Monday, November 30, 2015

Stealing land for steel

An iron ore firm once listed in the London stock-market is being sued in a multimillion pound lawsuit over evictions and alleged violent treatment of workers and villagers living near one of its mines in Sierra Leone. African Minerals Limited is accused of complicity in false imprisonment, assault and battery, trespass and theft of the claimants’ property. It is also allegedly implicated in a fatal shooting of a 24-year-old by police during a protest over pay and conditions. A London law firm will put the case on behalf of 142 claimants before a judge at the high court in London on Monday in a bid to get compensation for the injuries sustained in two incidents in 2010 and 2012.

According to court filings, a number of villages were taken over and hundreds of families relocated with minimal consultation in a move to allow the company to expand its operations. The majority of the claimants are small scale or subsistence farmers and traders, many of whom had already sustained brutal treatment during the civil war.

Kadiatu Koroma, 25, one of the lead claimants being put forward by Leigh Day, has said that she was beaten, raped and miscarried as a result of violence in the village in 2010.
“I remember seeing big AML trucks coming to work on our farms. They didn’t speak to anyone. We had already planted our produce and we gathered as a community and started grumbling. We were saying, how can these people come and work in our farms without saying something to us. We all wanted to stop AML from destroying our farmland so I was guilty just because I lived in the village.”

She said the villagers told the mining company they were trespassing on their lands and set up a roadblock to stop them destroying their farms and their livelihoods. Police then arrived and opened fire against the community. In written evidence gathered by Leigh Day, she said there were three AML men with the police, including its community relations officer, Yallan Atkins Koroma. She says she was grabbed by the police and flogged with a stick and then bundled into a truck half naked after her shirt was torn off her. She says they were then taken to an AML camp where people were flogged and beaten up. Kadiatu was two months pregnant at the time and lost her baby.

Two years later, it is alleged excessive force was again used against defenceless victims, when police tried to quash a protest staged by workers over low wages and unfair treatment. In the attempt to impose law and order, a 24-year-old woman was shot dead while eight were wounded after police used live ammunition. t is claimed that the 142 claimants “suffered at the hands of the defendants, the defendants services and/or agents and the Sierra Leonean police force, who, at all material times, were acting in concert with the defendants and/or as their servants or agents.” In the aftermath of the clash, Sierra Leone’s human rights commission conducted an investigation, with its report describing the incident as a “war zone”. According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of families were evicted from their land to make way for the mine near Bumbuna with minimal consultation with villagers.

Sierra Leone has one of the largest deposits of iron ore in Africa and AML was once one of the country’s largest employers with almost 7,000 staff supplying the raw material for China’s production of steel.

Being a refugee in Ethiopia

While many European countries protest the arrival of refugees, developing countries host 86 per cent of the world’s refugees, according to a 2013 UNHCR Global Trends report. 

Ethiopia hosts about 680,000 refugees, the largest number of any African country.

Often these countries already struggle to respond to the needs of their own populations and are reluctant to allow refugees to study, work or move freely within their territories. Many of these individuals, having no passport and coming from countries often labeled high risk for illegal migration, find themselves cut off from obtaining study visas and work permits for developed countries, and condemned by strict national migration rules to remain as refugees for years in the likes of Ethiopia.
“All they care about is their budgets; they don’t care about refugees,” a 33-year-old Congolese man, who fled to Ethiopia five years ago to escape fighting and government persecution of his minority Banyamulenge tribe, told IPS. “It’s a form of psychological killing living here because we aren’t allowed to work. We are hopeless.”

Distinctions between refugees and economic migrants become blurred. Hence the argument for a new terminology of “survival migrant”, someone falling outside the internationally recognized definition of a refugee but, nevertheless, fleeing very serious socio-economic rights deprivations.

Eritreans accounted for the majority of the 3,000 people who drowned in the Mediterranean this year, humanitarian agencies estimate. So not everyone takes the gamble, choosing to remain at the mercy of the international asylum system.
“At least I’m free to practice my faith here,” Samrawit, a Pentecostal Christian who teaches English classes at the JRS, and who seven years ago also walked at night across the border from Eritrea into Ethiopia, told IPS. “But when you can’t even earn a living, such freedom really counts for nothing.”

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Disappearing "Middle Class'

Africa’s ‘middle class’ is closer to 18 million people than the previously estimated 300 million. To make matters worse, they are all located in a very small area of the continent. South Africa houses 4.3 million of Africa’s middle class. However, the number becomes 14.1 million if other countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Nigeria are included. This means that the reminder of the middle class, which is about 4.7 million are shared between more or about 48 countries on the entire continent.

In 2011, the African Development Bank stated the middle class contained 313 million people. However, Credit Suisse’s 2015 Global Wealth Databook put the number at 18 million, which is almost seventeen times smaller. ‘Middle class’ households are typically defined as those that spend at least half of their income on goods and services beyond just food and basic necessities.

“More than 93% of adults in Africa own less than USD 10,000, and 95% of adults in in India fall in this range,” stated the authors.

A Pew Research Center report from July found that African countries declined the most from 2001 to 2011. Ethiopia’s middle class dropped 27%, while Nigeria’s went down 18%. The researchers determined their statistics by classifying those who live on $10-$20 a day. Overall, their study concluded only 6% of Africa’s population can be considered middle class.

Cadbury and Coca-Cola closed factories in Kenya, and Nestle SA cut jobs by 15% in sub-Saharan Africa earlier this year. At one time, South Africa’s ShopRite wanted 600-800 stores in Nigeria. But now they only have 12.

Friday, November 20, 2015

It's a shitty life for most Africans

A majority, 70%, of people in sub-Saharan Africa still don’t have access to toilets, African governments fail to prioritise sanitation, causing their citizens to defecate in the open or use a bucket or rudimentary pit latrine which leaks its contents, meaning people have no way to prevent faeces from contaminating their environment. In Tanzania, for instance, the current sanitation investment is less than 0.1% of the GDP!

This is a one-way street to illness – one gram of faeces carries up to 1 million bacteria and 10 million viruses. This means that the cost of hospital beds held by people suffering from preventable illnesses is also holding back a country’s workforce and its economic development. The annual global economic losses due to sanitation deficiencies are estimated to be $260 billion.

Nigeria for example is a middle-income economy, but has lagged in financing its sanitation infrastructure. One way to change this would be to mobilise domestic resources, including through taxes and tariffs, and effectively targeting those who most need the facilities.

Instead, the number of Nigerian households with access to sanitation has actually slipped by 9% since 1990 and some 71% of Nigeria’s people do not have access to basic and safe toilets. This takes a heavy toll: an estimated 11 children in every 1,000 die of diarrhoea-related illnesses each year, and 58 out of 100,000 births result in the mother dying of sepsis.

Oil Boom Slumps

“On the brink of a boom,” was the banner on PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP’s review of Africa’s oil industry 16 months ago. When six of the 10 biggest global oil discoveries in 2013 were made in Africa, it underlined the potential of the energy riches that had lured companies from Royal Dutch Shell Plc to Exxon Mobil Corp. Now, oil below $50 has made more than two out of three investment projects on the continent non-viable.

“Capital markets are effectively closed to the oil and gas industry” in Africa, Tony Hayward, former head of BP Plc and now chairman of Genel Energy Plc, said at a conference in Cape Town last month. “A decade of exploration, with billions of dollars invested and only limited commercial success.”

"There are a raft of changes working their way through various parliaments around Africa at the moment and they’ve been primarily based on prices that were $100,” Martin Kelly, director for sub-Saharan Africa research at consultancy Wood Mackenzie said. “The world has changed since then."

African production, already 19 percent below its 2008 peak of 10.2 million barrels a day, is set to drop for a third year.

Africa's Richest

In Forbes magazine’s latest list of Africa’s 50 richest, South Africans take up 16 spots compared to Nigeria’s 10. Overall, Africa’s 50 richest are worth a total of $95.6 billion. This is almost as much as the combined GDPs of Kenya and Tanzania, two of the biggest economies in East Africa.

Aliko Dangote, the 58 year old chairman and chief executive of the Dangote Group, the manufacturing conglomerate, is worth a princely sum of $16.6 billion. That’s $10 billion more than the second on the list, South Africa’s Nicky Oppenheimer, whose family owned the diamond mining firm and trader DeBeers.

Dos Santos’ net worth of $3.4 billion makes her the richest woman in Africa. She is the daughter of Angola’s long-term president José Eduardo and critics have accused her of leveraging her position to enrich herself. Most of her money comes from investments in oil, banking and telecom companies in Angola and Portugal.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Rulers

Here is a list of Africa's longest-serving leaders:

- 36 years: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea. Came to power in a coup on August 3, 1979. He was officially named president on October 12, 1982.

- 36 years: Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Angola. Leader of the party which won independence from Portugal in 1975, Dos Santos has been in power since September 20, 1979.

- 35 years: Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe. The only living African leader to have been continuously in power since his country's independence, Mugabe became prime minister in April 1980 and president in 1987.

- 32 years: Paul Biya, Cameroon. Came to power on November 6, 1982.

- 29 years: Yoweri Museveni, Uganda. Took office in January 1986 after winning the war which ousted the brutal regime of Idi Amin Dada, with help from neighbouring Tanzania.

- 29 years: King Mswati III, Swaziland. Acceded to the throne of the tiny southern African kingdom in April 1986, four years after the death of his father.

- 26 years: Omar al-Bashir, Sudan. Has ruled since he seized power in a coup in June 1989.

- 25 years: Idriss Deby, Chad. Emerged as the leader of the arid north-central African state in December 1990, after the war which ousted the regime of Hissein Habre.

- All-time record holders - The longest-serving leaders of post-colonial African countries have been:

- Emperor King Haile Selassie, who was ousted from power in Ethiopia in 1974 after 44 years.

- Moamer Kadhafi of Libya, who ruled his north-African state for almost 42 years after a coup in 1969. Kadhafi was ousted and then killed in 2011 by a rebel movement backed by western warplanes.

- Omar Bongo Ondimba, who ruled the west African state of Gabon for more than 41 years until his death in October 2011. He was then succeeded by his son:


Refuse could power estimated 40 million households by 2025. It can be incinerated or methane collected from landfill sites.

A map of Africa's identies

Each colour roughly corresponds to an ethnic group that constitutes the majority in that region, based on how people self-identify. Ethnicity is notoriously difficult to measure and demarcate — everyone sees their own ethnic identity a little differently — but the results here roughly track with a 1959 ethnography by anthropologist George Murdock and with a 2002 Harvard Institute study on ethnic diversity.
That latter study found that sub-Saharan African contained many of the most ethnically diverse countries on Earth, including the two most diverse: Uganda and Liberia. And the above map certainly suggests enormous ethnic diversity across western and central Africa.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fact of the Day

Mandera in northeastern Kenya, has often been described as “the worst place on earth to give birth.” Mandera’s maternal mortality ratio stands at 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births, almost double that of wartime Sierra Leone at 2,000 deaths per 100,000 live births.

How Lenin distorted Marxism

The words socialism and communism were used interchangeably by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It was Lenin more than anyone else who introduced a distinction between the two.

Lenin stupendously amplified a theoretical presupposition in Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme to advance his political dogma of socialism at two stages – the first phase of socialism was what existed in Russia. The second or higher stage was what up till then socialists had assumed socialism to be, the distinguishing feature of socialism consisting in the fact that in it money, classes and states won’t exist.

The following quotation from Marx may help us to understand how he defined socialism and historical materialism:

‘In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent  of their will. These definite relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of material relations of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitute the structure of society, the real foundation on which arise legal and political institutions and to which correspond definite form of social consciousness.

The mode production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual process of life. it is not the consciousness of many that ??? existence, but on the contrary their social existence determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development the material forces of production – with the property relations with which they have been at work before. From forms of development of forces of production, these relations turn into their fetters. Then comes the period of social revolution, with the change of the economic foundation, the immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformation, the distinction should always be made between material transformation of the economic condition of production which can be determined with precision of natural science and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic, philosophical – in short the ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.’

The final causes of social or political revolutions are to be found within the changes taking place in the modes of production and exchange. The process itself is dialectic and is determined by a change in human’s consciousness. The change in the modes of production and exchange abrogate the earlier economic condition and thus culture and the way of life.

The Communist Manifesto was published by the Communist League – it was exclusively German and later on became international under the political conditions of 1848. Drawn up in Germany in 1848, the manifesto had been published in London a few weeks before the outbreak of the French revolution of 1848.

The Communist Manifesto came to vindicate the facts set forth in the materialist conception of history:

(a)    That all history has been the history of class struggles.
(b)   The particular structure of social classes at any given time is determined by the mode of production.
(c)    The bourgeois order (capitalism) like all previous systems gives rise to contradictions which cannot be resolved within its framework.
(d)   The working class will take the initiative and acquire political power from the bourgeoisie and establish a socialist society.

Lenin and Trotsky were confident that the success of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia was going to spread to other parts of the world. When Lenin died in 1924 he was succeeded by Joseph Stalin as leader of the Communist Party.  Stalin started to revise the party’s theory to fit the existing conditions prevailing in Russia. To achieve this Stalin had to purge a member of the old guard. Trotsky had to flee from Russia.

When we reflect upon the political and theoretical disagreements that engulfed working class movements and the contradictions that followed the dawn of the Bolshevik revolution, we find the differences dated from earlier than 1914. They arose due to a grave misconception of Marx’s earlier writings – that a socialist revolution could take place in an economically backward country while Marx was certain that it was likely to begin in industrialised countries (England, France and Germany).

This fact confronted Lenin when the Bolsheviks came to power supposedly under the slogan of the proletarian revolution. To evade this contradiction Lenin had to construct a new political dogma: that the socialist revolution in Russia was to be realised neither by a party wedded to parliamentary democracy nor by conspiratorial force – but by a party of dedicated revolutionaries which would establish the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”,  a purely political creation. The task of revising and distorting historical materialism preoccupied Lenin and Trotsky evading the salient laws of history through other tactics and empty slogans. ‘Better fewer but better’ this was Lenin’s conception of party or revolutionary organisation and was later embraced by other ‘communist’ regimes.

Every person with even a crude reading of Marxist literature will wince at the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of historical materialism so prevalent today due to the distortions of ‘Marxism-Leninism’. Granted that the kind of political dictatorship implemented by the Bolsheviks was not socialism, what was the contradiction of Russian ‘socialism’ in relation to historical materialism? A mere glance at the Communist Manifesto shows the premises set forth there were completely at variance with the political conditions that prevailed in the USSR, not to mention the political and theoretical blasphemies exposed in single-party political regimes in Russia, Cuba, China and North Korea – maxims that were adopted also in Africa when the struggles for political independence were on the upswing and in Latin America and the Third World generally.

Kitwe, Zambia

Monday, November 09, 2015

Mauritania's Misery

One of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, Mauritania has suffered from decades of desertification and the under-development of its agricultural sector, and has to import 70 percent of its food.

Malnutrition has hit emergency levels in six of Mauritania's 15 regions, affecting at least one in six people, and the proportion of malnourished children under five across the country has risen to 14 percent this year from 10 percent in 2014, the World Food Programme said. Around one million people - a quarter of the population - do not have enough food to live healthily, and 200,000 are going hungry and urgently need food aid to survive, the WFP said.

Droughts have reduced the availability of nutritious food, and widespread poverty - one in four Mauritanians live on less than $1.25 per day - means many cannot afford to eat healthily, according to WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. "So many are living close to the edge... women and children are the most vulnerable. A failure to meet the nutritional needs of pregnant women will have a direct impact on the health of their children." The WFP is providing half a million people with food, cash and food vouchers, and giving pregnant women and young children nutritious food to prevent and treat malnutrition. A shortage of donor funding this year has forced the WFP to cut food aid, halving or cancelling rice rations in some months. Mauritania's Mbera camp needs $11 million over the next six months but has received less than half that amount from donors, the WFP said.

Some 50,000 refugees fled to the camp after conflict erupted in 2012 in northern Mali between government forces and Tuareg separatists. "This is a population that believes they cannot return home - they are not working, they cannot feed themselves and without support, they will go hungry," Cousin said. "I've looked into the face of a mother, almost in tears, who has absolutely nothing and is struggling to feed her kids... it is the responsibility of not only the WFP, but the global community to support refugees like her," Cousin added. Without urgent funding, the U.N. agency will be unable to continue its school meal programme past December, which means more than 150,000 children will miss out on a daily hot meal.

The scramble for Africa continues

Africa has been thrust into yet another episode of global geopolitical competition as world powers stake out their positions on the continent in a new scramble for Africa. The only thing that has changed since the Berlin Conference in 1884, which shared out the continent among European powers, is that African leaders now have a seat at the table.

China, the European Union, the United States and Japan are the leading global powers that have set up international initiatives to cultivate stronger ties with Africa aimed at expanding their markets, securing supply of raw materials and seeking political support.

Two weeks ago, India hosted the largest gathering of African leaders in New Delhi since the seventh summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1983. The summit, described by Indian officials as a reconnection of “old friends and family,” is New Delhi’s biggest push to reset its political and economic ties with an emerging Africa. More than 40 African leaders attended the summit, which was big on trade, terrorism and international politics. The impressive attendance by African leaders is a major statement by India on its ambitions of cementing its footprint on a continent projected to have a $29 trillion GDP by 2050 — which is in the same range as India’s projected $35 trillion economy in 35 years.

The India-Africa summit is however only one of four other similar international initiatives to cultivate stronger ties with African states. The European Union-Africa Summit was held in Brussels in April 2014, while in the same year, the United States inaugurated the US-Africa Leaders Summit in August, which was attended by all African leaders in Washington DC. Japan’s Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) is scheduled to take place in early 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya, while China, will hold its Forum on China Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) this December in South Africa.

After a decade of growth, African economies appear to be in trouble. In the wake of falling copper prices, Glencore, the second-largest mining company in Africa, has announced it will halt its production in Zambia for 18 months. Since copper accounts for 70 percent of the country’s exports and its sale provides a significant portion of its tax revenues, the halting of copper production puts serious strains on Zambia’s economic stability.

Over the past decade, China’s rise as an industrial power supported high levels of growth in Africa. As one of largest recipients of Chinese investment, Zambia has been a chief participant in this larger phenomenon with China making substantial investments in the country’s infrastructure, particularly its copper and coal mining facilities. However, as Zambia flourished economically, it became more and more integrated into China’s supply chain. By 2012, exports to China constituted almost 45 percent of Zambian exports and over 10 percent of GDP. While African leaders initially welcomed the surge in investment and interest, there are growing concerns that the continent’s economies have become uniquely overexposed to a Chinese slowdown. As China’s growth has slowed, its excess production capacity is placing a drag on the commodities that have fueled high levels of growth in Zambia and other countries. As a symptom of the deteriorating relationship, bilateral trade between China and Africa has been dropping sharply since late 2014 and the prices of many of the commodities that China purchases from Africa have fallen by 40 – 60 percent within the last two years. Zambia has already announced plans to increase its trading relationship with surrounding countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which itself is suffering greatly from the decline in Chinese demand.

Also China now appears to be rebalancing its economy away from manufacturing, construction, and exports – the sectors that most readily consume commodity exports from emerging markets – toward the services sector and consumption. Therefore, even if China resumes higher growth rates in the future, African countries, especially those that are currently dependent on commodity exports such as Zambia, Angola, and others, will be less able to rely upon it as an external engine that can fuel their domestic growth.