Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The struggle after the war

Abeja is one of the many women struggling to survive the horrors of war. Her home is a few kilometres from Barlonyo, where the LRA massacred over 200 people in a single attack in February 2004. Abeja was captured in 2002. She was a wife and a mother of six children. She was captured along with a daughter and a son by Uganda's feared rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and was forced to join them. But not before the soldiers made her kill her one-year- old baby girl, by smashing her skull in, and then gang raped her. Abeja can’t remember how many men they were; she says there could have been 10 to 15. She doesn’t know what happened to her son or if he’s still alive. Like many abductees, Abeja had to kill or be killed. In her four years with the LRA she tells IPS she can’t recollect the number of people she was forced to kill, but she puts the number at more than 40.

The LRA fought in the north and north eastern parts of Uganda for 23 years. The war, which forced close to two million people into internally displaced persons camps for decades. Thousands of people died as a result and the war was characterised by its use of child soldiers and the conscription of civilians into the rebel group. The LRA were forced out of the country in 2006 and are currently operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and western South Sudan.

Since the war ended in 2006, people went back to their original homes and depended on emergency aid. A recovery and development plan was put in place in 2009 by the Ugandan government but this has not covered the emergency medical needs of the population. Most of the money went into building new blocks of health units and rehabilitating the destroyed ones.

In Ogur, Lira in northern Uganda, Abeja has come to a temporary medical camp run by Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE), a women’s organisation working with women in conflict and post-conflict settings. The camp is specifically for women with reproductive health complications, which they have mostly sustained from being raped during the almost two decades of war. For most of the women here it is the first time they have been offered special medical attention since the war ended in 2006, and for many it is the first time they have been treated by a doctor. It is also the first time that many of these women have ever spoken out about the violence they had to endure. Dr. Tom Charles Otim, a lead gynaecologist at the camp, says Abeja has lived with a prolapsed uterus for years now. Uterine prolapse – the descent of the uterus into the vagina or beyond – is one of the long-term complications associated with sexual violence. In Abeja’s case, her uterus is hanging out. She will need surgery, which costs about 200 dollars, to remove her uterus. She and 39 other women are referred for treatment to a regional hospital many kilometres away. A majority of the women seeking medical treatment at the camp have chronic pelvic pain as a result of pelvic inflammatory infections. "The infections are high here; because of the war, the women were not able to access medical care early," says Otim. This has had an effect on the women’s sexual lives and the majority of them have painful sex. Many women who have come to the camp have fertility problems.

Abeja not only has to live with the physical scars of the rapes but the psychological effects as well. She and women like her have to endure intense stigma from the community. Her husband rejected her after she returned, and left her to raise their four surviving children and her child from the war. Fighting back the tears she wonders: "Do they think I wanted to be abducted and raped by the rebels? Do they think I wanted to kill my own child?" Women like Abeja need more support than just surgery.

The district health officer in Lira, Nelson Opio, says that "When war ends, there’s a silent war that has to be fought.Politicians here think they will just put up structures so they can say ‘This is what I did during my time’ and ignore people’s real needs." .

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wasting Away

A survey around Kampala's urban markets, retialers and restaurants unveiled the stack reality that while food prices are soaring and many people are dropping dead or are going to bed hungry every night, unimaginable huge quantities of food are thrown away.

Food wastage is not unique to Uganda. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says one-third of all food produced worldwide for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to some 1.3 billion tonnes per year. In Italy alone, one of the countries with the highest levels of wastage, food worth $53 million is thrown away every year. This would translate into 753 million meals enough to feed the entire East Africa for two years.

Kalerwe is Kampala's largest food market. Located three kilometers north of the city, the place is where many urbanites both rich and poor gather to buy affordable food items. Many city dwellers from the adjoining slums walk up to two kilometers to buy cheap and yet quality food. Even residents from upscale Kololo, Ntinda and Nakasero drive to this market mostly on weekends to buy food. Yet despite the huge turnout of shoppers, some food remains and is either sold cheaply or thrown onto garbage skips.

"Carrots, potatoes and cassava have a short shelf life and so we increase the quantities sold to attract customers" Mr Simon Mukasa who operates a stall at Kalerwe. "If you fail to sell cassava by evening then you can only throw it onto garbage skips." Yet cassava is one food item that easily be dried and processed into flour.

East African Business Week witnessed a lady throwing away tomatoes she said were rotten. "Nobody can buy these," she lamented as the reject joined a pile of ripe bananas, cabbages and stale cassava. In the city, many households especially in the slums keep some cattle and goats and one would think they would struggle to get grass and other feed supplements.
Ironically in the urban townships, many cattle farmers in the neighbouring Wakiso District that surrounds Kmapala city buy a sack of banana peelings at UGshs 3000 ($1.2). This is so because there are many cattle in the villages competing for feeds while in the city, they are just thrown away on skips.

It is estimated that about 80% of restaurants in Kampala throw away at least five kgs of food everyday. "It is easier to just throw it food away in the dustbin than to store it" said Miss Jackie Achieng who runs Palms Restaurant in Nankulabye, 3 km north west of Kampala city. She admitted that she throws away food almost every day.

The problem of postharvest losses is very crucial especially in rural areas. This is due to lack of proper storage facilities and better processing methods to prolong the shelf value. Until serious efforts are made to ensure that global food production is matched with adequate storage, transportation and processing, this life-giving resource will continue to be wasted. Amid such situation it is inevitable to conclude that worldwide hunger is simply a figurative creation rather than a reality. What is at stake is the failure to manage and equitably distribute our food resources.

In the words of Shakespeare: "Distribution should undo excess and each man have enough."

from here

Poor Jo'

Nearly half of the people in major townships across Johannesburg do not have access to proper food, an agricultural expert told a conference in Johannesburg.

“A recent survey showed that 42% of the population in Alexandra, Soweto, and Orange Farm were food insecure,” Florian Kroll, a food security researcher, said at a Health and Poverty Indaba. He also revealed that 97% of those who did not have proper nutrition were TB patients: “That’s a concern because we depend on food to be healthy.”

Another expert, Prof Laetitia Rispel, a professor at the centre for health policy at the school of public health at Wits University, said research also showed that HIV prevalence was almost double in urban informal settlements compared to urban formal areas in Johannesburg. Other statistics are that Joburg has a still-birth rate of 18 per 1 000 births and a tuberculosis cure rate of between 70 and 79 percent, which is below the target of 85 percent.

Life expectancy in South Africa is 45 and, according to Rispel, “it doesn’t compare well to other countries of similar income, such as Brazil”. Maternal and infant mortality rates are alarmingly high, and the maternal mortality rate increased between 2000 and 2005 from 230 to 400 per 1 000 births. Health and poverty went hand-in-hand. The head of social development in Gauteng, Bheki Sibeko explained poverty is the key cause of ill health and the people most affected by poverty are society’s most vulnerable: women, children, people with disabilities, the elderly and the youth. “Poverty is highest in women-headed, single-parent households,” he added.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Poverty in The Gambia

Former Permanent Secretary at the Gambian Ministry of Finance, Abdou Touray, said over half of the population in the country still live in abject poverty.

He remarked, “The objective of Vision 2020 is to get out of this, but it is getting late. We have achieved 6% growth rate, but growth is not sufficient to reduce poverty. The growth levels are not impacting on poverty."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Another Land-grab Report

Indian agribusiness companies are ready to spend $2.5bn buying, or renting for decades, several million hectares of cheap land in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda in what could be some of the largest farming deals struck in Africa in the last 50 years, according to a Guardian report.

A delegation of 35 Indian investors, including food conglomerates McLeod Russel, Kaveri Seeds, and Karuturi Global, has been touring Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda for the last week to seek land to grow palm oil, maize, cotton, rice and vegetables, largely for the burgeoning Indian market. The deals, if concluded, would swell growing concerns for the "land grab" phenomenon now taking place. There has been growing alarm at some of the handouts and tax exemptions in favour of the companies, potentially at the expense of local communities. Many of the projects have barely started producing food, but tens of thousands of people are expected to be evicted, and land traditionally used by pastoralist farmers is being fenced off. In addition, many companies are being allowed to grow food primarily for export despite increasingly hungry home markets.

Karuturi said in Dar es Salaam that it was ready to spend $500m acquiring and developing 200,000 hectares of land for palm oil, 150,000 for cereals and 20,000 for sugarcane. This is in addition to $400m the company is spending to develop 100,000 hectares in Gambella province in Ethiopia. The investors have said they are each ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on what is some of the cheapest land in the world, being offered on decades-long leases for as little as $1.50 per hectare per year.

"There is huge potential for the agriculture sector in east Africa," said Karuturi's managing director, Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi. "The region has 120m hectares of arable land, the same size of arable land India has."

According to the UN, at least 60m hectares of land, mostly in Africa , have been bought or leased for up to 100 years as western hedge and pension funds have moved to buy land as an alternative investment to property, and wealthy Middle East countries have sought land to grow food after food riots and droughts. China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as many smaller Middle East countries have led the deals.

"No one should believe that these investors are there to feed starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security," said Obang Metho of Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia. "These agreements – many of which could be in place for 99 years – do not mean progress for local people and will not lead to food in their stomachs. These deals lead only to dollars in the pockets of corrupt leaders and foreign investors."

Meanwhile, the same situation has manifested itself in South America where the US-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, has concluded that much of Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia has been acquired by foreign companies to farm."In Paraguay, Argentine firms and individuals own about 60% of the 3m hectares of land used to cultivate soy. Foreigners own 19.4% of all Paraguayan land and Argentines own almost all of the 500,000 hectares of Uruguayan soil designated for soy cultivation, while foreigners own 25% of the country's total arable land," say the authors. Foreign agribusiness investors own or rent over 1m hectares of Bolivia, according to the report.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kenyan hunger

The food crisis that is devastating lives and killing children throughout the Horn of Africa is not restricted to the arid lands. Over the past five months, Concern Worldwide has recorded a 62 percent increase in cases of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) at clinics it supports in Nairobi slum areas. Part of the reason malnutrition in slums is paid relatively scant attention is that it rarely reaches the emergency level. In Turkana, 15 percent GAM would translate to 13,000 children. But in Nairobi district, 13,000 malnourished children would reflect just a 3.45 percent GAM rate.“Emergency thresholds for malnutrition applied in rural areas are not applicable in poor settlements where population density overrides the health indicators used in rural areas,” said Thandie Mwape, a humanitarian affairs officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “This is not as visible as cattle and goats dying,” said Amina Abdulla, programme manager for urban livelihoods and social protection at Concern. “But the crisis is as severe".

“They live in a fixed crisis, day to day,” said communications manager Elizabeth Wright. “Because there’s poverty all the time, it’s hard to know when they reach a tipping point."

"Malnutrition in the urban areas of Kenya is there all of the time, it doesn’t get the attention it should, and some of the background causes of malnutrition rising in the north are the same in the urban areas,” said Peter Hailey from the UN Children’s Fund.

In Korogocho, a Nairobi slum, Rabaha Mohammad is responsible for feeding herself and 10 other people who share her rented room. “There are days when we don’t have anything to eat, but we might borrow some money or buy food on credit to have something for that day,” she said. Mohammad owes her creditors KSh5,000 - more than US$50. She and her children subsist on one meal a day - some rice with cabbage and tomatoes, and sometimes tea and bread. “They don’t complain of hunger much,” she said of her children. “They only cry about it once in a while.”

Alice said “many more” women have turned to sex work since the drought started and food prices went up. With the KSh50 ($0.90) she makes most days, Alice can buy a little rice for herself and her three children, and maybe some water. She has not paid rent in two months. Her children were chased away from school a month ago when the money ran out to pay the fees. Alice said the baby she held in her arms was crying because she had not been fed all day. Alice has so little food to eat she can no longer produce breast milk.

People living in slums are especially vulnerable to food price changes because so much of their income goes on food, and the lack of regular employment makes planning and saving difficult. To survive the “alarmingly volatile” increases in food prices, said Wright, people have reduced their food intake and turned to negative coping strategies such as engaging in sex work, taking children out of school, or selling assets.While international assistance is focused on the swelling numbers of refugees and devastated pastoralists, slum conditions often fall far short of the minimum shelter and sanitation standards established for responses to humanitarian crises.

Pauline Wangoi Mungai came to Korogocho 30 years ago, when the place was still being built. She sells vegetables in a small shop on the roadside. “People used to come and buy a bucket of potatoes,” she said. “Now they come with KSh10 [1 cent] and buy one potato.” Mungai said she would probably have to raise the price of her vegetables even more to make a profit. In her 30 years in the slum, she had never seen things so bad. “This is the worst. This is the big one.”

From here

Its not bad luck , its the system

Nigeria is one of the most unequal nations in Africa and the world. And like many other resource-rich nations, 'growth’ has not led to sustainable job opportunities. The so-called economic growth only benefits a narrow band of Nigerians – whether under dictatorships or democratic rule.

Nigeria’s population is three times that of South Africa, its economy is second to theirs in Africa. Nigeria are the 37th largest economy in the world, and 11th in terms of labour force (about 48 million, according to 2010 estimates). So how come its one of the most impoverished countries in Africa and the 25th poorest in the world? Global average income is about $25 per person per day. In Nigeria, about half live under $2 a day – on the threshold of poverty. Two-thirds of the population lives under or around $1.25 a day – in extreme poverty. Twenty centuries after the development of scripts and the numeric systems, about 44% of the population still lack basic literacy and numeracy skills.

While the economy grew, the incomes of the poor have not, even with the new minimum wage. This is especially true of the rural and urban poor who together, account for much of Nigerian poverty. At current rates, it is estimated that by 2015, Nigeria will have more poor people than India and China who have more than a billion people each. In fact, the World Bank includes Nigeria in the list of top 15 places with the highest incidence of poverty. Of our 162 million people, 90 million live below the poverty level of $2 a day, despite billions of dollars in oil revenues. Of that 90 million poor people, 60 million are dependants.

In 1980 only an estimated 27 percent of Nigerians lived in poverty. By 1990, it had grown to 70 percent. In 2010, over 58 percent of the population lived under the new poverty threshold of $1.25 a day.

Nigeria’s poor are in two distinct groups: the working and non-working population. Poverty is prevalent in both rural and urban areas, though large numbers of rural folk constantly migrate to urban areas in search of work. This is not unconnected to the fact that typical households in rural areas only cultivate 1 hectare of land annually which is only capable of producing about N80, 000 worth of food crops. From this, the household may earn N80, 000 ($500) or N219 per day, for a family of 6-7 people. Each member of that family lives on approximately N32-37 per day. Supplementary income from cattle, fishing or other wage labour, does not amount to much. There are few activities in the rural areas that create jobs apart from labour intensive agriculture; even this is seasonal. The landless farm labourers have little to do in the off-season, unless they seek work in the urban areas.

The urban poor – mostly uneducated and unskilled migrants from rural poverty – only have their physical bodies as capital. Urban wages may be higher than the rural, (for the same kind of work, urban wage rate can be 50–100% higher), but workers sometimes end up poorer because most of their meager earnings is consumed by the higher costs of living. With the new minimum wage, the typical urban poor earns between N18,000-20,000 (or N240,000 annually). This translates to approximately N658 per day and in the smaller urban household of 4 would amount to N164 per person per day - less than the poverty line of N200 a day.

Charity, welfare and aid initiatives are not enough, nor do they work. Even if poverty alleviation funds were collected through taxation or voluntary contributions, it is highly doubtful if they can be efficiently delivered. Reliance on luck will not take us any further than where we are.

Adapted from an article by Nasir El-Rufai, a former federal minister, in the Daily Independent

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dependence Syndrome

In the past, it was said and often repeated that Africa was inflicted by three crippling scourges, namely poverty, hunger and disease. Unfortunately, the three severely handicapping scourges are still prevalent.

Most African leaders have steered their governments into the unpredictable and costly dependence syndrome. Many of these leaders and their bureaucrats continue to be seen in the capitals of the developed and developing worlds with begging cups in hand. On their return home, they jubilate and exhibit their triumphs in having convinced their counterparts in the former worlds to part with crumbs under their rich tables, in exchange for the surrender of local raw materials which consist of wealth.

Today, the dependence syndrome in Africa has come to mean the surrender of valuable national assets in return for cheap trinkets and poorly designed and manufactured transient goods and equipment. The African continent continue to rely heavily on expatriate experts and money with their programmes of participation, personnel and paraphernalia, sometimes alien models of development have been thrust upon Africa while implementing international or bilateral agreements. These are agreements that invariably favour the donor rather than the receiving host country.

Consequently, the dependence syndrome exacerbates instead of reducing the three scourges of poverty, ignorance and disease.


Friday, August 19, 2011


Eastern and northern Uganda could be staring at famine. The worst hit districts are Bulambuli and the region of Karamoja where 1.2 million people are facing food shortage. Following the persistent drought that reduced pasture and food production, Karimojong cattle keepers are selling their few remaining cows and goats in order to survive. Others who lost their animals to cattle rustlers have resorted to breaking stones and selling them to Tororo Cement Industries while some gather wild fruits to survive. As food scarcity worsens in many districts of northern Uganda, many households have resorted to rationing the available foodstuffs they have in their family stores. To survive, some families have resorted to borrowing food from friends, hunting, selling their land and animals.

"We are just selling off our animals to survive but traditionally cows in Karamoja are only meant for marriage," said Timothy Koryang, an elder in Moroto.

Ms Anastasia Among, a 40 year-old widow in Ocorai village in Serere and her family, depend on farming for survival but for the last three months, there has been no rain in her area and the crops have withered. "I depend on growing crops for sale and consumption at home. This year the harvest is very poor and we fear there is going to be a serious food shortage," Ms Among said.

In West Nile region, families have one meal a day as a result of food shortage that has pushed prices up. Mr Clement Adrabo, a resident of Ediofe, said: "We now take one meal per day because food is expensive and there is no money. I have even stopped drinking alcohol and the money should rather be used for feeding my family," the father of four said.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

food prices

Low- and middle-income earners across eastern and central Africa are reeling from the mounting cost of living brought on by a sharp increase in commodity prices in the past few months. Protests and demonstrations against the rising cost of food and fuel have swept across several towns in Kenya and Uganda; violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces have been reported on several occasions in Uganda.


According to Ethiopia's Central Statistical Agency, the annual inflation rate reached 39.2 percent in July, from 16.5 percent in February 2011. Food prices rose by 47.4 percent in July against 12.8 percent in February.

"Buying meat and butter is unthinkable; meat has gone up from 40 to 45 birr [US$2.60] a kilo four months ago to 90 birr [$5.20] a kilo now," said Solomon Bekele, 55, who supports a family of five in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. "Butter is now around 120 birr [$6.95] a kilo from just 60 birr [$3.47] in October 2010." - Solomon, who makes 4,000 birr [$231] a month, says he spends about 60 percent of his income on food.


"We eat one or two of the usual three meals every day because of the high price of food; two months ago, half a kilo of rice cost 20,000 shillings [$0.66], but now it costs 40,000 shillings [$1.32]," said Fadumo Hassan Abdi, a mother of six in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. "Until two months ago, I had a small business in Bakara Market in Mogadishu, but it was lost during the war between the Transitional Federal Government and Al-Shabab militia."

Mustafe Mohamed, a father of three in Hargeisa, capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland, said: "Four months ago one 50kg sack of rice was only $28, compared with $34.50 now, while a 50kg sack of sugar that cost $40 now costs $50. Before, $90 was enough feed the family, but now you can't even buy food for $200 - we don't know what to do."

Shaqlan Jama Ismail, a grandmother, says food prices have never been so high in her lifetime. "We used to buy food with cash, but now we have to borrow money," she said. "We are waiting for the almighty Allah to help us."

"In late July 2011, a litre of petrol was 5,800 Somaliland shillings [$0.96] but now it is about 7,200 shillings [$1.20] - if the situation continues like this we may stop driving," said Mohamed Abdalla, a taxi driver in Hargeisa.


According to Tanzania's National Bureau of Statistics, the annual headline inflation rate for June 2011 was 10.9 percent, against 9.7 percent the previous month.

"We used to buy rice for 1,200 shillings [$0.74] for a kilo but now, you have to pay 1,500 shillings [$0.92]," said Sitti Pilula, a resident of Kariakoo, a suburb of Tanzania's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.


"I could not eat ugali (maize meal) without meat; even when I had it with vegetables, it had to be mixed with beef," said Francis Muruli, a teacher in Nakuru, in Kenya's Rift Valley Province. Muruli and his family now eat vegetables with their ugali, saving an average of 80 shillings [$0.83] on every meal.

A 90kg bag, which cost about KSh1,200 [$12.50], now costs as much as KSh4,000 [$41.70]. According to government officials

Wanjiku Kamau, a resident of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, says the high prices of food and other commodities means she is unable to save any money.

"I am paid 10,000 shillings [$104] per month; my rent is 3,000 [$31.30] while almost all the rest goes to feeding my children," said the single mother of three. "Everything has increased in price; two litres of cooking oil which I used to buy for 280 shillings [$2.90] is now 470 shillings [$4.90]."

Francis Kamunya, a secondary school teacher, now goes directly to producers and buys in bulk to reduce the cost of running his household. "Rather than buy maize in single packets, I now prefer taking about 5kg of maize to the posho mill, leaving me with at least some savings," he said. "I buy at least 20kg of rice from the Mwea (rice scheme) traders. It is enough to last three months."

Abdi Ndenge, a night-watchman at a guest house in Isiolo town, works as a porter during the day yet he can barely make enough to feed his two children. "I was comfortable until December last year; I used to work at night, sleep during the day and could afford to feed my family; this is not possible now with the food prices having gone so high."

The pump price of petrol in Nairobi is about KSh115 ($1.20) against KSh97.1 (about $1) in January 2011. The shilling has dropped 18 percent against the dollar in 2011, trading at a new low of 95.10 on 9 August.


According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, headline inflation reached 18.7 percent in July from 15.7 percent in June.

"Life is becoming unbearable because I have to struggle every day to be able to put food on the table for my family. Today, the largest bunch of matooke (plantain) costs up to 20,000 shillings [$7.30]; I used to pay half the price in January but my income has remained the same from that time," said James Mukwaya, a father of four with a household of eight people. "We would resort to maize flour but that too has risen to 3,200 shillings [$1.16] per kilo instead of the 1,500 shillings [$0.54] we used to pay."

A sugar shortage - caused by drought and the temporary closure of a major sugar factory for maintenance - has seen prices soar: 1kg is retailing at about 5,800 shillings [$2.11] in urban areas, and costs up to 10,000 shillings [$3.65] in rural areas.

"Prices are rising night after night; I have to hold my breath when entering the market because of the rising food prices," said Sara Lamunu, a resident of Gulu, northern Uganda. "Last Wednesday a kilo of sugar was 6,000 shillings [$2.19] but this morning the price has risen to 9,000 shillings [$3.30]."

"I no longer fry food because a litre of cooking oil costs 4,500 shillings [$1.64]," said Alice Atto, another Gulu resident.


According to the National Institute of Statistics, the increase in the consumer price index of 1.54 percent is attributable primarily to the increase in prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages (2.41 percent), housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels (0.95 percent) and transport (3.08 percent). The cost of local goods increased by 5.12 percent, according to the institute, attributed to a 1.7 percent price increase in vegetables and a 6.12 percent increase in bread and cereals prices.


According to a first-quarter report by Burundi's Central Bank, "The rise in food inflation is mainly due to the increase in rice prices (8.7 percent); fresh fish (17.3 percent); dried fish (9.6 percent), palm oil (29.7 percent) and dry beans (14.1 percent)." Antoine Gahiru, a communication officer for the Institute of Economic Studies of Burundi, said annual inflation in June was 8.6 percent

"We fear we could have a famine like the one in Somalia," said Aminata, a banana vendor in the capital, Bujumbura. "I take care of a family of five children and I am spending at least five times more than what I spent in 2005 to feed them. Today, beans cost 1,300 francs [$1.03] whereas it was only 600 francs [$0.50] in 2005."

Ciza Leocadia, 29, a mother of twins, said: "I came to Bujumbura in search of food because I was not able to raise my twins in my rural home; I have nothing to eat." She said her husband had gone to neighbouring Tanzania in search of food.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

the Somali mercenaries

A gun for hire through two decades of bloody African conflicts, former French army officer Richard Rouget is now the unlikely face of the American campaign against militants in Somalia.The 51-year-old commanded mercenaries during Ivory Coast's civil war in 2003, was convicted by a South African court for selling his military services and served a stint in the presidential guard of the Comoros Islands, the archipelago plagued by coup attempts. Now he works for Bancroft Global Development, an American private security company indirectedly backed by the US State Department, training African troops fighting al-Shabaab The advisers typically work from the front lines. Bancroft's Mogadishu team includes about 40 former South African, French and Scandinavian soldiers.
He seems to enjoy his work. "Give me some technicals" - a term for heavily armed pickup trucks — "and some savages and I'm happy," he joked.

The fight against al-Shabaab, a group US officials fear could carry out strikes against the West, has mostly been outsourced to African soldiers and private companies to avoid sending American troops back to a place that was a graveyard for US military missions in the past. "We do not want an American footprint or boot on the ground," said Johnnie Carson, the Obama administration's top State Department official for Africa.

In the past year, the US has quietly stepped up operations inside Somalia. The Central Intelligence Agency has trained Somali intelligence agents, helped build a large base at Mogadishu's airport - Somalis call it "The Pink House" for its reddish paint - and carried out joint interrogations of suspected terrorists. The Pentagon uses strikes by armed drone aircraft to kill al-Shabaab militants and recently approved £28 million in arms shipments.

Wasting food

The Namibian city of Windhoek put an abrupt stop to the dumping of expired foods at the Windhoek rubbish dumps. Hundreds of people stood ready with sacks in hand, just as they have done for months each Thursday, a City of Windhoek officials arrived on the scene and told Police officers that the food trucks were stopped and won’t dump food.

A manager at a supermarket in Windhoek said that “most of the stuff that we throw away is still fit for human consumption”. He said that “in the end there is so much that is thrown away” and suggested that instead of large scale food being dumped, a system could be created where the food is collected and redistributed to the poor and needy.

Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, reports every year “consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food - 222 million tons - as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa - 230 million tons”.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Children Dying

13 children out of every 10,000 aged less than five die in the Somalia famine zone every day.

"This means that 10 per cent of children under five are dying every 11 weeks. These figures are truly heart wrenching," The UN representative to Somalia Augustine Mahiga told the UN Security Council.

"We have not yet seen the peak of the crisis as further deterioration is considered likely," Deputy UN emergency relief coordinator Catherine Bragg said.

Bragg said more than 1.2 Somali children are in dire need of assistance. She warned that tens of thousands of more children will die if aid is not provided.

The United States has estimated that more than 29,000 kids under the age of five have starved to death in southern Somalia in the past three months.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why They Starve

Drought has certainly contributed to the current crisis, but more fundamental causes are at play. Drought is not a new environmental condition for much of Africa but a recurring one. The semi-arid Horn of Africa and the entire Sahelian region — running just south of the Sahara Desert across the continent — have long experienced erratic rainfall. While climate change may be exacerbating rainfall variability, traditional livelihoods in the region are adaptable to deal with situations when rainfall is not dependable. Just as death from exposure is not an inherent result of a cold winter, famine is not a natural consequence of drought. Simply put, the structure of human society often determines who is affected and to what degree.

In anticipation of years of poor rainfall, farming households and communities historically stored surplus crop production. Sadly, this traditional strategy for mitigating the risk of drought was undermined from the colonial period, beginning in the late 19th century, as households were encouraged (if not coerced by taxation) to grow cash crops for the market and store less and less excess grain for potential bad years. This increasing market orientation has also been encouraged by development banks. Growing crops for market worked fine as long as cheap and plentiful grain was available for purchase, a trend that began to erode in 2000 as global food prices gradually rose.

The dominant livelihood in the Horn of Africa has long been herding. Traditionally, herders ranged widely across the landscape in search of better pasture, focusing on areas as meteorological conditions dictated. The approach worked because, unlike fenced-in pastures in North America, it was incredibly flexible and adapted to variable rainfall. As farming has expanded, including in some instances to large-scale commercial farms, the routes of herders have become more concentrated. In Ethiopia, large land leases (or “land grabs”) to foreign governments and companies for export crops (such as palm oil, rice and sugar) have further exacerbated this problem. Ethiopia should be strongly discouraged from granting long-term leases of its farmland to foreign entities when it struggles to feed its own people in years of poor rainfall.

Finally, the crisis in the Horn of Africa has been aggravated by high food prices worldwide. Global food prices reached a historic high in February, surpassing the spikes of 2007-08, which had been the highest recorded in 20 years. While current prices are related, in part, to bad weather, other significant factors include high energy prices, the increasing diversion of grain for the production of biofuels, and export restrictions. With energy and food prices likely to remain high for months to come, Africa can no longer count on cheap imported food or afford to shift to energy-intensive crop production strategies. The path to improved food security lies in improving time-tested local approaches, which are attuned to local environmental conditions.

William G. Moseley,
Professor of geography and African studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.
Adapted from here

When Free Access is not Free

Half of the 340,000 deaths of women from pregnancy-related causes each year occur in Africa. 80 percent of the world’s maternal deaths occur in just 21 nations, 15 of which are in Linksub-Saharan Africa, according to the University of Washington study. Uganda was among them. About 5,200 women died from pregnancy-related causes in the country in 2008, the researchers estimated.

Dr. Rafael Lozano, a professor at the university, said that except for recent gains in saving the lives of H.I.V.-positive pregnant women with antiretroviral treatments largely financed by donors, “you see basically almost no progress in maternal deaths in Uganda.” As the United States and other donors have given African nations billions of dollars to fight AIDS and other infectious diseases, helping millions of people survive, most of the African governments have reduced their own share of domestic spending devoted to health, shifting to other priorities. For every dollar of foreign aid given to the governments of developing nations for health, the governments decreased their own health spending by 43 cents to $1.14, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found in a 2010 study.

According to the institute’s updated estimates, Uganda put 57 cents less of its own money toward health for each foreign aid dollar it collected. Rogers Enyaku, a finance expert in Uganda’s Health Ministry, disputed the assertion, saying the country’s own health spending had increased, “but not that substantially.” Still, the government had paid more than half a billion dollars for fighter jets and other military hardware — almost triple the amount of its own money dedicated to the entire public health system in the last fiscal year.

Poor people surged into Uganda’s public health system when the government abolished patient fees a decade ago. Increasingly, African countries are adopting similar policies, and experts say that many more people are getting care as a result. But Uganda’s experience illustrates the limits of that care when a system is poorly managed and lacks the resources to deliver decent services, experts say. At regional hospitals like the one here in Arua, more than half the positions for doctors are vacant, part of a broader shortage that includes midwives and other health workers. A majority of clinics and hospitals reported regularly running out of essential medicines, while only a third of facilities delivering babies are equipped with basics like scissors, cord clamps and disinfectant, according to a 2010 Health Ministry report. Dr. Emmanuel Odar, the hospital’s sole obstetrician, said that even in childbirth emergencies, families must buy missing supplies themselves, typically at nearby pharmacies. Patients without money must beg or borrow it, Dr. Odar said. “We are overwhelmed with cases of people looking for free services, and they expect a lot despite supplies not there, human resources lacking and the beds not enough,” he said.

When Ms. Nalubowa, 40, a peasant farmer and a mother of seven, arrived at the decrepit hospital in Mityana, said her mother-in-law, Rhoda Kukkiriza, nurses demanded a bribe of about $24 and more money to buy airtime for a cellphone call to the doctor, accusations the nurses have denied. Ms. Kukkiriza said she had less than a dollar left after spending $2.40 to buy a razor blade, gloves and other items the hospital lacked. Unable to pay the bribe, Ms. Nalubowa was taken to the maternity ward and left unattended, her mother-in-law said. “As she pushed with the labor pains, all that came out was blood,” Ms. Kukkiriza said. “Sylvia called out, ‘I’ll sell all my pigs, I’ll sell my chickens, my goats — please, nurses, come help me.’ ” Even if a doctor had arrived promptly, the hospital staff would have struggled to save Ms. Nalubowa, who bled to death. Dr. Vincent Kawooya, the hospital’s medical superintendent, said there was only one small unit of blood for a child in stock that night. The health minister himself toured the hospital after Ms. Nalubowa’s death incited demonstrations, but Dr. Kawooya said the minister refused to set foot in the operating room, with its moldy walls and leaky ceiling, saying it should be condemned. The roof of the maternity ward was a home to bats, and droppings come down its inner walls.

“We are in a state of emergency as far as maternal services are concerned,” Dr. Sentumbwe-Mugisa said.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Poverty Industry

Images of starving Africans are part and parcel of fund-raising campaigns, as are journalists. As one leading humanitarian official told the BBC’s Andrew Harding, the UN can produce endless reports, but it is only when the images of starving people are televised or placed on the front page of newspapers that politicians take action.

The problem is that the story that they see or read is not as impartial as they would like to believe. More often than not, it is told by aid agency staff on the ground or independent filmmakers. News organisations that do not have the resources to send reporters to far-flung disaster zones such as the camp in Dadaab, have entered into an unholy alliance with aid agencies, whereby the aid agencies’ spokespeople — wearing T-shirts and caps bearing the logos of their respective organisations — “report” the disaster via satellite to international audiences. Even when journalists are present on the ground, they rely almost exclusively on aid agencies’ version of the disaster. The narrative about the famine in Somalia has, therefore, become both predictable and one-sided. Media-savvy aid workers fully exploit the eagerness with which journalists accept their version of a disaster or crisis. On their part, says Dutch journalist Linda Polman, journalists “accept uncritically the humanitarian agencies’ claims to neutrality, elevating the trustworthiness and expertise of aid workers above journalistic scepticism.” Polman believes that the “unhealthy” relationship between journalists and aid agencies does not allow for independent, objective reporting, and is often slanted in favour of the agency doing the “reporting”. Ms Polman explained that the “starving African” story is not just the easiest to tell, especially in a continent that does not generate much international media coverage, but is also the most “politically correct.” After all, who in their right mind would want to be accused of doing nothing for dying people?

The cosy relationship between aid workers and journalists has thus distorted the way Africa is reported. Journalists often do not get to the heart of the story or take the time to do the research into the causes of a particular crisis. Africans do not feature much in their stories, except as victims.

“In public affairs discussions the term ‘starving Africans’ (or ‘starving Ethiopians’ or ‘starving Somalis’) rolls from the tongue as easily as ‘blue sky’,” wrote former aid worker Michael Maren in his 1997 book The Road to Hell. “Charities raise money for starving Africans. What do Africans do? They starve. But mostly they starve in our imaginations. The starving African is a Western cultural archetype like the greedy Jew or the unctuous Arab.”

Disasters such as the famine in Somalia fuel the aid business, with each aid agency eager to “brand” itself as the most competent in handling the disaster. In her recently published book The Crisis Caravan, Polman describes how crises become “business opportunities” for aid agencies. Aid organisations that want to remain on top of the game, she adds, need to be fluent in the language of product positioning, proposal development and client relations. Physical presence in the disaster area is critical because “aid organisations that fail to put in an appearance at each new humanitarian disaster miss out on contracts for the implementation of aid projects financed by donor governments and institutions, and are by-passed left, right and centre by the competing organisations that do show up.”

There is a strong relationship between the number of donors and aid agencies in a country and its level of poverty – the more donors and aid agencies there are, the less likely that country is to significantly reduce poverty levels. Aid to governments often has the net effect of suppressing local economies and initiatives. In Somalia, for instance, Maren noted that food production was suppressed by food aid, as farmers had no incentive to grow their own food. Aid also makes governments less accountable to their own people. When the work of government is taken over by aid agencies and NGOs, and when government budgets are heavily subsidised — or entirely funded — by foreign donors, governments become less accountable to their own citizens, and more accountable to the donors. It also makes it easy for governments to blame lack of donor funding for their failures to carry out development programmes. This leads to a vicious blame game, where the victim is always the ordinary citizen. Donor aid also reduces countries’ sovereignty. Aid is the most effective (and cost-effective) way in which foreign donor countries control other countries without being labelled as colonialists. It leads to bizarre situations where a donor country — and even more alarmingly, an international aid agency — sets government policy for a poor country, while presidents, ministers and permanent secretaries look on helplessly. Donors have a keen vested interest, therefore, in keeping the aid industry well-oiled. They cannot do this without the help of their foot soldiers, the aid agencies — who also rely on donor funding — and journalists who surrender all claims to neutrality and objectivity by becoming mouthpieces of these same aid agencies.

Aid agencies rarely report the root causes of a famine. Some economists believe that the international community is largely to blame for the crisis in Somalia. Michel Chossudovsky, professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa, claimed in his 1993 book The Globalisation of Poverty and the New World Order, that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had a negative impact on Somalia’s stability after they imposed structural adjustment programmes in the 1980s that forced Somalia to adopt austerity measures that destabilised the national economy and destroyed agriculture. He blames the Bretton Woods institutions for, among other things, reinforcing Somalia’s dependency on imported grain, periodic devaluations of the currency that led to a hike in prices of fuel, fertiliser and farm inputs, and the privatisation of veterinary services. US grain supplies that entered the country in the form of food aid also destroyed local agriculture, he says. Food aid, in turn, was often sold by the government on the local market to cover domestic costs.

The other fact that is conveniently overlooked is that a large proportion of the funds raised is used to cover aid agencies’ administrative and logistical costs. Staff has to be hired, four-wheel-drive cars have to be bought, offices have to be set up, highly paid international experts earning hefty per diems have to be flown in or consulted. All this costs money, lots and lots of money. D.T. Krueger, a former employee of the Food and Agricultural Organisation, estimates that as much as three-quarters of funding received by a UN agency is used purely on itself. Much of the aid also ends up back in the donor country in the form of salaries for experts who are nationals of the donor country, and in the form of inputs for development projects that are purchased in the same donor country.

The aid industry continues unabated. In Kenya alone, for instance, there are more than 6,000 registered international and local NGOs that contribute more than $1 billion to the Kenyan economy.

Adapted from Rasna Warah, Daily Nation

The German view of th famine

UN World Food Program (WFP) estimates that more than 11 million people in the Horn of Africa -- including Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan -- require food assistance as a result of the drought and that nearly half the Somali population, about 3.7 million people, are now in crisis. Since the start of the famine, tens of thousands of Somalis have been displaced, with many going to Mogadishu in search of food and others crossing the borders into neighboring countries, where massive camps have been erected to deal with the influx and distribute relief supplies. Kenya's Camp Dadaab, initially meant to house 90,000 refugees, has already swollen to 400,000 people. With little water and no toilets in the camp, aid workers are concerned disease could spread and create a second humanitarian catastrophe there.

Günter Nooke, who manages relations with Africa for the German government, said China was among the culprits because of its considerable land purchases in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia. There, he said, sales of land had been attractive to a small group of elites, but the property would be more useful to local nationals if it were used to improve the country's own agricultural infrastructure. Nooke said that not everything China is doing in Ethiopia is bad, "but producing food exclusively for export could still lead to major social conflicts in Africa if small farmers are stripped of their land and their basis for making a living." In that regard, he said, the catastrophe is also man-made. He added that Africa already has good conditions for producing sufficient food supplies, with two to three harvests often possible each year. It had become clear that small farmers alone could not solve the food problem. The current catastrophe, he said, showed that better irrigation, proper warehousing and the use of more drought-resistant crops are needed. Because these measures are cost-intensive, an industrialized agricultural system must be built in the region.

Die Tageszeitung writes:

"When viewing the daily images of hunger, it is often forgotten that Somalia is actually a major exporter of food. Last year, Somalia sold more than 4 million cattle in the Arab region. Even today, the hungry southern part of the country exports sugar and rice to neighboring countries. At the same time, the country has one of the world's highest rates of malnutrition because the people have a lack of security and investment, capital and reserves for difficult times. When droughts cause breeding cattle to lose weight and value, export revenues also collapse, sinking revenues for herders, while traders have less money to import food. What they do sell at the market is sold at higher prices than normal. This sets into motion a cataclysmic downward spiral of suffering. It is one that cannot be reversed through the massive free delivery of food from abroad. To the contrary. The goal of international hunger relief needs to be releasing Somalia's own productive forces. Large international aid actions with airplanes and spectacular distribution efforts, on the other hand, are the wrong approach."

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Oil Pollutes Nigeria

Oil was first drilled commercially in Africa in Oloibiri in the Niger Delta, in 1956 by the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell. The International Energy Agency says Nigeria holds 37 billion barrels of reserve oil (Norway which has just 6 billion.) Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria has to import 60% of its own fuel because of a lack of domestic refining capacity and power blackouts are common.

Nigeria's Ogoniland region could take 30 years to recover fully from the damage caused by years of oil spills, a long-awaited UN report says. Ogoni communities have long complained about the damage to their communities, but they say they have mostly been ignored. Communities faced a severe health risk, with some families drinking water with high levels of carcinogens. The study says complete restoration could entail the world's "most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up".

"In at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health is seriously threatened," the UN Environmental Programme. Some areas which appeared unaffected were actually "severely contaminated" underground. In one community families were drinking from wells which were contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, at 900 times recommended levels.

Shell has accepted liability for two spills. The report, based on examinations of some 200 locations over 14 months, said Shell had created public health and safety issues by failing to apply its own procedures in the control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure. The oil industry is accused of a sharp double standard in its operations - of taking advantage of Nigeria's lack of environment law and weak regulation. According to the Nigerian government, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000. Environmentalists believe spills - large and small - happen at a rate of 300 every year. Says Kingsley Ogundu Chinda, environment commissioner in Rivers State,"I blame the owners of the facilities. They are economical with the truth. They are not sincere in their practice. They are not sincere with the people."

Amnesty International, which has campaigned on the issue, said the report proved Shell was responsible for the pollution. "This report proves Shell has had a terrible impact in Nigeria, but has got away with denying it for decades, falsely claiming they work to best international standards," said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty's global issues director, said.

70% of Nigerians live under the poverty line and the country has consistently been ranked among the most corrupt on earth by international observers.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Ghanaian Malaise

Ghana is a country with an area of 238,537sqkm with a current population of twenty four million (24,000,000). The nation is endowed with many natural resources, both on the land and underneath the land. There is gold in the Ashanti and Northern regions, extensive fishing in the Volta Region and along the coastal areas, cocoa and other minerals in the Western region with vast oil deposits, which has just started production this year, 2011. It is also endowed with large arable land, forests and natural gas reserves. Ghana exports Cocoa, Rubber, Timber, Copra, Coffee, Shea Butter, Palm Oil, Mangoes, Pineaples, Banana, Cashew Nuts, Gold, Diamonds, Bauxite, Manganese,Iron Ore, Clinker, Oil and Gas.

Like many African countries, Ghana has been cursed with natural resources paradox: resource wealth has not translated into wealth for the average Ghanaian. Any big discoveries and export earnings are frequently accompanied by power struggles. Top officials, and politicians , seeking to increase their popularity and line their own pockets. Thus any large resource discoveries, major export commodities and other projects are hastily auctioned off to multi-national companies. The effect is that,these coporations control much of Ghana's natural wealth for the life span of it's extractions. These companies continue to control these resources for many years, while Ghanaians see very very little improvement in their living. So it is with all African countries. Despite the vast range of natural resources at their disposal, while the average Ghanaian is getting poorer and poorer. In spite of all the endowed natural resources, Ghanaians remain poorer and have to beg for food, money and many other needs that could be produced locally here in Ghana.

Ghana, a country supposed to be self-sufficient is today dependent totally on imports and foreign donations. Almost everybody is in the trading (buying and selling) business.

Beyond the strikes

One cannot but notice some of the unobtrusive ways that capitalists maintain control of wealth and the instruments they use to protect wealth. Maintenance of an economic system that ensures a pool of unemployed people serves as a control mechanism to keep workers in check as they could easily be replaced by those hungry for a job, under any condition. Studies show that the bare minimum working conditions, as legally required, seem to have become the norm, with few companies even considering raising the standard. The pressure to maintain profit seems to drive cost saving in this regard.

Agreements between employers and workers have been reached in the metal and steel industry, petroleum sector and most recently with the 200,000 gold miners that also went on strike. Not all strikes and negotiations have ended. At the time of writing, union representatives of platinum miners were still in talks with employers, while negotiations between Eskom and the union representing its workers remain protracted. The debate about how low wages need to go in the clothing industry continues.Often the structuring (or lack thereof) of wage deals under tremendous pressure ends up defeating the aims of workers. A deal often sounds as if it is a good compromise until the finer details come to light much later. A case in point is Pick n Pay Stores Ltd. Last year, workers made the sacrifice and went on a protracted strike in order to force the hand of management that made a commitment to improve on minimum wages over a three-year period, but subsequently also announced their intention to retrench over 3 000 workers in August 2011. In this case management can argue that they're still honouring the wage increase deal when they give increases to those who survive the chop, as increases are due in August as per the agreement, but many others face joblessness and the harsh circumstances that come with it. Walmart's presence (i.e. international competition) in South Africa is the latest in a range of reasons companies like Pick n Pay present as to why they can't give in to workers' wage demands or why layoffs are necessary. The high minimum wage, inflation, the recession, the cost of transport and unrealistic worker rights are some of the other reasons often heard.

According to the Labour Research Service Pick n Pay is the second largest retailer of food, clothing and general merchandise in South Africa and one of the largest in Africa with 869 stores. The Group currently employs over 49 000 people and generates an annual turnover of 52 billion Rand. Despite the recession from which the country is slowly recovering, Pick n Pay's financial report for the 2011 year-end reflected more revenue from sales than it was able to achieve between 2008 and 2011. LRS reports that dividends paid to Pick n Pay directors have increased each year throughout these trying economic times, except for the 2011 year end. It is projected that Pick n Pay will grow to 935 stores by the end of 2011 and 1 039 by 2012. These numbers tell the story of growth in the company. However, staff numbers are not commensurate with this expansion. Employment figures peaked in 2008 with 54 700 people and has declined since and will drop significantly if proposed retrenchments are implemented this month. This constant decline in employment figures during the growth in sales between 2008 and 2011 surely has to be a factor in explaining the increasing dividend payouts to directors. Less staff would mean that existing staff members have to work harder and longer or that casual workers, more vulnerable to exploitation, are used to fill gaps. This strategy has an impact on society in general as it contributes to maintaining poverty by failing to provide adequately for workers' needs. It represents a shocking indictment on Pick n Pay and other companies that employ similar methods while the country faces an urgent crisis of unemployment. Worse still, the wage gap between those at the top and those at the bottom exposes a gaping inequality. The salary of Pick n Pay CEO, Nick Badminton, is currently estimated at R3 544 500 for 2011, excluding perks and the directors earn R2 107 800 on average for 2011. The average worker at Pick n Pay earns R45 600 per annum. It would take such a worker 78 years to earn what the CEO will make this year.

The Ackerman family, which retains a controlling interest in Pick n Pay, pride themselves on their corporate social investment (CSI) work. Yet, CSI only works because of the inequity that business practices such as those described above generate in society. The handouts allow dynasties such as the Ackermans to maintain a positive image despite the treatment of workers in their core business.

The protection of profit margins is an acceptable defence in our society. Everyone seems to accept the unspoken principal that the profit must not be touched. However, just how much profit is sufficient is not up for discussion or negotiation. Strike action is always at great personal and financial cost to workers as strikes occur on a no-work no-pay basis. Yet to the public, inconvenienced by the strike, the industry's excuses may sound reasonable and union leaders may seem stubborn, holding out for a bigger increase than companies say they can afford.

Our solutions to the economic morass we find taking hold of society have to evolve from a new paradigm that considers economic activity as part of a whole system which has other components such as human material and spiritual needs. Once these needs take supremacy over profits and wages, production will come to have new meaning.

Adapted from Charlene Houston

Monday, August 01, 2011

Unfair Shares

Deadly Waters: Inside the Hidden World of Somalia’s Pirates. By Jay Bahadur. Profile £12.99.

Somalia is often referred to as a ‘failed state’, one with no effective central authority. Instead there are a number of autonomous enclaves, owing little if any allegiance to the official capital, Mogadishu. One of these is Puntland in the north-east, which, with a long coastline on the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, has become a centre for piracy (over forty hijackings in 2008, for instance, with ships, crew and cargo held for ransom of several million US dollars).

Fishing (especially for lobsters) used to be one of the main occupations in Puntland, but from the 1990s fishing fleets from other countries (mainly China, Taiwan, South Korea) began using dragnets and so destroyed much of the marine life, leaving locals with no reliable source of income. The effect of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami aggravated the situation. Many Puntlanders retaliated by capturing the fishing vessels and keeping their catches, but then graduated to full-scale piracy.

Some pirates benefit far more financially than others. The ‘holders’, who guard the crew once a ship has been captured, earn about US$10 an hour, while those who carry out the attack get a fair bit more (but have a much greater chance of being killed or arrested). The controller of a pirate gang might receive a million dollars per hijacking, so they are in effect rather like capitalist bosses.

And indeed the pirate industry has a number of similarities to other capitalist enterprises. There are investors who expect a return, both single investors and those who operate on a private equity model. As Bahadur says, “Piracy is not so much organized crime as it is a business, characterized by extremely efficient capital flows, low start-up costs, and few entry barriers.”

The Puntland pirates benefit from the area being not quite ungoverned but not completely stable either. There is no out-and-out civil war, unlike other parts of Somalia, but neither is there an effective coastguard operation. The Puntland government officially has a clampdown on piracy, but cannot afford to implement this properly. Instead, private security companies place staff on some ships, and international navy patrols are another deterrent. But there is an awful lot of ocean to cover, and a comprehensive naval force would cost far more than is paid out in ransoms.

Bahadur bases a lot of his discussion on interviews with pirates and members of Puntland’s government. His suggested solutions (such as enlarging the local prisons and stopping illegal fishing) can hardly be taken seriously, though. And it is, to say the least, unfortunate that he refers to Said Barre, who ruled Somalia in the 1970s and 80s, as a “Marxist dictator”.

August Socialist Standard

Shadow over Africa

"Africa is the embodiment of capitalist exploitation. For almost four centuries it has been systematically plundered for its raw materials and human labour...There’s an Ibo saying “when two Brothers fight, Strangers always reap the harvest”. That encapsulates the aftermath of European imperialism in Africa...Western capitalists and speculators, remain as firmly entrenched in Africa today as they were during Cecil Rhodes’s era "

Full article can be read here in the latest issue of the Socialist Standard.