Sunday, November 23, 2014

Band Aid is indeed a bandaid

Sir Bob Geldof’s reissued Band Aid 30 charity single, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, has reignited the debate on what is patronising and what is empowering.

Africa is the birthplace of humanity and the home of some of the earliest civilisations such as Ancient Egypt. It is the world’s second-largest continent of 54 countries speaking more than 2,000 languages, and boasts some of the largest quantities of crucial minerals such as copper, diamond, platinum, gold and bauxite, or aluminium ore. Then, of course, is its oil supplies in Nigeria, Libya and Angola. Yet its international image is one of poverty, a continent in constant need of charity from philanthropists.

An open letter from Race Equality: In Music Industry – signed by academic Dr Robbie Shilliam and Hugh Francis, chair of UK Black Music, among others said of Band Aid “…what many within the African British and black music communities see from the published lineup is another form of Eurocentrism – the European off to help the African, without engagement with African musicians in Britain, let alone on the African continent.”  

 It is a flawed idea that Western nations are constantly aiding Africa when in fact it is Africa that is aiding the rest of the world. Health Poverty Action director Martin Drewry said of a recent report entitled Honest Accounts “This report – looking at the amount Africa loses to the rest of the world, in comparison with what it receives in aid and other inflows – is a response to a growing unease we have at Health Poverty Action that the UK public is not hearing the truth about our financial relationship with Africa. The truth is that rich nations take much more from Africa than they give in aid – including through tax dodging, debt repayments, brain drain, and the unfair costs of climate change – all of which rich nations benefit from.”

It estimated that while $134 billion flows into the continent predominantly in the form of loans, foreign investment and aid, $192 billion is generated through Africa’s natural resources, but lines the pockets of foreign companies or goes to pay off global debt.

The report noted: “For years the British public have been asked to donate money to Africa, yet the end to poverty is nowhere in sight….It is time for the British government, politicians, the media, and NGOs ourselves to stop misrepresenting our ‘generosity’ and take action to tackle the real causes of poverty. This includes urgent government action to close down the UK’s network of tax havens; an end to the plundering of African resources by multinational companies; an end to ‘aid’ as loans and greater transparency and accountability in all other loan agreements; and ambitious and far-reaching climate change targets.”

Socialist Banner can add that Band Aid activist Bono is an expert on tax evasion.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The African wealthy

Two of East Africa's telecom industry investors have made it to Forbes' 'Africa's 50 Richest' list which was released this week.
The two are Kenya's Naushad Meralli (who's interests include a minority stake in Airtel Kenya and also also sold his 49 per cent stake in Swift Global to Liquid Telecom) and Tanzania's Rostam Azizi (who's cited as Tanzania's first billionaire and sold a 17.2 per cent stake in Vodacom Tanzania to South Africa's Vodacom Group for US $250 million but still retains 17.8 per cent of Vodacom Tanzania).
Rostam Azizi, apart from making the list as one of only two East Africans from the telecom sector, is the only dollar billionaire from the region with a recorded worth of US $1 billion.
"His other assets include Caspian Mining, the largest contract-mining firm in Tanzania, which performs work for mining giants like BHP Billiton and Barrick Gold. He also owns residential and commercial real estate in Dubai and Oman. He got his start in his family's trading business, then broke out on his own to cut deals with international companies looking for partners in Tanzania," reads the Forbes' citation on Azizi It concluded.
Rostam Azizi currently occupies the number 26 spot on the list, at the age of 50 while 63-year-old Naushad Merali, the founder of Sameer Group, sits at position 46.
Forbes' citation on Meralli states: "In May he stepped down as chairman of Bharti Airtel Kenya, a position he had occupied for the last 15 years. He still keeps a 5% shareholding in the mobile phone network. Merali has been selling off assets. In January 2013, he sold a 49% stake in Kenyan Internet service provider Swift Global to UK-based Liquid Telecom."
Aliko Dangote, who sits at the top of the list with a net worth of US $21.6 billion, heads the list. Other telecom sector investors in the list are Mike Adenuga (Nigeria), Naguib Sawiris (Egypt), Tunde Folawiyo (Nigeria), Hakeem Belo-Osagie (Nigeria) and Strive Masiyiwa (Zimbabwe).
  1. Aliko Dangote
  2. Johann Rupert & family
  3. Nicky Oppenheimer & family
  4. Nassef Sawiris
  5. Christoffel Wiese
  6. Mike Adenuga
  7. Mohamed Mansour
  8. Isabel dos Santos
  9. Issad Rebrab & family
  10. Naguib Sawiris

Friday, November 21, 2014

Chad - the proxy army of the US

The U.S. military are busy  building something in Chad. Not a huge facility, not a mini-American town, but a small camp. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) still insists that there is no Chadian base, that the camp serves only as temporary lodgings to support a Special Operations training exercise to be held next year. It also refused to comment about another troop deployment to Chad. It is an U.S. alliance with a regime whose “most significant human rights problems,” according to the most recent country report by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “were security force abuse, including torture; harsh prison conditions; and discrimination and violence against women and children,” not to mention the restriction of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and movement, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trial, executive influence on the judiciary, property seizures, child labor and forced labor (that also includes children), among other abuses. Amnesty International further found that human rights violations “are committed with almost total impunity by members of the Chadian military, the Presidential Guard, and the state intelligence bureau, the Agence Nationale de Securité.” Chad’s peacekeeping forces were accused of stoking sectarian strife by supporting Muslim militias against Christian fighters. Then, on March 29th, a Chadian military convoy arrived in a crowded marketplace in the capital, Bangui. There, according to a United Nations report, the troops “reportedly opened fire on the population without any provocation. At the time, the market was full of people, including many girls and women buying and selling produce. As panic-stricken people fled in all directions, the soldiers allegedly continued firing indiscriminately.”

In all, 30 civilians were reportedly killed and more than 300 were wounded.

The new American compound is to be located near the capital, N’Djamena. The U.S. has previously employed N’Djamena as a hub for its air operations. What’s striking is the terminology used in the official documents. After years of adamant claims that the U.S. military has just one lonely base in all of Africa -- Camp Lemonnier in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti -- Army commercial contracts documents state that it will now have “base camp facilities” in Chad. An Army solicitation from September sought “building materials for use in Chad,” while supporting documents specifically mention an “operations center/multi-use facility.” That same month, the Army awarded a contract for the transport of equipment from Niamey, Niger, the home of another of the growing network of U.S. outposts in Africa, to N’Djamena. The Army also began seeking out contractors capable of supplying close to 600 bunk beds that could support an American-sized weight of 200 to 225 pounds for a facility “in and around the N'Djamena region.” And just last month, the military put out a call for a contractor to supply construction equipment -- a bulldozer, dump truck, excavator, and the like -- for a project in N'Djamena.

Even without a base, the United States has for more than a decade poured copious amounts of money, time, and effort into making Chad a stable regional counterterrorism partner, sending troops there, training and equipping its army, counseling its military leaders, providing tens of millions of dollars in aid, funding its military expeditions, supplying its army with equipment ranging from tents to trucks, donating additional equipment for its domestic security forces, providing a surveillance and security system for its border security agents, and looking the other way when its military employed child soldiers.

This increased U.S. interest in Chad follows on the heels of a push by France, the nation’s former colonial overlord and America’s current premier proxy in Africa, to beef up its military footprint on the continent. In July, following U.S.-backed French military interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic, French President François Hollande announced a new mission, Operation Barkhane (a term for a crescent-shaped sand dune found in the Sahara). Its purpose: a long-term counterterrorism operation involving 3,000 French troops deployed to a special forces outpost in Burkina Faso and forward operating bases in Mali, Niger, and not surprisingly, Chad. In recent years, the U.S. military has been involved in a continual process of expanding its presence in Africa. Out of public earshot, officials have talked about setting up a string of small bases across the northern tier of the continent. Indeed, over the last years, U.S. staging areas, mini-bases, and outposts have popped up in the contiguous nations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and, skipping Chad, in the Central African Republic, followed by South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. A staunch American ally with a frequent and perhaps enduring American troop presence, Chad seems like the natural spot for still another military compound -- the only missing link in a long chain of countries stretching from west to east, from one edge of the continent to the other -- even if AFRICOM continues to insist that there’s no American “base” in the works.

In June, according to the State Department, the deputy commander of U.S. Army Africa (USARAF), Brigadier General Kenneth H. Moore, Jr., visited Chad to “celebrate the successful conclusion of a partnership between USARAF and the Chadian Armed Forces.” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus arrived in that landlocked country at the same time to meet with “top Chadian officials.” His visit, according to an embassy press release, “underscored the importance of bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as military cooperation.” And that cooperation has been ample.

Earlier this year, Chadian troops joined those of the United States, Burkina Faso, Canada, France, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, the United Kingdom, and host nation Niger for three weeks of military drills as part of Flintlock 2014, an annual Special Ops counterterrorism exercise. Then soldiers from Chad, Cameroon, Burundi, Gabon, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, the Netherlands, and the United States took part in another annual training exercise, Central Accord 2014. The Army also sent medical personnel to mentor Chadian counterparts in “tactical combat casualty care,” while Marines and Navy personnel traveled to Chad to train that country’s militarized anti-poaching park rangers in small unit tactics and patrolling. A separate contingent of Marines conducted military intelligence training with Chadian officers and non-commissioned officers. The scenario for the final exercise, also involving personnel from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Senegal, and Tunisia, had a ripped-from-the-headlines quality: “preparing for an unconventional war against an insurgent threat in Mali.”

As for U.S. Army Africa, it sent trainers as part of a separate effort to provide Chadian troops with instruction on patrolling and fixed-site defense as well as live-fire training. “We are ready to begin training in Chad for about 1,300 soldiers -- an 850 man battalion, plus another 450 man battalion,” said Colonel John Ruffing, the Security Cooperation director of U.S. Army Africa, noting that the U.S. was working in tandem with a French private security firm.

In September, AFRICOM reaffirmed its close ties with Chad by renewing an Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement, which allows both militaries to purchase from each other or trade for basic supplies. The open-ended pact, said Brigadier General James Vechery, AFRICOM’s director for logistics, “will continue to strengthen our bilateral cooperation on international security issues... as well as the interoperability of the armed forces of both nations.”

With Chad, the United States finds itself more deeply involved with yet another authoritarian government and another atrocity-prone proxy force. In this, it continues a long series of mistakes, missteps, and mishaps across Africa. These include an intervention in Libya that transformed the country from an autocracy into a near-failed state, training efforts that produced coup leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso, American nation-building that led to a failed state in South Sudan, anti-piracy measures that flopped in the Gulf of Guinea, the many fiascos of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, the training of an elite Congolese unit that committed mass rapes and other atrocities, problem-plagued humanitarian efforts in Djibouti and Ethiopia, and the steady rise of terror groups in U.S.-backed countries like Nigeria and Tunisia.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The effects is more than a disease

Nearly half of all Liberians who were employed when the Ebola outbreak began are no longer working, a survey by the World Bank hasfound. It said many workers have been told to stay at home or have lost their jobs, while markets have been forced to shut. Those living areas of Liberia that have not been hit by Ebola "are suffering the economic side effects of this terrible disease".

Ebola outbreak was expected to cost the region about $3-4bn (£1.9-2.5bn). The World Bank said its survey found that 70% of respondents said they do not have enough money to afford food.

Ebola had ravaged the tourist industry across Africa. A survey showed that travel bookings were down by as much as 70%, even for destinations far away from the affected areas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Shell's Oil Spills In Niger Delta - Update

The oil company Shell lied to a Dutch court about steps taken to minimize the risk of oil spills during a court case brought against the multinational oil and gas company by four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth, lawyers acting for the claimants alleged today.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) Netherlands and a group of four farmers from villages in the Niger Delta were aiming to claim compensation from Shell for damages caused when a major oil pipeline burst, causing devastation to local communities.

During the case, which went to court in 2012 in The Hague, Shell’s lawyer said that the oil company had taken precautionary steps to avoid oil spills in the Niger Delta, including the installation of a leak detection system, instead blaming the spills on criminal tampering in the area. Due in part to this evidence, say FoE Netherlands, the court ruled that Shell was responsible for one out of the four oil spills.
However, according to lawyers representing the farmers, documents revealed in the UK’s High Court this year have shown that there was in fact no leak detection system in place and the Dutch oil company had consistently ignored calls from its own staff to replace the pipeline, despite being told their lifespan was “non-existent or short”.

The new evidence available to the farmers may lead to much wider compensation for the communities affected by the spills.
Because of the way in which Dutch courts operate, the farmers who brought the case in 2008 and their legal teams were prohibited from seeing any of the documents submitted by Shell in relation to the claim they were making.
It wasn’t until a new lawsuit was filed against Shell in the UK by 15,000 Nigerians in relation to oil spills from the same pipeline in another nearby village, that documents submitted to the High Court by the oil company as part of its defence could be obtained.

Channa Samkalden, the lawyer for FoE Netherlands and the Nigerian farmers who requested Shell’s documents from the British court, said: “On the basis of these documents, I can conclude that the testimony on the leak detection system which Shell gave to the court in The Hague in our case is in fact not true.”

The documents will be submitted to the Dutch court in The Hague by FoE Netherlands lawyers, with the first hearing of the appeal against the 2013 verdict to be held in March 2015.

Irrational Ebola Theories

The Liberian Council of Churches has blamed Ebola on homosexuality. It’s tragic enough that 10,000 people have contracted Ebola in the region, and that half of them have died. Now, according to a report in Reuters, gay people are literally afraid to walk the streets after religious leaders have blamed the plague on them and newspapers have splashed their photos on the front page.

"Since church ministers declared Ebola was a plague sent by God to punish sodomy in Liberia, the violence toward gays has escalated. They're even asking for the death penalty. We're living in fear," LGBT activist Leroy Ponpon told Reuters over the phone from Monrovia. 

The Liberian Council of Churches released a statement saying "God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague."  It went on:
 “Liberians have to pray and seek God's forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God's forgiveness.”

"Voluntary sodomy" is a crime in Liberia and can lead to a year in jail.

President Ellen Sirleaf called for a three-day period of fasting and prayer back in August, “to seek God’s face to have mercy on us and forgive our sins and heal our land.” Notably, Sirleaf’s call blamed witchcraft, rather than homosexuality, for the spread of the disease.

Oh, those backward Liberians. Oh, those backward Christians. Oh, those backward homophobes. But didn’t Ronald Reagan say that the AIDS epidemic took place because “illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments”?

In early August, Oklahoma conservative Christian radio host Rick Miles appeared to echo the anti-gay Liberian clergymen, pinning the advent of the epidemic on things loathed by American right-wing.
 "This Ebola epidemic can become a global pandemic, and that’s another name for plague," he said. "It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming. Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion."

Rational explanations for epidemics such as poor basic health-care and lack of medical dethrones their God from the position of Controller-in-Chief. And if God isn’t the one calling the shots in the universe, why bother with religion? So, better a vengeful God, who punishes a nation because some in it are having sex, than no God at all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Miners Shot Down: Blood On Whose Hands?

Marinovich is a photojournalist who closely covered the so-called Marikana massacre of August 2012 in which 34 striking mine workers were shot dead by police. According to him, the police’s story of acting in innocent self-defence is a lie. “They went and carried on hunting down people, for twenty minutes.”

Interviewed by Rehad Desai in his new documentary, Miners Shot Down, Marinovich’s words form part of a forensic case built up over the course of the film that forcefully indicts the police, the government and the Lonmin mining company for their respective roles in the most deadly display of state violence witnessed in post-apartheid South Africa. It may have been rank-and-file police officers pulling the triggers, but, Desai’s film concludes, it is those at the top – “those who pulled the strings” – who bear greatest responsibility.
“Heads need to roll at a very high level,” argues Ronnie Kasrils, a former minister for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and outspoken critic of President Jacob Zuma’s government. To date, not one policeman has been charged for what took place at Marikana, victims have been both blamed and put on trial, and suspicions of a cover-up stubbornly linger.

 Miners Shot Down – drawing upon evidence presented to the Commission of Inquiry, which is still ongoing, and some original material – interrogates the lines of communication descending from the government down to the foot soldiers, suggesting professional failings of incompetence and corruption. Who ordered the use of live ammunition? What was the nature of the relationship between the police and Lonmin, and between Lonmin and the ANC? Why has no police office or government minister been held accountable, whereas 270 of the miners faced common purpose murder charges (until they were belatedly dropped last month)?
These are the questions that ought to detain the official inquiry, though Desai is sceptical of the integrity of the process and doubtful it will produce satisfactory results. But the film goes further, situating the events of Marikina within a context wider than that of police or government corruption.

As Desai reflects in the film’s opening scenes, Marikana can be placed along a historical road leading from Sharpesville in 1960 via Soweto in 1976: a mass killing uncomfortably redolent of the massacres of apartheid, reminding citizens of the new South Africa that the arrival of formal democracy has not brought about the full dismantling of the apartheid state. Rather, Marikana was a thoroughly familiar event: as Charlayne Hunter-Gault wrote in the New Yorker at the time: “The bloody episode in this eighteen-year-old black-majority democracy takes many back to the days of white-minority rule, when policemen routinely fired on and killed thousands of South Africans fighting for their freedom.”

The real meaning of Marikana, Jerome Roos argued, is that it showed how “the violence of the state simply reasserted itself anew under the ANC.”

read more and view trailer here

Monday, November 17, 2014

Masai eviction to go ahead

Tanzania has been accused of reneging on its promise to 40,000 Masai pastoralists by going ahead with plans to evict them and turn their ancestral land into a reserve for the royal family of Dubai to hunt big game. Last year the government said it had backed down over a proposed 1,500 sq km “wildlife corridor” bordering the Serengeti national park that would serve a commercial hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates. . The Ortelo Business Corporation (OBC), is a luxury safari company set up by a UAE official close to the royal family with clients reportedly including Prince Andrew. Now the deal appears to be back on and the Masai have been ordered to quit their traditional lands by the end of the year. Unlike last year, the government is offering compensation of 1 billion shillings (£369,350), not to be paid directly but to be channelled into socio-economic development projects. The Masai have dismissed the offer.

The Masai insist the sale of the land would rob them of their heritage and directly or indirectly affect the livelihoods of 80,000 people. The area is crucial for grazing livestock on which the nomadic Masai depend

“I feel betrayed,” said Samwel Nangiria, co-ordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group. “One billion is very little and you cannot compare that with land. It’s inherited. Their mothers and grandmothers are buried in that land. There’s nothing you can compare with it.” Nangiria said he believes the government never truly intended to abandon the scheme in the Loliondo district but was wary of global attention. “They had to pretend they were dropping the agenda to fool the international press.”

Last year saw the online campaign Stop the Serengeti Sell-off petition attracted more than 1.7 million signatures and led to coordinated email and Twitter protests.