Tuesday, July 31, 2012


In Rwanda, where 60% of people live below the poverty line and land is scarce, burying the dead comes at too high a price. A new bill before Parliament would introduce cremation, a totally new custom in this country.

 The prices of tombs in Rwandan cemeteries are exorbitant for the poor seeking to bury their dead. “In Kigali and elsewhere, people sometimes have to abandon their dying family members out of fear that they won’t have enough to pay for the funeral,” says a villager. In Rusororo, a town 20 kilometers from Kigali, a funeral costs from $25 to $1,500 depending on the size of the grave and the materials used.

 Moreover, cemeteries take up space in arable lands that aren’t cultivated. Yet, the country has over 390 inhabitants per square kilometer -- over 800 in some areas -- and farms are getting smaller and smaller (an average 0.2 hectares in the more populous north of the country). But farmers have to wait at least 20 years to cultivate cemeteries once they have stopped being used. “Some families believe the land where their family members are buried is sacred, and prefer to keep it uncultivated,” explains an Eastern villager.

  “You can easily tell the rich from the poor in a cemetery,” says a Gasabo villager. The tombs of the rich are built durably, with tiled walls and written inscriptions for identification.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Poor unlikely to escape poverty

Children born into poor families unlikely ever to escape poverty or reap the rewards of living in Africa’s largest economy even 18 years after the end of apartheid. A child’s gender and ethnicity at birth, combined with a lack of education, largely determines that person’s chances of success in life. Equally significant is the World Bank's observation that the richest 10 percent of South Africa account for 58 percent of the nation’s income, while the bottom 10 percent accounts for 0.5 percent.  The bottom half earns less than eight percent of the nation's income.

Sandeep Mahajan, who headed the World Bank report said "Our results show that a South African child not only has to work harder to overcome the disadvantages at birth due to circumstances, but having done so, finds that these re-emerge when seeking employment as an adult,"

Labour analyst Andrew Levy said "History has shown that societies that have emerged from any kind of unjust system of governance struggle with inequality," said Levy. But he added that the new government "could have done better".

Monday, July 23, 2012

Famine ends but hunger remains

400,000 famine victims who fled to the city for aid at the height of the crisis are still living in one of the many refugee camps outside Mogadishu. The WFP said on Jul. 18 that although there is currently no famine in Somalia and malnutrition rates have improved considerably over the last year,

One-year-old Miriam Jama was born just as the United Nations World Food Programme declared famine.  Weak and visibly malnourished, Miriam, like the rest of her family, hardly have enough food to eat.

“We get barely enough to keep alive. Famine may have ended, but for us hunger has not,”
Hawa Jama, Miriam’s mother, tells IPS.  Her family receives only 25 kilogrammes of grain, 25 kgs of flour, and 10 litres of cooking oil for a month. It is hardly sufficient to feed this family of seven. But they are not the only ones hungry here. “I don’t want to be dependent on handouts from aid agencies, which are never enough here.

Water and sanitation are also poor at the camps as the number of toilets remains inadequate, and the water trucked in does not meet the international requirement both in quality and quantity, says Mohamed Ali, a local human rights activist. “I think what we have achieved since the famine was declared back in July last year is that people are not now dying because of hunger. But hunger is still there and there are no systematic programmes to help refugees stand on their feet by creating income schemes and repatriating them back to their communities,” The food situation has worsened as international aid agencies scaled down their humanitarian operations after the U.N. declared the end of the famine in February.

The U.N. Refugee Agency reported on Jul. 18 that the Somali refugee population has exceeded one million. Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex alone houses 570,000 people. And 3.8 million people in Somalia remain in crises and are in urgent need of assistance, while an estimated 325,000 children are acutely malnourished. Life in the camps is a difficult existence as refugees complain that camp administrators and local officials steal food aid and practice nepotism and favoritism in aid distribution. In addition, the Somali government’s national Disaster Management Agency, which was formed to deal with the famine, has been called ineffective and corrupt. “The agency has not been effective in its work and is one of the agencies that failed the people in need. Corruption is widespread among the organs of government and this agency has its share,” a local aid worker, who asked for anonymity, tells IPS. The official says “layers of corruption” from international agencies, their local partners, government officials, as well as those running the camps continues the cycle of hunger for the displaced refugees.

 “I don’t like to complain, but this is a matter of life and death for us. Those responsible for running our camp are not giving us all the aid and favour others. We tell every foreign official who comes to visit, but nothing is done about our predicament,”
Mumino Ali,

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sharing to survive

60 percent of the population of Mauritania live on less than one US dollar a day. "No one can eat alone - many people do not have enough," said Moussa. "All neighbours cook and eat together. Everyone eats in batches - first the children, followed by the elders, and then the more able-bodied...We will all help each other,” said Moussa, “with support from our relatives in towns and other countries."

In November 2011, the Mauritanian government launched the Plan EMEL (Hope), a strategy to provide subsidized cereal and livestock through government shops. "The plan only targets people who have been identified as extremely vulnerable - child- and women-headed households - and if you want to buy from the shop you still need money. I did not have any," said Penda Boubou, 82, a grandmother. Boubou said she would have died if the NGO, Oxfam, had not stepped in with cash transfers. Boubou receives about $50, with which she supports the 15 members in her household.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Quenching a thirst

A newly discovered water source could supply half of Africa's driest sub-Saharan country with 400 years of water, reports Matt McGrath of BBC. The new aquifer – called Ohangwena II – flows under the border between Angola and Namibia, covering an area of about 43 miles by 25 miles on Namibia's side.

The water is up to 10,000 years old and cleaner to drink than many modern sources.

 Currently the 800,000 people living in the northern part of the country get their drinking water from a 40-year-old canal that brings the scarce resource from Angola.Ohangwena II could change the nature of farming in the area, which has only been viable near two rivers in the region, and could act as a natural buffer for up to 15 years of drought.
Natural pressure will make the water easy and cheap to extract.
However, the new supply sits on a smaller, salty aquifer, raising the possibility that unauthorized drilling could lead to the water sources contaminating each other.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The new apartheid

Rina Venter, the National Party's health minister, talks of how F W de Klerk, the last apartheid president, had asked her to get rid of racial discrimination in the country's health system. Venter convened the state law advisers and repeated the request to them - only to find out that there were, in fact, no laws in place to segregate state hospitals and never had been. Hospital administrators and doctors had implemented an inhumane system largely because they believed it was expected of them to do so.

 Now South Africa's healthcare system can essentially be divided into public and private. Out of 49 million people, some 8 million are covered by health insurance, referred to as medical schemes. It is a system where the scheme makes no profit but those who are paid from it - private hospitals, doctors, et cetera - do. Up until a short while ago, the division may have appeared racial. Most of those with health insurance were white, while blacks mainly used the public health system. But now, of the eight million with health insurance, approximately half are black. The private healthcare system features world-class hospitals, the most advanced equipment and the best doctors - for most will work where they can earn the best salary.

The majority of those using the public health system are still black and poor. The starkest contrast between public and private healthcare in South Africa is to be found not in the colour of its patients but in the facilities it offers. Run-down buildings, missing medication and widespread corruption characterise the public health system, and not a day passes without a story about broken equipment leading to deaths or facilities closing because they cannot afford to pay their creditors. 40 million South Africans - and an additional approximately three million refugees - must rely on a system that is falling apart.

It is a different apartheid.

"Our people need proper housing, not ghettos like Soweto." These were the words of Nelson Mandela to tens of thousands at Soweto's Soccer City Stadium just one day after his release from 27 years behind bars in 1990. Soweto, whose name is taken from the first two letters of "South Western Townships", was known as the capital of black South Africa. Originally established for labourers in western Johannesburg's mines in the late 19th century, it became home to black families forcibly removed from areas around Johannesburg and other parts of the country.

Today, Soweto has become a microcosm of the prosperity, poverty and everything in between experienced by the black population of today's South Africa. "Our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities," read the Freedom Charter. However, just opposite the raitracks near Water Sisulu Square are rickety, one-room homes with roofs made from corrugated zinc. Inside the narrow alleyways where children run shoeless lives 41-year-old Bob Nameng, the founder of Soweto Kliptown Youth. SKY provides shelter to more than 70 black children from impoverished communities in and around Johannesburg. Nameng listed a number of difficulties that Kliptown and other poor Sowetan communities face, and said the government is making little effort to fix them. "The situation is getting worse and worse," he said. Crime, drug use, HIV and rape continue to be real fears for communities across the country, and especially in densely populated areas like Soweto.

Shops like McDonalds, KFC, Timberland and Levi's opening at the Maponya Mall which has received widespread praise as the first of its kind in an area like Soweto. Nameng isn't excited. "I feel it's a monster, it's swallowed so many small businesses. It's deprived so many poor women and youth a chance to be able to put bread on their table." The poor people from the area now have to travel miles into Johannesburg to find affordable goods that are no longer available in Soweto. Nameng, like many blacks in South Africa, have grown disheartened by the post-apartheid era as most of the country's land and wealth has remained in the hands of the white minority. "At first we were complaining about the white government, which was the oppressor. Fine, so we've got a black government now in power. What now? It's the same old boring song," Nameng said

Monday, July 16, 2012

Namibia - the statistics lie

United Nations Resident Representative, Musinga Bandora, says poverty and inequality are of the most pressing social issues in Namibia.

 Unemployment has exceeded 50 percent.

 Although Namibia's per capita income of US$4,820 places it in the World Bank's upper-middle income grouping, average income paints a misleading picture since Namibia's income distribution is among the most unequal in the world, with a Gini coefficient estimated at 0.58 by the latest (2009/10) household survey. Namibia is ranked 120 out of 187 countries surveyed in the 2011 Human Development Report.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Egypt's workers unions

The independent trade unions that have sprung up across Egypt over the last 17 months face an uncertain future, caught between Islamists and the military and operating under labour laws that have not changed since Hosni Mubarak was in power. The dictator’s downfall, however, gave union activists more room to operate. Workers have set up over 500 independent syndicates in recent months. The majority have affiliated with two autonomous labour bodies, the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) led by Abu Eita, and the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress (EDLC) headed by former steel worker Kamal Abbas. EFITU, formed just five days into the uprising against Mubarak, claims an affiliated membership of 281 independent unions comprising over two million workers. The younger EDLC covers about 250 independent unions. The pair, separated primarily by their policies of incorporation, has emerged to challenge the state-backed ETUF, which still claims nearly four million members.

“The government and business owners don’t want to respond to workers’ demands or give them rights, so they are opposed to seeing workers establish independent syndicates,” says Kamal Abu Eita, a leader of the independent union movement.

Under Mubarak, all unions were required to be part of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which propped up the regime by blocking any industrial action that would undermine the state’s authority or supply of cheap labour. Membership in the state-controlled body was mandatory for most public sector employees, and union dues were automatically deducted from their salaries. Activists say the colossal labour organisation worked to prevent its four million members from holding strikes or negotiating for better salaries. It also mobilised large numbers of workers for pro-government rallies and bussed them to polling stations during general elections to vote for the ruling party.

“Successive regimes recognised the power of organised labour and used ETUF to control it,” Tamer Fathy, an expert on labour movements tells IPS. “It was basically an arm of the regime since its creation in 1957.”

ETUF is proving to be a multi-headed hydra. The mammoth organisation was weakened by rulings that dissolved its executive board, put its leadership under investigation for corruption, and pulled the plug on 15 million dollars in annual government subsidies. Yet its core remains intact. The interim board appointed to administer ETUF is stacked with members of its old guard, while the federation continues to benefit from undemocratic systems set up by the former regime. One example of this – facilitated by state institutions – is mandatory membership dues. Workers who join independent unions are obligated to pay ETUF dues, even if they cancel their membership.

“There’s really no way around it,” explained Nihal El-Banna of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), a local labour rights group. “Many professions in Egypt require a licence, but when you go to renew it you must submit a document that proves you paid your annual (ETUF membership) dues. Without this, you can’t renew your licence.”

Cracks first appeared in ETUF’s hegemony six years ago when factory workers in the northern industrial town Mahalla El-Kubra defied their stooge government union leaders and went on strike to demand unpaid bonuses. Their defiant action resonated with the exploited working class, igniting a wave of wildcat strikes that enveloped every economic sector – and has continued to this day. The nascent labour movement provided fertile ground for the birth of Egypt’s first independent unions, but little nutrient to sustain them. The four unions that emerged while Mubarak was in power faced hostile workplaces, constant intimidation and harassment from ETUF, and a barrage of legal challenges.

“There is no existing law to govern independent unions, only a declaration of freedom of association issued in March 2011,” explains Nihal El-Banna “We still need a legal charter to define and organise independent unions – for instance, what they should look like, or the minimum number of members for them to be recognised.”

Many activists believe Egypt’s two main powers, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, are trying to rebuild ETUF as a counterweight to newfound syndical liberties. They claim the generals – opposed to organised labour – have sought to contain worker movements by criminalising strikes and preserving Mubarak-era labour laws.

“The military would prefer a single, official trade union federation that the state can control,”
says El-Banna.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders once supported trade syndicate pluralism, but now favour a model that prohibits workers from organising more than one union within any given enterprise. Legislators affiliated to the Islamic group have attempted to hijack the proposed Trade Union Liberties Law – originally intended to support independent unions – and transform it into a bill that bars union pluralism.

But defiant labour leaders point out that they did not wait for Mubarak’s permission to establish independent unions, and they have no intention of waiting for his successors to approve them.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Nothing is black and white

In 2010 the median monthly earnings for black South Africans was R2167. The figure for whites was R9500. So on a relative scale it is true that whites are considerably better off than black South Africans.

However, a point that is seldom made that in 2009 half of white adults earned less than R100,000 per annum. Consider also that black South Africans earning between R100,000 and R300,000 per annum may soon outnumber their white compatriots by two to one. Only 15% of whites end up in private schools.

Blaming blacks or whites or apartheid or whatever for the inequalities we now confront will not get us anywhere. Rather it is time to point out that it is capitalism which is at fault, the few possessing the wealth and the many serving their needs.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Divided Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a country of contrasts and contradictions.  Most Ethiopians live in brutal poverty, their per capita income among the lowest in the world. One in 10 Ethiopians is chronically food insecure, and nearly one in five go hungry in drought years. With almost half its people under the age of 15 and an average fertility rate of nearly five children per woman, Ethiopia's population is the fifth fastest-growing in the world. Ethiopia is a nation where small farmers struggle to eke out a living on tiny, degraded plots of land: in the densely populated highlands, roughly half the land is significantly eroded.

Yet it is one of the so-called "African lions:" its economy grew at a brisk 7.5 percent last year, more than twice the rate of emerging economies as a whole. Ethiopia is also the target of aggressive "land grabs." Since 2008, the government has leased or sold nearly 10 million acres of prime farmland in the less-populated lowlands to investors from China, India, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. According to Oxfam International, Ethiopia now supports the export of fruit, vegetables, and flowers worth $220 million a year. Those exports boost the nation's foreign exchange, but they may also undercut the food security of poor farmers and reduce production for the domestic market. One displaced farmer told Human Rights Watch, "We want you to be clear that the government brought us here...to die....They brought us no food, they gave away our land to the foreigners so we can't even move back."

It is helpful to remember that there are many Ethiopias. Ethiopia's regions are as distinct as, say, Arizona and Minnesota. It is also helpful to set aside any preconceived notions about population and food. Malthusians argue that population growth inevitably leads to hunger, as the resource "pie" is divided into ever smaller slices. The most obvious flaw in this theory is that technology has thus far allowed the size of the pie to increase. Another is that food and other resources are not distributed equitably; some people get much larger servings than others. The pie as a whole may be big enough for everyone, but only the slices of the poor continue to shrink.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Algeria's 50 years of independence

5 July 2012 marked Algeria’s 50th anniversary of national independence from 132 years of the French colonial control at the heavy price of a bitter eight-year armed struggle. 300,000-1,000,000 Algerian deaths, large-scale repression, torture and military removal of millions from their homes. Algeria’s liberation from a major Western power was well-publicized by the writings of Franz Fanon.

Yet for most Algerians it is hard to celebrate. What is there to celebrate when only 20 years ago, the military moved from the background to the fore with a coup d’etat cancelling elections and quickly leading to a decade of horrendous civil war between the military and Islamists, causing the deaths of some 200,000. The post-independence regime continues to produce a constant stream of exiles abroad.

Nevertheless, from a different perspective, Algeria has much to celebrate. From 1962 to the present, many grassroots Algerians have steadily resisted, in a variety of ways, the greed, power schemes and repression from above.  In the first year of independence and after, thousands of Algerian workers spontaneously and with the encouragement of the nationalist trade union took over operation of modern farms and units in industrial and other realms abandoned by Europeans fleeing to France and set to work to self-manage the grassroots re-booting of the national economy. Even though opposed and sabotaged by the military, bureaucrats and the bourgeoisie who resented this growing horizontalist sector of hundreds of thousands and the general challenge to elite power and privileges it represented, many self-management workers struggled for several years to maintain and embrace this attempt at "socialism" from below.

In 1980 emerged a largely spontaneous wave of massive protest and resistance among the proud Berbers of Kabylia, based on long-standing grievances against regime authoritarianism, its disdain for rich Berber linguistic and cultural identity as well as its neglect of the region’s economy. This “Berber Spring” was the first large-scale political challenge to the regime since the early 60s. The later Kabyle insurrection of April 2001 was followed by mass demonstrations and a widespread horizontalist “assemblies movement,” also showed a large-scale rejection of the regime. Virtually the entire region of Kabylia rose up in defiant protest, besieging police stations with rocks and fire bombs while also burning government and political party offices. Other Kabyles formed local grassroots councils based on centuries-old Kabyle horizontalist principles and confederated together from the bottom up. This rising massive defiance and spontaneous self-organization threatened to spread elsewhere in Algeria and to mobilize a national uprising against the regime until the regime repressed it. However, the self-organized assemblies movement persisted for several years.

 A similar but larger protest by thousands of young people took place in the capital, Algiers, in October 1988—without an explicit political program, but demonstrating through their choice of targets (government and FLN party offices and opulent retail stores) their contempt for political and economic elites prospering at the expense of most Algerians. This explosion of massive street demonstrations over several days was then repressed by gunfire, arrests and torture and used by the regime to justify and manipulate a partial liberalization of politics and economic policy. In this brief moment like the recent Arab Spring, many hoped for a genuine multiparty pluralist political system with respect for free expression and human rights. A new outspoken human rights league developed in this period along with new media, independent women’s rights groups and autonomous trade unions separate from the regime’s  largely submissive UGTA union federation. In the end, however, the combination of a growing and increasingly confident and demagogic Islamist movement, including a strong radical component, and manipulation by the dominant military to block genuine democratization culminated in a cancelled legislative electoral process (about to be won by Islamists) in January 1992. What followed was a long nightmare decade of repression, massacres, tortures, assassinations, “disappearances” and rapes committed by both sides.

Nevertheless, the human rights league, autonomous trade unions, women’s rights groups and other grassroots organizations continue to survive and to take strong political stands.The rigged lections are boycotted by large numbers, most recently a month ago for the national assembly. The continued habit of boycotts by alienated voters and further appeals for abstention by opposition figures produced another humiliating grassroots rejection of the system. While the regime claimed a 42% participation rate of eligible voters, the lack of transparency in vote-counting and other traditional forms of electoral manipulation led critics to suggest a much lower rate and fraudulent victories. As well, even among those who voted, admitted the government, about 22% of cast ballots were faulty or blank.

Each year sees thousands of more-or-less spontaneous local demonstrations, riots and confrontations, the only way aggrieved people can gain “dialogue” with oppressive officials. Whether at the level of local daily life or in broader social movements large numbers of grassroots Algerians over the past five decades have refused to accept the authoritarian and corrupt regime imposed since independence and continued the “national liberation struggle” against the national bourgeoisie. Chawki Amari suggested two years ago in El Watan, a leading Algiers newspaper, that Algerians are by nature anarchists who Bakunin would have no trouble recognizing. Every substantial political upheaval is rooted in millions of individual rebellious attitudes and behaviors nourished anonymously over generations until the right conjuncture of economic and political factors breaks through existing bonds of oppression.

It is this struggle which is to be celebrated.

Adapted from here

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Boom times?

Zambia is expected to be among the top 10 fastest-growing economies in the world between 2011 and 2015. In fact, according to forecasts from the International Monetary Fund, it will be one of seven sub-Saharan African countries on that list, making Africa the fastest-growing continent over that time. No surprise, then, that multinationals are increasingly recognising the potential of the resource-rich region and its rapidly growing population. The United Nations has predicted foreign direct investment could more than double by 2014 to as much as $100bn (£64bn). Despite the recent strength of Zambia's economy, on paper at least, the proportion of the population living in poverty is still at 60 per cent, with this figure significantly higher in areas.

While the mine operators and the oil and gas drillers have long been alive to Africa's possibilities, a rising "middle class" means an opportunity for consumer goods companies. With consumer spending set to rocket to $2.2 trillion in less than 20 years, according to the African Development Bank, there has been no shortage of multinationals making their move into sub-Saharan Africa.

Unilever, whose biggest brands in the region include Sunlight soaps and Stork spreads, plans to nearly double its revenues from Africa within five years. The continent (excluding north Africa) was recently made one of the company's eight operating regions across the world, headed by Frank Braeken, who says he has seen "a tremendous surge in investor interest". Asda's owner Wal-Mart has recently spent $2.4bn on a majority stake in the South African retailer Massmart while earlier in the year Diageo, which already sells more Guinness in Nigeria than in Ireland, splashed out almost £150m on Ethiopian brewer Meta Abo.

 High incidence of poverty, hunger and joblessness are the major causes of instability in Africa, said Kenya’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent representative to the Africa Union, Dr. Monica Juma said. At least one-fifth of all African people live in countries seriously disrupted by armed conflict and that sometimes it’s hard to till land, secure employment and earn money.Lack of the above will fuel poverty as a result of low productivity, a situation that may force the youth to cause instability as they do not have economic hope, they said.Juma told the forum that the shaky situation of under privileged, hungry people is fodder for extremism especially for people who want to survive. “Once unleashed, it becomes a vicious cycle that endangers not just one country but spills over, as has been seen in many countries in Africa,” she said, adding poverty, anger and hopelessness fuels the fire of insecurity and threatens peace. “They (youth) therefore end up being a ready reservoir for violence and terror when there are lack of economic opportunities, “ she said.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Nigeria: dying of pollution and poverty

Nigeria's Center for Disease Control says poverty and pollution have reduced the national life expectancy to 47 years old, one of the lowest in West Africa. Before the country’s Center for Disease Control announced that they calculated a reduction in the national life expectancy figures last week, the World Bank said Nigeria’s life expectancy was just above 51 years old, almost 20 years less than the world average

 There’s a problem in Nigeria that no one disagrees with: when people here die young, they usually die from diseases that could have been prevented or treated.

Doctors say child mortality is rising in places like Zamfara State in the north, where a lead poisoning outbreak has killed more than 400 children under the age of five since March 2010.

Families in the southern Niger Delta region, an area activists call “the world’s largest oil spill,” say their children’s immune systems are weakened from drinking toxic water, and that children frequently die from diseases like cholera and malaria.

 Dr. Adamu Onu, a family practitioner in Abuja, says health crises across the country have the same root cause: poverty. Earlier this year, Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics released a report that said the number of people living in “absolute poverty” has increased from 54.7 percent in 2004 to nearly 61 percent in 2010. He says most of the people in Nigeria simply don’t have access to health care because they live far away from the nearest clinic and don’t have the money or the means to travel to the city. Dr. Onu says there are almost no doctors in the countryside where most of the population lives.

John Brisbe, an elder in a fishing community in Delta State, says when children in his remote region get sick they often die because it can take up to six hours to get to the hospital in a canoe. "They are not taking care of any of our communities.  So we are suffering," he said. "Different types of sickness are harming our children because of this river water that we are drinking."


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Uganda's fight for gay rights

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda.

Uganda has announced a ban on 38 non-governmental organisations it accuses of undermining the national culture by promoting homosexuality.

Simon Lokodo, the country's ethics and integrity minister, claimed the NGOs were receiving support from abroad for Uganda's homosexuals and "recruiting" young children into homosexuality. "I have established beyond reasonable doubt that the 38 NGOs, if not even more, exist not for humanitarian reasons but to destroy the traditions and culture of this country by promoting homosexuality," he said. "We found that, on the pretext of humanitarian concerns, these organisations are being used to promote negative cultures. They are encouraging homosexuality as if it is the best form of sexual behaviour." The former Catholic priest said he believes the ban will come into a force next week. "If the NGOs continue to operate, they will be doing so illegally, they will be apprehended and will have to face a court of law."

Frank Mugisha, head of the NGO Sexual Minorities Uganda, said the minister's ban was part of a wider assault on civil society in Uganda. "The government is trying to use homosexuality to crack down on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly," he said. "If NGOs are closed down, they will not be able to support human rights. Simon Lokodo is very homophobic but it's coupled with politics. He's trying to gain popularity and make his name."

Sexual Minorities Uganda would defy any ban, insisted Mugisha.

East Africa's Gas

Massive offshore gas discoveries in East Africa are catapulting the region into a major player in the global energy arena. Off the pristine beaches of Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, multinationals have struck gas -- well upon well upon well. Planned investments worth tens of billions exceed the gross domestic products of some host countries.

East Africa’s coastal region, stretching out to Seychelles holds 441.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s about 50 percent more than in Saudi Arabia. Statoil and Britain’s BG together have discovered around 16 trillion cubic feet in Tanzania.

“The gas discoveries offshore in Mozambique and Tanzania are large and world-class, with potential for more to come, including prospects for an oil leg,”
said Duncan Clarke, CEO of oil consulting company Global Pacific.“These finds will lead to LNG (liquefied natural gas) plants ... and will make the zone akin to the Northwest Shelf in Australia, which can produce 23 billion cubic meters a year"

Houston-based Anadarko in June announced new finds in northern Mozambique which brought its estimated recoverable resources to up to 60 trillion cubic feet. The company has proposed $15 billion in investments to set up LNG facilities. Mozambique's GDP last year was $12 billion. Mozambique expects that within five years, the new industry will account for 13 percent of the economy.

Governments have come under fire for signing opaque contracts for capital-intensive mega-projects that don't create many local jobs. Questions remain how locals will benefit from the multi-billion-dollar industries. While Mozambique is booming, last year its economy created only $400 per person.


Angola's ghost town

The state-owned China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) has built a town in Angola. And it's practically empty. Just outside Angola's capital city of Luanda is Nova Cidade de Kilamba a residential development of 750 eight-story apartment buildings, a dozen schools, and more than 100 retail units, a $3.5 billion development of 12,355 acres (5,000 hectares) that was built to house about 500,000 people. But the apartments in the complex cost somewhere between $120,000 and $200,000. None of which helps the average Angolan given the country's per capita GDP of $5,144 per year. Two-thirds of Angolans who live on less than $2 a day. In Angola there is just the very poor and the very rich so there is no-one to buy these sorts of houses

The jewel in Angola's post-war reconstruction crown, Kilamba is the star of glossy government promotional videos which show smiling families enjoying a new style of living away from the dust and confusion of central Luanda where millions live in sprawling slums. But the people in these films are only actors, and despite all the hype, nearly a year since the first batch of 2,800 apartments went on sale, only 220 have been sold.

The government has recently announced a portion of the apartments at Kilamba will be designated social housing, which people on low incomes can rent long-term at low prices. No-one is quite sure how that scheme will work or who will be eligible, and cynics have dismissed it as a vote-winning stunt ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on 31 August.