Saturday, October 13, 2018

Zambia's Debts

In a world of depleting mineral resources, industrialised countries, especially resource-dependent Europe, need Zambia's copper, uranium and cobalt - the latter is in high demand recently due to the booming electric vehicle industry. They are also interested in the landlocked country's strategic position at the heart of the African continent. Zambia has borders with eight countries and close ties with neighbouring conflict-ridden and resource-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo. Zambia is the 4th most unequal country in the world, and 74.3 percent of the population lives on less than $3.20 a day.

Zambia's public debt has increased significantly in recent years, and concerns over a possible crisis have lately attracted the attention of the media. UK, Ireland, Finland and Sweden froze its aid to Zambia following an investigation into large-scale corruption.  A British business intelligence outlet Africa Confidential warned of escalating debt caused by allegedly unsustainable Chinese loans.  China probably holds a quarter to a third of Zambia's external debt.  Critics point out that a large number of these loans might be unaccounted for in the government official figures. Either way, the government declared a staggering $9.4bn of external debt in June this year, or 34.7 percent of GDP, up from $1.9bn at the end of 2011, or 8.4 percent of GDP which includes borrowing US dollars through large bond sales (known as eurobonds) on international markets controlled by Western institutions. The government issued three eurobonds between 2012 and 2015 for a total of $3bn - this does not include interest repayments, which keep going up due to sinking investor confidence. The yields on these bonds reached 17 percent last month. The first 10-year eurobond was issued in 2012 with a 5.6 percent yield.

 A debt default would open up opportunities for vulture funds and international creditors to take over the country's rich mineral and land resources and the few remaining parastatals that survived two decades of aggressive privatisation and public spending cuts imposed by the IMF and the World Bank from the 1980s to the mid-2000s. Health, education and other public services have already been decimated and the mining sector, previously under state control, is now for the most part in foreign hands - as are most sectors of the formal economy. China is now being blamed by the West for allegedly doing exactly what the IMF has been doing for decades: providing unsustainable loans to countries in need to further plunge them into debt, weaken state capacity and open up national economies to international investors.

President Edgar Lungu and his entourage are now perceived as an open threat to Western hegemony due to their vocal support for Beijing. Lungu's blatant mismanagement of public finances and his increasingly authoritarian tendencies show that his stance is far from principled and is driven by desperation. 

China is understandably hiding details of its loans from IMF oversight. An eventual IMF bailout would come with hefty conditionalities, imposing further spending cuts and privatisations in an already downsized state. There is no evidence that suggests that an IMF programme would be better than a Chinese deal. The Saudi government is financing several projects in Zambia, including hospitals and roads. Western media have been largely silent about these developments. This is not surprising, given Saudi alignment with the US and UK administrations.

If the country was to defaultthe biggest losers will be the Zambian people. A default would also trigger a chain reaction and bring down other African economies that borrowed heavily through eurobonds and are struggling with debt repayments.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Cobalt Slavery

Cobalt is found in every lithium-ion rechargeable battery on the planet – from smartphones to tablets to laptops to electric vehicles. It is also used to fashion superalloys to manufacture jet engines, gas turbines and magnetic steel. You cannot send an email, check social media, drive an electric car or fly home for the holidays without using this cobalt. It is smeared in misery and blood.
Elodie is 15. Her two-month-old son is wrapped tightly in a frayed cloth around her back. He inhales potentially lethal mineral dust every time he takes a breath. Toxicity assaults at every turn; earth and water are contaminated with industrial runoff, and the air is brown with noxious haze. Elodie is on her own here, orphaned by cobalt mines that took both her parents. She spends the entire day bent over, digging with a small shovel to gather enough cobalt-containing heterogenite stone to rinse at nearby Lake Malo to fill one sack. It will take her an entire day to do so, after which Chinese traders will pay her about $0.65 (50p). Hopeless though it may be, it is her and her child’s only means of survival.
More than 60% of the world’s supply of cobalt is mined in the “copper belt” of the south-eastern provinces of DRC. According to the government agency charged with oversight of the informal or “artisanal” mining sector, at least 20% of this supply is mined by locals like Elodie, called creseurs. There are more than 255,000 creseurs mining cobalt in DRC, at least 35,000 of whom are children, some as young as six.
Across the south-eastern provinces,  Chinese companies run many of the industrial mines in the region. The Chinese also appear to run most of the “buying houses” that purchase cobalt from children like Elodie. Chinese processors then mix cobalt from industrial and artisanal sources during a preliminary refining stage to produce crude cobalt hydroxide, which they drive to ports at Dar es Salaam and Durban for export to China. After additional refining in China, the cobalt is sold to major component manufacturers and consumer electronic companies across the world.
Such companies are collectively worth trillions of dollars. Yet according to Amnesty International in a report at the end of 2017, none of them are making sufficient efforts to ensure that their riches are not being built on the backs of the oppressed women, men and children of the Congo who toil in putrid conditions, endure pitiful wages, grave injury and risk death to mine their cobalt. While market prices of cobalt have spiked 300% in the past two years, none of that increase makes its way down to the creseurs. The companies that source cobalt from DRC are surely aware of the appalling conditions under which the mineral is mined in some sites in the country. Aside from the Amnesty reports, labour abuses linked to cobalt mining in the region have been widely documented by human rights groups and by media organisations across the world. Yet while major consumer electronic and automobile brands state they do not tolerate child labour in their supply chains, none have invested enough resources or time into ensuring that they can adequately address the human rights abuses that could be lurking in the products they sell to millions across the world. They have consistently shifted responsibility for human rights abuses in the Congo on to their Chinese suppliers.
Arthur, a 16-year-old boy joined a group of young men who spent two months digging a tunnel 26m straight down before they hit a heterogenite vein. Now they descend into darkness each day, spending up to 24 hours at a time in narrow tunnels unable to stand, hacking away for cobalt. Every minute is suffused with dread, because many tunnels have collapsed in Kasulo, burying alive everyone inside. At the surface, the men from Arthur’s tunnel with several sacks of cobalt go to one of the dozens of Chinese buying houses nearby. The entire neighbourhood has in fact been walled off, in an effort to keep people from documenting the perilous conditions. The cobalt under Kolwezi is purer than at Elodie’s site, so the traders at the nearby buying house pay a higher rate for each kilogramme. It works out to roughly $1.80 a day in income for Arthur, but he is unlikely to get to keep all of it. Numerous local creseurs told me that children like Arthur are forced to pay bribes to the local government functionaries who are supposed to ensure there are no children working at sites like Kasulo.
No company should be able to jettison their responsibility for the vicious and unjust treatment of the people who mine cobalt and other minerals simply because they are separated from them by a few thousand miles, and a few layers in their supply chains. Any company sourcing cobalt from DRC must establish an independent, third-party system of verification that all mineral supply chains are cleansed of exploitation, cruelty, slavery, and child labour. They must invest whatever is needed to ensure the decent pay, safe and dignified working conditions, healthcare, education and general wellbeing of the people whose cheap labour they rely on.

Senegal's Pastoralists

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that an increase in global warming will adversely affect livestock and crop production, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. But herders like Saidou have already seen increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, drought, floods, and land degradation threaten their way of life.
Six million people in the Sahel faced severe food shortages in a prolonged lean season between January and August this year; Senegal was one of the three worst affected countries in the region. It may get worse yet, as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 2.5 million livestock herders, or “pastoralists,” and those who raise both livestock and crops in the Sahel risk losing their income.
As soon as the rainy season ended last September, it became clear that erratic rainfall had led to diminished pasture across the Sahel. “If there was good rain, all of our problems would be solved,” says Saidou. This isn’t looking likely: in the Sahel, the gaps between the hardship years are getting smaller and weather conditions are becoming more extreme.
Seasonal migration - which helps over-grazed regions recover by temporarily shifting the burden to areas with more pasture - is the common way of life for the Fulani, one of the Sahel’s largest ethnic groups. But as the length of the migration period and the distance herders are forced to travel to find food and water for their livestock increases, their economic well-being and very way of life are at risk.
Life in pastoral communities revolves around their main source of financial capital: the herd. So when animals are placed under stress, the social fabric also suffers. “Food security is above all assured by the security of the herd,” says Aliou Samba Ba, president of the Senegalese branch of the Réseau Billital Maroobé (RBM), a network of pastoralist associations in West Africa.
On the road, children accompanying their herder parents miss school, while animals die because of the rise in diseases. At home, people are hungry and increasingly worried about the waning value of the little that they own.
Thousands of herders and their livestock spend the dry season in Ranerou every year. But this time was different. Saidou had to station the animals 10 kilometres out of town, where a meagre supply of grass could be found. But with the route between their camp and the town barren and devoid of vegetation, they could only make the journey to Ranerou’s borehole to drink every few days. The animals stopped producing milk, a key nutritional staple for the family.
In the last five years, some areas in Senegal have reported decreases of between 50 and 100 percent in crops and grazing areas. This led to a spike in the demand for manufactured animal feed this year, which sent prices skyrocketing. A 40 kg sack of feed that cost around 7,000 CFA ($12) in October 2017 had risen to 13,000 CFA ($23) by March. Herders had to sell off animals to buy feed to sustain the rest of their herds, leaving a severe dent in their wealth.
Meanwhile, a government fund set up in 2012 to subsidise animal feed was not sufficiently replenished. The last cash injection was in 2015, and since herders tapped the fund in 2016 and 2017, subsidies weren’t available at the same level this year. “The state did not have the means to put in place a livestock safeguarding operation,” says Abba Leye Sall, the head of Animal Sectors at the Ministry of Livestock.
In addition, livestock prices plummeted due to desperate herders bringing large numbers of animals to market. Cattle, sheep, and goats fetched half the price they had four months earlier; by March in Ranerou, a sack of feed cost more than a sheep.
It’s difficult to predict the conditions of the season ahead, and with donkey-drawn carts as the primary means of transport, carrying large stocks of feed presents logistical difficulties.
As the year went on, herds intermingled around scarce water supplies and the incidence of disease rose. Foot-and-mouth disease killed young animals and slowed the pace of already weak herds forced to hobble long distances in search of sustenance.
Children were among the first to suffer. Many accompanied their parents on the journey south to help with the herd or because no one was left at home to care for them. For those who ordinarily attended school, this meant missing an academic year. Healthcare was non-existent when they became ill camping under tarpaulin sheets. “Social services are not adapted to mobility,” observes Noël Marie Zagré, regional nutrition adviser at UNICEF, the UN’s agency for children.
Full report here

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Botswana's Family Planning

Fifty years ago, Botswanan women would have seven children on average. Now they have fewer than three.

It’s one of the fastest falling fertility rates anywhere in the world. At the University of Botswana, in the country’s capital of Gaborone, Dr Chelsea Morroni considers the issue. “Everyone is always asking how did this happen?”

 Sub-Saharan Africa is set to grow faster than anywhere: there were 1 billion Africans in 2010, but that number will grow to 2.5 billion by 2050. Some have warned that this growth risks “driving civilisation over the edge”, a controversial view given that it is rich countries, not poor, that lead the way on consuming the world’s resources.

Enabling women to control their fertility – a move that almost inevitably leads to them having fewer babies – is not just about a tussle over resources, or the environment: it brings enormous ramifications for women’s health, education and employment – with knock-on effects for society and the economy.

The infant mortality rate decreased from 97.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1971 to 17 in 2011

Full article here

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Feeding the world

Nigeria is projected to pass the 300 million mark and overtake the United States to become the third most populous country in the world shortly before 2050. 

The Consul-General of Denmark in Lagos, Per Christensen, on Monday said that Nigeria could produce food for some 600million people through the application of the right technology.

He said: “Let me say that the agricultural development potential in Nigeria is bigger than that of Brazil when Nigerian farmers engage in technology farming. The consul-general said it was imperative for Nigeria to rededicate herself to increasing food production for Nigerians, as well as regaining her position as a net food exporter.

“The Dictatorship of the Multinational Corporations”

Unlike other countries in the sub-Saharan region, Liberia was never formally colonised by European imperialism. Therefore, the West African nation was neither militarily nor politically occupied by any of the colonising states to give rise to the unhindered and unquestioned penetration of foreign capital for the colossal exploitation and exportation of raw material from the soil and sub-soil of Liberia after the partition of Africa took place in Berlin, Germany in 1884-1885. Throughout history, Liberia has really not produced indigenous bourgeoisie. The Liberian bourgeois class is found in the state bureaucracy. This class, which makes up elite Liberians who occupy positions in the three branches of the government, makes every law conducive for the unhindered exploitation of Liberia’s resources and the labour of the Liberian working class by multinational corporations. This is why the social system produced is the “Dictatorship of Multinational Corporations”. In the context of Liberia’s history, the “The dictatorship of the Multinational Corporations” has always been nurtured by reactionary regimes that emerge out of the ruling class

Nevertheless, Liberia has been taken over by multinational corporations that are exploiting its resources at the expense of Liberians, especially the country’s working class that serves as cheap labour to these foreign companies. Liberia’s social system has produced the principal contradiction of the “dictatorship of the multinational corporations”—the wholesale plunder of the nation’s wealth and people by foreign multinational corporations that have their origins in colonial powers.

There are two mutually opposite aspects of the contradiction of the dictatorship of the multinationals. On the one hand, there is the exploiting class, which consists of the owners of the multinational corporations and their office allies in the state bureaucracy. On the other hand, the exploited classes, which consist of the workers, farmers and masses of poor people. 

The multinational corporations, with their international capital are owners of Liberia’s properties of production. They acquired these instruments of production through the comprador bourgeoisie-multinational asymmetrical relations. In such a setup, the local middle class in Liberia formed a marriage with foreign capital not for the purpose of transforming the homeland, but to export and exploit the resources of our country in its most crude variety.  Liberian society exploits the labour and resources of the country and exports the surplus values with little appropriated to changing the quality of the Liberian society in order to pave the way for the industrial production of goods and services. It is against this unequal relation to the means of production that the nature of the Liberian society has been characterised as underdeveloped, impoverished and backward.

 The multinationals accumulate huge surplus value and in turn give crumbs to its local lackeys dubbed as a middle class who do not form part of the productive process, but are rather occupying positions in the various state apparatuses. The laws of the state are crafted around such a system, scholars refer to as neo-colonial capitalism.

This social system smoothens the way for the acquisition of the means of production by multinational corporations. Currently, as it was in the past, the multinational corporations have the iron ore, rubber, gold, timber, mega hotels, telecommunications, etc. Arcelor Mittal, one of the world’s steel giants is here in Liberia, not manufacturing steel but exploiting iron ore and exporting in its raw state to advanced economies. Firestone has been in Liberia since 1926 growing, harvesting and exporting rubber in its latex form. Liberty Gold Mining is here in Liberia. MNG Gold Mining is here in Liberia. Golden Veroleum, Sime Darby, Farmington Hotel, Royal Grand Hotel, Boulevard Palace, Lonestar, MTN, Orange etc. are also here in Liberia.
At their various production centres, workers who play no part in their appropriation produce wealth dubbed as surplus value. The working people at those production centres are paid paltry sums in “so-called” wages that cannot cater for their basic needs for goods and services [that they contribute to produce]. The surplus value they produce from the mountains, soil, forest, etc. are exploited by the owners of the means of production, which include the labour of working people, to amass wealth through private profit maximisation. The surplus values, due to their outward orientation, are exported instead of being reinvested in the Liberian economy; thus leading to the underutilisation of the productivity of labour.
At some point in time, the private profit motive leads to expansion in production, which uses technologies that pollute the working people’s environment. When the working people and communities’ dwellers resist this, the standing army is sent by the state bureaucracy to crush the resistance of the mass of people.
When there arises the economic situation of downward shift in the demand for the commodity or service produced at the production centres, thus leading to the drop in total income, the working people whose labour is the only commodity of production that produces wealth while being consumed, are affected either through wage cut or employment or contract termination. When this is protested against through strikes, the state’s standing army is sent to shoot at protesting workers.
During slavery, the exploited class were composed of slaves while the exploiting class consisted of slave masters. Under Feudalism, the exploited class consisted of the serfs while the exploiting class consisted of the feudal lords. Under present day capitalism, especially in the advanced capitalist countries, the exploited class is the working class or what we call “proletariat” – those who produce wealth on the various factory floors but play no democratic part in how such wealth is appropriated. The exploiting class is the ruling class or the bourgeoisie – the owners of the means of production who exploit the labour of workers to accumulate wealth through surplus values. There are black workers and there are black bourgeoisie. There are white workers and there are white owners of the properties of production.
This is why civil rights leaders like George P. Jackson in the United States of America did not limit the struggle to the abolition of racism. Their fight was also extended to the pattern of ownership of the means of production and thus the class struggle – the liberation of labour from the exploitation of capital. To have only dealt with the issue of race and left out the pattern of ownership of the wealth and means of production would have been like dealing with the effect and leaving out the cause. Similarly, the African liberation struggle was not just limited to ridding the continent of the white-colonialists, but also creating the condition to avoid the creation of black-colonialists. The exploited class consists of the workers, farmers, and poor masses while the exploiting class consists of the owners of the multinational corporations, which are predominantly owned by foreign capital.
State power is exercised in the interest of the multinational corporations although the apparatuses of the state (executive, legislature and judiciary) were instituted democratically by the workers, farmers and poor masses to act in their interest. Paradoxically, when workers resist their exploitation by multinationals, state power sends the armed body of men to crush the class actions of the toilers. The reality is, individuals, whether “Natives” or “Congaus” occupying the various apparatuses of the state depend on the multinational corporations for their economic survival. Portion of the surplus value exploited from the wealth produced by the workers is paid to the national government in the forms of taxes and rent. Instead of such funds being used to change the quality of the Liberian society (education, health, infrastructure, etc.), they are diverted to the huge salaries and perks of robber bureaucrats in the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of the government.  Liberia remains the citadel of illiteracy, disease and poverty – conditions, which reproduces the other segments of the exploited class (impoverished farmers in the rural communities and poor masses in the urban centres).
Nothing is permanent. Everything is in constant motion, always changing, always coming into being and passing away. Struggle or perish – There is no third way!
Taken from here

Condemning the IMF and the World Bank

At a meeting of La Via Campesina facilitated by Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI) in Bali, peasant organisations from Asia, Africa, Americas and Europe have unanimously held World Bank and IMF responsible for facilitating large scale land grab, deforestation and ocean grabbing around the world, which has led to inequality, poverty and global hunger.

David Calleb Otieno from Kenyan Peasants League said: “In Kenya recently, IMF pushed for the enactment of Finance ACT 2018 that has increased tax on fuels, mobile money transfer, and repealed the interest rate law. The intention is to benefit Kenyan creditors to continue earning from Kenya’s servicing of the debts at the expense of the well being of Kenyan people. There is a freeze on welfare spending in Kenya. Kenyan Debt to GDP ratio now stands at almost 70% of the GDP. Caught in this debt trap, almost everything is being privatised – transport, water, telecommunication. Peasants have lost their autonomy over seeds and our agricultural policies are pushed towards incentivising cultivation of cash crops. All these policies are being pushed at the behest of IMF and World Bank.”

Monday, October 08, 2018

Crisis in Rhodesia (1965)

The crisis in Rhodesia showed—if indeed it was necessary to do so—that whatever else we may be short of there is still plenty of nonsense being talked.

We heard, for example, talk about our “kith and kin" in Rhodesia, which suggests that there is a sacred, family tie between British workers and the Rhodesian ruling class. Perhaps this propaganda was effective: it was reported that the British government hesitated about sending troops to Rhodesia because they feared something like a repetition of the Curragh Mutiny in 1914.

We heard lots about the “rights" of majorities and the “legalities" of Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, as if such things are immutable and are not ignored and defied when it suits a governments’ purposes to do so. Human “rights" have had such a rough time of it during the past few years that it is surprising that any government still dares to speak in their name.

And, of course, we had the familiar racist nonsense, about the supposed inferiority of the African, and his inherent inability to behave in the same way as the established proletariat of the older capitalist countries.

There were signs that the decision to make a UDI was not reached without considerable argument in Salisbury. Mr. Smith prevaricated for a long time, after originally giving the impression that the break was due in the immediate future.

Perhaps this was a result of the arm-twisting by the British government. But whatever the short term effect of the sanctions, there is every reason to think that in the long run Rhodesia will weather the storm. It will find other outlets for its produce, and reach other arrangements on its international finances to replace those which have been ended. Indeed, there may even be some sort of tie-up between Rhodesia and some of the Negro African states. Malawi for one made it clear that it did not favour the imposition of sanctions, which might mean that the two countries will get together over a trade deal.

Mr. Wilson was at some pains to establish the fact that Labour's policy was a continuation of the Tories’. This did not prevent Mr. Heath getting what advantage he could from the situation, by making the familiar charge that, although there was no difference in principle between the two parties, Labour were bungling the job.

This basic agreement indicates that the British ruling class as a whole, whatever Lord Salisbury may think, realises what will be the result of a UDI. The present Rhodesian government can probably stay in power only by imposing a system similar to what exists in South Africa.

This will have its repercussions in terms of sabotage and other forms of violence, and in continual unrest. It will hold back Rhodesia's development into a modern capitalist nation. This may suit the interests of the Rhodesian farmers but the country’s industrialists, and the capitalists abroad who have money invested there, must take a different attitude.

They are more likely to be in favour of accepting the inevitable and salvaging what they can, as they have done in the other newly independent states of Africa.

If a Negro-dominated Rhodesia is inevitable—however far into the future it maybe—what is likely to follow? There will probably by changes in the white landholdings. Some of them may be split up and distributed to Africans; so called Land Reform often accompanies the success of nationalist revolts.

There will also be changes in Rhodesia’s social structure. The tribal chiefs will decline in power, to be replaced by a new ruling class, mostly with coloured skins. The African people will be developed into a fully-fledged proletariat.

And, if recent history is any guide, Rhodesia may well become another Negro dictatorship, with the new government’s opponents persecuted, exiled, even murdered.

Who can say that this is preferable to the white settlers’ dictatorship under Mr. Smith? For the people of Rhodesia the outlook is unpromising.

Heil Banda (1965)

The tireless supporters of African nationalist movements will doubtless have been glad to hear that Dr. Hastings Banda, who was once one of their heroes, and who was once said to be a gentle, humane man, and who is now Prime Minister of Malawi, is running true to form.

Next July, Malawi will become a Republic and Dr. Bandas’ party—the Malawi Congress Party—is getting ready for the event.

First, they nominated (who else?) Dr. Banda as their candidate for the Presidency. Then they accepted some proposals which make it clear that Dr. Banda does not intend his Presidential rule to be restricted by the sort of checks which are on the leaders of a much maligned, imperialist country like the United States.

The Constitution the Malawi Congress Party accepted, and which will probably become law, lays it down that the country will become a one-party state with a President who is both the Head of State and the Head of the Government.

There are, of course, no prizes for guessing which party will be the only one allowed to exist and who will be the all-powerful President—or dictator, as he will be known in places where speech is still comparatively free.

This is typical of many of the new African states which are now under one-party dictatorships, run by the men who came to power on a promise to bring freedom to a people governed by a foreign nation.

On what grounds are the new dictatorships excused? Dr. Banda told his party’s convention: “It does not matter whether there is a dictator or not as long as the people choose the dictator”— which is exactly the argument used by, among others, Adolf Hitler.

This is hot a far-fetched parallel. A couple of weeks after the convention, Dr. Banda revealed what sort of dictatorship he hopes the Malawi people will choose. Commenting on the trial of the “rebel” Medson Silombela, he said: “I know he is going to be found guilty. What sort of judge can acquit him? After that you can come and watch him swing.”

Life under British capitalism is tough enough, but at least political leaders do not make it their business to go around pronouncing verdict and sentence before a trial is ended.

The rising capitalisms of Africa are no better than those of the older, more established countries.

The experience of Malawi—and of Ghana and Kenya—should be remembered, the next time there is an appeal to support a nationalist movement which aims to replace one type of suppression with another.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Africa and Climate Change

Droughts, floods and storms are hitting Africa with increasing frequency. With so many people dependent on subsistence agriculture, the results can be devastating, and the future looks uncertain. Drought in the Horn of Africa, flooding in East Africa, mudslides in Sierra Leone, snow in high-altitude areas of the Sahara desert. News of extreme weather patterns across Africa is increasingly frequent. Food security is one of the biggest concerns for the future, particularly as many governments cannot afford to import enough to feed the population when local crops fail.

Peter Johnston, a climate scientist at the University of Cape Town's Climate System Analysis Group (CSAG) in South Africa, said "The fact that we are getting a warmer planet and that's impacting on the climate, we fully expect to have more extremes. That's a signal of climate change," he told DW. "But we can't say that this or that extreme is due to climate change. The increased frequency of these extreme weather patterns is, however, the result of climate change."

One reason Africa is particularly vulnerable to these changes is that an estimated 70 percent of the population grow their own food to some extent. South African farming consultant Kobus Hartman said many of the farmers he works with are worried about the unpredictability of the weather.

Stephanie Midgley, a professor and agricultural scientist at South Africa's Stellenbosch University, believes African countries need to diversify their economies, including within the agricultural sector, to build up resilience to climate change.

Nigerian academic Chidiebere Ofoegbu, a specialist in environmental management and climate change at the University of Cape Town's African Climate and Development Initiative, said the continent's dependence on subsistence farming makes people vulnerable.

"This means that climate change has a greater impact on people's wellbeing and their socioeconomic status," he told DW. "So you find that a little shift in, for example, rainfall, can lead many people to crop failure and the intensification of poverty."

Poor harvests are not the only worry. Bad planning, uncontrolled development, drainage problems, and insufficient infrastructure make African cities vulnerable to flooding and extreme temperatures, too.

Johnston said that because many urban areas do not have sufficient sanitation and stormwater drainage, a flood can cause widespread health problems, which will only worsen unless improvements are made. "We know that climate change has an impact on the spread of malaria and other diseases," he told DW. "We also know that they're going to be more volatile and spread more because of increased temperature and rainfall."

 The experts agree that Africa's vulnerability is not only because of its dependence on agriculture but also because many communities lack the capacity to respond or adapt to climate change impacts. 

The CSAG director and climate scientist Bruce Hewitson believes that if we cannot keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) we will face major problems including water restrictions and the disruption of coastal cities and agricultural systems that will, in turn, lead to increased migration. 

"All of this, of course, is a constraint on development," he told DW. "We're looking at an increase in negative factors that hold Africa back. And that has a trickle-down effect on societal well-being. So we're facing a decrease in human security going into the future unless we can get our act together. Soon."

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Namibia's Land Debate

 A land debate in South Africa is adding fuel to the fire in NamibiaNambia is currently holding a weeklong conference on land reform. It hopes to reach a solution on the unfair distribution of land between the black and white populations. "The willing-buyer, willing-seller principle has not delivered results," Namibian President Hage Geingob told reporters at the start of the southern African country's Second National Land Conference. "Careful consideration should be given to expropriation." His comments have raised concern that white landowners may have to give up their land to black farmers without compensation.

Namibia was a German colony from 1884 to 1914. In the decades that followed to independence in 1990, it was administered by South Africa, which imposed its oppressive system of apartheid on the population. During this time, thousands of Namibians were expelled from their lands. To this day, a large portion remains under the control of Germans and South Africans, or other foreigners: approximately 70 percent of Namibia's farmland is owned by whites. According to the Namibia Statistics Agency, socially disadvantaged black or colored citizens own only 16 percent of the land. 

Up until now, white farmers only had to sell their lands back to the state on a voluntary basis. But this principle had not worked. By 2020, Namibia plans to return 43 percent of its 15 million hectares of farmland to the black population. At the end of 2015, only 27 percent of the land was redistributed, according to the Namibia Agricultural Union.

A scramble over land is currently unfolding between the socially vulnerable and another class termed the 'new elite' — those who have often have close ties with the government and international investors and who frequently benefit more compared to the poor. The government is using the policy of national reconciliation to justify this status quo.

Leader of the Landless People's Movement in Namibia, Bernadus Swartbooi, thinks this week's conference on land issues will not change anything. "The landless will remain landless, the homeless will remain homeless, nothing much will change in terms of the return of ancestral land," he told NBC state television. His organization is not participating in the conference — he was not invited to voice his concerns.

"Traditional groups are being infiltrated in this process, and our proposals are not in line with the ideology of the governing party," Naita Hishoono, the director of the Namibia Institute of Democracy (NID), told DW. She thinks that returning farmland to its original owners could have happened long ago and low-income earners from the cities should receive a piece of land from the government without payment. "We want to fundamentally restructure society and restore peoples' dignity," she says. "Civil society, academics and key country representatives are all boycotting this conference because only government institutions have any say there," she says. "It's just a public relations act." This isn't too surprising considering presidential elections are set to take place next year.

 The big question over who really owns the land is still difficult to answer, Hishoono explains. "The indigenous people of Namibia do not view land as their own property — rather, it is something that belongs to everyone."