From Cairo to Casablanca, informal workers suffer

From Cairo to Casablanca, informal workers suffer
Morocco was among the first African countries to start shutting down borders and economic activity in recent weeks to stem the spread of the coranavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 26 March 2020

From Cairo to Casablanca, informal workers suffer

From Cairo to Casablanca, informal workers suffer
  • The poor in North Africa have been hard hit by virus-induced downturn

RABAT: Earlier this month, Soukaina Rgragui, her one-year-old daughter and diabetic mother lived modestly on the money brought back home by Soukaina’s husband, a vendor of used furniture in the streets of Morocco’s capital Rabat.

Now that virus containment measures have shut down his informal business, Rgragui finds herself among many vulnerable Moroccans begging strangers on the Internet for help.

Morocco was among the first African countries to start shutting down borders and economic activity in recent weeks to stem the spread of the virus, and other African governments are watching the fallout in Morocco as they adopt similar measures.

Rgragui’s husband is among some 2 billion people the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates work in the “informal economy,” without official contracts or worker protections. Such work is especially widespread in Africa, where informal workers make up as much as 85 percent of the labor force, according to the ILO.

These are already among society’s poorest and most vulnerable, and their troubles resonate widely. In Tunisia, a unregistered fruit vendor set himself on fire in 2010 out of desperation, unleashing the Arab Spring uprisings that overthrew governments and changed the face of the region.

In Morocco, such workers are not eligible for government handouts to those who are now jobless because of restrictions on businesses and movement meant to stem the spread of the virus.

After Morocco started shutting down “non-essential” business activity, the little savings the Rgraguis had were depleted after buying a week’s worth of food, milk for the baby and medicine for the grandmother, Rgragui said.

“Please help with whatever you can,” she pleaded on a coronavirus support group on Facebook. “We don’t have money to buy diapers for the baby.”

Since late February, the Moroccan government has been steadily introducing virus control measures that gradually turned Morocco’s vibrant cities into ghost towns.

Borders, schools, shops, companies, cafes and mosques have closed. Movement between cities is restricted. Only one member of each family is allowed to go out shopping for necessities, and those who still work must have permission papers to show to the authorities or else face up to three months of prison time.

“Morocco chose to prioritize the collective good of its people at the expense of the economy and commerce. The measures our country took are essential to limit the spread of the virus,” Health Ministry communications official, Hafid Ezzahiri, said.

FASTFACT

$1.45

One in three Egyptians is living in poverty, or what is about $1.45 per day.

Morocco has so far recorded 122 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and four deaths.

“Economic problems are inevitable, as it is the case in the rest of the world. We hope to recover soon,” he added.

The government is offering a $200 monthly stipend through June to registered workers who have lost their jobs. But that does not apply to Mohammed, who worked unofficially for a gardening company before the virus crisis hit. He and his brother picked up garbage, used tissues and masks from the gardens of Marrakech, for $9 a day.

“I would rather starve than have the coronavirus,” said Mohammed, who spoke on condition his last name be withheld because they are not registered workers, and because of the shame he feels about his current condition. “But why must I choose between two ills?”

He and his brother are isolating themselves from their father who is battling cancer. “It hurts me that I can’t get close to my father,” he said. “I am afraid for his fragile health.” Before letting him go, Mohammed’s employer gave him $100 to “help with the hard times.” But now, he said, “I am running out. My father’s treatment costs $50 every ten days.”

A government Economic Watch Committee created in response to the coronavirus said on Monday that it is studying proposals to assist Moroccan workers in the informal sector.

In recent years, Morocco diversified social services to help people in rural areas, the elderly and widows, but services are still not sufficient to help all in need. According to a study by Morocco’s Planning Agency last year, half of Moroccans are unaware of the existence of social programs for poverty, medical coverage or even pension funds.

In the Arab world’s most populous country, Egypt, millions work without contracts or official salaries, and will be hard-hit now that the government announced a curfew on Tuesday and restrictions on movement. One in three Egyptians is living in poverty, or what is about $1.45 per day.

Egypt’s government has discussed setting up a crisis fund to support informal workers, but the fund would face the monumental task of registering them and finding a way to ensure help reaches them quickly.

In Morocco’s coastal city of Casablanca, the country’s economic capital, phone repairer Mohamed Boulekhlaf has been allowed to keep his small shop open, but business has collapsed as people are ordered to stay inside. He is increasingly worried about getting the virus from customers.

“We are very afraid of what may happen in the future,” he said.

Individuals and celebrities have shown support for poor families and are encouraging well-off Moroccans to donate.

Teacher Meriem El Ghazi decided to take charge of her neighbor’s family in Marrakech for as long as this crisis continues after the family breadwinner lost his job to virus measures. 

“We must stand with one another,” she said. “We are each other’s only safety net,” she said.


Abu Dhabi’s ADQ in talks to invest $500m in India’s Flipkart

Abu Dhabi’s ADQ in talks to invest $500m in India’s Flipkart
Updated 14 June 2021

Abu Dhabi’s ADQ in talks to invest $500m in India’s Flipkart

Abu Dhabi’s ADQ in talks to invest $500m in India’s Flipkart
  • ADQ is discussing a $35 billion to $40 billion fundraising in Flipkart that would come ahead of a planned IPO that could take place as soon as 2022

RIYADH: Abu Dhabi sovereign fund ADQ is in talks to invest about $500 million in India’s Flipkart, as the Walmart Inc.-backed e-commerce firm raises funds ahead of a potential initial public offering next year, Bloomberg reported citing people familiar with the matter.
ADQ is discussing a $35 billion to $40 billion fundraising in Flipkart that would come ahead of a planned IPO that could take place as soon as 2022, the people said, asking not to be identified for information confidentiality.
The Indian e-commerce firm is seeking to raise at least $3 billion.
ADQ paid about $800 million for  a 45 percent stake in Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC) last year. The acquisitive investment group also bought the Egyptian pharmaceutical company “Amon” from the Canadian company (Bausch Health) for $740 million.

 


Tesla to accept bitcoin again when greener

Tesla to accept bitcoin again when greener
Updated 14 June 2021

Tesla to accept bitcoin again when greener

Tesla to accept bitcoin again when greener
  • Bitcoin are produced by powerful computers that have to solve equations and consume huge amounts of electricity in the process

NEW YORK: Elon Musk, CEO of electric vehicle maker Tesla, said on Sunday that the US company will accept bitcoin payments again when the virtual currency is greener.
The American manufacturer caused a sensation in February when it announced that customers could pay in cryptocurrency, an option that became possible at the end of March.
But then Musk changed his mind, indicating that bitcoin were no longer accepted — in the interest of protecting the environment.
“When there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50 percent) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend, Tesla will resume allowing Bitcoin transactions,” the billionaire wrote on Twitter Sunday.
Bitcoin are produced by powerful computers that have to solve equations and consume huge amounts of electricity in the process.
The science journal Nature recently published a study showing that China’s bitcoin mines, which power nearly 80 percent of the world’s cryptocurrency trade and run in part from coal-fired power plants, risk jeopardizing the country’s climate goals.
Musk on Sunday reacted to an article raising the possibility that with his tweets, which regularly move the value of bitcoin in one direction or another, he is manipulating market prices for the benefit of his business.
“This is inaccurate,” he said. “Tesla only sold ~10 percent of holdings to confirm BTC could be liquidated easily without moving market.
The US automaker announced in early February that it had invested $ 1.5 billion of its ample cash in bitcoin and has since sold part of it.


Dubai’s yachts offer socially-distanced luxury

Dubai’s yachts offer socially-distanced luxury
Updated 14 June 2021

Dubai’s yachts offer socially-distanced luxury

Dubai’s yachts offer socially-distanced luxury
  • Charter companies said they have seen an increased interest in yachting after coronavirus measures eased, especially among those who want to spend time with friends and family

DUBAI: Dubai earned a reputation for delivering luxury for those with cash to splash years ago, but amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a new mode of travel has become popular — yachts.
“It’s more private, you’re with only family and friends, and it’s the ideal outing during a pandemic,” said Nada Naeem, a 36-year-old Saudi citizen living in Dubai.
Dozens of white yachts are seen every day zipping through the emirate’s bays, canals and islands, while others are docked along the coast in Gulf waters overlooking the skyline of high-rise towers.
“You feel like you can breathe,” Naeem said, adding that she had not left Dubai since the pandemic began last year. “It’s like you’ve traveled.”
Unlike so many parts of the world, Dubai opened its doors wide open to tourists just a few months after the coronavirus pandemic took hold last year.
Life in the Gulf emirate — one of the first destinations to welcome visitors again last July — returned to largely normal, with restaurants and hotels up and running and beaches open to the public.
The UAE, made up of seven emirates including Dubai, launched an energetic vaccination drive with some of the highest inoculation rates worldwide, and continues to enforce strict rules on wearing masks and social distancing.
But some are fearful of overseas travel, and wary of crowded places where the risk of catching COVID-19 is higher.
For those who can afford the price tag, yachts are seen as a safer bet.
“When they eased the lockdown ... people preferred something secure and safe with regulations,” said Mohammed Al-Sayyed, manager of Royal Star Yachts charter company.
“We are providing them with the proper customer service, following all the rules, sanitizing the yacht.”
For now, yachts are allowed to operate at 70 percent capacity.
The company has a fleet that includes a 141-foot (42-meter) yacht able to host 80 passengers at full capacity — if you can afford the $4,900 price for a three-hour cruise.
Charter companies said they have seen an increased interest in yachting after coronavirus measures eased, especially among those who want to spend time with friends and family.
“People want to do sightseeing, cruising,” said Sayyed, who has been in the yacht industry for eight years. “They want to relax.”
Cheaper yachts to hire include the company’s 90-foot “Big Daddy” — capable of normally carrying 65 people, at $1,225 for three hours — down to smaller boats.
Some in Dubai said that when the price was split between a group, the cost was not as steep as it seemed at first.
“It can actually be more affordable than an all-inclusive brunch at a restaurant,” said Naeem.
And while some groups have been busted by authorities flouting the rules and slapped with hefty fines, most excursions run smoothly.
Sayyed insisted his company follows all the rules and that even on the most luxurious “party yachts,” there are COVID-19 regulations still in place, including the need for passengers to socially distance from each other and wear masks.
Dubai, known for its skyscrapers and mega-projects, boasts the most diverse economy in the oil-reliant Gulf region and has built a reputation as a financial, commercial and tourism hub.
Tourism, which drew some 16 million visitors a year before the coronavirus hit, took a severe downturn in the first few months of the pandemic.
But a flood of arrivals since the beginning of the year has regenerated the industry, and helped many business activities recover.
Other yacht charter companies report an increase in demand for rentals in recent months.
And being out at sea doesn’t mean the guests must skimp on takeaway food or drinks. Jet skis and speed boats are on standby — for an extra fee — to take orders and deliver groceries from shore to ship.
“To go on a boat is as simple as being outdoors and being away from strangers, gathering with only those you trust,” said Palestinian Jeelan Herz, who has lived in the UAE for more than 30 years.
“It’s also something you can enjoy safely with children — go to the middle of the ocean, take part in water activities and take a nice dip.”


Kuwait’s economy contracted by 9.9% in 2020

Kuwait’s economy contracted by 9.9% in 2020
Updated 14 June 2021

Kuwait’s economy contracted by 9.9% in 2020

Kuwait’s economy contracted by 9.9% in 2020
DUBAI: Kuwait’s gross domestic product contracted 9.9 percent in 2020, compared with growth of 0.4 percent in 2019, mainly because of last year’s sharp drop in oil prices, state news agency KUNA reported on Sunday.
Kuwait, which makes half its revenues from oil, had its finances squeezed by an oil price crash and by the COVID-19 pandemic, while a draft law that would allow it to tap international debt has stalled amid disagreement between successive parliaments and cabinets.
The International Monetary Fund estimated in April that Kuwait’s GDP contracted 8 percent in 2020.
KUNA based its report on Central Bank of Kuwait’s governor, Mohammad Al-Hashel, who cited preliminary estimates and statistics and said the institution used all the tools available to it to blunt the pandemic’s impact.
He said preliminary estimates and statistics also showed the headline inflation rate increased to about 2.1 percent in 2020 from about 1.1 percent in 2019.
Kuwait’s population, which mostly comprises expatriate workers and their families, declined by 2.2 percent in 2020 after growing 3.3 percent in 2019.
Sources told Reuters in April that Kuwait has reached an agreement with state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corporation under which the company will pay the government billions in accrued dividends, part of government efforts to cover the deficit.

Oil holds near multi-year highs amid demand recovery

Oil holds near multi-year highs amid demand recovery
Updated 14 June 2021

Oil holds near multi-year highs amid demand recovery

Oil holds near multi-year highs amid demand recovery
  • The OPEC+ group has been restraining production to support prices after the pandemic wiped out demand in 2020

TOKYO: Oil prices held near multi-year highs on Monday, underpinned by an improved outlook for demand as increased COVID-19 vaccinations help lift travel curbs.
Brent crude was up 14 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $72.83 by 0123 GMT. It rose 1.1 percent last week and hit the highest since May 2019 of $73.09 on Friday.
US West Texas Intermediate was also up 14 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $71.05 a barrel, after reaching the highest since October 2018 at $71.24 on Friday and rising 1.9 percent on the week.
Vehicle traffic is returning to pre-pandemic levels in North America and much of Europe and more planes are in the air as lockdowns and other restrictions are being eased, driving three weeks of gains for the oil benchmarks.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, known as OPEC+, need to increase output to meet recovering demand, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its monthly report on Friday.
The OPEC+ group has been restraining production to support prices after the pandemic wiped out demand in 2020.
“OPEC+ needs to open the taps to keep the world oil markets adequately supplied,” the IEA said.
Goldman Sachs said last week it expects Brent to rise to $80 per barrel this summer as the rollout of inoculations boosts economic activity around the world.
US oil rigs rose by six to 365, the highest since April 2020, energy services company Baker Hughes Co. said in its weekly report.
It was the biggest weekly increase of oil rigs in a month, as drilling companies sought to benefit from rising demand.