Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Poor state of health

Liberia needs at least 1,200 doctors to grapple with its post-war situation but currently it has only 120. And 70 of those are foreign doctors serving with international non-governmental organisations and the United Nations.

"We have a serious shortage of health manpower, not just doctors; we need doctors but we also need more nurses, more midwives and more laboratory technicians," Health Minister Gwenigale said.

Liberia has only one medical college which turns out between six and 12 graduates each year. Medical students at the college, which is a part of the University of Liberia, complain about the conditions in which they are expected to live and train, with a lack of electricity and running water in their dormitories.
"The dormitory is not even conducive for people to live; medical students need to study for up to six hours a day but here we study on candles," said student spokesman Robert Mulbah. In addition to the lack of light and water "we don't even have food", he said.

To pay a doctor or consultant a $200 monthly salary "is not encouraging at all," says Dr Coleman , former Health Minister and practising surgeon . "This is why we see an exodus of trained doctors from Sub-Saharan Africa going to seek greener pastures abroad."
To encourage doctors to take assignments up-country rural areas , their pay would be increased to about $1,000 - that's five times the current average salary.

So what do we suggest? Although we cannot specify in advance a utopian blueprint for a socialist health policy we can assume that a real concern for the health of the population would be reflected in planning and decision making. Such a society is not a pipedream, but the logical outcome of the working class taking control of their own struggles against the current system, and redirecting their energies into an explicit attack on it. The demand for a healthier society is in effect a revolutionary demand.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Flesh eaten away

On a continent where more than 300 million live in extreme poverty, the poorest have little choice about how they make their living — whether in the lake, or toiling deep in gold mines despite the risk of rock falls, or breathing poisonous pesticides on flower farms and rubber plantations.

Chemicals in Lake Katwe are clearly unhealthy, experts say. The government has not acted on requests to study the risks.

"No studies have been done because these people are voiceless," says Dr. Assay Ndizihiwe, a senior government health official who has worked in Katwe. "These chemicals are clearly corrosive to skin, causing scarring and nerve damage, and it's very likely they have other effects we don't yet know about."

3,000 people work at Lake Katwe, earn around $2 per 220-pound haul of rock salt. In an average week, each might harvest 15 sacks — meaning about four times the dollar-a-day average earned by 39 percent of Ugandans.

But the physical price is high, and the protection is primitive. The miners glue paper over open wounds. They wade into the water wearing condoms and with their legs wrapped in tire tubes.
Health experts say these offer little protection.

While the men collect the rock salt, women work knee-deep in manmade pools on the shores. These salt pans, carved into neat squares, produce granular salt harvested once every four days from the bottom of the pools. A day's labor pays $0.60.

The women also suffer lesions, and coat themselves in cassava paste, believing that the water causes infertility.

But there aren't many alternatives for the 10,000 people living by the lake. The earth yields few crops. Nearby is another lake, less salty, but it has few fish.

"The water is poisonous to us but how can anyone refuse to go down there? What will we eat?" said Harriet Birungi. Aged 30, she has worked in the salt pans for half her life to support her five children.

Wage slavery is the true reality for those who do not share in the wealth of the world .

Saturday, October 27, 2007

One people, different colours.

Taken from Pambazuka News :-

Adam Hochschild, writing in King Leopold’s Ghost, estimates that 5 to 10 million Africans died as a direct result of Belgian colonization in the Congo in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. And chopping off hands, quite literally, was a form of public control. And between 1904 and1907, 65,000 Herero (80 percent of the total Herero population) were systematically eliminated by the Germans in Namibia. In Algeria, during the war of independence (1954 to 1962), the French routinely tortured and 'disappeared' FLN freedom fighters. One nation cannot occupy another and seek to control its resources without detaining, torturing, assassinating and terrorizing the occupied. A modern day example of this principle at work is Iraq today where torture and killings under the occupation of the United States are rampant, even though the U.S. wants to sell an image of spreading democracy. In Kenya, British colonialism followed this same principle. Caroline Elkins’ Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag and John Anderson’s Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya document tortures, hangings rushed through kangaroo courts, detention camps, internments, and assassinations, not to mention psychological warfare through fear and intimidation.

Independence however did not bring justice for Kenyans - certainly not for the Mau Mau veterans. Kenyatta, even before being sworn as president in1963, had denounced the Mau Mau as terrorists. Contrary to British propaganda, Kenyatta was never a member of the Mau Mau. He wanted the Mau Mau platform of Land and Freedom erased from Kenyan memory.

"On coming to power, Kenyatta proceeded, through the land ownership policies(and practices) of his government (and himself), to betray everything that the Mau Mau had stood for and to entrench the landholding patterns established under the colony" - Muthoni Wanyeki, Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission .

In the words of politician J.M. Kariuki (assassinated in 1975), Kenyatta created a nation of ten millionaires and ten million beggars.

In 1978 President Moi took over when Kenyatta died and continued with the same dictatorial policies. Irony is such that in 1982, Mau Mau historian Maina Wa Kinyatti was imprisoned by the Moi government in the same Kamiti Prison where the British in 1957 hanged and buried the leader of the Mau Mau, Dedan Kimathi, in an unmarked grave. It was not until the Kibaki government took over in 2002 that the colonial ban on the Mau Mau was removed. Finally in 2007 a statue of Kimathi stands on Kimathi Street, something unimaginable under the Kenyatta and Moi regimes. The past and current Kenyan governments have as yet to ask the British government to at the very least issue an apology for the atrocities committed against the Kenyan people. The Moi and Kenyatta governments, dependent on Western aid and while maintaining a vicious elite system, were not in a position to pressure Britain for an apology. Or even to pressure HMG to reveal the exact location of Kimathi’s grave so that his widow, Mukami Kimathi, can bury him.

This dependent relationship has allowed the British to commit crimes against Kenyans with near impunity. Forty plus years since Kenya’s independence, the British Army still uses Northern Kenya for military exercises. As a result of leaving unexploded munitions behind, “hundreds of Maasai and Samburu tribes people - many of them children - are said to have been killed or maimed by unexploded bombs left by the British army at practice ranges in central Kenya over the past 50 years” the BBC reported

The article goes on to demand reparations for the exploitation and oppression that those under British colonialism suffered .

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission undermined the very concept of forgiveness and justice it espoused because it did not demand that the perpetrators address in word and deed the question of restitution... the irony of the TRC – the perpetrators go home to their mansions, the victims back to the township.To put it differently, after the TRC hearings the victims go back to a life of poverty, they remain without the means to feed, cloth or educate their children. Freedom comes without the content – it’s just a name – it has no meaning. Under these circumstances, forgiveness, healing and justice cannot exist without restitution...

We of the World Socialist Movement would rather that instead of restitution , the peoples of Kenya and all the world demand a new world society where instead of compensation for past crimes we bequeath a society of common ownership of all resources and free acess to all wealth to our future generations .

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Forgotten War

There is much media coverage of the conflict in Darfur that concentrates the minds and concerns of the great and good yet in other parts of this continent other conflicts and violence goes on with little comment .

According to the mortality survey carried out by the International Rescue Committee and published in the British medical journal Lancet between 1997 and 2004, up to four million people died in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to conflict. The IRC also estimates that today, three years later, 38,000 people continue to die there each month.

Democracy Now talks to Christine Schuler Deschryver is a Congolese human rights activist. She lives in Bukavu in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and particularly on the the violence against women .

Speaking to the New York Times, John Homes, the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, called the sexual violence in the Congo “the worst in the world.”

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Four million. It was three years ago, in 2004. And now we are waiting for the new report, I think, for beginning October. It will probably be seven million or more, and nobody is talking about this silent war that's going on in Congo, because the official war ended three years ago. We had elections last year.
But there's another form of very violent war with sexual terrorism going on in Congo. We are talking about more than -- in all eastern part of Congo, more than 200,000 women, children and babies being raped every day, and now, right now, I am talking to you, thousands of women are taken and children into forests as slave sex. And today --

AMY GOODMAN: As sex slaves.

DESCHRYVER: As sex slaves, yeah. And we are not -- I’m sorry just to talk like this -- we are not talking about normal rapes anymore. We are talking about sexual terrorism, because they destroyed, and they -- you cannot imagine what's going on in Congo. Rape is a taboo, I think, in most of African countries, so the women who accept to go to the hospital or to be registered, it's because they don't have a choice anymore. They have to go and be repaired, because we are talking about new surgery to repair the women, because they’re completely destroyed. And the ones who are just raped without big destruction, they don't talk about rape, because the African -- the Congolese woman, she suffered so much that she can support being raped without telling it, when she doesn't need medical care...

GOODMAN: Who is doing this?

DESCHRYVER: The ones who are doing this, they are 60% -- because we made studies -- it’s 60% is committed by these people who made genocide in Rwanda, by Rwandans, the Hutu, the one who made the genocide. And, you know, we talk to women, and sometimes these people who made this can tell them, “You know, we died in ’94 in Rwanda, so now we don't care about what we are doing.” So 60% of these rapes are made by these random Hutu who made the genocide in their country.

GOODMAN: There are supposedly peace talks that are going on. Foreign ministers from the Great Lakes countries failed to make progress in two days of talks in Uganda. Latest news, no solution has been agreed on how to deal with the dissident General Laurent Nkunda, whose forces were at war with the Congolese authorities. How does this figure into what you are describing?

DESCHRYVER: You know, I’m just sorry to say that it's one more meeting, and I think these meetings are just going on because of the international pressure. The consequences, I’m sure, it will be nothing. Like General Nkunda, he has an international mandate against him, but everybody, every journalist who go to Goma -- Goma is north part of Bukavu -- can go and interview him. He’s like a king there. He became a pastor. So is that normal, this impunity? ...

DESCHRYVER: People can help me, first of all, being our ambassador, you know, talking about the problem that's going on in Congo, because it's a silent war. It's like silent. They are killing, they are raping babies and women in Congo. It's to talk about -- you know, it's like Darfur. Darfur started four years ago. I don't want to compare, you know, problems we have in this world, but Congo, it started almost eleven years ago, and nobody's talking about this femicide, this holocaust.

GOODMAN: Femicide.

DESCHRYVER: Yeah, it's a femicide, because they are just destroying the female species, if I can talk like this, because can you imagine now -- in Africa, woman is the heart of family. She is doing everything, babies, looking for food, looking for the whole family. And now they're destroying this resource.
Also, can you imagine with this massive rape, AIDS? How will be the population, for example, in ten years? And these children who are teenagers now, who just know violence, seeing murdered the family, raped sister, the mother, what's the next generation?
So, for me, the most important thing now, it’s that the international community to realize that there’s an holocaust, to wake up and try to change something, because even the war we had in Congo, it was not -- it was like an African world war, because so many countries were involved, but it was not a Congolese war, Congolese against Congolese. It was some countries who came and invaded Congo with the help, of course, of the international community to come and steal everything out from Congo. And now we are asking for the international community reparation, not for money, but to be involved to try to find solution, Rwanda to take back these people, these genociders, and also Congo to prioritize security of the population.

Full interview can be read at the link

One of the few international media articles about these atrocities can be read here .

Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore.Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.

"We don't know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear," said Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo's rape epidemic. "They are done to destroy women."

Andre Bourque, a Canadian consultant. "Sexual violence in Congo reaches a level never reached anywhere else. It is even worse than in Rwanda during the genocide."


Many Congolese aid workers denied that the problem was cultural and insisted that the widespread rapes were not the product of something ingrained in the way men treated women in Congolese society.

"If that were the case, this would have showed up long ago," said Wilhelmine Ntakebuka, who coordinates a sexual violence program in Bukavu. Instead, she said, the epidemic of rapes seems to have started in the mid-1990s. That coincides with the waves of Hutu militiamen who escaped into Congo's forests after exterminating 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during Rwanda's genocide 13 years ago

UN's John Holmes said that while government troops might have raped thousands of women, the most vicious attacks had been carried out by Hutu militias. "These are people who were involved with the genocide and have been psychologically destroyed by it," he said.

Bourque called this phenomenon "reversed values" and said it could develop in heavily traumatized areas that had been steeped in conflict for many years.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The real cost is in blood

Research undertaken by a number of non-governmental organisations, including Oxfam show that the cost of armed conflict to the continent's development over a 15-year period was nearly $300 billion (£146bn) , equal to the amount of money received in aid during the same period.

Between 1990 and 2005, 23 African nations were involved in conflict, and on average this cost African economies $18 billion a year .

Some say stop the supply of guns through arms control .

"We need to restrict the supply of guns to African conflict zones - and an arms trade treaty is a vital way to do this", The president of Liberia , Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf , said.

Others say more guns are actually needed in Africa .

Haneelmoed Heitman - the Africa correspondent for Jane's Defence - told the BBC "in a lot of countries the primary problem is that the national security forces are too small, too ill-equipped and too ill-trained to actually provide any sort of security".

Neither attempted to explain the real cause of war and the only solution to end them . A brief perusal of this blog would quickly identify that ownership and control of raw materials or trade routes are the main causes of conflict . Well meaning intentions from well meaning people will not suffice in ending the curse of war and the associated famines and pestilence that accompanies war .
No matter what the political, religious, or ideological label , the principal economic drive has been the production of wealth for sale on the market in the hope of profit. It is the needs of capitalist economies that drive a state's foreign policy as its relations with other capitalist states. The festering of tribalist, nationalist and racist sentiment are nurtured and sustained by the capitalist system of production which produces only for profits and not for needs.
Africans are killing each other and destroying the continent's resources all because of leaders' power hunger and greed , or by proxy for the material and mercenary benefit of the multi-nationals .

Sunday, October 07, 2007

French Wars in Africa

Further to an earlier blog about the continuing presence of French influence and troops in Africa , in the UK Independent an article describes the little known war in the Central African Republic that is being conducted there which has seen an influx of fleeing refugees INTO the war zone of Darfur to seek sanctuary . 212,000 people have been driven out of their homes in this war .

Why are the French bombing in CAR ?

To protect their puppet ruler. President Bozize .

He has done nothing for the people of this ex-French colony . People here were tired of the fact that "there are no schools, no hospitals, and no roads". "We are completely isolated," they explain. "When it rains, we are cut off from the world because the roads turn to mud. We have nothing. All the rebels were asking was for government help."

A free liberal Africa is not what the French government or its commercial interests desire. Barthélemy Boganda was born in a Central African village near here in 1910, and, as a child, he saw his mother beaten to death by the guards in charge of gathering rubber for a French corporation. He rose steadily through the Catholic priesthood, married a French woman, and, quite suddenly, became the leader of the CAR's pro-democracy movement. He would begin his speeches to the French by introducing himself as the son of a polygamous cannibal, and then lecture them on the values of the French Revolution with a fluency that left them stunned and shamed. He crafted a vision of a democratic Africa beyond tribe, beyond race and beyond colonialism. He was passionate about the need for a plurality of political parties, a free press, and human rights. His vision was of a United States of Africa . On 29 March 1959, not long after the French era of direct rule had ended, President Boganda's plane was blasted out of the air. On the orders of the French government, the local investigation was abandoned.

The French installed the dictator David Dacko in his place. He swiftly shut down Boganda's democratic reforms, brought back many French corporations, and reintroduced their old system of forced labour, rebranding it "village work". French rule over the CAR did not end with "independence". It simply mutated into a new form, and it is at the root of the current war.

" Nothing happens in this country without somebody pulling a lever in Paris,"

"The presidents are selected by France, not elected by the people. The presidents do not serve the interests of this country; they serve the interests of France." He lists the French corporations who use the CAR as a base to grab Central African resources. This French behaviour is, he reasons, at the root of the wars currently ripping apart the north of the country. Whoever becomes president knows his power flows down from Paris, not up from the people – so he has no incentive to build support by developing the country..." Le Citoyen editor Maka Obossokotte

The French government says it is in the CAR because it signed a military agreement back in the 1970s to protect the country from external aggression. The rebellions in the north are, they say, supported by Sudan . But the true motives of French intervention are simpler than that . CAR is a base from which the French can access resources all over Africa. That is why it is so important. They use it to keep the oil flowing to French companies in Chad, the resources flowing from Congo, and so on. And of course, the country itself has valuable resources. CAR has a lot of uranium, which the French badly need because they are so dependent on nuclear power.

Other stories of French imperialism on the African continent can be found here and here ,

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Ibrahim Indeex

The Sudanese-born British businessman Mo Ibrahim has published his first annual Index of African Governance, which ranks African governments according to their quality . It evaluated all 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa on criteria such as safety and security, human rights, corruption, transparency, economic development and investment in human resources.

The country with the status of best-governed country in Africa is the island of Mauritius with a population of 1.2 million, lying in the Indian Ocean to the east of Madagascar.
The worst-governed country is Somalia, which comes as no surprise given that this East African nation has hardly had any kind of government for years. It is closely followed by Zaire, Chad and Sudan, which is described as being the "most dangerous" country in Africa.

Top ten on the Ibrahim index
1. Mauritius
2. Seychelles
3. Botswana
4. Cape Verde
5. South Africa
6. Gabon
7. Namibia
8. Ghana
9. Senegal
10. Sao Tome and Principe

Bottom ten:
39. Sierra Leone
40. Burundi
41. Central African Republic
42. Angola
43. Liberia
44. Guinea-Bissau
45. Sudan46. Chad
47. Democratic Republic of Congo
48. Somalia

The African Brain Drain , Slavery and Racism

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said he was not interested in students from his country receiving scholarships "only to have them fly off to France."

The violence, corruption and generalised poverty marring more than three decades of independence in Portugal's five former colonies in Africa have been the main obstacles for development in these countries, but not the only ones.

Brain drain is another phantom that is slowly but inexorably destroying hopes for progress and wellbeing for the people of Guinea-Bissau, which became independent in 1974, Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique and Sao Tomé and Príncipe, which became independent in 1975 .

Skilled and academically qualified people from African countries where Portuguese is an official language often give up their status in their unstable home countries to build a new life in peaceful Portugal, even if it means sacrificing their former careers and having to take up a hastily learned, lower skilled job.

Brain drain does not only affect the former Portuguese colonies, but is a problem throughout the developing South. The editor of the monthly magazine Africa 21, Joao Matos, describes it as "planetary apartheid."

"Nicolas Sarkozy...asked on a recent visit to Senegal if it could be considered normal that there are more doctors from Benin in France than in Benin itself."Africa needs its élites, because if they all end up in France one day, who will concern themselves with the development of Senegal?"" said the Angolan writer who lives in Lisbon. But according to Matos, the French president's statements were "of doubtful sincerity." He said he does not believe that "Sarkozy would make do without the doctors from Benin who are working in France: what he really doesn't want are poor and indigent migrants, mostly from Africa."

The shaky economies of most African countries "are largely a consequence of the plundering of the continent's resources by the West, which continues to this day. It began with its most valuable resource, people, millions of whom were taken by force to far-off lands, which they helped to develop with their slave labour," Matos said.

In a article published by Angolan professor Jonuel Gonçalves, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, in the latest issue of Africa 21, entitled "Negroes and Mestizos in Latin America Today Gonçalves points out that Latin America "is the region of the world with the highest degree of 'mestizaje' (mixed ancestry), from both the biological and cultural points of view, because it was the destination of the greatest flow of slaves in history, and the way in which slavery was abolished left deep marks that still endure."

"There was no consistent programme in Latin America to help former slaves integrate into society, which condemned them to poverty and illiteracy that have lasted, to a greater or lesser degree, through the successive generations," Gonçalves says.

One of the characteristics of Latin American social structures that demonstrate this "is the extremely low representation of descendants of slaves, blacks or mestizos in decision-making," the article says. "Brazil is one of the most striking examples, in spite of having the second largest population in the world of blacks and Afro-descendants, who make up at least 45 percent of its population of 188 million. It is surpassed only by Nigeria," with 131 million people, Gonçalves says. "Cuba, for three centuries another major destination for the slave trade, has similar characteristics," because, in spite of the 1959 revolution and the country's socialist system of government, "the number of black people in the governing bodies remains very small,"

Matos acknowledges that Africans themselves are not entirely free from blame because since independence they have not managed to turn their countries into "good places to live, beginning with our own citizens, especially the young.".

Former secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan , of Ghana, spoke of the problems of destructive self-racism and of "our tolerance" of African tyrants.

Angolan intellectual Arlindo Barbeitos frequently deplored the tendency for Africa to reproduce "the same ideas and models imposed by the colonial powers, such as racism, but in reverse."