Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Political Power

On 16 August 2012, 34 striking miners were shot dead by police at the British-owned Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, north of Johannesburg. Rock drill operators earning 5,000 rand ($421) per month were demanding parity with workers earning 12,000 rand ($1,046) per month at the nearby Impala platinum mine. Less than a week after setting down their tools, the police opened fire.

The Right Reverend Rubin Phillip, bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Natal, said: ‘And so again, the truth of our country is in dead black bodies littering the ground. The truth of our time is that people asserting their rights and dignity have been brought down in a hail of bullets… Has nothing changed in our place, when its truth remains that the armed might of the state acts for the elite of powerful and wealthy, and against our people?”

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Fighting Capitalism in Ghana

A study that used the Gini coefficient index in its measurement of the extent to which the distribution of income deviates from a perfect line of equality carried out in 2014 by the Ghana Mine Workers has revealed that 90 per cent of mine workers share of wage income is less than 10 per cent of the highest paid person. Such a wide disparity in wage inequality, according to Mr Prince William Ankrah, the General Secretary of the Union, had been a long held view in the mining industry of Ghana which the study had confirmed.

Mr Ankrah said:”The reward for labour in the mining industry in Ghana and for that matter Africa should not only be just wages but fair and equitable wages. “We have trumpeted this injustice and discrimination on many platforms but very little attention has been received. Responses from the industry’s stakeholders have been hypocritical or at best rhetoric,” he said adding on the international front comparing with their peers like South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, and Namibia all in Africa, Ghanaian workers were short-changed in every aspects. The Union, he said, wanted stakeholders and the world to know that “the discrimination, the alienation and the injustice must stop…To us, the dawn of a new struggle is beckoning and the Union is prepared to heed the call to change the destinies of its members.”

Mr Kwarko Mensah Gyakari, the National Chairman of the Union, said the unacceptable level of income inequality and uneven remuneration system that had persisted for a long time was a dangerous threat to the stability and sustainability of the industry. He said another worrying phenomenon creeping into the industry at a faster pace, which needed urgent response, was the issue of massive outsourcing of work. “Today, employment in the industry is fast transforming from long and permanent status to a more precarious fixed term contract and casual work. Currently, some labour brokers whose only duty is to facilitate employment have turned themselves into employers and abusing workers’ rights. We want to caution such organisations to end the practice now or face the wrath of the Union.”

Confirming this, Mr Kofi Asamoah, the Secretary General of the Ghana Trades Union Congress, said in the last three decades despite a revamping of the mining industry, mining employment had declined and mining technology had become less labour intensive. He said however that given the current fiscal regime in the mining industry, one surest way for Ghana to retain significant amount of the mining rent would be through the wages and salaries that were paid to mine workers. “Rather, mine workers in Ghana are paid on the basis of so-called purchasing power parity in which compensation in the mines is pegged to the costs of living in Ghana. And the assumption is that Ghana has relatively low costs of living compared to other major mining countries.”

Socialist Banner applauds every effort by workers to resist employers and urges all to join and strengthen the trade union movement. But why stop at what Marx described “limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system.”

“They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!" 

Kenyan Inequality

Kenya is ranked by both the World Bank and the CIA as among the 50 most unequal countries in the world. Kenya is experiencing some of the highest growth rates of its 50 years, but the distribution of the proceeds of this growth has been very different across the different segments of the population.

Nairobi is a tale of two cities. For the connected few, it is the best of times; for the disconnected many, it is the worst of times. It is the richest county, capital's capital, but it is also among the most unequal, with grinding levels of poverty. It is where inequality is distilled and concentrated and most visible; where the haves are having more and the have nots are not, and both exist in close quarters. Nairobi has the country's most expensive real estate and the most expensive rents, but it also has the highest number of the homeless.

Nairobi is home to both the richest and some of the poorest locations in the country. In some locations average wages are north of Sh100,000, and in others they are a fortieth of that figure, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Nairobi may be growing faster than any other region in the country or the region; we learnt that the capital has more dollar millionaires than Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia combined. It is so rich that it can comfortably be weaned off the national teat during county disbursements, according to the Commission for Revenue Allocation. The problem is that the wealth doesn't spread.

Kenya's rich hold at least Sh51 billion in just one Swiss bank, HSBC. Most dollar millionaires make their loot, not from finding innovative solutions and spectacular products, but from speculating on land. Nineteen per cent of the country’s 8,500 dollar millionaires minted their money from flipping property; the second highest number of millionaires is from finance. The problem with the rich is that they lack the noblesse oblige. They have no concept or care of the wider society.

 The state is helping the rich accumulate more. Policies that favour grand projects and huge kickbacks are drawn up before ones that actually help people. There still is no cost-benefit analysis for the Standard Gauge Railway line, but already it is rising up from the dirt and the bill is being drawn up.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Keeping the Peace?

UN peacekeepers shot dead a 16-year old boy and his father and raped a 12-year-old girl in Central African Republic according to AmnestyInternational.

The next day, after armed clashes with residents had killed a soldier from Cameroon and injured several others, peacekeepers went to the area and “began shooting indiscriminately in the street where the killings had taken place,” Amnesty alleged. Joanne Mariner, its senior crisis response adviser, said: “These allegations of rape and indiscriminate killings committed by UN troops are supported by physical evidence and multiple witness accounts.

UN peacekeepers have been in CAR since September last year. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, was “personally dismayed and disappointed, not just by these latest reports, but by the series of allegations that have surfaced in the Central African Republic mission in recent months”, his spokesman, St├ęphane Dujarric, said. Earlier this year it emerged that French peacekeeping troops had been accused of abusing children in CAR.

Tribal Conflicts in Kenya

Four people have been killed and thousands left homeless in Elgeyo-Marakwet County in Kenya’s Rift Valley province since fighting erupted on Saturday -- apparently over land disputes -- between two rival clans.

According to Rift Valley Regional Coordinator Asman Warfa, the fighting -- between Kenya’s Pokot and Kalenjin clans -- is driven primarily by disputes over land. "They're fighting over land," Warfa told Anadolu agency. "And the violence is being fueled by the large number of illegal firearms in the region, which are in the wrong hands."

Socialist Banner would also hazard a guess that climate change may have had an effect upon local resources and upset the previous equilibrium.

Earlier this month, the UN released a report in which it said over 300 people had been killed this year alone in ethnic clashes in Kenya’s Northern Rift Valley region, while more than 215,000 had been rendered homeless.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Nigeria's Inequality

 Nigeria has revenues of over $80 billion from oil reserves alone, yet wealth inequality in the country is among one of the worst in the world.

Absolute poverty in Nigeria (earning less than a dollar a day) has increased from 55% in 2004 to 61% in 2014 and in contrast; there are almost 16,000 millionaires currently living in Nigeria, a 44% increase in the last 6 years. This is expected to grow to 23,000 by 2017, which represents a 47% increase. In Lagos, which is Africa’s most populous city, wealth inequality is most prominent and is home to 9,500 of these millionaires. These figures represent a huge issue with wealth distribution and are attributed to a number of factors embedded within the Nigerian culture, system and policies. Even with its abundant oil resources amounting to $80+ billion in annual revenue for the country, poverty is increasingly becoming a major issue for a vast amount of the population. Under these conditions, many inhabitants are forced to live in slums with limited access to food, education, electricity and clean water.

The main factors that contribute to wealth inequality in Nigeria are corruption and high governance costs. Corruption is a major issue that is contributing to the increasing wealth gap between the rich and poor in Nigeria. Corruption has been ever present since the country’s independence in the 1960’s and it now seems to be an issue that is embedded within the Nigerian system and culture. There is a need for transparency and accountability in the Nigerian system and until that is achieved, the wealth gap in the country will continue to get worse.

A report by the Sahara Reporters in 2012 found that it costs Nigerians $8.3 billion to pay the salaries of those in politics. In 2012, $7.4 was to be spent on developing infrastructure, but only half of this was spent towards its development. To put this into perspective, it meant that for every dollar spent on infrastructure development in Nigeria, two dollars are spent on salaries of those in politics. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

This mine is mine

Africa is home to a tenth of the planet’s oil, a third of its mineral reserves and produces two-thirds of its diamonds. Scholars have long suspected that its plentiful natural resources also breed instability and violence. Politicians and their cronies cannot resist skimming off some of the huge profits, the theory goes, which enrages those who are left out. Struggles over this wealth has played a part in many African troubles, from militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sudanese civil wars. 

A new paper from four academics at Swiss universities gathered data for each year from 1997 to 2010, on the location of hundreds of mines and thousands of conflict events (including riots and violence against civilians) across Africa. Then they divided the continent into 10,000 cells measuring half a degree of latitude and half a degree of longitude (about 55 km squared at the equator). All of this allowed them to analyse the effect of changes in the world price of 15 minerals on the areas in which that commodity is produced. Over the period of the study, mineral prices more than doubled, thanks in particular to ravenous demand from China. Some commodities grew even more expensive: in 1997 an ounce of gold cost about $300, but by 2010 it was going for well over $1,000.

The research paper found that dearer minerals also led to fiercer competition over mines, with shockingly violent consequences. Had mineral prices remained at their levels from 1997, the paper calculates, over the subsequent 13 years the average African country would have seen 25% fewer violent events. Higher prices were responsible for 65% of the outbreaks that took place in South Africa. Even these results may be an underestimate, since the proceeds from mines in one area may have been used to fund conflicts in others.

In Limbo in Israel

As Europeans argue over whether to call new arrivals migrants or refugees, Israel’s government calls the Africans “infiltrators”, a word loaded with negative connotations.

“We are a country of refugees,” says Anat Ovadia, a spokesperson for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, one of the non-governmental organisations that petitioned for the detainees’ release. “It is very shameful that Israel forgets its history.”

Israel has about 45,000 asylum-seekers, 34,000 of them from Eritrea and 9,000 from Sudan. Most entered via Egypt’s Sinai desert up to 2013, when Israel completed a formidable steel fence at the frontier. The Africans live in Israel in legal limbo. They have visas that allow them to stay but that bar them from working. The visas must be updated at least every three months. Holot is an “open” facility in Israel’s southern Negev desert, where detainees are required to report for regular roll-calls to prevent them from working in Israel, where many Africans have menial jobs.

Israel has granted only a tiny number of asylum requests, and offers cash incentives for Africans to leave.  Refugee experts say that Israel’s policies toward migrants reflect both political pressures to do something and demographic anxieties in its rightwing governing elite about maintaining a strong Jewish majority in the country.

“This week’s events reflect once again the lack of a policy of the Israeli government when it concerns non-Jewish immigration to Israel,” says Jean-Marc Liling, an Israeli lawyer specialising in refugee law. “There is a complete incapacity to deal with the fact that Israel has become a country of immigration and not only a country of Aliyah [Jewish immigration].”

Poisoned African Air

West Africa’s air pollution is reaching dangerously high levels—and we don’t know the worst of it. Air pollution in fast-growing West African cities is reaching dangerous levels. But the worst part, according to a new study published by Nature magazine this week, is that we know almost nothing about the pollutants emerging from these new urban centers and their impact on weather systems, crops, and public health at large. There’s little monitoring of pollution, no emissions inventories, or statistical information on things like fuel consumption. Researchers say that they struggle to find funding to study the issue. While air pollution in India, China, and other emerging economies has become a major area of focus for scientists and policymakers, it has gained little traction in Africa where it’s a growing problem across the continent.

In Lagos, smog has quickly become another aspect of city life. In the city of more than 21 million people—known to some as “Africa’s first city”—the majority of residents live near industrial plants, breathing in exhaust from thousands of cars and millions of generators providing power to the city. As much as 94% of Nigeria’s population is exposed to levels of air pollution that exceed what the World Health Organization deems as safe. Gaborone in Botswana was the seventh-most polluted city in the world, according to WHO data in 2013. And pollution within homes, often from fuel stoves and diesel generators, is believed to have contributed to as many as 600,000 deaths in Africa in 2012, the highest deaths per capita from indoor pollution of any region in the world.

“Not only is pollution in these cities killing local residents, we found these emissions may even be altering the climate along the coast of West Africa, leading to changes in the clouds and so potentially to rainfall with devastating effects,” wrote the study’s co-author, Matthew Evans, a professor atmospheric chemistry at the University of York. Evans and the study’s lead author, Peter Knippertz, from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, worry that these pollutants will change the West African monsoon, a sensitive atmospheric circulation system that controls everything from wind and temperature to rainfall across huge swathes of the region. (Scientists have previously linked aerosols to changing rainfall patterns in Asia and the Atlantic Ocean.) Population growth in West Africa, expected to reach 800 million by 2050, will exacerbate these effects, they say. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Tales from Africa (1988)

From the October 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once upon a time (in August 1871 to be precise) the German Karl Mauch explored southern Africa and found what he thought were King Solomon's Mines and one of the homes of the Queen of Sheba. Having landed on the east coast in 1865, his original intention was to explore and map the territory. He did indeed produce the first complete map of the Transvaal and in 1866 was one of the first white men to discover gold. However he decided to forego prospecting to continute exploration "to add honour to the name of the German nation".

When, after many dangers and delays he reached the impressive walls and ruins of the ancient fort of Great Zimbabwe he was, based on old chronicles and knowledge at the time, entitled to think he had indeed found them. Later visitors to the site confirmed, admittedly with scant evidence to back them up, that although possibly not King Solomon's Mines or the home of the Queen of Sheba, the ruins had definitely not been been built by black people.

In 1902 R. M. Hall cleared the site of undergrowth and started digging. He found many items which, because, unlike previous explorers, he was a local resident, he recognised to be of African origin and similar to those still in regular use. Nevertheless he put the evidence aside also to claim non-African origins.

Shortly after Hall, David Randall-MacIver, a young archaeologist, one of the first to be properly so called, worked on the site. In the trenches he dug up he found many layers of artifacts of definite African origin and wrote: "It is impossible to resist the conclusion that the people who inhabited the 'Eliptical Temple' when it was being built belonged to tribes whose arts and manufactures were indistinguishable from those of the modern Makalanga (Shona) . . . These dwellings are unquestionably African in every detail". Digging in 1929, Gertrude Caton-Thompson found the layout and remains were so similar to those of still existing villages as to leave no doubt about the African origins of Great Zimbabwe.

These conclusions did not suit white settler politicians who had argued that the "proof" that white people had lived and traded there hundreds of years ago entitled them to their current superior colonial position. The myth continued to be taught as history in Rhodesian schools and Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines was required reading. Tourist posters featured the Queen of Sheba at Great Zimbabwe and films depicted white "superior" beings performing strange ceremonies in front of suitably prostrated blacks.

As late as the 1970s, shortly before a backward capitalist state changed from white to black rulers, broadcasts and television, while admitting that Great Zimbabwe had possibly not been built by whites, would not concede to the evidence that it had been built by indigenous blacks. It would not do to admit that supposedly inferior people had, so long ago, been able to build every bit as skilfully as those in "civilised" parts of the world.

Of course this is not an isolated example of the shading, if not total fabrication of history. Stories of Belgian babies impaled on German bayonets were concocted to encourage men to kill and be killed in the 1914-18 war; misinformation now admitted to have been given out daily in World War II; patriotic claptrap for the Falklands; biased history taught in almost every secondary school throughout Europe. Unemployment figures are massaged before being issued by the government. Those representing the ruling class will always try to bamboozle the rest of us into accepting conditions favourable to the rulers' minority interests. Forewarned is forearmed: it behoves us to regard with utmost scepticism information put about by those whose interest it is to maintain the status quo.

Eva Goodman 

Canada, Another Plunderer of Africa

This blog has already highlighted the role of Canada in the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources:

This article, ‘Harper’s Government Helping Canadian Mining Companies Plunder Africa’s Resources’, by the Canadian political commentator, Yves Engler, and it is well worth drawing attention to it.

The article begins:
 “Canadian policy in Africa can be summed up in nine words: Do what is good for Canadian-owned mining companies.
Despite rhetoric about aid to the poorest people in the world, the Harper Conservatives have worked assiduously to ensure that Canadian corporations profit from Africa’s vast mineral resources. Even widespread criticism of their operations has failed to dampen the Conservatives’ support for Canada’s many mining interests in Africa. Canadian mining companies have been accused of bribing officials, evading taxes, dispossessing farmers, displacing communities, employing forced labour, devastating eco-systems and spurring human rights violations.”

The articles ends:
“Canadian policy in Africa has become largely synonymous with the interests of Canadian mining companies. The Harper Conservatives have sought to ensure that the continent’s mining policy serves the interests of foreign corporations, the majority of Africans be damned.”

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fact of the Day

Nigeria's Vice President Yemi Osinbajo stated that about 110 million Nigerians were still living below poverty line