Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Press Censorship In Sudan

(from Feb. 19th)
Sudan is undergoing a disturbing wave of censorship, with the confiscation of a total of 19 newspaper issues in the past three days. The seizures not only constitute a grave violation of media pluralism but also inflict major financial losses on publications that are already fighting for economic survival.

In a spectacular series of raids in the capital on 16 February, members of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) seized a total of 13 issues as they came off the presses, including almost all of Khartoum’s dailies and two magazines.
The publications affected were Al-Tayar, Al-Rai al-Aam, Al-Intibaha, Akhir Lahza, Al-Ahram al-Youm, Awal al-Nahar, Al-Watan, Al-Sudani, Alwan, Al-Saiha and Al-Mijhar al-Siyasi, and the two magazines, Al-Dar and Hikayat.
Five other newspaper issues were seized yesterday, those of Al Sudani, Al Intibaha, Al Sahafa, Al Mighur and Al Taghier.

“These massive and indiscriminate seizures constitute an unacceptable act of censorship,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.
“The people we contacted in Khartoum have no idea what exactly the government did not like in these issues. But, given the general elections scheduled for April, such actions are likely to recur in the weeks and months ahead. The government seems to want to suppress any reporting that could give rise to a debate.”

This is by no means the first time that the NISS has carried out such raids. Reporters Without Borders calculates that it seized a total of 35 newspaper issues in 2014. Its operatives always act in the same way – waiting until issues are printed and then seizing all copies to prevent their sale. No grounds are ever given and owners have no legal recourse. 
“These repeated seizures represent a significant loss of income for newspaper owners,” Kahn-Sriber added. “The government is clearly aware of this and uses it as part of its strategy for throttling independent print media.”

The harassment does not stop there. The well-known journalist Madeeha Abdallah is facing trial on criminal charges of complicity, undermining constitutional order and publishing false information. It was the NISS that brought these charges against her.
Her case has attracted a great deal of attention, but dozens of other journalists have been harassed, arrested, interrogated for several hours or days and then released without any explanation being given. The harassment is completely “legal” inasmuch as a 2010 national security law grants the NISS complete immunity.

Sudan is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

International Agroecology Forum Says No! To Industrial Agriculture

Today, the sun has risen brighter than ever in Mali to warm the more than 250 delegates of the first International Forum on Agroecology being held at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, south Mali  hosted by Confederation of Peasants Organizations of Mali (CNOP) and La Via Campesina, and organised by organisations which are part of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC). There are women and men, from diverse constituencies, among them farmers, fisherfolks, indigenous people, pastoralists and urban consumers from all corners of the world, arrived to the center in buses from Bamako and other regions of Mali.

Over the next four days, the women and men of the conference will debate, share experiences and celebrate agroecology with the view to reinforcing a common vision and principles, as well as deciding on a common strategy to claim back the concept of agroecology, “beyond just the scientific aspect, to encompass its social, economic and political elements”, as Gilberto Schneider, from the Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores (MPA) in Brazil, pointed out.

The Forum opened with a warm welcome to the participants by Ibrahima Coulibaly, the president of the CNOP, who explained the reason why such a forum was taking place now. According to Coulibaly, in spite of agroecology now being mentioned everywhere, it is necessary to question who really are at the center of agroecology. “We are talking about small scale food producers, peasants, fisherfolk, pastoralists, we are who feed the world population. It is we who are the real heroes of the agroecology. It is we that should have a voice”, he said.
Maria Noel, from Movimiento Agroecológico de America Latina y el Caribe (MAELA) in Uruguay, said that agroecology has been practiced for centuries and it represents more than just a system of production. She explained that it was a way of being, a way of life, which respects the environment and provides a livelihood and income to the majority of food producers and fisherfolk on the planet. “We have to make sure that this concept is not captured by corporates”, she said.

In fact, the industrial agriculture system based on heavy use of harsh chemicals, which destroys both soils and forests, depletes resources, and affects the health and wellbeing of both small holders and consumers, is being systematically favoured by governments, which serve the interests of multinationals and enact free trade policies dictated by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. As Ibrahima Coulibaly stated: ‘’Humanity went too far, when we thought that we should put the economy before all. This has weakened the world, made it more vulnerable and resulted in climatic change: extreme weather, droughts, and severe water shortages”, he said.

Participants of the first Agroecology forum have a common understanding that the only way to save the planet for future generations is to practice a virtuous agriculture. Thus, people must stand together as one, and this is possible because “we are the majority. If we say no to industrial agriculture, it will be no!”, stressed Coulibaly.
Andrea Ferrante from the Italian Association of Biological Farmers (AIAB) and La Via Campesina reiterated: “we are the answer. The answer to feed the world lies with agroecology. We want a model that is based on our knowledge, our way of living, not on petrol and fake answers from the industrial world. We look at the future of our children”.  

The link between rural and urban actors has also being highlighted through a need to connect responsible consumption and production, in strong local and regional food systems based on agroecology.
"It is not possible to have food sovereignty, the respect of peoples right to culturally appropriate and healthy food, without agroecology,‘’ said Ferrante.

The Looting Machine

Augustin Katumba Mwanke, a young banker, was appointed governor of an area the size of France, with control over some of the world’s most valuable mineral seams, to help rebuild the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This marked the start of his rapid rise to power beside the president, placed at the core of a network of Congolese officials, foreign businessmen and organised criminals plundering the nation’s immense wealth. First, they transferred $5bn of state assets into the pockets of private firms with no benefit to the state, then after this was exposed, Katumba created a shadow state to steal funds, buy elections and bribe supporters. One witness says Kabila was being handed at least $4m a week in cash-filled suitcases from mining companies.

The victims, of course, are those millions condemned by the “resource curse” to conflict and poverty in a country that remains among the world’s poorest, despite the huge riches beneath their feet. As this timelybook shows, similar shadow states are pillaging Africa’s immense wealth, from Angola to Zimbabwe, while corroding its societies. The result is a nation such as Nigeria, one of the world’s major oil producers, generating half as much electricity as North Korea – only enough to power one toaster for every 44 of its citizens.

After nine years reporting on Africa for the Financial Times, Tom Burgis exposes how the extractive industries have turned into a hideous looting machine, the west guilty of complicity in the raping of a continent. As he says, corruption does not end at the borders; kleptocratic regimes use avaricious allies to sell their commodities and stash illicit cash. “Its proponents include some of the world’s biggest companies, among them blue-chip multinationals in which, if you live in the west and have a pension, your money is almost certainly invested.” Burgis shows how even the World Bank is linked to this looting, although it would have been good to see recognition of the role of aid propping up awful regimes. But the author makes an important case colourfully, convincingly and at times courageously as he confronts some of those involved in the pillaging. He examines countries cursed in similar style, whether by oil in Angola, coltan in the Congo, iron ore in Guinea, uranium in Niger or diamonds in Zimbabwe. There are lots of dodged questions and unanswered emails, but also surprising admissions, such as the Nigerian governor defending his need to “settle” payments for political survival. “If I don’t, I’ve got a big political enemy,” he says.

South Africa is home to the world’s most valuable mineral resources – yet the gap between rich and poor probably widened since the end of apartheid. This fits a pattern of inequality stemming from the resource curse, argues Burgis, pointing out how some leaders fought against racist regimes only to preside over elites that resemble in structure minority rulers they overthrew. “It’s like a virus, transmitted from the colonial regime to the post-independence rulers,” says one Nigerian critic. “And these extractors, they are the opposite of a society that is governed for the public good.”

Then there is the questionable role of China. The author is right to say there is a “distinct whiff of hypocrisy” to western criticism of the nation’s advance into Africa. Yet he grapples with the role played by the secretive Sam Pa. Burgis speculates about links to Chinese intelligence as he details Pa’s steady, lucrative cultivation of top-level contacts. His informative book ends with the words of Nigeria’s impassioned singer Nneka: “Don’t think you’re not involved.”

Socialist Banner would only add that capitalism is a world system but like the local inhabitants, not everybody benefits. The ordinary occupational pensioner in the UK is not responsible for the investment policies and the monthly pension is unlikely to lift them out of their own poverty levels. But we must make a choice - Support capitalism that permits this private and state-sponsored pillaging or join with socialists for the abolition of the whole capitalist system.  

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Baby Trade

 Kenya — In this country of widespread poverty, one of the most lucrative businesses is also one of the most heartbreaking: baby trafficking. Kenya hosts one of the biggest child trafficking markets in West Africa, said Prudence Mutiso, an attorney with the Cradle Children Foundation. It is common in Kayole, a slum in the capital here, for gangs to steal or buy infants from mothers who are told their child had died or who can't afford to have more children. Fueling the trade are couples seeking to adopt children, kidnappers extracting ransoms from families desperate to reclaim their little ones and the economic value of children forced into labor. Children in Kenya can fetch between $2,000 and $3,000, depending on their gender, race and tribe — far more than the $1,246 annual income the average Kenyan earns.

"I witnessed a case where a woman wanted to sell her twins," said Julia Kattam, a health clinic administrator in Kayole. "She could not afford to feed them."

Lucy Wamboi, a Kayole resident who has helped friends try to find their missing children, said health workers sometimes participate in the trade. "The cost for a baby boy may be higher because they are in demand here," Wamboi said. "We've seen doctors selling babies to mothers." A trafficking scheme involves couples who place requests to adopt babies at Kayole clinics before they are born. Doctors who traffic in infants tell new mothers their babies didn't survive, and then fill the orders. In December, officials arrested Joseph Kangari, a local doctor who owns a clinic, and charged him and other staff with kidnapping and trafficking. Police said he was offering maternity services illegally and selling infants to infertile women.

he rush of poor Kenyans from the countryside into its sprawling cities is increasing the market, while traffickers commonly ferry young girls ages 10 to 14 from rural areas to Nairobi for prostitution and forced marriage, Mutiso said. "Poverty and lack of knowledge on trafficking are some of the factors contributing to trafficking," Mutiso added. The prosecution rate of offenders is low, she added. Prosecutors brought only 43 child-trafficking cases to court out of 200 cases reported to the foundation, according to a recent Cradle Children report. Only a handful resulted in convictions.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mozambique Leases Huge Land Holdings to Foreigners

Mozambique, a country wracked by hunger, has signed away land concessions three times larger than Greater London to outside investors in the past decade, displacing thousands of farmers in the process, said a report released on Thursday. Since 2006, the country has signed at least 35 long-term land leases, covering more than 535,000 hectares, Mozambique's National Peasants Union (UNAC), a farmers' group, reported after surveying public records and interviewing displaced farmers. 

New large plantations, often joint ventures between foreign investors and politically-connected local officials, are producing food for export rather than feeding hungry local people, advocates said. An "alarmingly high" number of Mozambican children under five - more than 42 percent - are malnourished, according to the World Food Programme. "The small farmers who feed this country, producing over 90 percent of the food are now losing their land to make way for these large investments," Vicente Adriano, a UNAC spokesperson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "The focus of these investments is on the production of soybeans and corn for export ... to emerging markets in Asia and Europe."
 About 70 percent of Mozambicans live in rural areas and depend on subsistence farming for survival, according to the United Nations. Thousands of these farmers have been forced from their land to make way for foreign-backed plantations, particularly in the fertile Nacala Corridor in northern Mozambique, the report said. 

While the country has experienced rapid economic growth in recent years, one third of the population of 24.5 million still face food shortages. Campaigners say such high levels of hunger mean land should be used to grow food for local people, rather than leased to large firms to produce cash crops for export. Foreigners cannot directly buy land in Mozambique, but they can make long-term leases for several decades or invest in joint ventures with local businessmen, Adriano said. In one case cited by the report, Mozambique Agricultural Corporation (MOZACO), a joint venture between local and foreign investors, acquired 2,389 hectares of land in Nampula province to grow soybeans and cotton in June 2013. 
The new plantation evicted 1,500 people who had been farming the land, without compensation, according to local residents cited in the report. They said plantation officials destroyed the local church of Santa Lucia. The firm wants to expand its plantations to 20,000 hectares and activists say this will displace thousands more, depriving others of crucial water resources from the Malema and Nataleia rivers. 

MOZACO does not publicly list its address or phone number and could not be reached for comment. JFS Holding, owned by a prominent family in Portugal, is one of the investors in MOZACO, the report said. The company did not respond to interview requests. Often foreign land deals are organised by obscure holding companies registered in offshore locations, making the true backers of projects difficult to track, the report said.
 Many farming families in Mozambique do not have individual title to the fields they farm, relying instead on customary land rights. Families who have been farming a parcel of land for ten years or more are supposed to be legally protected from eviction without compensation, the report said, although these land laws often are not enforced. 
Phone numbers for Mozambique's ministry of agriculture were not in service or rang unanswered.

What is Socialism

Away with superstition

A string of murders that began in 2000 has now left more than 72 albinos in Tanzania dead. These killings are believed to be motivated by the lucrative trade in albino body parts, which some Africans believe possess magical powers.

Tanzania has now been listed by the United Nations as the African nation where albinos are targeted for murder the most. According to long-standing traditions in the country, albinos are believed to be ghosts who are cursed, but whose body parts can ward off bad luck, and bring the owner wealth and success. In response to these killings, in January 2015 Tanzania banned witch doctors.

In East Africa, one child in 3,000 is born albino which rises to one in every 1,400 Tanzanians, compared to one in 20,000 in the United States.  In Tanzania, albino advocacy groups estimate the number of albinos to be somewhere above 100,000 in a population of nearly 50 million people. 

A one-year-old albino boy, abducted from his home in northwestern Tanzania over the weekend, was found murdered on Tuesday with his "arms and legs hacked off," according to the local police chief. This gruesome discovery shows that despite new laws banning the witch doctors who prey upon them, people with albinism are still vulnerable in the East African nation.

In Tanzania the body parts of albinos are prized by witch doctors and their superstitious followers as they are said to bring wealth and luck when used in charms. A complete set of body parts can be sold for as much as $75,000, according to the Red Cross.

This victim, Yohana Bahati, was kidnapped from his family home in the Geita region by an armed gang. Police said his mother, Esther, was struck with a machete as she tried to protect him. "Unfortunately this family resides in a protected forest area," Joseph Konyo, the regional police commander, told Reuters. "It was extremely difficult for the police to immediately arrest the suspected robbers." Two other albino children who were in the house were not taken.

As albino body parts have become more valuable, family members have been tempted to sell their own albino family members to witch doctors for money. "I have found many parents who have been convicted for this," said Josephat Torner, an activist fighting for the rights and safety of albinos in his country. "They sold their children to the killers." Only two months ago, a 4-year-old girl, Pendo Emmanuelle Nundi, was snatched from her home in Mwanza, also in northwestern Tanzania. Fifteen people were initially arrested in connection with her disappearance, including the girl's father.

In August 2012, a report on the risks to albino children in Tanzania was published by Under The Same Sun, an NGO that focuses on the plight of people with albinism. "Myths include the belief that people with albinism never die — they simply vanish," the report stated, adding that many believe, "they are not human, but ghosts, apes, or other sub-human creatures." These superstitions mean that "infanticide and physical attacks causing death and bodily harm are common place in the region," according to the report.

"We have identified that witch doctors are the ones who ask people to bring albino body parts to create magical charms which they claim can get them rich," said Tanzania's Home Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe when the law was passed. "We will leave no stone unturned until we end these evil acts."

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Last Colony

What many people don’t know is that Africa still has one last colonized country. Spain was the colonizer of Western Sahara until 40 years ago, and that’s when neighboring countries Morocco and Mauritania took control. Mauritania pulled out, thus it’s been just Morocco as the occupier/coloniser (in Polisario’s words) for the past four decades.

The people of Western Sahara waged a long and brutal guerilla war against the much larger and better financed Moroccan forces for years. However, the United Nations brokered a ceasefire agreement in 1991. Since that time, attempts to peacefully resolve the dispute have been unsuccessful.

At issue are the terms of holding a U.N.-monitored referendum that would allow the people of Western Sahara to decide their governance, with options such as complete Moroccan control, complete Saharawi independence or a limited autonomy for the Saharawi people and continued Moroccan control. Meanwhile, thousands of Saharawi people live in refugee camps in Algeria outside Tindouf and are almost completely dependent on foreign aid for even their most basic needs, such as food.

The Moroccan Wall, also known as “The Berm,” is approximately 1,670 miles long. The Moroccans began construction of the wall in the 1980s. The wall is patrolled by armed guards and effectively cuts off Saharawis from active mine workings and fisheries along the Atlantic coast. Western Sahara is rich with phosphates, which are used in the creation of energy sources. In addition to armed guards, Morocco has also buried millions of landmines. The exact figure varies by source, but it ranges between 5 million and 7 million. Furthermore, because this is the desert and sand shifts, the precise locations of the landmines change.

A wasted billion dollars

The United States government has spent $1.3 billion since 2005 encouraging Africans to avoid AIDS by practicing abstinence and fidelity did not measurably change sexual behavior and was largely wasted, according toa study.

The researcher, Nathan Lo, analyzed records showing the age of people having sex for the first time, teenage pregnancy and number of sexual partners in international health surveys that have been paid for by the State Department since the 1970s. Mr. Lo said he spent a year analyzing dozens of health surveys that the United States paid for in countries around the world. Originally called the World Fertility Surveys, they were begun in the 1970s. They were later subsumed into the large Demographic and Health Surveys, now paid for by the United States Agency for International Development, that document health behaviors in dozens of countries. Lo compared data from 1998 to the present in 22 African countries, 14 of which received Pepfar money and eight that did not. He looked at answers to three questions that are part of the extensive questionnaire given to people interviewed: What was your age when you had sex for the first time? At what age did you have your first child? How many people have you had sex with in the last year? When answers about age at loss of virginity did not appear to be truthful, he said, he used a conservative form of adjustment, calculating backward from the birth of the first child.

President George W. Bush’s global AIDS plan was enacted in 2003 and marshaled billions of dollars to treat Africans who had AIDS with lifesaving drugs. Conservative Republican leaders in the House of Representatives successfully included a provision that one-third of AIDS prevention money go to programs to encourage abstinence and fidelity. That campaign — known as ABC, for abstain, be faithful and use condoms — was part of the bargain made when Christian conservatives joined with liberals to pass the law. Spending on abstinence and fidelity peaked in 2005 and began to drop after the Obama administration took office.

The differences between the Pepfar  (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and non-Pepfar countries did not change after 2005. That indicated “no detectable effect” from the expenditure, he said. The differences were so small that, for example, men in the Pepfar countries appeared to have 0.02 more sexual partners after the abstinence and fidelity funding began than they had before.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


   At the end of the nineteenth century, the European colonial powers met in Berlin to divvy up Africa.

   Long and hard was the fight over colonial booty, the jungles, rivers, mountains, lands, subsoil, until new borders were drawn, and on this day in 1885 a General Act was signed 'in the Name of God Almighty'.

   The European lords had the good taste not to mention gold, diamonds, ivory, oil, rubber, tin, cacao, coffee or palm oil.

   They outlawed calling slavery by its name.

   They referred to the companies that provided human flesh to the world market as 'charitable institutions'.

   They cautioned that they acted out of a desire to 'regulate the conditions most favourable to the development of trade and civilisation'.

   And if there were any doubt, they clarified that they were concerned with 'furthering the moral and material wellbeing of the native populations'.

   Thus Europe drew a new map for Africa.

   Not a single African was present at that summit, not even as decoration.

Eduardo Galeano from 'Children of the Days'

Cameroon's Homophobia

It's not safe to be gay or support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexual (LGBTI) rights in Cameroon, according to a new report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The report, presented Wednesday in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, shows that violence against the LGBTI community and its advocates has increased significantly over the last few years.

Cameroon is one of 38 African countries where homosexuality is still illegal. Violators of section 347 of the country's penal code, which bans "consensual sexual relations between persons of the same sex," face heavy fines and up to five years in jail. Gay men and women and LGBTI rights activists in Cameroon are at risk of having their homes broken into or burned, the report said. They are also subject to constant threats and intimidation via text message and social media. The FIDH report accuses Cameroon's Catholic and Muslim communities of fueling the anti-gay sentiment. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Yaoundé reportedly told FIDH researchers that, "homosexuality is a defect." Simon-Victor Tonye Bakot, the former Archbishop of Yaoundé, was vehemently anti-gay and blamed homosexuals "for the misery in Cameroon and the unemployment of our graduates." He also called same-sex marriage a "crime against humanity."
Cameroon's media have carried out their own anti-gay witch-hunt. In 2006, three newspapers published a list of "The top 50 gay public figures."

In August 2013, a government spokesman told journalists gathered at a press conference that the great majority of Cameroonians condemn homosexuality "because their religious beliefs are incompatible with homosexuality," and said, "the president's duty is to respect the will of the people and to enforce the current law." The government reiterated its stance in January 2014, declaring it would not repeal a law endorsed by the majority of the people.

Yves Yomb, who runs Alternatives-Cameroun, the country's oldest LGBTI rights group said "Every time we meet government officials to talk to them about violations of LGBT rights in Cameroon we're told there is no evidence."

Eric Ohena Lembembe, an outspoken journalist and gay rights activist who was tortured and killed in his home in July 2013, just weeks after he criticized government inaction over the threat posed by "anti-gay thugs." Lembembe's neck and feet were broken, and his face, hands, and feet were burned with an iron. The case, which shocked the international community, still hasn't been solved.

Alternatives-Cameroun, which was established in Douala in 2006, has weathered its own share of homophobic hatred. The group's headquarters were torched in 2013

Israel - the aspiring neo-colonialist

South African intelligence dismisses a tour of African countries by the Israeli Foreign Minister in 2009 as "an exercise in cynicism."
It says Avigdor Lieberman's nine-day trip to Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya laid the groundwork for arms deals and the appropriation of African resources, while hiding behind "a philanthropic façade". South African intelligence analysts took a jaundiced view of the exercise. "While Liberman [sic] talked with African leaders about hunger, water shortage, malnutrition and plagues afflicting their nations," they wrote, "Tel Aviv's promises to African states could be seen as the gloss on an exercise in cynicism." The South African document said "Israel's military, security, economic and political tentacles have reached every part of Africa behind a philanthropic facade".

Israel has long maintained ties with African countries based on its own security and diplomatic needs. Its ties with the old apartheid regime in South Africa were strongly based on military needs, and reportedly included cooperation in the development of nuclear weapons.

Israeli media hailed Israel's deepening ties with President Goodluck Jonathan for putting an end to a December 30 UN Security Council resolution setting a timetable for Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories. Nigeria had signaled it would support the Palestinian-backed resolution, but its switch to an abstention denied the resolution the necessary majority in the Council.

South Africa's "Geopolitical Country and Intelligence Assessment" of October 2009 accused Israel of pursuing "destructive policies" in Africa that include:
Compromising Egypt's water security : Israeli scientists, the report claimed,  "created a type of plant that flourishes on the surface or the banks of the Nile and that absorbs such large quantities of water as to significantly reduce the volume of water that reaches Egypt." The report offers no additional evidence for this claim.

Fueling insurrection in Sudan: Israel is "working assiduously to encircle and isolate Sudan from the outside," the report  wrote, "and to fuel insurrection inside Sudan." Mossad agents have also "set up a communications system which serves to both eavesdrop on and secure the security of presidential telecommunications." Israel had long been at loggerheads with Khartoum, and supported the secessionist movement that eventually broke away and created South Sudan, with which it has diplomatic ties. Khartoum continues to accuse the Israelis of being responsible for attacks in Sudan.

Co-opting Kenyan intelligence: "As part of Mossad's safari in Central Africa it had exposed to the Kenyans the activities of other foreign spy networks". In return, the report wrote, Kenya granted permission for a safe house in Nairobi and gave "ready access to Kenya's intelligence service".

Arms proliferation : Israel has been "instrumental in arming some African regimes and allegedly aggravating crises among others, including Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and South Africa", according to the document. Today it "is looking for new markets for its range of lightweight weapons" and covertly supplies armaments to "selected countries inter alia India" including "nuclear, chemical, laser and conventional warfare technologies".

Acquiring African mineral wealth : Israel "plans to appropriate African diamonds", the South African spies alleged, as well as "African uranium, thorium and other radioactive elements used to manufacture nuclear fuel".

Training armed groups: "A few Israeli military pensioners are on the lookout for job opportunities as trainers of African militias," the reported said, "while other members of the delegation were facilitating contracts for Israelis to train various militias."

Lieberman further annoyed the South African government in November 2013 when he warned the country's 70,000-strong Jewish community that it faced a "pogrom" and could only save itself by immigrating to Israel "immediately, without delay, before it's too late."
"The government of South Africa is creating an atmosphere of anti-Israeli sentiment and anti-Semitism," Liberman said, "that will make a pogrom against Jews in the country in just a matter of time".

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies dismissed Liberman's comments as "alarmist and inflammatory", and noted that South African Jews experienced comparatively low rates of anti-Semitism.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Not So Great War

In the centenary year of the commencement of World War One much history is being remembered and re-told. Much is being ignored. A million people died in East Africa alone during the First World War. Many Africans fought in Europe, defending the interests of their colonial masters. Today, their sacrifice has been largely forgotten.

During the conflict, some 2 million people from across Africa were actively involved in the military confrontations, as soldiers or bearers, in Europe and in Africa. At the start of the war, some Africans volunteered to take part, encouraged by the prospect of a modest income. From 1915, the Europeans began conscripting thousands of African men. The French alone sent 450,000 African soldiers from their colonies in West and North Africa to fight against Germany on the frontline in Europe.

When war broke out in Europe in 1914, English and French troops prepared to seize the four German colonies in Africa (German East Africa, German South-West Africa, Togoland and Cameroon). Fighting was particularly brutal in German East Africa where German General Lettow-Vorbeck adopted a guerilla strategy, drawing more and more areas into the war. More than 200,000 bearers transported weapons, ammunition and food for the troops. The myth of the "faithful Askari" (the Swahili word for 'soldier') still exists today in German history books. In reality these men had been torn from their roots and were looked down on by local populations. Back home, they were missed in the fields. Harvests suffered or were plundered and destroyed by troops passing through to ensure there would be no food left for their pursuers.

The colonial administrative area of Dodoma in what is now Tanzania lost 20 percent of its population in 1917/18 gives some indication of the deprivation and misery. Historians estimate that a million people died in East Africa as a direct result of the war. The outbreak of Spanish flu, which spread rapidly among the weakened population shortly after the war ended, accounted for a further 50,000 to 80,000 deaths. "The war changed some regions to such an extent that they needed decades to recover, if indeed they did recover," sums up Jürgen Zimmerer, history professor at Hamburg University.

One reason why the “Great War” plays little or no role in the African view of history is the fact that it is generally seen as just one episode in the long history of colonial conquests and acts of brutality inflicted on the people of Africa. During the 75 years that Belgium ruled the Congo, up to ten million people died. 

"It is just one war among many," Zimmerer says. "Colonialism was so brutal that a number as large as one million does not attract the attention that it should - or would in a European context." Europe also takes this view and generally ignores the suffering of millions of Africans in the First World War. In Zimmerer's words, the war in Africa "is generally treated as just a minor skirmish in which hardly anyone was hurt."

The Genocide Germany Forgot

"Every Herero on German territory, with or without rifles, with or without cattle, will be shot. I'm not taking in any more women and children, drive them back to their people or have them shot." - General Lothar von Trotha on October 2, 1904

Between 1884 and 1915, Germany was the colonial master in what is today Namibia. In 1904, the Herero launched a major uprising against their German colonial masters, killing more than 100 Germans. The uprising led Germany's von Trotha to order to decimation of the entire Herero population. Fortunately, he did not succeed, and today there are again 120,000 Herero and 60,000 Nama minorities in the country. The Herero people were massacred between 1904 and 1905. More than 70,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama, most of the tribal populations, were killed as an anti-colonial uprising was crushed. Christian Kopp from Berlin Postkolonial says the term genocide is appropriate "because there was a clear intent to wipe out the Herero and the Hama." Lothar von Trotha said at the time he would "wipe them out with rivers of blood."

Henning Melber, an expert on Namibia from the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Stockholm. "The point about Germany in South West Africa is that it waged a war quite openly that these days would classify as genocide. It is not as if genocide was practiced in secret. In imperial Germany, events in German South West Africa were considered important and the political elite boasted quite openly that they had wiped out the Herero and Nama." During the fight German soldiers are said to have forced the surviving Herero into the Omaheke desert and blocked access to all water sources. Thousands died a painful death from starvation and thirst.

Niema Movassat, deputy for the opposition Left Party in the German parliament, says hundreds of thousands were shot or hanged, or deprived of water and left to die of thirst in the desert. Or put into camps for forced labour. "One has to take responsibility for this," he told DW. At the end of February, the Left Party brought a motion before parliament calling for the murderous campaign in what was then German South West Africa to be declared as genocide. "There has never been an official apology," said Movassat.

It was only after Namibia became independent in 1990 that the full scope of the crime became public knowledge in the country itself. 100 years after its deadly campaign against the Herero people of Namibia, the then Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul visited the former colony on Saturday. She asked for the country's forgiveness. "We Germans recognize our historical, political, moral and ethical responsibility and guilt," the development minister said. Wieczorek-Zeul told several thousand Herero people who gathered at the site of the battle. "Blinded by colonial delusion," she said, Germans brought "violence, discrimination, racism and destruction" to the country. She said, the crimes that took place a hundred years ago would have been defined as genocide, and von Trotha would have been brought before a criminal tribunal.

When Africa was sliced up

130 years ago in 1885 European leaders met at the infamous Berlin Conference to divide Africa and arbitrarily draw up borders that exist to this day.

Representatives of 13 European states, the United States of America and the Ottoman Empire converged on Berlin at the invitation of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to divide up Africa among themselves "in accordance with international law." Africans were not invited to the meeting. With the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia, all the states that make up present day Africa were parceled out among the colonial powers within a few years after the meeting. Lines of longitude and latitude, rivers and mountain ranges were pressed into service as borders separating the colonies. Or one simply placed a ruler on the map and drew a straight line. New borders were drawn through the territories of every tenth ethnic group. Trade routes were cut, because commerce with people outside one's colony was forbidden. Studies have shown that societies through which new frontiers were driven would later be far more likely to suffer from civil war or poverty.

Historians, such as Olyaemi Akinwumi from Nasarawa State University in Nigeria, see the conference as the crucible for future inner African conflicts.
"In African Studies, many of us believe that the foundation for present day crises in Africa was actually laid by the 1884/85 Berlin Conference. The partition was done without any consideration for the history of the society," Akinwumi told DW.  "The conference did irreparable damage to the continent. Some countries are still suffering from it to this day."

In many countries, such as Cameroon, the Europeans rode roughshod over local communities and their needs, said Michael Pesek, a researcher in African colonial history at the University of Erfurt. African politicians could have changed the colonial borders. But they desisted from doing so. "A large majority of politicians said around 1960 'if we do that we will open up Pandora's Box'," Pesek said. They were probably right. Looking at all the problems Africa has had over the last 80 years, there have been numerous conflicts within states but hardly any between states. When examining African conflicts, the colonial power that occupied a particular tract of land - the Belgians, French, British or Germans - is less relevant than the significance of belonging to specific ethnic groups which colonial powers often pitted against each other.

In 2010 - on the 125th anniversary of the Berlin Conference, representatives from many African states in Berlin called for reparations for the colonial era. The arbitrary division of the continent among European powers, which ignored African laws, culture, sovereignty and institutions, was a crime against humanity, they said in a statement. They called for the funding of monuments at historic sites, the return of land and other resources which had been stolen, the restitution of cultural treasures and recognition that colonialism and the crimes committed under it were crimes against humanity. But nothing has come of all this. The historians from Nigeria and Germany are not surprised. "There is much talk of reparations for the slave trade and the Holocaust. But little mention is made of the crimes committed by the European colonial powers during the hundred years or more they spent in Africa," said Pesek.

Borders are important when interpreting Africa's geopolitical landscape, but for people on the ground they have less meaning. Socialist Banner argues that people should recognize their class bonds rather than their tribal or national affinities.

Nigeria's growth is meaningless

Despite growth of 5.9 per cent; Nigeria is one of ten countries in the world with the highest number of extremely poor people. So what exactly is meant by growth particularly in the context of a country’s growth?

Poverty is still rife; there are high levels of unemployment and inequality as well as the contentious issue of corruption within the Nigerian government.
Speaking at an interactive session with the Lagos State Governor's Office Correspondents (LAGOCO) last week, governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola said corruption in the state was “multi-faceted” with theft being the worst part of the practice.

The World Bank lists Nigeria as one of six countries in Africa and one of 10 in the world with the highest number of extremely poor people.

President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim describes the term “extremely poor” as people living on less than US$1.25 a day. In Nigeria, US$1 a day could buy one loaf of white bread while 89 per cent of the population is dependent on a single bread winner. This means that without this individual, 89 per cent of the population are left without food. This is substantial, considering only 51 million people in Nigeria are employed out of a population of over 177 million.

Nigeria’s growth has had a minimal positive impact on the country’s people.

Inequality leads to Homicides

South Africa has one of the highest levels of economic inequality and is among the most violent countries. The question is whether these are causally related. Evidence from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation seems to prove they are. Examining a large sample of homicides, the centre found the vast majority were the result of "arguments that got out of hand", supporting the idea that anger and frustration are very close to the surface for many South Africans who, being poorer, feel marginalised and disrespected.

Note that it is not a matter of just being poor, unpleasant though this might be. Poor but more equal societies are generally not violent. But being poor in a context where others are rich, especially when wealth is flaunted as it is in South Africa, can promote anger and violence. Districts with big differences in expenditure between households had higher homicide rates, and vice versa.