macroafricaintel Daily Brief | 10 Feb

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica

Global Markets

  • Asian markets stem losses as China returns to work but sentiment jittery
  • Asian shares fall after Friday’s losses on Wall Street
  • Chinese authorities make plans for businesses, schools to reopen
  • Singapore raises alert level on China travel

Oil Markets

  • Oil prices fall on oversupply worries as virus hits China demand
  • Brent down 38 cents at $54.09 a barrel (0100GMT)
  • WTI down 38 cents at $49.49

Precious metals

  • Gold prices tick up as virus fears stoke safe-haven demand
  • Spot gold up 0.1% at $1,572.01/oz. (0100GMT)
  • US gold futures up 0.3% at $1,577.50/oz.

Grains

  • Soybeans gain for fourth straight session as China demand worries ease
  • Soybean futures up 0.3% at $8.84-3/4 a bushel (0208GMT)
  • Corn futures up 0.4% at $3.82 a bushel
  • Wheat futures down 0.4% at $5.56-1/2 a bushel

Key African events or data releases today
[Posts & comments at my Twitter handles @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica]

  • African leaders in Addis Ababa for AU summit; 9-10 Feb
  • South Africa state capture inquiry resumes
  • 3rd Nigeria international petroleum summit in Abuja; 9-12 Feb

Key African events or data releases over the weekend & early a.m today

  • Trudeau raises issue of detained Canadians with Egypt’s Sisi
  • Suicide bomber attacks Algerian barracks, killing a soldier – defence ministry
  • Libya’s Azzawiya stops refining operations due to lack of crude
  • Route cuts intended to make South African Airways sustainable – rescue team
  • OPEC+ panel calls for more oil cuts on coronavirus impact – Algeria
  • UN to host new Libya ceasefire talks after no deal in first round
  • Somalia president signs new petroleum bill into law
  • Libya’s oil production dropped to 181,576 barrels per day
  • French soldiers kill more than 30 militants in Mali – army
  • Malawi President Mutharika appeaks ruling overturning his election victory
  • Botswana auctions permits to hunt elephants to ease human-wildlife conflict
  • South Africa govt calls for review of SAA route cuts
  • Africa Oil – IOC mops up as spot trade stutters
  • Smuggling pushes Ivory Coast cashew output down 17% in 2019
  • South Africa govt wants SAA route cuts reviewed – ministry
  • South African rand falls to 3-mth low, stocks down
  • Ramaphosa opposes plan to cut South African Airways’ domestic routes
  • Airlink interested in buying some South African Airways assets
  • Fighters step up attacks in Mozambique gas region, beheadings reported – UN
  • Rwanda secures $214 mln China loan for hydropower plant
  • Canadian miner Banro looking to sell Congo gold mine at discount – CEO
  • Congo’s move to control artisanal cobalt is double-edged: Andy Home
  • South African miners keen to start generating their own power
  • Tunisia’s current account deficit narrows on tourism boost – cenbank governor
  • Botswana auctions permits to hunt elephants to ease human-wildlife conflict
  • Kenyan sculptor turns scrap metal into art with a message
  • South Africa’s net foreign reserves rise to $45.1 bln in January

N.B. Full stories of above headlines are available on Reuters

macroafricaintel Weekly | 10 Feb

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica

Click here for PDF version

Date Data / Event Period Forecast Previous
11 Feb South Africa Manufacturing Production, % yy Dec 2019 -2.9 -3.6
12 Feb South Africa Retail Sales, % yy Dec 2019 1.8 2.6
13 Feb South Africa Mining Production, % yy Dec 2019 -2.8 -3.1
13 Feb Uganda Interest Rate, % 8.0 9.0
Botswana CPI, % yy (mm) Jan 2020 2.2 (0.3) 2.2 (0.2)
Tanzania CPI, % yy (mm) Jan 2020 3.8 (0.5) 3.8 (0.6)
Namibia CPI, % yy (mm) Jan 2020 1.6 (0.2) 2.6 (-0.1)
Nigeria CPI, % yy (mm) Jan 2020 12.1 (0.8) 12.0 (0.9)
South Africa CPI, % yy (mm) Jan 2020 4.4 (0.2) 4.0 (0.3)

macroafricaintel Daily Brief | 7 Feb

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica

Global Markets

  • Rally in stocks runs out of steam as coronavirus toll climbs
  • Coronavirus cases rise, Asian markets slip
  • Nikkei, Kospi down but poised for best week in 2020
  • Major currencies steady, oil rises but has not recovered

Oil Markets

  • Oil climbs after Russia backs possible output cuts to counter coronavirus impact on demand
  • Brent up 0.6% at $55.25 a barrel (0104GMT)
  • WTI up 0.5% at $51.21 a barrel

Precious metals

  • Gold inches up on virus concerns; set for worst week since early Nov
  • Spot gold up 0.1% at $1,568.76/oz. (0052GMT)
  • US gold futures flat at $1,570.70/oz.

Grains

  • Soybeans up for 5th session, gains capped by slowing Chinese purchases
  • Soybean futures up 0.4% at $8.84-1/4 a bushel (0145GMT)
  • Soybean up 1.3% w/w
  • Corn futures down 1.5% week thus far
  • Wheat up 0.5% for the week

Key African events or data releases today
[Posts & comments at my Twitter handles @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica]

  • African leaders head to Addis Ababa for AU summit; 9-10 Feb
  • Canada’s Trudeau visits Ethiopia for AU summit, heads to Senegal next week
  • Botswana elephant hunting auctions in Gaborone
  • Germany’s Merkel visits South Africa; 5-7 Feb
  • Kenya’s Kenyatta in Washington DC for trade talks
  • South Africa FX reserves Jan-20 [prev. $55.1B]
  • South Africa state capture inquiry continues
  • Cameroon national assembly elections; 9 Feb
  • 3rd Nigeria international petroleum summit in Abuja; 9-12 Feb

Key African events or data releases yesterday & early a.m today

  • US, Kenya launch talks on trade deal in move welcomed by industry
  • Eastern Libyan tribes asked to lay out conditions to reopen oil terminals – UN
  • Sudan dissolves central bank board, governor remains
  • Canada’s Trudeau seeks to rescue faltering UN bid on Africa trip
  • Kenya’s president says Kenyan, US officials will begin work on trade deal
  • Female genital mutilation will take centuries to eradicate, UN says
  • Trump says US will probably sign trade agreement with Kenya
  • Sudan dissolves boards of central bank and 11 other banks – state TV
  • Two die in Zimbabwe gold mine collapse
  • Africa Oil – Unipec offers down, Djeno lingers
  • Eastern Libyan tribesmen to submit conditions to reopen blocked oil terminals – UN
  • South Africa’s Sibanye-Stillwater doubts it will become owner of world’s deepest gold mine
  • Egypt’s net foreign reserves rise to $45.457 bln in January – c.bank
  • Tunisia central bank keeps key interest rate unchanged at 7.75 pct
  • South African rand falls, stocks up as Gold Fields shines
  • Ex-Ivory Coast leader Gbagbo wants unconditional release
  • Gambia’s labouring farmers show why premature births may boom in a warmer world
  • Vegans see green shoots in meat-loving Nigeria
  • Eni oil production in Libya halved to around 160,000 bpd – CEO
  • Lesotho leader’s wife released on bail ahead of murder trial
  • South Africa’s Eskom bonds see biggest jump since June after debt pledge
  • South African Airways to scale back routes at end Feb – rescue team
  • South Africa’s Harmony Gold Mining forecasts first half profit
  • Algeria leader pardons more than 6,000 prisoners in conciliatory gesture
  • South Africa plans new generating firm to boost power security
  • Lesotho police fear PM’s wife may escape again while on bail
  • South Africa business confidence index falls in January
  • Female genital mutilation hurts economies, says WHO

N.B. Full stories of above headlines are available on Reuters

macroafricaintel Daily Brief | 6 Feb

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica

Global Markets

  • Asian shares gain after solid US data, focus on virus
  • Upbeat US private jobs, service data lift mood
  • WHO says no break-through reported on coronavirus drugs

Oil Markets

  • Oil gains a second day as coronavirus optimism may mean demand rebound
  • Brent up 1.1% at $55.90 a barrel (0142GMT)
  • WTI up 1.4% at $51.48

Precious metals

  • Gold steady as virus fears offset robust US data
  • Spot gold flat at $1,556.36/oz. (0100GMT)
  • US gold futures down 0.2% at $1,559.30/oz.

Grains

  • Soybeans extend gains for fourth straight day
  • Soybean futures up 0.4% at $8.83-3/4 a bushel (0127GMT)
  • Corn futures unchanged at $3.80-3/4 a bushel
  • Wheat futures up 0.4% at $5.64-3/4 a bushel

Key African events or data releases today
[Posts & comments at my Twitter handles @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica]

  • International day of zero tolerance for FGM
  • Germany’s Merkel visits South Africa
  • Ghana’s main opposition NDC press briefing on Airbus scandal
  • Kenya’s Kenyatta in Washington DC for trade talks
  • African Union executive council meets
  • South Africa SACCI business confidence Jan-20 [prev. 93.1]
  • South Africa state capture inquiry continues
  • Investing in African mining indaba in Cape Town; 3-6 Feb

Key African events or data releases yesterday & early a.m today

  • Kenya wants close ties with both US and China, Kenyan president says
  • Female genital mutilation hurts economies says WHO
  • Sudan gives Israel initial okay for overflights – official
  • Nigeria drafting oil reform bill “from scratch” to pass this year – Senate President
  • OPEC+ technical meeting drags on amid oil cut debate
  • Malawi presidency to challenge court ruling overturning vote result
  • Algeria names new chief for state energy firm Sonatrach – state TV
  • Ivory Coast navy seizes record cocaine haul off coast
  • Africa Oil – Contango market, China virus upends trading
  • Nigeria sets ambitious target for mining sector growth
  • South Africa’s rand firms for third straight session
  • Lesotho PM’s wife in court charged with killing his previous wife
  • Italian court throws out witness request in Eni Nigeria graft case
  • Egypt’s c.bank to auction $900 mln of 1-yr t-bills on Feb 10
  • ‘Fragile’ Africa prepares for high risk of coronavirus spread
  • Morocco’s unemployment rate slips to 9.2% in 2019
  • Saudi Telecom must offer to buy remaining 45% in Vodafone Egypt – regulator
  • South Africa’s Ramaphosa open to Eskom debt proposal
  • Qatar Airways swoops for RwandAir stake and eyes bigger LATAM holding
  • Tunisia’s next govt must be broad-based, says leader of biggest party
  • First payment in South African silicosis settlement expected in Q2
  • Morocco’s trade deficit widens by 1.5% in 2019
  • Tunisia’s gas output capacity jumps 50% as Nawara field opens
  • Ghana draws strong demand as sells $3 bln in eurobonds
  • Nigeria sees exponential growth in mining sector within five years – minister
  • Nigeria’s contortionists go out on a limb for recognition
  • 8-yr old rapper strikes chord in Uganda with songs about poverty
  • Uganda shilling weakens as interbank players beef up positions
  • Nigeria customs find $8 mln in cash on bus at airport
  • Kenya private sector activity down in January – PMI
  • Kenya shilling strengthened due to inflows from remittances
  • South Africa private sector activity shrinks again in Jan – PMI
  • Trafigura to take 100% control of its Zimbabwe fuel import business
  • IMF lowers Uganda growth projection, cites oil investment delays
  • Sudan’s Burhan casts doubt on rapid normalization of ties with Israel
  • Measles vaccine drive aims to protect 45 mln children in Africa, Asia

N.B. Full stories of above headlines are available on Reuters

macroafricaintel Daily Brief | 5 Feb

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica

Global Markets

  • Asian shares up as China stocks edge higher but caution prevails
  • Financial markets trying to shake off virus woes
  • Equities draw investors on hopes for more China stimulus
  • Oil markets worried about demand disruptions

Oil Markets

  • Oil prices climb as OPEC, allies weigh output cuts to cushion coronavirus impact
  • OPEC+ panel met to consider steps, hear from China UN envoy
  • Oil flips into contango, indicating months of surplus
  • Brent up 0.8% at $54.40 a barrel (0127GMT)
  • WTI up 0.9% at $50.03

Precious metals

  • Gold prices edge higher on virus worries
  • Spot gold up 0.2% at $1,555.41/oz. (0050GMT)
  • US gold futures up 0.2% at $1,558.40/oz.

Grains

  • Soybeans rise for third straight day; lower demand worries cap gains
  • Soybean futures up 0.4% at $8.82-3/4 a bushel (0154GMT)
  • Corn futures down 0.2% at $3.81-1/2 a bushel
  • Wheat futures up 0.4% at $5.59-1/4 a bushel

Key African events or data releases today
[Posts & comments at my Twitter handles @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica]

  • Nigeria’s police chief meets federal legislature over insecurity concerns
  • South Africa petrol prices fall by 13 cents
  • South Africa’s Mabuza in South Sudan for peace initiative
  • Namibia supreme court rules on use of electronic voting machines
  • South Africa’s Public Protector vs Ramaphosa court case in Pretoria continues
  • South Africa Standard Bank PMI Jan-20 [prev. 47.6]
  • Nigeria Stanbic IBTC Bank PMI Jan-20 [prev. 56.8]
  • OPEC+ technical committee meets over coronavirus in Vienna; 4-5 Feb
  • Investing in African mining indaba in Cape Town; 3-6 Feb
  • Kenya’s Kenyatta heads to Washington DC for trade talks
  • UN-brokered Libya military talks in Geneva

Key African events or data releases yesterday & early a.m today

  • IMF lowers Uganda growth projection, cites oil investment delays
  • Nigeria working to have US travel ban lifted – foreign minister
  • Sudan’s sovereign council head confirms meeting Israeli PM in Uganda
  • UN Secretary General says Libya situation a ‘scandal’
  • Wife of Lesotho prime minister charged with murder of his previous spouse
  • Africa Oil – Spot trade stalls as Chinese demand fizzles
  • Algeria pardons thousands of prisoners
  • South Africa’s rand firms as risk appetite picks up
  • Botswana to accelerate $4 bln coal-to-liquid refinery project – minister
  • Nigeria eyes increased trade and tourism with new visa policy
  • Moi, Kenyan strongman who presided over rampant graft, dies
  • US, Jersey sign $300 mln Abacha loot repatriation deal with Nigeria
  • Moi’ Kenyan torture victims mourn a reckoning that never came
  • Vodacom to launch 5G services in South Africa in 2020
  • Egypt’s CIB proposes raising $951 mln for new expansion
  • Sudan casts doubt on early normalisation of ties with Israel
  • Turkey’s Karpowership looks to plug South African power gap
  • South African retailer Edcon to sell 167 CNA stores
  • Security problems hit Burkina Faso’s 2019 gold production – minister
  • Uganda shilling holds steady due to lower demand for dollars
  • Congo’s 2019 copper output up 17%, cobalt production falls 20%
  • South Africa court issues arrest warrant for ex-president Zuma, stayed until May 6
  • Families in Africa fear impact of US immigration ban
  • Angola’s Endiama expects diamond output to top 10 mln carats in 2020
  • UN Libya envoy says military factions ready to negotiate in Geneva
  • AngloGold Ashanti to update on South Africa asset sale this month
  • Kenya shilling holds steady against the dollar
  • Egypt to sell a 45% stake of Banque du Caire in the first half of 2020
  • Egypt’s non-oil private sector shrinks faster in Jan – PMI

N.B. Full stories of above headlines are available on Reuters

macroafricaintel Daily Brief | 4 Feb

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica

Global Markets

  • Asia stocks find footing as China markets restore some losses
  • Coronavirus death toll rises further
  • China shares rebound after Wall St bounces
  • Oil leads commodity slide on fears for China demand

Oil Markets

  • Oil prices rebound from China virus slump amid ginger recovery across markets
  • Brent up nearly 0.4% at $54.66 a barrel (0227GMT)
  • WTI up 0.6% at $50.43

Precious metals

  • Firm dollar weighs on gold prices amid virus threats
  • Spot gold down 0.1% at $1,575.27/oz. (0156GMT)
  • US gold futures down 0.2% at $1,579.50/oz.

Grains

  • Soybeans rise for second session; coronavirus fears cap gains
  • Soybean futures up 0.1% at $8.77-1/2 a bushel (0147GMT)
  • Corn futures up 0.3% at $3.80 a bushel
  • Wheat futures down 0.2% at $5.54-1/4 a bushel

Key African events or data releases today
[Posts & comments at my Twitter handles @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica]

  • OPEC+ technical committee meets over coronavirus in Vienna; 4-5 Feb
  • 5th Nigeria – US binational commission in Washington DC; 3-4 Feb
  • Investing in African mining indaba in Cape Town; 3-6 Feb
  • Kenya’s Kenyatta heads to Washington DC for trade talks
  • UN-brokered Libya military talks in Geneva

Key African events or data releases yesterday & early a.m today

  • Kenya’s former president Daniel Arap Moi dies – Citizen TV
  • Egypt non-oil private sector shrinks faster in Jan – PMI
  • Families in Africa fear impact of US immigration ban
  • UN-brokered Libya military talks begin in Geneva
  • Israel and Sudan will push to normalise relations – Israeli officials
  • More soldiers won’t help Mali, talks with [militants] might – UN
  • Malawi court annuls President Mutharika’s 2019 election victory
  • Egypt military brings in sovereign fund to help sell assets
  • At least 13 students killed in stampede in Kenya – Daily Nation
  • Africa Oil – Unipec halts WAF buying, offers cargoes as freight plummets
  • Anglo-American to decide fate of South African thermal coal assets this year
  • South Africa’s rand firms following slide on virus fears
  • Nigeria stocks fall to 3-wk low as funds exit
  • OPEC+ considering further 500,000 bpd oil output cut – sources
  • Botswana projects narrower budget deficit for 2020/21
  • Gas pipeline in Egypt’s Sinai attacked, imports from Israel unaffected
  • Locust swarms threaten more countries in eastern Africa – FAO
  • Unipec stops West African crude buying as virus hits Chinese demand – sources
  • Congo’s new artisanal cobalt monopoly could seek private partner – minister
  • Ghana to probe bribery accusations in Airbus deal
  • Ivory Coast 2019/20 cocoa port arrivals seen at 1,419,000 T by Feb. 2 – exporters
  • Morocco’s Maroc Telecom fined $344 mln for anti-competitive practices
  • South Africa’s Absa PMI falls further in January
  • Kenyan shilling strengthens, remittances help

N.B. Full stories of above headlines are available on Reuters

macroafricaintel | Social media & free speech in Africa

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji, @macroafrica

It is probably true that African elections are not won on social media. Still, the same cannot be said of public opinion. There is evidence the dominant narrative on social media is influential. Sometimes, and increasingly so, the first anyone knows about a government policy is when it is announced on social media. American president Donald Trump is the archetypal example of this practice. Of course, and unfortunately so, what ‘trends’ on social media could also be false. Recently, for instance, it was falsely reported that Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, married two of his female cabinet minsters. And even now, despite the country’s secret service bringing the culprit to book, the false report is still widely believed.

Little wonder, African governments are increasingly concerned about social media and the influence it wields. Put another way, African governments are finding that they cannot easily control the media narrative as much as they would like or used to be able to. They are not taking the assault lying down. In Nigeria, a social media bill is in the works. It certainly does not help that Singapore, a paragon of development, has one already. In fact, in the Nigerian case, the draft social media bill reportedly takes a cue from the Singaporean law. To be sure, one is not suggesting that mischief-makers, and there are plenty of those on social media, should be given a carte blanche. But the risk of stifling free speech in the process is real and significant. What is to be done then?

Fake news predates social media
“Disinformation is as old as humanity. When the serpent told Eve that nothing would happen if she ate the apple, that was disinformation. But today, spreading lies has never been easier. On social media, there are no barriers to entry and there are no gatekeepers.” This exposition by former Time magazine managing editor & one-time American under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, Richard Stengel, in his 2019 book, Information Wars: How we lost the global battle against disinformation & what we can do about it, highlights the longstanding use of disinformation or fake news for mischievous ends.

2019 Nobel prize joint-winners in economics and couple Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s Good Economics for Hard Times: Better answers to our biggest problems highlights the issue rather succinctly. Social media is not the problem. But social media magnifies the problem with relative ease. For instance, old media, not new or social media, motivated the genocide in Rwanda. Banerjee & Duflo assert “altogether, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) propaganda is estimated to be responsible for 10 percent of the violence, or about fifty thousand Tutsi deaths.” The point is that propaganda & fake news predated social media with perhaps even more fatal consequences.

One concedes, however, that social media has made it easier for mischief-makers to practice their ugly art. Unsurprisingly, fake news and rumours are increasingly first planted on social media before germinating to old media. Fact-based journalism is undoubtedly under attack. Even when news is genuine, the brief format of many a social media platform and the seemingly unquenchable thirst of enthusiasts often means not much is read after the headlining tweet or Facebook/Instagram post. And once a tweet or other social media post goes viral, whether true or not, it is usually difficult for the original author to control the message thereafter.

Better information war strategies needed
Clearly nowadays, it does not take much to plant fake news and get it to permeate through social media with relative ease. Understandably, there is a growing call for regulation. Still, as it is very difficult to discern what is fake news or disinformation, regulation would hardly be a solution. Not without some creativity, at least. Because even when effective, regulating social media would almost certainly stifle free speech. Stengel acknowledges as much. Democracies, by their very nature, being as they thrive on openness to ideas, are not well-equipped to fight disinformation.

Put another way, fighting disinformation through classical regulation, which would probably require full censorship, would almost certainly push a government towards autocracy. And true to type, countries like China and Russia that have a relatively tight lid on disinformation today are autocracies. Incidentally, they are also the leading purveyors of disinformation towards geopolitical ends around the world. Simply put, as Stengel highlights, “in a democracy, government is singularly bad at combating disinformation.” So, should purveyors of falsehoods be allowed to continue going haywire, leaving immeasurable damage in their wake?

One of the first ideas Stengel mulled – to funnily much turf war-type resistance initially – at the American foreign ministry is already being implemented by many governments. But back then, it was a novelty; even for the United States. He suggested a digital hub of sorts, not as originator or author of content but an aggregator to “share, amplify and coordinate” American foreign policy and actions; which essentially involved retweeting and reposting news about the US state department’s activities each day. African governments, which already do this in one form or another, clearly do not think this is enough; in light of their quest for more stringent social media regulation. They are probably right about the limited reach of their current strategies. Even so, they would probably be more effective if they ascribed as much seriousness to the task as they do for old media institutions.

Stengel’s description of how Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) works provides insights into alternative but likely more effective strategies. “Every day, in two shifts, a few hundred young people spend their time writing blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, Vkontakte posts and much more…it is indeed a factory; they manufacture thousands upon thousands of pieces of pro-Russian, anti-American content a day.” Although the Russian IRA is owned by a businessman allied to the Russian government, every government should probably have an IRA-type outfit; much like most governments have their own news agencies and broadcasters.

The suggestion is not that a government-owned social media agency should engage in some of the negative activities Russia’s IRA is accused of. Still, such an agency would probably be the more appropriate public bulwark against the purveyors of fake news and disinformation on social media. It is certainly a better proposition than the potentially free-speech stifling social media regulations being proposed by some African governments and in fact already in practice in Singapore and elsewhere. That said, some regulation of social media has clearly become necessary. The key would be for any regulation to be geared towards incentivizing accurate news reportage. In other words, new media practitioners should be made to have as much fear of punishment as their counterparts in old media. To succeed, the active cooperation of big tech would be required. But would they choose to be part of the solution?

Make platforms liable for their content
Social media platforms are probably conflicted. That is, if you infer correctly from Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff’s 2019 book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power, where she asserts “fake news and and other forms of information corruption have been perennial features of Google and Facebook’s online environments…[with]…countless examples of disinformation that survived and even thrived because it fulfilled economic imperatives”. Stengel corroborates this view: “The players in this conflict are assisted by the big social media platforms, which benefit just as much from the sharing of content that is false as content that is true.” Even more bluntly, Stengel asserts “popularity is the measure [social media platforms] care about, not accuracy or truthfulness.” Still, as Zuboff adds, “they [Facebook & others] absolutely have the tools to shut down fake news”. But they have to be willed to do so conscientiously. And there is evidence they do so when prompted by governments.

Still, in America, where most of the top global social media platforms are headquartered, there is limited incentive for them to combat disinformation. Their complacency stems from the United States’ Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 which provides immunity to social media platforms from being liable for published content. The part of particular interest in that American legislation reads thus: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Were this part of the legislation to be modified, it is well-known these platforms are perfectly capable of policing mischievous content with super efficiency. Thus, incentivising them via liability for disinformation might be ideal.

In practice, considering the robust political lobbying apparatus of American big tech firms, this would be a herculean task. But if African governments and others truly desire a curb on disinformation, it would not be untoward for them to be part of a global effort towards forcing the US Congress’ hand, via the United Nations perhaps – not that that has ever successfully forced the Americans to do anything they didn’t want to do – towards such a modification. Even so, Stengel sees a way to make changes to the legislation that may likely be acceptable to social media platforms: “One way to do this is to revise the language of the CDA to say that no platform that makes a good faith effort to fulfill its responsibility to delete harmful content and provide information to users about that content can be liable for the damage that it does.” Still, Stengel adds, “for all this to work, we need global privacy regulations, a universal definition of disinformation and legal consequences for purveying it.”

In any case, Singapore is pushing ahead with fighting fake news on its own; albeit it could be argued its intentions are not entirely altruistic. In November 2019, for instance, the Singaporean government ordered Facebook to issue a disclaimer (“Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information”) on a post by a local newspaper that it considered inaccurate. But how many of these orders can it issue? Its progress in this regard is likely to be incremental. A global effort, with America in the lead, under the auspices of the United Nations, would likely be more effective. In the absence of such a global coalition, hard-fought democratic gains around the world would be increasingly eroded; especially in the poor parts of the world, like Africa, where they are mostly needed.