Saturday, November 30, 2013

Separatism or Socialism

 When the colonial powers divided Africa among themselves they did so with scant regard for the variety of language, religion or ethnicity that already existed. When independence came to most African countries in the 1960s, the continent's new leaders agreed to stick to these borders. Maintaining the status quo would have been in their interest for many reasons but mostly because it provided a way to prevent potentially damaging conflicts from erupting among themselves.

Since then, Africa's borders have remained largely unchanged. Aside from Namibia and South Sudan, the only other country in Africa that has won legal autonomy since colonial independence is Eritrea, which after a long and bloody war seceded from Ethiopia in 1993. During the same period, in other parts of the world, many apparently immutable boundaries have been challenged and changed. Since 1990 especially, more than 30 new countries have been created around the world, as the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Balkan conflict led to the formation of new states that reflect ethnic, linguistic and nationalist divisions. Yet the map of Africa remains one drawn up by foreigners, ignorant of ethnic and religious realities. One example is Nigeria, a nation that is divided between religiously distinct Muslim and Christian populations along a clear north-south fault line.

The insistence on sticking to colonial borders is facing growing popular challenge. It is now argued that in  some of the countries, their current boundaries, just don't make sense and much of the dissatisfaction stems from lack of economic opportunity among populations seeking greater control over their natural resources. Across the continent, dozens of governments are struggling against rebel groups demanding either greater autonomy or full independence, movements, which span the continent from the Casamance region in southern Senegal to the Uamsho Islamists (the Association for Islamic Mobilisation and Propagation) fighting for independence on the already semi-autonomous Tanzanian island of Zanzibar. Somalia is now divided up among the autonomous regions of Puntland (which considers itself an autonomous state) and Somaliland (a self-declared but unrecognized sovereign state). In central Somalia, Galmudug is another regional entity that emerged.

Annette Weber, head of Middle East and Africa research at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs explains "What we have seen in Africa is a lot of centralised states where the leader is running the capital but not really reaching out to the periphery. The state is so distant that it doesn't feature in the life of those populations." These marginalised people, she explains, often feel that they would be better off with "one identity-based territory that binds them. Independence becomes a hope or an expectation for them."

The Mombasa Republican Council demands independence from Kenya. The Bakassi Movement for Self-Determination demands separation from Cameroon and re-unification with Nigeria. In Algeria Berber tribes in the northern region of Kabylie demand greater autonomy. In Zambia more than 70 separatists demanding independence for Barotseland state in the impoverished Western Province were recently arrested and are currently on trial for treason. The list of these conflicts goes on and on: from Sudan to Western Sahara, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Mali.

In discussing the newly independent nations Ms Weber explains "What is often overlooked is where these states come from. Where did South Sudan's new government learn the business of statehood? They learned it from Khartoum. And many systemic problems of neglect and exclusion that we see from the government of Khartoum are now replicated in South Sudan. Often separation results in a duplication of another failed elite..." Weber goes on to argue "I think there will be more separatist groups calling for separation because they believe it could solve their problem of neglect...”

Socialist Banner has often cautioned workers to be wary of simplistic nationalistic solutions when the only viable lasting option for peoples prosperity is world socialism.

Adapted from here 

Land-grabbing and Sex Inequality

Land scarcity and volatility of food prices on the world market have led richer countries that are dependent on food imports to acquire large amounts of land elsewhere to produce food for their domestic needs. Access to land is critical for small-scale food producers. Lack of it defines ‘landless farm workers’. Losing it and becoming landless is feared by many smallholders, as it will mean losing food security and opportunities for development. It is the most marginalised groups in society who are most susceptible to land grabbing – which makes preventing it a crucial issue for poverty reduction and human rights.

The new wave of land deals is not the new investment agriculture that millions had been waiting for. The poorest people are being hardest hit as competition for land intensifies. Oxfam's research has revealed that residents regularly lose out to local elites and domestic or foreign investors because they lack power to claim their rights effectively and to defend and advance their interests.

While some investors might claim to have experience in agricultural production, many may only be purchasing land for speculative purposes, anticipating price increases in the coming years (known as ‘land banking’). World Bank analysis in 2011 of 56 million hectares of large-scale deals concluded that nothing had yet been done with 80 per cent of the land involved, suggesting a significant amount of land banking.

All of the above is happening while the global share of land available for agriculture has peaked. It is, in fact, reducing, as the world loses agricultural land to urbanisation and soil degradation. Land is not just an important productive asset. Even for families who have stopped living directly off the land, it often serves as an important safety net to fall back on when other economic ventures fail or when the economy fails to provide opportunities. Land has multiple other (so-called) secondary uses as well, which are vital to family livelihood security. It can provide fodder, nuts, fruits, roots, medicinal and kitchen herbs, dyes, rope, timber, and roofing and fencing materials. Many of these resources are available on common lands, and are often especially important for women. Land also provides a space for social, cultural, spiritual, and ceremonial events, and as such is essential for sustaining the identity and well-being of a community and its members.

Many researchers have shown that secure access to or ownership of land is associated with significant reductions in hunger and poverty. For women all over the world, lack of access to and control over land is a major determinant (and outcome) of gender inequality. . In rural areas, lack of access to land forces many women to sell their labour on cash-crop producing farms, where they are paid less than men. Women farm workers may also suffer sexual violence and harassment, discrimination, and devaluation of their work. Rural women often end up with a double burden of providing for and managing the household when men migrate in search of work – another consequence of land shortages. Women also fare disproportionately in conflicts over land, where they face a number of challenges. Discriminatory legislation is compounded by the sexism of those implementing the laws, and women often have little opportunity to participate in decision-making processes regarding new legislation, projects, or contracts. Compounding this, gender-based violence is often a common feature in conflicts over land.

Evidence from research on land grabs in Africa suggests that women are getting a raw deal. To begin with, women’s land rights are less secure and more easily targeted. They also depend more on secondary uses of land, which tend to be ignored in large-scale acquisitions. Furthermore, although women comprise the majority of farmers, men effectively control the land and the income derived from it, even if it is the fruit of women’s labour. In practice, a new commercial opportunity often means that men assume control of the land at the expense of women’s access. Thus, new sources of income from the land are likely to burden women and benefit men. The new competition for land between biofuels and food crops, leading to less availability of food and higher prices, is also likely to affect women more than men, as women tend to take responsibility for feeding the family.

From here 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Shamed by the ANC

ANC stalwart Dr Frene Ginwala wept on Saturday when she talked about how the ANC had failed to reduce poverty while allowing corruption to eat into its moral fibre.
The former and longest-serving Speaker of the National Assembly said she was ashamed of how the ANC government had become.
“I’m ashamed that we have not reduced poverty and the tremendous damage it has caused. We should have done better. We don’t deserve to be elected after failing to listen to the people. Why are people crying? Why are we not listening? Why are universities not engaging in dialogue?” said Ginwala.

War - Economics by Other Means

Throughout the post-colonial period, internecine warfare—along with the poverty and underdevelopment that attend it—has been endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. The images are depressingly familiar: government forces fighting against armed rebel militias; terrorized, starving refugees fleeing for their lives; villages burned to the ground; women raped and men tortured.

Conflict seems to radiate from the continent’s heart. A 2001 Institute of Development Studies (IDS) report listed 28 sub-Saharan African countries that have been embroiled in some form of warfare since 1980, including Angola, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, and Sudan along with many others. Many have suffered fatalities in the hundreds of thousands along with the maiming and traumatization of countless victims. And then there is the broader toll. “Armed conflict,” observes the IDS report, “is arguably now the single most important determinant of poverty in Africa.”

In a 2001 study called The Political Ecology of War: Natural Resources and Armed Conflicts, researcher Philippe Le Billon analyzed the role of natural resources in armed conflict, both their scarcity and abundance. “The availability in nature of any resource is…not in itself a predictive indicator of conflict,” he wrote. “Rather, the desires sparked by this availability as well as people’s needs (or greed), and the practices shaping the political economy of any resource can prove conflictual, with violence becoming the decisive means of arbitration.” In other words, resource deposits themselves are not good predictors of conflict, but in an unstable political environment, resource markets can be.

In early November 2013, the militia group M23 surrendered after its defeat by the DRC army. Despite the general jubilation greeting this news, critics have warned that if no effort is made to address the root sources of violence in the eastern Congo—which include simmering ethnic tensions and a lucrative minerals trade—some other rebel group could easily arise in M23’s stead. In the DRC, the mineral that has up until recently fueled the war is called coltan, short for columbite-tantalite, from which tantalum is extracted. The tantalum capacitor is a stable and reliable component in smartphones, DVD players, laptops, hearing aids, and other devices. This has led critics of the mineral trade to lampoon smartphones as “blood phones,” a designation particularly aimed at the iPhone, although Apple is by no means the only guilty party. However, there are some indications that miners have switched to digging for gold, which has become much more profitable than the other so-called conflict minerals: tin, tungsten, and tantalum, known as the “three Ts.”

International markets for conflict commodities have often roped former colonial powers into resource wars directly. A case in point is Nigeria, where the entrenched hand of the British played a conniving role during the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970. Charismatic Colonel Odumewu Ojukwu led the attempted secession of southeastern Nigeria, which was to be called Biafra. If successful, the breakaway would have cut the oil production of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in half. The military government in Lagos, headed by General Yakubu Gowon, was not the only one panicked over the potential loss of all that crude oil. So were the British, who went on to aid Gowon with a steady supply of weapons. Abetting Gowon’s food blockade of Biafra, the British contributed to the starvation of Biafrans. Images of skeletal, pot-bellied children shocked the world, but the position of the British was clear: “The sole immediate British interest in Nigeria,” wrote Commonwealth Minister George Thomas in August 1967, “is that the Nigerian economy should be brought back to a condition in which our substantial trade and investment in the country can be further developed, and particularly so we can regain access to important oil installations. While Britain supported Nigeria, France and other countries covertly supplied weapons to Biafra. Did oil cause the Nigerian civil war? No. But was it an important contributing factor? Certainly.

However, as much as the minerals may be in the thick of the conflict, they aren’t necessarily the immediate cause of these wars. Rather, complex social and political factors in the region, many but not all of them colonial legacies, create an environment ripe for the outbreak of wars in which the valuable minerals become a funding source for the combatants. Some of these factors include social inequality and ethnic rivalries (Tutsis and Hutus of Rwanda and the DRC); peacetime kleptocracy (Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone); a lack of employment opportunities for young men; disillusionment with government; weak democratic institutions; and poverty itself.

David Keen, in the book Greed & Grievance: Economic Agendas in Civil Wars, makes the point that labels such as “ethnic hatred,” “mindless violence,” and “chaos” are applied chiefly by people who assume that the goal of any war should be victory. However, as Keen notes, sometimes the image of war serves as a smokescreen for the emergence of a wartime political economy from which rebels and even governments may be benefitting. Small wonder the warring factions may show little interest in negotiating a settlement. War for them is not just a continuation of politics by other means; it may be a continuation of economics by other means.

Full article here

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Zimbabwe - Tony Blair's Invasion Plans

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki claimed that Britain had been prepared to use military force to overthrow Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. Mbeki alleged that the former British prime minister pressured him to join a "regime change scheme" as Zimbabwe plunged into a political and economic crisis in the early 2000s.

Blair, who had made a triumphant military intervention in Sierra Leone, was determined that Mugabe should step down whereas Mbeki was ready to accommodate him.

Mbeki made reference to a retired British general, thought to be Lord Guthrie, who was chief of the defence staff during the first Blair government. In an interview in 2007 Guthrie recalled that "people were always trying to get me to look at" toppling Mugabe by force, though he did not mention Blair by name.

Mbeki,said: "There is a retired chief of the British armed forces who said he had to withstand pressure from the then prime minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair ... Tony Blair who was saying to the chief of the British armed forces, 'You must work out a military plan so that we can physically remove Robert Mugabe'. We knew that because we had come under the same pressure that we need to cooperate in some scheme. It was a regime change scheme, even to the point of using military force and we were saying no."

Mbeki condemned the way in which Britain presumed it could still meddle in Zimbabwean affairs. "You are coming from London, you don't like Robert Mugabe for whatever reason - people in London don't like him - and we are going to remove him and therefore it means we are going to put someone else in his place? Why does it become a British responsibility to decide who leads the people of Zimbabwe? So we're saying, 'No, let Zimbabweans sit down, let them agree what they do with their country.'"

After leaving office as prime minister, Tony Blair set up the Africa Governance Initiative, which currently has staff working in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Malawi and South Sudan.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Canada's expanding African Empire

According to Natural Resources Canada, a federal ministry, there were 155 Canadian companies with cumulative mining assets totalling more than C$31.6bn ($30.5bn) operating in 39 countries in Africa in 2011, the latest available figures. That was up from $26.9bn in 2010.

"Canada is a pretty large outward investor," says Pierre Gratton, president and chief executive of the Mining Association of Canada. "We're one of the larger players on the continent."

Canada's conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has negotiated investment promotion and protection agreements with a number of countries, including Benin, Cameroon, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia.

In March 2013, Canada's government amalgamated the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the arm of the government responsible for international aid, into the rebranded Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. But Stephen Brown, an associate professor of political science at the University of Ottawa, recently criticised the Harper government's move

“It does nothing to improve aid effectiveness," Brown argues. "It's really about rehabilitating the image of Canadian mining companies, distracting public attention away from their practices ... and transforming their image from resource extractors to humanitarian actors." Brown points out that 20 CIDA "countries of focus" have among the top 12 largest reserves of the six most important metals in the world.

Mining Watch Canada, an independent watchdog, cautions that there are very few laws governing the conduct of Canadian companies operating abroad. "In many instances, local governments simply do not have the capacity," Jamie Kneen, a coordinator for MiningWatch says. "There are serious risks for the environment and health of the nearby communities." While the Dodd-Frank legislation in the United States and the European Union's Accounting and Transparency Directives have put pressure on companies to disclose payments made to governments, no such legislation exists in Canada. For now, Canadian oil operations by firms including Canadian Resources and Sunco Energy in West and North Africa have remained largely below the radar.

Monday, November 25, 2013

African Farmers Neither Want Nor Need GMO Crops

Corporate voices and their allies are calling for the promotion of genetically modified seeds - and changes to African laws to enable their spread - as a solution to low food production and hunger in Africa. In October, the World Food Prize was awarded to three scientists, including two from agribusiness giants Monsanto and Syngenta, for their breakthroughs in developing GMOs. The editors of The Washington Post recently appealed to "give genetically modified crops a chance" in Africa and called for an open debate. The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, a network of small holder farmers, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers, indigenous peoples, citizens and environmentalists from Africa, is pleased to include the voices of African farmers in that debate.

The promotion of GMOs as solution is too often disrespectful to African culture and intelligence and based on a shallow understanding of African agriculture. It is based on the image that is held by many Westerners who see Africa as poor, destitute, starving, disease-ridden, hopeless, helpless that needs to be saved by a white angel from the West. That image allowed colonialists to rationalize their scramble for Africa, and that image is being used by neo-colonialists to rationalize their scramble for African land and natural resources.

Those promoting the false solution of GMOs are recommending that African farmers develop a long-term, perhaps irreversible, cycle of dependence on the interests of a small handful of corporate decision-makers to determine what seeds, with what genetic characteristics, and requiring what chemical inputs, will be produced and made available to Africa's people. This is a pathway toward profound vulnerability and centralized decision-making that flies in the face of the best agricultural evidence-based practices and sound policy making. The evidence and our experience with farmers clearly points to a more rational and appropriate path: investing in a transition toward more sustainable and agro-ecological farming systems that trust in the wisdom and capacity of tens of millions of African farmers to control, adapt and make decisions about their genetic resources, as the pathway toward greater well-being and resilience for Africa.

What is the story after 20 years of GMO cultivation in the United States? Farmers who took on herbicide-tolerant GMO crops are now struggling with the cost of combating herbicide-resistant super weeds. Some 49 percent of US farms suffer from Roundup-resistant super weeds, a 50 percent increase from the year before. As a result, since 1996 there has been a disproportionate increase in the use of weed killers - more than 225 million kilograms in the United States. Meanwhile, farmers who took on pest-resistant GMO crops are struggling with the cost of secondary pests unaffected by the built-in toxins. In China and India, initial savings from reduced insecticide use with Bt cotton have been eroded as secondary pests emerged.

According to the African Centre for Biosafety, in South Africa, single-trait Bt maize (meant to produce toxins to kill pests) has developed such complete insect resistance that it has been withdrawn from the market. In past seasons, extensive product failure meant that farmers were compensated for spraying insecticides on their crops to avoid economic loss. This failed technology will now be introduced to other African countries under the auspices of the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project being promoted by Monsanto and the Gates Foundation.

India has just placed a 10-year moratorium on planting its first genetically modified (GM) food crop. Mexico has banned the planting of GM maize, Peru has placed a 10-year moratorium on the import and cultivation of GM seeds, and Bolivia has committed to giving up growing all GM crops by 2015. Last year, China announced a move away from widespread adoption of GM crops for at least the next five years, in favor of developing more sustainable high-yield non-GM crops. Consumers more or less everywhere have been consistently hostile.

In the UN Conference on Trade and Development's 2013 Trade and Environment Report, titled "Wake-up before it is too late: make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate," the authors recommend that to meet future challenges, a "rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve[d] the productivity of small-scale farmers" is needed.
Genetically engineered crops have nothing to do with ending world hunger, no matter how much GMO spokespeople like to expound on this topic. African farmers should be supported in developing and spreading a proven, sustainable farming pathway to feed our people and achieve food sovereignty. Their voices should be given precedence in the debate above the propaganda of corporations, whose goal is to sell more GMOs and chemical inputs.

Million Belay, based in Addis Ababa, is the coordinator for the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.
Bern Guri, based in Accra, is the chairperson for the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.
from here

and read the previous article on SOYMB  'Socialism can feed the world, capitalism cannot  '

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Another African tragedy neglected

Thousands of people are dying at the hands of soldiers and militia gangs or from untreated diseases such as malaria. Boys and girls as young as eight are pressganged into fighting between Christians and Muslims. The number of children recruited as soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR) has risen up to 6,000, says an official with the United Nations Children's Fund.
There are reports of beheadings and public execution-style killings. Villages are razed to the ground. The average male life expectancy is 48, The CAR has sucked in thousands of mercenaries from neighbouring countries and, France warned, now stands "on the verge of genocide". Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, noted recently that the situation in the CAR has been referred to as "the worst crisis most people have never heard of". The European Union expressed "very deep concern at the alarming situation" in the strife-torn country. "We are alarmed by the widespread violations of human rights which go unpunished and affect the whole population," said a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in the Belgian capital Brussels. 

The US estimates that nearly 400,000 people have been displaced – many hiding in the jungle without access to malaria or HIV treatment.  In Bossangoa 34,000 people have sought refuge at the St Antoine de Padoue Cathedral.In  Bouca, to the east, haround 3,000 people – more than half of them children  are seeking sanctuary at the Catholic mission there. 68,000 have gone to neighbouring countries.

It is a country that stands as one of the most profound indictments of European colonialism, a contrivance that since independence in 1960 has endured five coups, infrastructure run on a shoestring and a self-declared emperor whose lavish coronation was inspired by Napoleon. Rich in gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the CAR has proved irresistible to warlords such as Joseph Kony.

The latest eruption began in March when the unpopular president, François Bozizé, fled by helicopter with five suitcases after being overthrown by a loose coalition of rebels, bandits and guns for hire known as the Seleka, meaning "alliance" in the local language. One of its leaders, Michel Djotodia, declared himself president — the first Muslim to rule this majority Christian nation of 4.6 million people. What Médecins sans Frontières termed "a crisis on top of a crisis" for the population accelerated considerably in September when Djotodia officially disbanded the Seleka. Many of the rebels refused to disarm and leave the militias as ordered but veered further out of control, killing, looting and burning villages. What started as a political movement against the corrupt and autocratic Bozizé is now taking on an ominously religious character. Nearly all the Seleka are Muslim, including mercenaries from neighbouring Chad and the notorious Janjaweed from Sudan's Darfur region. An "us and them" mentality of mutual distrust and paranoia is taking root, with some Christians taking up arms in vigilante militias known as "anti-balaka" — meaning anti-sword or anti-machete — and committing atrocities of their own, giving the Seleka a pretext for yet more aggression. The spiral of violence has become a recruiting sergeant for thousands of child soldiers.

Father Frédéric Tonfio  is pleading for global intervention before it is too late. "I have only been able to count on my colleagues in the church. The silence of the international community is like they are accomplices allowing this to happen. It's almost as if the Sekela is stronger than the international community. Everyone knows what is going on here. Every day that we delay, more people die."

According to Lewis Mudge, a Human Rights Watch researcher on the ground, the Seleka: "These guys are not Islamic fundamentalists. They are Muslim-lite. They are here for prosperity and power; they are not here to change anyone's confession. The world needs to find the CAR on the map and start paying attention on humanitarian grounds. It's still early enough to avert a crisis in this country. It's not a genocide and it's not a civil war but it's certainly trending in that direction."

There are many mineral resources, including gold and diamond, in the Central African Republic.

Friday, November 22, 2013

New Countries, Old Hopes

Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia in 1991, calls itself a sovereign nation, and operates as such, but has not been recognized by any other country in the world. and has been largely forgotten. Somaliland has a working government -- something that's markedly lacking in Somalia. Somaliland, a region with a population of 4 million islocated in Somalia's northwest bordering Ethiopia, Djibouti and Puntland (another unrecognised autonomous region). Somaliland has its own government, constitution, currency and economic ambitions. Since it isn't formally recognized as an independent state, the territory can't receive direct aid from international donors. (Tens of millions of dollars do filter in annually to combat endemic poverty and food shortages, though the funds are administered by aid agencies and aren't recorded in government books.)

Led by President Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo since 2010, Somaliland is promoting itself as a safer destination for investors than the nearly-lawless Somalia. ighly dependent on transport customs and domestic taxes, which many analysts argue has actually stabilized the region by keeping government authorities beholden to citizens and private businesses.  Meanwhile, remittances from abroad have grown indispensable to citizens, since there are no commercial banks in Somaliland.

It might find itself at the center of an international scramble for the next oil hotspot.  Given its geology, he says, the region could hold several oil fields with reserves in the billions of barrels. In 1991, with Somalia on the verge of civil war, a World Bank/UNDP study noted that the northern part of the country was likely to contain significant hydrocarbon prospects. But as the central government dissolved in a spiral of violence, prospects for exploration vanished.  Somalia’s government -- whose authority does not extend much beyond Mogadishu, 500 miles (800 km) away by air -- does not recognize the government of Somaliland, and has discouraged oil companies from doing any business with it.

Minister of Energy and Minerals Hussein Abdi Dualeh expects three or four international oil companies to begin 2D seismic evaluation exploration projects in Somaliland next year. He will also be developing a separate military force fully trained and equipped and tasked with protecting the oil industry which will have a separate command structure from the other armed forces of Somaliland. His sales pitch is that East Africa is currently the go-to region for oil exploration in Africa. It has the potential to become the new Middle East and unlike some of the inland places in Africa where oil is being found, the possible oil-fields here very close to the coast, where oil can be shipped easily to world markets.

Berbera, the country’s the port city,  hopes to tap into Ethiopia's relative wealth by turning Berbera into a similar hub as Djibouti. Some Ethiopian trade already flows through the city, and total revenues from the port generate up to 80 percent of Somaliland's annual budget, which is at an all-time high of $125 million this year. But the government is keen to rake in even more. The demand is there; maritime traffic often overwhelms the Djibouti port, as it does at nearby ports like Mombasa, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

From here

Africa - a call to action

The desire for unity of the African peoples is a powerful force. Nkrumah  blended his “Pan-African socialism” concoction. Various “liberated” countries and “progressive” leaders described themselves as socialist. The truth is you can’t hide the old smell of exploitative capitalism. What is happening in Africa concerns every worker. The contradictions of capitalist production express themselves in a concentration of wealth at one end of society and of misery at the other. Every thinking worker knows the fact. But these contradictions also express themselves in the concentration of wealth in rich nations like America and Britain and the concentration of misery in poor ones like India and Africa. There are hundred of millions of  Africans living in destitution. It is capitalism which is destroying them as it is destroying the world. It has now confessed that in Africa it is bankrupt. They must therefore rid themselves of capitalism – for the same reason that the worker in the western world must rid himself of capitalism, to use “capital” and not be used by it.

The record of British capitalism is written with the blood, not only of the British working class, but of millions of colonial toilers in India, Africa, and other countries. Governments have come and Governments have gone whether they call themselves Conservative, Liberal, or Labour  and we don’t own one more foot of our land, or enjoy any greater political or social advantages than before. It has been the same policies with different labels. By false documents, by making chiefs drunk, by setting tribes against each other, by missionaries preaching religion, by every sort of dishonesty, and when that failed, by ruthless conquest,the British brought the natives under their control. The British worker may say, ‘I am sorry for these poor beggars, but I can’t take the troubles of the whole world on my shoulders.’ He would be wrong. Tyranny and oppression in Africa, and lies and hypocrisy at home, in order that the British worker may be acquiescent and peaceably assist in forging his own chains.  For Marx, Africa’s problem was the problem of capitalist society and only socialism could solve it:

The emancipation of African workers is part and parcel of the struggles of the world working class,  whether white, black or yellow, and has nothing to do with a “race” struggle of “black against white.” We, too, have our own black capitalists and lackeys to fight against. And truly, when the day of reckoning comes, we have a long and fearful score to pay off not against our white class brothers, but against the ruling class and their agents, white and black. We want to see world socialism on the basis of free collaboration of all peoples.  Africans must win their own freedom. Nobody will win it for them. They need co-operation, but that co-operation must be with the socialist movements throughout the world. There is no other way out. Each movement will neglect the other at its peril, and there is not much time left. Socialism is the only hope of mankind! It must be fought by Africans and European, Asian and American workers alike in their common interests.

 “Labour with a white skin cannot emancipate itself where labour with a black skin is branded.” Marx.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mauritania: Majority Of Locals Worse Off Than Refugees

Since April, when the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) started biometric registration of the Malian refugees in Mauritania's Mbera camp, 8,000 of the 68,000 registered refugees have been de-activated from the system - almost all of them Mauritanians from nearby towns and villages hoping to access aid handouts. In September, a small group of camp residents tried to destroy the registration centre in protest of the new system, raising a key question: when and how should aid agencies helping refugees also try to assist vulnerable host populations?

The situation in Mauritania is by no means unique; many refugee camp populations are swollen with locals trying to access aid. Locals have even outstripped refugee populations in some crises, said a UNHCR source.

UNHCR and other aid agencies often assist host populations to allay potential tensions between refugees and locals, but doing so is typically not a first priority. Some agencies do it from the get-go, while UNHCR usually does so after the emergency phase of protracted refugee situations.

Loubna Benhayoune, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Mauritania, urges early aid, telling IRIN: "The locals are just as vulnerable [as the refugees], if not worse." OCHA is currently mapping out who is doing what, and where, for local populations.

UNHCR said its initial priority is to respond to the immediate refugee crisis. Just getting the basics - food, water, shelter and healthcare - in place for tens of thousands of refugees, in a situation where the agency had no staff, and no office within 1,000km "was quite a challenge," said Hovig Etyemezian, who runs the camp at Mbera for UNHCR. "Now we're focusing more on quality issues, including how to better assist host populations."

Locals impoverished

Mbera camp is situated in Hodh el Chargui, Mauritania's most food-insecure region, where 37 percent of inhabitants are at risk of hunger, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). The region received very little rain in 2011, and this year fared little better. In October, when pasture should appear in even the Sahel's northern desert zone, there was little in Hodh el Chargui.

A Joint Assessment Mission by WFP and UNHCR earlier this year revealed while 80 percent of refugee households were eating three meals a day, just 14 percent of nearby families were doing the same.

Mauritanians near the camp whom IRIN spoke to were gracious about the refugee presence. Bassikounou resident Fatouma Mint Lhessen told IRIN, "These people are our people. They are like our brothers and sisters, and we are here to help them."

But her family is struggling, too. She lives in a one-room house with her three children as her husband searches for work in the bush. Had she lived nearer the camp, she would have tried to access food aid, she said. "Prices are too high. I cannot afford to make sauce many days. In some ways, we are more refugees than the refugees!"

She continued: "We live. We survive. Sometimes we eat well, sometimes we eat nothing - rice, no sauce. I'm used to living on the edge. It's my routine."

Read the full article here 

Developed world, developing world: the haves and have nots, the rich and the poor, the well fed and the hungry, the wealthy and the destitute. It matters not where in the world you find yourself, this is the situation. The capitalist system exacerbates any difficult situation and increases tensions between groups which are fundamentally all in the same boat. Free access to the common wealth? Not when money is part of the equation.

Israeli Racism

Recently we have witnessed the shameful rounding up and deportation of Africans from Saudi Arabia.  In 2011 in Tel Aviv, a thousand Israelis ran rampant through the streets, smashing and looting African-operated businesses and physically assaulting any dark-skinned person they came across.

The rioters were encouraged by the likes of lawmaker Miri Regev, who announced that African migrants are "a cancer in the body" of the nation.  Regev "apologised” after the violence, not to African asylum seekers, but to Israeli cancer victims, for comparing them to Africans and was appointed by PM Benjamin Netanyahu to head the Knesset Interior Committee, the very body that decides the fate of those asylum seekers.  Netanyahu has pledged to rid the country of its "tens of thousands of infiltrators" from Africa.

The persecution suffered by  Africans often occurs in the countries from which they have fled and to which Israel has no qualms about illegally deporting them.  Israeli-Canadian journalist David Sheen, who reports relentlessly on the hazards to African existence in the Jewish state,  remarks: "When Israel rounds up and deports African refugees, it makes a mockery of the millions of Jews who died during World War II because no one would grant them shelter." Since Israel took over responsibility for reviewing refugee status requests from UNHCR, out of the 60,000 non-Jewish African asylum seekers living in Israel, Israel has approved only one single solitary application. And that one African woman that the State of Israel… has deigned to bequeath refugee status upon - is an albino.

Although the fundamental reason for restricting African access to Israel is to prevent a tipping of the demographic balance in favour of non-Jews, the circumstances facing Ethiopian Jewish immigrants indicate that religion only gets you so far. Lest the target national colour scheme be irreparably disrupted as well, Israel has been known to forcibly inject Ethiopian females with contraceptives.

Former Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari declares: "We are waging a war against the phenomenon of assimilation."

The Poison of Profits

More than 200 million people around the world are at risk of exposure to toxic waste, a report has concluded. The authors say the large number of people at risk places toxic waste in a similar league to public health threats such as malaria and tuberculosis.

The study identified the Agbobloshie dumping yard in Ghana's capital Accra as the place which poses the highest toxic threat to human life. The researchers say that the report has not been hidden from governments, and they are all aware of the issue. Agbobloshie has become a global e-waste dumping yard, causing serious environmental and health issues Dr Caravanos explained. The study says that "a range of recovery activities takes place in Agbobloshie, each presenting unique occupational and ecological risks".

As the second largest e-waste processing area in West Africa, Ghana annually imports around 215,000 tonnes of second hand consumer electronics from abroad, particularly from Western Europe, and generates another 129,000 tons of e-waste every year.

The study warns that that Ghana's e-waste imports will double by 2020. At the Agbobloshie site, the study found the presence of lead in soil at very high levels, posing serious potential health and environment hazards to more than 250,000 people in the vicinity.

The World Health Organization, in conjunction with the World Bank, estimates that 23% of the deaths in the developing world are attributable to environmental factors, including pollution, and that environmental risk factors contribute to more than 80% of regularly reported illnesses according to the report.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kenya’s KTN outshines American Media in Climate Change Coverage

Kenya’s KTN television news reports on the Warsaw Climate Conference and on a new report by the World Meteorological Organization showing that 2013 is one of the 10 hottest years since 1850.

What struck me is how professional and straightforward the KTN report is. It accurately represents the WMO report and shows its representatives presenting at the UN. It relates the story to drought in Somalia, which affects Kenyan viewers. It doesn’t kowtow to “on the other hand” “journalism” and declines to interview a paid-for climate-change denier.

You wouldn’t get this fine report on an NBC, CBS, ABC or (certainly not) Fox, billion-dollar news empires in the technologically most advanced country in the world. Some 80% of Kenyans don’t have electricity. But if they could see their television news, they’d have a right to be proud of it. Since they aren’t generating the carbon dioxide pollution, and are certainly going to suffer from climate change, Kenyan journalists are interested in telling the truth.

Mirrored from Juan Cole here

Monday, November 18, 2013

Africa: Can Corporations Influence Climate Talks?

At the recent 19th United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Warsaw, negotiators from the Global South welcome a focus on financing adaptation - but reject a new emphasis on a role for the private sector.
Climate negotiations have now dragged on for almost 20 years. Talk of "fair, ambitious and binding" agreements to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming appears to be fading, to be replaced by proposals to turn to the private sector for loans and investment to support adaptation to climate change at what has been dubbed the "Corporate COP (Conference of Parties)".

Tosi Mpamu-Mpamu, a negotiator for the Democratic Republic of Congo and a former chair of the African Group of negotiators, sees an alarming change emerging in the approach to funding the response to climate change. At the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, developed states pledged 30 billion dollars of new aid for climate finance for the developing world between 2010 and 2012, and a further 100 billion by 2020.
"Developed countries are now shifting the responsibility to provide funding to the private sector, a dangerous trend to these negotiations," said Mpamu-Mpamu.
Other negotiators share Mpamu-Mpamu's concerns over the role transnational corporations are assuming at the conference. "At a three-day conference prior to this COP, businesses spent two days explaining how they could make money out of climate change," said Rene Orellana, head of Bolivia's delegation.
And, said Pascone Sabido from the Corporate Europe Observatory, the corporations assuming prominence at the COP are also the biggest emitters of carbon. He criticised the U.N. for accepting sponsorship for COP19 from major polluters like steel giant ArcelorMittal and the Polish Energy Group (PGE), saying these companies were influencing the negotiations.
"You wouldn't ask Marlboro to sponsor a summit on lung cancer, so why is it acceptable for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change?" he said.

Rachel Tansey, researcher at the Malaysia-based NGO Environment and Economic Justice, says big business wants to see climate finance - public funding - directed towards projects that corporations can profit from. And the governments of the developed countries are listening. "[Transport and energy giant] Alstom is lobbying for so-called "clean" coal, controversial technologies that allow them to continue profiting from burning fossil fuels, like carbon capture and storage, and for more nuclear power," said Tansey.

But COP19 president Marcin Kolorec said there was nothing wrong with inviting the private sector to participate in parallel meetings at the conference. He said industries have been given a chance to take part in the same way that non-governmental organisations are, adding that such dialogues have been a feature of the talks since the COPs started. "We have to be transparent and inclusive," he told reporters, adding that the Warsaw talks were a build-up to a possible global agreement in 2015 in the French capital, Paris. He said industries were given a chance to participate at the COP just like non-governmental organisations, adding that such dialogues have been part of the COP since it started. He said there is no chance that industry will influence COP decisions because they are not part of the formal negotiations.

Swaziland's Emmanuel Dlamini, the chair of the Africa Group of negotiators, said that despite some risks, bringing business on board is not such a bad idea.
"For developed states to come up with the finance, they need to mobilise the business sector," Dlamini told IPS. He echoed the COP president in underlining that business is not taking part in the actual negotiations. "But," he said, "there is the danger of the private sector influencing decisions through proposals they sell to their governments which could be brought into the COP negotiations."
For Dlamini, the main challenge is to clearly define climate finance. Since the Copenhagen conference, he said, a lot of aid to developing countries has been classified as climate assistance.

"Yes, there has been money flowing, but to what extent is it climate finance?" wondered Dlamini. In Swaziland, for instance, he said, money coming from the European Union's Official Development Assistance for poverty alleviation is now considered climate finance. "We need a reliable fund for climate change like the GCF," said Dlamini.

Meena Raman, from the observer group Third World Network, says completing the setting up of the Green Climate Fund would be helpful because it is a grant fund that will directly benefit poor countries. Presently headquartered in South Korea, with operational funding of just seven million dollars, the Green Climate Fund does not as yet have a cent for projects.
"That's where developing countries are saying the 100 billion dollars should go to, a matter still under discussion," said Raman.

from here

Can corporations influence climate talks? You bet!

Botswana: Fracking the Kalahari

While a fierce debate rages about fracking in South Africa and elsewhere, the Botswana government has been silently pushing ahead with plans to produce natural gas, keeping the country in the dark as it grants concessions over vast tracts of land, including half of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve - the ancestral home of the San.

A new documentary film - the High Cost of Cheap Gas - has uncovered incontrovertible evidence that drilling and fracking are underway in Botswana and that international companies are planning massive gas operations in the future. But there has been little attempt to inform the public, despite growing international concerns about the harmful effects of natural gas production.
"The people of Botswana have the right to know about developments on this scale and to be given the chance to publicly debate their pros and cons and then decide whether natural gas production is in their best interest," said Jeffrey Barbee, Director of the film, which was funded by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA).

For more than a decade, the authorities in Botswana - routinely referred to as one of Africa's best governed states - have been quietly granting licences to international companies. South Africa's SASOL, Australian-based Tamboran Resources, Anglo American, Tlou Energy, Kalahari Energy, Exxaro and many more are drilling for Coal Bed Methane (CBM) without any public debate about the industry, particularly the serious threats these large scale developments pose to the environment and communities.

While activists have been campaigning against the extraction of shale gas and coal bed methane for years, the film documents alarming new evidence from the United States, exposing the damage these industries can inflict on human and animal health, and the environment. Structural problems with the entire production process mean that 'unconventional' natural gas like this can end up being 'dirtier' than coal - contributing even more to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change.

For a water scarce country like Botswana gas extraction - whether through fracking or simple drilling - poses another worrying threat: Coal Bed Methane extraction requires vast amounts of water to be pumped out of the ground, which can significantly lower the water table. In some parts of America, where this process was pioneered, water tables have dropped by as much as 30 meters.
"Lowering the water table in parts of rural Botswana could mean the difference between a community having access to water one day and not the next," said the film's director, Jeffrey Barbee. "It might be in Botswana's best interests to allow fracking but only if all the potential impacts based on the latest science - not just the promises of gas companies - are openly debated and if the regulations are tough enough and are rigorously enforced long after drilling has stopped."
However, if America is anything to go by, the natural gas industry is adept at undermining, bypassing or riding roughshod over government regulations and regulators.

Astonishingly, fracking companies in the USA are not bound by the Clean Air Act, the Community Right to Know Act or the Clean Water Act. And despite Botswana government claims to the contrary, a senior official at SASOL, which is planning thousands of gas wells in Botswana, says in the film that they were not required to produce an environmental management plan. Apparently, SASOL did produce one anyway since it is international best practice, but other companies might be more willing to exploit this inexplicable weakness in the regulations.

In particular, there are fears that the hard won right of the San to live on, and access water from, their ancestral land will be threatened by the coal bed methane concessions in and around the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
Indeed, according to the film, drilling is already taking place within the confines of the world famous reserve. Elsewhere in the country, the unfenced buffer zones on the borders of other bio-diversity rich - and economically important - national parks, like Chobe and Kgalagadi, are already being drilled. In fact, it appears that the government has also granted some concessions within Chobe National Park. This endangers not only the local communities but also the largest herd of migrating elephants left in the world.

The gas industry promises jobs and economic development but evidence from the USA shows that the few local jobs are created and that riches usually do not trickle down to the local communities, who have to live with the extraction.
"It is time for the Botswana government to come clean about natural gas operations in the country and to encourage an open and genuine debate so that the population can decide what is best for them and their country - not just an elite few", said Barbee.
"Instead the authorities keep everyone in the dark, particularly the San, who now face another grave threat to their future from Botswana's secretive dash for gas."

from here

South Africa's Statistics

South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world. By 2008, 85% of Africans were still in the impoverished or lower income categories receiving less than R1,400 per month compared to 87% of whites in the middle and upper income categories. Unemployment too has barely moved from the 23% inherited in 1994 to a post-Apartheid average of 24.5%. With 70% of the unemployed under 34, the young are disproportionately affected.
Job and export creating mining and manufacturing almost halved their share of GDP to 23% since 1986, while banking and real estate doubled to 24%. Public sector, despite increasing to 2m employees, has seen its contribution to GDP fall from 19% in 1994 to 15% today. With public service union membership rising, labor militancy is now as much an issue for government as it is for the private sector. Despite increased budgets, health and education outputs lag emerging market peers on quality and effectiveness of spending when measuring life expectancy and quality of schooling.
Since 1994, indebtedness (household debt to disposable income) has soared from 57% to 76%. 9.5m South Africans have impaired credit records and as many as 10% may risk defaulting. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Land Grab Story

Sixty percent of all the world’s arable land is in Africa. In recent years, large agribusinesses have started to move in, often forcing out subsistence farmers.

Africa produces 10 percent less food than it did in 1960. With the rise of monoculture farming and globalized food production, the landscape of the continent is shifting and threatening its ability to feed itself.

In Mali, an American plan for a vast sugar cane operation on the banks of the Niger River threatens small-scale native rice farmers who have fed their communities for generations. Seventy-five percent of Mali’s population are farmers, and many Malian peasants do not welcome these efforts.

Devon Peña, in Mapping the Land Grab in Africa, says:
“It is easy to imagine the rest of the usual suspects behind this land grab: Transnational corporations are of course the principal force driving the new enclosures. Oil companies are certainly part of the land grab as are agribusiness, mining, timber, and certain manufacturing interests. These are all usual suspects. However, the new enclosures have some relatively new players: Private and even some public universities from the United States and other Western countries. A study reported in The Guardian reveals that “Harvard and other major American universities are working through British hedge funds and European financial speculators to buy or lease vast areas of African farmland in deals, some of which may force many thousands of people off their land…”

Click here to watch video 

Fact of the Day

About 100 million Nigerians live in destitution, the World Bank has said.
63 per cent of the Nigerian population still lived on less than $1.25 per day

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Leopold - Africa's Hitler

King Leopold II of Belgium “owned” the Congo during his reign as the constitutional monarch of Belgium. After several failed colonial attempts in Asia and Africa, he settled on the Congo. He “bought” it and enslaved its people, turning the entire country into his own personal slave plantation. He disguised his business transactions as “philanthropic” and “scientific” efforts under the banner of the International African Society. He used their enslaved labor to extract Congolese resources and services. His reign was enforced through work camps, body mutilations, torture, executions, and his own private army.

Most of us aren’t taught about him in school. We don’t hear about him in the media. He’s not part of the widely-repeated narrative of oppression (which includes things like the Holocaust during World War II). He’s part of a long history of colonialism, imperialism, slavery, and genocide in Africa that would clash with the social construction of a white supremacist narrative in our schools. It doesn’t fit neatly into school curriculums in a capitalist society. Making overtly racist remarks is (sometimes) frowned upon in ‘polite’ society, but it’s quite fine not to talk about genocide in Africa perpetrated by European capitalist monarchs.

Mark Twain wrote a satire about Leopold called “King Leopold’s Soliloquy; A Defense of His Congo Rule”, where he mocked the King’s defense of his reign of terror, largely through Leopold’s own words. It’s an easy read at 49 pages. Mark Twain is a popular author in American public schools. But like most political authors, we will often read some of their least political writings or read them without learning why the author wrote them in the first place. Orwell’s Animal Farm, for example, serves to reinforce American anti-socialist propaganda about how egalitarian societies are doomed to turn into their dystopian opposites. But Orwell was an anti-capitalist revolutionary of a different kind—and that is never pointed out. We can read about Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, but “King Leopold’s Soliloquy” isn’t on the reading list. This isn’t by accident. Reading lists are created by boards of education in order to prepare students to follow orders and endure boredom. From the point of view of the Department of Education, Africans have no history.

When we learn about Africa, we learn about a caricatured Egypt, about the HIV epidemic (but never its causes), about the surface level effects of the slave trade, and maybe about South African Apartheid (the effects of which, we are taught, are now long, long over). We also see lots of pictures of starving children on Christian Ministry commercials, we see safaris on animal shows, and we see pictures of deserts in films and movies. But we don’t learn about the Great African War or Leopold’s Reign of Terror during the Congolese Genocide. Nor do we learn about what the United States has done in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing millions of people through bombs, sanctions, disease, and starvation. Body counts are important. And the United States Government doesn’t count Afghan, Iraqi, or Congolese people.

Though the Congolese Genocide isn’t included on Wikipedia’s “Genocides in History” page, it does mention the Congo. What’s now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo is listed in reference to the Second Congo War (also called Africa’s World War and the Great War of Africa), where both sides of the multinational conflict hunted down Bambenga people—a regional ethnic group—and cannibalized them. Cannibalism and slavery are horrendous evils which must be entered into history for sure, but I couldn’t help thinking whose interests were served when the only mention of the Congo on the page was in reference to multinational incidents where a tiny minority of people in Africa were eating each other (completely devoid of the conditions which created the conflict). Stories which support the white supremacist narrative about the subhumanness of people in Africa are allowed to be entered into the records of history. The white guy who turned the Congo into his own personal part-plantation, part-concentration camp, part-Christian ministry—and killed 10 to 15 million Congolese people in the process—doesn’t make the cut.

You see, when you kill ten million Africans, you aren’t called ‘Hitler’. That is, your name doesn’t come to symbolize the living incarnation of evil. Your name and your picture don’t produce fear, hatred, and sorrow. Your victims aren’t talked about and your name isn’t remembered.

Leopold was just one of thousands of things that helped construct white supremacy as both an ideological narrative and material reality. I don’t pretend that he was the source of all evil in the Congo. He had generals, and foot soldiers, and managers who did his bidding and enforced his laws. He was at the head of a system. But that doesn’t negate the need to talk about the individuals who are symbolic of the system. But we don’t even get that. And since it isn’t talked about, what capitalism did to Africa, all the privileges that rich white people gained from the Congolese genocide, remain hidden. The victims of imperialism are made, like they usually are, invisible.

Taken from here 

The Africapitalists

There are 55 billionaires on the continent, most in Nigeria and South Africa.

The richest person in Africa is Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian businessman involved in cement, food, oil and other sectors with an estimated personal fortune of more than $20 billion. Allan Gray, the publicity-shy South African financier, is the second richest, with assets worth at least $8.5 billion. Mike Adenuga, a Nigerian involved in the oil and telecoms industries, has an estimated fortune of $8 billion.

Fact of the Day

One in three Africans say they have paid a bribe in the past year, and almost one in five have paid it to a government official to get an official document or permit.  Corruption hits those living in poverty the hardest.

More than half the people (56%) say their governments are doing a poor job of fighting corruption.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Return of the Invaders

Too much water - not enough water

Nigeria is one of Africa's leading economies, with its GDP second only to South Africa. The country has abundant natural resources such as gold, oil and natural gas and diamonds. Its economic growth, however, hasn't had the trickle-down effect. Basic living standards such as safe drinking water and sanitation are abysmal.

According to the NGO WaterAid, 63 million people lack access to safe drinking water and 111 million have no sanitation. 85,000 children die every year in the country from diarrhoea caused by unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation.

 Lagos' population has doubled to more than 21 million residents. According to estimates, this number is likely to rise to 35 million by 2025, making it the world's most populous city.

Makoko, a one-square-kilometre settlement of Lagos is sometimes called the "Venice of Africa". This 200-year-old slum is hovels built upon wooden stilts. There are no official census records, but estimates suggest the population totals 150,000. Residents here lack access to safe drinking water. When it rains, conditions turn particularly nasty, rain pushes sewage and waste through the slum, leaving behind a foul stench. Makoko lacks drainage and sanitation. Sewage from the slums flows straight into the surroundings, increasing the risk of infectious disease among inhabitants. Earlier this month there was an outbreak of cholera.Many of Makoko's inhabitants are from neighbouring Benin and Togo - most have lived here for decades. An average of eight people live in each house, and sustain themselves on fishing or collecting wood from the lagoon.

Theophilus Damijida is a general physician at the local health centre. "The health implications are vast. We encounter a lot of health problems as a result of no access to clean water," he said Patients coming here are diagnosed with diseases such as typhoid, malaria, diarrhoea and cholera. "It is all over as a result of no access to clean water. They believe this water is clean, they will even wash fresh wounds in it. The government has a big role to play so that there is more awareness to improve the situation and the people know the water they are using is not okay."

In July 2012, city authorities left thousands of people homeless after an eviction in one neighbourhood of Makoko. Since the area was considered an illegal settlement, they were given a 72-hour notice before their houses were destroyed. The government offered no rehabilitation or compensation. In an ever-growing city, where many wealthy desire waterfront property, there are suspicions the city wants the entire community gone.

Martyrs or propaganda

It's often claimed that 100,000 Christians are killed every year because of their religion. The number comes originally from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the US state of Massachusetts, which publishes such a figure each year in its Status of Global Mission.

Its researchers started by estimating of the number of Christians who died as martyrs between 2000 and 2010 - about one million by their reckoning - and divided that number by 10 to get an annual number, 100,000.

But how do they reach that figure of one million?

When you dig down, you see that the majority died in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than four million are estimated to have been killed in that war between 2000 and 2010, and CSGC counts 900,000 of them - or 20% - as martyrs. Over 10 years, that averages out at 90,000 per year.

So when you hear that 100,000 Christians are dying for their faith, you need to keep in mind that the vast majority - 90,000 - are people who were killed in DR Congo.

This means we can say right away that the internet rumours of Muslims being behind the killing of 100,000 Christian martyrs are nonsense. The DRC is a Christian country. In the civil war, Christians were killing Christians. The civil wars in the DRC were the consequences of a failed state, disintegrated military force so that militias had almost full power because of the weapons they had. They were indiscriminately killing and raping and plundering and it's very difficult to describe any of that killing as creating martyrdom. Surely it's not the case that all actively practising Christians who are killed in a civil war, are killed because of their faith? Vatican reporter and author of The Global War on Christians, John Allen, outlines an example of how someone caught up in the civil war in DR Congo could be martyred.
"A female catechist in Congo, who is having success persuading young people in her area not to sign up with the militias, and she is killed by one of those forces because they don't want to see the sources of recruits dry up. Now is that anti-Christian violence, or isn't it?" he asks.

In earlier estimates of martyrs, CSGC included killings that occurred in the Rwandan genocide. Again this is puzzling. It was not a conflict about religion - it was a case of Hutus killing Tutsis, and both sides were Christian.

"The genocide in Rwanda was based on the systematic killing of an ethnic group in an attempt to completely wipe them out and it had nothing to do with the beliefs or the worship or the people who were killed," says Ian Linden, author of Church and Revolution in Rwanda, and associate professor in the study of religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Ian Linden also makes the point that there were Hutus in Rwanda who wouldn't leave their Tutsi colleagues because of their Christian faith, and who were therefore killed and could be called martyrs.

The truth is two thirds of the 2.3 billion Christians in the world today live in dangerous regions. They are often poor. They often belong to ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities. And they are often at risk.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Electric Power or People?

As the construction of a major transmission line to export electricity generated from one of Ethiopia’s major hydropower projects gets underway, there are growing concerns that pastoralist communities living in the region are under threat. The Gibe III dam, which will generate 1,800 megawatts, is being built in southeast Ethiopia on the Omo River at a cost of 1.7 billion dollars. It is expected to earn the government over 400 million dollars annually from power exports. On completion in 2015 it will be the world’s fourth-largest dam. Top global financiers, including the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB), have committed 1.2 billion dollars to a 1,070 km high-voltage line that will run from Wolayta-Sodo in Ethiopia to Suswa, 100 km northwest of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The transmission line, powered by Ethiopia’s Gibe III, will connect the country’s electrical grid with Kenya and will have a capacity to carry 2,000 MW between the two countries.

But the dam is expected to debilitate the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of indigenous communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley and those living around Kenya’s Lake Turkana who depend on the Omo River. The Bodi, Daasanach, Kara, Mursi, Kwegu and Nyangatom ethnic communities who live along the Omo River depend on its annual flooding to practice flood-retreat cultivation for their survival and livelihoods. But the semi-nomadic Mursi ethnic community are being resettled as part of the Ethiopian government’s villagisation programme to make room for a large sugar plantation, which will turn roaming pastoralists into sedentary farmers. The hundreds of kilometres of irrigation canals currently being dug to divert the Omo River’s waters to feed these large plantations will make it impossible for the indigenous communities to live as they have always done.

“We are being told that our land is private property. We are very worried about our survival as we are being forced to move where there is no water, grass or crops,” a Mursi community member told IPS. “We fear for the future. Our way of life is under threat. We are being told to stop moving with our cattle, to stop wearing our traditional dress and to sell our cattle. Cattle and movement is everything to the Mursi.”

The Gibe III will worsen poverty for the most vulnerable. The government already has trouble managing hunger and poverty among its citizenry. By taking over land and water resources in the Omo Valley, it is creating a new class of ‘internal refugees’ who will no longer be self-sufficient,” Lori Pottinger from environmental NGO International Rivers said.

Libya's civil war - The Berber uprising

“In 2011, we Amazighs took up arms against a regime that had treated us like dogs for decades. But two years later we are still struggling for our rights against the new Libyan government,” laments Younis.

Also called Berbers, the Amazigh are indigenous inhabitants of North Africa with a population extending from Morocco´s Atlantic coast to the west bank of the Nile, in Egypt. Touareg tribes deep in the Sahara desert share the same common language.

The arrival of the Arabs in the region in the seventh century was the starting point of a gradual process of Arabisation that was sharply boosted during Muammar Gaddafi´s four-decade rule in Libya. Estimates put the number of Amazighs in this country at around 600,000 – about 10 percent of the total population.

“We are the true guardians of the revolution” reads a banner.“The government does not recognise us and we do not recognise the government,” reads another.

“We´re strongly against the committee in charge of writing the new constitution, as we have literally no chance to achieve our rights as a people through it,” says Ayub Sufian, another member of the rebel group controlling the port. He is referring to the 60-member constituent assembly set to work on the draft of Libya’s post-Gaddafi constitution. The crux of the matter seems to be the six-seat quota given to the country´s minorities. “Two for the Amazigh, two for the Touareg and two for the Tubu [a group living in the far south of the country],” the rebel tells IPS. “It is a system that will rule on majorities of two-thirds plus one, so you basically need 41 votes out of 60 to reach an agreement. What are our choices as non-Arab Libyans? We want our language to be co-official, and we want to be able to decide on key issues concerning the country,” says the rebel spokesman, who would favour an agreement “based on consensus, not on majorities.”

Native or Foreign - Exploitation is Exploitation

Geologists say that Zimbabwe holds some of the richest mineral deposits in Africa, including platinum, diamonds, asbestos, graphite and gold. But activists and economists accuse some indigenous and emerging mining companies of not improving the welfare of local communities and leaving them worse off than before.

“The cattle sometimes die after drinking water from the gullies and it could be contaminated by chemicals and no one seems to care. All they want is money.”

Independent economist John Robertson explained that emerging mining companies, which the government is heavily involved in, were different from multi-nationals that tend to cater for the welfare of local communities. “Some of these multi-nationals have management teams running the equivalent of municipalities, complete with hospitals, schools, housing schemes. This is where they differ from the indigenous and emerging extracting companies where rules don’t seem to apply and greed rules,” Robertson told IPS.

The expansion of mining activities in Marange has claimed much of the land used by locals for subsistence, and also community infrastructure, such as dams, that provided water for market gardening. Small business such as shops and stalls were closed down,” Melanie Chiponda, the director of Chiadzwa Community Development Trust, a lobby group promoting the rights of local villagers whose communities border the mining field, told IPS.
“The mines have created a dependency syndrome among the households. They are hardly involved in corporate social responsibility activities and the people are secondary. It is all about profits and never the people, who are incapacitated to negotiate for better arrangements,” she said. Chiponda said people were worse off since they had been relocated as they mostly lived on food handouts from humanitarian agencies and on donations from the mines. She added that a large number of children dropped out of school and are helping to support their families by selling firewood.

Freeman Bhoso, the executive director at the Zimbabwe Natural Resources Dialogue Forum, a non-profit advocacy organisation seeking to promote the sustainable extraction of the country’s resources, told IPS that because mining concessions were granted behind closed doors, it left loopholes that made communities vulnerable.
“The way in which the concessions are granted by the government is wrong because it excludes communities. There is no transparency and it seems they are given along politically partisan lines. In most cases, environmental impact assessments are done well after mining starts,” he said. Bhoso accused the companies of failing to distribute money from the community share ownership trusts announced by the government. According to Zimbabwe’s Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, foreign-owned mining companies are required to transfer 51 percent of their shares to locals. This money was meant to placed in the community ownership trusts and distributed among affected communities. “The main problem is that the government is heavily involved in these joint ventures and operations tend to take a political dimension,” said Bhoso.

Monday, November 11, 2013

GM Maize Cartels Further Impoverish Poor South Africans


The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has today released its new research report titled ‘GM Maize: Lessons For Africa-Cartels, Collusion And Control Of South Africa’s Staple Food’ showing how a select group of companies, including Tiger Brands, Pioneer and Premier Foods who have previously fixed the price of bread and maize meal, commandeer the entire maize value chain and continue to squeeze the poorest South Africans.
The ACB has recently shown that the entire maize meal market is saturated with GM maize.i


Download the publication.

The report shows that the South African government, through the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) is the largest investor in Tiger Brands, and that over 50% of the company’s shares are held outside South Africa. Pioneer Foods’ largest shareholder is Zeder, the agribusiness investment arm of PSG Konsult Group, a private financial services company. Premier Foods is 80% owned by private equity firm Braite, listed on the Euro MTF market in Luxemburg but domiciled in Malta, both jurisdictions being notorious tax havens. ‘These ownership patterns have increased the distance between food producers and consumers, and are lucrative avenues for capital accumulation by actors far removed from these firms’ locales.’ Said Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB.
According to Gareth Jones, researcher at the ACB, ‘It appears as if South Africa’s major millers and retailers are making healthy profits from our staple food and certainly not passing falling maize prices onto consumers.’ The report shows that from April 2007 to April 2013, the average cost of a 5 kg bag of maize meal increased by 43.7% in rural areas, and 51.8% in urban areas. ‘These sharp price increases aggravate the already appalling conditions that millions of South Africans live under. This is particularly significant for the poor, who spend 41% of their income on an average “food basket” ‘ said Jones.
Further findings of the report include:
  • Two companies Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred control the maize seed market;
  • Maize handling and storage is dominated by three companies Senwes, NWK and Afgri, all former co-ops;
  • Louis Dreyfus and Cargill, international grain traders, dominate the maize trade on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange;
  • A highly concentrated value chain feeds into an equally concentrated food retail sector, with four major retailers: Shoprite/Checkers, Pick n Pay, Spar and Woolworths dominating the market.
Rest of Continent at risk
According to the report, Premier and Pioneer have all expanded their operations on the continent. Tiger Brands already operates in 22 countries on the continent and is a key player in establishing maize value chains in Southern Africa. ‘Having already gorged their profit margins on the poorest of the poor in South Africa, these corporate giants are now glancing covetously to the vast African market north of the Limpopo. Experiences from South Africa should serve as stark warnings’ said Mayet.

Urgent Change Needed
The ACB report calls for an urgent reversal of this economic concentration and for mechanisms to be put in place to develop small players throughout the maize value chain, from farmers to millers and retailers. This should include the promotion of agro-ecological production methods, decentralised value chains and public maize breeding programmes that provide access to seed that can be freely shared and exchanged.

from here

Uganda - Rich Resources and Peoples' Poverty

The Resource Curse

Uganda is estimated to have two billion barrels of oil reserves. Policy analysts say that the government has, however, done little to exploit the country’s vast mineral resources. Dickens Kamugisha, the executive director of the NGO Africa Institute for Energy Governance, told IPS the country’s resources have not been fully tapped to create jobs for locals and thereby combat poverty.
“Revenue from such a rich resource base has the potential to transform our economy. The fight against poverty and disease could be intensified and social services for all Ugandans improved,” he said.

Onesmus Mugyenyi, a policy analyst with the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, a local policy research and advocacy think tank, explained that Uganda’s poverty levels were closely related to its failure to sustainably exploit its natural resources.
“Uganda’s rural population is employed in natural resource-based activities, particularly agriculture. Therefore, sustainable natural resource utilisation is key to Uganda’s efforts to ensure poverty reduction,” Mugyenyi told IPS. He said the country had good laws and policies about tapping its natural resources, but they were not enforced. “We have instead degraded the same resources that we should have used for poverty reduction,” he said.

people of Karamoja, in northeastern Uganda, have been trapped in a cycle of poverty despite the presence of over 50 different minerals in the region. Uganda Bureau of Statistics data show that an estimated 82 percent of the population in Karamoja live in poverty, and only eight percent have access to sanitation. In addition, acute malnutrition is as high as 10.9 percent, compared to a national average of six percent.

“The minerals sector in Karamoja is characterised by unsustainable mining methods, dire health and safety conditions, child labour, gender inequalities, exploitative pricing and environmental degradation,” Isaac Kabong, the executive director of Ecological Christian Organisation, which conducted research on mineral exploitation in Karamoja, told IPS.

A report titled “Is anybody listening?” published in October by the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network stated that despite Uganda’s high levels of economic growth “unemployment is still high while the poorest and vulnerable continue to find it hard to access these basic social services. For example, more than 30 percent of the children from the poorest households are not enrolled in school.”

Somali Refugees to be sent back

More than 500,000 Somali refugees living in Kenya are to be deported returned their home country. Two of the camps they live in, Dadaab and Kakuma, are now so large they are more like towns. There is also a suburb of Nairobi - Eastleigh - that is known as "mini Somalia" because so many Somalis live there. Many of them were born in camps and have never set foot inside their home country. The BBC says the main problem with the agreement is that most of the refugees know that Somalia is still not safe and probably would not want to return. 

Although the Kenyan government and the UNHCR have signed up to the agreement they are not acting entirely altruistically. Since the attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi in September, the Kenyan government fears that the Somali community poses an even greater security threat and is shielding potential perpetrators of similar atrocities. Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto says refugees have become a shield for those who pose a security threat to Kenya. The UN in turn has had to scale down rations in the Dadaab refugee camp because of a lack of resources.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Why can't Africa feed itself??

Sub-Sahara Africa has ample fertile land, plenty of water and a generally favourable climate for food production. It also has some of the fastest growing economies. Yet, the region is the world’s most food insecure. Even though 70 per cent of Africans are farmers, the continent continues to experience hunger and famine, especially in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region. One in four people in sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished, and every third child is stunted, according to a 2012 human development report of the United Nations Development Programme. Ironically, countries that heavily rely on agriculture are worst affected by food insecurity. That is because 90 per cent of Africa’s food supply is produced by smallholders. And they produce so little, that half of them are food insecure themselves.

 “The main reason for Africa’s food insecurity is lack of political will,” Nelson Agyemang, Vice- President of the Ghana Cooperative for Agricultural Producers, said during a recent agriculture conference in Cape Town, South Africa. 

The reasons for food insecurity are complex. They include crop failure due to droughts and floods, poverty, conflict and HIV. But misguided policies and weak institutions are the main culprits for hunger, experts argue.

“Chronic food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa stems from decades of poor governance,” said UNDP regional director for Africa Tegegnework Gettu.

Self-serving elites are monopolizing state revenues while emptying the country’s resources

Little changes in Swaziland

 King Mswati III of Swaziland, Africa's last absolute monarch, was claiming to have received a vision from God. Coming in between two rounds of parliamentary elections, the King's spokesperson announced that Mswati said he had been told by God to make his kingdom a "monarchial democracy". Many of the country's opposition groups and activists - many of whom are exiled in neighbouring South Africa - ridiculed the news, highlighting the monarch's undemocratic record and criticising the elections as superficial window-dressing.

In the final round of Swaziland's parliamentary elections in September, over 400,000 Swazi voters cast their ballots to elect 55 MPs. However, the vote was again held according to an electoral system known as tinkhundla, which was implemented in the 1970s and under which political parties are not allowed to participate. In protest, Swaziland's main opposition party, the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), boycotted the elections, calling the polls a farce and a sham designed to maintain the King's absolute rule.

 Last week when Mswati summoned his kingdom to a sibaya (a cultural gathering) at his royal residence where he re-appointed Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini as Prime Minister for a fourth time, and perhaps dashed completely when it was announced yesterday that the new cabinet would include eight members of the old guard.

Indeed, keeping with tradition and continuity following the election, Mswati selected 10 MPs in addition to the elected 55, and re-appointed Dlamini, of the Dlamini clan, as Prime Minister. Mswati's unsurprising choice of a tried-and-tested monarchist and conservative to head government further cements the Dlamini clan's political legacy. Establishing their dominance through military conquest, absorption and subjugation of other smaller or weaker clans since the 1400s, the Dlaminis in present-day Swaziland continue to rule and dominate as its members occupy influential positions as traditional chiefs, royal advisors and top-ranking civil servants thereby reinforcing Mswati's power.

PM Dlamini is himself a member of the royal family and one of the country's longest-serving premiers. Meanwhile, the new senate composed of 30 senators - 20 chosen by the king and 10 elected by parliament - consists of six of the King's brothers and sisters as well as 14 loyalists including the controversial acting chief of KoNtshingila, Gelane Zwane, whose senatorial appointment sparked protest in her southern district of Shiselweni resulting in a heavy-handed state intervention. With a selection of family and trusted allies to keep a watchful eye on things, the King appears keen to maintain the status quo rather than yield to calls - whether domestic, international, or other-worldly - for democratic reform. Dlamini's return to the helm does not bode well for an improvement in labour relations. Many are mindful of the hostile relationship between the state and the unions.

As well as packing decision-making positions with loyalists, Mswati also seems to be trying to curb any potential influence the few opposition figures who managed to get elected might have. Following the announcement of the election results on 21 September, Dlamini banned all private meetings between newly-elected MPs. On several occasions legislators tried to hold private lunches to discuss voting strategies for electing their ten members of the senate, but they had to be cancelled after the prime minister threatened police action if MPs held meetings other than those convened by parliament. Like their predecessors, it seems Swaziland's new MPs' wings have already been clipped.

Much has been made of the election of trade unionist and anti-government activist Jan Sithole; the new MP for Manzini North is seen as a potential reformer and voice of dissent. Apart from Sithole, former teachers' union activists, Phineas Magagula and Saladin Magagula, as well as controversial youth activist Titus Thwala could be among those calling for change.  Shortly after their election, both former teacher activists quickly withdrew their previous criticism of the monarchy and promised to serve dutifully. Phineas Magagula was rewarded by becoming Minister for Education, a position which could suggest open-mindedness on the part of Mswati, but can also be seen as a way to ensure a potential dissenter toes the line. Meanwhile, at last week's official introduction of legislators to the King, Sithole pledged his allegiance to the Crown, raising eyebrows in both pro-monarchist and opposition circles. It is too early to predict what this might mean, but it is important to remember that given the overwhelming majority of monarchists and moderates in government, it is unlikely a minority will change the system from within no matter how outspoken.

Last year, during a wave of industrial action in the education and public transport sectors, thousands of members of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) took to the streets calling for a 4.5% salary increase. After weeks of striking, other workers unions marched in solidarity demanding the same increment. However, rather than engage in dialogue with the protesters, the state, commanded by Dlamini, responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and widespread arrests. The salaries of striking teachers were slashed by 33% and government sought a court order to declare the strike illegal and have SNAT's leaders imprisoned.

Click here for Tendai Marima’s full article