Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Somalia's children in need

The United Nations has warned that over 58,000 children would starve to death in Somalia if they are not provided with urgent humanitarian assistance. 
UN aid chief for Somalia Peter de Clercq said that more than 300,000 children under the age of five are acutely malnourished. The UN official also said that they urgently need medicalfood, and other humanitarian support.
"The level of malnutrition, especially among children, is of serious concern, with nearly 305,000 children under the age of five years acutely malnourished," the official said, adding, "We estimate that 58,300 children face death if they are not treated."

The UN has said that nearly one million people are struggling every day to meet their food needs. 4.7 million people, or nearly 40 percent of Somalia, stand in need of humanitarian aid.

The grim assessment comes as severe drought continues to hit several regions in the impoverished war-torn country. Northern Somali areas are especially hard hit by the ongoing drought. The drought has been exacerbated by by an exceptionally strong El Nino weather pattern.

"The food security and malnutrition situation in Somalia is alarming, especially in parts of Puntland and Somaliland, which have been hard hit by drought exacerbated by El Nino," the UN said in a statement, adding "We are deeply concerned...with severe drought conditions intensifying in Puntland and Somaliland, many more people risk relapsing into crisis."

The UN has appealed for urgent support and humanitarian assistance. The world body is calling for USD 885 million in aid to assist people in conflict- and disaster-affected regions.  

Monday, February 08, 2016

Africa's Non Green Revolution

One of the major strategies to reduce poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is through policies to increase and modernise agricultural production. Up to 90 per cent of people in some African countries are smallholder farmers reliant on agriculture, for whom agricultural innovation, such as using new seed varieties and cultivation techniques, holds potential benefit but also great risk.

Agricultural policies aimed at alleviating poverty in Africa could be making things worse, according to research by the University of EastAnglia (UEA). The study finds that so-called 'green revolution' policies in Rwanda - claimed by the government, international donors and organisations such as the International Monetary Fund to be successful for the economy and in alleviating poverty - may be having very negative impacts on the poorest.

In the 1960s and 70s policies supporting new seeds for marketable crops, sold at guaranteed prices, helped many farmers and transformed economies in Asian countries. These became known as "green revolutions". The new wave of green revolution policies in sub-Saharan Africa is supported by multinational companies and western donors, and is impacting the lives of tens, even hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers, according to the study's lead author Dr Neil Dawson.

The study reveals that only a relatively wealthy minority have been able to keep to enforced modernisation because the poorest farmers cannot afford the risk of taking out credit for the approved inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers. Their fears of harvesting nothing from new crops and the potential for the government to seize and reallocate their land means many choose to sell up instead.

The findings tie in with recent debates about strategies to feed the world in the face of growing populations, for example the influence of wealthy donors such as the Gates Foundation, initiative's such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and multinational companies such as Monsanto in pushing agricultural modernisation in Africa. There have also been debates about small versus large farms being best to combat hunger in Africa, while struggles to maintain local control over land and food production, for example among the Oromo people in Ethiopia, have been highlighted.

Dr Dawson, a senior research associate in UEA's School of International Development, said: "Similar results are emerging from other experiments in Africa. Agricultural development certainly has the potential to help these people, but instead these policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants. Many of these policies have been hailed as transformative development successes, yet that success is often claimed on the basis of weak evidence through inadequate impact assessments. And conditions facing African countries today are very different from those past successes in Asia some 40 years ago. Such policies may increase aggregate production of exportable crops, yet for many of the poorest smallholders they strip them of their main productive resource, land. This study details how these imposed changes disrupt subsistence practices, exacerbate poverty, impair local systems of trade and knowledge, and threaten land ownership. It is startling that the impacts of policies with such far-reaching impacts for such poor people are, in general, so inadequately assessed."

The research looked in-depth at Rwanda's agricultural policies and the changes impacting the wellbeing of rural inhabitants in eight villages in the country's mountainous west. Here chronic poverty is common and people depend on the food they are able to grow on their small plots. Farmers traditionally cultivated up to 60 different types of crops, planting and harvesting in overlapping cycles to prevent shortages and hunger. However, due to high population density in Rwanda's hills, agricultural policies have been imposed which force farmers to modernise with new seed varieties and chemical fertilisers, to specialise in single crops and part with "archaic" agricultural practices.

Dr Dawson and his UEA co-authors Dr Adrian Martin and Prof Thomas Sikor recommend that not only should green revolution policies be subject to much broader and more rigorous impact assessments, but that mitigation for poverty-exacerbating impacts should be specifically incorporated into such policies. In Rwanda, that means encouraging land access for the poorest and supporting traditional practices during a gradual and voluntary modernisation.

Breaking Free

Afrobarometer is based on face-to-face interviews with more than 52,700 citizens in 33 countries in 2014-2015.

Poverty remains widespread in Africa. Almost half of all respondents say they went without enough food (46 percent), clean water (46 percent) or needed medical care (49 percent) at least once or twice during the previous year. And many of them did so “many times” or “always.”

 But Africa isn’t uniformly poor; countries differ enormously in their levels of lived poverty. People in Gabon and Togo went without basic necessities at about 18 times the rate of those in Mauritius, and four times as frequently as residents of Cape Verde and Algeria.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

End female genital mutilation

The real scale of female genital mutilation (FGM) worldwide has been revealed in alarming new statistics on the eve of International Day of Zero Tolerance of FGM. At least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone ritual cutting, half of them living in just three countries, according to UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency. The UNICEF data covers 30 countries, but half of the girls and women who have been cut live in Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia. The new global figure includes nearly 70 million more girls and women than UNICEF estimated in 2014. About 44 million victims of FGM around the world are aged 14 or younger, and the majority of girls who have had their genitals mutilated were cut before they were five years old, Unicef’sresearch found.

Somalia has the highest prevalence of women and girls who have been cut—98% of the female population between the ages of 15 and 49.

In Guinea, where 97% of girls aged 15 to 49 are FGM victims despite the practice being outlawed, Unicef staff described seeing girls taken away from their families against their will to be cut, on the orders of village authorities. One five-year-old died from her wounds.

Other countries FGM rates were , Djibouti 93%; Sierra Leone 90%; Mali 89%; Egypt 87%; Sudan 87%; Eritrea 83%; Burkina Faso 76% and The Gambia 75%

Unicef said the picture was optimistic in some countries, with FGM prevalence rates declining by 41% in Liberia, 31% in Burkina Faso, 30% in Kenya and 27% in Egypt over the last 30 years.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Africom Prepares the Ground

US Special Operations Forces will participate in another training exercise in Africa later this month, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced. It is scheduled to take place in Senegal and extend into Mauritania. 1,700 Special Operation Forces from more than 30 nations are expected to participate in the exercise

Later in June another military exercise called Central Accord is planned. The event will be the second Central Accord exercise hosted by the Gabon’s Armed Forces.

Africom’s campaign blueprint is a five-year plan with five lines of effort:
The first is neutralizing the terror group al-Shabab in Somalia, officials said, and transitioning this effort from a mission led by the African Union Mission in Somalia to one in which the Somali government secures its own territory.
The second line of effort centers around the failed state of Libya, officials said, adding that the effort focuses on containing the instability in the country.
The third line of effort is to contain Boko Haram in West Africa.
Fourth, officials said, Africom will focus on disrupting illicit activity in the Gulf of Guinea and in Central Africa.
Fifth, the command looks to build African partners’ peacekeeping and disaster assistance capabilities, officials said.

The only permanent location the United States have is Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti but they do possess “cold bases” that would only be used in the event of an emergency. The bases allow the command to protect American lives and property in the high-risk, high-threat posts. There are 15 of those posts in Africa, US officials said.

Meanwhile, naval personnel from Eastern Africa, Western Indian Ocean island nations, Europe and the US, as well as several international organisations have commenced the multinational maritime exercise Cutlass Express. Cutlass Express tactical commander and Task Force 65/Destroyer Squadron 60 deputy commodore Captain Tate Westbrook said: "Security of commerce, protection of maritime economic assets, and the prevention of piracy and illicit trafficking is a critical mission that directly affects all maritime nations. Once again Djibouti was a key base. 

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

African Hothouse (1966)

From the January 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1957 Ghana became the first of many Colonies to achieve independence within the Commonwealth. Much has been said and written about these new Nations in the intervening period and those who were loudest in their support and praise have usually seen their hopes drowned in a welter of dictatorship and suppression.

Certain conditions must be fulfilled before the idea of Socialism can arise. Of paramount importance is a highly developed industrial society in which the propertyless mass of wage-slaves is increasingly forced into the consciousness that its interests are in conflict with those of the owning class. Some workers, hearing us say this, consider the backward areas throughout the world. They see those millions of primitives whose way of life has never changed in a thousand years and feel that all this renders Socialism, if not impossible, something for the distant future.

Is it really so hopeless? We think not. Therefore, a progress report is required to see whether things are as unchanging and permanent as they seem to be. A comprehensive survey of all the new States is beyond the space at our disposal and a skimped attempt would simply defeat our purpose. So we shall look at one country only, and the question now arises—which one? Ghana, with its 400 years of western influence, would be the easiest choice, but we are looking for something less obvious This presents itself in —the Federation of Nigeria.

Here, the barriers to Socialism seem insurmountable. The most densely populated African National—55 million according to hotly disputed Government figures—it was, if anything, even more backward than Ghana in the days of Empire and generally had little contact with the West until recent years.

In the more developed South (East and West Regions combined) the inhabitants are distinct from those of the Moslem-dominated North. The Southern City has many modern features, with the motor vehicle a common sight. The North, in contrast, is from the world of Arabian Nights with its Minarets and feudal Emirs. A Nation where, instead of one people sharing the same life, speech and background, there are over 250 different tribal groups with no common language and with vastly assorted stages of development.

As late as 1920, the Governor of the day, Sir Hugh Clifford, ridiculed the idea ‘That this collection of self-contained and mutually independent Native States separated from one another by distance, history and tradition, political, social and religious barriers, were capable of being welded into a single homogeneous Nation”. This was the picture up to Independence.

Independence was the culmination of half a century of demanding freedom from the shackles of Colonialism. The driving force was the urbanised African who had come to work in Lagos, the big trading centre. By 1896 he was protesting that most of his taxes were going towards improving European residential areas. Down the years he found himself debarred from real advancement because of his native origin and he resented serving under white men whom he considered his inferior. Strict segregation, plus the fact that everything luxurious was for Europeans only, heightened the desire to be rid of the British. The absence of a reactionary settler class—it really was the white man’s grave—prepared the ground for the inevitable. After the war the rising tide of Nationalism engulfed Nigeria just as it did almost everywhere and degrees of Self-Government were demanded and won until, in October 1960, British Rule came to an end.

In 1947, outside of textiles and palm-oil, only one factory existed in the whole of Nigeria. Between then and 1960 there was a dramatic increase in unbanisation, with an estimated half-million wage and salary earners. But the vast majority were, and to a lesser degree still are, subsistence Farmers. Some of them worked part of the year in the Towns or Mines, but living off the land was the main way of life. Unlike today, there was nothing else for it

In his increasing contact with the modern world it becomes clear to the native that there is more to life than the Village can offer. He may hear that the earnings for a few hours work in Town bring a return the equal of many hours of back-breaking toil in the fields. This, or the desire for education, among other reasons, send him into the City to begin the process of losing his backward past—that of “de-tribalisation”.

It starts the moment he parts from the controls of the Tribe and the ties of the Village. He must adapt himself to the new conditions in order to survive, and the changes are great. He walks on different ground and keeps different hours. The tools he uses have changed and with them his idea of himself. The traditional life of the Village with its protections and comforts are no longer his; instead, he is in a jungle where those things do not exist. New associations must be sought and these usually present themselves at work and are seldom from his particular background. Thus, new interests are created and when problems arise they may not be treated as personal or Tribal in nature but as social issues which demand new thinking. More, these new associates have different Gods from his own—or no God at all—so his acceptance of conventional superstition is challenged. To sum up, there is enormous pressure for re-examination of his beliefs, standards, values and aspirations. At the same time, the contradiction of a wage-worker’s life and the spectacle of immense wealth displayed in Stores, etc., leads to the development of the idea of crime. No longer can the Village expatriate simply pick up anything he wishes to make use of. Those things are now privately owned and must be paid for. He is living in a money economy.

What protection has he? The same as anyone else; he joins a Trade Union. Here again the story is one of a mushrooming under the conditions of emergent Capitalism. Pre-war, only Clerks and Administrative workers in Nigeria were organised. There was little compulsion to work for wages and jobs were only taken to supplement agricultural income while the depression reduced demand for labour in both Government and private sectors.

In 1940 only five Unions existed, claiming 3,500 members between them. By 1956 they numbered almost 200 with 170,000 members. Progress, if swift, was erratic with many Unions vanishing as quickly as they came. There were reasons for this.
(1) Poor communications between Branches separated by great distances.
(2) The small scale of industry—some Unions had only 50 members!
(3) Seasonal nature of many jobs.
(4) Large labour surplus.
Today, although still split by factional squabbles, the Movement continues to grow. In July 1964, a major strike involving a million workers took place over wage-rates and lasted two weeks despite everything the Government could throw at it. Threats to dismiss all strikers were ignored and with the country at a virtual standstill the Government was forced to accede to many of the strikers’ demands.

This growth in trade union strength has occurred in the face of Tribal loyalties and animosities. Does this mean Tribalism is a spent force? Far from it. In fact it has staged something of a come-back in recent times. Before I960, when Nationalist aspirations were rampant, differences of Tribe and Region were submerged in the unity of aim—independence. Nowadays, the political leaders, jockeying for position and power, are having to invoke all the old antagonisms—although the dangers of this are obvious and recognised. Also, as the demand for the more skilled type of labour—administration, education, etc.—slackens off, then those who have not yet landed a good position must exert pressure wherever they can.

In the long run the past will lose out to the demands of the new social order. Those who have spent much of their lives with the Tribe will remain under its influence to some extent, but the generations who know only City life and who receive a uniform education will have little interest in the ancient ties.

In any case, Tribalism is not confined to primitive peoples. It is present, although in modified form, throughout modern society and can be seen among Scots, Irish, Jews, etc. These groups who consider themselves different because of Nationality or Religion will still unite with outsiders for political or economic reasons.

And capitalist education is in Nigeria forging ahead. The Ashby Commission, set up at the time of independence to map-out the necessary rate of expansion, recognised that lack of skilled manpower was the biggest obstacle to development, and put forward “massive, expensive, and unconventional” recommendations which included four new Universities by 1980. Today, that target has been beaten. Four million children are already receiving Primary schooling and the plan is for an additional half million each year.

Everywhere the story is one of rapid “Westernisation''. The Lagos Sunday Times (19/9/65) provides the following sample. “The sleek Mercedes Benz saloon glides out of the corner. At the same time, august lady at the Bus stop flips out a miniature looking glass from the dazzling' bag slung over one arm and after applying another layer of lipstick. smoothens down her skirl. With a screech of brakes the car stops and a not-too-young face smiles at the lady . .. Want a lift madam , . . and so begins yet another etc., etc. . . " The article goes on to deplore faithless women in WIGS who leave “whimpering infants” and ‘‘good husbands" to indulge in affairs. True, this is more a picture of upper-crust life but the trend is unmistakably away from the old values and standards.

Ultimately, the greatest factor in the development of Nigeria's working-class is that it is part of a world economic system, the effects of which it cannot escape. The catastrophic fall in prices on the world market of its chief export. Cocoa, has meant a large and increasing balance of payments deficit. The result has been to cut imports drastically of manufactured goods from those countries mainly responsible for the adverse trade balance, such as Japan. Thus, favourable conditions are created for the expansion of home-grown industry and one Company exulted in a full-page ad. in the Daily Times (21/9/65), “With the recent decision of the Federal Government to restrict the 'importation of imitation jewellery from Hong-Kong and Japan, our factory has taken positive action to increase its capital investment by ordering more machinery, resulting in increased production capacity to cope with this restriction”.

The political upheavals which have been part of the Nigerian scene lately have brought forth suggestions that the Federation may be in the process of breaking-up into several smaller units. Even if this should happen the developments outlined above will continue to a greater or lesser degree, but the conclusion must be the same. That the part of Africa now known as Nigeria is advancing towards the image held out to it by the older, established Nations—that of an industrialised, class-divided. Capitalist society.
Vic Vanni

The Power Game

In March 1998, US President Bill Clinton went to Africa, where he waxed lyrical about a "new generation" of African leaders supposedly committed to democracy. The relevant leaders included Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea. Since Clinton's 1998 speech, the political rights of ordinary people deteriorated in three out of four of the above mentioned countries. Only in Rwanda have they slightly improved.

Ethiopia's Zenawi died in office in 2012. He held the office of the presidency for 17 years. Eritreans have not been so lucky. Afewerki, who became president in 1993, is still in charge.

What about Uganda and Rwanda? The two have been the darlings of the aid community for many decades. Between 1998 and 2013, they received US$20.5 billion and US$10.5 billion, respectively.  Some 20 percent of Uganda's budget and 40 percent of Rwanda's budget comes from foreign aid.

Museveni, who has been President since 1986, is running for his 5th term in office. (Uganda abandoned term limits in 2005.) The opposition candidates are being harassed, while opposition supporters are being beaten up or, worse, killed.

Kagame was supposed to have stood down from the presidency in 2017. Instead, he recently held a referendum to change the Rwandan Constitution. Over 98 percent of the voters, we are told, supported an amendment that will allow Kagame to stay in power until 2034.

The "new generation" of African leaders is as power-hungry as the old one.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The sweet bitter truth on cocoa

Africa supplies 76 percent of world’s cocoa. West Africa alone cumulatively supplies two thirds of the global cocoa, as Ivory Coast leads the pack with 1.65 million tonnes. This is followed by Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Togo which altogether produce 1.55 million tonnes. Cocoa is also grown in Sierra Leone, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia and Sao Tome & Principe. while about 76 per cent of total cocoa produced is from Africa, less than five per cent of the wealth in the value chain is retained in the continent.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says the crop’s by-products are consumed mainly in industrialised countries, with major buyers being the chocolate processing and confectionary industry. Exporters of raw cocoa get approximately $10 billion a year, but the total annual value of chocolates, all made from cocoa, is over $100 billion, according to Olusegun Aganga, Nigeria’s immediate past minister for industry, trade and investment. Aganga explained at the Nigerian Cocoa Value Addition Summit in 2014 that the total value of all finished goods made from cocoa is estimated to be as high as $200 billion a year. Africa is missing in this big market. Many African cocoa producers have failed to emulate Brazil and Malaysia, where the local processing industry absorbs most of the production.

Forbes conducted a search for the ten world’s biggest chocolate consumers. No African country is on the list. Countries on the list include Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Norway. Others are Sweden Australia, the Netherlands, the United States and France. It is instructive that the production plants of major candy and chocolate makers, which depend on cocoa from Africa for production, are all outside Africa. Amano Artisan, Askinosie, Biommer, Castronovo, Equal Exchange, Guittard, Mars, Mast Brothers, among many others are in the United States. Others such as Domori, Bonnat, Barry Callebaut, Hachez, Haigh’s, Royce, Thorntons, among hundreds of others, are scattered around Europe, Australia and Asia.

Africa's Socialist Banner Digest for January 2016

Africa's Socialist Banner Digest
 January 2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016