Saturday, August 01, 2015

Promoting the private, for-profit schools in Africa

Private, for-profit schools in Africa funded by the World Bank and U.S. venture capitalists have been criticized by more than 100 organizations. A schools project is called Bridge International Academies and 100,000 pupils have enrolled in 412 schools across the two nations. BIA is supported by the World Bank, which has given $10 million to the project, and a number of investors, including U.S. venture capitalists NEA and Learn Capital. Other notable investors include Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidyar and Pearson, a multinational publishing company.

Jim Kim, president of the World Bank, praised BIA as a means to alleviate poverty in Kenya and Uganda. Critics responded that many Kenyans and Ugandans cannot afford private education, further arguing that this type of investment merely supports Western businesses at the expense of local public services.

In an open  letter addressed to Kim critics assert:
“We, civil society organisations and citizens of Kenya and Uganda, are appalled that an organisation whose mandate is supposed to be to lift people out of poverty shows such a profound misunderstanding and disconnect from the lives and rights of poor people in Kenya and Uganda. If the World Bank is serious about improving education in Kenya and Uganda, it should support our governments to expand and improve our public education systems, provide quality education to all children free of charge, and address other financial barriers to access.”

It was written and signed by 30 organizations in Uganda and Kenya and supported by 116 organizations around the world, including Global Justice Now and ActionAid. They claim BIA uses highly standardized teaching methods, untrained low-paid teachers, and aggressive marketing strategies targeted at poor households.

The World Bank president’s assertion that the “the cost per student at Bridge Academies is just $6 dollars a month” was misleading.

“This suggestion that $6 is an acceptable amount of money for poor households to pay reveals a profound lack of understanding of the reality of the lives of the poorest,” Global Justice Now, a London-based organization promoting social justice, wrote on its website in May. A spokesperson added that Kenyan and Ugandan organizations calculated that for half their populations, the $6 per month per child it would cost to send three primary school age children to a Bridge Academy, is equal to at least a quarter of their monthly income. Many families are already struggling to provide three meals a day to their children. Global Justice Now claimed that the real total cost of sending one child to a Bridge school is between $9 and $13 a month, and up to $20 when including school meals. “Based on these figures, sending three children to BIA would represent 68% (in Kenya) to 75% (in Uganda) of the monthly income of half the population in these countries,” the organization stated.

Salima Namusobya, director of the Initiative for Socio-Economic Rights in Uganda, said:
“If the World Bank is genuine about fulfilling its mission to provide every child with the chance to have a high-quality primary education regardless of their family’s income, they should be campaigning for a no-fee system in particular contexts like that of Uganda.”

Kishore Singh, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to education, who argues that private schools must be resisted because they aggravate inequality. Singh cited a study on private education by the U.K.’s Department for International Development that said a large number of low-fee private schools targeting poorer families in developing countries were unregistered. “These schools save costs by hiring ill-trained teachers and running large classes in substandard school buildings,” Singh wrote, adding: “Such ‘edu-businesses’, as they have come to be known, are an unsatisfactory replacement for the good public education governments should be providing.”

A Global Justice Now spokesperson told MintPress News: “British taxpayers are forcing private education systems on countries like Uganda and Kenya through schemes like this backed by DfID and the World Bank.” Aid is being used as a tool, Global Justice Now added, to compel the majority of the world to undertake policies which help Western business while undermining public services in emerging nations. “The introduction of universal education, the increasing length of compulsory education, the creation of comprehensive schools — these are some of the greatest social achievements we have ever made in the U.K., and we remain rightly proud of them. The U.K. aid budget and World Bank development policies could and should be used to help others to achieve these vital components of a decent society.”

Katie Malouf Bous, of Oxfam International, is quoted by Action Aid as saying:
“Too many governments have neglected their duty to adequately finance education, leading to weakened public schools and increased privatization as the inevitable result. Serious and substantial investments to provide good quality public education must be the antidote to privatization.”

Fellow African, Why Do You Believe This Hogwash?

From the August issue of the Socialist Standard
Although whoever wrote the Bible wrote it all by rote, they did not write it right. At best it is a history of the Jews, their neighbours and their beliefs, tragically misunderstood, misinterpreted by psychologically defeated, timid, brainwashed and gullible Africans.
The story of Eden, Adam and ensuing events depicts an area and a primitive tribe, like all primitive (ancient) peoples, and primitive geography, who were not aware of the existence of other people and remote regions, and in other cases completely detached from them. Note that the Bible map is confined to the far north Africa (Egypt, Ethiopia and Libya), Middle East and a few neighbouring areas. That is why (I stand to be corrected) I have yet to come across in the Bible the fate of London, Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, Maputo, Harare, Gaborone, Cape Town, unlike the fate of Jerusalem.
Sadly, religion in Africa is mistaken for morals and yet it is the epitome of arrogance and selfishness, e.g. read the silly talk 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' No, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead' (Matthew 8:21-22). To admire such in this era calls for the suspension of logic. Why would anyone now and 10,000 km away despise my relatives and friends and emulate/adore an arrogant, primitive egoist who is said to have died more than 2,000 years ago? But to the majority African the ‘second coming’ is real, and hell is real. Despite endless strife in Jerusalem, my ill-learned black apostles sing daily that they will soon join mighty Jesus in Jerusalem (I could send you tons of discs of ‘circus’ like events, mainly being prayers and spiritual healing sessions).
The so-called ‘second coming’ is based on false primitive dreams and hallucinations. The prophecies are mere prognostications based on previous events. Since the events leading to the condemnation of Galileo by Christians the majority of Westerners have come to realise that all phenomena considered mysterious and transcendental, are mathematically, scientifically proved (or disproved) and predictable. Unlike ‘waffling’ prophets (generalising/prognosticating on previous events) scientists can accurately forecast some natural events to the exact minute and place. I recall, e.g. in June 2001 and on 9 December 2002 (here in Zimbabwe a total eclipse of the sun at the exact place and time). Nothing mystical as per the religionists.
And what then happened to the very communicative 'God of Israel', always forewarning on events to come? It is strange that after 'sacrificing his only son' to end sin and strife, there is worse sin and strife; Jerusalem is most certainly not a quiet habitation (Isaiah 9) (Gaborone is, but never known by the Lord). Is he the same kind Lord now sitting quietly in eternal peace in Jerusalem (on Mount Zion) dispensing without forewarning storms, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, landslides, causing great suffering/deaths, which he could prevent (if he wanted as suggested by religion), just to prove his might? As much as he sacrificed his only son to save the world – which was never saved – and to make Israel the greatest nation, which was almost wiped out by Hitler instead. So much for propagating and adhering to primitive dogma based on archaic dreamers submissive to illusions and hallucinations.
Brethren, and some religious zealots elsewhere, do not realise that the unending strife in the Middle East (current changes of leaders aside) now spreading to north Africa, is sustained by adherence to such primitive bigotry, dogma and propagating mythical tribal superiority. .Brothers and sisters, all religion is rubbish. A prayer is a wish! For sure, we cannot live without wishes. However fervent our wishes and prayers, they can never erect an imaginary thing into something tangible. Heaven and Hell never exist.
The socio-political systems adopted by all so-called independent African leaders and governments are based on capitalism as learned in many cases from former colonial masters. Counties have been ‘won back’ soon after hoisting their ‘own flag’ and for decades the masses will celebrate this flapping piece of cloth, realising too late that they have entrenched the same old oppressive robbery. Only the complexion, the individual politicians or the religious diversions will have changed.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Heart that Never Dies

Swaziland’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, not only demands total loyalty from his citizens – most of whom survive on less than a dollar a day from handouts from the UN – but he also makes sure that meetings he deems ‘political’ are disrupted by police, who harass and beat up activists like Bheki. Many of them are subsequently charged with terrorism for trivial ‘offences’ such as shouting ‘viva PUDEMO’ or wearing a PUDEMO t-shirt (Swaziland’s largest banned political party, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).

A new documentary, ‘Swaziland – Africa’s last absolute monarchy’, made by award-winning Danish investigative journalist Tom Heinemann, describes the fight for democracy and socio-economic justice through the eyes of Bheki Dlamini, a young activist and leading member of PUDEMO. It was at university, while studying Sociology and Public Administration, that Bheki really started questioning the doctrines and cultural codes of Swazi society. The different views of students and lecturers had an impact. ‘University changed my perception and how I looked on society,’ he says.

Bheki chose to act on his new-found beliefs by, amongst other actions, helping organize civic education for poor and illiterate people in Swaziland’s rural areas. After having had his home ransacked and been detained on several occasions, Bheki was arrested in 2010, tortured, and charged with terrorism for allegedly committing arson against an MP and a police officer, crimes that he and his colleagues said he could not have committed. Bheki was in prison for nearly 4 years. He was kept in a filthy cell, no larger than 5 by 12 metres, 24 hours a day and with up to 40 other inmates.

When the trial finally began, all charges against Bheki were quickly dropped and he was released. But as Bheki told the large crowd that had gathered outside the courthouse to greet him upon his release: ‘I am moving out of the small prison into the bigger prison.’ A few months later he was forced to flee Swaziland, when the police tried to arrest him after he had given a speech on May Day.

‘No matter what they do to me, the fight continues,’ hesays, unflinching and looking straight into the camera. ‘The state is afraid, so if we can push much harder it is going to succumb to our pressure.’ 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

South Africans Against Climate Change

The battle against climate change is a world war. South Africa is in the front lines. Anti-nuclear energy activists are up in arms, and have taken to vigils outside South Africa’s parliament in Cape Town to protest against President Jacob Zuma’s push for nuclear development. The protest has been building since September 2014 when Zuma struck a deal with Russia’s Rossatom to build up to eight nuclear power stations in South Africa. The stations would cost the country around 1 trillion South African rands (84 billion dollars). The Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), an interdenominational faith-based environment initiative led by Bishop Geoff Davies, has said the government’s nuclear policy is not only foolish but immoral.
“SAFCEI does not believe that nuclear energy is an answer to climate change but is a distraction likely to bankrupt the country [South Africa] and lead to further energy impoverishment” – Liziwe McDaid, energy advisor for the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute. SAFCEI is demanding that the government take a fresh look at its drive for nuclear energy. Liziwe McDaid, SAFCEI’s energy advisor argues for a much greater rollout of renewable energy is the key to shifting the carbon-intensive energy sector towards a sustainable low carbon future. “SAFCEI does not believe that nuclear energy is an answer to climate change but is a distraction likely to bankrupt the country and lead to further energy impoverishment.”

David Hallowes researcher and editor of Slow Poison for groundWork, another climate change pressure group, feels South Africa is not doing enough on adaptation. “Government is still allowing mining and industry to poison water and land in key catchments and agricultural areas,” adding that the result is that climate impacts will be amplified. The same plants and developments that are driving climate change are poisoning and killing people, animals and plants that are in the path of pollution, “so the people’s struggles for an environment not harmful to their health and wellbeing are also climate struggles.” According to Hallowes, “there are different views on what can be achieved with renewable energy. We do not think it can power infinite economic growth and hence we do not believe it can sustain a capitalist economy. In the short term, we think we should be looking for a reduction in energy consumption. The question is who gets it for what.” He goes on to explain “We think we should have a programme that creates democratic ownership and control of renewable energy at different levels from community or settlement, to municipality to national. We call it energy sovereignty.  The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa calls it social ownership. It’s the same thing.” The groundWork researcher said that CSOs want to see an end to new coal developments, such as new mines or power stations. “I think everyone agrees but don’t necessarily mean the same thing. For some, it’s just a matter of jobs. We think it means the transformation of the economy towards equality and freedom that is democratic control rather than plutocratic control.”

Muna Lakhani, founder and national coordinator of the Institute for Zero Waste in Africa (IZWA), is equally concerned that government is not doing enough to fight climate change.
 “Our government sees too much of ‘business as usual’ and is very lax in implementing even the minimal legislation, such as air quality permits, carbon taxes and the like,” he says. According to Lakhani, CSOs are mostly united on key issues, such as the call for no more fossil fuel, a bigger push for renewables, and promoting local resilience especially of poorer communities and the generally disadvantaged.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kwaheri (goodbye), Obama

On his high-profile visit to Kenya and Ethiopia Obama declined to address some of the really big problems in both countries.

What to do about Kenya’s refugee problem? The Dadaab refugee camp for displaced Somalis has now existed 23 years, having grown from a tented village to become a small city that houses over 300,000 stateless people. According to Human Rights Watch, Kenyan security forces deployed to Dadaab since the 2011 invasion of Somalia have committed abuses and human-rights violations against refugees. Last year police had rounded up thousands of Muslims—mainly women and children—and detained them for three weeks on a soccer pitch a few hundred meters from the stadium where Obama was speaking. Kenya has demanded that the UN move the refugee population back to Somalia, and given a three-month deadline to do it. Human-rights groups pointed out that the move is, under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, illegal.

Obama stressed the Ethiopian military’s ruthless “efficiency” in fighting Al-Shabab in Somalia and Addis Ababa’s contribution to United Nations peacekeeping efforts. The emphasis on security cooperation speaks to the fact that, from Nigeria’s Boko Haram to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Somalia’s Al-Shabab, under Obama, the U.S. has increased its military footprint in Africa. U.S. strategic priorities in sub-Saharan Africa have largely knocked democracy promotion and human rights off the radar. Obama’s trip to Addis Ababa comes in the aftermath of a lackluster May election, in which the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) “won” all 547 seats in the national parliament, improving on 2010’s 99.6 percent rate. This is why Ethiopian human rights and free press advocates fear Obama’s visit will be construed as an endorsement of the EPRDF’s quarter-century hold on power. The EPRDF has devastated free press and civil society through a slew of draconian laws that equate dissent with treason. The political space has significantly narrowed. Opposition politics is criminalized. Ethiopia’s civil society institutions are brittle. The country’s storied economic progress, including double-digit GDP growth over the last five years, has benefited only those who are politically connected. Resentment is rife over EPRDF hard-liners’ domination of the top brass of the military, the security forces and the commanding heights of the economy.

Obama has, in fact, continued some of the most egregious US policies towards Africa: US soldiers remain in Djibouti in a never-ending "war on terror" with drone attacks launched, while Washington participated in the 2011 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation intervention in Libya that has left that country anarchic and spread instability across the Sahel region. China's media are pouring cold water on President Barack Obama's visit to Africa, saying U.S. attention to the continent is largely due to concern over China's growing influence there. China's two-way trade with Africa in 2013 was a record $200 billion. U.S. trade with Africa has fallen, meanwhile, hitting $85 billion in 2013.

The United States earmarked $80 million in 2005 to support a UN-initiated project to fight malaria in Africa. A government investigation later found only 5 percent of the 80-million fund was spent on bed nets, 1 percent on drugs, while the rest was mostly paid out in salaries to staff members and advisers. Obama’s Africa tour is just one more piece in a long jig-saw of misguided American involvement in the affairs of the continent.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Gambian democracy goes to the highest bidder

Gambia looks set to raise the cost of running in next year's elections with a new bill that a pro-democracy group says will make it harder for opposition parties to compete against President Yahya Jammeh.

Parliament passed a bill on Tuesday requiring presidential candidates to pay 500,000 dalasis (about $12,740). Candidates for the national assembly, mayor and ward councillor will also need to pay between $250 and $12,750 under the revised bill that Jammeh is likely to sign into law. The government said the bill was aimed at ensuring that political parties are organised and well led.

"Half a million dalasis is way out of reach for the majority of Gambians, especially the opposition," said JegganGrey-Johnson, an analyst for Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa. "It is meant to price ... a majority of the people out."

The oppositional newspaper Foroyaa criticised the bill's like passage in an editorial, saying it does not respect the electoral commission's independence. "Every honest Gambian ... (should) know that the amendment is a threat to the independence of the (Electoral) Commission and a barrier to the democratic and unrestricted participation of the people in electing their representatives," it said.

The average annual income in Gambia, one of the world's poorest countries, is around $450. The country relies on tourism but its industry was battered last year by a regional Ebola outbreak even though Gambia did not record a case.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kenyans Are Not Obama's Family

Africans were elated when Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008. Expectations were understandably high. After all, he was one of their own, a son of a Kenyan. However Obama focused his attention on America’s national security. He increased the presence of AFRICOM and expanded the use of drone – assassination against terrorists. Obama sanction for the NATO-led invasion of Libya destabilized the region, turning Libya and Mali into terrorist havens and strengthening terrorist organizations such as Ansar al-Sharia and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Obama’s economic policies in relation to Africa was let slip by GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who explained the real motivations behind Obama’s visit to the current 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit: “We kind of gave Africa to the Europeans first and to the Chinese later, but today it’s wide open for us.” The goal, therefore, is to help U.S. corporations compete effectively in the scramble for African resources. The positive rhetoric about “partnership of equals” and “African goals and solutions” serves as a cover for looting Africa’s resources. 
In 2013 Senator Chris Coons of Delaware chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, said in a report issued by his office that “China, which has made dramatic inroads across the continent in recent years, may undermine or even counter value-driven U.S. goals in the region, and should serve as a wake-up call for enhanced American trade and investment.”

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Misery of Migrants in Malawi

Maula prison, in the Malawi capital of Lilongwe was built to accommodate 800 prisoners, but now is bursting at the seams with 2,650 inmates. Amongst this desperate population, the most vulnerable are the nearly 300 undocumented migrants who were arrested as they travelled towards South Africa. These men represent the reality of our mobile world, where people are on the move, seeking refuge from violence and inequality or escape from chronic poverty. Lacking any kind of resources, they left their countries of origin in the hope of building a decent life in South Africa. A dream denied at home, that dramatically ended up in Malawi’s prisons.

Abeba, a man in his thirties from Durame, Ethiopia says “We are not criminals! But now, in prison, we are not human anymore.”

The number of foreign citizens, mostly Ethiopians, detained in Malawi for illegal entry has increased in the past few years, becoming a phenomenon of humanitarian concern. Most of them have been charged for three months, but the reality is that they have been locked away for more. The law requires they return to their homelands after their periods of detention, but bureaucratic delays impede any way forward. Moreover, they are supposed to cover their expenses for repatriation, a contradiction to their weak economic status.

A young boy explains “My dream is to reach South Africa; this is what I have worked towards for years. I knew it would be difficult, but I never thought I’d end up here. I thought Africans were all brothers. But here… here it seems different.”

Ethiopians follow a long-standing pattern of migration towards South Africa, their beacon of light. “Where we live, there is not enough land for everyone, we are too many in my family,” says Abeba, counting with the fingers on both hands the number of brothers in his family. “If I go to South Africa, after two or three years I can afford to buy a house. If you work for twenty years in Ethiopia you can’t buy anything,” he says. Another young Ethiopian adds, “If you need a job there, you have to belong to a certain family that has land. My family doesn’t have any.” For many, leaving the country wasn’t a choice. It was their last hope for survival.

Prisoners in Maula get food only once a day. They usually eat a plate of nsima - ground maize that fills the stomach but doesn’t give many nutrients. Beans are an occasional treat. Nutrition is so poor that last month Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had to treat 18 inmates for moderate-to-severe malnutrition

Visas and Trafficking

As many as “30,000 kids trafficked in SA” read a headline in The Times in October 2013. A similar article appeared in the Pretoria News, suggesting that “at least 30,000 children” are trafficked and prostituted annually in South Africa and “50 per cent of them are under the age of 14”. Rawlins said she had been misquoted in the Pretoria News article and said she had told the newspaper that there are 30,000 children “currently” being prostituted in South Africa, not annually as they reported. However, the International Organisation for Migration’s 2008 report “No Experience Necessary”: The Internal Trafficking of Persons in South Africa does not estimate that there are 30,000 children currently being trafficked for the purpose of prostitution in South Africa. Nor does it claim that 50% are under the age of 14. The paper attributed the claim to Roxanne Rawlins of Freedom Climb, “a project that works with trafficked people around the globe”. In May 2013, Margaret Stafford, the coordinator for the Salvation Army’s anti-trafficking campaign, reportedly told The Star:  “In 2010, we had 20,000 to 30,000 children prostituted – now the figure stands at 45,000.”

Are 30,000 children trafficked each year in South Africa? The South African government is citing it as a reason for introducing stricter regulations for children traveling into and out of the country. The South African Department of Home Affairs started enforcing new travel regulations in June 2015. Children under the age of 18 must now carry their full, or “unabridged”, birth certificate when crossing SA's borders. This shows the names of both parents. A month before the regulations came into effect, director-general of the department, Mkuseli Apleni, briefed Parliament on the new travel requirements. In his presentation he was reported to have claimed that an estimated 30,000 children were trafficked through South Africa every year. His presentation stated that one of the benefits of requiring minors to travel with an unabridged birth certificates was “protecting them from child trafficking”.

Available research only sheds light on detected victims. International Organisation for Migration reported assisting 306 victims of trafficking in the southern African region between January 2004 and January 2010. Of these, 57 were children. In 2011, they reported assisting 13 victims in South Africa, but did not state how many were children. In its 2014 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime stated that “the police reported to have detected 155 victims of trafficking (of all ages) during the fiscal years 2011/12 and 2012/13” in South Africa. Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba in June this year said his department had recorded no instances of child trafficking between 2009/10 and 2011/12. Between 2012/13 and 2014/15 they had detected 23 victims.

The director of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, Professor Ann Skelton, has said her centre believes the new requirements are “far too broad” and that “the inconvenience to ordinary people far outweighs the actual risk of trafficking”.

Liesl Muller and Patricia Erasmus, both attorneys at Lawyers for Human Rights, previously told Africa Check that the measures will not prevent child trafficking. “Real human traffickers don’t follow legitimate and documented methods of travel but cross the border in illegitimate and clandestine circumstances. The regulations won’t prevent this,” they said.

The sex work industry and human trafficking are often presented as linked and interdependent but the reality is that there is little tangible evidence available that human trafficking within South Africa plays a large part in the sex trade. In a 2010 brief for the African Centre for Migration and Society, researchers Marlise Richter and Tamlyn Monson highlighted the importance of not conflating sex work and human trafficking: “The difference between sex work and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is that sex work reflects an individual’s decision to engage in a sexual transaction, while exploitation through trafficking occurs against the will of the victim.” A senior researcher at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies’, Chandre Gould, found little evidence of trafficking in the sex industry in Cape Town. Only 8 of the 164 women she canvassed said that they had at one time been a victim of human trafficking-like practices. “This finding is likely to cause controversy,” she writes. “An enormous amount of donor money is available specifically for projects that counter trafficking, so organisations working in this area potentially stand to lose funding if trafficking is not in fact as prevalent as assumed.”