Saturday, October 25, 2014

Beyond Ebola

The current focus on ebola should not let the impact of malaria (as well as other illnesses) and the campaign to develop a vaccine for malaria be forgotten about. While endeavouring to contain the present ebola epidemic,  Liberia's Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan explains"As we and our many international partners struggle to douse the wildfire caused by Ebola, we have been left with inadequate resources, time and personnel to attend to other routine illnesses like malaria, typhoid fever and measles, thereby causing many more tangential deaths," he said. 

Malaria is associated with high mortality and morbidity especially among children under five and pregnant women.  Around 90 per cent of estimated deaths from malaria occur in sub-Saharan Africa and 77 per cent of these are in children under the age of five.

Data from the phase III vaccine trial programme shows hope that a malaria vaccine is just a step away.

Plant-based therapies have held the ace in the treatment of malaria from chloroquine obtained from the Quinine bark also called Cinchona tree to the artemisin from the Chinese salad plant, Artemisia annua. Unfortunately, the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, has begun to develop resistance to the WHO-endorsed treatment ACT, made from Artemisia annua.

  Nigerian researchers have discovered and validated local plants that treat malaria like World Health Organisation (WHO)-endorsed drugs such as Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (ACTs), amodiaquine, mefloquine and sulphadoxine/pyrimethamine. A recent study published in Malaria Journal has identified medicinal plants such as Momordica charantia (bitter melon), Momordica balsamina (balsam apple), Ageratum conyzoides (goat weed), and Diospyros monbuttensis (Yoruba ebony or walking stick ebony) to be very efficacious in the treatment of drug resistant malaria. The results of the study showed sensitivity of 100 Plasmodium falciparum (malaria parasite) isolates to chloroquine, quinine, amodiaquine, mefloquine, sulphadoxine/pyrimethamine, artemisinin, Momordica charantia, Diospyros monbuttensis and Morinda lucida. The researchers concluded: "Natural products isolated from plants used in traditional medicine, which have potent anti-plasmodial action in vitro, represent potential sources of new anti-malarial drugs." 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Swaziland bans trade unions

Swazi Minister of Labour and Social Security, Winnie Magagula, has announced a Cabinet resolution deciding that, pending legal reforms, all federations should stop operating immediately. All trade union and employer federations will be effectively banned, a clear violation of ILO Convention 87, ratified by Swaziland, guaranteeing freedom of association for workers and employers. Federations were called upon to submit reports of their operations to date, including their prepared audited financial statements to the Commissioner of Labour.

Tripartite bodies such as the Wages Council, Labour Advisory Board, Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Commission, Swaziland National Provident Fund, Training and Localization Committee and the Social Dialogue Committee will stop functioning as a result.
Article 5 of ILO Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize recognizes the right of workers’ organizations to establish or to join federations and confederations of their own choosing.

The Swazi government has ignored repeated calls from the international trade union movement to respect rights guaranteed under international conventions ratified by Swaziland. Instead they have suspended workers’ right to freely associate and to carry out trade union activities completely.

In Ethiopia, Foreign Investment Is A Fancy Word For Stealing Land

It’s been called by some to be a new form of colonialism. Others say it is outright theft.
Since 2000, over 37 million hectares of land, mainly in the world’s poorest nations, have been acquired by foreign investors “without the free, prior, and informed consent of communities” in what, according to Oxfam and other organizations, constitutes a “land grab.” It’s a portion of land twice the size of Germany, according to researchers.
More than 60% of crops grown on land bought by foreign investors in developing countries are intended for export, instead of for feeding local communities. Worse still, two-thirds of these agricultural land deals are in countries with serious hunger problems. A report by the University of Virginia in collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Milan says that a third to a fourth of the global malnourished population, or 300 to 550 million people, could be fed from the global share of land grabs.
Instead, the land is used to grow profitable crops—like sugarcane, palm oil, and soy. The benefits of this food production “go to the investors and to the countries that are receiving the exports, and not to the benefit of local communities,” says Paolo D’Odorico, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. He attributes the phenomenon to a global “commodification of land” and says the problem will only get worse in the coming years as food prices continue to rise globally.

Land grabs in the developing world create a system so unequal that resource-rich countries become resource dependent.
In Ethiopia, one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid, the problem is particularly acute. In a country where over 30% of the population is below the food poverty line, crops are exported abroad—primarily to India, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.
Multinationals buy up the land from the Ethiopian government for lease and bring in workers to farm it.
Favorable climate conditions and government relief have led Ethiopia to be chosen as a new production site by many flower growers present in Kenya. Bangalore-based Karuturi Global, the world’s largest rose exporter, has rose plantations in the country, and is planning the development of a 300,000-hectare lease in the Gambella area.
Alfredo Bini, an Italian photojournalist, examined Ethiopian land grabs in his recently released photo series, “Land Grabbing.” For the investors, Bini explains, the deals were not “land grabs” but opportunities to get huge returns on investments.
As Birinder Singh, the executive director of Karuturi in Ethiopia, plainly states in his interview with Bini: “When someone calls it ‘land grab,’ we call it ‘land development.'”
These companies—mostly Saudi and Indian—are signing deals with the Ethiopian government to lease this land… for 25, 30, sometimes 50 years, depriving local populations of the ability to harvest their crops and feed themselves,” Bini told Quartz. “The government says the lands are empty and not being harvested but from what I saw and documented in my reporting this is entirely not the case.”

from here with photographs and video

Ebola - a food crisis, too

The Ebola epidemic is not just a mounting health crisis but also a growing economic problem.

Asked whether the food shortages will also reach countries outside West Africa, Dr Fan, director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, explained Ebola is triggering a food crisis through a series of interrelated factors, including farmer deaths, labour shortages, rising transportation costs, and rising food prices.

“Within these countries, where undernourishment has long been a problem, the food crisis may persist for decades,” Dr.Fan warned.

And because Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia are all net food-importing countries, the Ebola-triggered food crisis is unlikely to spread to other countries in the region or beyond, Dr. Fan added.

“In addition, the costs of staple foods including rice and cassava are rising precipitously in the affected areas as crops are abandoned and as labor shortages grow,” the statement added. As the harvest season is beginning, labour shortages are putting the food security of tens of thousands of people at risk in particularly affected areas.

Food that would be imported from these areas is not making its way to other regions, either.

“So, as we weigh the dangers of this dreaded disease, we must not forget the very real threats it poses to food security,” the  International Food Policy Research Institute warned. “The global community must come together to ensure that there are safety nets to protect not only those infected with the disease, but also those whose access to food is severely affected,” IFPRI added.

These safety nets, which could be in the form of cash or in-kind transfers, should be accompanied with nutrition and health interventions. “This is important, because investing in the nutrition and health of vulnerable populations could lower the mortality rate of diseases like Ebola, as nutritional status and infection are intricately linked.” Dr. Fan said

Schools in Sierra Leone have closed, shutting down critical feeding programmes for children. And restrictions on the consumption of bush meat, the suspected source of Ebola, have eliminated a traditional source of protein and nutrition from local diets.

Recent efforts by the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide food assistance to around 1.3 million people in these three countries indicate an idea of the scope of the current crisis. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is also providing food assistance to nearly 90,000 farming households to abate the food security crisis.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dakar Declaration Against Water And Land Grabbing

Rights to water and land, a common struggle

We, civil society organizations engaged in the defense of the rights to land and water, we gathered in Dakar in the framework of the Africa Social Forum fighting and protesting against natural resources grabbing, namely water and land grabbing, and against the systematic violations of the human rights that accompany them. By sharing our ideas, we acknowledged the essential linkage between our struggles, given the inextricable nature of land and water grabbing.

Today, more than 200 million hectares of land have been supposedly grabbed globally. Thus the huge profits of an elite are built on the systematic violation of the rights of the majority of peasants, farmers, informal settlements' dwellers, fishermen, herders and nomads, who are dispossessed of their land and livelihoods by resort to violence, intimidation and torture. Land grabbing is always accompanied by water grabbing. Indeed, water grabbing occurs in all instances of unsustainable water-consuming farming, through the privatization of water utilities and management, the contamination of water brought about by uncontrolled mining, the eviction of communities for dams building, the militarization of access to water points, the dispossession of fishermen and shepherds of their livelihoods, and the penalization of water poverty. The criminalization of activists fighting for the protection of the commons has become widespread, albeit hidden by the authorities. Land and water resources are increasingly scarce, and therefore critical to the security of societies and the sovereignty of states. However, the scarcity underpinning the water crisis and the land crisis is not naturally given; instead, it is politically, geo-strategically and financially constructed.

Our solidarity is built upon the following principles and convictions that unify our struggles:
1. That, the human rights to water and land are fundamental, and crucial for life. Everyone, men and women, adults and children, rich and poor, is entitled to them.
2. That, water and land are not only vital natural resources, but are also part of our common heritage, whose security and governance must be preserved by each community for the common good of our societies and the environment, now and for future generations.
3. Water and Land are commons, and not commodities.
4. We recognize that the states are legally and constitutionally mandated to represent peoples' interest. States are therefore duty-bound to oppose every national policy and international treaty that contrast the human rights to water and land.
5. Management policies of land and water should promote the achievement of social justice, gender equality, public health and environmental justice.

That is why, together as civil societies in Africa and elsewhere,

we pledge ourselves to:
  • sensitize, educate and organize citizens and communities in order to build a strong and united movement struggling for the recognition and enforcement of our rights to land and water;
  • always defend before institutions the right of citizens and communities to free, prior and informed consent in the governance of natural resources;
  • build synergies among civil society actors struggling against land and water grabbing in order to implement national platforms for the governance of natural resources.

    Read here their demands of states and international government organisations.

Ethiopia's "Authoritarian Developmentalism"

Ethiopia is both a darling of the international development community but organisations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) describe it as “one of the most repressive media environments in the world”.  Ethiopia is seen as a reliable police officer in the region, hosting a US military base and sending troops to fight the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab in neighbouring Somalia. Of 547 MPs, only one belongs to an opposition party. Activists and journalists describe an Orwellian surveillance state, breathtaking in scale and scope, in which phone conversations are recorded and emails monitored by thousands of bureaucrats reminiscent of the Stasi in East Berlin. The few who dare to take to the streets in protest are crushed with deadly force. Amnesty International has called it an “onslaught on dissent” in the runup to elections next year. An investigation by HRW noted the government had complete control over the telecoms system and virtually unlimited access to the call records of all phone users. Journalists have described telephone conversations they had years ago being played back to them during interrogations.

The country has enjoyed close to double-digit growth for a decade. One study found it was creating millionaires faster than anywhere else on the continent. The architect of this model of development – or “authoritarian developmentalism” – in east Africa was the late prime minister Meles Zenawi. Among the winners of the Meles legacy is Tesfakiros, the head of the Muller Real Estate company with a business empire that includes logistics, transport, food manufacturing and the wine venture with Geldof, which last year made a profit of $5m (£3m). “We’re trying to put Ethiopia as a wine-producing country like California or South Africa,” he said. Ethiopia imports about 10m litres of wine a year to serve a growing ‘middle’ class. Tesfakiros reflected. “There has been amazing growth in the last 15 years. People have got the work ethic and are investing. The real estates market is booming and will boom for a time.”

While tycoons such as Tesfakiros are showered in money from the property boom, Bekele Nega, general secretary of the  Oromo Federalist Congress, which has more than 10,000 members, has a different perspective. “This we don’t consider ‘development’,” he said. “This we consider the uprooting of the indigenous people, who will lose their culture and identity. The government say they are expanding Addis Ababa but the reality is they are getting rid of the people who don’t support the EPRDF [the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front].”

The frenetic economic expansion has uprooted thousands of farmers while, critics say, those who speak out against it are rounded up and jailed. The Congress, representing Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group, is resisting the government’s “masterplan” for expanding Addis Ababa, claiming it has forced 150,000 Oromo farmers off their land without compensation. Witnesses say police killed at least 17 protesters, including children and students, during demonstrations this year and hundreds more are being detained without charge.

Bekele Nega challenged the west’s perceptions of positive change in the country. “Foreigners who see these tall buildings will say Ethiopia is developing. The reality is we are not developing. We are not having three meals a day. People like Bob Geldof and others consider they have helped our people and of course they have. But they didn’t come to the kernel of the matter. The EPRDF used the money from that time to build the empire they are in control of. Somebody hijacked the money from that hunger. It’s written in black and white.”

Ethiopia is still one of the biggest recipients of UK development aid, getting about £300m a year. Money also pours in from the US. Nega believes it is misspent: “The west has left us, left the people. The US is aiding dictators and turning a blind eye to us. Why? The same with Britain, which has democratic values. They give the taxpayers money for buying weapons or for the police station to handcuff people.” Donor aid is also helping the government to spy on its citizens and even turn family members against each other, he alleged. “For any five family members, one will be reporting to the police. Your brother or your sister or your mother...”

One senior official said: “The most basic human right is food on the table. If we’re doing that, why would we violate other human rights? This is a safe, secure place and we want to keep it that way. We’ll do anything to keep it that way. We have 90 million people – you try to control them.”

Tesfakiros asks: “What’s democracy? The opposition needs support by the middle class. When we have a middle class, we will have a stronger democracy. Until then, we have a nanny for the democracy. Democracy is a matter of education and civilisation – 85% of our population is farmers; we don’t know how to read and write. When you have a middle class, you push for your rights.”

Nega replies. “The west wants us to be democrats and build a democracy. This question is not comfortable for our leaders. According to them, we need only food. They don’t understand that poor people need democracy. They fact we are poor does not mean we are not human beings. We cannot be uprooted and tormented. As human beings we deserve democracy, human rights, rule of law. ..”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The "Blessed" Nigerian Pastors

Exactly how much of Nigeria's $510bn GDP mega-churches make up is difficult to assess, since they are, like the oil sector, largely opaque entities. Hundreds of millions of dollars change hands each year in these popular Pentecostal houses of worship, which are modelled on their counterparts in the United States. Some of the churches can hold more than 200 000 worshippers and, with their attendant business empires, they constitute a significant section of the economy, employing tens of thousands of people and raking in tourist dollars, as well as exporting Christianity globally.

“They don’t submit accounts to anybody,” says Bismarck Rewane, economist and CEO of Lagos consultancy Financial Derivatives. “At least six church leaders have private jets, so they have money. How much? No one really knows.”

As the churches have charity status, they have no obligation to open their books, and certainly don’t have to fill in tax returns. The National Bureau of Statistics declined to comment on how churches fit into their GDP figures, but a source there said they were included as “non-profit”, which falls under “other services” in the latest figures. In 2013, the category contributed 2.5% of GDP, the same as the financial sector.

In 2011, Forbes magazine estimated the fortunes of Nigeria’s five richest pastors. Oyedepo topped the list, with an estimated net worth of $150-million. Oyedepo’s headquarters, “Canaanland”, is a 4 250-hectare campus in Ota, outside the commercial capital Lagos. It comprises a university, two halls of accommodation, restaurants and a church seating 50 000 people, with a total overflow capacity of five times that. A spokesperson said the church has 5 000 branches across Nigeria, and 1 000 more in 63 other countries across five continents. But Oyedepo’s empire also includes two fee-paying universities that he built from scratch, a publishing house for Christian self-help books, and an elite high school. Oyedepo other “blessings” include a Gulfstream V jet and several BMWs. The enterprises on the Canaanland campus, from the shops selling cold sodas and bread, to a woman boiling instant noodles and eggs for breakfast in a lodge, to pop-up book stalls hawking Oyedepo’s prolific literary output, are owned by the church’s estate, which employs their staff on its payroll. The church employed more than 18 000 people in Nigeria alone. Britain’s Charity Commission says it is reviewing potential conflicts of interest in his finances, and last month the Home Office barred him from Britain, though it declined to say why.

He was followed by “Pastor Chris” Oyakhilome of Believers’ LoveWorld Incorporated, also known as the Christ Embassy and popular with executives and politicians, on $30-million to $50-million. Oyakhilome owns magazines, newspapers and 24-hour TV station, and Joshua draws miracle-seekers from all over the world with claims that the holy water he has blessed cures otherwise incurable ailments such as HIV/Aids.

TB Joshua, pastor of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, at the centre of the recent diplomatic storm over the  collapse of its guesthouse last month, killing 115 mostly South African pilgrims, , was thought to have $10-million to $15-million. Before Joshua built his 10 000-seat headquarters at Ikotun-Egbe in outer Lagos, the area was part swamp, part abandoned industrial estate. Now, it is a boom town with shops, hotels, eateries and bars. Joshua also runs a TV station.

A former banker at Nigeria’s United Bank for Africa recalled being approached five years ago by a church that was bringing in $5-million a week from contributions at home or abroad. “They wanted to make some pretty big investments: real estate, shares,” he said. Nigerian churches do often invest large amounts of their congregations’ money in shares and property, at home and abroad, he and another banking source said.

One pastor bought three billion naira ($18-million) worth of shares in the defunct Finbank, which later merged with FCMB, after it was rescued in a bail-out in 2009, a fund manager who handled the deal told Reuters. The pastor used a nominee trust account to keep his name off the books. In 2011, Oyakhilome was investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and charged with laundering $35-million of contributions to his church in foreign bank accounts.

Like US televangelists, these churches preaches the “prosperity gospel” that faith in Jesus Christ lifts people out of poverty, and that message partly explains the explosion of the Pentecostal movement in sub-Saharan Africa, where misfortune and poverty are often seen as having supernatural causes.

From here

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sahel - Victim of climate change

The Sahel, the arid belt of land that stretches from the Atlantic to the Red Sea and separates the Sahara desert from the African savanna, is no stranger to drought and famine. Now scientists in Sweden say the Sahel faces another humanitarian crisis even than in the recent past—with the changing climate partly responsible.  Researchers from Lund University say people in the Sahel need more food, animal feed and fuel every year. But demand, which has more than doubled over a recent 10-year period, is growing much faster than supply.

Data from 22 countries shows the result: fewer resources per capita and a continued risk of famine in areas with low primary production—that is, the availability of carbon in the form of plant material for consumption as food, fuel and feed. Human numbers are part of the reason. Between 2000 and 2010, the population of the Sahel grew from 367 million to 471 million people—an annual rise of 2.2% over the decade.

But crop production remained essentially unchanged, so the margin between supply and demand for primary production is shrinking every year, while the Sahel’s population is forecast to total nearly a billion people by 2050.

They were mainly concerned with the staple crops grown regionally—such as sorghum and millet, which are used as food for people, with the residues used as fodder for livestock ? and with the dry woodlands that provide fuel. They used remote analysis and satellite images to calculate annual crop production in the 22 countries they studied, and compared the figures with data on population growth and consumption of food, animal feed and fuel. This relationship helps to measure a region’s vulnerability. The study shows that 19% of the Sahel’s total primary production in 2000 was consumed. Ten years later, consumption had increased to 41%.

Forecasts suggest that harvests will be reduced as a result of the higher air temperatures the region is now experiencing, even though climate change is predicted to result in the Sahel receiving more rain in future. So, the researchers say, climate change can only increase the vulnerability of the Sahel.

Asked by the Climate News Network whether higher air temperatures alone were likely to cancel the gains from increased rainfall, one of the study’s authors, Hakim Abdi, a doctoral student in physical geography and ecosystem science at Lund, said:
“The short answer is yes. Studies indicate that higher temperatures offset both increased rainfall and CO2 fertilisation. Additionally, a recent study found that increase in future rainfall in the Sahel, a region where the soil generally receives little nutrient input and is over-exploited, causes nutrient leaching, and hence induces nitrogen stress. When we were in our study site in North Kordofan in Sudan, the most common complaint we received from the villages we visited was the lack of water. I think that if a drought occurs with an impact that matches or exceeds the ones in 1972/73 or 1982/83, we will see serious consequences—worse impacts than past ones.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lesotho Hospital - Public Money, Private Profits

This presentation looks at Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in infrastructure through the lens of inequality, as wealth becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and as the gap between rich and poor widens globally, regionally and within countries.
PPPs are now used in more than 134 developing countries, are on the rise in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, and have moved from physical infrastructure into the provision of “social infrastructure,” such as schools, hospitals and health services. Much of the PPP growth has been in middle-income countries in Latin America, and the Caribbean, East Asia and Pacific region.

The example of a new public hospital in Lesotho illustrates that the public sector tends to carry all the financial risks of a project, providing cash subsidies or guarantees of payment or revenue – 99% of the money paid to build the new hospital was “public” money – while the financial profits extracted invariably go to the private sector and out of the country.

Raising the finance for infrastructure now involves multiple new institutional actors from private equity and venture capital funds to hedge funds, private banks and pension funds, each taking fees and profits along the way.
Indeed, for the private sector, “infrastructure” is not so much about bricks and mortar as stable, long-term, contracted cash flow.  A PPP project provides this: a stable, guaranteed income stream. Projects are devised to create multiple avenues for a flow of money that is transformed into private profit through loans, derivatives, shares, securitised income streams, and contract sales that anyone can buy and sell. A PPP project enables millions of dollars worth of ancillary trading, mainly for the purpose of hedging risks.

The choice of what infrastructure to build is thus heavily influenced by what serves the long-term profit-making interests of the private sector – and the state or public sector becomes more and more aligned with the interests of infrastructure investors and private companies.
PPPs are not about building and providing public services: they are about constructing the subsidies, fiscal incentives, capital markets, regulatory regimes and other support systems necessary to transform “infrastructure” into an asset class that yields above average returns of 13-25%.
In sum, PPPs are less about financing development (which is at best a sideshow) than about developing finance.

from here

Saturday, October 18, 2014

South African Land Question

According to Oxfam's land policy adviser, Robin Palmer, "Land is often all that people have as a bottom line for livelihood security."

"Land is a major resource in women's livelihood strategies. However, in general women are discriminated against in terms of the robustness of their rights in land, and this can create severe hardships for them and for those who depend on them. Generally their rights in land are secondary rights, derived through their membership in households and secured primarily through marriage," analyst Cherryl Walker said in a study on women's access to land.

Countries that were "settled" under colonialism - Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe - share a similar profile of racially skewed land distribution, dual tenure systems based on received law and customary law, and a dispossessed black rural population confined to degraded and overcrowded communal lands. Land is a highly charged issue. South African land expert Scott Drimie explained that, for Southern Africa, reform must be seen in the context of restitution. "The primary reason is about history. There are vast inequalities that have to be addressed for historical and economic reasons."

The reality has been that governments have failed to allocate the financial and human resources needed to address the land issue, said a think-tank of land experts who met earlier this year in South Africa. A common view is that governments in the region have been complicit in the preservation of land alienated by a powerful elite. Even liberation movements, once in power, are often accused of dropping their radicalism, preferring to join the privileged. Political commitment to land redistribution has been followed by a switch of emphasis to so-called economic goals, rather than the eradication of landlessness and/or poverty.

"Indeed, debates about land reform everywhere have seen a confrontation between those who believe that land reform must be centred on the redistribution of ownership (or land rights over) productive agricultural land in favour of the rural poor, and those opposed to extensive redistribution, who wish the reform to focus on measures to raise agricultural productivity and/or create a new class of (black) African commercial farmers," the think-tank noted. The received wisdom is that small is beautiful and small-scale farmers are invariably more productive than large estates. However, new comparative studies are beginning to suggest that in Southern Africa this might not always hold true, and small family farms may not be able to compete so well in increasingly liberalised and competitive markets. "Where rains are both unpredictable and unreliable, which is over much of the region, the mechanised farmer can readily take advantage of favourable soil moisture conditions... This flexibility is not available to small-scale farmers dependent on borrowed oxen or draught animals weakened by fodder shortages during the long dry season," the think-tank said. But Drimie believes the small-scale versus large-scale debate "may in many ways be a false dichotomy in terms of policy choices". Rather than a blanket model, a more nuanced blend based on location (climate, land suitability) and resources within a context of rural development would better achieve poverty alleviation.

From here