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Egypt’s new Ramadan series-streaming app scrutinised by critics

Egypt’s Watch iT aims to snatch audiences away from the free video-sharing giants.

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watch iT
Image credit: Ramadan Media

Egypt’s first video-streaming app, Watch iT, launched this month just in time for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The religious season is also the high season for the television industry, but the app’s debut has been panned by critics for high prices and technical failures.

Chilling thrillers, sentimental dramas and classic comedies – Egypt’s famed Ramadan TV series have long united millions of families from the breaking of the fast in the evening until dawn.

In recent years, many have taken to streaming episodes of their favourite shows on YouTube after they first broadcast on television.

Egypt’s Watch iT, which launched on May 1, aims to grab hold of this trend and snatch audiences away from the free video-sharing giant.

The platform is owned by the Egyptian Media Group and offers 15 exclusive series produced in Egypt especially for Ramadan, for a monthly fee of 99 pounds ($5.80).

“It’s way too expensive,” said Youssef Ahmed, a 48-year-old father shopping in Cairo during the first days of the fast.

Half-year subscriptions go for 555 pounds, with a year costing 999 pounds — a tall order in a country where the average monthly salary is around $220.

“Anyway, it’s better to watch the series on television as a family,” Ahmed commented.

Watch iT facing challenges

Google’s Play Store service has logged more than 10,000 downloads of the app since its launch – far below the projected figures.

Those who have forked out the money for the platform have run up against technical difficulties, sparking a wave of criticism.

Local media said the site was the victim of “hacking” and the Egyptian Media Group did not respond to questions.

CEO Tamer Mursi boasted shortly after the app launched that his media group had played a “modernising” role in Egypt’s television industry and furthered “the protection of (intellectual property) rights”.

His company owns several television channels, prominent newspapers and production companies, drawing accusations from critics that it runs a monopoly.

Surviving competition

In the age of international streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon, the moment is right for such a switch in Egypt, but critics say the Ramadan series industry is not up to the challenge.

“When such a company launches such a service, it is supposed to test it well before it enters the market,” said Ahmed Hamdi, a journalist with the business newspaper Al Mal.

Hit by general disorganisation in recent years, the industry’s latest products have been characterised by rushed filming and sloppy scripts.

“Watch iT is a new experience in the Egyptian market and fully justified in terms of both its functional and financial aspects, but it faces many challenges,” said Ahmed Adel, a telecoms research manager at Beltone Financial.

One of the biggest difficulties, he said, is that it cannot compete with international platforms.

Netflix from the United States and Wavo out of the United Arab Emirates are both technically superior and offer dozens of Western, Arab and Turkish series and films at a lower price.

Watch iT will also have to jostle for screen time with the pirated content widely available across the Arab world, Adel added.

Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country and more than 40 percent of its 100 million residents have internet access.

Nearly three-quarters connect with their mobile phones, according to the latest figures from the telecommunications ministry.

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East Africa Politics News

Ugandan Security Forces Stop U.S. Ambassador from Gaining Access to Bobi Wine’s House

Shortly after casting his ballot on Thursday in the country’s presidential elections, Opposition leader Bobi Wine was placed under house arrest.

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The U.S. ambassador in Uganda was stopped by security personnel from visiting opposition leader Bobi Wine at his residence, prompting the mission to call his house arrest a “worrying” sign.

Shortly after casting his ballot on Thursday in the country’s presidential elections, Opposition leader Bobi Wine was placed under house arrest.

The incumbent president Yoweri Museveni, 76, who has been ruling the country since 1986 when Bobi Wine was only four years old, was declared winner of the election with 59% of the vote against Bobi Wine’s 35%.

The U.S. embassy said in a statement on Monday, that the U.S. ambassador Natalie E. Brown was stopped from visiting Kyagulanyi at his residence in a suburb in the northern outskirts of the capital Kampala.

The mission said the U.S. ambassador wanted to check on Wine’s “health and safety.”

The embassy noted that the just concluded election was tainted by harassment of opposition candidates, suppression of media and rights advocates as well as nationwide internet shutdown.

“These unlawful actions and the effective house arrest of a presidential candidate continue a worrying trend on the course of Uganda’s democracy,” it said.

No observers were deployed for the polls from both the United States and the European Union due to denial of accreditations and failure by Ugandan authorities to implement recommendations by past missions.

During the campaigning security forces routinely broke up Wine’s rallies with teargas, bullets, beatings and detentions, citing violations of laws meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus for those actions.

After Wine was detained for alleged violation of the anti-coronavirus measures in November, 54 people were killed as security forces quelled a protest that erupted.

Opposition leader Bobi Wine and his National Unity Platform (NUP) have rejected the results of the election, saying they were planning a court challenge.

Ugandan security forces on Monday cordoned off offices of opposition party’s in the capital Kampala. The party said the move is complicating their efforts to gather evidence of irregularities committed during the election.

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Kenya to Conduct Survey on Diaspora Remittances

The first-ever survey of its kind, will be conducted in February and March, and will be spearheading by the the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK).

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Kenya will next month commission a survey on remittances from its citizens in the diaspora as it seeks to increase the inflows’ support in development and economic growth.

The first-ever survey of its kind will be conducted in February and March and will be spearheaded by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK).

Kenya’s apex bank will work closely with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and other stakeholders.

“The Survey on remittances aims at collecting valuable information on remittance inflows to Kenya to help guide policy, with the objective of boosting the role of remittances in supporting the economy and livelihoods,” CBK said in a statement on Friday.

The valuable information includes; the efficiency and cost of alternative remittance channels, challenges encountered in remitting cash or non-cash transfers, the availability and flow of information to Kenyans in the diaspora about investment opportunities in Kenya and the usage of remittances received.

Remittances are an important source of foreign exchange and they play a pivotal role in socio-economic development of recipient countries.

Despite the devastation by Covid-19 in the source countries, remittance inflows were strongly buoyant in Kenya in 2020.

The CBK notes that remittances rose to a record high of $3,094 million (Sh340.5 billion) in 2020, from $2,796 million (Sh307.7 billion) the previous year, an increase of 10.7 per cent.

In just of December 2020 alone, remittances reached a historical peak of $299 million (Sh32.9 billion).

“This remarkable growth of remittances has been supported by financial innovations that provided Kenyans in the diaspora more convenient channels for their transactions,” governor Patrick Njoroge has said, on behalf of the CBK.

The Survey on remittances will be an online program conducted in two parts—the first phase will focus on the sources of remittances (remitters and the source countries), while the second phase will target the households that receive remittances.

TheCBK said a link with more information concerning the survey will be circulated widely through various communication channels and will also be available on CBK’s website

North America and Europe make up over 70 per cent of where the diaspora inflows to Kenya are from.

Kenya’s National Treasury has for a while been eager to tap the diaspora market to support economic growth through investments in the country, with a keen focus on the capital market in rising infrastructure development funds.

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East Africa Politics News

South Sudan Ready to Mediate Between Sudan, Ethiopia to end Border Conflict

On Thursday, Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan met with Tut Gatluak, South Sudan’s presidential adviser on security affairs

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Sudan’s Sovereign Council says President Salva Kiir of South Sudan has expressed willingness to be an intermediary between Sudan and Ethiopia to end their ongoing border conflict.

Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan met with Tut Gatluak, South Sudan’s presidential adviser on security affairs, who conveyed president Kiir’s message verbally, the council said in a statement.

“President Salva Kiir has expressed readiness to mediate between Sudan and Ethiopia to reach a political and diplomatic solution according to the recognised international borders in preservation of the fraternal ties between the two countries and the peace in the region,” Gatluak was quoted by the statement as saying.  

Al-Burhan stressed “the friendly and fraternal solution” for the border dispute between the two countries, Gatluak added. Since September 2020, the Sudan-Ethiopia border has been witnessing rising tensions and violent clashes with accusations and counter accusations between the two sides.

Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, that an Ethiopian military plane penetrated the Sudanese airspace in what it termed “a serious and unjustified escalation.”

Sudan accuses Ethiopian farmers of seizing Sudanese lands at Sudan’s Fashaga area along the border and cultivating them since 1995, claiming that the farmers were backed by armed forces.

On December 16 last year, the Sudanese army said its troops were ambushed on the Sudanese side of the border, by Ethiopian forces and militias.

Then on December 19, the Sudanese army said it had deployed strong reinforcements to the Gadaref State on the eastern border with Ethiopia. Khartoum then announced the retaking of what it terms as “the seized lands.”

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