karine Sanders, testified the men became upset with the amount of money they were receiving for their work and came up with a scheme to kill him.

Phillips was already serving a seven-year federal prison sentence on charges related to a 2010 shootout when he was charged in the deaths.