Monday, May 29, 2017

Somaliland's Drought

Though Somaliland, on the Gulf of Aden, has 4.4 million inhabitants and its own currency, army and parliament, in the eyes of the world it is part of war-torn Somalia. More than 1.5 million people have been affected by the drought afflicting the state, and most of its livestock has been wiped out. In recent days, the drought has been compounded by an outbreak of cholera in the east.

Saad Ali Shire, Somaliland’s foreign minister, said, It seems the international community does not seem to respond until there are emaciated and dying children on their TV screens. The drought has destroyed 80% of the country’s cattle and we are a pastoral economy. The bureaucracy has been so slow that in large parts of the country little or no aid has arrived.” 

Others estimate that about half of the country’s 18 million livestock have died.

Zambia's Lead Poisoning

Kabwe is the world’s most toxic town, according to pollution experts, where mass lead poisoning has almost certainly damaged the brains and other organs of generations of children – and where children continue to be poisoned every day. A large World Bank project that ended in 2011 revealed the problem, though it achieved little in remediating the pollution. In affected townships, the lead in soils is about 10 times the US safety limit and far higher in hotspots.

“Having been to probably 20 toxic hotspots throughout the world, and seeing mercury, chromium and many contaminated lead sites, I can say the scale in Kabwe is unprecedented,” says Prof Jack Caravanos, an environmental health expert at New York University, on his fourth visit to the town. “There are thousands of people affected here, not hundreds as in other places.”  Llead poisoning stays with you for the rest of your life – it can’t be reversed. Having seen the extreme lead levels measured in children in several townships, he says severe and widespread health impacts are highly likely, including brain damage, palsy and ultimately fatalities. “I am concerned kids are dying here,” he says.

Almost a century of lead mining and smelting has left a truly toxic legacy in the once-thriving town of 220,000 people in central Africa’s Copperbelt, 100km north of the capital Lusaka. The fumes from the giant state-owned smelter, which closed in 1994, has left the dusty soil in the surrounding area with extreme levels of lead. The metal, still used around the world in car batteries, is a potent neurotoxin and is particularly damaging to children. But it is youngsters who swallow the most, especially as infants when they start to play outside and frequently put their hands in their mouths. 

But the real impact on Kabwe’s people is yet to be fully revealed and, while the first steps towards a clean-up have begun, new dangers are emerging as desperately poor people scavenge in the vast slag heap known as Black Mountain. On Black Mountain, bare-foot and ragged-clothed men dig out lead from the huge slag heap, often in long, unsupported tunnels, dug with hand tools and lit only by candles. “When you don’t make them properly, you find they just bury someone,” says Provost Musonda, a young father of three, and people have died in the scarred hellscape of Black Mountain. He earns about 80 kwacha ($8.50) a day, unless his chest pains prevent him working. “If I could get another job, I would go there. But there is no way of sustaining our lives otherwise.” Caravanos uses a portable detector to measure the lead levels on Black Mountain: they are sky high at 30,000-60,000 ppm. “Kids playing here is really unbelievable,” he says, noting the youngsters nearby. At one spot, a young woman, Debola Kunda, toils away, with two of her young children lending a hand. The dust sparkles with the metallic glint of galena – pure lead sulphide – and the soil right next to her four-year-old son, Acili, measures an astronomical 37,900ppm – 100 times above the danger level.

The blood levels of lead in children in Kabwe are  known to be very high - a recent study revealed that every one of 246 children tested were above the safety limit of 5 micrograms per decilitre of blood. The vast majority were over 45 micrograms per decilitre, which causes brain, liver and hearing damage, and eight were over 150 micrograms per decilitre, at which point death is the likely outcome.

Annie Kabwe, first noticed her children getting stomach pains and fevers, and losing weight. “I thought it might be HIV, but the tests were negative,” she says. Then blood tests revealed very high levels of lead. “I thought they would die,” Kabwe says. After learning about the toxicity of the dust in her neighbourhood and reducing her children’s lead exposure, through frequent washing of hands and clothes, the worst has not happened. “The problem is they are not really learning well in school, so the lead is still affecting them,” she says.
The slow, insidious nature of lead poisoning means careful epidemiological work is needed to distinguish its effects from other causes and reveal the true extent of the crisis. But that work has barely begun. “It is shocking to think that we are here in 2017 and that problem we have known about for decades is still here,” says Caravanos.
One such hotspot turns out to be the dusty yard of the only medical clinic in Chowa, the township that once housed the mines and smelter workers, which serves 14,000 people. Caravanos uses a handheld detector to reveal extreme lead levels in the sun-baked mud, frequently over 10,000 parts per million (ppm), far above the 400ppm limit in the US.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Indigenous people protect their home

Hunter-gatherers in Kenya have won an eight-year court battle against the government's plan to evict them from their ancestral land in the Mau Forest. The Ogiek were entitled to live on their ancestral land and the government should not have tried to evict them, a pan-African court ruled. Campaigners hailed the ruling as a huge victory for indigenous communities. The ruling affects some 35, 000 traditional hunters who live in the forest, some 200km from the capital, Nairobi. The Mau Forest, covering 273,300 hectares (675,000 acres), is the largest forest of indigenous trees in East Africa.
The government had argued that the hunter-gatherers needed to be evicted to protect the indigenous forest. But the African Court of Human and People's Rights ruled that the government had violated a series of rights of the Ogiek people, including the right to property and the right to practice their culture in the forest in western Kenya.
Environmental degradation in the Mau Forest had been caused mainly by "ill-advised" logging concessions and settlement by non-Ogiek people, Justice Augustino Ramadhani said.
Amnesty International said , "a ruling is not enough, it must be respected. The Kenyan government must now implement the ruling and let the Ogiek live freely on their ancestral land."

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Drum (magazine review 1957)

From the September 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received a recent edition of the magazine Drum, published in Accra, in the new state of Ghana, edited by Mr. Drum and claiming the “Biggest Sale in Africa.”

What is it like, this paper of the rising continent? Is there anything fresh about it? Hardly. Here are all the well-known features of the less-respected and therefore well-established British journals. Consider the advertisements. A Negro woman applies, with a fetching smile, the same brand of skin cream as a million budding English roses. Successful men (Negroes, sitting at many-telephoned desks) underline their success with the right shoe polish. And here is the father and wife and picaninnies, beaming vigorously and full of a popular laxative. Detergents and blood tonics jostle on the page with disinfectants and pep-pills.

There is an interesting article alleging the existence of slavery on the Spanish-held island of Fernando Po, in the Gulf of Guinea. This article reproduces a poster issued by the Anglo-Spanish Employment Agency, which promises a life of sophisticated leisure on Fernando Po. the poster sketches a Negro in traditional pukka-sahib garb, complete with topee and carrying an umbrella! A few pages are taken up with a chillingly meticulous description of the procedure followed in executions in James Fort Prison, Accra, including pictures of a doctor and a priest leaving just after a hanging. There are comic strips (one of them about a Negro boxer taking on a Chinaman in, of all places, Switzerland), some tit-bits, jokes, and a mystery story.

A heartbreak column is run by Dolly. A young man complains that his girl-friend drinks heavily, swears at him, has secret love affairs. Dolly's advice, If the girl is given to having secret affairs, forget her, . . .  as such a situation is not a desirable one” To a teacher who has fallen for one of his pupils she says: “To have an affair with one of your pupils would be abusing your position. Maybe when she has completed, yes. ” And there is the usual heavily guarded reply to the anonymous, desperate one whose problem cannot be discussed in the column, but who had better tell her mother.

Many African nationalists think that the developing independent states of Africa will throw up some vague and far-described moral and cultural superiority over their European counterparts. Drum gives the lie to that. Apart from the black faces and crinkly hair of its illustrations, it would not be out of place in the hands of any typist on the rush-hour tube to the West End. Capitalism always must fill the workers’ leisure with the inferior and shoddy, for to encourage them to think is dangerous. Hence the growth of die trash-press in this and other countries.

Now capitalism, lured by the markets and minerals, is developing in Africa. The markets it will exploit and the minerals develop. It will bring industrial organisation and the harsh, acquisitive sophistication that we in England know so well. That is in the future. For the present, if a reading of Drum is any guide, it has already brought, among other things, constipation and rheumatism, indigestion and neurasthenia.

(Thanks to Socialist Standard Past and Present Blog for tracking down this classic)

Africa against Africa

 African countries are better connected with the rest of the world than they are with each other.  Old railway lines from the 1970s continue to face operational issues, while people who wish to fly from Accra to Luanda still need to make an inconvenient stopover in Addis Ababa.

Only a small fraction of African goods are sold to other African countries. Less than 14 percent of African trade takes place within Africa. In comparison, more than 60 per cent of goods are traded within the European Union (EU).

Most African countries export primarily unprocessed raw materials such as mineral resources, oil and agricultural products to other continents. But this does not contribute to job creation and their economies have been weakened by the presence of major outside customers such as China.

 A lack of proper storage facilities, damaged roads and encounters with excessive bureaucracy at state borders means that at least 40 percent of food in Africa is going to waste, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In 2015, only five percent of African grain imports came from other African countries.

The cost of intra-continental trade in Africa is 50 percent higher than in East Asia. The average truck driver delivering goods across the border to supermarkets in southern Africa would need to carry up to 1,600 documents. In addition, delays at the border can end up costing thousands of euros.

Friday, May 26, 2017

What Middle Class?

On May 21, a report by the Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing, based at the University of Cape Town, released a report that estimated sub-Saharan Africa’s middle classes at 100-million, excluding South Africa’s. 

Any proper assessment of Africa’s middle class should consider the vulnerability of this class rather than hold a romanticised view.

Definitions of who the middle class is remain unclear. The most recent Unilever report defines the middle classes as those who earn between $4 and $70 a day, whereas the AfDB report defines it as those earning between $2 and $20. The underlying assumption is that the middle class is able to buy items beyond basic food items. But even this assumption becomes unrealistic, if we consider what $2 can buy.

In the Unilever study, the African middle classes include poor Kenyans who live in Kibera, Nairobi, which is Africa’s largest slum and among the five largest slums on Earth.In Nairobi$2 a day cannot buy bread, milk and public transport to and from the city centre where some of the Kibera residents conduct street trading.

Also, in terms of lifestyle, individuals who earn $2 a day are far apart from those who earn $70. An individual who earns $70 in Nairobi is a senior executive and is able to afford a mortgage and a reasonably priced second-hand SUV. These disparities suggest that we should either change the definition of the middle class or change the misguided obsession with consumption.

A survey found that about three-quarters of the middle class in South Africa are under financial stress. Most of the black middle class in South Africa are roughly three salaries away from poverty. This is the length of time the banks allow for catch-up on unpaid mortgages, after which a foreclosure is initiated.

In South Africa more than 20 000 houses every year are either auctioned or served with sale in execution notices. On a per-capita basis, the repossession rate is four times higher than the world average and 20 times more than countries such as Denmark and Singapore. This harsh reality points to the precarious nature of South Africa’s middle class, most of whom are black.

Before the Industrial Revolution in Britain, the social classes at the time were the peasants and the nobility. The Industrial Revolution created two more social classes, the working class and the middle class. The middle class consisted of shop owners and factory owners. As the Industrial Revolution spread to the rest of Europe and the United States, so did an urban middle class.

Facts on Africa

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Capitalism against apartheid (Book Review, 1987)

Book Review from the February 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism and Apartheid. South Africa 1910-1986. by Merle Lipton (Wildwood House. 1986). 

Defining capitalism as what we would call private capitalism, Merle Lipton argues in this well-documented book that capitalists (both private capital in South Africa and international capital with investments there) do not want, and never really did want, apartheid. In particular they do not want its application to the labour market (job reservation for whites, pass laws for blacks), seeing it as a costly and cumbersome brake on capital accumulation.

Lipton makes the point, however, that it would be a mistake to see capital in South Africa as a monolithic bloc with a single interest: different sections of the capitalist class have different interests and in the beginning some sections did support some aspects of apartheid:
   Capitalists in SA have never been unanimously or wholeheartedly in favour of apartheid. During the first half of this century, the economically and politically more important farmers and mine-owners supported some major apartheid policies, which the less important manufacturing and commercial capitalists had less interest in or opposed. Over time, particularly since the mid-1960s, opposition to apartheid increased among all capitalists, particularly those in the fast-growing manufacturing and commercial sectors.
Today most sections of the capitalist class in South Africa are opposed to apartheid. Thus in 1975 the then President of the Chamber of Mines. A.W.S. Schuman. said "aside from the human rights argument — the right of a worker to sell his labour on the best market — I doubt whether we can afford restrictions which prevent the market from finding in a capitalist fashion its own level and a sound balance between supply and demand", while the Natal Sugar Farmers declared in evidence to a government enquiry in 1977 that "workers should be allowed free labour movement and choice of employer . . .  no undue restrictions should be placed on the right of employers to employ whom they like . . . the abolishing of the present system of restrictive legislation and the encouragement of a free system of competition in an open labour market will ensure better utilisation of available manpower".

But the demands of the South African capitalists go beyond merely instituting a free labour market in South Africa. They want, as a logical development of this, to give the black urban working class that has emerged a permanent stable situation. As Lipton puts it. speaking of the 1970s:
   Increasingly, urban businessmen wanted their workers to have a stake in society, to live with their families in their own homes, and to be well supplied with shops, amenities, and entertainment. They believed this would reduce black turnover and increase competition for white jobs, and also make for a less explosive situation and a more contented black working and middle class, enjoying higher standards of consumption and providing a larger domestic market for their goods.
But even this would not be enough for the logic of capitalism in South Africa:
    The strategy pursued by capital in response to black unrest therefore went beyond a reformist welfare programme; even when it did not explicitly embrace political reform, it envisaged a restructuring of society that involved a shift from the hierarchical racial structure to a class structure, which would be difficult to reconcile with separate political rights.
This case for a non-racial capitalism in South Africa (which Merle Lipton herself supports) has of course been consistently put over the years by Harry Oppenheimer. until recently chairman of the giant Anglo-American Corporation and by MP Helen Suzman, author Alan Paton and others, and is now explicitly advocated by the main white opposition party, the Progressive Federal Party. 

But if, as is the case, South Africa is a capitalist country and if, as is also the case, apartheid conflicts with the interests of capital, why was apartheid introduced and why does it still exist? Here historical and political, and not merely economic, factors must be taken into account to explain that, although the capitalist class is the economically dominant class in South Africa it has not (except for two brief periods in the 1920s and 1940s) and still does not exercise complete political control.

The political party which has had an iron grip on state power since 1948 - the National Party - came to power as the representative of backward sections of the owning class in South Africa, in particular Boer farmers, with the support of poor white Afrikaner workers in the towns, mobilised under the banner of anti-English, anti-black and anti semitic Afrikaner nationalism. The NP used its control of political power to codify and legally enforce the already existing social and residential segregation (racial classification, ban on mixed marriages, separate facilities, etc), but also to try to go further and impose an economic segregation by preventing the emergence of a permanent African urban working class.

Naturally this eventually failed since, although political power can slow down for a while the economic changes that capitalism brings (in this case, the emergence of a permanent African urban working class) it cannot hold them up indefinitely. All that the vicious NP governments of the 1950s and 1960s were able to do was, at enormous human cost, to put the clock back for a while. Eventually, even within Afrikaner nationalism, an openly pro-capitalist wing emerged, based on the modem Afrikaner capitalist class that had developed with investments in mining, manufacturing and commerce and not just agriculture. These exerted pressure for "reform" for the abandoning of economic apartheid (ending the job colour bar. relaxing the pass laws, granting property and voting rights to urban Africans, and so on) which recent NP governments have accepted and implemented. The current state President. P W Botha, is in fact a representative of this verligtes ("enlightenened") wing of Afrikaner nationalism.

The next step which the South African government is sooner or later going to be obliged to take will be the granting of political rights to Africans at national level. Botha has already conceded this in principle but, as Merle Lipton explains in the last part of her book and as is evidenced by the daily news bulletins, he has certain political difficulties in managing an orderly transition towards it. When it happens this will represent the end of the attempt, so costly in terms of additional human misery, to impose a colour bar inherited from colonial times on a modem capitalist economy. But the non-racial capitalist regime that would then emerge would still leave working class problems unsolved. It would merely mean that South Africa would have caught up historically with the rest of the modern capitalist world.

Adam Buick

Cocoa slumps

The price of cocoa beans has fallen by $1,000 in just one year after record harvests. Growing stockpiles are adding further strain on plantations in Africa.

Cocoa futures in London are trading near the lowest in four years as a rebound in production is leaving the global market oversupplied. Plummeting prices are hurting the finances of producing nations and incomes for hundreds of thousands small-scale farmers.

Ivory Coast, the top grower, had to reduce the price paid to farmers by 36 percent for the smaller harvest which started last month and trimmed its 2017 budget by a 10th. Ivory Coast cut its budget after the slump in cocoa prices cost the West African nation’s economy 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in lost export earnings over the past year, President Alassane Ouattara said. Annual spending is being reduced by 250 billion francs ($413 million), Ouattara said on state television Thursday in the commercial capital, Abidjan. “This is a considerable amount,” Ouattara said. “Ivory Coast is going through very, very difficult times.”

Ghana lost almost $1 billion in export value because of lower prices, Joseph Boahen Aidoo, the chief executive officer of the country’s cocoa regulator, said in April.

Cameroon’s plans to more than double the nation’s production of cocoa beans by 2020 will not be achieved as falling prices are dissuading farmers from planting new crops, according to the state’s support company for growers. Producers in the world’s fifth-biggest cocoa producer have seen farm-gate prices slump by more than a third in the past year as London future contracts declined on forecasts of an oversupply. Cameroon, which produced 269 495 metric tons in the year through July, is in the third year of a strategy to increase annual output to more than 600 000 tons by 2020.

Despite Africa accounting for a massive 75% of global production, exporters wield little to no influence over where the price goes.

This is not to mention the continent’s paltry 2% share of the estimated $98bn global chocolate market, dominated by companies in non-cocoa producing countries like Switzerland and the US. It is a familiar African story – the exporting of precious materials, with all their value extracted elsewhere. 

Unequal Africa

Africa is experiencing higher levels of poverty than previously thought because decades of economic growth have only benefited a small wealthy elite, says Oxfam. Inequality is rife in Africa, which has seven of the 20 most unequal countries in the world, and a further 250 to 350 million Africans could be living in extreme poverty within the next 15 years, the report says.

Swaziland is the world’s most unequal country, closely followed by Nigeria and South Africa, where three billionaires own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the population — around 28 million people, the report says.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Gambian Thief

The Gambia's former president stole "at least" $50m (£38.4m) from the state before he left the country in January, the justice minister has said. Yahya Jammeh is accused of withdrawing the money via a state telecoms company.
Luxury cars and other items were reportedly loaded on to a Chadian cargo plane as Jammeh left the country
Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said the discoveries were "just a tip of the iceberg".