Africa creates biggest trade zone; Al-Qaida ripped apart by Isis; An online ‘mausoleum’ for dead start-ups

1 Africa creates biggest trade zone (Lerato Mbele on BBC) African leaders have agreed to create the continent’s largest free-trade zone, covering 26 countries in an area from Cape Town to Cairo. The deal, signed in Egypt, is intended to ease the movement of goods across member countries which represent more than half the continent’s GDP.

Since the end of colonial rule, governments have been discussing ways to boost intra-African trade. The poor state of roads, railways and airlines have made it difficult. Three existing trade blocs – the Southern African Development Community (Sadc); the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) – are to be united into a single new zone.

With this agreement comes into fruition a century-old dream to link the continent from the Cape to Cairo. Explorers and freedom fighters alike all shared the vision to integrate African economies. However, it needs parliamentary endorsements from all member-nations and once governments start reading the fine print, the mood may change.

The pact – known as The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) – will then be officially unveiled at the upcoming summit of the African Union this weekend in South Africa. The idea behind it is to remove trade barriers on most goods, making them cheaper, and stimulating $1tn worth of economic activity across the region of more than 600 million people. The wheels of action are hoped to be set in motion by 2017.

2 Al-Qaida ripped apart by Isis (Spence Ackerman, Shiv Malik, Ali Younes & Mustafa Khalili in The Guardian) Two of al-Qaida’s most important spiritual leaders have said that the terror group is no longer a functioning organisation after being ripped apart by Isis. Abu Qatada, a Jordanian preacher who was based in London before being deported in 2013, and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, regarded as the most influential jihadi scholar alive, say the al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is cut off from his commanders and keeping the group afloat through little more than appeals to loyalty.

Senior insiders in Jordan add that al-Qaida around the Middle East has been drained of recruits and money after losing territory and prestige to its former subordinate division. The ongoing war between al-Qaida and Isis has left the US struggling to catch up with the tectonic shifts within the global jihadi movement, intelligence insiders said.

Qatada said Isis members were extremists and a “cancer” growing within the jihadi movement following their assault on al-Qaida over the last two years. “[Isis] don’t respect anyone,” he said. Isis was al-Qaida’s branch in the heart of the Middle East until the group was excommunicated from the network in 2014 after disobeying commands from Zawahiri and starting an internecine war with fellow jihadists in Syria which left thousands dead on both sides.

Today that fight continues and has expanded across Eurasia and the Mediterranean. Since declaring the establishment of its so-called Islamic State a year ago, Isis has gone on to build a global network of affiliates and branches that now stretches from Afghanistan to west Africa and competes with al-Qaida in its scale.

Isis leaders, who described al-Qaida as a “drowned entity” in issue six of their official English-language publication, Dabiq, have declared that they will not tolerate any other jihadi group in territory where they are operating. But the US has been slow to grasp the implications of al-Qaida’s decline and possible collapse despite extensive study of Isis, according to intelligence community insiders.

Meanwhile, the US continues to target al-Qaida. So far this year the Americans have launched 11 drone strikes in Yemen and 11 more in Pakistan, killing between 82 and 122 people. US officials have warned that al-Qaida’s presence in Yemen, which al-Qaida’s scholars consider to be its most loyal branch, has benefited from the January coup that displaced the US client government and the Saudi-led war to roll it back.

3 An online ‘mausoleum’ for dead start-ups (Greta Kaul in San Francisco Chronicle) Startups generate a lot of buzz when they grow, but when they die, it often happens quietly. A new website, Autopsy, aims to make sure that dead startups, though gone, are not forgotten. It also includes a quick tally of “lessons from failed startups.”

The site looks like a Google spreadsheet and reads like a mausoleum wall, with the autopsy date, a blurb about the startup and why it died. Many of the entries link to explainers — blogs posts or founders’ confessionals — about the startups’ failures.

For instance, poor old Dinnr, a same-day dinner delivery service, died last year because it “simply didn’t have legs,” according to Autopsy. Keep Fit Stay Sane, “an emotional gym” “couldn’t find a market.” And BitShuva Radio — a Pandora for those with niche tastes — fell victim to a “failed business model.”

Autopsy’s “undertakers” are Maryam Mazraei and Matthew Davies, of Milc and Niral Patel of, according to BloombergView. It currently has about 100 entries but allows viewers to suggest dead startups to be featured. The funny thing is, many of the epitaphs describe startups that sound a whole lot like others in operation today. Will founders of living companies take heed?


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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