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.