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These handmade-in-Zimbabwe shoes are attracting global demand5 minutes read

Prized by a small band of aficionados, Courteney boots have soles made from natural tree rubber

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Employees of the Courteney boot company work on the production line in Bulawayo - AFP

In a small factory producing handmade boots and shoes in southwestern Zimbabwe, leather cutter Misheck Sibanda is on another hectic shift as he tries to keep up with soaring global demand.

Orders are piling in and new workers are being recruited at the Courteney boot company — that seems to defy all the odds as Zimbabwe is battered by decades of economic misery.

Founded in 1993, the firm has recently ramped up production to just 30 pairs a day, all of them made meticulously by 14 employees in a one-room workshop in the second city Bulawayo.

The city — a former industrial hub — has suffered the brunt of the country’s collapse since 1980 that has left behind mass unemployment and a landscape of derelict warehouses and ghostly abandoned factories.

An employee of the Courteney boot company applies wax on shoes on the production line in Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo on January 25, 2019. (Photo by Zinyange Auntony / AFP)

But in one unmarked brick building, Sibanda uses his sturdy cutting machine to press shapes out of locally produced leather skins at the start of a process that turns out boots selling for between $140 and $500 a pair.

“We sell internationally — to the first world, even though we are a third-world country. That alone makes me smile,” Sibanda said, deftly handling the soft leather skins.

“People are tired of manmade materials, they want natural products like ours.”

Sibanda and his colleagues are behind an unlikely business story based on a skilled workforce, traditional methods and decades-old stitching machines to produce classic outdoor boots and shoes.

Prized by a small band of aficionados, Courteney boots have soles made from natural tree rubber — imported in blocks from Malaysia — and uppers made from the hides of Zimbabwe game such as buffalo, kudu, wildebeest and crocodile.

An employee of the Courteney boot company draws cut marks on leather at the shoe factory in Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo on January 25, 2019. (Photo by Zinyange Auntony / AFP)

Using only hides approved under the international CITES conservation regulations, it also makes boots from ostrich, impala and even hippopotamus.

“Wild, free-range leather does more to preserve the natural environment than cattle ranching,” the company says.

The same 15 basic designs have been unchanged for years, eschewing the fickle trends of fashion except for a few colourfully dyed women’s boots.

Exporting mostly to the United States, Europe, Britain and neighbouring South Africa, the boots are paid for in precious US dollars — the key to survival in Zimbabwe’s economy as it lurches downwards.

The country, hammered by hyperinflation 10 years ago, is again being roiled by a currency crisis, government mismanagement and fuel shortages.

Many businesses have folded and investors have fled over the last 20 years, but the Courteney Boot company is rushing to keep up with orders.

Each shoe can take up to two weeks to make, and three extra staff were employed last year to boost output.

“We asked our current long-serving staff to select the new ones,” said manager Helen Emerick in the factory amid smells of leather, hot rubber, glue and machine oil.

“They know exactly what skills are needed and how much hard work it takes. They want the company to grow and we want a happy team.”

Several employees come from local shoe-making families, including fathers, brothers and sons, with youngsters learning the trade at home using offcuts from the factory bins.

Edward, an employee of the Courteney boot company, works on a shoe sole on the production line in Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo on January 25, 2019. (Photo by Zinyange Auntony / AFP)

When violent protests against Zimbabwe’s economic woes erupted last month, almost all businesses closed down for a week.

But the Courteney factory stayed open, working shorter days so that staff could get home safely.

“We had a lot of orders to get done!” Emerick said.

“The biggest challenge now is regular power cuts. We have to use our generator and make sure we have enough fuel.

“We do it the old-fashioned way — there’s no laser cutting here.”

The company is named after Frederick Courteney Selous, the legendary explorer and hunter who died in 1917, and it is still owned by Gale Rice, widow of its founder John Rice.

In Bulawayo’s colonial-era city centre, Jay Giga, owner of a menswear store on Robert Mugabe Way, says he waits impatiently for each new batch of supplies.

“A guy from South Africa came in yesterday and bought nine pairs for him and his friends,” Giga said.

“I sell them as fast as I can get them in. We are always asking them to make more.”

Back on the production line, Sibanda says that he expects Zimbabwe’s renewed troubles to test the company to the limit in the years ahead.

“It is so difficult here,” he said. “But we are going to survive because we are unique”.

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Board of Governors agree to independent probe of AfDB President, Adesina

The ethics committee of the continental bank, headed by Takuji Yano, had in its report last month cleared Adesina of all sixteen counts saying he was was not guilty of all the charges but the United States remained unconvinced.

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President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina in an undated photo.

After weeks of review and consultation, the Bureau of Board of Governors of the African Development Bank Group has bowed to US pressure and approved an independent investigation of the allegations against the President of the Bank, Akinwumi Adesina.

“Based on the views of some Governors on the matter and the need to carry every Governor along in resolving it, the Bureau agrees to authorize an Independent Review of the Report of the Ethics Committee of the Boards of Directors relative to the allegations considered by the Ethics Committee and the submissions made by the President of the Bank Group thereto in the interest of due process”, a communique from the Board of Governors said Thursday.

The decision, taken at the meeting of the Bureau on Thursday regarding the whistle-blowers’ complaints against Adesina, is in deference to the demand by the U.S. government that a fresh and in-depth investigation be conducted into the allegations against Adesina using an independent investigator, Premium Times, a Nigerian daily reported having access to the resolution on Friday.

On May 5, the ethics committee of the continental bank, headed by Takuji Yano, said in its report that Adesina was not guilty on all counts.

Yano is a Japanese executive director charged with the responsibility of investigating allegations by some concerned employees against the Bank’s president.

The committee described the allegations that Adesina violated the code of conduct of the institution as “spurious and unfounded”.

Regardless, the United States government expressed “deep reservations about the integrity of the committee’s process” and called for a fresh “in-depth investigation of the allegations.”

– Why fresh probe is required –

At the end of its meeting Thursday, the Bureau of Board of Governors issued a communique, agreeing with the U.S and authorizing an independent review of the ethic committee’s report.

The communique, signed by the Chairperson of the Bureau of the Boards of Governors, Niale Kaba, reads,

“The Bureau reiterates that it agrees that the Ethics Committee of the Boards of
Directors performed its role on this matter in accordance with the applicable rule under Resolution B/BG/2008/11 of the Board of Governors.

“The Bureau also reiterates that the Chairperson of the Bureau of the Board of
Governors performed her role in accepting the findings of the Ethics Committee in accordance with the said Resolution.

“However, based on the views of some Governors on the matter and the need to carry every Governor along in resolving it, the Bureau agrees to authorize an Independent Review of the Report of the Ethics Committee of the Boards of Directors relative to the allegations considered by the Ethics Committee and the submissions made by the President of the Bank Group thereto in the interest of due process.

“The Independent Review shall be conducted by a neutral high calibre individual with unquestionable experience, high international reputation and integrity within a short time period of not more than two to four weeks maximum, taking the Bank Group’s electoral calendar into account.

“The Bureau agrees that, within a three to six month period and following the independent review of the Ethics Committee Report, an independent comprehensive review of the implementation of the Bank Group’s Whistle-Blowing and Complaints Handling Policy should be conducted with a view to ensuring that the Policy is properly implemented, and revising it where necessary, to avoid situations of this nature in the future.”

The AfDB President is yet to react to the latest decisions by the Board of Governors. But he has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

On a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, Mr Adesina, a former Nigerian Minister for Agriculture, said the 16 allegations raised against him were trumped up, “and without facts, evidence, and documents, as required by the rules and regulations of the bank.”

He added that the Ethics Committee of the bank cleared him of all the allegations, and that calls for a fresh investigation by the United States of America, were against the rules.

“My defence ran into 250 pages, and not a single line was faulted or questioned,” he said.

“The law says that report of the Ethics Committee should be transmitted to the Chairman of Governors of the bank. It was done, and the governors upheld the recommendations.

“That was the end of the matter, according to the rules. It was only if I was culpable that a fresh investigation could be launched.

“I was exonerated, and any other investigation would amount to bending the rules of the bank, to arrive at a predetermined conclusion.”

While stressing that the motive was to soil his name, and that of the bank, the AfDB President said he was proud to be Nigerian, and thanked President Buhari for his unflinching support.

Nigeria is the largest shareholder of the African Development Bank with 9.1 percent shares.

– Allegations against Adesina –

In its petition, the concerned staff accused Mr Adesina of 20 breaches of the bank’s code of conduct, including “unethical conduct, private gain, an impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment, and involvement in political activities.”

The group, which noted their allegations were in line with AfDB’s whistle-blowing policy, said these activities adversely affected the confidence and integrity of the bank.

Nigeria, Adesina’s home country, had last week countered the US by insisting that such a request for an independent investigation could not be granted by the Board of Governors as AfDB’s corporate governance code contains no such provision for an external “independent outside investigator”.

Nigerian authorities then began lobbying for Adesina after receiving satisfactory intelligence briefing that the AfDB president was the victim of a witch-hunt by the Americans.

“The call for an independent investigation of the president is outside of the laid down rules, procedures and governing system of the bank and its articles as it relates to the code of conduct on ethics for the president,” Zainab Ahmed, Nigeria’s Finance minister wrote in a letter to AfDB’s Board of Governors where it denounced the plans to circumvent the bank’s internal procedures.

Ahmed asked the AfDB to “uphold the rule of law and respect the governance systems of the bank” and if there was need for improvement, it should be done according to laid down procedure. She then highlighted all Adesina’s projects and achievements which she noted did not warrant such an attack on his career.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, in a letter to former African presidents also canvassed support for Adesina, saying he had taken the bank to a great height since he took the position in the last five years.

Adesina, “has actively positioned (AfDB) as an effective global institution ranked fourth globally in terms of transparency among 45 multilateral and bilateral institutions,” Obasanjo wrote to 13 former heads of state including Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia and Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of Liberia.

The U.S. became a member of the African Development Fund in 1976 and of the African Development Bank in 1983. Also, its bilateral cooperation with the bank has been strengthened through cooperation agreements.

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Heavy rains threaten Uganda’s coffee crop quality

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Uganda’s coffee crop quality could see a decline in the coming months as heavy rains across the country have reduced the amount of sunshine necessary for bean drying.

Uganda is Africa’s largest exporter of coffee followed by Ethiopia and grows mostly robusta variety.

The country has been pounded by unusually heavy rains that started in August resulting in deaths, displacement and extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure.

Western Uganda, including the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains , some of the biggest coffee growing areas, has received some of the most intense rains.

Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), the state-run regulator, forecasts Uganda’s bean exports will climb 16 percent to 5.1 million 60-kg (132-pound) bags in the current crop year ending September.

The country’s coffee output has surged in recent years, the fruition of a government programme that has been distributing free seedlings to farmers to expand acreage and replace aging trees.

Authorities say their target is to help boost annual production to 20 million bags by 2025.

The beans have traditionally been Uganda’s biggest commodity export but were recently overtaken by gold which now annually earns the country over $1 billion.

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Business rescue team rule out mid-June return for SAA flights

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South African Airways business rescue practitioners have rejected an “unvetted” statement released by the state-owned airline indicating plans to resume domestic flights from mid-June.

The national carrier had on Tuesday, announced that its planes will be back in the skies between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

But Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, the business rescue administrators, say the airline had breached communications protocol by issuing a statement which “created an unfair expectation on our relevant stakeholders, including SAA’s customers, as well as employees who are on unpaid absence as a result of the travel ban which led to the halting of the company’s operations, compounding its financial distress.”

SAA’s media statement had gone out without the approval of the practitioners as demanded by the business rescue procedure.

With the government of South Africa announcing that the country will enter into lockdown alert level 3 from June 1, domestic air travel will be permitted but only for business purposes.

The business rescue practitioners said SAA planes will remain grounded until a better understanding of what the level 3 regulations entail.

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