Thursday, August 21, 2014

The System That benefits A Few

“NO to ProSavana Campaign”: 
Mozambicans seek regional solidarity (Bulawayo, Zimbabwe) 

UNAC, the Mozambique Union of Farmers, a member of La Via Campesina regionalises its “NO To ProSavana” campaign. The ProSavana, a mega agri-business project, is located in Mozambique and involves Brazil and Japan. The project, if developed, aims to turn 14.5 million hectares of agricultural land in the Nacala Corridor in Northern Mozambique, currently being used by small-scale farmers, into industrial monoculture agriculture driven by corporations for export production. UNAC participated in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) People’s Summit in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

 It saw the regional gathering as an opportunity to promote and expand its campaign, and to seek and build support from other regional movements against the Prosavana project. UNAC, during the agricultural and land policies plenary, shared experiences on the project and how some of its farmer members have been affected. Many participants during the plenary discussions pointed out that the land-grabbing is a phenomenon affecting all Southern Africa. They went further to say that the struggle against ProSavana ‘is not only a national campaign, it is a regional one. We need support from Southern African and other international movements’.

Such sentiments resonated with those of Agostinho Bento, UNAC advocacy officer who called for solidarity in campaigning against the program, which could affect the farmers’ livelihood. Agostinho Bento argued that despite denial by the Mozambican government, ProSavana ‘is not about development, it will destroy the local system of food productions and small-scale farmers’ livelihood. We don’t want a development that benefits a few, but rather an inclusive process’.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Obama's African Cant

 Obama said : "We don't look to Africa simply for its natural resources. We recognise Africa for its greatest resource which is its people and its talents and its potential".

Many Africans know that this was empty rhetoric. Obama's claim that the U.S. looks beyond oil and mineral resources should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

The US are genuinely frightened of the rate at which China is making concrete investment and control over Africa's crude oil and mineral resources. By 2009, China was already Africa's main trading partner, surpassing USA. In 2012, China's trade volume with Africa hit US$ 198.5 billion mark while the U.S. was at only US$99.8 billion. That is twice as much trading already and yet China's trade with Africa is only 5% of its total globe trade. It is estimated that more than 80% of China's US$98.3 billion of import from Africa in 2011 were in minerals, raw resources, and crude oil.

USA has been meddling in Africa for centuries. Why then is Obama misinforming the world about U.S. interests and presence in Africa as if U.S. is a new entrant in exploiting the continent?  The current predicament of Africa and its lagged economic progress is mainly attributable to these centuries of exploitative bullying from the U.S., UK, France and most of their colonial apparatuses that continue to meddle in Africa's internal affairs.  Africa would not have been as poor and deficient in all internal aspects to compete favourably in the international markets.

The U.S. has footprints in each and every country in Africa, stable or unstable. They are there primarily and precisely for economic benefit, not to develop human resources or African infrastructure.

Obama offers of $33 billion in new trade partnerships are to ensure that U.S. goods and services gain access to African markets. One only needs to read John Perkins' 2004 book: "Confession of an economic hit man" Perkins is unequivocal in his narration of how the US has always used underhand methods such as assassinations, cultivating civil unrest leading to regime change, paying bribe to influential leaders and where possible, supplying arms and protection of crooked leaders to manipulate co-operations of all kinds from any country in the world. Perkins provides numerous examples around the world where the US is still involved or where it left tragic footprints in pursuit of its interests.

According to Jeffrey Sach's 2005 "End of Poverty: economic possibilities for our times" The true story of African billion dollars losses", to unpack the worthlessness of this Obama US-Africa trade package. the true value of American foreign aid that reached the person in Africa in 2002 was only 6 cents after all deductions. Both Perkins and Sachs show that most of the money that the U.S. offers to Africa, either as aid for cooperation or grants go directly to U.S. agencies, paying off "expatriates", deduction for debts owed and financing infrastructure that serves American interests in those countries.

 Health Poverty Action's 2014 report, "Honest Account?" shows that for every US$ 30 billion in foreign aid that Africa receives annually, it losses US$192 billion. The money is lost through loan and debt repaying of US$46.5 billion. Other losses include US$35.3 Billion in tax evasion and other illicit financial flows facilitated through tax havens; US$17 billion in illegal logging; US$3 billion in remittances; US$46.3 billion repatriation of profits made by multinational companies; US$1.3 billion in illegal fishing and Africa incurs a loss of US$36.6 billion as a result of climate change and US$6 billion as a result of brain drain.

From here

Friday, August 15, 2014

US Foreign Policy In Africa

The US-Africa Leaders Summit currently taking place in Washington points to Africa’s growing strategic importance to US interests. The theme of the Summit is “Investing in the Next Generation” and aims to advance the US’s focus on trade and investment in Africa. Historically, the US has always adopted a militarised foreign policy towards Africa. When the Bush administration launched the Defense Unified Combatant Command for Africa (AFRICOM) in 2007, that move was consistent with the US history in Africa.

It was a move that was contested by the Pan-African Parliament. In 2007, the members of the Parliament voted in favour of a motion “not to accede to the request of the Government of the United States of America to host AFRICOM anywhere on the African Continent.” The Parliament highlighted the “far reaching negative implications that this Africa Command will have on the political stability of Africa.”

In response, the US and the AFRICOM staff rolled out a public relations campaign to make the idea of AFRICOM palatable to African leaders. Senior US government officials visited several African countries to explain the project. In September 2007, the US Department of Defense hosted over 35 African governments in Virginia “to further explain its plans for the command and to solicit input from attendees,” according to Lauren Ploch, a researcher with the US Congressional Research Services.

In my view the US-Africa Leaders Summit, which the Obama administration dubs the largest event any US president has held with African heads of state, is a public relations exercise in pomp, ceremony and ritual meant to disguise the militarised foreign policy represented by AFRICOM. It has been shown that ever since the 1998 bombing of US embassies in East Africa, which was followed by the US retaliatory strike against Sudan, the US has regarded Africa as the next front in the war on terrorism. According to Ploch, US Department of Defense officials claim that “Africa has been, is now and will be into the foreseeable future ripe for terrorists and acts of terrorism.”

As far as the US is concerned, civil wars in Africa have created “ungoverned spaces” and “failed states” which terrorists groups may use to operate from. Half century a ago, the US was concerned about “dangerous, pro-Communist” African radicals who were supposedly going to turn to the Soviet Union for political support and military assistance. In 1960, when 16 European colonies in Africa became independent, the US Secretary of State, Christian Herter, told the US National Security Council that Africa had become “a battleground of the first order”, according to Piero Gleijeses, a professor of US foreign policy. Gleijeses shows how the ideological struggle for global dominance during the Cold War expanded to include proxy wars in Africa.

For instance, recently declassified US documents show that from 1960 the US launched a covert operation in the Congo lasting almost seven years, which was initially aimed at eliminating Patrice Lumumba. It was that covert operation that gave political birth to the colonial creature Joseph Mobutu more commonly known as Mobutu Sese Seko. The ripple effects of that covert operation have been devastating for the Congo and the Great Lakes.

The US rationalised its covert operations in African countries such as the Congo, Angola and Mozambique as a legitimate fight against communists. In the words of Henry Kissinger, “I don’t see how we can be faulted on what we are doing. We are not overthrowing any government; we are not subverting anyone. We are helping moderates combat Communist domination.”

That was in the 20th century. The point I am making however is that in this century the US is back in Africa to carry out its Global War on Terror. The US-Africa Leaders Summit signals a slight variation of political tactics on the part of the US. However, the mess in the Horn of Country shows that the US has not totally abandoned its Cold War tactics. US air strikes in Somalia in 2007 and America’s support for the Ethiopian invasion of that country partly led to the creation of al-Shabaab, a fundamentalist religious group which has wreaked havoc in neighbouring countries like Uganda and Kenya.

Naturally, al-Shabaab has become a major security concern in the region. The US has funnelled counter-terrorism funds into East Africa and underwritten a stronger Kenyan military, according to Foreign Affairs Journal. The Journal further points out that “the rise of Islamism in the Horn of Africa put Kenya on the frontlines in the global fight against terrorism.”

The US-Africa Leaders Summit is part and parcel of US counter-terrorism efforts in Africa. The business theme which dominates the Summit is partly meant to counter the Chinese economic presence on the continent. The Chinese presence unsettles the balance of economic power between the US and African countries. Hence, the goal behind the Summit is to counter the Chinese business influence, while simultaneously, cultivating “moderate, pro-Western leaders” who will adopt “a generally pro-Western posture” in their dealings with US administrations. 

by Mandisi Majavu  from here

Thursday, August 14, 2014

War on Aids v War

 The 2001 Abuja Declaration, whose signatories committed to allocating at least 15 percent of gross domestic product to health, has “barely become a reality”, Vuyiseka Dubula, general-secretary of the South Africa-based Treatment Action Campaign. Between 2000-2005, she added, “almost 400,000 people died from AIDS in South Africa; during that same period we spent so much money on arms we don’t need, and one wonders whether that was a responsible use of public resources.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, seven out of 10 HIV positive persons in the world live – 24.7 million in 2013. The region suffered up to 1.3 million AIDS-related deaths in the same year, according to the United Nations. New funding for AIDS in low- and middle-incoming countries fell three percent from 2012 to 8.1 billion dollars in 2013. Five of the 14 major donor governments – the U.S., Canada, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands – decreased AIDS spending last year. Africa will need to do more with less to manage AIDS, concludes a 2013 UNAIDS report. In Kenya, a funding shortfall is expected soon, since the World Bank’s 115 million-dollar ‘Total War on HIV/AIDS’ project expired last month. Five out of 10 pregnant Kenyan women living with HIV do not get ARVs to protect their babies.

Yet, while governments claim to be too cash-strapped to fight the AIDS war, funding for wars seems much more forthcoming. Meanwhile, the Kenya’s defence budget is expected to grow from 4.3 billion dollars in 2012-2014 to 5.5 billion dollars by 2018, as the country stocks up on helicopters, drones and border surveillance equipment, according to the news portal DefenceWeb.

Daniel Kertesz, the World Health Organization representative in Mozambique, told IPS the country’s six-year health program has a 200 million dollar finance gap per year. Mozambique being very poor, it is difficult to see how the country – with 1.6 million infected people, the world’s eighth burden – will meet its domestic commitments. “Today, Mozambique spends between 30 and 35 dollars per person per year on health. WHO recommends a minimum of 55-60 per person per year,” Kertesz said.

 The Mozambique government announced it had fixed eight military fighter jets, which it had discarded 15 years ago, in Romania, and is receiving three Embraer Tucano military aircraft from Brazil for free, with the understanding that purchase of three  fighter jets will follow. According to a 2014 report by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Mozambique’s spending on state security is expected to rise sharply, partly owing to the acquisition, by the ministry of defence, of 24 fishing trawlers and six patrol and interceptor ships at the cost of 300 million dollars – equal to half the 2014 national health budget of 635.8 million dollars. The same week the refurbished fighter jets landed at Maputo airport, the press reported that the main hospital in Mozambique’s north-western and coal-rich Tete province went for five days without water. Indeed, the country’s public health system is in such dire straits that the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) meets 90 percent of the health ministry’s annual AIDS budget.
The state budget for social programmes is not increasing at the same level as military, defence and security spending,” Jorge Matine, a researcher at Mozambique’s Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), told IPS. “We have been pushing for accountability around the acquisition of commercial and military ships for millions of dollars,” he said.  Back in 2001, Mozambique’s health budget represented 14 percent of the total state budget. It declined to a low of seven percent in 2011 and clawed to eight percent since. If defence spending remained as it was in 2011, the country would save 70 million dollars, which could buy 1,400 ambulances (11 per district, when many districts have only one or two) or import 21 percent more medicines.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), military spending in Africa reached an estimated 44.4 billion dollars in 2013, an 8.3 percent increase from the previous year. In Angola and Algeria, high oil revenues fuel the buying spree. The South Africa-based Ceasefire Campaign reported recently that arms deals with private companies are also on the rise in Africa, with governments expected to sign deals with global defence companies totalling roughly 20 billion dollars over the next decade.

“Financing mirrors the priorities of the government,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s minister of foreign affairs and former minister of health, told IPS.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

'Casualisation Of Labour' = Exploitation - Zimbabwe

Ethel Maziriri, 27, holds an Honours Degree in Social Work from the University of Zimbabwe, but instead of working in her chosen profession, she works as a cashier in one of the country's leading clothing retail company. And it's not by choice.
Casual workers in Zimbabwe usually work for long hours without safety clothing. Labour unions say that many employees are hiring people as casual staff to avoid providing benefits.
Maziriri, who graduated in 2010, has been employed as a casual worker at the store for the past 12 months.

In a country that is reeling from a liquidity crisis and a crumbling economy, company closures and downsizing have forced many into unemployment here.
She earns 80 dollars each fortnight, for working 10-hour days. But the working conditions are less than ideal.
Maziriri told IPS that most of the workers at the company are causal workers, employed on temporary contracts for six weeks at a time. She says that as contract workers they have to be very cautious to avoid their contracts being terminated prematurely without any wages or benefits.

But she's more concerned about earning money rather than the unfair working conditions here.
"I do not think it is necessary for a contract worker to join a labour union and I do not have any money for subscriptions to pay the union. I treasure my job and if am dismissed I will just go home and wait until I get another one," she said.

But the Federation of Food and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (FFWUZ), a union which represents more than 50,000 members in the food processing industry, says the "casualisation of labour" is leading to a new form of exploitation here.
"A new form of labour exploitation has erupted as employers prefer to hire short-term contract workers to escape from the costs incurred by permanent workers," Gift Maoneka, FFWUZ paralegal officer, told IPS.
He said that since January, more than six companies have retrenched and that most industries were retrenching at least 450 workers a week.
"Most of the companies are abusing the retrenchment board in doing away with permanent workers and the law does not provide an appeal against retrenchment," Maoneka said.

FFWUZ says that Zimbabwe's crumbling economy and lack of investment has forced companies to downsize and retrench workers. Many are doing away with formal employment, according to FFWUZ, and are instead offering contracts to workers as a way of avoiding providing benefits such as medical aid, funeral policies and pensions.
"Casual workers endure years of work with no terminal benefits, pensions, medical aid for them and their families," Maoneka said.
Maoneka pointed out that while employees were "putting workers on short contracts," the jobs were in fact "permanent of nature."

The latest annual Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme points out that across the world formal employment lacks social, legal or regulatory protection.
According to the report, nearly half the world's workers are in vulnerable employment, trapped in insecure jobs usually outside the jurisdiction of labour legislation and social protection.
According to FFWUZ, many casual workers here are afraid to join labour unions for fear of being victimised and hence continue to have their rights infringed, through lack of knowledge and representation.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa in his budget statement in December, 2013 said that government was reviewing the labour law to make the hiring of employees easier.
"The minister responsible for labour should seriously consider amendments to the Labour Act that relates work to productivity. It is also necessary that we introduce in our labour laws flexibility in the hiring of workers, as well as alignment of wage adjustments to labour productivity," Chinamasa said during the 2013 to 2014 budget announcement.  

The current Labour Relations Act makes dismissals and retrenchments a slow process as employees have to go through a number of hearings. The hearings start at company level and a dissatisfied party can appeal to labour courts.  
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions maintains that workers in Zimbabwe have no rights when faced with retrenchment, and this creates a situation where they can be manipulated by their employers.

Meanwhile, FFWUZ points out that the few people employed by foreign Chinese employers are also being subjected to unlawful working conditions, but lack the knowledge on how to deal with the matter of exploitation and unfair dismissal.
"Foreigners take advantage of the language barrier when we engage them on discussing labour laws and unfair dismissal of their employees. Non-provision of protective clothing, total disregard of labour laws are some of the matters that affect most employees," Maoneka said.

For Gareth Makaripe, who is casually employed at a Chinese-owned bakery in Msasa industrial area in Harare, the conditions of services are dehumanising.
"These people are slave masters and they use fear to intimidate workers."

from here

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Somaliland, Puntland, Al Shabab, Sovereignty - and OIL

The proposed deployment of armed contingents to protect oil installations in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland risks further destabilizing a region rife with disputes over sovereignty, boundaries and oil concessions.
Security is deemed necessary for seismic exploration in areas of Somaliland thought to contain significant quantities of oil, some of which are also claimed by neighbouring Puntland, an autonomous region which, unlike Somaliland, still regards itself a part of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
Who exactly would control and manage such armed contingents and what their precise mandate would be, have yet to be determined. Since Somaliland’s independence is unrecognized internationally, the territory remains subject to a UN arms embargo, which means it would need to obtain permission from a sanctions committee before importing military equipment or conducting military training.

Somaliland offered to create an Oil Protection Unit (OPU) in October 2013 after security complaints from oil firms currently conducting seismic explorations.
In September, 2013 Anglo-Turkish oil firm Genel Energy suspended its exploratory activities in Somaliland “in the face of a deteriorating security situation”.
Somaliland’s energy minister, Abdi Hussein Dualeh, said it was now important to “create the right climate that makes them [operators such as Genel] feel safer to resume operations.”

An OPU blueprint, drawn up by UK security consultancy Assaye Risk, calls for 420 initial recruits, and a full strength force of 580, which will be organized into six mobile units managed by an interior ministry committee which would liaise with risk management firms that are hired by the oil companies. Genel Energy paid for the blueprint.
The blueprint estimates that the cost of the OPU would be around US$20-25 million per year, a cost likely to be covered by the oil firms, who would provide a monthly salary to staff.

Somaliland already spends 54 percent of its $212 million annual budget on security, and would most probably be unable to absorb further costs. Because it is not recognized by international governments, it is often hard for the self-declared state to attract significant international aid and other forms of funding.
So far, in addition to Genel Energy, explorers operating, or hoping to operate, in Somaliland include the United Arab Emirates (UAE) firm RAK Gas, Norwegian/UAE company DNO and Yemeni explorer Ansan Wikfs.
Although OPU currently exists only on paper, has no staff and no headquarters, nor clear promises of funding to allow it to be set up, the government hopes to have it up and running by the end of the year.

What are the risks? Mainly, of increasing instability. The OPU’s area of operations would include locations, notably Sool and Sanaag, covered by oil concessions issued by Puntland, which lays claim to parts of the region.
Recent months have seen authorities in Puntland and from the Somali government in Mogadishu increase their political and financial support for leaders in Sool who reject Somaliland’s authority and want to set up a state within Somalia called Khatumo. Mogadishu has contested Hargeisa’s right to issue oil licences.

In April, and again in June, Somaliland forces briefly took control of Taleh, the main town in Khatumo, as leaders there were preparing to hold a conference on the state’s future.
According to a 12 May UN report, “tension between Puntland and ‘Somaliland’ increased over the contested Sool and Sanaag regions. The visit by the President of ‘Somaliland’ Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, to the coastal town of Laasqoray in the disputed Sanaag region on 16 March triggered a military build-up from both sides. Accusations made by senior Puntland officials that ‘Somaliland’ was supporting Al Shabab further strained relations.”

While the OPU’s envisaged role is only to protect oil installations - notably from the Islamist Al Shabab insurgency - inserting armed men into such a volatile environment is cause for concern.
“When three sides have different interpretations of what belongs to whom on the ground, Somaliland’s deployment of an OPU will be a red rag to a bull, sending a signal that it is shutting out competitors, which could give rise to an explosive situation,” said one close observer of these developments who preferred anonymity.
Energy minister Dualeh played down the idea that elements of the local population posed a significant threat to oil firms.
"They're not really worried about the people in Sanaag; they're worried about some Shabab people coming from the south," he said.

Critics argue that the unit is being set up behind closed doors, subverting parliamentary approval.
The government denies that OPU would operate beyond official oversight. It says that because it will comprise existing police and military units, it is not a new force, and therefore does not require parliamentary approval.
Officials also stress it would not be controlled by oil firms. “It will be under the command and control of the Somaliland... police structure, so it basically has nothing to do with the oil company telling them to do this and do that," Dualeh told IRIN.
But Ibrahim Jama, a member of parliament and chair of the parliamentary internal affairs and security committee, said he has seen charts outlining the proposed OPU chain of command. They indicated the unit would report to a yet-to-be-created interior ministry committee, instead of the chief of police.
This, he believed, meant that OPU could be potentially exposed to political or corporate influence - creating the possibility it could be used against oil sector opponents.
"I realize such a unit needs to have a law that permits them to operate, to regulate them. In the absence of a law to regulate their activity it will be a paramilitary force," Jama told IRIN. He said there is a clause in the constitution stipulating that any new security services outside the police, military or custodial pillars must be approved by parliament.

whole article here

Friday, August 08, 2014

Africa for sale

Ethiopia was a country defined by its famines, particularly between 1983-1985 when in excess of half a million people starved to death as a consequence of drought, crop failure and a brutal civil war.  In recent years, Ethiopia has been experiencing stellar economic growth. The headline statistics are certainly remarkable: the country is creating millionaires faster than any other in Africa; output from farming, Ethiopia’s dominant industry, has tripled in a decade; the capital Addis Ababa is experiencing a massive construction boom; and the last six years have seen the nation’s GDP grow by a staggering 108 percent.

Around 90 percent of the population of 87 million still suffers from numerous deprivations, ranging from insufficient access to education to inadequate health care; average incomes are still well below $1500 a year; and more than 30 million people still face chronic food shortages.

 There are a number of positive and genuine reasons for the growth spurt - business and legislative reforms, more professional governance, the achievements of a thriving service sector - many critics say that the growth seen in agriculture, which accounts for almost half of Ethiopia’s economic activity and a great deal of its recent success, is actually being driven by an out of control ‘land grab', as  multinational companies and private speculators vie to lease millions of acres of the country’s most fertile territory from the government at bargain basement prices.

According to a host of NGO’s and policy advocates, including Oxfam, Human Rights Watch and the Oakland Institute, the true consequences of the land grabs are almost all negative. They say that in order to make such huge areas available for foreign investors to grow foodstuffs and bio-fuels for export - and in direct contravention of Ethiopia’s obligations under international law - the authorities are displacing hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples, abusing their human rights, destroying their traditions, trashing the environment, and making them more dependent on food aid  than ever before.

"The benefits for the local populations are very little," said renowned Ethiopian sociologist Dessalegn Rahmato. "They’ve taken away their land. They’ve taken away their natural resource, because these investors are clearing the land, destroying the forest, cutting down the trees. The government claims that one of the aims of this investment was to enable local areas to benefit by investing in infrastructure, social services … but these benefits are not included in the contract. It's only left up to the magnanimity of the investor." Investors, he continued, are simply not interested in anything other than serving their own needs: "They can grow any crop they want, when they want it, they can sell in any market they want, whether it’s a global market or a local market. In fact most of them are not interested in the local markets.” He cited as an example a massive Saudi-owned plantation in the fertile Gambella region of south west Ethiopia, a prime target area for investors: "They have 10,000 hectares and they are producing rice. This rice is going to be exported to the Middle East, to Saudi Arabia and other places. The local people in that area don’t eat rice."

But the most controversial element of the government’s programme is known as 'villagisation' - the displacement of people from land they have occupied for generations and their subsequent resettlement in artificial communities. In Gambella, where two ethnic groups, the Anuaks and the Nuers, predominate, it has meant tens of thousands of people have been forced to abandon a traditional way of life.

 Moot, an Anuak farmer who now lives in a government village far from his home, explains "When investors showed up, we were told to pack up our things and to go to the village. If we had decided not to go, they would have destroyed our crops, our houses and our belongings. We couldn't even claim compensation because the government decided that those lands belonged to the investors. We were scared … if you get upset and say that someone stole your land, you are put in prison. If you complain about being arrested, they will kill you. It's not our land anymore; we have been deprived of our rights."

The Ethiopian government shows no sign of scaling the programme back. According to the Oakland Institute, since 2008, an area the size of France has already been handed over to foreign corporations. Over the next few years an area twice that size is thought to be earmarked for leasing to investors.

 From Al Jazeera