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‘Opening’ for investors as Ethiopia lifts state of emergency

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmedat at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 25, 2018.

Minasse Wondimu Hailu | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmedat at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 25, 2018.

East African growth hub Ethiopia lifted its state of emergency two months early on Tuesday, and now could be the time for frontier market investors to dive in, according to analysts.

“Ethiopia’s parliament has just ratified overwhelmingly the draft bill from the cabinet that lifts the state of emergency,” Fitsum Arega, the prime minister’s chief of staff, tweeted. “The government is confident that the public will maintain and protect peace and order.”

The news is the latest in a series of reformist steps that suggest now is “a good window to start investigating” investment opportunities in Ethiopia, according to Jean Devlin, partner in global risk analysis at Control Risks.

Ethiopia ‘coming back from the brink’

Ethiopia, a de facto one-party state, is used to heavy-handed government control. But, last week, the ruling coalition party began talks with opposition groups with a view to amending an anti-terror law critics say stymies dissent.

Meanwhile, the country’s telecoms sector, a state-run monopoly, said it would allow local firms to use its infrastructure to provide internet services.

On top of this, the Financial Times reported that major investor China has cut back its financial ties to Ethiopia, citing concerns over foreign exchange shortages and national debt.

“Caution is still required as Ethiopia is coming back from the brink,” Pat Thaker, editorial director for the Middle East and Africa at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC via email Monday.

But, with Chinese investment potentially becoming less of a presence in Ethiopia, “this presents an opening for Western investors who have generally stayed back in the last two to three years, and I think the political news will complement that.”

Prime minister listening to international and domestic concerns

Ethiopia imposed a state of emergency in February following the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

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Iranian hackers are targeting state election websites, voter data

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A voter arrives to drop off he ballot during early voting in Allentown, Pennsylvania on October 29, 2020.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

Iranian hackers have been targeting U.S. state government websites in “an intentional effort to influence and interfere with the 2020 U.S. presidential election,” according to an investigation by the FBI and the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

The hackers have “successfully obtained voter registration data in at least one state,” the FBI and CISA advisory report published Friday said.

The FBI released its own flash bulletin in coordination with CISA and the Department of Homeland Security alleging that Iranian “advanced persistent threat” actors “are creating fictitious media sites and spoofing legitimate media sites to spread anti-American propaganda and misinformation about voter suppression.”

The news comes just three days before the U.S. presidential election, which is on track to see the largest voter turnout in U.S. history, and just over a week after similar reports by American intelligence officials of election interference by Iranian and Russian actors.

Officials have issued repeated warnings about election interference from hostile actors as incumbent Trump battles for a second term against Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden.

“The FBI has information indicating this Iran-based actor attempted to access PDF documents from state voter sites using advanced open-source queries,” the report wrote. “The actor demonstrated interest in PDFs hosted on URLs with the words ‘vote’ or ‘voter’ and ‘registration.'”

There is as of yet no evidence that any votes have been changed or that voter databases have been manipulated.

“The access of voter registration data appeared to involve the abuse of website misconfigurations and a scripted process … to iterate through voter records. A review of the records that were copied and obtained reveals the information was used in the propaganda video,” the CISA report continued, referencing a disinformation video that was distributed to give the impression that people could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.

“This video and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots are not true,” Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said during a press conference on October 21.

Not all of the patterns of intrusion into election sites can be definitively attributed to Iranian actors, the FBI and CISA said. “Analysis of identified activity against state websites, including state election websites, referenced in this product cannot all be fully attributed to this Iranian APT actor,” the CISA report wrote.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The lead-up to the 2020 election has been wrought with controversy and disagreement over voting methods during the coronavirus pandemic, with President Donald Trump and some Republican lawmakers disputing the legitimacy or security of mail-in voting. In some states, ballots cast by mail-in and early voting have already surpassed the total number of ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election.

Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) released a statement in late October warning about threats to America’s institutions by U.S. adversaries, writing on Twitter: “We urge every American – including members of the media – to be cautious about believing or spreading unverified, sensational claims related to votes and voting.”

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Google document shows it’s targeting EU lawmakers ahead of critical legislation

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An illuminated Google logo is seen inside an office building in Zurich, Switzerland December 5, 2018.

Arnd Wiegmann | Reuters

LONDON — Google is targeting European politicians over their plans to tackle the dominance of Big Tech, the Financial Times reported, citing an internal document.

In the presentation seen by the FT, the tech giant outlined a two-month strategy aimed at removing potential “constraints” to its business model on the back of an upcoming EU proposal that will affect the entire sector.

Karan Bhatia, Google’s VP of global government affairs and public policy, issued a statement to CNBC that said in part: “As we’ve made clear in our public and private communications, we have concerns about certain reported proposals that would prevent global technology companies from serving the growing needs of European users and businesses.”

Google did not confirm or deny the existence of the document cited in the FT when asked by CNBC.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, is planning to update the legal framework for digital services — something that has not been done since 2000 — in what’s known as the Digital Services Act. In simple terms, the EU wants to make tech giants more responsible for the content on their platforms, and to ensure that competitors have a fair chance to succeed against the big firms.

The upcoming legislation will “require digital services to take more responsibility for dealing with illegal content and dangerous products,” European Competition Chief Margrethe Vestager said in a speech earlier this week. She also said they would have to be more transparent.

Google has said it is not against reforming the rules, but it opposes how the new laws could impact how digital tools can be developed going forward.

According to the FT report, Google is looking to “increase pushback” on the French Commissioner Thierry Breton, who’s working alongside Vestager on the new legislation, as well as “weakening support” for their proposal.

The full FT report is available here.

 

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Digital tax agreement would be priority as OECD head

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