Friday, May 25, 2018

The Economic Bully

 The U.S. Trade Representative warned Rwanda it would lose some benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), America’s flagship trade legislation for Africa, after it increased tariffs on second-hand clothes to support its local garment industry.

 “The president’s determinations underscore his commitment to enforcing our trade laws and ensuring fairness in our trade relationships,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney said. 

It acted after receiving a complaint in March last year from the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART), a U.S.-based organization which represents companies that collect and resell Americans’ used clothing. Selling America’s used clothing - much of it donated to charities and the bulk of it originally made outside the United States - is a nearly $1 billion industry. Exports typically end up in poor nations. Africa is a key destination.

The 60-day grace period expires on May 28. The current dispute, which also initially involved Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, has received none of the attention of Trump’s trade war with China

Under AGOA, enacted in 2000 with the aim of using trade to boost development, qualifying African countries are granted duty-free access to the U.S. market for 6,500 exported products.  

“It delegitimizes so much of what we’ve worked for for so many years,” said Gail Strickler, who served as the top U.S. trade official on textiles until 2015. “I think it’s horrible. I think it’s sad. I think it’s pathetic and I think it’s obscene.”

Domestic demand for locally produced clothes has been stifled, east African governments say, by the ubiquity of cheap, second-hand garments imported from Europe and the United States. The manager of a clothing factory says the facility is only running at 40 percent capacity and second-hand garments, which can sell at well below his production costs, are at least partly to blame. In response, East African Community (EAC) members Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda increased tariffs on used clothing in July 2016. Rwanda hiked import duties from 20 cents to $2.50 per kilogram.

At Kigali’s Biryogo market, where shoppers pick through bales of used garments, the downside of the increase in duties was immediate.
“Before, even with a little money, you could buy enough second-hand clothes for a child. But some children in my neighborhood are now naked,” Fillette Umugwaneza, a mother of two told Reuters. “It is a disgrace to our country.”

Rwanda’s government argues such hardships will be short-lived. Opening new factories will create more, better-paid jobs, while expanding domestic consumption will cut its external trade deficit, it says. The government is seeking to attract companies targeting the export market, like U.S. designer Kate Spade which assembles high-end handbags in Rwanda. It’s a strategy that has flourished elsewhere in Africa under AGOA, with duty-free exports from the continent to the U.S. market almost quadrupling to over $1 billion since the law was enacted. The ultimatum from the office of the USTR, however, has thrown up a potential roadblock to further growth.

African nations initially tried to defend their position at a USTR hearing in July, rejecting SMART’s assertion that the new tariffs had cost 24,000 American jobs in the first nine months. Using U.S. trade data, they pointed out that the decline in exports to the EAC that SMART blamed for the job losses had already begun four years before the 2016 duty increase. The EAC also accused SMART of inflating the importance of the east African market to the industry. Trade data showed the United States shipped around $24 million worth of used clothing to the EAC in 2016. SMART, however, added another $100 million in exports it said were shipped to third countries for processing before being re-exported. By its calculation the EAC represented over a fifth of the U.S. industry’s global market.

The mere prospect of losing AGOA benefits was enough to push Kenya, which in 2017 exported nearly $340 million worth of apparel duty-free to the United States, to back down. Uganda and Tanzania followed Kenya’s example and capitulated, agreeing to roll back tariffs to pre-2016 levels. Rwanda has held out.

Rosa Whitaker, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton as the United States’ first Assistant Trade Representative for Africa and helped draft the original AGOA legislation. She called the Trump administration’s actions bullying and predicted they would backfire.
“African countries, from what they’re telling me, are feeling abandoned. We’ve just ceded it to China.”

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-rwanda-usa-trade-insight/trump-versus-rwanda-in-trade-battle-over-used-clothes-idUSKCN1IP0WB

The Nigerian Army's "Compassion"

Nigerian soldiers have raped women and girls who fled the insurgency by militant Islamist group Boko Haram, Amnesty International has said.
Troops separated women from their husbands and raped them, sometimes in exchange for food, in refugee camps, the rights group added.
Thousands of people have also starved to death in the camps in north-eastern Nigeria since 2015, Amnesty said.
The military has repeatedly been accused of carrying out atrocities, and the US, during the presidency of Barack Obama, refused to sell weapons to Nigeria, citing concerns about the military's human rights record.
However, the Trump administration has decided to press ahead with the sale of military aircraft and weapons, which Nigeria sees as vital to defeat the insurgents.
Amnesty said it was "absolutely shocking that people who had already suffered so much under Boko Haram have been condemned to further horrendous abuse by the Nigerian military. Instead of receiving protection from the authorities, women and girls have been forced to succumb to rape in order to avoid starvation or hunger," it added.
Amnesty added that as the military recaptured territory from Boko Haram in 2015, it ordered people living in villages to move to satellite camps, in some cases "indiscriminately killing those who remained in their homes. At least hundreds, and possibly thousands, died in Bama Hospital camp alone during this time. Those interviewed consistently reported that 15 to 30 people died each day from hunger and sickness during these months," the rights group said. It added that at least 32 babies and children, and five women, have died in detention since 2016 at the notorious Giwa barracks.
Many of those detained were victims of abductions or forced marriages by Boko Haram, Amnesty said. "The detention of women and girls on the basis that they were allegedly married to Boko Haram members is unlawful under international human rights law and Nigerian law, and is discriminatory," it added.
In 2016, Human Rights Watch reported that 43 women accused officials of rape and exploitation in refugee camps in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Shortly after the release of the report, President Muhammadu Buhari mandated the local government to investigate the allegations. Ten officials were arrested in December 2016 but nothing happened after that.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-44236428

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Microfinance - no cure

Giving small loans to people for small household purchases or to invest in businesses has been an integral part of aid programs for decades. This is called “microfinance”, and the aim is not only to alleviate poverty but also to empower women.

But simply improving a woman’s economic situation does not necessarily result in greater equality. Increasing women’s economic engagement often increases their work burden on top of all the unpaid labour they do. It can also challenge established gender roles and power hierarchies, causing conflict in the home and even domestic violence. Empowering women needs to be about more than economics and requires changing the power dynamics and other cultural factors that repress women. So that they can make decisions about their life and mobility, control their money and have access to information, transport, tools and land.

Several studies have shown a link between women’s increased access to credit and increased domestic violence. Development agencies have been forced to develop “do no harm” procedures to try to prevent thisSanti Rozario from Cardiff University found that after 25 years of microfinance programs in Bangladesh, “ingrained gender values are still essentially unchanged”. And on top of all this, some microfinance programs only have a minimal impact on development outcomes like health and education.

Microfinance programs do nothing to challenge or transform the structural conditions that create poverty in the first place. It is like putting a band-aid over a deep wound. Indeed, microfinance shifts responsibility for poverty alleviation onto the poor and marginalised. There has been a trend toward profit-making microfinance institutions that charge higher interest rates, extracting the little surplus poor people are able to raise from their meagre livelihoods.

Empowerment requires addressing women’s lack of control over their own lives. Professor Naila Kabeer defines empowerment, as “the ability to exercise choice” where previously people could not. This kind of empowerment requires structural change within both families and societies. This includes greater access to and control of resources, as well as new norms for women both individually and within families and society. If development programs don’t challenge the structural causes of gender inequality, at best, microfinance will just continue to reinforce poverty and inequality.

https://theconversation.com/why-microfinance-as-aid-isnt-enough-to-empower-women-96632

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The real refugee issue

Violence and conflict in sub-Saharan Africa forced 15,000 people from their homes every day in 2017, double the previous year's figure, an international monitoring centre said.

The region accounted for nearly half the 11.8 million people worldwide who were displaced within their countries by conflict last year, according to a report from the  Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Internal displacement is often a precursor to cross-border movement and can lead to further conflict as host communities struggle to accommodate newcomers, said Alexandra Bilak, director of IDMC. "It's a vicious cycle of vulnerability," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

Democratic Republic of Congo was the worst-hit country in Africa, with almost 2.2 million people forced from home last year, said the IDMC. South Sudan, Ethiopia and Central African Republic followed, together accounting for 2.1 million. In addition to the 5.5 million who fled conflict, 2.6 million people were forced from their homes because of storms and floods in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, said IDMC.

People who flee conflict usually remain in their countries and only cross borders if they still feel threatened, said Rishi Ramrakha, head of logistics in Africa for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Internally displaced people (IDPs) remain under the protection of their government even when it is the cause of displacement. They often move to areas where it is difficult to deliver aid, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Bilak said the global community tended to focus more on the plight of people who flee across borders - refugees - often leaving those who flee within their countries without enough assistance. Internally displaced people (IDPs) remain under the protection of their government even when it is the cause of displacement. They often move to areas where it is difficult to deliver aid, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). 

UNHCR has not yet released data on the number of people who fled across borders in 2017, but said that in 2016 there was an increase of 16 percent on the continent.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The New Imperialists

Chinese investment in Africa could be accelerating debt on the continent and creating economies which are “entirely dependent on China”, according to financial experts.
Around $86bn (£64bn) in loans were issued by China between 2000 and 2014 to finance over 3,000 infrastructure projects in Africa. Experts have warned that this level of investment may not be as rosy as it appears.
Zuneid Yousuf, from MBI Group, said:
“Infrastructure projects create jobs, provide an opportunity for skills development and the transfer of new technologies. However, these firms come under the guise of partnership, but this rhetoric, combined with genuine short-term benefits masks longer-term problems.”
One of the main issues around the Chinese approach is the dangerously high levels of debt that it brings, which could prove unsustainable for growing economies. There is also a risk that the continent becomes overly dependent on one country, which could allow it to hold an uncomfortably high level of influence...The reality in Africa is a model of globalisation that works only in China’s interests."
Zambia is an interesting case study of Africa-China relations. China is the largest foreign investor in the country, but it is often cited as an example of the limitations of Chinese investment. The top-down, large government loan model has led to tensions. One recent example is the problem of labour laws, and the news that Chinese investors in Zambia have been preventing labour representatives from being present at construction sites.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Emutai - Land Grab for Safaris

The Tanzanian government is putting foreign safari companies ahead of Maasai herding communities as environmental tensions grow on the fringes of the Serengeti national park, according to a new investigation. Although carried out in the name of conservation, these measures enable wealthy foreigners to watch or hunt lions, zebra, wildebeest, giraffes and other wildlife, while the authorities exclude local people and their cattle from watering holes and arable land, the institute says.
Hundreds of homes have been burned and tens of thousands of people driven from ancestral land in Loliondo in the Ngorongoro district in recent years to benefit high-end tourists and a Middle Eastern royal family, says the report by the California-based thinktank the Oakland Institute.
It says Thomson’s sister company, Tanzania Conservation Limited, is in a court battle with three Maasai villages over the ownership of 12,617 acres (5,106 hectares) of land in Loliondo which the company uses for safaris. The report says villagers have been driven off, assaulted or arrested by local police, park rangers or security guards.
The restricted access to land has made the Maasai more vulnerable to famine during drought years, the report says, noting appeals that locals have made for the government to change policies because of growing numbers of malnourished children.
The report also claims Maasai have been driven off land as a result of government ties with Otterlo Business Corporation, which organises hunting trips for the royal family of the United Arab Emirates and their guests who fly into a custom-built landing strip in Loliondo. Since Otterlo was first granted 400,000 hectares of land for hunting, the government has mounted successive eviction operations. 
Despite past government promises that the Maasai would never be evicted from their land, the report notes Serengeti national park rangers burned 114 bomas (traditional homes) in 2015 and another 185 in August of last year. Along with other demolitions, local media report more than 20,000 Maasai were left homeless. 
“Without access to grazing lands and watering holes, and without the ability to grow food for their communities, the Maasai are at risk of a new 21st-century period of emutai (eradication),” said Anuradha Mittal, the director of the Oakland Institute. 

Holocaust Denial?

Anger is building in Namibia over inaction by colonial-era power Germany, almost three years after talks began about an apology and reparations for the genocide of its indigenous Herero and Nama.

Helin Evrim Sommer is extremely angry. "The secret bilateral negotiations are not transparent, a farce in a sense,” the spokeswoman on development  for Germany's Left party criticized in an interview with DW. Even members of the German parliament don't know exactly where the talks between Germany and Namibia , once regarded as a prestige project, now stand, the lawmaker said. The position papers with the detailed claims out of Namibia and the offer put out by Germany are both classified. Whenever delegates meet, the outcome of the negotiation round remains likewise unclear – no more than a brief media statement follows. Consequently, no one in Germany takes notice of these negotiations.

All major parties acknowledged that Berlin should apologize for the genocide in its former colony of "German South West Africa” where tens of thousands of Herero and Nama were killed between 1904 and 1908.  Namibia is still waiting for that apology. There is no mention of it in the current German government's coalition agreement. 

A columnist from the government-owned New Era newspaper had accused the German Ambassador Christian Schlaga of denying German guilt for the genocide in a speech. 

"The populace is losing patience,” says Maximilian Weylandt of the Namibia office of the independent London-based think tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). "After more than two years there is still no outcome, and some people are asking whether Germany is really negotiating in good faith and is prepared to respond to the needs of Namibians.”

On the disputed question of compensation, for instance, two thirds of Namibian surveyed are in favor of compensation from Germany, a possibility Berlin had excluded at the outset of the talks.  Less than half of respondents in the IPPR survey said they believed its negotiations with Germany were good or "mostly good." A little over half want traditional representatives of the Herero and Nama to be involved. Some traditional Herero and Nama leaders have long criticized the Namibian government as being too soft on Germany. They are suing in a US federal court to be part of the negotiations between Windhoek and Berlin. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

"Agroecology is a real alternative to conventional agricultural production"

Agroecology is a better alternative than large-scale agriculture, both for the climate and for small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to researcher Ellinor Isgren from Lund University in Sweden. This agricultural model preserves biodiversity and safeguards food supply while avoiding soil depletion.
She maintains that today's intensive, large-scale agriculture brings a major environmental impact in the form of soil depletion, high use of pesticides, high energy and water consumption and reduced biodiversity. Large areas are often cultivated with one or only a few different crops, making this type of agriculture vulnerable to pests, diseases and climate change.
Large-scale agriculture also requires major investments in the form of machinery, grains and seed, while utilising little labour. This means that poorer farmers in many African countries are excluded from the advantages of intensive agriculture: technological development, increased food production, access to the agricultural market and general economic growth.
Ellinor Isgren proposes agroecology as a possible alternative for small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The model is based on each farm being an integrated ecosystem, in which crops, plants and animals interact to create favourable conditions for cultivation. This alternative is knowledge-intensive, requiring farmers to have a lot of knowledge about the functioning of various components in the ecological system, as well as an ability to create synergies between plants, insects, crops and soil fertility. The model also rests on traditional farming methods.
"If farmers use the model correctly, they can increase their yields and ensure their food supply while preserving biodiversity and reducing their impact on the climate and soil depletion. They also become less vulnerable to climate change as they grow many different crops and improve the soil structure," she says.
Further benefits are that the system does not require major resources in the form of machinery, pesticides and fertiliser, as the cultivation model is mainly organic, so even poor small-holders can farm in this way.
There are also good conditions for scaling up the model for sale to domestic and international markets. This would require more research and better collaboration between various agricultural institutions to develop knowledge of how different ecosystems function together and how local conditions affect the fertility of plants and crops. Initiatives are also needed to train farmers in how to apply an agroecological model.
"There is currently no political will in Uganda to push development of the agricultural sector. This has left the market open to private investors and strong financial interests in the form of seed and pesticide companies." she says.


Not all bad news

According to UN projections, Africa is expected to account for more than half the world’s population growth over the next 35 years. More than 30 per cent of Africa’s population is between the age of 10 and 24, and will remain so for at least the next 20 years.
“With the right investments, these trends could be the region’s greatest asset,” said former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world views Africa through a prism of problems. “But when I look to Africa”, he predicted last month, “I see a continent of hope, promise and vast potential.”
With 55 years of study and research, the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), based in Sweden, has an equally positive view of Africa.

Monday, May 07, 2018

The Fulani Crises

Whether in Mali, Niger or Nigeria, the nomadic Fulani herders often find themselves in conflict with farmers over scarce resources. But there is more to it than that: Often it becomes a struggle for political supremacy.

According to Reuters, armed men raided two villages earlier this week and killed at least 16 people belonging to the Tuareg ethnic group. By the end of April, at least 40 Tuareg had been killed. The governor of Menaka described the perpetrators as Fulani, who were linked to the terrorist group, the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). Maiga said the act may have been a retaliatory strike after the Tuareg had supported French troops in an anti-terrorist operation. In the Mopti region, several hundred kilometers west of Menaka, there is an Islamist Fulani preacher, Amadou Koufa. Since founding an armed group in 2015, the country's Fulani minority have come under suspicion of collaborating with extremists.

But it's not that simple, says Abdoulaye Sounaye from the Leibniz Center for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO). "You cannot reduce everything to religion," he told DW. While this has great potential to mobilize people, it also has political and economic power. "Nevertheless, it would be more of a conflict between the population groups and the Malian government."

"Our politicians repeatedly call opposition groups terrorists. The same thing now is happening to the Fulani people. Because they are vulnerable people who live in the bush and are mainly uneducated, they use them as scapegoats." says DW journalist Usman Shehu 

The Fulani are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa, with at least 25 million members. However, because the Fulani are scattered throughout the region, in most states they are a minority. Traditionally, they live as nomadic pastoralists. Conflicts occur frequently. There are various reasons for the conflict escalation. Businessman and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim says climate change is a driving factor. Ibrahim says the erosion of usable farming areas will exacerbate the dispute. "It happened in Darfur before, it's happening now in Nigeria — it's going to happen everywhere because you have two communities who, over hundreds of years, sorted out a certain mode of cooperation," he told DW. "Now with climate change, the herders need to drive their cattle into areas where they have never been before. And this requires sensitivity and quick action by governments to see how they can bring this community together. A new form of cooperation needs to be developed."

Nigerian journalist,  Aliyu Tilde, is part of a team that works to solve territorial conflicts on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) — especially in Mali and Nigeria, where Tilde says conflicts with the Fulani have escalated. "You'll find that whenever there is a conflict, it is not usually the Fulani who begin that conflict," he explained, "You will find that they were under attack and they were trying to protect themselves, or they were carrying out a reprisal attack." In Nigeria alone, one must distinguish between three types of incidents, says Tilde. First is the conflict over land between nomadic herders and farmers. However, if the Fulani's cattle destroyed farmland, this would usually be resolved locally. There is also the possibility of gang criminality. "This is a crime, which must be regarded as such," says Tilde. "If a state cannot enforce its laws, that's a problem." The third type is the most problematic: In the struggle for political supremacy in Nigerian states, local rulers would often strengthen their own ethnic groups and agitate against minorities. The consequence of this, says Tilde, is essentially "ethnic cleansing." For example, the Fulani recalled a bloodbath in Taraba state in June 2017, where around 200 people were massacred. For Major General Benjamin Ahanotu, there was no doubt that the goal was to wipe out the Fulani population.

Tilde says the lack of a state presence in Mali and Nigeria is the biggest problem. In areas where there are no job opportunities, young people are increasingly joining criminal groups. "These can be people of all ethnicities — Fulani, Haussa or Tuareg," he says. And when the state offers no security and crime goes unpunished, people turn to their own form of justice and the distrust between different population groups increases.

Senegal and Mauritania as positive examples where "Such conflicts now do not exist because of the implementation of legal factors in place between the two countries," says Tilde. Cattle herds have to be registered and cannot cross the border unnoticed. Alternate areas are designated for the cattle, so that they do not graze on farmland. In Cameroon, the Fulani herdsmen have a better deal, says Usman Shehu, with full rights and obligations. The state receives taxes from the shepherds — but heavy penalties are imposed if their cattle are robbed or killed.