Thursday, April 18, 2019

Boom economy in Ghana

Ghana's economy is skyrocketing. That is what the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predict for this year. The IMF talks of a growth rate of 8.8% in its World Economic Outlook, which would make Ghana the fastest growing economy in the world in 2019.
 Last year, the country's economy only grew by 5.6%, putting it in sixth position.

Adu Owusu Sarkodie from the University of Ghana believes the main source of growth is the oil sector. "We have discovered new oil fields [.....] companies have started operating, they have intensified their operations," he said in an interview with DW. In the list of top African countries growing economically, Ghana is closely followed by its neighbor Ivory Coast with 7.5%, and Ethiopia with 7.7%.  It is interesting that the growth rate from 2018 to 2020 of those two countries appears to be consistent, while Ghana's growth is predicted to decline again in 2020. For Africa's number one growth state, Ghana, oil is not the only factor driving the economy. "The non-oil sectors, agriculture, manufacturing and services, they are also picking up. Now they are all growing positively," Sarkodie said. 

Ghana is the world's second biggest producer of cocoa, which is probably also a reason why the West African country is the continent's and the world's leader when it comes to increased economic strength. But unlike the agricultural sector, where a lot of Ghanaians are playing a role, investments in the mining and oil sectors have been largely foreign led. According to Sarkodie, this is a problem, even though these investments have a long term effect.
"My major concern has to do with the source of growth," he told DW. "The GDP is a domestic product, it doesn't matter what is produced by foreigners or Ghanaians. But we know that in Ghana most of our companies are foreign owned." This means, Sarkodie says, that "the impact on Ghanaian lives will be minimal."

The agriculture sector has received a major boost over the past two years, thanks to a strong focus by policy-makers on food and jobs. For example, 200,000 farmers received improved seeds and fertilizers. The sector remains a major backbone of Ghana's economy. According to Agriculture Minister Owusu Afriyie Akoto, the program has led to a good harvest across the country. "We are expecting a bumper crop because of the impact that this great program has had on agriculture, even in its infancy," he said.

"I think this is more a one-off,", Papa Ndiaye, Head of the Regional Studies Devision at the IMF's African Department, told DW. "We don't expect this growth rate (of 8.8%) to be sustained over the medium term. And when you look at it per capita, that is still smaller than what countries like China have experienced in the past." Ndiaye confirmed that Ghana's economic growth is expected to slow to a level of around 4.5% to 5%. 
Angola comes in last on the list of African countries, with a predicted economic growth of just 0.4%. Last year it suffered a decline of 1.7%. South Africa is also far behind, with an expected growth rate of only 1.2%, an increase of 0.4% on 2018. Third from last is oil giant Nigeria, with a growth rate of 2.1%.
"These countries have been hit very hard by the decline in commodity prices," Ndiaye said. "You have to go back to the 1970s to find something of similar magnitude. These countries are now slowly  recovering but it will take some time. It also requires countries to implement reforms to diversify the economy and to boost private sector activity by removing some of the constraints that are the biggest impediments to growth, as well as restoring a better business environment."
The IMF divides the 46 listed countries into three groups: oil exporters, middle-income countries and low-income countries. The group of oil exporters, with a growth rate of 2.0%, is doing less well than middle-income countries with 3.4% and low-income countries with 5.3%, a trend that could already be seen in 2018. In total, sub-Saharan African can register GDP  growth of 3.5%. What makes this year's prediction so interesting for Africa is that it is an African nation that seems to be the economic front-runner, ahead of international heavyweights like China or India.

Monday, April 15, 2019

South Africa's Forgotten Townships

The governing African National Congress (ANC), which faces mounting public anger over its failure to improve the lives of millions of the poorest citizens, 25 years after the end of white minority rule.

Johannesburg township, Alexandra, has seen protests against overcrowding and poor public services in the run-up to a general election on May 8. 

Alexandra residents say a government project to develop the township, launched to much fanfare in 2001, has barely scratched the surface of what needs to be done. A model of how Alexandra was meant to look once the project was completed - with parks interspersed between neat rows of houses - now gathers dust in a children's library. High-profile politicians stop by Alexandra before elections, but residents say that, when the votes are counted, the visits dry up. Neither the DA nor the ANC could tell Reuters how much money provincial and local government had spent on the Alexandra Renewal Project.
Johanna Ditsela explained, "I normally vote, but the ANC is not doing anything for me, honestly. I need a job, and I need a house for my kids so that I can raise them in a dignified way."

The ANC is expected to win another parliamentary majority next month, but analysts say its share of the vote will probably fall from the 62 percent it received in 2014. if turnout is low, it could lose control of Johannesburg's Gauteng province.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Climate Change Affects Ethiopia Now

Sloping fields of barley and potatoes stretching far into the distance are a common sight in the mountains of Ethiopia's northwestern Amhara Regional State. The climate of the Choke Mountain watershed in the Upper Blue Nile Highlands is changing as the planet warms. Studies by Debre Markos University show the area also faces severe land degradation due to human settlement, overgrazing, deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices. At an elevation of 4,000 metres (13,120 ft), the Choke Mountain range has a tropical alpine ecosystem and is home to more than 150,000 people. Research by Belay Simane, an associate professor in the College of Development Studies at Addis Ababa University, showed about 90 percent of farmers in the area perceived an increase in temperatures over the past 20 to 30 years, in line with scientifically observed data. In some areas, yields have declined, tipping them from having a food surplus to a food deficit within 20 years.

Simane said the alpine zone was historically covered in forest and shrubland, but deforestation and land degradation linked to rising populations had enabled cultivation to push as high as 3,800 metres. The Choke Mountains are the water source for the Upper Blue Nile River system which has more than 59 rivers and 273 springs. But severe slope erosion in the watershed - partly due to erratic and intense rainfall, and high livestock numbers - has affected this region and countries downstream on the Nile River. They are spending millions of dollars a year clearing silt from their dams, with some – especially Sudan - suffering flooding. Government officials and academics warned soil being washed away would reduce its fertility in the long run, while siltation could affect the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam downstream. Extreme rainfall and flooding in the Choke watershed have carved out gullies on steep slopes, and caused significant damage to agriculture, infrastructure and property along the Nile.

Local farmer Babel Tena has been cultivating low-yielding varieties of barley, beans and potatoes here for more than 40 years.

"Our soil and produce have been washed away by (rain) runoff because we farm on the side of the mountain," said the 58-year-old, Tena and other farmers used to grow beans here, but the climate has now become too dry, he said.
Farmers and herders like Tena know their land and water sources are under pressure but have no other options for survival apart from growing crops and breeding animals. They worry the government will close off the areas they now use in an attempt to restore the local environment.
"We understand the Choke ecosystem has been degraded and the climate has changed but the question is where would we live and farm, and our livestock graze?" Tena asked.
A government biodiversity conservation project, meanwhile, is working to persuade communities to close off areas above 3,600 metres.
Sewalew Fentaw, a 40-year-old sheep herder commented that if the grazing land is enclosed, "my fate will be migration", he said. According to Fentaw, inhabitants of the Choke area no other choice but to work as herders due to a scarcity of cultivable land. Most rural families combine livestock and crop farming on small plots.
Belachew Miherete, a 52-year-old pastoralist, has five children but no land of his own. He farms with his father, harvesting crops from his family's fields. But a shift in the local climate is bringing changes to how those crops grew 20 years ago. Two decades back, Choke – which means "very cold" in Amharic - was covered by glaciers. But now all the ice has melted, and it is becoming difficult to find native vegetation such as the giant lobelia tree.
"Choke was very cold before but there is an increasing temperature now," Miherete said.
Daniel Desalegn, an official at the Amhara Department of Rural Land Use Management, said crops like wheat and maize were now being cultivated in East Gojjam Zone, and goats kept – both of which would normally thrive in warmer places.
"It completely shows there is severe ecological shift on Choke Mountain," he said.

Africa's Poverty and its Chinese Debt

The new head of the World Bank has told China that it needs to come clean about its lending to poor countries, as he warned that debt problems are once again on the increase. World Bank president, David Malpass said there were already 17 African countries at high risk of debt distress.

“That number is growing as new contracts come in and are not transparent,” he added. Malpass said debt could help countries improve their economic performance but it would be a drag on growth if not transparent.
Beijing has increased its influence in Africa by lending heavily to governments for infrastructure projects on a no-political strings basis. But both the World Bank and its sister organisation, the International Monetary Fund, are concerned about the risks of corruption and over-indebtedness.
The Jubilee Debt Campaign has calculated that debt repayments by the world’s poorest countries have doubled since 2010 and are now at their highest level since just before the write-down agreed by the G8 at the Gleneagles summit in 2005.
Malpass said the number of people in extreme poverty – living on less than $1.90 a day – was on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa.
“By 2030, nearly nine in 10 extremely poor people will be Africans, and half of the world’s poor will be living in fragile and conflict-affected settings”, he said.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

A New Arab Spring?

Eight years after the first protests of the Arab Spring, events in Algeria and Sudan show that the desire for democracy has not abated.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Algiers and other Algerian cities to demand the ruling elite step down from power. Bouteflika stepped down ten days ago in response to weeks of street protests against his two decades of rule. Bensalah, a longtime ally, replaced him as interim president and said he would stay in office until the presidential vote. But Protesters denounced Bensalah and held bearing "We want the prosecution of all corrupt people" and "No to the gang."

Meantime, a day after he announced the removal of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's Defence Minister Awad Ibn Ouf stepped down as the leader of a transitional council. General Abdel-Fattah Burhan would succeed him as the council's leader.  The military intervention risks replacing one dictatorship with another, dashing protesters' hopes for a civilian government and opening the way for further instability.

Protesters have accused the military of "stealing the revolution." The Sudanese Professionals Association, one of the groups leading the protests, said Ibn Ouf's resignation was "a victory of the people's will." It vowed to continue its rallies unless Burhan agreed to "transfer the powers of the military council to a transitional civilian government."

Friday, April 12, 2019

SA's Left in a Mess

Around a thousand people attended the three-day launch congress of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party last week. The SRWP announced that it will contest the May 8 general election and its leader, Irvin Jim, has stated that the aim will be to do better than the left-populist Economic Freedom Fighters, which in 2014 was the third largest party with 25 seats (6.35%). Elected national chair and effective leader, he has already stated that it will include the aim of “eradicating poverty and unemployment within five years”. 

Among the other policy motions agreed was the establishment of a single education system and the elimination of private schools.

As communists we have an old view that elections are not necessarily a solution. However, they are a tactic that can be explored to test if we have the support of the working class.”

Anyone who fills in an application form, the SRWP would enforce strict criteria. There will be a “60-day induction programme” and members will be expected to “undergo rigorous political training” and sign a code of conduct.

The driving force behind the SRWP is the country’s largest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa). Back in 2013 Numsa announced that it had broken with the ruling African National Congress and its alliance partner, the South African Communist Party, in protest at the blatantly neoliberal policies of the ANC government. Up until then Numsa had been a prominent force within the SACP-led Congress of South African Trade Unions, but, as a result of its schism with the ANC, it was expelled from Cosatu soon afterwards and felt obliged to set up a rival confederation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu).

The SRWP issued a statement on April 8 that it is:
a Marxist-Leninist party fighting for the establishment of a classless society. Our primary objective is to organise and unite the working class by raising the levels of consciousness, around the class divisions in society. We are in a struggle to overthrow the capitalist system and replace it with a democratic socialist state."
At the congress , Numsa president Andrew Chirwa stated:
This is not a party for reform. This is a party for communists. We are serious about the revolution. We are a party for socialism and nothing else.”
SRWP spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola commented:
We are the only ones fighting for the total destruction of capitalism.”
Can it be accidental that the SRWP have adopted the slogan, ‘Equality, work and land’ - rather reminiscent of the Bolsheviks’ ‘Peace, land and bread’.
Shaheen Khan, a member of the SRWP national working committee, explained that rather than pursuing votes the SRWP is “focused on using every opportunity to raise the consciousness of the working class on the nature of the capitalist system and our need to organise independently outside of parliament and against it”. The party’s aim is “merely to secure a presence in parliament, from which we can raise the working class voice and expose the capitalist nature of parliament itself”

Workers around the world and not just in South Africa have been here before. Is there a need to re-invent the wheel and create another version of the South African Communist Party? That model of a workers' party has failed but it seems the lesson has not been learned. Should workers in South Africa continue to cling to the basic Bolshevik premises? The SRWP's Khan is peddling dangerous anti-parliamentarian deceptions. While the SRWP declares itself as a party of no reforms, it issues a series of reform promises.

There can be no national solution to the struggles of workers in South Africa because capitalism is itself international. Their struggles are closely linked to the struggles of workers elsewhere; our fate is bound up with theirs. The World Socialist Movement therefore urges our fellow workers in South Africa to seriously consider its alternative. What we seek cannot be brought about by putting our trust in SRWP leaders, regardless of how enlightened they believe themselves to be. It must arise from the self-organization of ordinary people, conscious of that alternative, and determined to make it a reality. 

Together, we can make it a reality.

Freely Aadpted from

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Migrant Myths

African migration toward Europe is both inevitable and a positive phenomenon, said Africa's first female president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, calling for an end to the perception of migration as a "crisis".
"We believe that the statistics, the research and reports are clear, that African migration has had a very positive impact," Johnson Sirleaf told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Not only for Africa but for the countries in which they are hosted because they do bring diversity, they bring culture... and they also contribute to the life of the country," she said.
Migration policies are often based on misperceptions, said Johnson Sirleaf. Population growth has caused the flow of migrants to increase in recent years, sparking fears in Europe, she said.
Africans make up only 14 percent of global migration flows and the vast majority stay within the African continent. About 65 percent of the world's migrants come from Europe and Asia. African migrants are mostly young and educated and almost half are women, the report says. They spend approximately 85 percent of their incomes in the host country.
"These are people moving across borders carrying skills, carrying capital, carrying technology, information, creating jobs, paying taxes," said Johnson Sirleaf. 
Migrants and refugees reaching Europe by sea have fallen from more than a million at the peak in 2015 to about 140,000 people last year, according to U.N. data.
Thousands are trapped in Libya, where reports of slavery and abuse are common, since Europe has taken measures to prevent them crossing the Mediterranean.
Johnson Sirleaf said African and European countries must work together to regulate migration, not try to stop it. The European Union decided last week to cease maritime patrols that have saved thousands of migrants from drowning because no country agreed to open its ports to the rescue ships.

Friday, April 05, 2019

There is hunger in Kenya yet there is food

A drought is creating suffering across much of the north and northeastern parts of Kenya, imperilling nearly a million people. Despite the heart-wrenching pictures and footage of emaciated villagers published on newspaper front pages, broadcast on TV channels and shared on social media,  officials  in Kenya continue to insist that the situation has been blown out of proportion.

In December, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which monitors food insecurity across more than 36 countries, warned that poor households in the northern counties of Kenya would experience heightened food insecurity in February and March.This, however, did not spur any concerted action to avert the suffering.

The irony is there is actually more than enough food in the country to feed everyone. Maize, the country's staple, has flooded the market. None of that maize, it seems, made it to where it was urgently needed. Although adequate information exists to predict and thus avoid food shortages, the government has eschewed forward planning in favour of emergency interventions once crises are under way. Further, there has been little in the way of long-term measures to build resilience within communities or even to integrate the remote regions into the country's food economy, which would allow surpluses in other areas to flow there.

According to the Institute for Security Studies, the drought cycle has decreased over the years, from once every decade, "to every five years, further down to every two to three years, and currently every year is characterized by some dry spell." While this is attributable to factors, such as climate change that are largely beyond the government's control, the accompanying food crises are not.

One study, for example, notes that poor infrastructure means transport costs account for nearly two-thirds of the cost of maize and that "maize moving from surplus to deficit regions is levied multiple local taxes for traversing different local government municipalities."

Kenya has committed itself to ending drought-related food emergencies by 2022, yet three years to that deadline, officials are still blaming the weather. It is thus more than a little ironic for Eugene Wamalwa, the cabinet secretary under whose docket this falls, to claim he now wants to end "this relief food business" and "focus more on resilience", as if the government has not had a decade to do this.

In the end, the real reason why people are starving in Northern Kenya has little to do with rain or climate-change and everything to do with a government, politicians and media that for decades have been indifferent to their plight.

South Sudan's Pain Continues

South Sudan has been ravaged by a brutal five-year civil war that has killed over 400,000 people and pushed its population to the brink of famine. That conflict nominally ended in September, with South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and the rebel group led by Riek Machar signing a historic peace deal. But six months on, a simmering humanitarian crisis is threatening to unpick the tense truce.

And water is now at the heart of a new wave of unrest. 

80 per cent of the country has no access to clean water with vital infrastructures destroyed in the fighting. Armed groups have deliberately targeted water infrastructure during the years of fighting as a way of destroying the communities of their enemies. There are scant resources to rebuild these water holes: Oxfam and others say their water programmes are woefully underfunded. Alier Ngongoka, the water authority chair, said only 0.1 per cent of the government budget is allocated for water. South Sudan has no storage facilities to collect and store water.
In Pibor, the regional capital of Boma, local governor John Joseph warns that people have already died in his state over water.
“As the government, we don’t have the capacity to build permanent water infrastructure for people or livestock,” he says. “Every year the violence is getting worse because access to water is deteriorating.”

Also climate change is riving up temperatures resulting in water resources for cattle and agriculture are also in dwindling supply. Seasonal rivers are drying up early, forcing people such as those in cattle herding communities to be on the move, sparking mini local wars. “Water creates real armed conflicts among the pastoral communities, particularly as the dry season is getting longer,” Ngongoka tells The Independent. “We have already seen fighting in areas like greater Jonglei, Akobo and eastern Equatoria.” 
Cattle raids are increasing as shepherding communities are on the move looking for water resources or new livestock to replace those lost to thirst, leading to direct conflict with rival ethnic groups.
Officials in South Sudan’s water authority say there is more than enough water to serve the population of just 10 million.

The country is blighted by floods for more than half of the year and is crisscrossed with rivers, including the White Nile, one of the two main tributaries to the Nile. It also straddles three transboundary aquifers. And yet according to Oxfam, which runs several water, sanitation and hygiene programmes (WASH), around 6 million people, or three-quarters of the population, are in need of help getting access to clean water and sanitation. Millions are at risk of waterborne diseases such as typhoid and cholera, which spread unchecked in rural communities that lack access to basic sanitation.

 Four million people have been displaced internally or externally. Ngongoka warned that if nothing was done to improve the water crisis, within two years there could be millions more on the move. Rural communities would be forced to move to urban areas, piling pressure on scant resources at a time when South Sudanese refugees are also beginning to return to the country.
Already more than two-thirds of the country, or 7.1 million, rely on aid to survive. Last month, the United Nations said that 1.5 million were on brink of starvation, and tens of thousands are already in famine.

Nachunalan, 43, says, “There has been no change for us since the peace deal was signed. Women are facing thirst, hunger, and violence. When will it end?”