Thursday, December 31, 2009

china expands

A senior Chinese naval officer has suggested that China establish a permanent base in the Gulf of Aden . Rear Admiral Yin Zhou's proposal was posted on the defence ministry website.Yin said supplying and maintaining the fleet off Somalia was challenging without such a base.The Chinese navy has already been patrolling the Gulf of Aden for more than a year. China's navy currently has no overseas bases, but there are calls in the media and web forums for this to change.

African oil and minerals are vital for the country's economy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The more than 800 small-scale farmers belonging to co-operatives around the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) capital, Kinshasa, could produce enough rice and vegetables for the capital's estimated eight million inhabitants, according to the country's agriculture ministry.

However the farmers say they cannot effectively work the land without any long-term prospects or stability. The land is being steadily being taken away from them and sold off for new construction, especially in Mimoza, Maluku, Mpasa, Bandalungwa, N'Sele and Kingabwa, which are rural areas around the capital.

The situation is especially sad for Françoise Makulu, a vegetable farmer. "For over five years, I produced more than 200 kilos of vegetables each season on just 100 square metres of land, at the nursery across the road from the Kinshasa Higher Institute of Commerce," she said."But a year ago, the nursery was sold to Lebanese traders who, in a matter of weeks, have put up four buildings there," she tells IPS."My annual harvest allowed me to meet all the food needs of my family, to pay rent for the house we live in and to pay all my children's school fees,"

Génie Kamanda, who has been farming rice in N'Sele for over five years, has this to say, "Taking land from small-scale farmers who are playing their part in the fight against hunger simply leads to greater food insecurity in our country..."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Life in the narrow streets of Asmara

Life in the Narrow streets of Asmara

When I travel to Eritrea, I always go to the narrow streets of Aba-Shawl, name of place in Asmara) with its muddy streets The place hasn’t improve since the days of Haile Salassie, the Derg and after independence with the current government of Eritrea today. Despite the deprivation and the squalid living standard the sense of community inter-action among its habitants is great.

In the old days, when nearly everybody knew everyone else, news travelled at the speed of light exposing the scandals of proud and pious families. While the Italians and some half-castes were born in wide street quarters, Abyssinian children saw the light of the day in the dark alleys of Abashawl (name of place in Asmara), Geza-Berhanu(name of a place in Asmara), Haddish-Addi(name of place in Asmara) etc, where by night mutant rats gave chase to unrepentant cats and by day dogs fought with beggars over leftovers.

After a quarter of a century living abroad, I visited Abashawl where the streets are so narrow and the houses so close to each other that the residents feel they are inside some sort of a boarding school or a camp for the internally displaced. As a young boy, I use to like to walk along narrow streets because they are people friendly and give you sense of security. They keep you sheltered from the establishment and all its bureaucratic machinery.

Again as you walk along the narrow streets of Haddish Addi you feel like the walls are whispering to you on every side. For every step you make you pass an open door from which people peer at you for identification. If you have a humble appearance you are one of them. If you look like a wide-street dweller, they get suspicious.

Poor quarters worldwide are inhabited by people who have learned how to laugh in the face of pain and grief, a skill that their fellow citizens on the other side of the town have failed to master. That’s why wherever I travel whether it’s in Eritrea or abroad, I prefer narrow streets and back alleys to main streets. And I feel more at ease with the humble than with the rich.

At the narrow streets, in some city quarters of Asmara, you meet all types of people. They range from people who smile at and greet you, to children who call you mummy and daddy, to dogs, cats and chickens that acknowledge you presence by getting up or moving away proudly to let you pass.

Some old and dilapidated houses in Haddish-Adi and Abashawl still remain a mystery to architects and an enigma to engineers. Pre curiously slanted, they seem to beat the Leaning Tower of Pisa in a tilting contest. Most of the narrow streets of Asmara are in Haddish Addi. Not only are the alleys constricted but some of the houses are so small that the doors are always left open for light, oxygen and for legroom. Life in such quarters assumes a different dimension since the Italians administered Asmara.

Suwa houses (traditional ale houses), are not uncommon in the narrow streets of Asmara with infrequent small shops here and there, and if you walk long enough you spot a beauty parlour and start to wonder. Deep inside almost all narrow street girls dream of becoming wide street girls.

Although in many quarters prostitution on the wane, one encounters now and then vintage harlots whose faces have been ravaged by the winds and gales of time. Poverty is painful. You can see it in the faces of some girls who at a tender age are forced to sell their feminine virtues to keep their bodies and souls together. No one is going to blame the women when they sell their bodies for cash, because they have no other property to sell.

While I was on holiday in Asmara, one day I walked passed a pitched tent in the narrow streets of Abashawl; I heard weeping and wailing, while I was taking pictures there. “Who is the deceased person?” I asked. “An old suwa house owner”, answered a young boy who seemed the least concerned about the event.

When someone dies among the people of the narrow streets, it’s as if a part of the neighbourhood went crumbling down in ruins. With the lifeless body of the departed carried along the narrow alleys to its resting place, a page or a chapter or even a book of the history of the neighbourhood is buried with it.

Health in Eritrea

Health and living conditions in Eritrea

The treatments of diseases are by both native and modern medicine. The native medicine involves herbs in drink, powder, cream or other forms. They can be applied externally or taken orally. Most common diseases are infectious and or preventable, such as dysentery malaria and typhoid. Prevention is not always easy. Neither is it successful because of a lack of information and education about the diseases and also a lack of proper hygiene.

In case of pregnancy, mothers often meet complications at birth, such as excessive bleeding or still birth. Some people have real fear of surgical operations, fearing they will die in the process. The treatment service is not easily accessible to the poor, who always face the problem of payment of the fee that are now changed in most health institutes. Some get medical help when it’s already too late. Often, ailments are caused by poor diet and feeding habits.

Numerous families use pit latrines in overcrowded town slums and villages. There are always associated sanitation problems, as people rarely cooperate to maintain such facilities.

Water to drink and for household use is always brought from streams and wells, which also service domestic animals. Such water is always drunk without having been boiled, again because of education and fuel problems such as firewood, the main source of heating but which is becoming scarce. Consequently, there are many opportunities for water born diseases.

Rarely do people undergo any medical examinations except when compelled to do so, when they are going abroad. But then why does this all happen? It is because most people do not have a proper understanding and education about the world we live in, which presently is capitalism, a system based on competition, class struggle and conflict. Some women can have as many as 12 children simply because they are ignorant of family planning services or because of these services and even because of superstitious and religious beliefs.

This results in overcrowded families Homes (houses) are built of wood, mud and grass thatching or some similar plant thatching. Most of these grass thatched houses do not have ventilators. This accelerates health problems. Because of poverty on the side of the patients, medical workers are more often than not compelled to handle only the symptoms of the diseases not the disease itself for this may be all the patients may be able to afford. It’s also common to find people living with domestic animals such as sheep, goats and hens, all under the same roof. The level of development in medical technology is adequate enough to provide decent healthcare to everybody living on Earth. But this does not happen, since access to healthcare is based on the ability to pay. In Eritrean rural or urban life is in stark colours.

Friday, December 18, 2009

congo and the un

A U.N.-backed Congolese military operation to oust rebels from eastern Congo has caused more civilian casualties than damage to rebels, with more than 1,400 people deliberately killed over a nine-month period, human rights groups said

Human Rights Watch said it had documented "vicious and widespread" attacks against civilians by soldiers and rebels between January and September. Soldiers being fed and supplied with ammunition by the United Nations have killed civilians, gang-raped girls and cut the heads off some young men they accuse of being rebels or supporting the enemy.

"For every rebel combatant disarmed, one civilian has been killed, seven women and girls have been raped, six houses have been burned and destroyed and 900 people have been forced to flee their homes," Oxfam said.

Human Rights Watch said it documented the killings of 732 civilians between January and September by the Congolese army and troops from neighboring Rwanda fighting alongside it. In the same period, it counted 701 civilians killed by the rebels they are fighting.

"Some victims were tied together before their throats were, according to one witness, 'slit like chickens.' The majority of the victims were women, children, and the elderly,"

More than 7,500 cases of sexual violence against women and girls were registered at health centers during that nine-month period, nearly double that of 2008 and likely representing only a fraction of the total.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

African or American's oil ?

Barack Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize and in his speech asserts through war we can achieve peace . He has made similar claims for Africom ."...we stand ready to partner through diplomacy, technical assistance, and logistical support, and will stand behind efforts to hold war criminals accountable. Our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold in the continent, but on confronting these common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa and the world." 11 July 2009 Obama speech in Accra, Ghana.

from here we read

Yet all the available evidence demonstrates that he is determined to continue the expansion of US military activity on the continent initiated by President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s and dramatically escalated by President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. While many expected the Obama administration to adopt a security policy toward Africa that would be far less militaristic and unilateral than that pursued by his predecessor, the facts show that he is in fact essentially following the same policy that has guided US military involvement in Africa for more than a decade.

The Obama administration is now considering providing even more military support to the Nigerian government for use in the Niger Delta if the current amnesty programme collapses, as many analysts expect, and the government resumes military operations against insurgent forces in this vital oil-producing region (which produces 10 per cent of America's total oil imports).

And with regard to America's growing dependence on African oil supplies, President Obama understands the danger of relying upon the importation of a vital resource from unstable countries ruled by repressive, undemocratic regimes and the necessity of reducing America's reliance on the use of oil and other non-renewable sources of energy. But, for understandable reasons, he has concluded that there is simply very little that he can do to achieve this goal during the limited time that he will be in office. He knows that it will take at least several decades to make the radical changes that will be necessary to develop alternative sources of energy, particularly to fuel cars and other means of transportation (if this is even technically feasible). And he knows that - in the meantime - public support for his presidency and for his party depends on the continued supply of reliable and relatively inexpensive supplies of gas and other petroleum-based energy to the American people, more than any other single factor. In the event of a substantial disruption in the supply of oil from Nigeria or any other major African supplier, he realises that he will be under irresistible political pressure to employ the only instrument that he has at his disposal - US military forces - to try to keep Africa's oil flowing.

Professional military officers also know that the repressive, undemocratic regimes upon which the United States relies to maintain oil production are likely to fail and that they are almost certain to find themselves sent into combat in Africa - whether they like it or not - if this leads to a major disruption of oil exports, and are already working on plans for direct military intervention in Africa. Thus, in May 2008, the Army Training and Doctrine Command, the Special Operations Command, and the Joint Forces Command conducted a war game scenario for Nigeria during war game exercise that it conducts each year at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

The scenario - set in the hypothetical year 2013 - was designed to test the ability of the United States to respond to a crisis in Nigeria in which the Nigerian government fragments and rival factions within the Nigerian military begin fighting for control of the Niger Delta, creating so much violence and chaos that it would be impossible to continue oil production. The participants concluded that there was little the United States could do to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict and that, in the end, they would probably be ordered to send up to 20,000 American troops into the Niger Delta in what the participants clearly recognised would be a futile attempt to get the oil flowing again. The fact that the participants in the Nigerian war games decided to go public with this information suggests that they believe that this scenario is likely to become a reality in the near future and that their only hope of avoiding this is to tell the public in the hope that this will prevent the order from being issued.

A new wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa is gathering intensity, after six Zimbabwean nationals were severely injured in a vicious attack by a mob of local residents in Polokwane, South Africa.The six sustained serious facial and bodily injuries in the attack at the Westernburg settlement, while more than a 100 other Zimbabweans have since fled the area and are camped in an old stadium under heavy police guard.

The attack comes as more than 2000 Zimbabweans are still taking shelter at a temporary refugee camp near Cape Town, after they were driven from their homes in the farming town of De Doorns. Local residents stormed at least two informal settlements in the area, tearing and burning down shacks belonging to Zimbabweans, accusing them of "stealing our jobs." Local wine farmers in the area have reportedly been hiring mainly Zimbabwean casual labourers, because they are more willing to accept less pay for the hours they work compared to local South African workers. In retaliation, the local workers have been threatening the foreigners with violence for several weeks, threats that turned into action last month.

Braam Hanekom from the refugee rights group PASSOP explained that the situation at the refugee camp is a 'nightmare', saying the local government is deliberately refusing to aid the refugees there. He said food rations for the group have been cut, while only enough shelter for less than half the people there has been made available.

"People are hungry and exposed to the elements and are being treated worse than animals," Hanekom said "It is completely inhumane and there is no effort to help these people who have been traumatised," .

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

When Aid is the Problem

Prior to 2003 there had been only one UN agency and two non-profit organizations in the eastern Chad town of Abéche. Since the arrival of refugees from Darfur in late 2003, a dozen UN agencies and dozens of NGOs have arrived in Abéché.More than 1,000 members of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) - sent to boost border security and facilitate refugee and Chadian returns - have also used Abéché as a base since March 2009.

When an aid vehicle is stolen some people cheer and say the aid organization got what it deserved . Abéché saw one of the highest rates of crime ever against aid agencies in 2009.

"There is the perception that humanitarian organizations have driven up the cost of living in the town - water, electricity, housing," said the French think-tank Emergency Rehabilitation Development director, François Grunewald. "There is a view that carjackings are a form of justice, like Robin Hood taking from the rich."
The town's water system was ill-prepared for the influx of aid workers and peacekeepers, said URD's Grunewald. "Locals have a different relationship with water than foreigners who are more wasteful and do not conserve."
Foreigners have also driven up housing and food costs in Abéché to levels "out of reach of vulnerable residents," he added.

Prices for rice, flour, meat, millet, sorghum and sugar in Abéché have increased by an average of 51 percent in the last seven years based on a 2009 URD market survey. Chad's inflation rate in 2008 was just over 3 percent, according to the African Development Bank.

Marcel Nguebaroum, a paediatric ward nurse at Abéché's regional hospital, said: "I could get a chicken for 600 francs [US$1.38] before 2004... and a room cost me 2,500 francs [$5.75]. Now a chicken costs 3,500 [$8]... and owners can ask for whatever price they want for housing because they think we are somehow able to pay. We are all expected to pay what you foreigners are able to pay." Nguebaroum said that though foreigners earn many times more than locals, prices are set according to foreign salaries.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The World Cup - the homeless cry "FOUL"

It's all warming up for the World Cup now . We have had the tournament's draw for the sections and we have the homeless being forced from the streets.
Isaac Lewis said that police have arrested him for loitering six times in the past month. Before that, Lewis said police mostly left him alone.
Police harassment he said "is increasing, everyday it's increasing," he said. "It's because they want to make a good impression for the foreigners coming. We are like insects to them, or flies."

Lesley de Rueck, Cape Town's director of 2010 operations, denied the city was pressuring the homeless for the World Cup's sake. Felicity Purchase, a city councilwoman and member of a mayoral committee on economic development and tourism, said that the city wanted to get people off the streets for their own good as well as to keep the city "tidy."

Jason Brickhill of the Legal Resources Center, an independent human rights group based in Johannesburg, stated homeless South Africans in Pretoria and Johannesburg, two of the other cities where the tournament will be staged, are also being arrested by police for loitering, and illegal evictions are on the increase.
"In my mind it's linked to the World Cup . There has been talk of the need to clean up the streets, where the dirt is the people."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

malnutrition and health

Liberia has 5,000 full-time or part-time health workers and 51 Liberian doctors to cater to a population of 3.8 million, according to the 2006 health survey. 44 percent of child deaths are associated with malnutrition. Chronic malnutrition - also known as stunting - affects 39 percent of under-fives, and 6.2 percent are acutely malnourished or "wasted". A "severe acute malnourished child" is more than nine times more likely to die than a well-nourished one .

With 45 percent of Liberian children under age five chronically or acutely malnourished, experts say nutrition is a burning health problem, but NGOs feel the Ministry of Health is not as worried as it should be

Land grabbing in Mali

Another story about the great African land grab , this time from Mali .

Mali has approved long-term leases for outside investors to help develop more than 160,000 hectares of land. The region, 300km northeast of Bamako, contains some of the most fertile rain-fed land in Mali.

Rice producer Siaka Daou is among those farmers concerned that they will be reduced to being day labourers for foreign-owned concerns.
"The way the government is parcelling out land from Office of Niger [region] is worrisome. This will stamp out small producers. We will no longer have land to cultivate and will be forced to work for industrial agriculture producers."

Mali's land code protects local land rights, but only as far as the land is used for "productive use". But "productive use" is not clearly defined and this may open the door to abuse .

"Most of the sample contracts are silent on the issue," said the FAO report.
For example concerning a Libyan-funded irrigation project, Mali's National Association of Farmers issued a communiqué demanding more information about the contract signed between Libya and Mali.
"The contract signed remains invisible...there are no guarantees in the contract that the [local] population would benefit from it," the association said

Thursday, December 03, 2009

chad and the oil curse

From here

The discovery of oil in Chad was supposed to allieviate poverty and human suffering, but it's only enriched Western Oil companies and the local dictators. For Chadian President Idriss Deby, oil revenues are a means to prolong abusive and undemocratic rule. He changed the constitution to become president for life, used over 30% of Chad’s oil revenues on war, and used money destined for development in “priority sectors” to grant opaque, no-bid public contracts to god knows whom -- all things he promised not to do. Many promises were also made to people living in the oil-producing zone in the southwest of Chad. Villagers were promised fair compensation for the loss of land expropriated by Exxon, employment with the oil companies for the life of the project, and 5% of oil revenues to be invested in their villages. According to local residents, these promises were empty.

Chad spent 4.5 times more money on the military than it did on health, education, and other social spending combined. Despite the World Bank’s guarantee of a model framework for oil-led development, oil has continued to fuel war where civilians are the primary victims.The oil for war and war for oil reality is deeply ingrained in Chad’s popular political consciousness.

Bluntly put, oil in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon, Chad, Angola, and Sudan has further impoverished people at best and caused inestimable human suffering in many cases.The extractive industries almost never contribute to development.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

the great land grab part 2

Although the world already produces twice as much food as is required to feed its entire population, the primary problem remains access.For many in Africa, farmland is not a means to an end - it is the lifeline used to survive life. Much land is community-owned, and in some countries state-owned. Even land that is officially categorized as un- or under-­utilized may in fact be subject to complex patterns of "customary" usage.In Africa, just 2-10 per cent of land is privately held, with the remainder constituting resources held in common (aka the commons).

'We are not farmers...' stated an official from SLC Agricola, Brazil's largest 'farm' corporation. 'The same way you have shoemakers and computer manufacturers, we produce agricultural commodities.'

Africa is a particular focus for this investment explosion because of the perception that there is plenty of cheap land and labour available.the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter points out. In Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, for example, only some 12 per cent of arable land is actually cultivated.Mr. De Schutter wrote "The stakes are huge,...the deals as they have been concluded up to now are very meagre as far as the obligations of the investors are concerned." He also notes that agreements concerning thousands of hectares of farmland are sometimes just three or four pages long."

In the ever-fertile Congo, where 200 000 hectares of land have been provided free of charge to South African farmers characterised by tax exemptions, repatriation of profits, no export restrictions and other subsidies.Nguesso's regime even offered to lend armed forces to securitise the 'abandoned' state farms. A 30 year lease, with priority access to a further 30 year period following assessments by a committee composed of six representatives - three from the Congolese state, and three from the commercial farmers unions, is the primary determining factor.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) revealed, 'Many countries do not have sufficient mechanisms to protect local rights and take account of local interests, livelihoods, and welfare. Moreover, local communities are rarely adequately informed about the land concessions that are made to private companies. Insecure local land rights, inaccessible registration procedures, vaguely defined productive use requirements, legislative gaps, and other factors all too often undermine the position of local people vis-à-vis international actors.'

At no time was the right of the Congo's regime to export ownership of farmland ever questioned, despite the Congo being ranked as one of the world's most corrupt countries.
This situation is not unique in Africa: In Sudan, where 95 per cent of land is state-owned Jarch Capital, acquired 400 000 hectares of land from the son of Sudan People's Liberation Movement General Paulino Matip, with a further view for 400 000 hectares before end 2009. Jarch, headed by ex-Wall Street banker Phillip Heilberg, was described by the Financial Times, as 'believing that several African states, Sudan included, but possibly also Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia, are likely to break apart in the next few years, and that the political and legal risks he is taking will be amply rewarded.'
(Heilberg's second in command is Joe Wilson, former senior director for African Affairs at the US's National Security Council.)

The situation and terms differ from country to country but the issue remains one of control and exploitation, whether it is over local food monopolies or exported crops.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

free access in Soweto

In Soweto more than half of the residents now get their power for free. They are helped in part by the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC) - a group of electricians who believe it is the people's right to have free power.The SECC pride themselves on maintaining safety standards at least as good as the power company.

"We are fighting for what the government said in 1994 [the first democratic elections].People shall have all the resources free of charge. Water, electricity, schooling and health. After we have voted for them they have changed...We are giving back what belongs to the people." says one of the crusading electricians .

Socialist Banner advocates that free access should be available for all a person's needs , food clothing and shelter .


Socialist Banner has reported previously on the great African land grab and once again the development has come to the news.

Ethiopia might seem an unlikely hotbed of agricultural investment. To most of the world, the country is defined by images of famine: about a million people died there during the drought of the mid-1980s, and today about four times that many depend on emergency food aid. But according to the World Bank, as much as three-quarters of Ethiopia’s arable land is not under cultivation. Since the world food crisis, Zenawi, a former Marxist[sic] rebel who has turned into a champion of private capital, has publicly said he is “very eager” to attract foreign farm investors by offering them what the government describes as “virgin land.” An Ethiopian agriculture ministry official recently told Reuters that he has identified more than seven million acres.

Ethiopia’s government denies that anyone is being displaced, saying that the land is unused — an assertion many experts doubt. “One thing that is very clear, that seems to have escaped the attention of most investors, is that this is not simply empty land,” says Michael Taylor, a policy specialist at the International Land Coalition. If land in Africa hasn’t been planted, he says, it’s probably for a reason. Maybe it’s used to graze livestock, or deliberately left fallow to prevent nutrient depletion and erosion.

The International Institute for Environment and Development suggests that as of earlier this year, the Ethiopian government had approved deals totaling around 1.5 million acres, while the country’s investment agency reports that it has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007, nearly doubling the number registered in the entire previous decade. But that’s far from a complete picture. While the details of a few arrangements have leaked out, like one Saudi consortium’s plans to spend $100 million to grow wheat, barley and rice, many others remain undisclosed, and Addis Ababa has been awash in rumors of Arab moneymen who supposedly rent planes, pick out fertile tracts and cut deals.

The nations of the Persian Gulf are likely to see their populations increase by half by 2030, and already import 60 percent of their food. Self-sufficiency isn’t a viable option.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

climate change and war

Climate has been a major driver of armed conflict in Africa, research shows - and future warming is likely to increase the number of deaths from war.US researchers found that across the continent, conflict was about 50% more likely in unusually warm . Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences they suggest strife arises when the food supply is scarce in warm conditions. Warm years increased the likelihood of conflict by about 50% - and food seems to be the reason why.

"Studies show that crop yields in the region are really sensitive to small shifts in temperature, even of half a degree Celsius or so," research leader Marshall Burke, from the University of California at Berkeley, told BBC "If the sub-Saharan climate continues to warm and little is done to help its countries better adapt to high temperatures, the human costs are likely to be staggering."

If temperatures rise across the continent as computer models project, future conflicts are likely to become more common.And it will take a lot more than more money and the added investment offered up as solutions to avoid those future wars .

Friday, November 20, 2009

USA picky and choosey about corruption

From the pages of The New York Times we read " Several times a year, Teodoro Nguema Obiang arrives at the doorstep of the United States from his home in Equatorial Guinea, on his way to his $35 million estate in Malibu, Calif., his fleet of luxury cars, his speedboats and private jet. And he is always let into the country.The nation’s doors are open to Mr. Obiang, the forest and agriculture minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its president, even though federal law enforcement officials believe that “most if not all” of his wealth comes from corruption...despite a federal law and a presidential proclamation that prohibit corrupt foreign officials and their families from receiving American visas. The measures require only credible evidence of corruption, not a conviction of it. "

Former and current State Department officials said Equatorial Guinea’s close ties to the American oil industry were the reason for the lax enforcement of the law. Production of the country’s nearly 400,000 barrels of oil a day is dominated by American companies like ExxonMobil, Hess and Marathon.Since oil was discovered there in 1996, Equatorial Guinea has become the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola, with estimated revenues of $4.8 billion in 2007. But although petroleum has made the ruling Obiang family and its associates vastly rich, the oil and gas wealth has not been spread beyond ruling elites.

“Of course it’s because of oil,” said John Bennett, the United States ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1991 to 1994, adding that Washington has turned a blind eye to the Obiangs’ corruption and repression because of its dependence on the country for natural resources.He noted that officials of Zimbabwe are barred from the United States.“Both countries are severely repressive,” said Mr. Bennett, who is now a senior foreign affairs officer for the State Department in Baghdad. “But if Zimbabwe had Equatorial Guinea’s oil, Zimbabwean officials wouldn’t still be blocked from the U.S.”

Justice Department memorandum, dated Sept. 4, 2007, and obtained by The New York Times, said the government believed Mr. Obiang’s assets were derived “from extortion, theft of public funds or other corrupt conduct.” From April 2005 to April 2006, the memorandum said, Mr. Obiang funneled at least $73 million into the United States, using shell corporations and offshore bank accounts to launder the money and ultimately buy his Malibu estate and a luxury jet.The document identified several wire transfers by Mr. Obiang from 2005 and 2006, beginning with a bank in Equatorial Guinea, then going to the central Banque de France and landing in American accounts at Wachovia, Bank of America and UBS. In one six-week period in 2006, Mr. Obiang transferred $33,799,799.99 to the United States, it said, which was used to buy a Gulfstream V jet.Part of his wealth, the document said, comes from a “revolutionary tax” that Mr. Obiang placed on timber. Instead of sending the payments to the treasury of Equatorial Guinea, Mr. Obiang, who is considered likely to be a successor to his father, has “insisted that the payments be made directly to him,” it said.The memorandum said, the Justice Department believes that Mr. Obiang “may be receiving bribes or extortion payments” from the oil companies as a percentage of their contracts.
In 2004, a Senate panel accused Riggs Bank in Washington of having “turned a blind eye to evidence suggesting the bank was handling the proceeds of foreign corruption” in accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in deposits from Equatorial Guinea.In 2006, more than three-quarters of the population was living below the poverty line.

“There are many instances of corrupt foreign officials plundering the natural resources of their countries for their own use while their people starve,” Mr. Leahy ,the Vermont Democrat who wrote the law restricting visas, said. “The law states clearly that if you do that, you are no longer welcome in the United States.”

Unless you control access to oil wells , that is !!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

china and africa

Socialist Banner has carried several posts on the expansionism of Chinese capitalism in the continent so we are not at all surprised by the announcement that China has pledged to give Africa $10bn (£6bn) in concessional loans over the next three years.

We can understand the need for the Chinese to camoflage this as a form of humanitarian aid yet we are not at all convinced .

Last month a little-known Chinese company invested $7bn (£4.16bn) in a mining deal in Guinea, despite the international condemnation there has been for the country's military junta. In September the army in Guinea opened fire on demonstrators killing 150 people.Of course there are plenty of major Western companies operating in countries with oppressive governments.

The Egyptian independent MP Mustafa al-Gindi sees it as a battle between East and West for the biggest share of African spoils. He believes the old relationships in Africa are now being tested and he is hugely fearful of China's way of doing business.
"There is huge competition between East and West for Africa", he said. "And whatever they say, it is a fact that the Chinese come to Africa not just with engineers and scientists - they are coming with farmers. It is neo-colonialism.

"There are no ethics, no values, there is only one thing, 'I want the land and I don't mind how we get it'."

China is keen to invest billions of dollars of its foreign reserves. A lot of that money is tied at the moment to assets in the United States and to the weak dollar. Investment in new African projects offers a useful alternative.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Black Mercenaries

Doing the capitalists dirty work .

Watertight Security Services has been sending Ugandan security guards to Iraq since 2007. So far, more than 10,000 Ugandans have gone to work in the country. All eyes are now on Afghanistan.

Recruits at Watertight Security Services are desperate to escape from the poverty and unemployment that define their lives in Uganda.

Gun for hire!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

from theory to practice

As first previously reported on Socialist Banner here ,it now appears that capitalism will be exploiting Africa's geography .A sustainable energy initiative that will start with a huge solar project in the Sahara desert has been announced by a consortium of 12 European businesses.

The Desertec Industrial Initiative aims to supply Europe with 15% of its energy needs by 2050 and hopes hopes to start supplying Europe with electricity by 2015. Companies who signed up to the $400bn (£240bn) venture include Deutsche Bank, Siemens and the energy provider E.On. The initiative has gained the support of the German government of Angela Merkel, who has already expressed a desire to offset a dependence on Russian gas supplies.

Desertec Industrial Initiative aims to produce solar-generated electricity with a vast network of power plants and transmission grids across North Africa and the Middle East. The first stage will be to build massive solar energy fields across North Africa's Sahara desert, utilising concentrated solar power technology , which uses parabolic mirrors to focus the Sun's rays on containers of water. The super-heated water will power steam turbines to generate electricity 24 hours a day, 52 weeks of the year.The electricity will then be transported great distances to Europe, using hi-tech cables that suffer little conductive loss of power.

Socialist Banner notes that Desertec is keen to stress some of the power generated by the Sahara solar energy fields will also be used by domestic African consumers. However, with the little or no benefit going to local people from those countries gifted with oil resources , we cannot be blamed for an element of scepticism . We readSouth Sudan's semi-autonomous government has received nearly $7bn (£4.2bn) in oil revenue since it took over after a 2005 peace deal, but many question whether it is doing enough for its people.
"They say they are building new roads, but I think the ministers just pocket the money." says Akot, the driver .
"Misuse of public funds, favouritism in hiring and the existence of ghost names on government payrolls are examples of corruption that plague government offices," says the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs

There exists a viable alternative to capitalism as a world system of production for profit and uncontrolled and uncontrollable capital accumulation? It's where all the productive resources of the Earth have become the common heritage of the people of the world—"make the Earth a common treasury for all", as Gerrard Winstanley put it —so that they can be used, not to produce for sale on a market, not to make a profit, but purely and simply to satisfy human wants and needs in accordance with the principle of, to adapt a phrase, "from each region on the basis of its resources, to each region on the basis of its needs".

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Children of the Tobacco Fields

From November's Socialist Standard

We all know that tobacco harms those who smoke it. Few are aware of the damage it does to those who pick and process it.

The “children’s organisation” Plan International recently issued a report about children in Malawi, some as young as five, who toil up to twelve hours in the tobacco fields for an average daily wage of 11p. (Hard Work, long hours and little pay).

The finding that has attracted most attention is that these children are being poisoned by the nicotine “juice” they absorb through the skin – and also ingest, as they have no chance to wash hands before eating. Many of the ailments that plague them -- headaches, abdominal and chest pain, nausea, breathlessness, dizziness – are symptoms of Green Tobacco Sickness.

But much of their suffering has nothing to do with nicotine. All have blisters on their hands. All have pains – in the shoulders, neck, back, knees – caused by overexertion of their immature muscles. About a third of the children are coughing blood, which suggests TB.

Many of the children examined had been beaten, kicked or otherwise physically abused by estate owners or supervisors. Many of the girls had been raped by them. One boy had deep knee wounds as a result of being made to walk across a stony field on his knees as punishment for “laziness”.

Who owns the estates?
Who are these estate owners?
Commercial tobacco farming in Malawi began late in the 19th century, when it was the British colony of Nyasaland. White settlers seized much of the best arable land for plantations of tea, coffee, tung trees (for their oil, used as a wood finisher) and – mostly -- tobacco. Even today the majority of owners of large estates are descendants of the colonial settlers, although now there are also black owners.
In 1948 some tung and tobacco plantations (estates) were taken over by the Colonial Development Corporation, funded mainly by the British Treasury. After Malawi gained formal independence in 1964, these came under state ownership. Later they were reprivatised. Another recent change is the direct acquisition of some estates by international tobacco companies.

The estates were established on land stolen from traditional peasant communities. The process began in colonial times but continued even after independence, under the Banda regime. Land theft impoverishes local communities and compels those worst affected to offer themselves – or their children! – to the estate owners as wage slaves.
Tobacco is also grown on many small family farms. Here too, children work and suck in nicotine juice, alongside their parents.

The tobacco cartel
Malawi’s tobacco market is dominated – through subsidiaries -- by two international corporations, Universal Corporation and Alliance One International. These corporations operate a cartel, refusing to compete and colluding to keep tobacco purchase prices low. This in turn intensifies the pressure on farm owners to minimise costs by exploiting cheap or free child labour – a practice that the corporations hypocritically claim to oppose.

Representatives of the corporations sit on several committees that advise the government of Malawi on economic policy. By this means they ensure that their interests are served and block any initiatives to diversify the economy and reduce the country’s dependence on tobacco.

The main reason why child labour is so prevalent in Malawian agriculture is the poverty – in particular, land hunger -- of most of the rural population. This reflects not any absolute shortage of land but rather the highly skewed pattern of land ownership. Large tracts of land lie fallow on the big estates.

A pathetic contrast
How does Plan International propose to help the children on the tobacco farms?
Well, it will “educate farm owners and supervisors” and persuade them to provide the children with protective clothing. Taking the tobacco companies’ PR at face value, it will urge them to “scrutinise their suppliers more closely”. It will not, however, support a ban on children picking tobacco because that is “unrealistic” – as indeed it is if you refuse to challenge underlying social conditions.

But what a pathetic contrast such “realism” makes with Plan International’s “vision” of “a world in which all children realise their full potential in societies that respect people’s rights and dignity”!

Environmental degradation
Besides ruining people’s health, tobacco degrades the environment. The tobacco monoculture that dominates much of Malawi depletes the soil of nutrients. It also causes extensive deforestation, as trees are felled to provide firewood for curing the tobacco leaves, and this in turn further erodes the soil. Water sources are contaminated. After over a century of tobacco cultivation, all these processes are already far advanced. (For fuller analysis, see the chapter by Geist, Otanez and Kapito in Andrew Millington and Wendy Jepson, eds. Land Change Science in the Tropics: Changing Agricultural Landscapes, Springer 2008.)

Tobacco in socialist society?
Will tobacco be grown in socialist society? On a small scale, possibly, by addicts for their own use. But it’s hard to imagine socialist society making planned provision, within the framework of democratic decision-making, for tobacco production. People aware of all the harm caused by tobacco will surely prefer to halt cultivation of this noxious weed. They will seek to restore soil fertility, reverse deforestation and enhance local food supply.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we suppose that the decision is made to continue producing tobacco, will it be implemented? Will the free people of socialist society, no longer spurred on by economic necessity, voluntarily poison themselves just to feed others’ addictions?


Tuesday, October 13, 2009



On 8 August 2009 a Zambian magistrate delivered a final verdict on the long-awaited ruling concerning the corruption case of former and second republican President Fredrick Chiluba. The Court found that Chiluba was innocent from the alleged stealing of K200 billion and declared that all monies and assets seized from him by the Task Force be returned to him. The head of the Task Force, Mr Marx Nkole immediately resigned on the grounds that he was shocked by the Court’s ruling. This is the case in which a London magistrate had found Chiluba guilty of misappropriating K200 billion from the Zamtrop account (a government account) some time back in 2008.

The whole matter revolves around the head of State, President Rupiah Banda. Old and tired, Mr. Banda is slowly and recklessly making mistake after mistake, in a country in which the majority of workers and civil servants have lost interest in the ruling MMD. It is a fact that president Rupiah Banda is still haunted by the Vista of Humanism conceived under a One Party State. Banda is busy appointing and removing cabinet ministers without regard to public feelings. Indeed the Zambian constitution has invested so much power into the head of state: a head of state in Zambia is above even their judiciary, parliament and government. It is without doubt Mr. Banda who personally instructed the judiciary to quash the corruption allegations against Mr. Chiluba. Let it be remembered that Mr. Banda was among those UNIP malcontents who suffered very much under the leadership of Fredrick Chiluba. He was among those who were physically molested or detained by the MMD government in 1992 (during the abortive UNIP comeback bid to power).

Thus the pardoning of Mr. Chiluba is a well timed political gesture aimed at winning political support from Northern and Luapula Provinces where the MMD has been doing badly in previous general elections. Mr. Chiluba has a patriotic and fanatical following from Luapula and Northern Provinces—he is a Bemba-speaking politician. President Rupiah Banda is a sturdy politician and strongly appreciates the existing ethnic and tribal allegiances. There is a political crisis in Zambia and the recent judgment in the case of former republican President Chiluba duly testifies to the abuse of power by the head of state. Public service employees are living under unpredictable eventualities. The nurses and teachers who went on a prolonged three months’ strike had to forfeit their salaries by the period they were on strike. There is a law that forbids illegal strikes in Zambia.

The private media in Zambia is misleading workers by making the strikers into scapegoats of the political opposition. Because the workers in Zambia have not achieved its class consciousness—they may have recourse to ethnic and tribal loyalties and so jeopardise its political consciousness. The WSM does not support the recent electoral pact between the PF and UNDP (political opposition). We advocate socialism without regard to nationality, but we are not deaf to the plight of working-class labour movements and trade unions in their efforts to improve their living conditions.

A call to socialist action

Comrades and supporters, next year we are embarking on our long time planned goal of formation of Socialist Parties in Africa and particularly in our case Uganda.

We would like to have moral, material and financial support from anybody who thinks this a noble cause. The socialist fraternity here feels, given the 12 years' experience of socialist activities since we first came in contact with the Socialist Party of Great Britain, that we are now able to utilize our past achievements and mistakes to make a Socialist Party in Uganda. This is the best way we can carry our propaganda nationwide legally and make our case better heard and understood

Fraternal greetings.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

South Africa - Inequality grows

South Africa remains the world's most unequal society, a report said

Development Indicators report showed that the income of South Africa's poorest 10 percent rose by a third from 783 rand (105 US dollars, 71 euros) in 1993 to 1,041 rand a month in 2008.The richest 10 percent got richer by nearly 38 percent over the same period.

Figures also show that while black South Africans' salaries increased by 38 percent, the incomes of white South Africans jumped by 83.5 percent between 1995 and 2008.

While other countries may occasionally come in below South Africa in inequality indices, as a nation with regular and reliable data it was "now singularly the most consistently unequal society in the world."

The report noted concerns about increasing mortality due to HIV/AIDS. Health expert David Saunders of the University of the Western Cape said South Africa was one of only five countries where under-five mortality was increasing.

In 1995, 31 percent of the population lived under the poverty line of 283 rand a month, which dropped to 22 percent in 2008.

Socialist Banner is reminded of what Marx said " A house may be large or small; as long as the neighboring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirement for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Riches thru the labour of others

Socialist Banner has said it , now COSATU says it .

"the black bourgeoisie benefits on the sweat of workers through BEE companies."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Criminal Capitalism

A British oil trading giant has agreed to a multimillion-pound payout to settle a huge damages claim from thousands of Africans who fell ill from tonnes of toxic waste dumped illegally in one of the worst pollution incidents in decades.
Trafigura, a London-based company which bills itself as one of the world's largest oil traders, said it was in talks to reach a "global settlement" to the claim by 30,000 people from Ivory Coast, who brought Britain's largest-ever lawsuit after contaminated sludge from a tanker ship was fly-tipped under cover of darkness in August 2006.
The incident caused at least 100,000 residents from the west African country's most populous city, Abidjan, to flood into hospitals and clinics complaining of breathing difficulties and sickness. Investigations by the Ivorian authorities suggested that the deaths of at least 10 people were linked to the waste.

Trafigura struck a series of bargains on the international markets in 2005 and early 2006 to buy cheap and dirty petroleum, called coker gasoline, which the company believed could then be cleaned up at profit of £4m per cargo.Rather than send the oil to a refinery, Trafigura used the Probo Koala, a Panamanian tanker chartered by the company since 2004, as a floating processing plant while it was anchored off Gibraltar. "This is as cheap as anyone can imagine and should make serious dollars."
Using an ad hoc process of adding caustic soda and a catalyst to the coker gasoline, the oil was "cleaned" to produce a sellable fuel and a toxic sludge which sank to the bottom of the ship's tanks. "This operation is no longer allowed in the European Union, the United States and Singapore" it is "banned in most countries due to the 'hazardous nature of the waste'", one e-mail warns.

Problems began for Trafigura when it needed to dispose of the slurry. When the Probo Koala arrived in Amsterdam in July 2006 and tried to unload the contaminated slops, allegedly described as "watery cleaning liquids", the process caused a health alert and Trafigura was informed the cost of dealing with its by-product would rise from £17 per cubic metre to £80.Rather than pay the estimated bill of £500,000, Trafigura ordered the waste to be pumped back on to the Probo Koala and the vessel travelled to west Africa where in Ivory Coast fleet of 12 trucks hired by a local waste contractor, Compagnie Tommy, which had only received its operating licence weeks earlier, offloaded the sulphurous sludge from the cargo vessel and deposited the waste at 18 locations around Abidjan .

A United Nations report found that "there seems to be strong prima facie evidence that the reported deaths and adverse health consequences are related to the dumping".

Trafigura repeatedly deployed one of Britain's most aggressive firms of lawyers to dispute reporting on the case by media outlets including the BBC. Trafigura, a privately-owned multinational last year claimed a turnover of $73bn (£44bn). The figure is double the entire GDP of Ivory Coast, where half the population of 21 million live on less than a dollar a day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

nigerian shakara

Most of Nigeria's 150 million citizens may live in desperate poverty, but the West African oil giant also has an elite that revels in "shakara" — the flaunting of success.

"Nigerians who have money like to splash it,"
explains Naomi Okaja, whose company imports goods into Lagos, the commercial capital.
At the Megaplaza mall, a flat-screen TV taller than a man sells for $53,000, a crystal chandelier for $10,000. The wealthy import everything from refined gasoline for their Mercedes-Benzes to their children's favorite foods.
Restaurants post armed guards; the homes of the wealthy have walls with razor-wire, floodlights, cameras and security guards. Newspaper ads for luxury armored Hummers.An island and the connecting peninsula jutting into Lagos Lagoon offer the best real-estate. At night the rich neighborhoods become the ultimate gated communities, reachable only by bridges and checkpoints guarded by police with rifles. There are yacht moorings and helipads for the super-rich.

Meanwhile, four-fifths of Nigerians live on less than $2 a day.

The rich at Megaplaza think, a growing middle class will push for better governance and a better government will provide better services.

For Okuro and other stall holders around him, such visions provoke bitter laughter.

"When will it come? Tell me when," Okuro demands "We are tired of waiting."

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A good use of money ?

Officials in Cameroon have defended President Paul Biya's controversial holiday in La Baule, southern France.

He is alleged to be spending $40,000 (£24,500) a day on 43 hotel rooms. The average annual income in the West African country is $1,000.

Cameroon's communications minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary told the BBC :-
"Isn't he free to make a good use of his money?"

Monday, August 24, 2009

poor africa !!

Why is Africa poor? Africans as a people may be poor, but Africa as a place is fantastically rich - in minerals, land, labour . "We have oil and many other minerals - go name it"
"Our leaders, they just want to keep on being rich. And they don't want to pay taxes" Almost every African , who was not actually in government, blamed corrupt African leaders for their plight. "The gap between the rich and the poor in Africa is still growing,"

Slavery impoverished parts of Africa and that colonialism set up trading patterns which were aimed at benefitting the coloniser, not the colonised.
Hajia Amina Az-Zubair, the Nigerian president's senior adviser on poverty issues, said that colonialism "was all about take, not build", and that this attitude "transferred itself into a lot of mindsets". "You sit round a table and ask 'What are your needs?' and you get an absolute blank. Because for years, they've been told what they're going to have. So even the ability to engage has been difficult for us."

poisoning children for capitalism

Children picking tobacco in the fields of Malawi for consumers far beyond the African country's borders are being poisoned as they absorb up to two cigarette packs' worth of nicotine each day, a children's rights organization said.

The "extremely high levels of nicotine poisoning" produces not only nausea, headaches, dizziness, difficulty in breathing and other symptoms but "long-lasting changes in brain structure and function," London-based Plan International said in a report.

More than 78,000 children, some as young as 5, work on tobacco estates across the southern African country, some up to 12 hours a day for less than 1.7 cents an hour and without protective clothing.Large-tobacco production has shifted from the United States to developing countries like Malawi, where "children are being exposed to exploitative and hazardous working conditions." Malawians are so poor that many families send their children to work in the fields.Tobacco is an important cash crop in Malawi, generating 75 percent of foreign exchange income. More than 80 percent of Malawians are directly or indirectly employed by the tobacco industry, which contributes up to 30 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Coke or drugs

In Uganda and across Africa people are dying of diseases such as malaria and TB because they can't get the drugs to treat them.

Malaria, the commonest killer in Uganda, takes more than 300 lives every day, mostly under-fives and pregnant women. There are pills that can stop malaria in its tracks at an early stage before the sufferer succumbs to a high fever, delirium and, in the worst cases, coma.But go to many health centres and you will be disappointed. Nursing staff shake their heads. "We don't have," they say.

On tables in huts in Uganda and all over Africa, they sell Coca-Cola. The drinks giant has reached into the darkest corners of the continent. Coke is everywhere. Essential medicines, many of them paid for by governments , are not.

Tiriri health centre in Katine , which should have the capacity of a small hospital, has no Coartem, an anti-malarial and the most needed drug in the region. Frequently it has virtually no medicines at all, even paracetamol. Stock-outs are the norm all over Africa. You can get Coke but you can't get a painkiller, an antibiotic or a drug to save your child from malaria.
Tiriri health centre is short of many other drugs – antibiotics, paracetamol, aspirin, quinine injections (a second-line treatment for malaria too severe to be treated by Coartem), diclofenac for pain and inflammation. The empty shelves in government clinics drive people to private drug shops, which have mushroomed in the villages and towns. But because they have to pay and are poor, families can only buy a small handful of pills – not necessarily the right ones and, quite possibly, fakes. Poor people may buy six pills when they need 30, or they will buy 20 and stop after 10 when they feel better, saving the rest for another crisis. That's how resistance grows to antibiotics and to TB and Aids drugs, which can then spread around the globe. In this way, poverty and the inadequacies of public sector drug supply in Africa threaten us all.

Novartis, the huge Swiss drug company , owns the market-leading anti-malarial Coartem . Novartis has dropped its price over the years from $1.57 to 80 cents, but that's still too much in countries such as Uganda. To improve the situation, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) in Geneva channels money donated by affluent governments including the UK and US to poor nations to buy supplies of the drug. But in Uganda in 2005, it all went wrong. GFATM suspended all its grants to the country: money was being siphoned off and officials in the ministry of health were blamed. Corruption trials are ongoing.The GFATM scandal has had a huge impact in Uganda. While few doubt the fund had to act to stop its money being diverted into people's pockets, the people who really suffered are those where the anti-malarials ran out.

The battle is now not just to get HIV medicines to people with Aids, but to get a consistent, affordable supply of essential drugs to all who need them.It's too important to leave to the market.

extracted from here

Royal Rip-off

In Swaziland it is a criminal offence to criticise the king’s private life. The king enjoys a personal fortune of about £145 million. He also receives money from the national budget for his family’s upkeep. Last year this totalled £12 million — more than was set aside for education. In May he bought 20 armoured Mercedes Benz cars at a cost of £150,000 each.

Reports from the kingdom said that the king had dispatched at least five of his 13 wives and dozens of retainers to France, Italy, Dubai and Taiwan on a secret tour last week, using £4 million from the state budget.

Swaziland is home to about 1.2 million people, more than two thirds of whom live in abject poverty on less than 50 pence a day. More than a quarter of the adult population has HIV — the highest ratio in the world.

Campaigners have been accusing Whitehall of double standards. “They shout about Zimbabwe, but keep quiet about what is happening in Swaziland, even though they are one of its biggest aid donors...” Lucky Lukhele, of the Swaziland Solidarity Network , told The Times.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

world cup blues

We read that SOUTH AFRICA'S 2010 World Cup looms in less than a year now at a cost to the host government and FIFA, world football's governing body, of at least £4 billion. When the month-long football fest is over, South Africans will be left with 10 magnificent state-of-the-art stadiums.
Stephen Maseko lives in a corrugated iron and mud shack without electricity, running water or a toilet in the shadow of Mbombela Stadium. He knows his home will be demolished before the stadium hosts the first of its four World Cup matches. "I find it difficult to feel proud that we are hosting this World Cup," he said. "To tell you the truth, I do not have time to think about football. My worries are greater."
The 46,000-seat, billion-rand (£74 million) Mbombela Stadium, bristling with 21st-century technology and supported by 18 giant pylons resembling giraffes, was built on 118 hectares of ancestral land from which the Matsafeni, a Swazi tribal clan, were forcibly removed and offered compensation of just one rand, or 7 pence sterling (raised to 8.7m rand, or £655,000, after a series of prolonged court cases).
Pretoria high court judge Ntendeya Mavundla told Mbombela's African National Congress-dominated council that its treatment of the Matsafeni was not much different from that of "colonialists who usurped land from naïve Africans in return for shiny buttons and mirrors."
When the ANC speaker of the Mbombela Council, 44-year-old Jimmy Mohlala, blew the whistle on a 40m rand (£3m) scam between his fellow ANC councillors and the stadium's commercial developers, senior ANC politicians demanded his resignation.
Mohlala refused to step down and was subsequently shot dead by masked gunmen at his home. His assassins have not been caught and police have not investigated the fraud.

Some 70,000 labourers working on the 2010 stadiums, and other World Cup infrastructure such as the new futuristic railway system with British-built engines and carriages, between Johannesburg Airport and the city centre, went on strike last month for better wages. Some labourers on 2010 projects were earning as little as 800 rand (£60) a month. Mildred Mpundu, a single mother of four, was earning 2000 rand (£150) a month with overtime as a labourer at Johannesburg's Soccer City, where the opening and final World Cup matches will be held. Mildred said she could only give her family meat on Sundays, and she added: "People will come to the stadium and think it is very nice. They won't even know that the people who built it can't afford to go inside."
Union official Lesiba Seshoga, who oversaw negotiations at Cape Town's Green Point, Durban's Moses Madhiba and Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela stadiums, said:"These workers are not going to benefit from the World Cup in that none of them will be able to afford to watch a game."

Andile Mngxitama, a columnist for the mass circulation Sowetan daily newspaper, said he fears the 2010 World Cup will turn South Africa into a big fun park, with foreign visitors enjoying levels of comfort, safety and security that ordinary people can only dream of. "When the tournament is over," Mngxitama continued, "we will be sitting with major world-class stadiums in a country that can't feed or educate its people. The truth is we don't need the World Cup. Politicians and their connections need it."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The African Land Grab

We read
African farmland prices are the lowest in the world.

Susan Payne, the chief executive of Emergent Asset Management is in the process of buying or leasing a total 50,000 hectares in several African countries including Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Angola, Swaziland and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Countries short of arable land, such as China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Kuwait, have been seeking agricultural investments in Africa.
"As an investor you can take advantage of that," she says.

The International Food Policy Research Institute , a Washington-based think tank, says that bargaining power is often on the side of the foreign firm, especially when it is supported by the host government or local elite.
"Since the state often formally owns the land, the poor run the risk of being pushed off the plot in favour of the investor, without consultation or compensation," the IFPRI says in a recent report.

Friday, July 24, 2009

When ? When ? When ?

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at township protesters demanding improved services and more jobs.Thousands marched in a show of anger, saying they would escalate demonstrations if local officials from the African National Congress failed to deliver swiftly on promises to provide jobs, housing, and medical care.

Anger was largely directed at local officials according to reports . When Balfour Mayor Lefty Tsotetsi was transported in an armoured vehicle to address hundreds of angry residents, some holding pipes and bats, it was too risky for him to step out of the vehicle.A police convoy drove him to a stadium through barricaded streets where he nervously replied to a list of demands from residents by promising to spend money on education, cut unemployment and build toilets.
They shouted back "when? when? when?" , a question that has often been asked since the ANC came to power at the end of apartheid in 1994.

Protesters behind the looting of two Durban supermarkets have pledged to continue targeting food retailers to highlight their hunger and desperation. KwaZulu-Natal has been hardest hit by the recession in terms of job losses, and the SA Unemployed Peoples' Movement (SAUPM) said today the food snatches would continue until the plight of the jobless was recognised.
Nozipho Mteshana, the chairwoman of SAUPM, said the protesters had done nothing wrong except eat and this was because they were hungry: "This is the frustration that people are experiencing and the financial situation and the continuing job losses do not make things any better for our people."
Provincial police spokesman Captain Khephu Ndlovu said the protesters at both stores had helped themselves to perishable goods, such as roast chicken and chips. Most of them were women.
Sociologist Mary De Haas said these kinds of protests would escalate because people were unhappy as service delivery was slack. "I am not surprised people are disgruntled, they have high expectations, but the government has promised a lot yet people are losing their jobs. This is a symptom of failure of the people elected to the government,"

It is actually the failure of capitalism !!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

new scramble for Africa

The new scramble for Africa
Today's race is not for colonies to conquer but for natural resources and America has stepped up pursuit in response to superpower rivals

At Nigeria's Defence Intelligence School in Karu, near the capital Abuja, 30 military officers from seven African countries graduated from a training course designed to meet the "rapidly changing security complexities" of their nations "and the continent at large".Ostensibly organised by Nigeria's Defence Intelligence Agency, the 12-week "Military Intelligence Basic Officers' Course for Africa" - the third this year after two in Mali - was in fact designed by the controversial United States African Command (AfriCom). To exploit and secure the region's oil, the US has to take into account the threat to its interests from terrorist and liberation groups. AfriCom is designed to protect vital US interests, but while its public profile is low its footprint on the ground is increasingly large - hence the military intelligence courses in Nigeria and Mali, and also AfriCom preparations with Mali, Algeria and Niger for a major joint military and police operation along their common borders

AfriCom - currently headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, but aiming to transfer to Ghana - is a measure of how seriously Washington is taking the new scramble for Africa and how determined it is to compete there with China, which has major strategic and economic goals throughout the continent, and how seriously it intends securing its burgeoning oil and gas interests in West Africa.

That commitment was also suggested by another little-noticed event: the opening of an Aids testing and counselling centre in the Botswana mining centre, Francistown, built by AfriCom. The centre - one of 12 in the country whose establishment has been supervised by AfriCom's Lieutenant Colonel William Wyatt

President Barack Obama's visit to Ghana this month signalled that America's approach to Africa was emerging from a long, deep sleep and that the US was back in the African version of the Great Game.

In recent years, the strongest winds blowing over the continent have come from China. With the US and European Union preoccupied elsewhere, China has had the African playing field virtually to itself and has won new markets in country after country. Beijing brought welcome foreign investment on a scale not seen since the end two decades ago of superpower competition between the US and the former Soviet Union.

For example, in Angola, which is stunningly rich in natural resources and was fought over by Moscow and Washington's surrogate guerrilla armies in a 27-year civil war that ended only in 2002, China is partnering the country's rapid development with its multi-billion dollar investments in Angola's infrastructure.

Two Chinese oil companies last week bought a $1.3 billion stake in the rich Block 32 development 90 miles off the Angolan coast - already China imports more oil from Angola than it does from Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Beijing announced it will invest $1.2bn in the development of Angolan agriculture over the next four years.

It is the latest phase in the commitment by China of billions of dollars in aid and cheap loans to Angola, which has resulted in Chinese companies building roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and telecoms infrastructure, as well as rebuilding the 835-mile trans-African Benguela Railway, built 107 years ago by Aberdeen engineer Sir Robert Williams but destroyed in the post-independence civil war.

And in Gabon, China rejuvenated the entire national railway grid as the price for developing the huge Belinga iron ore deposits deep in the country's dense tropical forest.

"Beijing's motives are clear," said Professor William Lyakurwa, executive director of the Nairobi-based African Economic Research Consortium. "China is home to more than 20% of the global population. Its growing industries demand new energy; its exporters want markets; its diplomats require support in international organisations.Its propaganda still seeks support from allies to advance Chinese interests and, when necessary, to counter the United States. It views Africa as a centre for military-to-military co-operation and a market for China's growing arms industry."

Obama has made it clear that if the US wants to out-muscle China it will need to commit more to projects like the 421-mile-long West African Gas Pipeline, which is scheduled to begin delivering gas early next year from Nigeria's Niger River Delta to Benin, Togo and Ghana. The pipeline is 40% financed by America's Chevron Oil and is the first regional natural gas transmission system in sub-Sahara Africa.

Within days of Obama returning to Washington from Ghana, the Washington-based International Monetary Fund approved a $603m loan to help the West African nation tackle budget imbalances while preparing to start production from recently discovered rich offshore oil fields - the loan is by far the biggest IMF financing package for an African country since the onset of the current global financial crisis.

Ghana will start pumping crude oil next year and expects to begin producing about 500,000 barrels of oil per day by 2014, about a quarter of the production rate in nearby Nigeria.

It is oil fields like Ghana's Jubilee find - 40% owned by London-based Tullow Oil - that AfriCom has the task of protecting; by diplomatic and aid means if possible and by force if necessary. Already West African nations supply as much oil to the US as Saudi Arabia and the US National Intelligence Council estimates that by 2015 some 25% of US oil imports will come from West Africa. The region's crude oil is overwhelmingly "light" and "sweet", the grade preferred by big refiners and the distance tankers have to sail is less than half that from the Middle East. Also, 83% of West Africa's oil resources come from big, more easily managed fields.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Aid to Poverty

The German magazine Der Spiegel has a report upon development aid in Africa and its problems which is well worth quoting extracts from .

"...The main reason that there is starvation in Africa is that there are no profits to be made in cultivating or trading foodstuffs. Either developmental aid ruins the profits or corrupt leaders rob their people blind..."

"..UN's employees are paid to fight hunger, and that's why they usually write reports in which they dramatically portray the situation in Africa and which they usually end with appeals demanding more donated food... And what happens when the help comes? First the merchants complain because the cost of food drops through the floor. Nor is it worth it, under the status quo, to build up any surplus stocks. Then, the farmers complain because their crops become worthless..."

"...Where there is hunger, it results from unethical leaders who steal from their people and let them either starve or rush them into wars...Kenya currently has 94 ministers and assistant ministers, each of whom earns more than $20,000 (€12,940) a month on top of having their own state-funded compound...."

In a previous Der Spiegel interview Kenyan economics expert and capitalist apologist James Shikwati said that aid to Africa does more harm than good.

Shikwati: ...Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.
SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?
Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere...

Shikwati: ... and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unsrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN's World Food Program. And because the farmers go under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It's a simple but fatal cycle...

SPIEGEL: In the West, there are many compassionate citizens wanting to help Africa. Each year, they donate money and pack their old clothes into collection bags ...
Shikwati: ... and they flood our markets with that stuff...Why do we get these mountains of clothes? No one is freezing here. Instead, our tailors lose their livlihoods. They're in the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products. In 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in Nigeria's textile industry. By 2003, the figure had dropped to 57,000. The results are the same in all other areas where overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African markets collide..."

As Socialist Banner has always claimed , the craziness of the capitalist market economy creates the contradictions that provides for the existence of poverty alongside plenty .Patching the system up with humanitarian aid fails to deliver the real solution . Only socialism can end African's poverty .

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Better Under Apartheid???

From our SPGB blog :-

"My life was better during apartheid," says Vincent Ntswayi, who held a steady job in Johannesburg during white rule but has only been intermittently employed since. "Freedom turned out to be just a word. Real freedom, real power, that comes from money — and I haven't got any money."

Let us be clear: Socialists were pleased to see the demise of apartheid in South Africa but warned at the time that capitalism with its attendant 'problems' including bad housing, inadequate health care, cheap schooling, unemployment, poor transport, police brutality, and pollution would continue.
But, later this month - some 19 years after the release of Mandela - workers will have the opportunity to vote in South Africa's parliamentary and presidential elections. The result is already known: they won, we lost.
Mass murderer Mbeki is no longer seeking to represent the capitalist class and is likely to be replaced in this role by Zuma, whose alleged background in corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering should serve him and those he represents well. The equally odious and corrupt 'Mother of the Nation' Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, is almost certain to be elected too.

Thus the rich will stay rich and the poor stay poor in the land of rape and money.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Liberation of who ?

"We were colonised by the French. We were forced to go to war. Forced to follow the orders that said, do this, do that, and we did. France has not been grateful. Not at all." Former French colonial soldier, Issa Cisse from Senegal, who is now 87 years-old, looks back on it all with sadness and evident resentment.

Papers unearthed by the BBC reveal that British and American commanders ensured that the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 was seen as a "whites only" victory. The BBC programme has seen evidence that black colonial soldiers - who made up around two-thirds of Free French forces - were deliberately removed from the unit that led the Allied advance into the French capital.Allied Command insisted that all black soldiers be taken out and replaced by white ones from other units.

By the time France fell in June 1940, 17,000 of its black, mainly West African colonial troops, known as the Tirailleurs Senegalais, lay dead.Many of them were simply shot where they stood soon after surrendering to German troops who often regarded them as sub-human savages. After the liberation of the French capital many Senegalese soldiers were simply stripped of their uniforms and sent home. To make matters even worse, in 1959 their pensions were frozen.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

poverty and NGOs

On the day that G20 leaders meet in London, millions of poor children in countries like Kenya are facing hunger and malnutrition. Save the Children estimates that there are up to 100,000 more malnourished children in Kenya today as a result of last year's rise in food prices.

Save the Children's Director of Policy said: "Poor people in the poorest countries were hit hard by the rise in food and fuel prices last year. The financial crisis will hurt them even more, and children are most at risk...What poor people want and deserve is that these promises are delivered on. G20 leaders have said that they will do what is necessary to revive their own economies. With equal urgency they should do whatever it takes to protect the world's poor, including poor children, from a financial crisis that was not of their making"

An estimated 4 million people in Kenya face acute food shortages for the next year as they live in areas hit hardest by the drought and food prices.

Save The Children can appeal as often as they wish to the good will of the world's capitalist class . Viewed from a socialist aspect, such appeals bestows its beneficence upon the capitalist class in addition to the favours that it patronisingly grants to the deprived and destitute. Even if NGOs such as Save The Children were groups genuinely seeking, on humanitarian grounds, to reach out to the needy (as some may honestly do , we readily admit ) they would still not escape being branded blind groups groping in the dark.
The work and assistance programmes of NGOs cannot be anything but a red herring. Having been brought into existence by the exploitative money-oriented system and being completely dependent on the same underhand methods of this unfeeling system for their survival what else can the activities of NGOs be if not messing about in trivialities? The main problem confronting humanity revolves around ownership of the means and instruments for producing and distributing social wealth. How many NGOs mount platforms to explain this simple truth to their target groups? How many NGOs ever distribute press releases about working people replacing this profit-oriented system with a higher social system based on collective and democratic ownership of the means and instruments of production?

Poverty and want are necessary offshoots of the capitalist socio-economic formation. Trying to get rid of the former whilst leaving the latter intact amounts to putting the cart before the horse. The only genuine assistance the NGO community could lead to the suffering people of this capitalist world is to stop collaborating with the owners of capital and instead, join forces with socialists to get rid of this system based on money. NGOs could use their resources to help usher in a system where production is not for profits' sake but for the satisfaction of needs. Under such a system nobody will have to run around begging for funds in order to help the needy—in fact there wouldn't be any more needy people.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Drowning for Labour Fluidity

Socialist Banner has previously reported on the woes of the migrant and has repeatedly stated that workers have no borders. 200 migrants were feared dead off the coast of Libya, after the smugglers' boat which was supposed to take them to Italy capsized.The UN refugee agency estimates that more than 67,000 people undertook the dangerous voyage to Europe in smugglers' boats in 2008. More than 1,700 are known to have died, but that figure could be far higher.

Echoing much of our analysis is the head of the UN refugee agency, Antonio Guterres when he said :-

"I think it's important to recognise that in today's world where as we have seen, money moves so freely, and goods tend to move also more and more freely, there are still tremendous obstacles for people.People need to move because they can no longer live in their countries of origin because of war, because of environmental degradation, because of poverty, there are many reasons that force people to move."

The International Labour Organisation says that despite the current global financial crisis, falling birth rates across western Europe will cause a labour shortage over the next few years. It says Europe should think about making it easier for people from the developing world to come in and work.

"You have a strong demand for labour particularly in industrialised countries," explained Patrick Taran, a migrant labour specialist with the ILO."They need people to fill the low skilled jobs in agriculture and construction, manufacturing, domestic work, in health care, and you have a lot of people, including with skills, who need those jobs and are willing to come for them."

He adds "When there's no job at all at home, when you have a family to feed, you will take risks to make sure that you and your family have food on the table."

As socialists are concerned, it is not a case of chanting “Migrants are welcome here” , which implies we as workers have some right to say who is and isn't welcome in the first place; nor even of saying that the immigration laws should be relaxed. We understand that the thing which makes workers leave behind their communities, and go to a place where their language is not spoken, is the wages system itself. This underlies the need for us to recognise our identical position with regards to the wages system, and work together, as workers across the world, across boundaries, to create a commonly owned planet where all can live in security.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

capitalism is the cancer

A third of cancer deaths in Africa were preventable and another third were treatable.

Alan Milburn , UK former health secretary ,added: "And where we can't prevent or treat the cancer, we must at least provide modest forms of palliation - other than giving a paracetamol. Unfortunately all too often that's what you get as pain relief for cancer in an African country."

32 of the 53 countries in Africa have no radiotherapy services, nor prevention or screening programmes.

Vaccine programmes have begun recently in the UK and the US to protect girls against HPV, the virus which causes about 70% of cervical cancers, before they become sexually active.

Mr Milburn told BBC News: "The HPV vaccine is affordable in the US and the UK, but not in Africa. Now doesn't that ring a bell? People used to say that HIV treatments were unaffordable. But then the world acted and the pharmaceutical companies caved in to pressure, and eventually did the right thing. It took a decade to act though.."

Breaking the Curse

Mineral-rich African states have been deprived of huge sums of royalties and taxes by mining firms, a report says. The report, by prominent development charities, blames a lack of legislative oversight and excessively generous tax concessions agreed with the firms.
It says some mining companies have also avoided paying tax through secret contracts with African governments. The study covers South Africa, Sierra Leone, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia. Commissioned by development charities including Christian Aid and ActionAid, the Breaking the Curse report calls for reform of the institutional framework that negotiates mining concessions and monitors the royalties paid.

  • Ghana, a top African gold producer, is losing $68m (£46.7m) annually because it is receiving low royalties.
  • Tanzania, the continent's third largest producer of gold, could be losing $30m (£20.6m) a year in potential revenues.
  • Low royalty rates could be costing South Africa, the continent's biggest gold producer, up to $359m (£246m) a year
Mining companies operating in Africa are granted too many tax subsidies and concessions.
There is high incidence of tax avoidance by mining companies conditioned by such measures as secret mining contracts, corporate mergers and acquisitions, and various ‘creative’ accounting mechanisms. These tax subsidies, together with tax avoidance and alleged tax evasion practices by mining companies, have robbed African treasuries of millions of dollars of tax revenue from the mining industry. The citizens of mineral-rich countries continue to live in poverty, and are in some cases subject to violent conflict fuelled by the wealth generated from mineral resources as is the case today in the eastern DRC.

African mining tax regimes are a mix of secret and discretionary tax deals, as well as tax laws enacted through parliament. Most mining tax laws dating from the 1990s have lowered taxes considerably to attract new foreign direct investment into the sector. This shift to lower taxes has been promoted by the World Bank in all its client countries in Africa, as a means to revitalize the mining sector. Many of these laws allow ministers to negotiate tax deals with individual mining companies at their discretion, often leading to lower royalties, corporate taxes, fuel
levies, windfall or other taxes than those stipulated in the law. At their worst, contracts
may completely exempt companies from any taxes or royalties, as was the case in a number of the mining contracts signed between private companies and state-owned enterprises in the DRC
between 1997 and 2003.
Full Report here

“It is surprising how potentially wealthy nations depend, almost at alcoholic proportions, on aid from countries in the West and most recently Asia,” Brian Kagaro, Action Aid Pan African policy Manager said. “If Africa is truly a mineral-rich continent, why are its people languishing in poverty?”