Africa in the news: Zimbabwe’s new currency, Senegal election update, and Obama supports Africa basketball league
By Payce Madden
ZIMBABWE TAKES STEPS TO CREATE NEW NATIONAL CURRENCY
On Wednesday, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe said it would carry out a “managed float” of its quasi-bond notes and electronic dollars, which would be merged into a single currency. This action will serve to create a national currency for the first time since the country adopted the U.S. dollar in 2009 following a massive inflation crisis. The new currency will be called RTGS (Real Time Gross Transfer) dollars.
The announcement from the Reserve Bank stated that electronic dollars and bond notes would no longer be exchangeable one-to-one for the U.S. dollar, and that banks could now offer market-determined rates to buy cash dollars with bond notes or electronic transfers. This change comes in response to a lack of hard currency which has caused bond notes and electronic dollars to steadily drop in value on the street, leading to inflation rates above 50 percent.
The initial rate for the currency will be 2.5 RTGS dollars per one U.S. dollar. On the black market, one U.S. dollar cost around 3.5 bond notes and 4 electronic dollars immediately before the float. Zimbabwe’s central bank governor stated that he expected black market rates to fall now that trading had been formalized.
SENEGAL PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS TO TAKE PLACE SUNDAY
Senegal’s presidential elections will take place on Sunday, February 24, with 6.2 million registered to vote. Incumbent President Macky Sall will face four other contenders and is strongly favorited to win after two of Senegal’s best-known opposition figures were disqualified from contesting the election due to corruption convictions. Rights groups said the move represented a worrying crackdown on dissent.
Sall has been campaigning on the success of his economic record in the run-up to the election. Since his election in 2012, Senegal has sustained GDP growth rates of over 6 percent, driven in part by a series of public infrastructure projects including an airport, highways, and improved water infrastructure. Sall also claims credit for creating nearly 500,000 jobs during his first term.
Opposition candidates, however, say that these gains have failed to reach the many Senegalese who remain in poverty. Critics also claim that during Sall’s tenure, there have been abuses of civil liberties and political freedoms. As a result, Ousmane Sonko, the youngest of the five candidates, has garnered attention and support from Senegal’s youth. Candidate Idrissa Seck, who twice previously ran for president, is also believed to be one of Sall’s main challengers.
PRESIDENT OBAMA TO SUPPORT AFRICAN BASKETBALL LEAGUE
Last Saturday, the Associated Press reported that former President Barack Obama will be involved in the establishment of an African basketball league, although the details of his role have not been announced. Obama, an avid fan of the sport, said in a tweet, “Glad to see this expansion into Africa because for a rising continent, this can be about a lot more than what happens on the court.”
The Basketball Africa League, which is a collaboration between the NBA and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), will feature 12 teams from countries across the continent, including Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, and Tunisia. The NBA and FIBA will provide financial support and resources to grow the league, training of coaches and players, and some infrastructure development. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “Africa is a huge economic engine. And one place, though, where we haven’t seen enormous economic growth yet is in the industry of sport. And that’s something that we are all particularly focused on.”
Silver said talks with the former president are ongoing, but that Obama had said he wants to be directly involved. Others who have expressed interest in the venture are Michael Jordan (as well as Jordan Brand, Jordan’s signature line of Nike products); Dikembe Mutombo, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame; several current players with ties to Africa, including the Hornets’ Bismack Biyombo, the Timberwolves’ Josh Okogie, and the Raptors’ OG Anunoby; and WNBA all-star Chiney Ogwumike.