Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mozambique Leases Huge Land Holdings to Foreigners

Mozambique, a country wracked by hunger, has signed away land concessions three times larger than Greater London to outside investors in the past decade, displacing thousands of farmers in the process, said a report released on Thursday. Since 2006, the country has signed at least 35 long-term land leases, covering more than 535,000 hectares, Mozambique's National Peasants Union (UNAC), a farmers' group, reported after surveying public records and interviewing displaced farmers. 

New large plantations, often joint ventures between foreign investors and politically-connected local officials, are producing food for export rather than feeding hungry local people, advocates said. An "alarmingly high" number of Mozambican children under five - more than 42 percent - are malnourished, according to the World Food Programme. "The small farmers who feed this country, producing over 90 percent of the food are now losing their land to make way for these large investments," Vicente Adriano, a UNAC spokesperson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "The focus of these investments is on the production of soybeans and corn for export ... to emerging markets in Asia and Europe."
 About 70 percent of Mozambicans live in rural areas and depend on subsistence farming for survival, according to the United Nations. Thousands of these farmers have been forced from their land to make way for foreign-backed plantations, particularly in the fertile Nacala Corridor in northern Mozambique, the report said. 

While the country has experienced rapid economic growth in recent years, one third of the population of 24.5 million still face food shortages. Campaigners say such high levels of hunger mean land should be used to grow food for local people, rather than leased to large firms to produce cash crops for export. Foreigners cannot directly buy land in Mozambique, but they can make long-term leases for several decades or invest in joint ventures with local businessmen, Adriano said. In one case cited by the report, Mozambique Agricultural Corporation (MOZACO), a joint venture between local and foreign investors, acquired 2,389 hectares of land in Nampula province to grow soybeans and cotton in June 2013. 
The new plantation evicted 1,500 people who had been farming the land, without compensation, according to local residents cited in the report. They said plantation officials destroyed the local church of Santa Lucia. The firm wants to expand its plantations to 20,000 hectares and activists say this will displace thousands more, depriving others of crucial water resources from the Malema and Nataleia rivers. 

MOZACO does not publicly list its address or phone number and could not be reached for comment. JFS Holding, owned by a prominent family in Portugal, is one of the investors in MOZACO, the report said. The company did not respond to interview requests. Often foreign land deals are organised by obscure holding companies registered in offshore locations, making the true backers of projects difficult to track, the report said.
 Many farming families in Mozambique do not have individual title to the fields they farm, relying instead on customary land rights. Families who have been farming a parcel of land for ten years or more are supposed to be legally protected from eviction without compensation, the report said, although these land laws often are not enforced. 
Phone numbers for Mozambique's ministry of agriculture were not in service or rang unanswered.

What is Socialism

Away with superstition

A string of murders that began in 2000 has now left more than 72 albinos in Tanzania dead. These killings are believed to be motivated by the lucrative trade in albino body parts, which some Africans believe possess magical powers.

Tanzania has now been listed by the United Nations as the African nation where albinos are targeted for murder the most. According to long-standing traditions in the country, albinos are believed to be ghosts who are cursed, but whose body parts can ward off bad luck, and bring the owner wealth and success. In response to these killings, in January 2015 Tanzania banned witch doctors.

In East Africa, one child in 3,000 is born albino which rises to one in every 1,400 Tanzanians, compared to one in 20,000 in the United States.  In Tanzania, albino advocacy groups estimate the number of albinos to be somewhere above 100,000 in a population of nearly 50 million people. 

A one-year-old albino boy, abducted from his home in northwestern Tanzania over the weekend, was found murdered on Tuesday with his "arms and legs hacked off," according to the local police chief. This gruesome discovery shows that despite new laws banning the witch doctors who prey upon them, people with albinism are still vulnerable in the East African nation.

In Tanzania the body parts of albinos are prized by witch doctors and their superstitious followers as they are said to bring wealth and luck when used in charms. A complete set of body parts can be sold for as much as $75,000, according to the Red Cross.

This victim, Yohana Bahati, was kidnapped from his family home in the Geita region by an armed gang. Police said his mother, Esther, was struck with a machete as she tried to protect him. "Unfortunately this family resides in a protected forest area," Joseph Konyo, the regional police commander, told Reuters. "It was extremely difficult for the police to immediately arrest the suspected robbers." Two other albino children who were in the house were not taken.

As albino body parts have become more valuable, family members have been tempted to sell their own albino family members to witch doctors for money. "I have found many parents who have been convicted for this," said Josephat Torner, an activist fighting for the rights and safety of albinos in his country. "They sold their children to the killers." Only two months ago, a 4-year-old girl, Pendo Emmanuelle Nundi, was snatched from her home in Mwanza, also in northwestern Tanzania. Fifteen people were initially arrested in connection with her disappearance, including the girl's father.

In August 2012, a report on the risks to albino children in Tanzania was published by Under The Same Sun, an NGO that focuses on the plight of people with albinism. "Myths include the belief that people with albinism never die — they simply vanish," the report stated, adding that many believe, "they are not human, but ghosts, apes, or other sub-human creatures." These superstitions mean that "infanticide and physical attacks causing death and bodily harm are common place in the region," according to the report.

"We have identified that witch doctors are the ones who ask people to bring albino body parts to create magical charms which they claim can get them rich," said Tanzania's Home Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe when the law was passed. "We will leave no stone unturned until we end these evil acts."

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Last Colony

What many people don’t know is that Africa still has one last colonized country. Spain was the colonizer of Western Sahara until 40 years ago, and that’s when neighboring countries Morocco and Mauritania took control. Mauritania pulled out, thus it’s been just Morocco as the occupier/coloniser (in Polisario’s words) for the past four decades.

The people of Western Sahara waged a long and brutal guerilla war against the much larger and better financed Moroccan forces for years. However, the United Nations brokered a ceasefire agreement in 1991. Since that time, attempts to peacefully resolve the dispute have been unsuccessful.

At issue are the terms of holding a U.N.-monitored referendum that would allow the people of Western Sahara to decide their governance, with options such as complete Moroccan control, complete Saharawi independence or a limited autonomy for the Saharawi people and continued Moroccan control. Meanwhile, thousands of Saharawi people live in refugee camps in Algeria outside Tindouf and are almost completely dependent on foreign aid for even their most basic needs, such as food.

The Moroccan Wall, also known as “The Berm,” is approximately 1,670 miles long. The Moroccans began construction of the wall in the 1980s. The wall is patrolled by armed guards and effectively cuts off Saharawis from active mine workings and fisheries along the Atlantic coast. Western Sahara is rich with phosphates, which are used in the creation of energy sources. In addition to armed guards, Morocco has also buried millions of landmines. The exact figure varies by source, but it ranges between 5 million and 7 million. Furthermore, because this is the desert and sand shifts, the precise locations of the landmines change.

A wasted billion dollars

The United States government has spent $1.3 billion since 2005 encouraging Africans to avoid AIDS by practicing abstinence and fidelity did not measurably change sexual behavior and was largely wasted, according toa study.

The researcher, Nathan Lo, analyzed records showing the age of people having sex for the first time, teenage pregnancy and number of sexual partners in international health surveys that have been paid for by the State Department since the 1970s. Mr. Lo said he spent a year analyzing dozens of health surveys that the United States paid for in countries around the world. Originally called the World Fertility Surveys, they were begun in the 1970s. They were later subsumed into the large Demographic and Health Surveys, now paid for by the United States Agency for International Development, that document health behaviors in dozens of countries. Lo compared data from 1998 to the present in 22 African countries, 14 of which received Pepfar money and eight that did not. He looked at answers to three questions that are part of the extensive questionnaire given to people interviewed: What was your age when you had sex for the first time? At what age did you have your first child? How many people have you had sex with in the last year? When answers about age at loss of virginity did not appear to be truthful, he said, he used a conservative form of adjustment, calculating backward from the birth of the first child.

President George W. Bush’s global AIDS plan was enacted in 2003 and marshaled billions of dollars to treat Africans who had AIDS with lifesaving drugs. Conservative Republican leaders in the House of Representatives successfully included a provision that one-third of AIDS prevention money go to programs to encourage abstinence and fidelity. That campaign — known as ABC, for abstain, be faithful and use condoms — was part of the bargain made when Christian conservatives joined with liberals to pass the law. Spending on abstinence and fidelity peaked in 2005 and began to drop after the Obama administration took office.

The differences between the Pepfar  (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and non-Pepfar countries did not change after 2005. That indicated “no detectable effect” from the expenditure, he said. The differences were so small that, for example, men in the Pepfar countries appeared to have 0.02 more sexual partners after the abstinence and fidelity funding began than they had before.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


   At the end of the nineteenth century, the European colonial powers met in Berlin to divvy up Africa.

   Long and hard was the fight over colonial booty, the jungles, rivers, mountains, lands, subsoil, until new borders were drawn, and on this day in 1885 a General Act was signed 'in the Name of God Almighty'.

   The European lords had the good taste not to mention gold, diamonds, ivory, oil, rubber, tin, cacao, coffee or palm oil.

   They outlawed calling slavery by its name.

   They referred to the companies that provided human flesh to the world market as 'charitable institutions'.

   They cautioned that they acted out of a desire to 'regulate the conditions most favourable to the development of trade and civilisation'.

   And if there were any doubt, they clarified that they were concerned with 'furthering the moral and material wellbeing of the native populations'.

   Thus Europe drew a new map for Africa.

   Not a single African was present at that summit, not even as decoration.

Eduardo Galeano from 'Children of the Days'

Cameroon's Homophobia

It's not safe to be gay or support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexual (LGBTI) rights in Cameroon, according to a new report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The report, presented Wednesday in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, shows that violence against the LGBTI community and its advocates has increased significantly over the last few years.

Cameroon is one of 38 African countries where homosexuality is still illegal. Violators of section 347 of the country's penal code, which bans "consensual sexual relations between persons of the same sex," face heavy fines and up to five years in jail. Gay men and women and LGBTI rights activists in Cameroon are at risk of having their homes broken into or burned, the report said. They are also subject to constant threats and intimidation via text message and social media. The FIDH report accuses Cameroon's Catholic and Muslim communities of fueling the anti-gay sentiment. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Yaoundé reportedly told FIDH researchers that, "homosexuality is a defect." Simon-Victor Tonye Bakot, the former Archbishop of Yaoundé, was vehemently anti-gay and blamed homosexuals "for the misery in Cameroon and the unemployment of our graduates." He also called same-sex marriage a "crime against humanity."
Cameroon's media have carried out their own anti-gay witch-hunt. In 2006, three newspapers published a list of "The top 50 gay public figures."

In August 2013, a government spokesman told journalists gathered at a press conference that the great majority of Cameroonians condemn homosexuality "because their religious beliefs are incompatible with homosexuality," and said, "the president's duty is to respect the will of the people and to enforce the current law." The government reiterated its stance in January 2014, declaring it would not repeal a law endorsed by the majority of the people.

Yves Yomb, who runs Alternatives-Cameroun, the country's oldest LGBTI rights group said "Every time we meet government officials to talk to them about violations of LGBT rights in Cameroon we're told there is no evidence."

Eric Ohena Lembembe, an outspoken journalist and gay rights activist who was tortured and killed in his home in July 2013, just weeks after he criticized government inaction over the threat posed by "anti-gay thugs." Lembembe's neck and feet were broken, and his face, hands, and feet were burned with an iron. The case, which shocked the international community, still hasn't been solved.

Alternatives-Cameroun, which was established in Douala in 2006, has weathered its own share of homophobic hatred. The group's headquarters were torched in 2013

Israel - the aspiring neo-colonialist

South African intelligence dismisses a tour of African countries by the Israeli Foreign Minister in 2009 as "an exercise in cynicism."
It says Avigdor Lieberman's nine-day trip to Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya laid the groundwork for arms deals and the appropriation of African resources, while hiding behind "a philanthropic façade". South African intelligence analysts took a jaundiced view of the exercise. "While Liberman [sic] talked with African leaders about hunger, water shortage, malnutrition and plagues afflicting their nations," they wrote, "Tel Aviv's promises to African states could be seen as the gloss on an exercise in cynicism." The South African document said "Israel's military, security, economic and political tentacles have reached every part of Africa behind a philanthropic facade".

Israel has long maintained ties with African countries based on its own security and diplomatic needs. Its ties with the old apartheid regime in South Africa were strongly based on military needs, and reportedly included cooperation in the development of nuclear weapons.

Israeli media hailed Israel's deepening ties with President Goodluck Jonathan for putting an end to a December 30 UN Security Council resolution setting a timetable for Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories. Nigeria had signaled it would support the Palestinian-backed resolution, but its switch to an abstention denied the resolution the necessary majority in the Council.

South Africa's "Geopolitical Country and Intelligence Assessment" of October 2009 accused Israel of pursuing "destructive policies" in Africa that include:
Compromising Egypt's water security : Israeli scientists, the report claimed,  "created a type of plant that flourishes on the surface or the banks of the Nile and that absorbs such large quantities of water as to significantly reduce the volume of water that reaches Egypt." The report offers no additional evidence for this claim.

Fueling insurrection in Sudan: Israel is "working assiduously to encircle and isolate Sudan from the outside," the report  wrote, "and to fuel insurrection inside Sudan." Mossad agents have also "set up a communications system which serves to both eavesdrop on and secure the security of presidential telecommunications." Israel had long been at loggerheads with Khartoum, and supported the secessionist movement that eventually broke away and created South Sudan, with which it has diplomatic ties. Khartoum continues to accuse the Israelis of being responsible for attacks in Sudan.

Co-opting Kenyan intelligence: "As part of Mossad's safari in Central Africa it had exposed to the Kenyans the activities of other foreign spy networks". In return, the report wrote, Kenya granted permission for a safe house in Nairobi and gave "ready access to Kenya's intelligence service".

Arms proliferation : Israel has been "instrumental in arming some African regimes and allegedly aggravating crises among others, including Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and South Africa", according to the document. Today it "is looking for new markets for its range of lightweight weapons" and covertly supplies armaments to "selected countries inter alia India" including "nuclear, chemical, laser and conventional warfare technologies".

Acquiring African mineral wealth : Israel "plans to appropriate African diamonds", the South African spies alleged, as well as "African uranium, thorium and other radioactive elements used to manufacture nuclear fuel".

Training armed groups: "A few Israeli military pensioners are on the lookout for job opportunities as trainers of African militias," the reported said, "while other members of the delegation were facilitating contracts for Israelis to train various militias."

Lieberman further annoyed the South African government in November 2013 when he warned the country's 70,000-strong Jewish community that it faced a "pogrom" and could only save itself by immigrating to Israel "immediately, without delay, before it's too late."
"The government of South Africa is creating an atmosphere of anti-Israeli sentiment and anti-Semitism," Liberman said, "that will make a pogrom against Jews in the country in just a matter of time".

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies dismissed Liberman's comments as "alarmist and inflammatory", and noted that South African Jews experienced comparatively low rates of anti-Semitism.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Not So Great War

In the centenary year of the commencement of World War One much history is being remembered and re-told. Much is being ignored. A million people died in East Africa alone during the First World War. Many Africans fought in Europe, defending the interests of their colonial masters. Today, their sacrifice has been largely forgotten.

During the conflict, some 2 million people from across Africa were actively involved in the military confrontations, as soldiers or bearers, in Europe and in Africa. At the start of the war, some Africans volunteered to take part, encouraged by the prospect of a modest income. From 1915, the Europeans began conscripting thousands of African men. The French alone sent 450,000 African soldiers from their colonies in West and North Africa to fight against Germany on the frontline in Europe.

When war broke out in Europe in 1914, English and French troops prepared to seize the four German colonies in Africa (German East Africa, German South-West Africa, Togoland and Cameroon). Fighting was particularly brutal in German East Africa where German General Lettow-Vorbeck adopted a guerilla strategy, drawing more and more areas into the war. More than 200,000 bearers transported weapons, ammunition and food for the troops. The myth of the "faithful Askari" (the Swahili word for 'soldier') still exists today in German history books. In reality these men had been torn from their roots and were looked down on by local populations. Back home, they were missed in the fields. Harvests suffered or were plundered and destroyed by troops passing through to ensure there would be no food left for their pursuers.

The colonial administrative area of Dodoma in what is now Tanzania lost 20 percent of its population in 1917/18 gives some indication of the deprivation and misery. Historians estimate that a million people died in East Africa as a direct result of the war. The outbreak of Spanish flu, which spread rapidly among the weakened population shortly after the war ended, accounted for a further 50,000 to 80,000 deaths. "The war changed some regions to such an extent that they needed decades to recover, if indeed they did recover," sums up Jürgen Zimmerer, history professor at Hamburg University.

One reason why the “Great War” plays little or no role in the African view of history is the fact that it is generally seen as just one episode in the long history of colonial conquests and acts of brutality inflicted on the people of Africa. During the 75 years that Belgium ruled the Congo, up to ten million people died. 

"It is just one war among many," Zimmerer says. "Colonialism was so brutal that a number as large as one million does not attract the attention that it should - or would in a European context." Europe also takes this view and generally ignores the suffering of millions of Africans in the First World War. In Zimmerer's words, the war in Africa "is generally treated as just a minor skirmish in which hardly anyone was hurt."

The Genocide Germany Forgot

"Every Herero on German territory, with or without rifles, with or without cattle, will be shot. I'm not taking in any more women and children, drive them back to their people or have them shot." - General Lothar von Trotha on October 2, 1904

Between 1884 and 1915, Germany was the colonial master in what is today Namibia. In 1904, the Herero launched a major uprising against their German colonial masters, killing more than 100 Germans. The uprising led Germany's von Trotha to order to decimation of the entire Herero population. Fortunately, he did not succeed, and today there are again 120,000 Herero and 60,000 Nama minorities in the country. The Herero people were massacred between 1904 and 1905. More than 70,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama, most of the tribal populations, were killed as an anti-colonial uprising was crushed. Christian Kopp from Berlin Postkolonial says the term genocide is appropriate "because there was a clear intent to wipe out the Herero and the Hama." Lothar von Trotha said at the time he would "wipe them out with rivers of blood."

Henning Melber, an expert on Namibia from the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Stockholm. "The point about Germany in South West Africa is that it waged a war quite openly that these days would classify as genocide. It is not as if genocide was practiced in secret. In imperial Germany, events in German South West Africa were considered important and the political elite boasted quite openly that they had wiped out the Herero and Nama." During the fight German soldiers are said to have forced the surviving Herero into the Omaheke desert and blocked access to all water sources. Thousands died a painful death from starvation and thirst.

Niema Movassat, deputy for the opposition Left Party in the German parliament, says hundreds of thousands were shot or hanged, or deprived of water and left to die of thirst in the desert. Or put into camps for forced labour. "One has to take responsibility for this," he told DW. At the end of February, the Left Party brought a motion before parliament calling for the murderous campaign in what was then German South West Africa to be declared as genocide. "There has never been an official apology," said Movassat.

It was only after Namibia became independent in 1990 that the full scope of the crime became public knowledge in the country itself. 100 years after its deadly campaign against the Herero people of Namibia, the then Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul visited the former colony on Saturday. She asked for the country's forgiveness. "We Germans recognize our historical, political, moral and ethical responsibility and guilt," the development minister said. Wieczorek-Zeul told several thousand Herero people who gathered at the site of the battle. "Blinded by colonial delusion," she said, Germans brought "violence, discrimination, racism and destruction" to the country. She said, the crimes that took place a hundred years ago would have been defined as genocide, and von Trotha would have been brought before a criminal tribunal.

When Africa was sliced up

130 years ago in 1885 European leaders met at the infamous Berlin Conference to divide Africa and arbitrarily draw up borders that exist to this day.

Representatives of 13 European states, the United States of America and the Ottoman Empire converged on Berlin at the invitation of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to divide up Africa among themselves "in accordance with international law." Africans were not invited to the meeting. With the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia, all the states that make up present day Africa were parceled out among the colonial powers within a few years after the meeting. Lines of longitude and latitude, rivers and mountain ranges were pressed into service as borders separating the colonies. Or one simply placed a ruler on the map and drew a straight line. New borders were drawn through the territories of every tenth ethnic group. Trade routes were cut, because commerce with people outside one's colony was forbidden. Studies have shown that societies through which new frontiers were driven would later be far more likely to suffer from civil war or poverty.

Historians, such as Olyaemi Akinwumi from Nasarawa State University in Nigeria, see the conference as the crucible for future inner African conflicts.
"In African Studies, many of us believe that the foundation for present day crises in Africa was actually laid by the 1884/85 Berlin Conference. The partition was done without any consideration for the history of the society," Akinwumi told DW.  "The conference did irreparable damage to the continent. Some countries are still suffering from it to this day."

In many countries, such as Cameroon, the Europeans rode roughshod over local communities and their needs, said Michael Pesek, a researcher in African colonial history at the University of Erfurt. African politicians could have changed the colonial borders. But they desisted from doing so. "A large majority of politicians said around 1960 'if we do that we will open up Pandora's Box'," Pesek said. They were probably right. Looking at all the problems Africa has had over the last 80 years, there have been numerous conflicts within states but hardly any between states. When examining African conflicts, the colonial power that occupied a particular tract of land - the Belgians, French, British or Germans - is less relevant than the significance of belonging to specific ethnic groups which colonial powers often pitted against each other.

In 2010 - on the 125th anniversary of the Berlin Conference, representatives from many African states in Berlin called for reparations for the colonial era. The arbitrary division of the continent among European powers, which ignored African laws, culture, sovereignty and institutions, was a crime against humanity, they said in a statement. They called for the funding of monuments at historic sites, the return of land and other resources which had been stolen, the restitution of cultural treasures and recognition that colonialism and the crimes committed under it were crimes against humanity. But nothing has come of all this. The historians from Nigeria and Germany are not surprised. "There is much talk of reparations for the slave trade and the Holocaust. But little mention is made of the crimes committed by the European colonial powers during the hundred years or more they spent in Africa," said Pesek.

Borders are important when interpreting Africa's geopolitical landscape, but for people on the ground they have less meaning. Socialist Banner argues that people should recognize their class bonds rather than their tribal or national affinities.

Nigeria's growth is meaningless

Despite growth of 5.9 per cent; Nigeria is one of ten countries in the world with the highest number of extremely poor people. So what exactly is meant by growth particularly in the context of a country’s growth?

Poverty is still rife; there are high levels of unemployment and inequality as well as the contentious issue of corruption within the Nigerian government.
Speaking at an interactive session with the Lagos State Governor's Office Correspondents (LAGOCO) last week, governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola said corruption in the state was “multi-faceted” with theft being the worst part of the practice.

The World Bank lists Nigeria as one of six countries in Africa and one of 10 in the world with the highest number of extremely poor people.

President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim describes the term “extremely poor” as people living on less than US$1.25 a day. In Nigeria, US$1 a day could buy one loaf of white bread while 89 per cent of the population is dependent on a single bread winner. This means that without this individual, 89 per cent of the population are left without food. This is substantial, considering only 51 million people in Nigeria are employed out of a population of over 177 million.

Nigeria’s growth has had a minimal positive impact on the country’s people.

Inequality leads to Homicides

South Africa has one of the highest levels of economic inequality and is among the most violent countries. The question is whether these are causally related. Evidence from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation seems to prove they are. Examining a large sample of homicides, the centre found the vast majority were the result of "arguments that got out of hand", supporting the idea that anger and frustration are very close to the surface for many South Africans who, being poorer, feel marginalised and disrespected.

Note that it is not a matter of just being poor, unpleasant though this might be. Poor but more equal societies are generally not violent. But being poor in a context where others are rich, especially when wealth is flaunted as it is in South Africa, can promote anger and violence. Districts with big differences in expenditure between households had higher homicide rates, and vice versa.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rwanda -the Social Inequality Persists

Whilst the Economist in 2011 ranked Rwanda 10th on the world’s fastest growing economies list in the world, the African Development Bank (AfDB) ranked Rwanda 3rd smallest middle class economy among 44 African countries surveyed.

The AfDB reported that only 2.6% of the Rwandan population is categorised as stable middle class with the capacity to spend between US$4 – US$20 per day. Considering its high record of economic growth over the last two decades, one would have expected that Rwanda has developed a burgeoning middle class. This has not been the case. Indeed only 82% of the country’s population continues to live on less than US$ 2 per day. Moreover, the seemingly poverty reduction achieved in Rwanda is based on the country’s poverty line not on the international poverty threshold of US$1.25 per day. Had the former been used to measure poverty level in Rwanda, 63% of the country’s population would still be counted as living well below the poverty line in contrast to the official and widely reported figure of poverty level of 44.9%.

Not only is the average household income very low, but it is also unequally distributed in Rwanda. A recent joint report by The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and African Union (AU), revealed that inequality undermines effort to reduce poverty in Africa. The poorest 20% of the population often accounts for less than 10% of total income while the richest 10% controls from quarter to half of it or more in Africa.
The report mentions Rwanda among the few African countries where the richest 10% earn more than 40% of total income and the poorest 10% earn between 3 and 5%.
Rwanda’s Gini index1 level is 0.49 and remains the highest among the East African Community2 (EAC) member states.
The Human Development level of Rwanda is affected by low and unequal distributed income household in the country. This is because the level of household income determines the living standard of that household. A 2014 UNDP report shows that although Rwanda’s overall human development index (HDI) is increasing, the country loses 33.2% of its HDI due to inequality in life expectancy, education and income.

Unequal distribution of land among households across the country is a significant cause of the low and unequal average household income in Rwanda. The majority of Rwandans who live in rural areas earn their income through selling their harvest from their cultivated land or through working as labourers on the land. However, there is an increasing inequality in land distribution in Rwanda according to a study in 2011 which found that more than a quarter of agricultural households cultivated less than 0.2 hectare in 2006. This happened despite the existence of land holdings of hundreds or even thousands of hectares in Rwanda. Interestingly, most of these lands are held by government and military representatives, other members of the urban elite and foreign investors. Land is increasingly becoming a precious asset in Rwanda. Persistent scarcity and unequal distribution of land make it a contentious asset in the country.

The increasing inequality of land distribution is intertwined with land rights inequality among households across the country. A study of land rights inequalities in Rwanda of 2011 revealed that households headed by women (35 % of all households in Rwanda are headed by women) or young persons, households who have been displaced due to conflict or people who resettled in village settlements referred to as “imidugudu” have weaker land rights. Therefore, it is not surprising that stakeholders with more influence and resources exploit inequalities in land rights and acquire lands from the vulnerable and the poor. Such land transfers from the majority that are vulnerable and poor towards the few that are rich works to the detriment of Rwanda’s economic and human development. This is so because it expands income inequalities within the country.

Young people who have not access to quality education and gained relevant qualifications will be left behind and they are the majority. With noted low and unequal household income, only few can afford private schooling in Rwanda or abroad which offer better quality education than the public schools available in the country. A global report by UNESCO published in 2012 reads in reference to Rwanda that “ it is not clear that ICT and other services, which tend not to create as many jobs as other types of industry, can help children of poor parents escape from poverty…”

How Not To Help Africa

Hunger, food security and ‘feeding the world’ is a political, social and economic problem and no amount of gene splicing is capable of surmounting obstacles like poor roads and insufficient irrigation. Talk about backward, regressive, primitive farming practices that would condemn millions to hunger and decimate the ecology is again playing on fear and emotion. Numerous official reports have argued that to feed the hungry in poorer regions we need to support diverse, sustainable agro-ecological methods of farming and strengthen local food economies: for example, see this UN report, this official report, this report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and this report by 400 experts which was twice peer reviewed.

GMOs are not necessary to feed the world. Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated in April of last year: “We don’t have a goal of developing GM products here or to import them.  We can feed ourselves with normal, common, not genetically modified products.  If the Americans like to eat such products, let them eat them.  We don’t need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food.”

“We strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly nor economically beneficial to us. We do not believe that such companies or gene technologies will help our farmers to produce the food that is needed in the 21st century. On the contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for millennia, and that it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves.” – A statement signed by 24 delegates from 18 African countries to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in 1998.

Viva Kermani talking about the situation in India:

“… the statements that they [supporters of GMOs] use such as “thousands die of hunger daily in India” are irresponsible and baseless scare-mongering with a view to projecting GM as the only answer. When our people go hungry, or suffer from malnutrition, it is not for lack of food, it is because their right to safe and nutritious food that is culturally connected has been blocked. That is why it is not a technological fix problem and GM has no place in it.”

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) last year released a report that concluded hunger is caused by poverty and inequality and that we already produce enough food to feed the world’s population and did so even at the peak of the world food crisis in 2008. The report went on to say that current global food production provides enough to feed ten billion people and the recent food price crises of 2008 and 2011 both took place in years of record global harvests, clearly showing that these crises were not the result of scarcity. CBAN also noted that the GM crops that are on the market today are not designed to address hunger. Four GM crops account for almost 100 percent of worldwide GM crop acreage, and all four have been developed for large-scale industrial farming systems and are used as cash crops for export, to produce fuel or for processed food and animal feed.

The elite interests in the West have condemned tens of millions to hunger and poverty in Africa by enslaving them and their nations to debt by champions the type of privatisation, public expenditure reduction, deregulation, tax avoiding and ‘free’ trade policies that have ceded policy decision making to powerful corporate players. This has in turn led to a concentration of wealth and imposed ‘austerity’ and drives hunger, poverty, land grabs and the disappearance of family/peasant farms – the very bedrock of global food production. The agritech cartels offer more of the same by tearing up traditional agriculture for the benefit of corporate entities. The current global system of chemical-industrial agriculture and World Trade Organisation rules that agritech companies helped draw up for their benefit to force their products into countries are a major cause of structural hunger, poverty, illness and environmental destruction. By its very design, the system is meant to suck the life from people, nations and the planet for profit and control. Globally, agritech corporations are being allowed to shape government policy by being granted a strategic role in trade negotiations. They are increasingly setting the policy/knowledge framework by being allowed to fund and determine the nature of research carried out in public universities and institutes. They continue to propagate the myth that they have the answer to global hunger and poverty. It harks back to colonialism. Hasn’t the world had enough of that type of Western ‘humanitarianism’.

“… take capitalism and business out of farming in Africa. The West should invest in indigenous knowledge and agro-ecology, education and infrastructure and stand in solidarity with the food sovereignty movement.” Daniel Maingi, Growth Partners for Africa. “What the World Bank has done, the International Monetary fund, what AGRA and Bill Gates are doing, it’s actually pretty wrong. The farmer himself should not be starving”.

Coal’s “Airpocalypse”

Coal is the single largest contributor to climate change, which threatens to put 400 million people in the poorest countries at risk of severe food and water shortages by 2050. The coal industry seems determined to fight for profits at the expense of the global environment. Perversely, it is furiously attempting to capture the moral high ground by claiming that coal is essential to ending energy poverty. Coal companies and their allies argue that limiting coal production would keep the lights off in rural communities by preventing poor countries from building big, cheap power plants.
 “Let’s have no demonization of coal,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, put it. “Coal is good for humanity.”
 Speaking at an event hosted by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank that is skeptical of climate change, the United Kingdom’s former environment secretary, Owen Paterson, accused climate-change activists of having “African blood” on their hands.

The coal industry is posing a false choice: end the use of coal or end poverty. But, though energy is indeed central to efforts to end poverty, one must be clear: at this point in history, coal is not good for anyone.

Coal is a deadly and kills some 800,000 people per year and sickens millions more. Beijing’s ongoing battle with smog – a problem that has become known as the “airpocalypse” – provides a potent reminder of coal’s impact on air quality. But China’s capital is hardly unique in that respect. Many Indian cities have air pollution that is just as bad – and in some cases far worse.

The coal industry is seeking to burden developing countries with the same unsustainable growth model that has brought the earth to the brink of climate disaster. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly warned – and as the experience of countries like the Marshall Islands increasingly demonstrates – climate change is no longer a distant threat. The terrible consequences of burning fossil fuels are already upon us, and those suffering the most are the world’s poor. Most people understand that coal is a dirty business. That is why we are witnessing such resistance from the industry. Coal’s day is over, but it is trying desperately to hang on.

The world needs away from dirty energy sources. It also means working with developing countries to help them develop modern, clean energy sources that provide cheap, locally produced power, and do not oblige them to use fossil fuels. We must stop telling the poor in developing countries what they should do and start listening to what they want. And what they want – unfortunately for the coal industry – is clean, affordable energy that powers their present, without costing them their future.

Casino Capitalism - 'Profiting From Hunger'

France's biggest banks have failed to make good on a promise to stop speculative agricultural commodity trading — a practice Oxfam, the anti-poverty NGO, says has pushed up food prices and led to food insecurity in developing countries. The practice of crop market speculation involves betting on the future prices of agricultural commodities — such as wheat or corn — in order to turn a profit. By considering food crops as nothing more than a financial asset, Oxfam says, the banks are driving up the prices of food for profit, with no concern for the human impact. Several financial institutions — including French banking giants BNP Paribas, Société Générale, and Crédit Agricole/LCL — have backpedalled on an earlier commitment to stop gambling on food prices.
"Unfortunately, it's obvious that these promises were outweighed by the desire to make a profit," the report's author, Clara Jamart, a food security advocacy officer for Oxfam France, said.

According to Jamart, the funds assigned to agricultural speculation have increased significantly over the last two years, climbing from 2.5 million euros ($2.9 million) in 2013 to 3.5 million euros ($4 million) in 2015.

"Excessive speculation in crop markets is exacerbating food price volatility, and is depriving the world's poor of access to basic foodstuffs," the latest report says.

After the dot-com bubble burst in 2001 and the 2007 housing market crash, these investors started turning to agriculture as a safe investment. During the G20 Agriculture Summit in June 2011, then French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a crackdown on commodity speculators, likening them to the "mafia." In 2007 and 2008, dramatic spikes in food prices — including an 87 percent increase in the price of cereal in 2008 — triggered a global food crisis, leading to political instability and unrest in many nations. Rising food costs sparked riots in Senegal, Indonesia, Egypt and Haiti, where violent protests over the soaring cost of staple foods precipitated the fall of the government in April 2008.

Oxfam explains that crops are often subject to "forward buying; a process in which future harvests are traded." This practice allows farmers who are at the mercy of crop prices to protect themselves from price fluctuation on the futures markets. To do this, a farmer will agree to a future price and delivery date for his crop, known as "futures," through an agreement brokered by an intermediary, known as a "hedger." The hedger insures the farmers against a potential price drop for the crop, but stands to gain if prices increase. Many believe that this practice, which supersedes the law of supply and demand, causes artificial spikes in food prices, which can have a devastating impact on the world's poorest nations. For both Alessandro Stanziani, a professor and economic historian at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris and Oxfam, the blame lies with outside speculators — such as banks — that have jumped into the agricultural markets to gamble on the future prices of staple food crops, causing prices to increase.

805 million people — about one out of every nine individuals worldwide — do not have enough food.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Stealing the Commons and Destroying Ancient Peoples - Ethiopia

 A land grab twice the size of France is under way in Ethiopia, as the government pursues the wholesale seizure of indigenous lands to turn them over to dams and plantations for sugar, palm oil, cotton and biofuels run by foreign corporations, destroying ancient cultures and turning Lake Turkana, the world's largest desert lake, into a new Aral Sea. What is happening in the lower Omo Valley shows a complete disregard for human rights and a total failure to understand the value these tribes offer Ethiopia in terms of their cultural heritage and their contribution to food security.

 There is growing international concern for the future of the lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia. A beautiful, biologically diverse land with volcanic outcrops and a pristine riverine forest; it is also a UNESCO world heritage site, yielding significant archaeological finds, including human remains dating back 2.4 million years. The Valley is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world, with around 200,000 indigenous people living there. Yet, in blind attempts to modernise and develop what the government sees as an area of 'backward' farmers in need of modernisation, some of Ethiopia's most valuable landscapes, resources and communities are being destroyed.
 A new dam, called Gibe III, on the Omo River is nearing completion and will begin operation in June, 2015, potentially devastating the lives of half a million people. Along with the dam, extensive land grabbing is forcing thousands from their ancestral homes and destroying ecosystems. Ethiopia's 'villagisation' programme is aiding the land-grab by pushing tribes into purpose built villages where they can no longer access their lands, becoming unable to sustain themselves, and making these previously self-sufficient tribes dependent on government food aid.

 What is happening in the lower Omo Valley, and elsewhere, shows a complete disregard for human rights and a total failure to understand the value these tribes offer Ethiopia in terms of their cultural heritage and their contribution to food security. There are eight tribes living in the Valley, including the Mursi, famous for wearing large plates in their lower lips. Their agricultural practices have been developed over generations to cope with Ethiopia's famously dry climate. Many are herders who keep cattle, sheep and goats and live nomadically. Others practice small-scale shifting cultivation, whilst many depend on the fertile crop and pasture land created by seasonal flooding.
 The vital life source of the Omo River is being cut off by Gibe III. An Italian construction company began work in 2006, violating Ethiopian law as there was no competitive bidding for the contract and no meaningful consultation with indigenous people. The dam has received investment from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the World Bank, and the hydropower is primarily going for export rather than domestic use - despite the fact that 77% of Ethiopia's population lacks access to electricity.

 People in the Omo Valley are politically vulnerable and geographically remote. Many do not speak Amharic, the national language, and have no access to resources or information. Foreign journalists have been denied contact with the tribes, as BBC reporter Matthew Newsome recently discovered when he was prevented from speaking to the Mursi people. There has been little consideration of potential impacts, including those which may affect other countries, particularly Kenya, as Lake Turkana relies heavily on the Omo River.

 At risk: Lake Turkana, 'Cradle of Mankind' Lake Turkana, known as the 'Cradle of Mankind', is the world's largest desert lake dating back more than 4 million years. 90% of its inflow comes from the Omo. Filling of the lake behind the dam will take three years and use up to a years' worth of inflow that would otherwise go into Lake Turkana. Irrigation projects linked with the dam will then reduce the inflow by 50% and lead to a drop of up to 20 metres in the lake's depth. These projects may also pollute the water with chemicals and nitrogen run-off. Dr Sean Avery's report explains how this could devastate the lake's ancient ecosystems and affect the 300,000 people who depend on it for their livelihoods. 

Tribal communities living around the lake rely on it for fish, as well as an emergency source of water. It also attracts other wildlife which some tribes hunt for food, such as the El Molo, who hunt hippo and crocodile. Turkana is home to at least 60 fish species, which have evolved to be perfectly adapted to the lake's environment. Breeding activity is highest when the Omo floods, and this seasonal flood also stimulates the migration of spawning fish. Flooding is vital for diluting the salinity of the lake, making it habitable. Livestock around the lake add nutrients to the soil encouraging shoreline vegetation, and this is important for protecting young fish during the floods. Lake Turkana is a fragile ecosystem, highly dependent on regular seasonal activity, particularly from the Omo. To alter this ancient ebb and flow will throw the environment out of balance and impact all life which relies on the lake.

 Severely restricted resources around the lake may also lead to violence amongst those competing for what's left. Low water levels could see the lake split in two, similar to the Aral Sea. Having acted as a natural boundary between people, there is concern that conflict will be inevitable. Fear is already spreading amongst the tribes who say they are afraid of those who live on the other side of the lake. Conflict may also come from Ethiopians moving into Kenyan territory in attempts to find new land and resources. 

The dam is part of a wider attempt to develop the Omo Valley resulting in land grabs and plantations depending on large-scale irrigation. Since 2008 an area the size of France has been given to foreign companies, and there are plans to hand over twice this area of land over the next few years. Investors can grow what they want and sell where they want.
 The main crops being brought into cultivation include, sugar, cotton, maize, palm oil and biofuels. These have no benefit to local economies, and rather than using Ethiopia's fragile fertile lands to support its own people, the crops grown here are exported for foreign markets. Despite claims that plantations will bring jobs, most of the workers are migrants. Where local people (including children) are employed, they are paid extremely poorly.
 750km of internal roads are also being constructed to serve the plantations, and are carving up the landscape, causing further evictions. In order to prepare the land for plantations, all trees and grassland are cleared, destroying valuable ecosystems and natural resources.

 Reports claim the military have been regularly intimidating villages, stealing and killing cattle and destroying grain stores. There have also been reports of beatings, rape and even deaths, whilst those who oppose the developments are put in jail. The Bodi, Kwegi and Mursi people were evicted to make way for the Kuraz Sugar Project which covers 245,000 acres. The Suri have also been forcibly removed to make way for the Koka palm oil plantation, run by a Malaysian company and covering 76,600 acres. This is also happening elsewhere in Ethiopia, particularly the Gambela region where 73% of the indigenous population are destined for resettlement.
 Al-Moudi, a Saudi tycoon, has 10,000 acres in this region to grow rice, which is exported to the Middle East. A recent report from the World Bank's internal watchdog has accused a UK and World Bank funded development programme of contributing to this violent resettlement.

 For many tribes in the Omo Valley, the loss of their land means the loss of their culture. Cattle herding is not just a source of income, it defines people's lives. There is great cultural value placed on the animals. The Bodi are known to sing poems to their favourite cattle; and there are many rituals involving the livestock, such as the Hamer tribe's coming of age ceremony whereby young men must jump across a line of 10 to 30 bulls. Losing their land also means losing the ability to sustain themselves. As Ulijarholi, a member of the Mursi tribe, said, "If our land is taken, it is like taking our lives." They will no longer be independent but must rely on government food aid or try to grow food from tiny areas of land with severely reduced resources.

 Ethiopia is currently experiencing economic growth, yet 30 million people still face chronic food shortages. Some 90% of Ethiopia's national budget is foreign aid, but instead of taking a grass-roots approach to securing a self-sufficient food supply for its people, it is being pushed aggressively towards industrial development and intensive production for foreign markets. There is a failure to recognise what these indigenous small-scale farmers and pastoralists offer to Ethiopia's food security. Survival of the Fittest, a report by Oxfam, argued that pastoralism is one of the best ways to combat climate change because of its flexibility. During droughts animals can be slaughtered and resources focused on a core breeding stock in order to survive. This provides insurance against crop failure as livestock can be exchanged for grain or sold, but when crops fail there can be nothing left. Tribal people can also live off the meat and milk of their animals. 

Those who have long cultivated the land in the Omo Valley are essential to the region's food security, producing sorghum, maize and beans on the flood plains. This requires long experience of the local climate and the river's seasonal behaviour, as well as knowledge of which crops grow well under diverse and challenging conditions. Support for smallholders and pastoralists could improve their efficiency and access to local markets. This would be a sustainable system which preserved soil fertility and the local ecosystem through small-scale mixed rotation cropping, appropriate use of scarce resources (by growing crops which don't need lots of water, for example) and use of livestock for fertility-building, as well as for producing food on less productive lands. Instead, over a billion dollars is being spent on hydro-electric power and irrigation projects. This will ultimately prove unsustainable, since large-scale crop irrigation in dry regions causes water depletion and salinisation of the soil, turning the land unproductive within a couple of generations. Short of an international outcry however, the traditional agricultural practices of the indigenous people will be long gone by the time the disastrous consequences becomes apparent.

Mars ? Progress?

On browsing the list of 100 candidates who made the shortlist for a proposed one-way trip that will carry 40 lucky earthlings to Mars, Nigerian writer Chibundo Onuzo was struck by what she described as adisturbing, misplaced and narrow-sighted rhetoric of progress. 

In 1999, the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, inaugurated the National Space Research and Development Agency. There was public outcry and understandably so. Nigeria’s per capita income that year was under $300. Four years later, Nigeria launched its first satellite at a cost of $13m. By 2008, NigComSat-1 was lost in orbit due to shoddy work by the foreign engineers hired to handle the project.

Prestige is no longer measured by how many of your citizens you can fling into space. National prestige is based on the wellbeing of your citizens, their access to healthcare, education, a balanced diet, running water, electricity and affordable housing. In south-eastern Nigeria, the roads are not paved, the electricity supply is erratic and infant mortality is high. Are my townspeople included in this great leap for mankind? Have their lives changed since the last alleged leap, Armstrong’s slow walk across the moon? They use candles in a world where there are light bulbs. Their children die of infection in a world where there is penicillin. Yes, sometimes, technology trickles down. You would be hard pressed to find someone in my village without a phone, but charging it, that’s another issue. By and large, modern science has never been in their interest or the interest of the 2.6 billion people without access to running water or the millions, who despite breakthroughs in agriculture and farming, are still starving in 2015. Much of scientific discovery is for the betterment, amusement and the curiosity of a lucky few in this world who are either born in the parts we call the first world, are middle class or affluent enough to afford it.

Humanity does not progress by jumping into space and leaving the cares of Earth behind. We move forward by creating a more equitable and compassionate planet for now and generations unborn.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Against Xenophobia

Free Trade ? Fair Trade?

After 50-odd years of independence and despite having abundant natural resources, the global trade regime continues to be twisted against sub-Saharan African countries. The slogan ‘fair trade’ means different things to different people, but Africans can confidently claim it has not happening for them. Africans still provide the wealthier nations with the raw materials from which they gain substantially higher value in the form of manufactured goods. Hence the need for aid. Worse still, raw commodity prices for such things as coffee beans, cotton, copper and tea fluctuate far more than finished items like canned food, computers and vehicles.

In 1980, sub-Saharan Africa had a 3.8% share of world exports. By 1998, this share had dropped to just 1.3% but in 2012, it had increased to 2.3%. Latest figures put this share at 3% today. In its 2014 report, the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation states that in 2013, the value of world merchandise exports topped $18.8 trillion. Africa contributed only $600 billion to this.  

Most African nations are finding it difficult to climb up the global value chain, because their range of exports are both basic and unprocessed. Generally what we are selling is on the lower end of the international market. That means for most African countries, their terms of trade will stay unfavourable until more is done in diversification and better access to lucrative markets for their value-added items. Instability caused by wayward politics and often accompanied by citizens having to dodge bullets, does not make for high productivity or inspire new investment in infrastructure.

African nations are not trading enough among themselves. Mutual distrust is holding back mutual gain. The borders created by the former colonialists seem to act like a psychological block, even though informal trade rooted in necessity tends to flourish.  Faced with a serious sugar deficit, one country’s government would prefer to order supplies from distant Brazil than buy from their neighbours who have a surplus to spare.

Developed countries have shown a deep reluctance to open up their markets to those products in which Africans have a comparative advantage; specifically agricultural produce.  The sophisticated use of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures locks out most African produce. Kenyan researcher, Hezron Nyangito concluded that many African countries find it difficult to meet the standards because of technical and resource-capacity constraints.  ‘Studies in Kenya show that to comply with high EU standards, farmers would have to spend 10 times more than they currently do. Uganda would need to spend $300 million upgrading its honey-processing plants and coffee producers would spend 200% more to produce coffee at the required standard,’ he wrote.

Africa’s agricultural exports accounted for 3.3 percent of world agricultural trade in 2009-2013, up from 1.2 percent in 1996-2000. However, the Americans, Europeans and Japanese have not significantly budged on reducing the nearly $300 billion used to subsidise their dwindling farming populations.

Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese billionaire who founded and sold the cellular phone network multinational, Celtel says, “If African products are forced to compete in markets that are skewed towards European and American producers, Africans are not being given a fair chance to develop. The fiercely debated issue of trade barriers speaks directly to the question of whether there is a genuine international commitment to Africa’s development.”

In other words, the industrialised countries don’t mind buying your cotton, but usually have no interest in your locally made shirts. To add insult to injury, African demand for secondhand clothes has decimated local garment industries.

Former South African finance minister, Trevor Manuel said, “The problem is not that international trade is inherently opposed to the needs and interests of the poor, but that the rules that govern it are rigged in favour of the rich. The international trading system is not a force of nature. It is a system of exchange, managed by rules and institutions that reflect political choices.”

In 2005, the Commission for Africa stated, ‘First, Africa’s collapse in share of world trade has been partly due to its low capacity to produce and trade – in commodities, manufactured goods and services – and to do this competitively. In other words there are key problems in what economists would call the ‘supply side’, rather than the ‘demand-side’ issues of market access. Such capacity constraints have been reinforced by the disgraceful protectionism facing it in the markets of the developed world, and the need to compete with heavily subsidised developed country exports. Those barriers and subsidies are absolutely unacceptable; they are politically antiquated, economically illiterate, environmentally destructive, and ethically indefensible.’

A subsequent report in 2010 revealed that nothing much has changed.

Many commentators propose changes to the economic policies of both the African nations and those it wishes to trade with in the Americas, Asia and Europe. They hope salvation will be with becoming more competitive. It is blind faith only. Socialist Banner suggests that it is a utopian aspiration that the condition and standard of the African people will ever improve on the theory of trickle-down economics…even if that growth is achievable, a suspect assumption when the world faces new trade pacts favouring the transnational corporations than sovereign nations. World socialism is the only alternative.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mozambique - Replacing Colonialism With Foreign Companies' Land Grab

Peasants in northern Mozambique are struggling to keep their lands, as governments and foreign companies move aggressively to set up large-scale agribusiness projects. They are being told that these projects will bring them benefits. But, so far, the country's experience with foreign investment in agriculture has been disastrous.

This report looks at the companies already setting up agribusiness operations in the Nacala Corridor, an area that the government has prioritised for agribusiness development. These companies, typically structured through offshore tax havens and often connected to Mozambican political elites, have been grabbing lands and extracting wealth in ways reminiscent of the country's colonial days.

A new survey by Mozambique's National Farmers' Union (UNAC) and GRAIN shows there is a colonial-style scramble for Africa's farm lands under way. Politically-connected companies based in offshore tax havens have grabbed hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland from peasants in Mozambique. (Download an Excel spreadsheet.)

From liberation to land grabs

Mozambique declared independence on June 25, 1975 after a decade of armed struggle. The peasants, workers, and students of Mozambique had defeated the Portuguese empire, guided by a common ideal of "freedom of man and earth".
The ideals of the national liberation struggle are enshrined in the Republic's first constitution, which recognises the right of the Mozambican people to resist all forms of oppression. These ideals also resonate in the first national anthem of the Republic of Mozambique, promising to turn the country into the grave of imperialism and exploitation.
Land was particularly important to the country's liberation struggle. Portuguese settlers had occupied vast tracts of the country's most fertile lands. When Mozambique achieved independence, these lands were immediately taken back and nationalised. Under the 1975 constitution, the state – on behalf of the Mozambican people – became the owner of all lands in the country. The constitution also recognised agriculture as the foundation of development with industry as its main engine, to be underpinned by a policy of national industrialisation led by state companies and cooperatives.

One year after independence, a brutal civil war broke out which ended only with the founding of a second republic in 1992 in the wake of the Rome General Peace Accords, signed between the government and RENAMO. Then followed two decades of structural adjustment policies imposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Today, 40 years after independence, the revolutionary vision of the national liberation movement is in tatters and the Mozambican government is thoroughly dominated by a neoliberal ideology that relies narrowly on foreign investment for the development of all economic sectors, whether agriculture, infrastructure, fishing, tourism, resource extraction, health or education.

Foreign investment in the country has thus expanded rapidly in recent years. According to the National Bank of Mozambique, the net inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2013 amounted to $ 5.9 billion, up 15.8% from 2012, making Mozambique the third largest destination for FDI in Africa. Much of this capital has gone into resource extraction, such as mining and exploration of hydrocarbons. But agriculture is also emerging as an important target of foreign companies, especially in the Nacala Corridor, a vast stretch of fertile lands across northern Mozambique where millions of peasant families live and farm.

Over and above this, these investments are the result of a very strong alliance between international capital through the big multinational corporations, with the support of the governments in their home countries with the local political-economic elite with the intention of exploiting the country’s main agro-ecological regions and the potential in mining and hydrocarbons. It is within this context that this research analyses the movements of the different players in the occupation and appropriation of the Nacala Corridor, one of the country’s richest regions, which, besides being home to the country’s main ecosystems, is the repository of reserves of a number of minerals.

read the whole article here

Rainbow Nation?

 Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave was beaten, stabbed and set alight almost seven years ago. Yet nobody has been arrested for his gruesome murder. Police closed the case in October 2010 after concluding that there were no witnesses and no suspects.  Nhamuave, who was 35 years old and from Mozambique, became known as the "burning man" and his agonising death brought the horror of South Africa's xenophobic violence to the world.

Yet when the Sunday Times visited Ramaphosa three weeks ago, we tracked down an eyewitness who pointed out two of the main suspects in the crime. The woman sees the killers at least once a week. Her recounting of details surrounding Nhamuave's death has remained consistent for nearly seven years, when she first revealed details of the murder. At the time she was willing to speak to police. "But the police never came here. Now, I don't trust the police here," she said.

On May 18 2008, Sipho was part of a mob intent on chasing foreigners out of the settlement. "He's the one who stabbed him. He stood over him when he was down and stabbed him, like this," said the witness, motioning downward with a two-handed grip. The mob then wrapped their victim in his own blankets and tried to set him alight. They failed. Bheki*, another attacker, walked to the traffic circle, where a fire was burning, and returned with a flaming piece of wood, which was placed under the man. "Then it worked. He was on fire," the witness said.

Concerns about livelihoods seem similar to cases of xenophobia everywhere else in the world where people seek scapegoats for their deprivation. Unemployment rocketing from 13 percent in 1994 to 25 percent in 2013, or 40 percent by unofficial measures. According to the Economist, “half of South Africans under 24 looking for work have none. Of those who have jobs, a third earn less than $2 a day.” Since 1994, the number of people living on less than one dollar a day has doubled, from 2 million to 4 million. Two million people have lost their homes because of forced removals and inflated rents, and the number of shack dwellers has increased by fifty percent, to the point where today more than one quarter of South Africans live in shacks. The argument holds that as livelihoods become ever more precarious, competition over jobs, housing, and retail have reached extreme levels. In the face of this mounting competition, people seek to leverage whatever social distinctions are most readily available in order to lay claim to diminishing resources. In the context of post-apartheid South Africa, those who believe they have the right to benefit from the promised—but as yet unrealized—fruits of liberation draw lines between themselves and the non-citizens who they believe should not have such a right. The primary problem with immigrants according to local people is that they undermine the economic opportunities of local citizens. According to my interlocutors, they do this by both outcompeting South African–owned businesses in the informal economy, and by undercutting the labor market by working for rates far below the minimum wage, allegedly as low as R25 per day. Thus the ubiquitous complaint that “foreigners are stealing our jobs.” The strength of this xenophobia is the fear of the unknown”. Add to this the fact that people are competing against their neighbors for scarce jobs in a context in which livelihoods are increasingly precarious, and you have a recipe for disaster. People are forced to establish claims to limited resources by defining the others who do not belong, who should not belong, and who never can belong. In other words, by xenophobia.

 In addition to job theft, the men also accused foreigners of stealing their women by wooing them with cash, outdoing the local competition because they have fewer financial responsibilities to kin. Marriage rates, down to less than half of 1960 levels, so that today only 3 of 10 South African adults are married. With unemployment rates as high as they are, most young men find it impossible to raise the resources they need to pay lobola (bridewealth) and establish their own legitimate, respectable homes. They suffer from a crisis of masculinity, having been expelled from the path to manhood that was encouraged under apartheid—that of becoming umnumzane, a respectable, working-class family man. Instead, they find themselves in their thirties and still living with their mothers, earning the social derision due to umnqolo—a “mamma’s boy.” Immigrants are accused of being able to make do with very little money for wages because they come here with no responsibilities. If they get R25 per day they have enough to eat. They don’t have responsibilities. They don’t have wives.  Residents accuse immigrants of hoarding their money without reinvesting it in the community through exchange. People accuse them of impregnating local women without paying bridewealth or cleansing fines (inhlawulo). Immigrants are perceived to traffic in the pure commodity, accumulating only for themselves while avoiding entanglement in relationships of reciprocity, in stark contrast to South Africans who are increasingly burdened by debt obligations. This representation is inaccurate, of course, as most immigrants remit to their home countries and are deeply embedded in transnational kin networks, while many young South African men father children without providing for them. Yet the stereotype retains its power.

Why are foreigners so often killed by burning? Why are they not lynched or beheaded? In the 1990s, young unemployed males burned accused-witches while chanting the words “Die, you witch; we can’t get jobs because of you!” Foreigners use witchcraft, or, in IsiZulu, ubuthakathi. Just like witches, immigrants are said to participate in forms of accumulation that are considered immoral and anti-social, enriching themselves at the expense of others. This makes it not only thinkable for people to orchestrate violence against immigrants, but also gives the violence the aura of legitimacy, for it appears to be in the service of morality.

Taken from here