Monday, September 18, 2017

Ethiopia's Miracle Economy

According to the BBC, CNN, the World Bank and the US State Department, Ethiopia is an African success story. Scan the media about Ethiopia and discover headline after headline describing the country’s  double-digit economic growth, foreign investment and aspirations to become a middle-income country by 2030.

Certainly there have been some economic achievements over the past 25 years and the country’s carbon emissions during the period 1999 to 2012, have, according to the World Bank, remained static. This is indeed positive, as is the commitment to hydro, geo-thermal, wind and solar power. Overall unemployment has fallen slightly to 19.8% (from 2009 when it was 20.4%), but 50% of young people remain unemployed, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the famous ‘double-digit growth rates’, has been consistently high, averaging 11.35% in the years since 2010, according to Trading Economic, although this dropped to 8% in 2015/16. The UN relates that there has also been substantial progress in the achievement of Millennium Development Goals, particularly relating to those living in extreme poverty. This figure has fallen from 45% in 1995/6 to 30%. Whilst these figures and the commitment of sustained investment are encouraging, no level of economic growth, green or otherwise, can justify violent, suppressive governance, as is being perpetrated in Ethiopia
The Ethiopian government –- the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)  rules in a highly suppressive manner and has created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion throughout the country, employing a largely uneducated security apparatus to keep the increasingly mobilized populace in order, and a state-run judiciary to lock troublemakers away.

Political dissent is all but outlawed, and should protestors take to the streets they are shot at, beaten and/or arbitrarily arrested; opposition leaders are imprisoned, branded terrorists, intimidated and persecuted; all major media outlets as well as the sole telecommunications company are state-owned or controlled — outspoken journalists are routinely jailed, trade unions are controlled by the government, and humanitarian aid, including food and fertilizer is distributed on a partisan basis, as are employment opportunities and university places. Refuse to pledge allegiance to the EPRDF and see that job offer withdrawn, the seeds, fertilizer and humanitarian support withheld.

Development aid from these and other benefactors, including the World Bank, flows through and supports “a virtual one-party state with a deplorable human rights record,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) states in it’s aptly named report, Development without Freedom. The Ethiopian government’s “practices include jailing and silencing critics and media, enacting laws to undermine human rights activity, and hobbling the political opposition.”

The government states that Ethiopia is an evolving democracy, that change takes time and that economic growth is their primary concern and not the annoying niceties of universal human rights. So whilst the EPRDF commits wide-ranging human rights violations, and acts of state terrorism, the country’s major donors, America, Britain and the European Union, remain virtually silent.

 Tadesse Kersmo, a British citizen, and leading member of the opposition party Ginbot 7 – Movement for Unity and Democracy in Ethiopia. He was recently arrested at Heathrow on vague terrorism charges, as well as Andargachew Tsege another British citizen. Tsege was kidnapped while transiting through Sanaan airport in Yemen, and rendered to Ethiopia as part of a brutal crackdown on political opponents and civil rights activists. He has been imprisoned inside Ethiopia ever since, and the British government, to their utter shame, has said little and done nothing.

Economic reforms and growth controlled by a highly centralized political system, mirroring, many have suggested, the methodology of China, is the EPRDF’s approach. It is largely Chinese money and organization that has built the new dams, roads and railways. Industrial parks have sprung up offering new jobs at increased wages, and the government plans to build another nine such facilities. But manufacturing is a tiny part of the country’s economy: almost 85% of the workforce is employed in agriculture, which accounts for 41% of GDP, coffee being the main export.

 A nation’s GDP is only one measure of a country’s well-being, and a narrow one at that. It reveals nothing of the political landscape, the human rights conditions under which people are forced to live, the dire levels of poverty or where any new wealth has settled. Many claim ‘crony capitalism’ abounds in Ethiopia, that the principle beneficiaries of economic growth have been government members and close supporters and people from Tigray, the regional home of the majority of the government and senior members of the armed forces.

With a population of almost 100 million, Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria. And with a population growth rate at a tad under 3% it’s growing apace (in the EU e.g. its 0.23%, the US 0.81%), meaning over the coming five years the country will have 25 million more people to feed. The median age is a mere 17 years of age (44% are under 14), life expectancy is just 67 years of age (158th out of 198 countries) and the country (according to the US State Department) is still regarded as one of the 10 poorest nations in the world, with some of the lowest per capita income figures on the planet – just $590 (World Bank): it’s hard to live on $49 a month anywhere. The combination of low income, low life expectancy, and poor education levels – only 39% of adults are literate and 85% of rural youth don’t complete primary school – means that Ethiopia is ranked 174th (of 198 countries) on the United Nations Human Development Index.
None of this, plus other stark details of daily life, the inflated cost of living, for example, increased taxes, or the lowest level of Internet access in Africa – just 3.7%, is featured in the country’s routinely championed GDP figures. Headline numbers which mean nothing to the majority of people: most can barely feed themselves and their families, are increasingly angry at the level of state suppression and live in fear of government retribution should they dare to express dissent. As HRW correctly states: “Visitors and diplomats alike are impressed with the double-digit economic growth, the progress on development indicators, and the apparent political stability. But in many ways, this is a smokescreen: many Ethiopians live in fear.”
Far from building a democratic society in which freedoms are observed and valued, an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, and inhibition has been cultivated by the EPRDF government, a brutal regime that is determined to maintain power, no matter the cost to the people of Ethiopia, the vast majority of whom are desperate for democratic change.

Diamonds are Forever

Africa's rough diamonds have been increasing in value but the sale proceeds do not reach the people. Instead, they benefit metropolitan elites and the mine companies, which are usually foreign-owned.

Tanzanian police struck a blow against international diamond smuggling. A consignment of diamonds worth around 28 million euros ($33.4 million) was seized at the country's main airport. Petra Diamonds, the biggest listed diamond company in the world, based in the tax haven of Jersey, had registered a consignment of 14 kilos (30 pounds.) However, according to the Tanzanian authorities, it actually weighed 30 kilos. The rough diamonds from the Williamson mine were intended for export to Belgium for processing.

The Williamson mine in the north of Tanzania is a joint venture. 75 percent belongs to Petra Diamonds, 25 percent to the Tanzanian government. Benedict Mahona, an economics expert from the University of Dar-es-Salam, told DW that the seizure of the diamonds from the Williamson mine was lawful. He explained that the customs laws of the East African Community are unambiguous: Every product that is imported or exported from the area must be correctly registered and declared. "Globally operating companies are systematically plundering Africa's diamond resources, and only a fraction of the stones are properly declared and have duty paid on them," Mahona said. He also commented that the theft of diamonds almost always happens with the help of corrupt locals.

 Haki Madini is a non-governmental organization that advocates transparency in business. "That didn't work in the past, either," says Mhinda. "Indigenous companies are at least as corrupt as foreign ones."

With its tough approach the Tanzanian government runs the risk of international companies withdrawing their business and jobs being lost as a result, according to Rebekka Rumpel, an expert in natural resources at the London think-tank Chatham House. "Tanzania's tough approach is bound to impact negatively on the country's image,"  she says. Rumpel reports that a large-scale investor from Russia who wanted to mine Tanzanian uranium has already put his project on hold, in part because he was worried about the investment climate in Tanzania.

Tanzania is more of a mid-level player on the African diamond market. The East African country is ranked tenth among the continent's biggest diamond producers. The Tanzanian government hopes that by 2025 the mining industry will contribute at least twice as much GDP as it has to date. At the moment its contribution is less than four percent.

Diamonds have not brought prosperity to Zimbabwe, either. Three quarters of people in Zimbabwe, Africa's fifth largest diamond producer, live in extreme poverty. 
"Billions have vanished before ever reaching the Zimbabwean Treasury," the current report by the British anti-corruption group Global Witness states. The diamonds, it says, have not benefited ordinary people. On the contrary: According to this report, the country's secret service and military have siphoned off a significant portion of the revenue for themselves, and have used it to finance their activities. "Zimbabwe's democracy has been undermined and it has led to serious human rights abuses," says Michael Gibb, who submitted the report for Global Witness.

In other  countries in Africa, diamond deposits have also led to more poverty, violence and oppression in Angola or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

CAR - Still nobody cares

 A record number of people, more than 1.1 million (at least a fifth of the population), have been uprooted in Central African Republic by spiralling violence between armed groups which threatens to plunge the country back into full-blown conflict, the United Nations said.

A surge in militia fighting in several hotspots since May has driven the number of people seeking refuge in neighbouring nations to more than 500,000, while about 600,000 are displaced within the country, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said. This represents the highest number of people forced from their homes since the conflict erupted in 2013, when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the president, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias, according to UNHCR.

Nearly one in two people in Central African Republic - more than 2.2 million - need aid amid the rising violence, says the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).


Yet several aid agencies such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and Plan International have been forced to temporarily suspend their operations in recent months, as militants loot humanitarian compounds, attack staff and raid health facilities.

The country's humanitarian response plan for 2017 has been less than a third funded - $148 million of a requested $497 million. "The consequences could be disastrous, if there are no further resources to meet the mounting needs," UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said

Kalemie refugees

More than 200,000 internally displaced people live in 17 provisional refugee camps around the city of Kalemie, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. 

70 to 80 percent of the population in the Kalunga refugee camp is said to be carriers of the Malaria bacteria. 

"Our children and old people are dying," said Kisompo Selemani [In photo: 2nd from left]. The chief of the Twa people has been living with his wife and four children in Kilunga since November. The family had to leave their village when it came under attack by another Twa faction. "The government has to do something so that we can return to our villages," said the 64-year-old.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Power not Religion

As the situation in the Central African Republic deteriorates, Archbishop Nzapalainga says the conflict isn't between Muslims and Christians. Rather faith is being manipulated in the struggle for power.

"I have always said that this is not a religious conflict between Muslims and Christians. It is a military-political conflict. On one hand, we have people with arms and, on the other hand, the politicians who make statements about this conflict. Faith and religion are being misused and manipulated for political purposes. We want all sides to ask the war-mongers to put down their arms, enter into dialogue and create peace in the country."

Football exploitation

Countless boys in West Africa enrol in football academies to establish a career at one of Europe's top teams, yet many of them are duped.

Beneath the big money headlines is an underbelly of exploitation of youngsters from developing nations, experts say. Exploitation of young players is a worldwide problem. Reports have emerged in recent years of Liberian boys being trafficked to an academy in Laos and trapped there in debt bondage, and Brazilian teenagers recruited from the Amazon to an academy in Sao Paolo, sleeping four to a mattress in a bedsit.
Countless boys in West Africa enrol in football academies, giving up on an education and splashing the family savings in their quest to establish a career at one of Europe's top teams. Yet many of them are taken abroad and dumped by unscrupulous men posing as agents, according to activists.
Tom Vernon, founder of Right to Dream (RTD) football academy in Ghana and owner of Danish Superliga club FC Nordsjælland explained "It's a constant battle to stop people exploiting kids," Vernon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Without parental support or an educational base, a young player is basically going to get eaten alive, and that still happens on a regular basis," the former football scout added.
Earlier this year, newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that two Italian clubs were under investigation for using faked documents to allow West African minors to enter Italy illegally. These children are among some 15,000 young players moved from West Africa each year under false pretences, estimates the charity Foot Solidaire, but a lack of monitoring means the number being trafficked abroad could be far higher, experts say



Changing the rules in Uganda

 Uganda's ruling party,  the National Resistance Movement (NRM), have voted to introduce a bill to abolish presidential age limitations. When passed by parliament, the changes will let President Yoweri Museveni extend his grip on power.

The move is seen as a thinly-veiled push by Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for more than three decades, to hold onto power. Uganda's constitution currently bans anyone over 75 from becoming president, which stops Museveni, now aged 73, from standing for elections scheduled in 2021. Few believe the motion will fail as the NRM holds a two-thirds majority in parliament. 
The amendment will be the second major change to Uganda's 20-year-old constitution to directly favor Museveni's continued stay in power.
In 2005, parliament voted to change the constitution allowing a president to serve more than two five-year terms. Although he came to power in a rebellion in 1986, Museveni ran the country unelected for ten years until 1996 when Uganda lifted its ban on political parties. The 2005 amendments allowed Museveni to stand again. 
"Museveni was quite appealing when he came [to power] because of Uganda's violent history and the challenges the country was facing. He was kind of a breath of fresh air," Norbert Mao, the president of the opposition Democratic Party, told DW.  "But he has shattered our hopes. He manages to stay in power by changing rules to serve him."

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Congo's cholera epidemic spreads

 More than 500 people have died so far in a cholera epidemic that is sweeping the Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.  Outbreaks of the water-borne disease occur regularly in Congo, mainly due to poor sanitation and a lack of access to clean drinking water. The epidemic had spread to 20 of Congo’s 26 provinces.
But this year’s epidemic, which has already hit at least 10 urban areas including the capital Kinshasa, is particularly worrying as it comes as about 1.4 million people have been displaced by violence in the central Kasai region.
So far, health officials have recorded more than 24,000 suspected cases of the disease across the vast nation this year, averaging more than 1,500 new cases per week since the end of July.
“The risk of spread remains very high toward the Grand Kasai region, where degraded sanitary and security conditions further increase vulnerability in the face of the epidemic,” the WHO said in a statement.

Corruption in Diamonds

Reports implicate several Tanzanian former ministers and top government officials in signing corrupt deals.
In one incident, the investigation found a top government official received a gift of diamonds worth $200m (£153m) in dubious circumstances.
The reports are also faulting the government for relying on mine company statistics for key data such as the size of the diamond reserve in the mining area.
Earlier this year President Magufuli launched an extensive investigation into the mining industry and introduced strict mining laws as he argued the country was not getting a fair share of profit from its mineral resources.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

What makes a jihadist?

Poverty, marginalisation and bad governance are more important in the radicalisation of young Africans than religion. The UN came to the conclusion after interviewing former members of organisations such as Nigeria's Boko Haram, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and the Islamic State in Sudan.


According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), 33,300 people were killed in attacks byextremists in Africa between 2011 and the start of 2016. Boko Haram alone was responsible for at least 17,000 deaths and the displacement of more than 2.8 million people, triggering a humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad region.
The most likely recruit for jihadists is "a frustrated individual, marginalised and neglected over the course of his life, starting in childhood". With few economic or job prospects and little trust in the government to provide opportunities, particularly in remote border areas, they are likely to be ripe for conversion.  Less than half of those interviewed cited religion as a motivating factor. Boko Haram, for example, began life as an anti-corruption movement in northeast Nigeria, where the government was blamed for the widespread poverty affecting the region.
71 percent said government action such as the arrest or killing of a family member was often the tipping point for their decision to join.
Whatever the initial reasons for young people joining jihadist groups, the UN study indicated that a large number of those questioned were disappointed by their experience. One-third said they were never paid, some never found the wife they were promised, while others ended up regretting the violence and destruction that they brought about.
One man called Ali, ended up realising it was a war without end and that they had never scored a "real victory" after so much bloodshed, most of it of his fellow Muslims.
"That's why I decided to give it up," he added.

South Africa's Poverty

 New figures reveal an increase of three million South Africans living in poverty over the last five years. 
More than half (55%) of the population lives on less than R1,138 (USD$107) a month, up from 53% in 2011.
In a country with 55 million people, 34 million are going without some of the basic necessities, like housing, transport, food, heating and proper clothing. 
The poorest have been hit the hardest. One in four citizens survives on less than R531 a month and can’t afford to buy enough food to keep healthy. This proportion has risen from one in five in 2011.
The consequences are plain to see. They include more street begging, homelessness, loan sharks, social discontent, substance misuse and violent crime in many communities.
 Progress on education, health and basic living conditions have stalled.
The decline in living standards has occurred despite the extension of social grants to two million more recipients in the past five years, bringing the total number of social grant beneficiaries to 17 million. That is nearly one in three people.
The global economic slowdown and depressed commodity prices have obviously contributed to the problem. These factors have raised unemployment to record high levels. 

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Faure must go in Togo

Tens of thousands of people have marched through the streets of Togo's capital, Lomé, protesting against President Faure Gnassingbé. Amnesty International estimated that 100,000 people marched in Lome, many wearing the red, orange and pink colours of opposition parties as they chanted "Free Togo".
They want Mr Gnassingbé, who has been in power since 2005, to step down. He became president after the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, who had been at the helm for 38 years. Protesters are calling for the end of the "Gnassingbé dynasty".
A government concession to introduce a two-term presidential limit through a constitutional amendment failed to dissuade the protesters. The protesters see it as part of a ploy to extend Mr Gnassingbé's rule.
Internet and access to social media was limited. Government spokesperson Gilbert Bawara told a local radio station that there was an ongoing internet restriction. "Even in most developed countries, authorities take control of telecommunications in some cases," he said.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Ethiopia's IDP Problem

Ethiopia's Somali Region, where rains have failed for the third consecutive year, is experiencing emergency levels of hunger - one level below famine in a five-point scale used by food agencies. Drought does not recognize borders but international law divides people into refugees and IDPs. Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, crossing a border entitles refugees to international protection, whereas IDPs remain the responsibility of national governments.
In Ethiopia’s Somali region there are 264 sites containing around 577,711 internally displaced persons according to a survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) between May and June 2017. Ethiopia’s Somali region contains the largest proportion of the total 1,056,738 IDPs identified by IOM throughout Ethiopia.

About 2 million animals have died there since the end of last year, crippling herding communities, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“For those who have lost everything, all they can now do is go to a government assistance site for food and water,” says Charlie Mason, humanitarian director at Save the Children Ethiopia until June this year. “They have no coping mechanisms left.”
“Due to a shortage of funding, we were only able to reach 1 million out of 1.7 million in the Somali region in June and July,” says Peter Smerdon, the United Nations World Food Programme regional spokesperson for East Africa.
 The scale of numbers means the government is overwhelmed—many sites have reported no access to food—hence international assistance is sorely needed. But international aid is often more geared toward those who cross international borders.
“Refugees get global attention—the issue has been around a long time, and it’s just how people look at it, especially if conflict is involved,” says Hamidu Jalleh, working for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the region. “Weather-induced IDPs hasn’t reached that level.”
IDPs are only one part of the humanitarian challenge for those tackling the drought in Ethiopia’s Somali region: 2.5 million people will require food assistance between July and December 2017, according to aid agencies, while some report this number is expected to be revised upwards of 3.3 million by mid-August. The dilemma is made worse by the international humanitarian aid network already straining due to successive protracted global crises in the likes of Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria.
Many within the aid industry praise Ethiopia’s open-door refugee strategy—in marked contrast to Western countries increasingly focusing on migrant reduction—that means it hosts more than 800,000 people. 
“This country receives billions of dollars in aid—there is so much bi-lateral support, but there is a huge disparity between aid to refugees and IDPs,” says the anonymous director. “How is that possible?”

It is possible to protect the world's poorest from the worst impacts of drought, even in Ethiopia where back-to-back droughts have left 8.5 million people in need of food aid, heads of U.N. food agencies said after a tour of the country. But more investment is needed in long-term projects that can help prevent future droughts from developing into major food crises, they said.
"A drought does not need to become an emergency," said Gilbert Houngbo, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Investment in irrigation, water points, rural financial institutions, health and veterinary services helps communities to protect themselves and their livestock through even a devastating drought, he said."We know what works ... "
"We've witnessed here that saving livelihoods means saving lives - it is people's best defence against drought," said Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO's director-general. "It is essential to invest in preparedness and provide farmers and rural communities with knowledge and tools to safeguard themselves and their livelihoods," he said.