Thursday, March 31, 2011


In Malawi, about $3.8m (£2.4m) has disappeared and a school has been left unbuilt. Alone, that story would never make international headlines. The project belonged to Madonna's charity Raising Malawi. The message from the failed project appears simple: good intentions are not enough, and money in the wrong hands can be worse than no money at all. But the unbuilt school also points to much deeper debates about how development happens: can it come from outside and above? Or must it come from inside and below? A heated land dispute pits villagers against the wealthy western donor and the Malawian government, which takes her side: "Don't you know better? You need a school. You should be grateful." Not long after, allegations follow of private jets being flown into the country, laden with luxuries (exercise machines and expensive wines). But the project only truly begins to falter after auditors uncover "outlandish expenses" – salaries, private cars and golf memberships – and the charity's executive director bows out. Amid the brewing controversy, the project is pulled by the wealthy donor, who hopes to cut her loses.

In the aftermath, staff members are suddenly left without jobs, and file suit for lost wages, unfair dismissal and non-payment of benefits. As the "mismanagement of funds" is said to have happened overseas, those among the general public who answered the charity's call for donations can do little to hold it to account. Though Madonna had chosen education as her cause, she has now been forced to share her spotlight with the much more complex development challenges of corruption, accountability and disenfranchisement.

The development economist William Easterly said that part of the new millennium's explosion of interest in "saving Africa" could be explained by the mass advocacy celebrity campaigns spearheaded by the Bonos and the Geldofs of the world. But aside from the Malawi project's star-studded cast – Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow were also among Madonna's backers. Today, celebrities are much more than pretty faces for charity appeals. They're also out and about, lobbying politicians and setting up their own foundations. But, according to William Easterly, celebrities have been too quick to rub shoulders and hobnob with the powerful. And they overstep the line, he says, by claiming expertise on the basis of their stardom. In the process, say critics, attention is diverted away from the tougher, more nuanced issues in development.

Monday, March 28, 2011

the asian scramble for africa

South Korea joins Beijing in the scramble for access to the continent's vast natural resources. Kim Sung-Hwan South Korea's foreign minister will travel to Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.

Talks will be held on oil exploration projects in Gabon and the building of infrastructure in Congo in return for energy deals, a ministry official said. "We plan to actively encourage South Korean companies take a plunge in Africa, the world's emerging economy rich with energy resources," the ministry said in a statement. "The trip... is aimed at helping South Korean companies win business deals there and sharing the experience of our economic development with Africa".

India has also been securing land and resource deals in Africa in a bid to maintain its growth.


The Human Rights Commission's workshop on Equity in the Realisation of Children's Rights in South Africa revealed that 11,9million children live in poverty. It also revealed that a child growing up in deprived communities was two times less likely to have access to adequate sanitation and water, two times less likely to be exposed to early childhood development programmes, three times less likely to complete secondary education and 17 times more likely to experience hunger. African children are 12 times more likely to experience hunger than white children

About 1.7million children lived in shacks, 1.4million relied on rivers or streams as their main source of water, and 1.5million had no toilet in their home. "Most" causes of death of children under five were avoidable; and 61% of all child deaths were due to "health system failures" - inadequate care by doctors and nurses working at clinics and hospitals. One in five children is stunted by chronic malnutrition, and 100000 children who need antiretroviral drugs did not get them. Immunisation coverage across the country for killer diseases, including polio, hepatitis, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria and tuberculosis, has decreased to as little as 45% in some areas compared to 1994.

In education, 582000 children of high school age were not at school - 28% of them because their parents could not afford school fees. Four out of 10 children live in households in which none of the adults work.

Of the 49million people living in South Africa, 18million of them were children under the age of 18 and more than 60 percent of them were African children living in hunger. Of 56500 children who were victims of violent crime in 2009-2010, 27417 were raped or molested. Of those, 29% were under the age of 10 years

Aida Girma, Unicef's representative in South Africa, said the situation was similar to that in other developing countries, where "millions of the world's most disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalised children" are left behind.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

stealing from peter to pay paul

Swaziland's government, feeling the pinch of a growing financial crisis, has suspended this quarter’s pensions for the elderly and redirected the money to pay the school fees of orphans and vulnerable children. About 5 percent of Swaziland's approximately one million people are 60 years old or older and eligible for pensions.

The pension stipends are indispensable for many of the elderly, as there is no alternative form of social security and private sector pensions are rare. The grants were increased two years ago from $21 per quarter to $85 and are paid four times a year. But a loaf of bread costs about $1, so most people subsist on maize-meal, supplemented by wild spinach, edible herbs, emasi (sour milk) and occasionally meat.

"You cannot live on such money as government provides but it can help you survive," said Gogo Khumalo, a 70-year-old widower in rural Mliba, 100km east of the capital, Mbabane.

Roughly two-thirds of Swazis live below the poverty line. Swaziland has the world's highest HIV prevalence rate - 26.1 percent - and one in four Swazis between the ages of 15 and 49 are living with the virus. Mbabane recently saw the largest anti-government protests in years, sparked by the construction of "vanity projects" like a new $1 billion international airport, built at the expense of social services.

"Taking from the elderly to meet the needs of orphans and vulnerable children is stealing from Peter to pay Paul," Solomon Thwala, a primary school teacher, told IRIN. "There are sources of funding other than putting the elderly in jeopardy."

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Troubled Water - book review

Crude World. By Peter Maass.
The delta of the River Niger is an enormous wetland, once a flourishing ecosystem with a wide range of life forms. But now it is not a wildlife sanctuary: rather it is a horrendous landscape of ruined villages, devastated populations and roving armies. The reason for this is simply the delta’s vast oil reserves and the prospects for wealth and power that these entail.

This is but one clear example of the ‘resource curse’, which states that countries dependent on the export of resources such as oil are susceptible to more corruption and warfare but less freedom or economic growth. In this enlightening book, Peter Maass surveys a number of cases and shows how oil rarely produces benefits for those who live in the places where it is found.

In Equatorial Guinea, for instance, the discovery of offshore oil led to enormous riches for the dictator-president Teodoro Obiang. Few local workers were employed in the exploring and drilling work, and massive profits were made by American companies like Exxon. The US government, and various lobbying groups, played their part in supporting Obiang and keeping him friendly to American business. This is particularly important as Chinese companies start flexing their own oil-producing muscles.

In Ecuador Texaco was able to do more or less as it wished, since the officials of the newly-formed state oil company knew next to nothing about oil. The natural gas that came to the surface with the oil was just burned off, which can be deadly for both people and environment. Rivers and land have been contaminated and the government left with massive debts.

The profits, of course, go to the oil companies and their owners. Lee Raymond received $686 million for his thirteen years as chief executive of Exxon-Mobil, while billions went to share-holders. As Maass points out, oil companies in fact do not ‘produce’ oil, they simply take it from the ground. Extracting, purifying and transporting oil are complex tasks (performed by skilled workers), but selling oil to realise the profits is not difficult. What is needed in the first place is a licence from the local government to explore and extract oil, which is why the oil industry is usually rife with corruption and works closely with diplomats and generals to ensure this kind of access.

So a substance used to provide fuel and warmth also causes wars and destroys the environment. Inevitable consequences of a world that belongs to a privileged few and is driven by profit.