Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Neglected Refugees

1. Sudanese refugees in Chad: Nearly a decade of conflict in Sudan‘s western Darfur region displaced some 1.8 million Sudanese. Of these, more than 264,000 fled into neighbouring Chad, where they continue to live in 12 camps along the country’s eastern border with Sudan. Chad is one of the world’s poorest countries and, according to UNHCR, the working environment is “extremely challenging” due to the region’s lack of infrastructure and natural resources. Women in the camps report they sometimes have to walk all day to find firewood, and lack of access to arable land has made the refugees almost entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. Several peace accords between the rebels in Darfur and the Sudanese government have failed to calm the region’s volatility, leaving the refugees reluctant to return home. Meanwhile, humanitarian workers say the long-running nature of the crisis has led to donor fatigue.

2. Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan: Eritreans have been crossing into eastern Sudan since their country started to agitate for independence from Ethiopia in the 1960s and, more recently, to escape Eritrea’s policy of indefinite military conscription. Currently, about 66,000 Eritreans are living in refugee camps in Gedaref, Kassala and Red Sea states, which are among the poorest parts of Sudan, and a further 1,600 cross the border every month. Many of the newer arrivals view Sudan as a transit country, continuing north with the goal of reaching Europe or Israel. This has made them a target for abuse by smugglers and human traffickers. Those who remain in Sudan cannot legally own land or property and struggle to find jobs in the formal sector. In 2002, refugee status was revoked for those who had fled the independence war and subsequent conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but repatriation was halted in 2004 after widespread international criticism of Eritrea’s human rights record.

3. Sudanese refugees in South Sudan: Over the past 18 months, an estimated 170,000 people have fled conflict between Sudanese government forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North in Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, pouring into South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity states. Humanitarian agencies are bracing for a further influx once the rainy season comes to an end and impassable roads reopen. Aid workers fear that swelling refugee numbers, flooding and disease outbreaks could aggravate the crisis, and UNHCR is urgently appealing for an additional US$20 million to manage basic needs in the camps. Poor infrastructure in South Sudan has made delivering emergency assistance both expensive and difficult.

4. Internally Displaced Personss in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Defections from the Congolese army, which gave rise to the M23 armed group, have led to a resumption of violence in the DRC’s North Kivu Province in the last six months. More than 260,000 people have been displaced so far, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A further 68,000 have fled to neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda. The IDPs are living in dozens of makeshift camps across the province, where aid agencies are providing shelter, protection, food and health services, despite a severe funding shortfall and recurrent attacks on aid workers. The new wave of IDPs adds to the 1.7 million already internally displaced in the country, according to UNHCR.

5. Horn of Africa refugees in Yemen: Yemen has long been a transit country for migrants trying to reach Saudi Arabia in search of work, but since 2006 it has also become home to increasing numbers of refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Despite conflict, poverty and a sometimes xenophobic environment in Yemen, a record 103,000 refugees and migrants arrived in 2011, bringing the total number of registered refugees to 230,000, in addition to an estimated 500,000 migrants. Their presence has been largely overshadowed by last year’s uprising and political crisis, which displaced hundreds of thousands of Yemenis and contributed to rising poverty in a country that was already the region’s poorest. Refugees living in mostly urban areas are forced to compete with locals for scarce jobs and resources, a situation that has aggravated tensions and increased the vulnerability of many refugees. A funding shortfall of about $30 million has forced UNHCR to limit its assistance.

6. Malian internally displaced and refugees in neighbouring countries: During and after the April takeover of northern Mali by Tuareg rebels, who were quickly supplanted by Islamist groups, some 34,977 Malians escaped to Burkina Faso, 108,942 fled to Mauritania and 58,312 went to Niger. Some 118,000 Malians have been internally displaced, 35,300 of them within the north itself, in the regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. UNHCR faces severe funding gaps in each of the host countries and in Mali, and increasing insecurity is shrinking humanitarian access to populations in need of protection. For host governments and aid agencies, the refugee influx has compounded the food and livelihoods crisis affecting the Sahel region. Should a planned intervention by the Economic Community of West African States be launched in northern Mali, refugee populations are likely to grow further.


Half of South Africa live in poverty

South Africa ranks 29 in the world in terms of gross domestic product. However, a study by the national agency Statistics South Africa shows 52.3 percent of the population was living below the poverty line. 26.3 percent of people in the country are not able to afford proper food.

The northern province of Limpopo is the most destitute in the country with almost three-quarters of its people living below the poverty line.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The State of Africa

Africa represents 15 percent of the world’s population, yet only 2.7 percent of its GDP, which is largely concentrated in only five of 49 sub-Saharan countries. Just two countries—South Africa and Nigeria—account for over 33 percent of the continent’s economic output. Life expectancy is 50 years, and considerably less in those countries ravaged by AIDS. Hunger and malnutrition are worse than they were a decade ago.

At the same time, Africa is wealthy in oil, gas, iron, aluminum and rare metals. By 2015, countries in the Gulf of Guinea will provide the US with 25 percent of its energy needs, and Africa has at least 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. South Africa alone has 40 percent of the earth’s gold supply.  The continent contains over one-third of the earth’s cobalt and supplies China—the world’s second largest economy—with 50 percent of that country’s copper, aluminum and iron ore.

The slave trade and colonialism inflicted deep and lasting wounds on the region, wounds that continue to bleed. Selling oil, cobalt, and gold brings in money for the governments and its elites, but not permanent jobs or prosperity for its workers. Africans cannot currently compete with the huge—and many times subsidized industries—of the First World. Nor can they build up an agricultural infrastructure when their local farmers cannot match the subsidized prices of American corn and wheat. Because of those subsidies, US wheat sells for 40 percent below production cost, and corn for 20 percent below.  But the West's adherence to “free trade” torpedoes countries from constructing their economies. The Carnegie Endowment and the European Commission found that “free trade” would end up destroying small scale agriculture in Africa, much as it did for corn farmers in Mexico. Since 50 percent of Africa’s GNP is in agriculture, the impact would be disastrous, driving small farmers off the land and into overcrowded cities where social services are already inadequate.

One disturbing development is a “land grab” by countries ranging from the US to Saudi Arabia to acquire agricultural land in Africa. With climate change and population growth, food, as Der Spiegel puts it, “is the new oil.” Land is plentiful in Africa, and at about one-tenth the cost in the US. Most production by foreign investors would be on an industrial scale, with its consequent depletion of the soil and degradation of the environment from pesticides and fertilizers.

Africom has anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 U.S. Marines and Special Forces in Djibouti, a former French colony bordering the Red Sea. It has 100 Special Forces soldiers deployed in Uganda, supposedly tracking down the Lord’s Resistance Army. It actively aided Ethiopia’s 2007 invasion of Somalia, including using its navy to shell a town in the country’s south. It is currently recruiting and training African forces to fight the extremist Islamic organization, the Shabab, in Somalia, and conducting “counter-terrorism” training in Mali, Chad, Niger, Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Gabon, Zambia, Malawi, Burkina Faso, and Mauretania. Since much of the US military activities involves Special Forces and the CIA, it is difficult to track how widespread the involvement is. “I think it is far larger than anyone imagines,” says John Pike of While America has put soldiers and weapons into Africa, it has  has either cut aid or used debt relief as a way of fulfilling its UN Millenium obligations. Through affordable access to AIDS medicines, aided by India’s cheap generic versions of drugs (decade ago, they cost $10,000 per person per year and a tiny fraction of desperate people received the medicines) more than 1.5 million South Africans – and millions more in the rest of Africa – get treatment, thus raising the SA collective life expectancy from 52 in 2004 to 60 today, according to reliable statistics released this month. However, in recent months, Obama has put an intense squeeze on India to cut back on generic medicine R&D and production, as well as making deep cuts in his own government’s aid commitment to funding African healthcare. In Durban, the city that is home to the most HIV+ people in the world, Obama’s move resulted in this year’s closure of AIDS public treatment centres at three crucial sites. Meanwhile America has increased military aid, including arms sales and one thing Africa does not need is any more guns and soldiers.

In March 2013 Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa - BRICS-  network are meeting in South Africa  and is expected to carve up Africa more efficiently, unburdened by what will be derided as ‘Western’ concerns about democracy and human rights. They will "talk left" but "walk right". Its resolutions will continue to favour corporations’ resource extraction and land-grab strategies. A new ‘BRICS Development Bank’ likely to be based just north of Johannesburg, will be following the existing agenda.

In July, BRICS  sent $100 billion in new capital to the IMF to bail-out the banks exposed in Europe. South Africa’s contribution was only $2 billion (R17.5 billion), a huge sum for Gordhan to muster against local trade union opposition. Explaining the SA contribution – initially he said it would be only one tenth as large – Gordhan told Moneyweb last year that it was on condition that the IMF became more ‘nasty’ (sic) to desperate European borrowers, as if the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish poor and working people were not suffering enough!

The  BRICS are not "anti-imperialist" but instead the deputy-sheriffs for global corporations. Doesn’t the Brazilian expansionist policy in Latin America and Africa correspond, beyond the quest for new markets, to an attempt to gain control over sources of raw materials – such as ores and gas in Bolivia, oil in Ecuador and in the former Portuguese colonies of Africa, the hydroelectric potential in Paraguay – and to prevent potential competitors such as Argentina from having access to such resources? The definition of Brazil as an imperialist power may seem excessive because it is associated with an aggressive military policy. But this is a narrow perception of imperialism. It remains globalisation. Africa is a battleground for internecine conflicts between all imperialist powers, large and small. 

Adapted from here

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Capital's flight

The plunder of national resources is not new in African autocracies. Rich individuals and large companies hide income and assets from public scrutiny and from taxation by transferring them across borders.

A study published by the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars details how the illicit siphoning of billions of dollars abroad by foreign investors and African leaders has impoverished Africans for 40 years. Estimates of illicit capital outflows range from U.S. $854 billion to $1.8 trillion between 1970 and 2008. (This number happens to tally closely with industry estimates of the holdings of African High Net Worth Individuals at $800-1,000 billion.) From an average of $17.8 billion per year in the 1990s, illicit financial flows shot to $50.3 billion per year on average during the period from 2000 to 2008.  From 1970 to 2008, Nigeria lost a staggering $296 billion to capital flight. About $71 billion went 'missing' from Angola between 1985 and 2008 . Other oil-exporting countries also suffered substantial capital flight in the last four decades: Côte d'Ivoire ($45 billion), the DRC ($31 billion), Cameroon ($24 billion), the Republic of Congo ($24 billion), and Sudan ($18 billion).

The two main mechanisms are outright embezzlement of export revenues by government officials entrusted with the management of public resource exploitation and commercialization, and the under-invoicing of oil exports. In 2002, for example, the IMF reported that as much as $4 billion of Angolan oil sale proceeds had not been accounted for over a period of four years. This missing money finances private wealth accumulation by the political elite and their associates.

Out of the six countries with the highest average capital flight over the period 2000 to 2008, namely Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, four had poverty rates above the African average in 2008.

 On-going investigations in France and USA into fraudulent acquisition of assets by some African political elites have revealed that they have embezzled large sums of money used to buy mansions costing hundreds of millions of dollars apiece, luxury goods such as expensive cars, jewelry, paintings, memorabilia, private jets, yachts, etc., mostly in Western countries. French judges have been investigating illicit wealth accumulation by the presidents of the Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, all of whom are accused of embezzlement of public funds, money laundering, and plundering national wealth. In July 2012, Judge Roger Le Loire issued an arrest warrant against Teodoro Ngema Obiang, nicknamed Teodorin, the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea, on the basis of evidence of illicit wealth accumulation through embezzlement of public resources. The stylish president's son has amassed a portfolio that includes multi-million-dollar real estate in France, luxury cars, designer watches, and art objects. His personal financial transactions are handled through his forestry company, Somagui Forestal, and bank accounts in offshore centers.

The culprits in African capital flight include not only corrupt leaders but many others who gain from illicit financial flows. These include natural resource exploitation companies, trading partners who facilitate misinvoicing, banks in safe havens, and middlemen and "deal makers" who facilitate transactions. The corruption is perpetuated by the complicity of foreign special interests and a shadow international financial system that enables financial criminals to walk free thanks to banking secrecy. It is also facilitated by the willful blindness of Western financial institutions and governments that have tolerated this illicit accumulation of wealth over the years. Tax havens help wealthy individuals and large corporations escape from criminal laws, from financial regulation, from transparency and disclosure, from inheritance rules, from professional liability, and more. Private bankers from London, Geneva and New York. They have been ruthlessly 'efficient' in shifting the assets to Africa's wealthy elites and the liabilities to the African public.

Take your money to a tax haven, and your home rules no longer bind you. In other words, tax havens help wealth elites escape from the rules of civilized society, whether by illegal means or not. The secrecy facilities or tax loopholes provided by the 600,000-odd International Business Companies in the British Virgin Islands are not for the benefit of local islanders: they are for foreigners. The City of London financial center) runs a series of satellite tax havens, spread across the world in concentric rings. In the inner ring are Britain's Crown Dependencies: Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. The next ring out are the 14 Overseas Territories: the last remnants of the British Empire, which include some of the world's most important small island tax havens: the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Turks and Caicos, Anguilla and Gibraltar. These two offshore networks, which are essentially the last remnants of the British Empire, are partly British, and partly independent. Each has its own political system with its own independent politics, but each has a Governor (or Lieutenant Governor) appointed by the Queen. Britain is officially responsible for their foreign relations and defense, and for their good governance. The last court of appeal is the Privy Council in London.
Further out in the web are a number of other tax havens with ongoing strong historical or commercial ties to the UK: Hong Kong, Mauritius, the Bahamas, and others. From Britain's point of view, this network operates along the lines of a spider's web, with the City of London at the center. Each haven tends to have something of a geographical focus: the Caribbean havens focus most heavily on North, Central and South America, while the Crown Dependencies will focus most heavily on European business, as well as Africa and the Middle East. They capture huge amounts of money (and the business of handling money) up to the City of London. Just in the second quarter of 2009 the UK received net financing of US$332.billion just from its three Crown Dependencies.5 Martyn Scriven, secretary of the Jersey Bankers' Association, describes the relationship: "If I have money to spare, I pass it to the father. Great dollops of money go into London from here." Promotional literature for Jersey Finance, says it plainly: 'Jersey represents an extension of the City of London" .

 The biggest tax havens, it turns out, are not the small islands of the popular imagination, but the world's biggest economies.It may surprise some people to discover that the United States is also a gigantic tax haven  in its own right, thanks to state-level laws that allow the formation of anonymous corporations providing bullet-proof secrecy, and federal laws that for decades have deliberately turned a blind eye to dirty foreign money, often fed into Wall Street by foreign 'feeder' tax havens. The Tax Justice Network's Financial Secrecy Index or FSI which combines a jurisdiction's secrecy score with a weighting for the size of its offshore financial sector, reckoned in 2009 that the world's five most important providers of offshore financial secrecy were the United States, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and the United States, in that order. Another study gave Switzerland the top rank, followed by the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, and the USA. In both cases, however, Britain would have ranked head and shoulders above the others if included were the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies as part of Britain.

In 2008, 47.5% of Africa’s population were poor. This proportion is more than twice the average poverty level of all developing regions combined, which stood at 22.4% of the population. Africa’s poverty ratio was more than three times the figure in the East Asia and Pacific region where poor people represented 14.3% of the population in 2008. In absolute numbers, Africa had the second highest number of poor people with 386 million against 571 million in South Asia in 2008.

 Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo are among the richest countries in Africa with per capita incomes of $8,649 (second), $4,176 (5th), and $1,253 (15th), respectively. They have massive oil reserves, ranking 7th (Gabon), 8th (Congo), and 10th (Equatorial Guinea) in the continent. While their presidents and other members of the political elite are amassing fortunes abroad, the majority of their fellow citizens live in abject poverty, lacking access to basic social services such as decent sanitation, clean drinking water, elementary school, and health care. Despite Equatorial Guinea's large oil revenues, a baby born there has less chance of living to his or her fifth birthday than the average sub-Saharan African infant. Gabon and Equatorial Guinea rank second and third to last in their rate of immunization against measles, at 55% and 51%, respectively.

 In Nigeria, more than two-thirds of the population live below the national poverty line, meaning that they do not have enough income to meet basic daily needs . In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country plagued by both institutional decay and civil strife, more than seven out of ten citizens are classified as poor.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Grapes of Wrath

Striking farm workers in South Africa's biggest table grape-growing region set fire to more than 30 hectares of vineyards to protest against what they call "hunger wages". They are demanding R150 per day. They claim the government only paid attention when the vineyards started to burn.

"The wages here are too small, R72 (£5) a day. You cannot buy anything with that money,"
strike organiser Shaun Janca said. "The money that they pay us is nothing. We work our whole lives but still we have nothing. We are working for what? For what?"

"The labourers are working for a minimum wage of R69.39 per day. Per week it is R346.95 a week and the workers can't work for that amount. They say it is a 'hunger wage' "
activist and local labour advisor Petrus Brink said. "The poor people and the workers are getting poorer. They can't support their families and can't take care of their children. That is why they are becoming so aggressive, because the R346.95 is not even enough for them to survive for a week,"

"People are hungry, they are frustrated and they are tired. They want to work but they want to see some improvement in their working conditions,"
said Braam Hanekom, chairman of People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (Passop)

Many of the workers come in to do seasonal work from areas such as the Eastern Cape, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and even Somalia. "This creates a condition where permanent workers feel that their employment is under threat - that they might lose their permanent jobs. The grapes and citrus farmed in the area are intended for the export market. "The farmers make large sums of profit, but then there is no return for the workers. The farm owners reason they don't have to bargain for farm labour because there is already a pool of cheap labour, and so if the permanent workers from the Western Cape don't want to work for that amount, the farmers do have access to another labour market," Brink said. With a cheaper migrant labour force prepared to live in squatter camps, farmers have been less inclined to offer housing, education or other social amenities.

 A report issued by Human Rights Watch in August 2011 Ripe with Abuse detailed a litany of rights abuses practiced by some local farmers.  It documented evidence of housing on farms unfit for living; labourers being exposed to fertilisers and pesticides without the proper safety equipment; a lack of access to water while working in dehydrating conditions; the lack of toilet facilities for workers; and the undue pressure put on workers to stop them from joining unions. It also detailed threats of evictions made against residents who had stayed on farms for long periods of time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Food for the rich

East Africa was hit by its worst drought in half a century last year, leaving millions of people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia hungry and triggering an outpouring of emergency aid from the European Union and other major donors. Yet while relief workers fought to avert a drought-induced famine in Africa, packets of Kenyan green beans and avocados and buckets of decorative flowers from Ethiopia were available in European markets.

“It’s easier to know the demands of the market in Europe than we do in our own neighbourhood,”
said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, who heads the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, known as the ACP, which works with the EU to coordinate trade and development assistance. “In a particular [African] region you can have an acute shortage of goods, whereas next door you can have a bumper crop,” Chambas said.

The south-north food flow has created willing foreign markets for African farmers, while home-grown goods aren’t getting to other Africans who are surviving on international relief aid flown in during food shortages.

The EU imports 40% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural exports – including nuts, fresh-cut flowers, tea, coffee, citrus fruits and vegetables

“It is difficult to imagine the sense in the system, because when we import, say, green beans from Kenya, we’re taking imbedded water from a drought-prone country, and then we’re putting into our supermarkets, into our fridges and then we’re throwing it way uneaten...But equally, when you talk to governments down there they say, ‘we need the money’. ”
Tim Benton, a University of Leeds professor of population ecology said.

With nearly half of the more than 800 million Sub-Saharan Africans living below the UN’s poverty line of less than $1.25 per day, farming is seen as a way to providing lucrative exports of food and biofuel crops.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Corrupt Roots

Before independence, the small colonial elite often lived lives of conspicuous consumption: expensive mansions and shopping trips in the capital cities of colonial empires, and lavish parties. Many of the post-independence African elite took the colonial elite’s conspicuous consumption standard as a benchmark for ‘success’.

At African independence, instead of changing colonial era institutions, laws and values for the better, the colonial elite was often replaced by a similar narrow elite class. This time, however, it was the aristocracy of the independence and liberation movements; the dominant independence leader and dominant ‘struggle’ families, or the dominant ethnic group or political faction. African independence movements were often highly centralised or strongly dominated by one leader and his political, ethnic or regional faction. It has meant that they are very much like the old colonial administrations. The newly acquired state bureaucracy, military, judiciary, nationalized private industries were often seen as the ‘spoils’ of victory. A reward for the struggle of independence. The whole process often became opaque and unaccountable with ‘struggle aristocracies’ dishing out patronage – jobs, government tenders, and newly nationalized private companies - to their political allies, ethnic group(s) or regional interests.

By their very nature, many independence movements’ struggles were secretive. During the independence struggle, many African liberation movements discouraged dissent and criticism of the movements themselves lest they exposed divisions within the movements of the oppressed. By force or negotiation, many independence movements annex opposition parties making one large united party (albeit with ongoing tensions). During independence struggles, liberation movements often became corrupt themselves, as they were forced to adapt to the unaccountable and opaque strategies frequently employed by their oppressors. For example, while waging an armed struggle, it was not always possible for donor funding to be reconciled with receipts, or to properly supervise how money was spent during the course of underground operations. This process or lack thereof was often referred to as ‘struggle accounting’. Unfortunately, when eventually installed in government such ‘struggle accounting’ practices continued post independence.

Liberation movement governments embarked on a policy of creating a ‘capitalist class’ or new ‘indigenous’ business owners, black economic empowerment or indigenisation programs. Political leaders either get stakes in newly privatised public companies, get state tenders to supply services for government, or get slices of private companies owned by former colonials, minority ethnic groups or foreign companies. Liberation and independence leaders were often put on a pedestal by supporters and allowed leaders to get away with personalised rule, disguised by the rhetoric of ruling in ‘the service of our people’.

 Reforms were hardly ever going to have any impact, given the fact that unqualified cronies were managing key public institutions, and that scarce resources were being coarsely diverted to allies, family and friends. Almost all jobs available in the newly independent country were in government, or the newly nationalised media, banks, schools, universities, etc. , Decent employment very much depended on ‘clearance’ from the liberation movement leaders or the ruling group. In most cases, those critical of the dominant leaders or their policies were likely to be excluded from work in the public and private sectors. Very few African countries at independence had a significant private sector: those that had, more often than not saw it nationalised by the liberation or independence movement, turned government. Where significant private sectors remain, they often existed under the threat of possible nationalisation or not securing trading licenses if they failed to toe the line. Given this, such companies were unlikely to employ anyone out of favour with the ruling elite. Partially for these reasons, post-independence, the private sector in many African countries were usually docile and unlikely to demand accountability from national governments. The private sector was often under constant threat of having their businesses nationalised or ‘indigenised’ from the new rulers.

After independence, significant independent civil groups, such as trade unions and farmers associations, were often incorporated as ‘desks’ or ‘leagues’ of the new ruling parties (formerly independence/liberation movement). This meant that civil society groups that held the colonial governments to account and served as checks and balance mechanisms abdicated this role now. 

This provides fertile grounds for corruption leaving corruption to flourish. Corruption undermines the delivery of public services including public housing, healthcare, access to water and adequate sanitation, and access to reliable supplies of electricity. Corruption diverts resources that can be used for development.  For far too long, African ruling parties have gotten away with blaming the previous colonial administration - apartheid government or opposition movements for their own government failures. Most African ruling parties and leaders lack the political will needed to genuinely tackle corruption. Ordinary African citizens, community groups and civil society must become corruption fighters themselves. There needs to be grassroots campaigns across Africa against corruption. The masses must know the extent of corruption and what the impact it has.

African governments should not solely be in the dock. The developed countries essentially ‘buy’ the support of African leaders. This can be secured by forcing poor African countries, in global forums, to support policies that benefit developed countries, but disadvantage the very African countries supporting such policies. This is often achieved through bribery, the promise of more aid, or indeed threats to cut aid. However, this is almost never seen as corruption – yet it is. Western countries look the other way when corrupt African governments are their allies, this has in fact encouraged corruption. Western business organisations in return for investment opportunities collude and are accomplices in corrupt practices. Corruption in business is often not seen as serious by business leaders, either globally or locally. The global financial crisis was essentially caused by corrupt and greedy bankers. Yet, many of these business-men and their companies now flourish in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, as if they are blameless. The duplicity of capitalism must be stopped.

 Adapted from this article

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Diamonds are a dictator's best friend

This week, Partnership Africa Canada, a member of the Kimberley Process, the world regulatory body on the diamond trade, accused Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s ruling circle, international gem dealers and criminals of stealing at least $2 billion worth of diamonds.

Zimbabawe’s eastern Marange field, one of the world’s biggest diamond deposits, has been mined since 2006 and its vast earning could have turned around the nation’s economy, the Partnership Africa Canada contended. But the revenue from the sale of the diamonds have not made it to the state treasury. Millions have gone to Mugabe and his cronies.

Mugabe has been in power in the southern African nation for decades by silencing through violence his critics and intimidating the populace. Poverty is rampant in a country.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mozambique's Resource Curse

When Augusto Conselho Chachoka and his neighbors heard that the world's biggest coal mine was to be built on their land, a tantalizing new future floated before them. Instead of scraping by as subsistence farmers, they would earn wages as miners, they thought. The mining company would build them sturdy new houses, it seemed. Finally, a slice of the wealth that has propelled Mozambique from its war-addled past to its newfound status as one of the world's fastest-growing economies would be theirs. But to get to the coal, hundreds of villagers living atop it had to be moved. The company held a series of meetings with community members and government officials, laying out its plans to build tidy new bungalows for each family and upgrade public services. As the prospect of huge new investments in their rural corner of the world beckoned, villagers anticipated a whole new life: jobs, houses, education, and even free food.

Instead, they ended up being moved 25 miles away from the mine, living in crumbling, leaky houses, farming barren plots of land, far from any kind of jobs that the mine might create and farther than ever from Mozambique's growth miracle. The promised water taps and electricity never arrived. Earlier this year, the people of Cateme sent a letter to local government officials and Vale demanding that their complaints about the resettlement process be addressed, threatening to block the railway line that passes through their village carrying coal to the port. When they received no reply, they occupied the rail line. The police descended upon them, chasing them away and roughing up those who resisted removal. Eventually, contractors came to install electricity. The underlying lack of access to good land and water persist. Hopes that farmers would be able to sell their produce to feed the boom in this mining area have so far not been met: much of the food is flown in.

 Mozambique is one of the poorest nations in the world, broken by a brutal colonial legacy, a 16-year civil war and failed experiments with economic policy. But it is also one of the so-called African Lions: countries that are growing at well above 6 percent annually, even amid the global downturn.

Vale, the Brazilian mining company, is planning to invest $6 billion in its coal operation. The coal deposits in Moatize represent one of the biggest untapped reserves in the world, and the Brazilian mining company Vale has placed a big bet on it. Rio Tinto will soon begin producing coal in northern Mozambique. Gas projects could bring in far more, as much as $70 billion, according to World Bank estimates. Mozambique's location on Africa's southeastern coast means it is perfectly positioned to feed hungry markets in southern and eastern Asia.

Yet millions are stuck below the poverty line.  "You get these rich countries with poor people," said the economist Joseph Stiglitz, who recently visited Mozambique and has written on the struggle of resource-rich countries to develop. "You have all this money flowing in, but you don't have real job creation and you don't have sustained growth." 
 It is a problem in resource-rich countries across Africa. The World Bank said in October that rapidly growing economies powered by oil, gas and minerals have seen poverty levels fall more slowly than countries without those resources. In Gabon and Angola, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has even increased as growth has spiked. 

In Mozambique, according to an analysis by the United States Agency for International Development, "The effects of megaprojects on living standards were found to be very modest," the report said. "These projects, over all, have created few jobs. And linkages to the public budget via tax revenues have also been small because of tax exemptions."

Strong economic growth almost completely bypasses the rural poor, and in some ways can leave them even worse off. "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer," Mr. Chachoka said. "That is what is happening here."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Access for Food

History is riddled with examples of the poor dying of hunger when food was plentiful. Classic amongst these is the famine which wracked the West African Sahel during the early 1970s. While people were dying of hunger in Senegal, Mali and Niger, peanuts — a key sauce ingredient and source of protein across the region — were being exported to Europe.

Central to the philanthrocapitalist worldview is a belief that private enterprise is the fundamental agent of progressive change and that business acumen trumps other forms of expertise. It is also very convenient when a company’s profit motive lines up nicely with an initiative promoting the end of African hunger. The G8, the world’s richest democracies, launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN) last May. This $3 billion commitment by the G8 plus 21 African and 27 multinational companies aims to lift 50 million people in Africa out of poverty by 2022. Nearly 30 companies are involved with the NAFSN initiative (from Syngenta to Monsanto).

Cargill is a US-based large agricultural, financial and industrial corporation. Greg Page, Cargill’s chairman and chief executive, has been particularly active on the talk circuit and in the op-ed pages of American newspapers, articulating his support for NAFSN and similar initiatives. Cargill is a massive company, with revenues of $133.9 billion in 2012, which would rank No. 8 on the Fortune 500 list if it were publicly traded. It operates in 66 countries with some 133,000 employees. In voicing his support for the NAFSN approach, Mr Page outlines the need for free trade, growing crops where there is a comparative advantage to do so, property rights reform, and access to fertiliser, quality seed and mechanised equipment.

In a July 2012 speech in Minneapolis, US, Page compared Zambia and Mozambique. Cargill does a considerable amount of business in Zambia, which allows 99-year land-use permits that can be transferred between buyers and sellers, or transferred from one generation of farmers to the next, Page said. This type of policy encourages agricultural investment, spurring food production in the country, he argued. Last year Zambia produced a million more tonnes of maize than the country could eat — and Zambia is now a ‘net exporter in a continent of food shortage,’ he added.

In Mozambique, however, land-use rights are conferred for half the length of time and permits are non-transferable between parties, Page said. ‘If you look at the soil types, the rainfall patterns and everything else, there is no demonstrable reason that Mozambique should not produce more food than Zambia, and yet in the absence of the right legal frameworks, they’ve not been able to do that.’

What Page fails to understand is that producing more food in the aggregate is not synonymous with improving household food security. While Zambia may now be a food exporter, this does not necessarily mean that Zambia’s historically food insecure groups are better off. Instead, food insecurity remains a major issue for certain segments of the population, including child-headed households and those taking care of orphans (largely due to HIV/AIDS), the unemployed in urban areas, and smallholder farmers in the drought-prone, southern and western parts of the country (where an overreliance on drought-vulnerable maize has made the situation even worse). Furthermore, the Zambian government, because of its market-oriented land tenure legislation, has leased 8.8 percent of its agricultural land to foreign entities, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation. These companies and foreign governments are primarily interested in producing food for export. Their interventions have done little to improve household food security amongst poor Zambians.

The best way to address food insecurity for the poor is emphasising access and not production.  The big money, for input providers, agro-processors and traders, is in building more capital-intensive and market-integrated African farming systems. There is little to no profit to be made from eradicating hunger.

The shell game

Africa is rich is natural resources that are being exploited for big profits, but the money is rarely used for the benefit of the people. Instead it goes to line the pockets of corrupt officials who then often smuggle it out to be deposited in secret offshore bank accounts in the developed world. But if the truth is to be told, it is also the transnational corporations that are doing most of the looting of Africa, and local politicians are small fish in this neo-colonial takeover agenda. The transnationals too have their shell companies where much greater amounts of money flow into undetected accounts.

The world's wealthy countries often criticise African nations for corruption - especially that perpetrated by those among the continent's government and business leaders who abuse their positions by looting tens of billions of dollars in national assets or the profits from state-owned enterprises that could otherwise be used to relieve the plight of some of the world's poorest peoples. Yet the West is culpable too in that it often looks the other way when that same dirty money is channelled into bank accounts in Europe and the US. International money laundering regulations are supposed to stop the proceeds of corruption being moved around the world in this way, but it seems the developed world's financial system is far more tempted by the prospect of large cash injections than it should be. Anonymous off-shore companies and investment entities, whose disguised ownership makes it too easy for the corrupt and dishonest to squirrel away stolen funds in bank accounts overseas. This makes them nigh on impossible for investigators to trace, let alone recover.

 A few years ago rich deposits were discovered at the Marange diamond fields in the east of Zimbabwe. It held out the promise of billions of dollars of revenue that could have filled the public purse and from there have been spent on much needed improvements to roads, schools and hospitals. The surrounding region is one of the most impoverished in the country, desperate for the development that the profits from mining could bring. This much anticipated bounty never appeared. the mines are clearly in operation and producing billions of dollars worth of gems every year, little if any of it has ever been put into Zimbabwe's state coffers. 

Local and international non-governmental organisations say they believe this is because the money is actually being used to maintain President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in power.

Capitalism, the private or state ownership of a country's resources including the labor of its inhabitants who are forced to work within that system for the benefit of the very few is what is the problem. It's a system maintained by force that no one who claims to espouse democracy can support. Production for need with the workers in control and running the means of production for societal benefit: spreading that wealth that under capitalism is concentrated in the hands of the few is the only way to reduce poverty, starvation and deprivation for the many. We are producing plenty of everything that is needed to ensure that every human being on this planet has the necessities for a fulfilling life.

See here

Friday, November 09, 2012

China in Africa

Navin Shah, a property developer in Kenya, stresses that the Chinese are not philanthropists, and that Chinese aid is not just a gift, but also serves to benefit the benefactor: "Ultimately, it is another imperial power pursuing its national interests." He explains "The early colonisers came to Africa with alcohol and useless gifts to lure the locals. China is doing the same with arms sales, especially to those African governments under threat owing to civil war, insurgency, or barred from obtaining weapons from traditional Western sources. In fact, no other major power has shown the same interest or muscle, or the sheer ability to cozy up to greedy African leaders,"

China's engagement with Africa is not 'new'. Its roots date back to the 1950s, when China fought the Soviet Union and the United States for Africa, which was then seen as an ideal terrain in the Cold War. Known as the "coolie trade", China focused its efforts on African mining, plantation and railway construction. The most notable being the construction of the TamZam railway between 1970 and 1975, which linked Zambia directly to Dar-es-Salaam, breaking the dependency on white-ruled Zimbabwe. It was during this period that the Sino-African relations became political. By 1978, China had established diplomatic relations with 43 African countries. At the end of the 1970s it decided to focus on its internal challenges, China's leadership forgot about Africa and  turned to outright neglect in the 1980s. The inauguration of the new leader, Deng Xiaoping, in 1978 led to a new political direction and the uncertainty of economic development in China. Economic aid to Africa was reduced, accompanied by a decline in bilateral trade. However, self-sufficiency - a central pillar of Chinese policy - could no longer be maintained in a host of vital areas including energy, forestry resources and even food production. By the end of 2011, Chinese investment in African countries totalled almost $90 billion (£55.4 billion), the third-largest recipient behind Asia and Europe. Oil is the top item imported from Angola, followed by hardwood timber from Liberia. Sudan exports two-thirds of its oil to China.

As Chinese investment in Africa increases, the emergence of small-scale Chinese retailers threatens to undermine existing local shops. In Huambo, Angola, Chinese shops have increased ten-fold, from two in 2002 to over 20 in 2006. In Oshikango, Namibia, the first Chinese shop was opened in 1999; by 2006, there were 75. The influx of Chinese trading shops has been met with a mix of enthusiasm and concern. . In South Africa, Chinese migrants are seen as intruders, even by those who buy at their shops. A street vendor in Kenya scornfully remarks: "The Chinese come here with promises of new jobs and better lifestyles, but they are taking away even the simple businesses like selling groceries. Yet, the government says we should celebrate Chinese investment?" Dipak Patel, former trade minister for Zambia: "Does Zambia need Chinese investors who sell shoes, clothes, food, chickens and eggs in our markets when the indigenous people can?" And in 2006, an opposition presidential candidate ran a "Zambia for Zambians" campaign aimed at expelling Chinese influence from his country.

There is a debate regarding China's practice of employing its own nationals. A study commissioned by the Angolan government showed that while non-Chinese employers were expected to pay between $3 (£1.85) and $4 a day to Angolan labourers, Chinese labourers were paid $1 day by their own employers. At the World Social Forum held in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007, Humphrey Pole-Pole, head of Tanzania Social Forum, declared: "First, Europe and America took our big businesses. Now China is driving our small and medium entrepreneurs to bankruptcy. You don't even contribute to employment because you bring in your own labour."

The general manager of China National Overseas Engineering Corporation, based in Lusaka, Zambia, attributes the differences to cultural barriers: "Chinese people can stand very hard work. They work until they finish and then rest. In Zambia, they are like the British; they work according to a plan. They have tea breaks and a lot of days off. For our construction company, that means that it costs a lot more."

While this low-cost model insinuates low wages, it has also become synonymous with bad working conditions, abusive practices and environmental degradation. In 2010, for example, 11 local employees of a coal mine in Sinazongwe, Zambia were sprayed with bullets by the Chinese managers while they were protesting about pay and working conditions. This followed a 2005 explosion in a Chinese copper mine in Chambishi, Zambia, which killed 46 workers. In 2007, the Nigerian government leased to China Nuclear International Uranium Company a tract of land belonging to ethnic Tuaregs, without compensating them. Legal and illegal timber logging has wreaked havoc on the prospects for sustainable forestry in Liberia and Mozambique. Dams built in Sudan and Mozambique have displaced thousands of local residents, while over-fishing off the eastern and southern African coasts has impaired communities dependant on fishing for their livelihood.

Fact of the Day

There are fewer people with internet access in the entire continent of Africa than in New York City alone.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

If Africa was a country

If Walmart were a country, its GDP (US$443.9bn) would be greater than that of South Africa's ($422bn). Visa would be bigger than Zimbabwe, Wells Fargo dwarfs Angola, and eBay, Amazon, Costco, Proctor & Gamble would swamp Madagascar, Kenya, Sudan and Libya respectively.

 If Africa were a country its GDP (US$1.184 trillion) would be only around a fifteenth of the United States' ($15.776 trillion). That's a whole continent - the world's second largest - and a continent where around 15 percent of the world's population share 1.5 percent of the planet's total gross domestic product of $78.95 trillion.


Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Quote of the Day

"I fear poverty will kill me before HIV does"

"I have been swallowing ARVs for years now. I have followed all the instructions from the doctors. I have done everything I can to stay alive so that I can take care of my children, but it hurts me that even after I have tried to stave off AIDS-related death, another form of death awaits me. It is this house — this house will kill me sooner than I expect.”

The house in question slants and has a rusty, leaky roof. The eucalyptus poles holding the roof up are rotting, so a flour-like substance keeps falling off them on to the floor. The mud on the walls has fallen off, leaving the weak supporting poles bare. The house, which is now 10 years old, is likely to crumble any time. Whenever it rains, Nangendo folds her beddings to the side and watches in the dark as her troubles seep in from under the door. With its tiny windows, what is supposedly the sitting room is loaded with darkness. 

 “A small brick and sand house, for instance, even if it is one room, is all I want. I need help,” she pleads.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Quote of the Day

 "[The South African] government is a capitalist government. It is a government for the rich. It is making some people very rich and it is slowly changing the colour of the people who are rich. It is always saying that there is a problem with the colour of the people that are rich but it never says that there is a problem which is that the rich, all of them together, have too much land, too much money and too much power...Land has to be distributed according to social need and not according to who has money."
Lindela S Figlan

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Spoils

The share of national income going to the richest 1% of Americans has doubled since 1980, from 10% to 20%, roughly where it was a century ago. Even more striking, the share going to the top 0.01%—some 16,000 families with an average income of $24m—has quadrupled, from just over 1% to almost 5%. That is a bigger slice of the national pie than the top 0.01% received 100 years ago.

According to Forbes magazine’s rich list, America has some 421 billionaires, Russia 96, China 95 and India 48. The world’s richest man is a Mexican (Carlos Slim, worth some $69 billion). The world’s largest new house belongs to an Indian. Mukesh Ambani’s 27-storey skyscraper in Mumbai occupies 400,000 square feet, making it 1,300 times bigger than the average shack in the slums that surround it.

 America’s Gini for disposable income is up by almost 30% since 1980, to 0.39. Sweden’s is up by a quarter, to 0.24. China’s has risen by around 50% to 0.42 (and by some measures to 0.48).

Britain 36 billionaires worth 4% of GDP
Germany 55 billionaires worth 7.2% of GDP
Russia 96 billionares worth 18.6% of GDP
China 95 billionaires worth 2.6% of GDP
India 48 billionaires worth 10.9% of GDP
Brazil 37 billionaires worth 6.2% of GDP
USA 421 billionaires worth 10.5% of GDP