Friday, July 25, 2014

Communities' Resistance To Palm Oil At Odds With President's Stance


Liberia's Jogbahn Clan is at the forefront of efforts to resist the grab of Indigenous Peoples' land and forests for palm oil plantations. But according to the country's President, they are only 'harrassing and extorting' international investors.
"If we lose our land how will we live? We are in Africa, we live by our crops. Palm plantations can't help us!"
"They refuse to talk to us about our land business. Because we are standing here, are we not people? We are somebody."
So spoke Elder Chio Johnson defiantly looking through the tall iron gates of Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) / Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK's) office in Grand Bassa County, Liberia.
His Jogbahn Clan had come to deliver a petition signed in solidarity by over 90,000 people to tell the UK and Malaysian palm oil companies that they must stop grabbing the Clan's land. However the companies refused to speak with the community.
EPO also thwarted efforts to present the petition in London, when they refused a meeting. Attempts to doorstop their London premises proved futile - the office appears to exist only in the form of a brass plate.

Even though the companies refused to speak with the communities the story of their struggle is now known all over the world with signatories for the petition coming from across the globe.
Their story has also been a source of inspiration for communities all over Liberia who like the Clan are facing dispossession from their land by agribusiness corporations that will replace their sustainable communities with monocultural plantations to produce certified 'sustainable' palm oil for the global market.
The fight many communities are facing in protecting their land is a fight for their very survival.
Last month Liberian communities affected by all four major palm oil companies; Equatorial Palm Oil / Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad, Golden Veroleum Liberia (Golden Agri-Resources), SIFCA / Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (Wilmar / Olam) and Sime Darby came together for the first time to discuss agriculture concessions as a national issue.

These companies are European (UK), Asian (Malaysian, Indonesian and Singaporean) and African (Côte d'Ivoire) with considerable European financing. The focus was on creating a space for these diverse communities to share their experiences.
The same narrative of exploitation is playing out all over the country; the companies' names were interchangeable. Bringing the communities together in this way laid the foundations for connecting their separate struggles.
Chio Johnson offered advice to the other communities, urging them to stay united in the face of the companies' divide and rule tactics. "Land is life, it is too valuable to lose", he warned.
Solomon Gbargee, a youth representative gave a stirring speech recounting the Clan's struggle so far and urged all the communities to stand together in their resistance of the companies:
 "If we lose our land how will we live? We are in Africa, we live by our crops. Palm plantations can't help us!"

Communities impacted by Wilmar's operations described resisting land clearances and the destruction of their property. When they objected to paltry compensation for destroyed crops they were told by their politicians: "If you want to get nothing, take to the streets" - where communities who continue to protest face assault and arrest.
Deyeatee Kardor, Jogbahn Clan's chairlady called on women to lead the struggle. "Because I stood up to the company people accused me of being a man but I carry the spirit of a thousand women", she proclaimed.
"For those of us under struggle with a palm company we must remain strong. My land is my land, your land is your land, your forest and bushes are your bank. Don't get tired. We cannot agree to leave our land."
Communities shared advice and support and these exchanges led to the development of a community solidarity network to provide a platform to work together.

In her ninth Address to the Nation in January 2014 the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, characterised community resistance to large scale concessions on their land as "harassment and extortion of investors".
"Agriculture remains the key sector of the economy for local employment creation, poverty reduction, food security and income generation, as over 60 percent of the population depends on this sector for livelihood.
"Food security is listed as a national priority, but we must admit that there has been under-investment by both the public and private sectors. Only massive investment can fix this under-performing sector so that it can play the vital role of delivering inclusive economic growth, environmental sustainability and long-term poverty reduction.
"Our scarce budget resources cannot do this, given the many other priorities, so we will need to attract investment from the private sector. At the same time, the private sector will not respond if there is continued harassment, extortion and unreasonable community demands."
Her statement somehow failed to recognise that investors are primarily interested in the production of export cash crops - which does nothing to increase food security in Liberia. Indeed it achieves the very reverse, as land used for local food production is comandeered to produce commodities for global markets.
The result of community resistance, she later claimed, is to undermine Liberia's economic growth and harm "the renewed confidence that Liberia is still a good destination for investment".
Earlier this year she voiced support for the Jogbahn Clan's struggle against EPO - as reported by The Ecologist. But her promises have come to nothing.
Read more here

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Boko Haram and Capitalism

According to Human Rights Watch, in Nigeria, Boko Haram, the groups most people regard as a terrorist group, have killed in the last six months more than 2,053 civilians. Some people suggest that number has also been reached by the government of Goodluck Jonathan, who some say has killed as many people over the same period. Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa. It's the sixth-largest oil exporting country in the world. Why such chaos?

This video is well worth a watch

Baba Aye is a trade union educator and Deputy National Secretary of the Labour Party, is the National Convener of United Action for Democracy, the largest rights-based CSOs coalition in Nigeria. He has been very active over the past three decades in the various trenches of struggle for democratic rights and is the author of the book Era of Crises and Revolts: Perspectives for Workers and Youth.

Baba Aye: Boko Haram represents two contradictory developments, two contradictory phenomena. One is a reflection of the level of poverty, the level of disillusionment and discontent in the part of the country where you have--Boko Haram have their base. That is the northeast. The northeastern part of the country has the highest poverty rate in the country, the highest level of unemployment in the country, and you have the highest proportion of children of school age out of school, elementary school, in the world in the northeast. And that is one aspect of it. And Boko Haram feeds on this discontent. It taps into this disillusionment with the system.
The second part is this: it's also a reflection of elite politics played with the mask of ethnicity and religion, I mean, primordial sentiments, because while Boko Haram presented itself as some organization fighting against ostentatiousness, fighting against, I mean, Western civilization, in the sense of this being oppressive, so to speak, it also has close ties with ruling members of the state. And it's rather unfortunate, but it is understandable, because this is part of a pattern that goes back to the decolonization process in the country, where you found different sections of the elites playing up primordial cards so as to be able to win sections of the masses to their side as they battled amongst themselves for who gets the lion's share of access to the state treasury through access to state power....
...Were Boko Haram to be smashed today, a dozen Boko Harams would arise. As it is presently, you have three well-known splinter groups from Boko Haram, of which the larger of the other two smaller groups is Ansaru, which has targeted foreign nationals specifically, and with particular reference to French nationals. You have these. But in May you also had a totally unknown group in Niger state, which is in the northern region. So you have to situate Boko Haram within a bigger problem, and that problem as part of the dynamics of interclass power play based on interests, economic and political interest of the elites in the country feeding into mass poverty, disillusionment, and anger that is quite palpable not only in the northeastern part of the country but across the country as a whole....

....You have had an infinitesimal few, few, getting stupendously rich while poverty has has stalked the land, while poverty has become the lived realities of the bulk, the immense majority of the population. The percentage of people living below the poverty line as at last year, from the less statistics, official statistics, is 69.5, roughly 70 percent. This is up from 54 percent barely ten years back. So you have poverty increasing while a few, a few people, a few people--. In Nigeria you have, I mean, show rooms of Ferrari, of Lamborghinis. You have a few people that--. And that's the problem, that is the problem with the country, inequality.



The full interview and transcript can be accessed here 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Statelessness = Invisibility

At least 750,000 people are stateless in West Africa, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which is calling for governments to do more to give or restore the nationality of stateless individuals, and improve national laws to prevent statelessness.

Many in the region are both stateless and refugees, said Emmanuelle Mitte, senior protection officer on statelessness with UNHCR in Dakar, but the overwhelming majority of stateless persons in West Africa are stateless within their own country, lacking proof of the criteria required to guarantee their nationality.

Statelessness can block people’s ability to access health care, education or any form of social security. In the case of children who are separated from their families during emergencies, the lack of official documentation makes it much harder to reunite them, says the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Lack of official identification documents can mean a child enters into marriage, the labour market, or is conscripted into the armed forces, before the legal age.

Statelessness can also render people void of protection from abuse. Denied the right to work or move, they risk moving into the invisible underclass, said UNHCR’s West Africa protection officer, Kavita Brahmbhatt, who gave the example of a group of stranded non-documented Sierra Leonean migrants living in the slums of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, selling charcoal as they were too poor to do anything else, and too scared to return home for fear of being punished. “They became a member of Monrovia’s underclass,” she said.


Fact Box
The 1954 Convention relating to the status of Stateless Persons aims to regulate their status and protect their human rights. The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness outlines tools to avoid and resolve stateless cases.
Statelessness not only stops people travelling across borders but restricts movement within countries such as Côte d’Ivoire or Mauritania, which are heavily check-pointed.

“Nationality is not just a document; it affects all of your rights as a citizen. Without a nationality you’re invisible, you don’t exist,” said Mitte. According to her, the 750,000 figure is “just the tip of the iceberg” - no studies have been undertaken to document the number officially. But UNHCR estimates at least 10 million people are stateless worldwide.


read more here




Comment on South African unions

The role of a union is to convert perceptions of individual injustice into collective action by promoting group cohesion.

 While unions are facing a decline on a global scale, in South Africa, however, those unions that are able to successfully connect wider social injustices to their members’ cause and mobilise people around this are increasing their membership numbers. Workers do not necessarily see their work and living environments in isolation, so any protest over wages can easily be further inflamed by issues outside the workplace. As a result, they are increasing their political influence.

In South Africa high unemployment, wage inequality, low education levels, low service delivery and social unrest has provided fertile ground for unions to blur the boundaries between workplace issues and social injustices.

In South Africa, an abundance of breakaway splinter unions such as the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has revealed growing dissatisfaction among rank-and-file members with leaders who appear closer to the political elite than the concerns of the workers.

The close relationships between trade unions and political parties have shown that union leaders lose the focus on servicing their members’ needs. This dissatisfaction is more acute when the unions are institutional players in the establishment.  The metalworkers’ union Numsa is trying to escape this.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Slavery In Mauritania

Mauritania has the highest proportion of people in slavery in the world. According to one NGO in Mauritania, up to 20 percent of the Mauritanian population is enslaved.5 While not identical to the Global Slavery Index estimated of prevalence, these two figures, in the absence of more precise measurement, point to a growing consensus of high levels of enslavement in Mauritania.

Slavery in Mauritania primarily takes the form of chattel slavery, meaning that adults and children in slavery are the full property of their masters who exercise total ownership over them and their descendants. Slave status has been passed down through the generations from people originally captured during historical raids by the slave-owning groups.6

People in slavery may be bought and sold, rented out and given away as gifts. Slavery is prevalent in both rural and urban areas. It is reported that women are disproportionately affected by slavery; for example, they usually work within the domestic sphere, and a high level of control is exercised over their movements and social interactions. They are subject to sexual assault by their masters. Women’s roles include childcare and domestic chores, but they may also herd animals and farm, as men in slavery do.7

Beyond the context of private homes, it is reported that some boys, who have been sent to attend Koranic schools to become talibes (students), have been forced into begging. Although the scale of this problem is not known, it is thought to be quite significant; affecting local boys as well as boys trafficked into Mauritania from the surrounding regions.8

It is also reported that women have been subjected to forced marriage and sexual exploitation, both within Mauritania but also in the Middle East.9 Slaves are not permitted to have any possessions, as they are considered to be possessions themselves. As such they are denied inheritance rights and ownership of land and other resources. When an enslaved person marries, the dowry is taken by the ‘master’ and if they die their property can be claimed by the ‘master’.10

read more here


Thursday, July 17, 2014

South Sudan's Plight

As South Sudan’s malnutrition epidemic intensifies, seven major international aid agencies, all of which prioritise food security in South Sudanese villages, may have to shut down their projects due to severe funding gaps.

CARE International, a U.S.-based relief agency, naming South Sudan to be “the most pressing humanitarian crisis in Africa, stated that the United Nations’ most recent appeal for South Sudan is less than half funded.  Some 1.5 million South Sudanese residents are now estimated to be displaced within the country, thereby decreasing their access to reliable food sources and requiring them to share already-limited supplies.

“We will be staring into the abyss and failing to avert a famine if funds do not start arriving soon,” Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, said. “This is a not a crisis caused by drought or flood. It is a political crisis turned violent. The people of South Sudan can only put their lives back together once the fighting ends.”

While solving the political problem at the root of South Sudan’s current violence is a significant priority, aid workers say the international community’s most dire concern should be for the nutritional needs of South Sudanese children.

Dr. Jenny Bell, a medical worker and expert on South Sudan with the University of Calgary in Canada, acknowledges that “the nation’s health situation wasn’t brilliant before December,” but warns that the civil conflict has “compounded” the country’s medical issues. South Sudan “already had the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and it had been estimated that one in five South Sudanese children die before they reach age five,” she told IPS.

“But even though there had barely been enough food before, now there really won’t be enough, as internally displaced farmers were unable to grow crops due to the violence, and cannot do so now because South Sudan is well into its rainy season.”  she adds that despite the “amazing agricultural potential” of South Sudan, funding for this purpose has been weak.

Sandra Bulling, media coordinator for CARE International explained “We need to have photos of children starving and dying before the world reacts to such a disaster. This is what has worked for Somalia … you need these pictures to talk. For South Sudan we do all these press releases and calls to action, but as long as there is no big report with photos to show how bad the situation is, there is no response.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stateless

The other side of nationalism

At least 750,000 people are stateless in West Africa, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR),

According to the UNHCR estimates at least 10 million people are stateless worldwide. Lack of birth registration is the first step to statelessness for many children: some 230 million under-fives globally have never been registered, according to UNICEF.  “It’s how societies first recognize and acknowledge a child’s identity and existence,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF deputy executive director. West Africa suffers very low rates of birth registration: just 4 percent of infants are registered in Liberia; 16 percent in Chad, and 24 percent in Guinea-Bissau, making them among the world’s worst 10 performers.  A significant proportion of West Africa’s three million double orphans (children with no living parent) are stateless, as are almost all of the region’s street children, known as talibés.

 The overwhelming majority of stateless persons in West Africa are stateless within their own country, lacking proof of the criteria required to guarantee their nationality.

Statelessness can block people’s ability to access health care, education or any form of social security. Lack of official identification documents can mean a child enters into marriage, the labour market, or is conscripted into the armed forces, before the legal age. Statelessness can also render people void of protection from abuse. Denied the right to work or move, they risk moving into the invisible underclass.  UNHCR’s West Africa protection officer, Kavita Brahmbhatt, gave the example of a group of stranded non-documented Sierra Leonean migrants living in the slums of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, selling charcoal as they were too poor to do anything else, and too scared to return home for fear of being punished. “They became a member of Monrovia’s underclass,” she said. Statelessness not only stops people travelling across borders but restricts movement within countries such as Côte d’Ivoire or Mauritania, which are heavily check-pointed. Statelessness usually occurs because people cannot provide the necessary documentation to prove their identity when state laws exist. But in some cases the laws are simply too weak to impose or do not sufficiently help protect citizens’ rights.

“Nationality is not just a document; it affects all of your rights as a citizen. Without a nationality you’re invisible, you don’t exist...many people living in transit camps are from Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, but have no papers. “You can’t send them to a country where they will have no status,”

From here

Monday, July 14, 2014

Quote of the Day

 Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian poet, playwright, Nobel Prize for literature winner and activist explained:

 "Those who unleashed Boko Haram on the nation are not poverty stricken. They are politicians .... desperate for power, intelligent enough or perceptive enough to recognise that the cocktail of politics and religious fundamentalism can only yield them dividends. They think they have nothing to lose. But the foot soldiers have been indoctrinated for years, from childhood. And they believe that their religion [Islam] is in danger ... But Islam is not in danger. It is the pervert followers who are being used and who use others and proclaim that they are fighting for Islam ....Look at the histories of the world: Boko Haram, if not contained and eradicated, will be found in the heart of Lagos before you know it.".