Kenyans rush to swap banknotes as cash ban looms

Kenyans were given to September 30 to exchange their old bills at the bank or be stuck with bundles of useless cash. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2019

Kenyans rush to swap banknotes as cash ban looms

  • People with their fortunes stashed in cash are under pressure to find ways to jettison their money
  • ‘Four months is a short period of time when you want to launder big sums of money’

NAIROBI: Last week a man walked into a Nairobi car yard and paid for a luxury Mercedes with a mountain of 1,000-shilling ($10) banknotes, desperate to offload cash that within days would be worthless.
With a deadline looming before the Central Bank of Kenya bans all old edition 1,000-shilling notes, big fish with their fortunes stashed in cash are under pressure to find ways to jettison their money.
A new print of the 1,000-shilling banknote, the largest denomination, was rolled out in June, with Kenyans given to September 30 to exchange their old bills at the bank or be stuck with bundles of useless cash.
The operation is aimed at flushing out dirty money being hoarded by tax evaders, crooked businessmen and criminal groups.
Large deposits of the old notes, embossed with the image of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, raise alarm bells at banks and require paperwork to prove their origin.
The central bank in June said there were roughly 218 million 1,000-shilling notes in circulation, but declined to say what proportion was being stashed as black money.
Kenyan economist Aly-Khan Satchu said devaluing these bills works by “taking its owners by surprise.”
“Four months is a short period of time when you want to launder big sums of money,” he said.
“People who have that money will definitely try to save what they can.”
So, people are getting creative, devising schemes to quickly unload small amounts of their cash while avoiding detection by the authorities.
John, a car dealer in Nairobi, recalled his customer last week counting out thousands upon thousands of banknotes to purchase a luxury car worth $74,000.
“People want to get rid of their old notes, but they know very well that questions will be asked if they go put the money themselves in the bank,” said John, who declined to offer his real name due to the nature of his business.
“When I go to the bank to deposit money from a car sale, people ask for the papers from the sale, sometimes even copies of emails, but it never goes further.”
Other businesses are finding a lucrative side trade in washing 1,000-shilling notes through their tills — for a bit in return.
“I was approached by a friend through another friend and we struck a deal. I get around 500,000 shillings every day to bank together with my daily sales,” said a liquor shop owner who declined to be named in Hurlingham, a district near downtown Nairobi.
“In return I get between five and 10 percent, depending on the amount.”
The amounts being deposited are below one million shillings, the threshold at which banks required detailed paperwork under a new transparency policy imposed by the central bank in June 2018.
One canny businessman in western Kenya dished out his cash in the form of small, interest-free loans of around 50,000 shillings.
The amounts are low, so those exchanging the old bills avoid detection, and upon returning the debt his money is cleaned into new bills.
“Nothing is written down, it is a gentleman’s agreement,” he said, declining to be named.
Other methods involve sinking cash into real estate or investment funds, or businesses moving large volumes of money, several businesspeople said.
But it’s not all underhanded and hush-hush.
One bar in the coastal city of Mombasa is offering to swap banknotes on behalf of drinkers, encouraging punters to spend big at their “Old Notes Send Off Party” being held the eve of demonetization.


At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

Updated 06 May 2021

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

  • Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants
  • At the week's end more than 2,200 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million

TORONTO: Intensive care nurse Farial says the health care system in Canada’s Ontario province is nearing the breaking point as it fights a fast-moving new wave of Covid-19 infections.
The caregiver at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital is looking after two patients in their 60s who are on ventilators.
“We’re overwhelmed,” she told AFP, conveying the feelings of her peers who often say they feel powerless against a tidal wave of new cases, and angry at times — especially with the Ontario government’s arguably slow response and with Ontarians who are not following public health orders to contain the coronavirus.
“We’re stretched thin. We’re tired and exhausted. Just exhausted.”
Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants. The latest surge in the number of cases was so big that authorities this week dispatched the military and the Red Cross to help care for critical patients.
“It’s the worst wave I’ve ever seen,” says head nurse Kimisha Marshall. “We have younger patients coming in, sicker and lots more patients coming in.”
“We’re short of nurses. We had some nurses that left, but also we have nurses that are getting sick, too,” she adds.
At the week’s end, there were more than 2,200 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million. Nearly 900 patients were listed in critical condition.
Medical staff have been redeployed from other wards to the ICU to lend a hand, and transferring patients to facilities in less affected areas has alleviated some of the pressure on this Toronto hospital.
But more than a year after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, “the team is tired,” comments Raman Rai, head of the intensive care unit where a few children’s drawings thanking caregivers hang on the walls, bringing a glimmer of cheer.
At times overcome by a deep sadness, Rai says: “You see people who have not only lost a loved one, but who have lost several members of their family. It is very hard.”
More than 60 percent of patients in Humber River Hospital’s intensive care unit on Wednesday were being treated for Covid-19. In one of the rooms, relatives and a priest gathered around a patient’s bed, praying.
Every day, several more patients must be placed on ventilators. On Wednesday, a 52-year-old man with low blood oxygen levels was intubated by a team of four caregivers fully dressed in protective gowns, gloves, masks and visors.
“He was so scared, he could barely breathe,” recounts Melody Baril, who performed the intubation.
“You try and give them a little bit of hope,” she says, “but the death rate is so high, once you get to this point.”
More than 8,000 people in Ontario have died from Covid-19, representing one-third of the nationwide pandemic death toll. The number of cases in the province has risen to over 450,000, or almost 40 percent of the total in Canada.
After peaking in mid-April, the number of new daily infections has fallen slightly over the past 10 days and a vaccine rollout is accelerating. But the number of patients in intensive care continues to rise.
Fearing the crisis will persist, some caregivers say they are angry with Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government — which has faced a storm of criticisms over its pandemic response of late — but also against a segment of the population that has stubbornly resisted following public health restrictions.
“I feel frustrated,” says nurse Sarah Banani. “I think perhaps things could have been shut down harder and faster as we saw the variants take hold within the population.”
“I think we all feel we have been let down a little bit by society,” comments physician Jamie Spiegelman, adding that many health care providers “feel powerless to change things.”
“When I go outside and see traffic, people in a shopping center not taking the necessary precautions, that’s a letdown,” he says.
“We’re sick of patients with Covid-19 dying.”


Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Updated 06 May 2021

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

  • Sweden now has among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, said health official
  • With 1,002,121 covid19 cases recorded since the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data

STOCKHOLM: Sweden on Thursday announced it had recorded over one million cases of Covid-19, nearly a tenth of the population, as the Nordic nation struggles to rein in a third wave of the virus.
“In Sweden we now have among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe,” Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of microbiology at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, told a press conference.
Tegmark Wisell noted however that there had been a downward trend in recent weeks.
With 1,002,121 cases of the novel coronavirus recorded since the start of the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data compiled by AFP.
The Public Health Agency published a series of projections, with the most likely scenario showing the virus spread starting to subside in mid-May before reaching “very low levels” in July and August.
The Scandinavian country has famously never imposed the type of lockdown seen elsewhere in Europe, controversially relying on mostly non-coercive measures.
It has however gradually tightened restrictions since November, including a ban on alcohol sales after 8:00 p.m. and on public gatherings of more than eight people.
Since March, cafes, bars and restaurants have also been required to shut their doors by 8:30 pm.
Despite being in the midst of a third wave of cases, the rise in deaths has been much slower in recent weeks, with 156 deaths in the last seven days, which authorities say is the result of the rollout of vaccines among vulnerable groups.
The total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 since the start of pandemic reached 14,158 on Thursday, putting Sweden in the middle of the pack in Europe, although well ahead of its Nordic neighbors Finland, Norway and Denmark,
European mortality statistics however also show that Sweden had a lower than average excess mortality in 2020, compared to the rest of Europe.


Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Updated 06 May 2021

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

  • Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the healthcare system
  • Delhi government and a non-profit organization kitted out over 12 autorickshaws with sanitizers and masks while oxygen cylinders are provided based on need

NEW DELHI: It’s not the most conventional way to get to hospital, but with Delhi running short of ambulances, authorities have turned some of the city’s ubiquitous three-wheeled autorickshaws into makeshift ambulances to ferry COVID-19 patients.
Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the health care system.
Families have had to make their own arrangements including paying exorbitant amounts to private ambulance operators to take the sick to hospital.
The Delhi government, in association with a non-profit organization, has kitted out more than a dozen autorickshaws with hand sanitizers and face masks, while oxygen cylinders are provided on a need basis. The service, which began officially on Tuesday, is free.
Autorickshaw driver Raj Kumar has taken patients to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, Delhi’s largest facility, which is overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
“We must all help each other out at this time of need to get out of this situation,” said Kumar, who wears a PPE suit. There is a plastic partition between him and the passengers at the back.
“If everyone stays home because they are scared, then who is going to help those in need?“
Mohit Raj, founder and executive director of the Turn Your Concern into Action foundation, said the response so far had shown the scheme needed more vehicles.
“Now we are getting calls not just of COVID patients but from front-line workers who are unable to find patient conveyance, as well as from people with other ailments,” he said.
Raj added he has received requests from other parts of the country to start services there.


Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan

Updated 06 May 2021

Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan

  • Former TV present Nimat Rawan was shot at noon by two assailants who escaped with his mobile phone
  • Security officials have told several other journalists in the area that extremists are targeting them as well

KABUL: Gunmen killed a former Afghan TV presenter on Thursday as he was traveling in the southern city of Kandahar, a provincial official said, adding to fears for press freedom in the war-wrecked country.
Nimat Rawan was shot at noon, provincial spokesman Baheer Ahmadi said, by two assailants who were able to escape with his mobile phone.
Security officials have told several other journalists in the area that extremists are targeting them as well, he added.
The killing heightens worries over the fate of Afghan journalists as US troops pullout. Many fear violence will spike and reprisals will be taken out against those who worked with foreign forces.
Rawan was a former presenter for the well-known local channel Tolonews. He had been working in the Finance Ministry’s media office, media watchdog Nia said in a statement.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it comes a day after the Taliban issued a threat to Afghan journalists it considered too close to US-backed security agencies.
In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned Afghan journalists against giving “one-sided news in support of Afghanistan’s intelligence,” or otherwise “face the consequences.”
Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. Since 2006, as many as 76 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan, according to UNESCO.
Last year alone at least 15 were killed, and earlier this year, three women employed by media outlets were killed in eastern Afghanistan. The Daesh group has claimed responsibility for some of the killings, including that of the three women. The majority of the targeted journalists have been women.
The government blames a resurgent Taliban — who now control or hold sway over half the country — for many of the targeted killings. The insurgents, meanwhile, claim the Afghan intelligence service is carrying out these attacks so as to blame the Taliban.


Former Ugandan rebel commander Ongwen sentenced to 25 years in prison

Updated 06 May 2021

Former Ugandan rebel commander Ongwen sentenced to 25 years in prison

  • Dominic Ongwen was convicted in February of 61 crimes including rape and sexual enslavement
  • Ongwen was abducted by the group as a 9-year-old boy and forced into life of violence

AMSTERDAM: Judges at the International Criminal Court on Thursday sentenced a former Ugandan child soldier who became a commander of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army to 25 years in prison.
Dominic Ongwen, who was taken into ICC custody in 2015, was convicted in February of 61 crimes including rape, sexual enslavement, child abductions, torture and murder.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the panel of judges had considered sentencing Ongwen to life imprisonment, the court’s harshest punishment, but had sided against it due to the defendant’s own personal suffering.
Led by fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, the LRA terrorized Ugandans for nearly 20 years as it battled the government of President Yoweri Museveni from bases in northern Uganda and neighboring countries. It has now largely been wiped out.
Ongwen was abducted by the group as a 9-year-old boy and forced into life of violence. At the same time, the judges found, he knowingly committed a vast range of heinous crimes as an adult, many of them against defenseless children and women who had been forced into slavery.
He was “a perpetrator who willfully brought tremendous suffering upon his victims, however, also a perpetrator who himself has previously endured extreme suffering at the hands of the group of which he later became a prominent member and leader,” Judge Schmitt said.
Prosecutors had demanded he get at least 20 years in prison, while his defense argued he should get no more than a 10-year sentence because he was traumatized as a child soldier.
The sentence can be appealed.