January 19th, 2012
05:28 PM GMT
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South Africa (CNN) –It was a hot summer day when Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund visited South Africa in early January. However, it appeared that she received a rather chilly welcome from the South African government.

The South Africans, despite knowing about her visit for more than a month, had not scheduled any meetings with the Finance Minister, the Reserve Bank governor or any other key economic advisors. Crucially, no meeting was lined up with President Jacob Zuma.

It seemed that IMF staff were scrambling to pin down the South Africans even after Lagarde had arrived in the country.

In the end, Lagarde had ad hoc meetings in Pretoria with the country's economic teams the morning after she arrived. It is unclear if they apologized, but I understand that one minister told her she visiting at a bad time; most South African government employees were still on their long Christmas holiday and the ruling ANC was holding it's 100th birthday celebrations in Bloemfontein, a four-hour drive away from Pretoria.


January 19th, 2012
12:08 PM GMT
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Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) - We interviewed Oprah Winfrey in a classroom at the school she established five years ago in South Africa. The walls of the classroom were plastered with posters that all advocated that 'You go, Girl!' attitude that Oprah oozes.

The messages were attached neatly on every available space; "I am me because I am special," "You can't get anywhere unless you start," "I know me, I accept me, I like me."

Oprah Winfrey has made a career, and a fortune, plugging self-awareness on her talk show and her new TV network. Her interview style is deeply personal, confessional even. She likes to share, open up, and be frank about her own life in the course of speaking to others.

Our 30 minutes-long interview was no different. She is Oprah after all.

September 9th, 2011
03:17 PM GMT
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Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) Many here in Africa are still struggling to come to terms with the increasing realization that the Gadhafi regime is all but over.

South Africa recently recommitted itself to the African Union’s “roadmap” as a way to resolve the crisis in Libya. For South Africa, the solution involves an “interim government” in which “nobody must be left out,” according to a government spokesperson.

It is unclear just how inclusive South Africa would like this ideal Libyan government to be. Do they suggest Gadhafi or just Gadhafi loyalists share power with the rebel leaders?

August 25th, 2011
11:58 AM GMT
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(CNN) There is nothing swashbuckling about Somali piracy. The pirates are not romantic anti-heroes with a parrot on their shoulder. Instead, they are recognized as lawless, dangerous criminals who roam East Africa’s waters terrorizing the shipping industry.

The direct impact of the criminality off the Somalia coastline is being felt on the mainland, where critical food aid is not getting through to famine-struck Somalis because 80 to 90% of humanitarian relief arrives by sea, according to a recent report by the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Few ships and aid organizations are willing to take the risks involved in delivering tons of food aid, says the AfDB report. Owners and aid workers fear the ships will be seized and crews kidnapped for ransom. For now, despite the dangers, some humanitarian agencies still operate, often with protection from NATO warships.

The critical needs of feeding Somalis today, as well as the long-term implications of creating a sustainable agriculture sector, are often discussed by political scientists and economists. What to do about the state of anarchy in the failed state that is Somalia?

It is a question that has been debated for many years now, and I fear is not about to be imminently solved, even as African Union troops continue to do a brave job in defending Mogadishu against Al-Shabaab militias.

The issue of piracy, though, is not a purely hopeless problem, because its roots lie in the collapse of the fishing industry in Somalia.

A confluence of events in 1991 created a vacuum that laid the ground for the birth of Somali piracy. As the Siad Barre regime collapsed and plunged the country into civil war it left the Somali coastline unprotected. Around the same time the EU tightened fishing controls in Europe, pushing some fishing ships to look for new waters.

So fleets from Europe and Asia - many operating illegally - moved into the open East African waters to fish. And fish they did, ­ plundering, according to many reports, the oceans of fish stocks. The ripple effect was enormous, decimating the livelihoods of many Somali fishermen.

Many of these formerly destitute Somali fisherman “took matters into their own hands,” according to the AfDB, and turned to hijacking ships to make up for lost income.

The new “industry” was quickly co-opted by the Somali warlords and is now an organized, hierarchical gang-like operation.

However, the AfDB and other observers still point to the many ships that continue to fish illegally in East African waters.

There is concern that this root cause of the Somali piracy issue has been badly managed by the international community. For example, NATO warships that police the passageway of the Gulf of Aden are not tasked with shutting down these offshore fisheries that continue to operate without jurisdiction, say observers. Allowing fish stocks to replenish, some say, might just mitigate the need for Somalis to earn a living out of piracy.

Others say this is just naïve, that the Somali coastline is a dangerous but strategic piece of maritime real estate, which will continue to destabilize the region no matter the state of fishing stocks.

August 18th, 2011
10:38 AM GMT
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Kampala, Uganda (CNN) Along the Entebbe Road, that bustling, traffic-ridden street that links the airport to Uganda’s capital city Kampala, is a small hairdresser called “Obama Salon.”

The name conjures up an ode, a prayer, a little bit of wishful thinking on behalf of the salon owner, who no doubt wanted some of Barack Obama’s yes-we-can-do-it magic to wear off on this neglected avenue in Africa.

For the beleaguered residents of Kampala, a run-down city that tries hard to create some order out of the chaos of poverty, life remains hard. Food prices and transport prices continue to spiral higher and higher, making residents angry that those with so little have to pay so much for the basics.

It will not be like this for much longer, say the optimists.

August 12th, 2011
12:02 PM GMT
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Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) Many South Africans have been smug watching the images of lawlessness, anarchy and violence on London’s streets.

As hooded youths burnt and trashed the streets of London, there has been a sense of self-satisfied bemusement from the country that hosted last year’s World Cup football.  So much so, the spokesperson of the opposition party, the DA, mentioned on Twitter that she was “perturbed” by the tone of tweets posted by South Africans and asked if “the chips on our shoulders are really that deep?”

In the years leading up to the 2010 tournament, the British tabloid press in particular irritated many South Africans with constant assessments of how “unsafe” South Africa is. Proud locals felt that many English football fans were dissuaded from attending the World Cup because of the fear campaign generated by the British media.

August 5th, 2011
01:55 PM GMT
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Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) In the roadside markets of central Johannesburg, alongside neat piles of fresh vegetables and Chinese-made wigs, hawkers sell self-help books.

The book titles are long-winded and have the author’s photo enlarged on the cover - a style that seems popular in the United States. In fact, most of the books are aimed at the American businessperson and seem incongruous sitting in a Southern African roadside stall.

The Americans have pioneered that genre of literature that aims to “help.” Some books take a religious tone and others are more business-focused. Some of these manuals are self-righteous, some are plain boring; most are worthy and the authors have a genuine desire to help others “make decisions,” live “in the moment” or find their “passion.”

What “life lessons” can, for example, an immigrant Zimbabwean living in Johannesburg learn from a salesman in Idaho? Well, a lot apparently.

The common denominator in much self-help literature is the underlying need to triumph over adversity or to improve oneself. The universality of that instinct translates across cultural or geographic differences.

Personally, I like to just get on with things. Professionally, as a journalist, I am always open to hearing stories about how people change their lives or make a difference. I avoid the self-help books but over the years, I have interviewed business leaders, self-help gurus, management experts and many others who offer their solutions to dealing with life, money and business.

For me, the simplest arguments make the most sense. There is a whole industry and tone of language devoted to the self-improvement business but once all the waffle is taken away, it’s the obvious advice that is the most valuable.

Take, for example, the recently re-released book “The Surfer’s Code,” written by South African surf legend Shaun Tomson. I interviewed him recently and his lessons or “codes” made sense, even though I am a useless surfer and average swimmer.

Some of his offerings include, “I will always paddle back out,” and “There will always be another wave.” These will be familiar to many parents who constantly remind their children to keep trying harder and never give up.

The old adage that one should pick one’s fights is reworked as “I will never fight a rip tide.” Sensible stuff.

“I will watch out for other surfers” has shades of good neighborliness and the 10 Commandments.

It is a gentle book about dealing with tragedies and challenges. Like all self-help books there is nothing new in it ­and that’s the point. Tomson’s message is that everyone faces difficulties and sadness in their life; the big challenge is how to deal with it.

As the global economic situation seems to look bleaker and bleaker, ­ from the United States to Europe to East Africa ­ people are realizing that future opportunities might get lesser.

So, many more will look for comfort and advice in the pick-me-up manuals that are flogged in the bookshops of fluorescent shopping malls of the industrialized nations as well as on the brightly sunlit stalls of the developing world.

The messages will offer succor and try to sustain populations of people around the globe who are all sharing experiences that are familiar:  how to make money and be happy.

It’s as simple as that.

July 29th, 2011
01:16 PM GMT
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Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) When you see a yellow taxicab in the movies, you know you’re watching a film about New York. London is immediately identifiable by the city’s black cabs.

Here in Africa, it is the minibus taxi that defines transport on the continent. The 16-seaters are used by millions of people each day. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the minibus taxis are a uniquely African experience.

From Lagos to Kampala to Johannesburg, Africa’s taxis are more often than not bulging with passengers as their drivers jostle through traffic.

July 27th, 2011
10:25 AM GMT
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(CNN)  Barely a month after South Sudan marked independence, a new type of conflict threatens to define relations with its neighbors in Khartoum: a currency war.

The so-called “economic war” stems from a violation in an agreement between Sudan and South Sudan over the Sudanese pound, the prior legal tender, after the south declared independence on July 9. FULL POST

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Filed under: BusinessMarketplace Africa

July 21st, 2011
12:44 PM GMT
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Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) Nelson Mandela’s 93rd birthday recently made many people reflect on what the former South African president meant to them. It cannot be overstated just how important Mandela’s leadership was in steering South Africa away from civil war and into a democracy.

His particular style of leadership was fuelled by an innate inner strength, a deep sense of self-confidence and years of patience honed in an apartheid jail.

The characteristics that define Mandela, who was the right leader at the right time, ­provide clues for all of us on how to manage conflict, deal with enemies and play the long game.


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