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A street fruit vendor counts his bond notes in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo - RC19CFAB5F70
Africa in focus

Africa in the news: French bank accused of genocide complicity, Zimbabwe suffers cash shortage, and Chad ‘bafflingly’ added to US travel ban list

French prosecutors open investigation into BNP Paribas’ alleged role in Rwandan genocide

This week, French prosecutors opened an investigation into French bank BNP Paribas for “complicity in genocide and complicity in crimes against humanity.” The investigation will look into the role of the bank in being complicit in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which left 800,000 dead. The bank has issued a statement claiming that the start of this investigation was expected. In fact, earlier in the year three nongovernmental organizations—Sherpa, the Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda, and Ibuka France—filed a complaint against the bank, accusing it of being complicit in a June 1994 arms deal worth $1.3 million

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In June 1994, two months into the genocide and one month after the United Nations imposed an arms embargo on Rwanda, the bank was used to transfer the funds from the Rwandan national bank to a Swiss bank account belonging to a South African arms dealer. Said dealer then sold 80 tons of arms to Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, a then-secretary in the Rwandan Ministry of Defense who the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced to 35 years in prison for crimes against humanity in 2011. In their complaint, the three organizations allege that the bank was aware of the destination of the funds it assisted in transferring and subsequently contributed to the genocide.

This is not the first time the French bank has found itself in the middle of controversies involving foreign countries. In 2014, a United States court forced BNP Paribas to forfeit $8.83 billion and pay a $140 million fine, when it pleaded guilty to processing transactions worth billions of dollar for groups in Sudan, Iran, and Cuba between 2004 and 2012. This crime violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act, which aim to curb payments to groups considered a threat to the U.S. This also is not the first time French actors have been accused of having a role in the 1994 genocide. Presently, there are 25 genocide-related open cases against French actors presently investigated by the Genocide and War division at the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, the largest French court as measured by the number of cases handled.

Zimbabwe’s latest bond note issuance incites panic buying

Zimbabwe is facing an extreme liquidity crisis due to a slump in foreign-currency earnings, which has triggered cash shortages among importers. Last year, to ease liquidity problems and circulate more cash in the economy, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introduced Zimbabwean bond notes, a parallel currency to trade at par with the U.S. dollar, the country’s main trading currency. Recently, however, the U.S. dollar has become increasingly scarce in Zimbabwe. In turn, the value of the dollar has risen on the parallel market, prompting the bond notes to dramatically lose their value against the dollar.

For firms that typically use foreign currency to make foreign payments for the import of raw materials, this has meant they have been sourcing their foreign currency on the black market at high exchange rates but still at a lower cost than using the official rate. However, they have been passing along these prices to consumers through a three-tier pricing system—offering a discount for cash transactions in U.S. dollars and higher prices for transactions using bond notes or bank cards—which the government has called illegal. The government is attempting to clamp down on black market trading as Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa announced on Thursday that any unlicensed foreign currency traders would be arrested by the police and face up to 10 years in prison. Meanwhile, Zimbabweans are stockpiling goods as the prices of products are increasing, and banks are limiting withdrawal amounts to no more than $50 a week. These actions reflect concerns among Zimbabweans of the potential to slide back toward the hyperinflation leading up to 2008, as noted by GroundUp.

Trump adds Chad and removes Sudan from controversial “Muslim ban” travel restriction list

On September 24, U.S. President Donald Trump expanded the list of countries with extreme travel restrictions to include Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela. Already on the list were Syria, Iran, Yemen, and the two African countries of Libya and Somalia. At the same time, Sudan was removed. The changes to this list—particularly the addition of Chad and the removal of Sudan—have mystified security experts in both the U.S. and Africa.

The presidential proclamation cites its terrorist-filled “neighborhood” and that the country “does not do enough to ‘share public safety and terrorism-related information,’” as reason to include Chad. However, many analysts disagree: Chad has been a leader in the counterterrorism fight on the continent. According to Quartz, the country has been a “key member” in the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, a U.S. inter-agency program operating in the Sahel and West Africa. Chadian troops have also successfully been a part of counterterrorism and peacekeeping missions in Mali, the Central African Republic, and against Boko Haram and al-Qaida-affiliated groups.

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