Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mental Health Ignored in Africa

Across Africa, researchers say, the mentally ill are getting poor or no care, and often are treated with the kind of stigma usually reserved for prisoners. The attitude toward mental illness is sometimes reinforced by ignorance about what causes it and how it should be treated, they say. Patients can be called "mad" by nurses, and some are dismissed as the unlucky victims of witchcraft. And those fortunate to get admitted to a hospital are not likely to get the attention they need, often because there are too few doctors and nurses.

Uganda, a country of 33 million people where an entire region was devastated by decades of a rebel insurgency at the hands of the cruel Lord's Resistance Army, has only 33 qualified psychiatrists. That's one psychiatrist for a million people.  "Access (to treatment) is limited to very few," said Seggane Musisi, a professor of psychiatry at Uganda's Makerere University "And there is limited ethical understanding and commitment among caregivers."

In neighboring Kenya, a nation of about 40 million people, there are only 83 qualified psychiatrists. According to the Kenya Society for the Mentally Handicapped there are 3.6 million Kenyans with intellectual disabilities "who are rejected by parents, families and abandoned to live in inhumane and abusive environments. According to Prof. David M. Ndetei of Kenya's University of Nairobi. Ndetei, director of the Nairobi-based Africa Mental Health Foundation, only 4 percent of those with mental illness are able to access treatment in Kenya.
 He said, caregivers had resorted to drugging patients in order to do less work, an unethical practice that he suggested was understandable in a country where health workers frequently complain of poor pay and too much work. "We tend to control (patients) by giving them medication rather than talking to them."  In May 40 male patients fled the country's only psychiatric hospital in the capital, Nairobi, allegedly because they were being abused by caregivers there.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Israel's racism and militarism

A blog describes Israel’s latest refugee deportation ploy policy.

Ynet reports that the government is close to inking a deal with three African states (who are likely Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Uganda) who will take “tens of thousands” of ‘undesirable’ African refugees from Israel in return to Israeli weapons and training.  Isn’t that neat and tidy!?  Israel gets rids of what Israeli politician  Miri Regev called a “cancer in its midst” and contributes to the rising tide of mayhem and violence in countries like South Sudan and Eritrea, already beset by instability and civil war.

The Israeli government revealed there are 7,000 registered arms merchants plying Israeli weapons to precisely these sorts of unstable states, making Israel the sixth largest arms merchant in the world.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Where's the money gone?

 Angola’s capital, Luanda, is dotted with multi-million dollar condominiums, exclusive clubs, and boutique stores catering for the country's elite. Most of Luanda's population, however, live in the nearby slums, where health facilities are non-existent and children must work, not study, to survive. Next to the sleek skyscrapers and luxury apartments, ramshackle shantytowns and crowded slums spread for miles in every direction, housing millions of people living on less than $2 a day. In many cases, even basic necessities like water and electricity are lacking. More than 90% of Angola's revenue comes from oil production, but despite its oil wealth, Angola remains largely impoverished.

We don't see the money that is being generated from oil having direct impact on people's livelihoods," said Isaac, Angola program manager of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. "Angola makes a lot of money out of oil, there is no doubt about this," he added. "Angola is one of the few countries that can really pay its national budget without any donor funding, which is great. But where this money goes, that's the biggest issue. To say that it's not being stolen would not be true to the situation, because if the oil money was not being stolen, we could have better social services in this country. Someone is taking it."

Africa's natural resource wealth has certainly fueled a decade of rapid growth, but most Africans have still not seen the benefits.

 Democratic Republic of the Congo lost an estimated US$1.36 billion through the systematic undervaluation and sale of nationally owned mineral assets to unknown buyers. These losses were equal to more than double the combined 2012 budget for health and education in a country that has some of the world's worst malnutrition, its sixth highest child mortality rate, and over seven million children out of school.

Africa has too often received an unfair return on its mineral resources. At the beginning of this century, for example, half a million Zambians in the mining sector were paying a higher tax rate than the multinational companies they were working for.

Africa loses more money each year through tax avoidance than it receives in either international aid or foreign direct investment.

Conflicts are about control of resources

According to defence analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman,  speaking at the Land Forces Africa 2013 conference in Pretoria  most African states are poor, they cannot afford effective security forces and because of this, poverty remains and there is little investment. This then results in violence and further poverty. Until that cycle is broken, there is no prospect of bringing an end to insurgency, warlords, banditry, piracy, illegal logging and mining, smuggling and other issues, Heitman said. Economic and rural development and effective security are needed to break the cycle.

Heitman was not overly optimistic about the future peace and stability of Africa, and predicted that there will be more conventional wars in Africa. There are still more than 26 border disputes to be settled and some secessionist struggles, Heitman cautioned, citing the ongoing dispute between Sudan and South Sudan as an example.

Central Africa is a particular conflict hotspot, as guerrillas from Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are still active in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This, and other disputes, are being driven by conflict over natural resources.

External powers contribute significantly to insecurity in Africa, Heitman said. “Countries have interests, not friends… African governments must give serious thought to which major powers actually would like to see Africa stable and prosperous and which might prefer it the way it is.”

He said the competition between foreign powers impacted on Africa in that the pursuit of influence, resources, markets and farmland meant foreign powers will support governments, insurgents, terrorists and bandits when that will further their interests. “Foreign powers will support some of those irregulars…Their interests will not always coincide with ours,” the analyst said. “As a continent we are dirt poor. No-one cares about us except as a source of raw materials.”

“There will be insecurity, instability and conflict in Africa over the next two decades or more,” Heitman cautioned. “Irregular and paramilitary forces will be increasingly well armed, equipped, trained and led.” International terrorism will not spare Africa and criminal organisations will become more like guerrillas.

Major General Luvuyo Nabanda, Chief Director: Force Preparation, said Economic and population growth and natural resources are a recipe for conflict and African countries need to review their readiness capabilities.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Black is beautiful but chocolate is better

In 2011, the German government funded a study by the World Health Organisation into the dangers of bleaching with these cosmetics, many of which apparently contained inorganic mercury, a substance that can cause kidney damage, suppress immunity, induce anxiety and depression, and even permanently destroy the nerves in the limbs and skin.

77% in Nigeria for instance bleach at a high risk to their health in order to feel attractive. Many African women who use creams that affect the tone of their complexion routinely mention 'chocolate' as the shade they are aiming for. Indeed a significant portion of their income goes into sustaining this practice. The practice is widespread in Asia as well. Indian activists had taken on a Unilever skin brand for allegedly promoting "skin-lightening" as a way of benefitting from the close-to-$10bn global trade in skin-whitening creams. The numbers of males bleaching is also rising rapidly. Meanwhile northern Europeans are  buying ton-loads ($1bn) of skin-tanning creams, and the practice is spreading across Europe, with some serious health consequences too. While many government regulators in the West continue to warn about the health dangers of anti-ageing products.

The search for 'personalisation', the desire to customise for self, the fear of melding into the crowd, of not standing out in some way - these are the key factors racking up sales for the various skin-change solutions. The makers sell you on the ability of their product to unearth some unique potential of your skin, help your deeper beauty emerge, restore the natural vibrancy and vitality of your skin, help assert your individuality, and indeed find for you: a golden niche.

From here 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Praise be the Plutocrats

The doyen of the great and mighty, the apologist for the rich and powerful, the deluded  Bono has declared capitalism and entrepreneurship are vital to the fight against poverty in Africa.  Bono said at Georgetown University “Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid. In dealing with poverty here and around the world, welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure. Entrepreneurship is the most sure way of development.”

Dr. Ibrahim Aliyu, head of economics department of the Federal College of Education, Zaria said the economic growth cannot end poverty and inequality.  There isclear indication that poverty did not respond appreciably to economic growth in Sub Saharan Africa. Economic growth simply measures the capacity of an economy to produce goods and services between one period and another. 

Inequality in Nigeria as measured by Gini coefficient decreased from 0.43 in 1985 to 0.41 in 1992. Inequality rose consistently from 0.41 in 1992 to 0.49 in 2004.  Inequality declined from 0.49 in 2004 to 0.45 in 2010.

Poverty in Nigeria had worsened between 1980 and 2010 with the number of Nigerians living below poverty line increasing from 17.1 million in 1980 to 112.5 million in 2010. 
The incidence of poverty increase from 42.7 percent in 1992 to 65.6 percent in 1996. About 99 million or 60.5 percent of Nigerians are absolutely poor; living below the acceptable level of food intakes, have no decent clothing and no access to standard healthcare and shelter. 112 million Nigerians are relatively poor, and 99.5 million Nigerians live on less than a dollar per day. 

 In Nigeria as a situation in which opportunities for upward mobility are very limited; it means few decent jobs, poor income and low purchasing power for the employed. It also means poor infrastructure and institutional failure in key sectors including education, health and transportation.

In relative terms, people are poverty-stricken when their incomes fall radically below the community average. This means that such people cannot have what the larger society regard as the minimum necessity for a decent living.  

The poor can be identified through individuals and households lacking access to basic services, political contacts and other forms of support. It also includes household whose nutritional needs are not met adequately; ethnic minorities who are marginalized, deprived and persecuted economically, socially, morally, and politically; and individuals and households below the poverty line whose incomes are insufficient to provide for their basic needs. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Slaves by any other name

"Slavery is alive and well in Mauritania" - Messaoud ould Boulkheir, President of Mauritania's Parliament, May 2013.

Are there still slaves in Mauritania? Legally, no. Are large numbers of ex-slaves and their descendants still trapped in exploitative systems? Yes.

Mauritania, like its Sahelian neighbours Senegal and Mali, has a long history of slavery. In the Sahara 'household slavery' was seen as an integral cultural element. In this Muslim society, slave marriage and reproduction was widely encouraged; slave children belonged to masters and ensured future generations of slaves. Additionally, there was a formally recognised category of 'freed slaves': haratin.

In Mauritania, all former slaves and their descendants are haratin. When manumission (freeing a slave) followed Islamic law, the resulting relationship (wala) created an ongoing interdependence: former masters owed material, moral and legal assistance, while haratin shared in familial social obligations and religious payments.

Real change came in the wake of the Sahelian drought (1968-74) that drove thousands from the desert into urban centres like Nouadhibou, the Atlantic port, and Nouakchott, the new capital. Most were haratin or slaves whose masters could no longer support them. In the late 1970s, the political group El Hor ('The Freeman') argued for improved conditions for these groups. Its success in publicising their plight internationally forced the government to formally abolish slavery in 1980.

But religiously-sanctioned relationships such as slavery and wala were not jettisoned so easily, especially as few amongst slaves, haratin and masters found sufficient material compensation in the new reforms to risk leaving/rejecting the traditional security of slavery. The institution thus continued.

Today, haratin are the poorest cultivators, fishermen, and herders; they are the urban street people, domestics, semi-employed manual labourers, and poorly-salaried workers (for example, the recently-striking Nouadhibou dock-workers). However, while still a minority, haratin also account for some prominent middle-class professionals (teachers, nurses, journalists, lawyers, architects, professors) and wealthy businessmen.

What constitutes slavery and what determines who is 'slave' in post-abolitionist Mauritania are not straightforward. What the government says about eradicating the 'vestiges of slavery' and what its agents (legal, police and military) do, seldom overlap. It is local experience - rural and urban, private and public - not statutes and laws that defines 'Mauritanian slavery' today.

Nigeria's Super Rich - Know your enemy

 Aliko Dangote is the richest man in Africa. He is the founder, Dangote Group, West Africa's largest publicly listed conglomerate with diverse business interests such as sugar refining, flour milling, textiles, real estate and salt processing. Dangote Cement, Dangote Foods (noodles) and Dansa Juice complete the chain. His total net worth is about $16.1 billion as at March 2013.  He acquired a private jet in April 2010 as a personal gift on the occasion of his 53rd birthday. The Bombardier Global Jet Express XRS (one out of a few) was estimated to cost $45 million. Dangote is also said to have purchased a private luxury yatch at the cost of $43 million made exclusively for his enjoyment.

Otunba Mike Adenuga founded Globacom, now Nigeria's second largest mobile phone network, in 2006. Globacom has more than 24 million subscribers in Nigeria, and also operates in the Republic of Benin He is presently worth $4.7 billion.

Jim Ovia founded Zenith Bank Group in 1990. The bank has grown to become West Africa's second largest financial service provider by market capitalisation and asset base. His sources of wealth are banking, telecommunication and real estate investment. He also owns Quantum Luxury Properties Limited, a private equity fund with special focus on Africa. Ovia's total net worth is about $825 million.

 Abdulsamad Rabiu is a son of Khalifa Isiyaku Rabiu, one of Nigeria's most successful businessmen in the 1970s. Abdussamad heads the BUA Group, a conglomerate with $1.9 billion in revenues and interests in sugar refining, vegetable oil processing and flour mills. The BUA Group also operates the BUA Cement, Nigeria's first floating cement terminal, as well as Nigerian Oil Mill which processes edible oil. According to Forbes magazine report, he is the 21st richest African and is worth $675 million.

Folorunsho Alakija is worth at least $3.3 billion against a recent Forbes' rating which quoted her net worth as $600 million. She began her professional career in the 1970s as secretary of defunct International Merchant Bank of Nigeria, one of the country's earliest investment banks.

Tony Elumelu is a renowned economist, banker, and investor.  Elumelu is a recognised African leader in corporate business. After leading United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc to a higher level with the acquisition of Standard Trust Bank (STB) during the consolidation of the banking industry in 2005, he retired from the management of UBA in July 2010.Elumelu, the originator of the concept of Africapitalism as an economic philosophy that reflects the commitment of players in the private sector towards the economic transformation of Africa through long-term investment.

 Hajiya Bola Shagaya is hailed as one of Nigeria's richest businesswomen. She is the CEO of Bolmus International Limited. She has interests in several sectors ranging from oil and gas, banking, cash crops export, real estate, fast-moving consumer goods and photography. She has been a very influential figure in Nigeria's corridors of power for decades. Shagaya  carved her path to become the sixth-largest in the oil producer's oil and gas sector. As far back as the late 1980s, during the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida-led military administration, she had steered her oil and gas company through the highly connected and contested Nigerian oil and gas sector to secure allocations for oil blocks. Around 2005, she became the managing director of Practoil Limited and, in 2011, she founded another exploration company, Voyage Oil and Gas Limited.

Femi Otedola is the CEO of African Petroleum Plc. He was one of only two Nigerians (alongside Aliko Dangote) to appear on the 2009 Forbes list of 793 dollar-denominated billionaires in the world, with an estimated net worth of over US$1.2 billion. Femi Otedola is the Nigerian president and chief executive officer of Zenon Petroleum and Gas limited. Forbes magazine estimates Femi Otedola's net worth at $1.2 billion and ranks him as the 601st richest person in the world. According to Encomium magazine, Femi Otedola's net worth is $3.5 billion. He owns a private jet called Challenger Global 5000 and a yatch almost similar to Dangote's.

Emeka Offor owns a  multi-million business interest, Chrome Group, a multifaceted organisation which originally started as an engineering outfit handling projects such as refinery maintenance, has today become by the grace of God, a conglomerate with diverse interests in Oil and Gas, Finance/Investments, Telecommunications, Insurance, Maritime, Destination Inspection, Real Estate and the Power Sector.

Nnamdi Uba and currently a member of the National Assembly as a Senator of the Federal Republic, Senator Andy Uba is a member of the famous Uba family in Anambra State. He is stupendously rich and was reported to have declared his assets to be worth N3trillion. Uba has a lot of lucrative business interests.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

The State Thieves

Equatorial Guinea is one Africa’s smallest countries and, in theory, one of the most prosperous. Oil revenues make it the wealthiest single country in Africa per capita, but 70 per cent of the population lives beneath the United Nations poverty threshold of €2 a day. In Congo-Brazzaville (a former French colony to the north of the much larger Democratic Republic of Congo), three quarters of the population lives below the UN poverty line. In Gabon, the population is a little better off: only 20 per cent survive below the line.

In February last year, French magistrates led a two-week “raid” on an €80m (£68m) Paris mansion as part of a judicial investigation into the alleged “biens mal aquis” (ill-gotten gains) of the leaders of the three African countries.

According to French judicial documents, in November 2009 Mr Obiang imported 26 luxury cars from the US to France for $12m (£7.4m). They included seven Ferraris, four Mercedes-Benz, five Bentleys, four Rolls-Royces, two Bugattis, an Aston Martin, a Porsche, a Lamborghini and a Maserati. Most of them were re-exported to Equatorial Guinea, whose 1,800 miles of roads are largely unpaved and, in rainy weather, negotiable only by four-wheel-drive. The younger Mr Obiang is evidently an art-lover as well as a car-lover. Tracfin, the French government’s anti-money laundering agency, has documented his purchase of more than €18m of objets d’art from the personal collection of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent when they were auctioned in Paris in February 2009. The art is believed to have been distributed among his six homes abroad, including a seafront house in Malibu, California. The bill for the 109 art works was settled by bank transfers from the Equatorial Guinea forestry board. At the time Mr Obiang was minister of agriculture and forests.

Wealth of nations: 

Teodoro Obiang:

The 71-year-old President of Equatorial Guinea - Africa’s  longest-serving leader - came to power in a military coup which ousted his uncle in August 1979. The discovery of oil has made Equatorial Guinea nominally the wealthiest per head of population in sub-Saharan Africa, yet most of his people do not even have access to clean drinking water. The Obiang family had a Parisian mansion worth €80m, below, and other property worth up to €20m seized by French investigators last year.

Teodorin Nguema Obiang:

Cars ordered by the son of Equatorial Guinea’s President that were found in a garage at 42 Ave Foch were auctioned this week for €2.8m.
They were:
Bentley Arnage 2005
Rolls Royce Phantom 2005
Bentley Azur 2007
Ferrari 599 GTO 2010
Porsche Carrera 980 GT 2006
Bugatti Veyron 16.4e 2007
Maserati MC de 2005
Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport 2010
Maybach 62 2004

Dennis Sassou Nguesso

The 70-year-old returned to power in Congo-Brazzaville after a civil war in 1997. He has since “won” two elections, both without any genuine, democratic opposition. Mr Nguesso claims to be influenced by socialism, but critics suggest he believes mostly in ‘socialism in one family’. When he attended the UN in 2006, his entourage occupied 44 rooms, running up a bill of €150,000. His family are believed to own 24 homes in Paris, including the two apartments below, worth €2.47m and €1.6m respectively.

Ali Bongo Ondimba

The Congolese President, 54, succeeded his father Omar Bongo in October 2009. He was chosen as a candidate by the dominant party in dubious circumstances. Reports at  the time suggested that he was seen as an upstart – he was described as ‘a spoilt child, born in Congo-Brazzaville, brought up in France, hardly able to speak indigenous languages and with the appearance of a hip-hop star’. His family are thought to own 39 Parisian homes. Those pictured are worth €18.9m and a whopping €100m respectively.

The family of President Bongo of Gabon is believed to own 39 luxury apartments or houses in the French capital. President Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville has a modest 24 Parisian properties, according to documents leaked from the French investigation. Between them the two families are said to have 200 French bank accounts. President Bongo bought a Bentley Continental Flying Spur, worth €220,000, in France in 2009. Antoinette Nguesso, the president’s wife, bought a Mercedes E Class and his nephew, Wilfrid, a Porsche Panamera Turbo (each worth more than €100,000).

From here

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Food Insecure in South Africa

 Food security occurs when people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development, and an active healthy life

According to Food Bank South Africa, more than 20% of the population today is food insecure. That means that approximately 11-million South Africans do not know where their next meal will come from. Like in many other parts of the world, the hardest hit people are women and children. Moreover, this self-reinforcing poverty trap lies rampant in rural communities.

 South Africa remains one of a handful of countries that produces enough food to adequately meet local food consumption needs. In other words, there is enough food to feed everyone. Therefore, the problem is distribution and access [lack of money to buy food]. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

“If We Must Die”

 Claude McKay understood what  the odds were stacked against African-Americans who resisted white supremacy. But he also knew that what was at stake in the resistance to tyranny.

“If We Must Die”

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Rhodes to Africa

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes - “What we hear from our businesses is that they want to get in the game in Africa. There are other countries getting in the game in Africa – China, Brazil, Turkey. And if the US is not leading in Africa, we’re going to fall behind in a very important region of the world.”

Over a century earlier, another Rhodes – Cecil  – explained that very game: “We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.”

How best to obtain access to Africa’s mineral and petroleum wealth?

Obama has been criticized for military interventions in oil-soaked Libya and AfriCom’s fight against Islamic fundamentalists in Somalia, for mercenary support and torture-rendition activities in several African countries, and for gifts of drones and US troop deployment in authoritarian Uganda.

The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that Obama promoted and as the Heritage Foundation has argued, AGOA aims to “encourage governments to open their economies and build free markets” – which, translated by Michael Besha of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity, means “coercing African countries into total trade and financial liberalization.” Riaz Tayob of the Southern and East African Trade Institute, explains “standard US policy to debtor countries is to open financial markets.”

From here