Over the decades, popemobiles have typically been the preserve of major car manufacturers such as Mercedes, Ford and Fiat.
But the vehicle that will carry Pope Francis around the streets of the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo for his visit there this week is locally-made — and its furnishings are simple and open, in line with the pope’s distaste for luxury and aloofness.
Painted in an immaculate white and adorned with two Vatican flags, the open-topped vehicle is made by a Madagascar company called “Karenjy”.
“It’s with great joy that we present you the popemobile,” the apostolic nuncio, or Vatican envoy, to the island, Paolo Rocco Gualtieri, told the press ahead of the visit.
“Pope Francis will be delighted to visit Madagascar in this car.”
The pope, making his maiden visit to Madagascar, arrives in Antananarivo on Friday from Mozambique, the first port of call on an East African tour that will also include Mauritius.
Karenjy, whose name means “Stroll” in the Malagasy language, has followed familiar design principles for the vehicle.
It has a high roof to protect the pope from sun or rain, a pivoting seat from which he can salute the crowds and a glass screen to allow all-round visibility for the public.
But it breaks with classic popemobiles in that the canopy is not bullet-proof.
“The specifications set by the Vatican for the manufacture of this car have been met in every aspect,” Karenjy’s representative Jean Fleuris Jaotody told reporters.
“The pope chose not to have bulletproof glass. He prefers simple cars,” said Father Germain Rajoelison, deputy co-ordinator of the papal visit to Madagascar.
“He doesn’t like to have a wall separating him (from the faithful). He really wants to be close to the people.”
The one-off vehicle is the fruit of five months of labour by 15 workers at Karenjy’s site in Fianarantsoa, southeastern Madagascar.
The company, which started life in 1984, uses French-made engines for the sturdy, if boxy, all-terrain vehicles, priced at a relatively modest $7,100 and adapted for local needs.
It makes just a few dozen a year.
In 1989, the little-known company scored a PR coup when taking Pope John Paul II for a spin when he visited Fianarantsoa.
Its marketing chief, Henry Roussel, is ecstatic over the order for the popemobile.
“The fact that Pope Francis will be using a locally-made popemobile is really a powerful symbol and message of hope,” he said.
“It’s acknowledging the skills we have in Madagascar.”
Father Rajoelison added:
“People often say that our country is poor. It is a poor country, but look at the skills these people have. This car was built by people who came from poor families and who got a job.”
KCB Forecasts 15% Increase in Lending
Kenya’s biggest lender by assets, KCB Group, has forecast a 15% growth in its loan to clients this year owing to the removal of a cap on lending rates, according to its chief executive, Joshua Oigara on Friday.
The government removed the cap last November after it was blamed for curbing credit growth during its three years of existence.
KCB, expects to set a base lending rate at the start of March, which will allow it to offer varying rates to customers.
Banks use a base rate normally the cost of funds, plus a margin and a risk premium, to determine how much they should charge a particular customer.
The cap, which sets rates at 4% points above the central bank’s benchmark lending for all customers, had taken out that equation and the flexibility that lenders say they need in order to accommodate customers deemed as risky borrowers.
According to Oigara, a change in the price of premium based on the customer’s risk profile could generally increase the prices of credit in the market.
Together with delays in government payments to its suppliers, the cap had led to an acute slowdown in economic activity, with many people complaining of hardships and lack of cash.
Oigara further says that things are changing slowly after the government ordered its ministries, agencies, departments and local authorities to pay up pending bills last year.
The banker affirmed that this has led to an increase in liquidity in the market. And ensured available cash flows for businesses.
Merger and Acquisition
KCB injected 5 billion Kenyan shillings or $49.73 million into National Bank of Kenya (NBK) last month after acquiring it last September in a 1-for-10 share swap deal.
Oigara said that the bank had also put experienced executives in charge of the critical functions of NBK, to turn it around within the next three years, after which it is required to run it as a separate bank.
NBK accounts for a 10th of KCB’s assets, contributing less than 1% to the group’s profit, but Oigara said it wanted to boost the profit contribution to 20% of the group’s total.
KCB also operates in neighbouring Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan,
East Africa looks to end illicit gold trade
Countries in the East Africa region are discussing the adoption of stringent traceability mechanisms for the gold industry to stamp out rampant smuggling across East and Central Africa to overseas buyers particularly in Asia.
Mining officials from the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) countries are in negotiations and are meeting next month to discuss the body’s Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Strategy which calls for harmonisation of gold export procedures including taxation and traceability and certification.
The ICGLR wants its member countries to adopt the strategy by mid-this year.
According to the director of Democracy and good Governance at ICGLR, Ambeyi Ligabo, It is disheartening to see so much gold being smuggled from the DR Congo through its neighbouring countries while much attention over the past 10 years has focused on implementing traceability for tin, tungsten and tantalum (Three Ts) in which little has been done in terms of monitoring the flow of gold in the region.
Mr Ligabo also revealed they have agreed that it is crucial to implement the ICGLR guidelines on gold trade because the region’s image has been smeared by smuggling. We hope they speed up the process so these guidelines are affected by March this year.
Rwanda’s efforts to boost gold exports has been hampered by constant reports that the country serves as a route through which gold is smuggled out of the DR Congo to overseas buyers. The government is firm that all its gold is traded legitimately.
Uber to face commission capping regulations in Kenya
Uber charges a 25 per cent commission, a fee that has been at the centre of conflict with driver-partners over the last three years
Taxi-hailing firm, Uber has protested against government plans to cut its commissions from fares by more than 40 per cent, saying the move threatens earnings.
The country’s National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) says plans to cap the commissions for taxi-hailing firms at 15 per cent of the fares will derail growth.
Commissions are a fraction of the fare taxi firms take, meaning the proposed rule will leave less to the companies.
Uber charges a 25 per cent commission, a fee that has been at the centre of conflict with driver-partners over the last three years.
The public transport regulator seeks public views on the regulations until tomorrow.
Capping of the commission is set to be in favour of the taxi partners who have for a long time decried the charges, terming them unsustainable.
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