Saturday, January 30, 2016

Where did the aid go?

Although Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and the Congo were all affected by the ebola epidemic , the real devastation occurred in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Medical facilities were overwhelmed at an alarming rate, already-lean government purses were stretched to the limits, the courage of health workers was tested to the brim, and normal life was ruined. In Liberia, the outbreak left half the heads of households out of work, while women - who account for more workers in the non-agricultural, self-employed sectors - were among the hardest-hit. So the aid money started coming in. By July 2015, the United Nations announced that donors had promised $5.2bn, which far outweighed the $3.2bn the three countries said they needed to "return to the progress of their pre-Ebola trauma".

President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, speaking on behalf of the three Ebola-hit countries, said: "Humanity sometimes displays short attention spans and wants to move to other issues because the threat from Ebola seems over … The threat is never over until we rebuild the health sector Ebola demolished, until we rebuild the livelihoods it compromised."

The much-vaunted "rebuilding of livelihoods ruined by Ebola" is far from happening. The Liberian government, whose task force destroyed the belongings of Ebola patients, was providing no help as survivors struggled daily for decent food, housing and employment. As Josephine Karwah, one of only three pregnant women to survive the virus, told me, the government left survivors "in a limbo".

Liberia's anti-corruption watchdog audited only a fraction ($15m) of the funding, and found that $800,000, most of which passed through the defence ministry, could not be accounted for. Specific instances of corruption included the disbursement of $600,000 for fuel, feeding, daily subsistence allowance, communication, medical and training, tentage repair, repair and maintenance, without supporting documents; and the payment of $10,000 to 68 officers in 10 counties who could not be physically seen or whose names could not be traced in the daily attendance records.

In neighbouring Sierra Leone the report of the Audit Service of Sierra Leone unearthed a series of financial irregularities, most notably payments to thousands of fictitious health workers, and expenses running into several hundreds of thousands dollars without supporting documentation.

The Ebola Fund Watch report in November 2015 reveals that although Guinea had received donation worth $330m as of November 4, 2015, there is not one audit report on the use of the fund. The "reports of mismanagement" suggested in this report are given credence by the former prime minister Cellou Dalien Diallo's description of Guinea as a country where "contracts aren't signed and investments aren't made".

In all three countries, no individual has been tried, much less convicted, for their role in the mismanagement of money meant to save the lives of the dying.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Five ultra-rich black South Africans

 Patrice Motsepe
Patrice Tlhopane Motsepe is a South African mining magnate. He is the founder and executive chairman of African Rainbow Minerals, which has interests in gold, ferrous metals, base metals, and platinum. Motsepe’s net worth is put at $1.1 billion (R18 billion) ranking him 847th in the world, and 22nd in Africa in 2015. However, Forbes reported earlier this month that since its last report, a mere two months ago, Motsepe has seen his fortune slip by as much as $200 million because of a softer currency and falling stock prices.

Cyril Ramaphosa
Ramaphosa has stepped back from his business pursuits since being appointed deputy president of South Africa in May 2014. He stepped down as chairman of investment firm Shanduka Group in May 2015 and a year later completed the process of selling his 30% stake in the company. Forbes puts his fortune at $450 million (R7.4 billion) – 42nd richest in Africa.

Tokyo Sexwale
Tokyo Sexwale is one of five candidates put forward to be the new FIFA president. Sexwale has a rich political background,  having spent many years on Robben Island, alongside the late Nelson Mandela, during apartheid. Upon his release, he worked his way up to a position where he campaigned for a leadership position within the ANC. The once Gauteng premier was appointed by President Jacob Zuma as Minister of Human Settlements in 2009. Upon leaving the public sector, Sexwale founded Mvelaphanda Holdings – a company of which he is still executive chairman. In 2009, Sexwale declared his wealth to be approximately $2 billion rand His net worth is put at $200 million (R3.27 billion). In 2013, it was reported that Sexwale had bought his own personal tropical island in the Indian Ocean for $70 million.

Sipho Nkosi
Sipho Nkosi is the CEO of Exxaro Resources, a diversified group with interests in the coal, titanium dioxide, ferrous and energy markets. Nkosi is set to retire as CEO in March after seven years on the job – having joined Exxaro in November 2007, one year after the company listed on the JSE. Exxaro’s share price has taken a beating in recent years, and particularly in 2015, along with other resource stocks. However, its share price was up nearly 6% in trade on Wednesday (27 January) to R53.77, having hit a low of R37.69 in 2015 – and from R29 in 2007. In 2014, Nkosi was paid a salary of R16.84 million by the company, including R5.5 million in gains on management share schemes. The Sunday Times rich list, published in late 2015, stated that Nkosi’s holding in Exxaro Resources was 2.7%. The company has a market cap of R19.26 billion. His net worth is put at around R2.7 billion.

Phuthuma Nhleko
A former CEO at Africa’s largest mobile operator MTN, Phuthuma Nhleko was re-appointed as executive chairman of the company late last year to deal with a multi-billion dollar fine issued by the Nigerian government. Nhleko has a 2.49% holding in MTN’s broad-based black economic empowerment scheme, MTN Zakhele, which made its debut on the JSE in November 2015. Nhleko is the chairman and co-founder of the Pembani Group, which recently merged with Shanduka Group which has stakes in 29 businesses,  creating a business with a portfolio value in excess of R9 billion. According to reports, Nhleko has assets amounting to R1.74 billion.

The above still have a way to catch up with Africa’s richest black capitalist. Nigerian cement mogul Aliko Dangote has a net worth of $14.3 billion, according to Wealth-X, as reported by Business Insider.

Uganda's divide

Distribution of Uganda’s Poor.
When it comes to were the poor are most found, Karamoja has the highest percentage of poor people at 74%. This is followed by West Nile at 42%, then Lango and Acholi at 35%, Eastern with 24.7%, Busoga with 24.3%, Bunyoro, Tooro and Rwenzori with 9.8%,; Ankole and Kigezi with 7.6%. Buganda region has the least percentage of poor people; Central two 7.3%, Central one 3.7% and Kampala 0.7%.

Distribution of Uganda’s Middle class. [middle income would be a better description]
The middle class in Uganda is distributed as follows; Buganda has the largest percentage of people in the middle class; Kampala 89%, Central One 64%, Central Two 46%. In Ankole and Kigezi 50% are in the middle class. In Bunyoro, Tooro and Rwenzori 45% are in the middle class, in Busoga 25%, in the Eastern 18%, in Lango and Acholi 23%, in West Nile 17%, and in Karamoja 9%.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The richest man ever

Mansa Musa I was the wealthiest person to have ever lived. Adjusted for inflation he had a fortune of $400 billion, at least five times more than that of Bill Gates.

700 years ago, Musa I ruled the Malian Empire which covered modern day Ghana, Timbuktu and Mali in West Africa. The 14th century African King got his wealth from his country's vast production of more than half the world's supply of salt and gold.

Chinese Neo-Colonialism

China’s increasing role has created unease in America and Europe. The US and EU obviously fears losing business: African trade with China surpassed that with America in 2009. China has participated in 16 U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa and is planning to create its first military base in Djibouti. African countries also have discovered that Beijing desires what the U.S. demanded in the past: political loyalty, resource control, investment return. Beijing also often demands concessions for land, minerals or other commodities in return. Moreover, it often requires use of Chinese firms, even bringing laborers from China. This limits the economic benefit to Africa and is seen as a new version of neocolonialism. The “Ugly Chinese” looks much like the “Ugly American” of days gone by. Explained a recent Rand Corp. report: “Labor unions, civil society groups and other segments of African society criticize Chinese enterprises for their poor labor conditions, unsustainable environmental practices and job displacement.” The Rand report says “African perceptions of China include a mix of approval, apathy and contempt.”

President Xi Jinping recently promised African officials $60 billion in new investment. Most of the $60 billion will be concessional loans. Even cheap loans may become a significant burden to repay. Observed The Times: “Infrastructure projects in Nigeria have been fueled by the same manic lending that has also created mountains of debt for China’s economy at home.” Inevitable defaults will cost both Africa and China.

Moreover, Africa long has been awash in “aid” from multilateral development banks, but much of that has been stolen or wasted. Beijing’s experience so far is no different. For instance, more than $1 billion essentially vanished, noted the Economist magazine, after being invested in a palm oil plantation in a region where “there were no roads, the river was barely navigable and villagers were hostile.” Because of the lack of conditionality, observed Brad Parks of the research lab AidData, “African officials know that they have more leeway with Beijing’s money, and they use it.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ghana's Boom Bursts

In Ghana workers marching through the capital and other cities were showing their dismay at recent price hikes and taxes, which have increased the cost of electricity by 59%, water by 67% and fuel by 28%. At the end of last year, inflation in Ghana was running at 17.7%.  “We are drumming home our concerns generally,” says Kofi Asamoah, secretary general of the Trade Union Congress, “to let the public and government know how serious we are.”

Ebenezer Pabi, a warehouse keeper at an import company for 17 years, says prices are making life in the West African country very difficult.  “The government is raising things and the living standard in Ghana is hard. Money is not flowing in the system and it is a problem. It is difficult. When my child got sick and we went to the hospital, the bill was high and even the school fees have increased – it is too much. We want the government to see how we, as workers, are suffering.” the 39-year-old father of two explains.

Once an African success story built on gold, oil and cocoa, Ghana leveraged its natural resources to produce strong economic growth in the early years of this century. It met the millennium development goal of halving poverty rates by 2015, and was hailed as a model of political stability after peaceful elections. But plummeting global commodity prices have pummelled Ghana’s economy. Export revenues for oil, gold and cocoa declined from $8.2bn (£5.8bn) between January and September 2014 to $5.8bn a year later. Add to this a three-year electricity crisis, rising public spending and debts of 90bn cedis (£16bn) – giving Ghana a debt-to-gross domestic product ratio of more than 70% – and it is clear why one of Africa’s most stable countries is in trouble. The mounting debt levels led the International Monetary Fund to introduce a $918m three-year assistance programme in April. A third payment of $114.6m was given this month and the IMF said Ghana must rein in spending to reduce debt. The cedi lost 18.75% in value against the dollar in 2015 and its decline, along with the introduction of a capital gains tax on all listed securities on the Ghana stock exchange, has seen foreign investor interest wane.

Geoffrey Maison, analyst at investment bank Cal Brokers in Accra pointed out “A lot of foreign investors pulled out of the stock market and a lot of people are now moving toward government of Ghana securities and away from the stock market. With revenues going down, we expect the government will come back to the market to borrow. If they are borrowing like they borrowed last year, we can expect interest rate levels to go up and inflation will be affected.”

The public’s anger at higher prices has been stoked by a perception that the government is mishandling the economic downturn, and mismanaging public finances. A 2015 Transparency International study on perceptions of perceptions of corruption in Africa ranked Ghana second worst, behind South Africa. In October seven high court judges were suspended amid bribery allegations. The transport minister was forced to resign in December after it emerged the government spent 3.6m cedis painting pictures of President John Mahama and former leaders on buses. Mahama’s government, which will go head-to-head with the National Patriotic party in November, has been criticised for lavishly rewarding government officials with houses, cars and fuel in addition to generous salaries.

The African Wealthy

 There are 163,000 dollar millionaires in Africa, according to a report by New World Wealth; a Johannesburg research company. According to the report, Johannesburg has 46,800 millionaires. About 600 of those have over $30 million. Egypt is next with 20,200 millionaires; Nigeria with 15,400 and Kenya 8,500.

If you look at the asset allocation of the average South African millionaire, about 30% of their assets are in business interests, 25 % in equities, about 20% in property and then rest will be in cash, fixed income instruments, bonds and alternative investments like collectables like art

The African luxury sector generated an estimated $8 billion in revenue in 2014; with $2.8 billion coming out of South Africa.
Collectables such as art, wine and classic automobiles are increasingly popular and accounted for $5.3 billion of the total assets of African high net worth individuals at the end of 2014, according to New World Wealth. $32 million was generated in South African sales of super-luxury watches in 2014; up from $23 million in 2013.

The South African yacht industry generates about $150 million per year. Angola and South Africa are the top spots for yachting in sub-Saharan Africa. Morocco and Egypt are the top spots in North Africa. The yacht owners are mostly male, between the ages of 40 to 50, with average earnings of over $300,000 per year.

Bread and Bullets

The South African Defence Review guides policy-making. The plan involves the country’s military providing "critical humanitarian assistance and reconstruction capabilities during and immediately after military operations."

Using armed forces to distribute humanitarian assistance in conflict or complex post-conflict areas violates the humanitarian principles. This includes foreign peacekeepers. The review does not even acknowledge humanitarian principles. Humanitarian and military actors differ profoundly in terms of their training. This includes differences in skills, aims, mandates, agendas, operational methods and institutional cultures. Because of this, the responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance rests primarily with humanitarian and aid organisations. The role of peacekeepers is to contribute to creating stability and security. They are also tasked with ensuring freedom of movement for local and international humanitarian aid workers. South African peacekeepers will endanger humanitarian efforts if they get involved in humanitarian work. Instead of helping bring peace, stability and relief, they will compromise the work of humanitarian organisations. Humanitarian work in Africa should be left to humanitarian and aid agencies.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

China sneezes - Africa catches a cold

As China’s economy slows and its once seemingly insatiable hunger for Africa’s commodities wanes, many African economies are tumbling, quickly.

Nigeria’s and South Africa’s currencies fell to record lows this month as China, Africa’s biggest trading partner, announced that imports from Africa plummeted nearly 40 percent in 2015. The International Monetary Fund has in recent months sharply cut its projections for the continent. Credit rating agencies have downgraded or lowered their outlook on commodity exporters like Angola, Ghana, Mozambique and Zambia, which were the darlings of international investors until just over a year ago. Many economists expect South Africa, the continent’s most advanced and diversified economy, to slide into a recession this year. As Africa’s biggest exporter of iron ore to China, South Africa is suffering from a slump in mining, as well as in other sectors like manufacturing and agriculture.

“We can see what drove the growth in Africa when demand goes away,” said Greg Mills, the director of the Brenthurst Foundation, a Johannesburg-based economic research group. “Well, demand has gone away, and it’s not pretty.”

South Africa’s rand has declined sharply in recent months because of the worldwide fall in prices of raw materials and because of poor government policies. The weak rand will make it more painful for South Africa, which is experiencing the worst drought in a generation and is usually an exporter of agricultural products, to import corn, the nation’s staple.

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and oil producer, is reeling from the crash in crude prices. Nigeria’s currency, the naira, collapsed to record lows this month after Nigeria’s central bank placed restrictions on the sale of American dollars to protect its shrinking foreign reserves. The currency fell to about 300 naira to the dollar in Nigeria’s black market, down from about 240 early last month. Weakening currencies will make it harder for Nigeria — and many other African governments — to repay China for loans used to build large infrastructure projects.

The tumbling naira and China’s downturn are also reverberating across private businesses, large and small. Happiness Awonegbe, a businessman in Lagos, Nigeria, whose companies import paper, tires and other goods from China, said the restrictions on the dollar had made it difficult for him to place orders with Chinese suppliers. When he can place an order, his Chinese suppliers now take 50 days to fill it instead of 30, apparently because of reductions in their work force, Mr. Awonegbe said.
“We are feeling so much this spillover effect,” said Mr. Awonegbe, who employs 50 people. “What happens in China affects Nigeria.”

Experts say most nations failed to take advantage of the boom years to carry out long-term changes to their economies. They failed to deal with some of the biggest obstacles to sustained growth — like the severe lack of electricity across the continent — and spur industries that would create jobs. In South Africa, where a chronic shortage of power has constrained the economy, the unemployment rate hovers around 25 percent.

Zambia, whose economy depends on copper exports, has suffered from waning demand from China and a drop in copper prices. Mines have closed, and thousands of jobs have been lost in recent months. Critics say Zambia could have taken advantage of the boom by negotiating better terms with Chinese companies, including securing technology transfers or employment for infrastructure projects. Zambia used revenue from copper to increase the salaries of civil servants but did not invest in potential growth industries, like tourism and agriculture. Edith Nawakwi, a former finance minister in Zambia and now leader of an opposition party, said large infrastructure projects were often wasted opportunities that failed to lead to economic development. African leaders, Ms. Nawakwi said, could have asked the Chinese to build infrastructure that would have furthered regional integration, business and trade.

The impact on Africa of China’s downturn and a growing trade imbalance — China exported $102 billion to Africa last year but imported only $67 billion from the continent — raised skeptical voices.
“The Chinese are not romantic anymore about their relations with Africa — far from it,” said Ibbo Mandaza, a political analyst and businessman in Zimbabwe. “For them, it’s purely economic.”

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Sahrawi Struggle

Western Sahara has been dubbed Africa's last colony. Its struggle for self-determination has embraced everything from armed conflict to passive resistance. UN diplomacy has consistently failed to break the impasse over the fate of the disputed territories. A national referendum was promised after a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991, in which the population could vote for complete independence or integration with Morocco; but the plan stalled when Rabat and Polisario disagreed over who was entitled to vote. The UN continues to push for a negotiated settlement. In December, Christopher Ross, personal envoy in the dispute to the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, admitted the situation was at a stalemate. Morocco remains implacably opposed to independence but says it is prepared to talk about "autonomy". France, which has strong historical links with Morocco, has consistently opposed calls for UN action against Rabat by exercising its veto in the Security Council.

The mineral-rich country (which may explain the relucance to give it independence) on Africa's north-west Atlantic coast is bounded by Morocco in the north, Mauritania in the south and Algeria to the east. All three countries have taken an active interest in the fate of the Sahrawi - not always altruistically. Spain, the former colonial power, relinquished the territory in 1975 to Morocco, which has formally claimed the land since 1957. An extensive wall was built through the desert to exclude the Polisario Front - the Sahrawi liberation movement from coming into the country from refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria. Adala, a British NGO, recently submitted a report to the European Parliament and the UN Commission for Human Rights highlighting the regular human rights abuses taking place in the region. Sahrawi protestors face persistent harassment and persecution by security forces. Peaceful demonstrations are routinely disrupted by state violence and those taking part have been illegally detained. Beccy Allen, of Adala UK, said it was essential the UN mission in the territory was given a human rights mandate. "There are plenty of white UN vehicles around but they don't intervene on human rights issues. They are the only UN mission around the world without one and that has to change," she said.

 Now the Sahrawi people are trying to break the deadlock themselves - in the courts. In December it managed to put a stick in the spokes of the European Union's agriculture agreement with Morocco. Many of the tomatoes sold in British and European supermarkets are labelled as Moroccan produce, but most are grown in Western Sahara. The EU's Court of Justice ruled last month that the favourable tariffs Morocco enjoys should not apply to goods from the territories it occupies. The EU failed to consider the impact on the rights with the Sahrawi people when it signed the deal, the court ruled. Campaigners in Britain are taking legal action to stop Moroccan exports to the UK enjoying similar tax breaks.

Spurred by its success, Polisario has brought a further case to the EU courts over an EU-Moroccan fisheries deal, which includes the territorial waters of the Sahrawi people. Norway has already started fining any of its vessels which trawl in Western Saharan waters. Oil companies such as Total which have explored for off and on-shore oil fields are facing growing local and international criticism, as are companies that import Western Sahara's minerals, including its massive phosphate deposits. United States, Canadian and Australian miners have all been blacklisted by Scandinavian pension firms.

Corrupt SA Politicians

African National Congress activist Denis Goldberg, the only white man to be convicted among 10 people on trial for their lives alongside Nelson Mandela and served 22 years in prison,  has called for leaders of the party to be replaced.

"Corruption is a problem. I personally believe, and I will say it publicly as I do in South Africa, the members of the ANC need to renew the leadership from top to bottom. I'm not going to name names, because it's a problem throughout, from national, provincial and local government level."

The ANC veteran said that "a definite attempt" was now required by ANC members to say "enough is enough" and instigate a leadership clear-out.
 "Let us focus on the needs of our people, not on your needs as new political leaders with access to power, and therefore wealth and personal enrichment, which robs us, in a way, of our freedom."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The future for South Africa (1994)

Editorial from the April 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party has always strongly supported struggle against class and racial oppression in South Africa. We welcome the trend towards democratization of the political process in that country. It is an important step on the road towards genuine liberation for the great majority.

At the same time, however, we are all too aware of the risk of political complacency, born of euphoria. More than ever, now is the time for questioning, for a frank and honest debate about the future. The cultivation of illusions today will sow the seeds of disillusionment tomorrow. In a country where racism and reaction are still in the wings, the abolition of apartheid notwithstanding, this is a risk fraught with danger.

So there is nothing to be lost by constructive and tolerant criticism, and much to be gained. Mistakes made now could prove difficult, if not impossible, to undo later.

There are still some on the left in South Africa who cling to the illusions of a now discredited Leninist ideology. At the time of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the Socialist Party stood virtually alone in declaring its opposition to the Bolsheviks on genuinely Marxist grounds.

We predicted then that that revolution would usher in, not socialist emancipation, but the brutal dictatorship of a state-run capitalism. Though scorned at the time for sticking to our principles, rather than courting popularity for its own sake, events since have thoroughly vindicated what we said then.

On the other hand, the collapse of the state-capitalist model of economic development has prompted many in the liberation movement to openly embrace the market. But the politics of so-called "economic realism" are similarly doomed to failure.

Attempts to "woo big business", to make common cause between the interests of capital and those of labour are bound to founder on the reality of class struggle. This should be particularly obvious in a country like South Africa.

The legacy of massive structural inequality cannot begin to be tackled through the market mechanism which works to concentrate wealth in fewer hands, be these black or white. Between the hammer of the state and the anvil of the market, the working class will continue to suffer rampant exploitation and grinding poverty.

It does not have to be like this. There is an alternative which, in fact, has far more in common with the best traditions of African communalism, and which looks beyond the state or the market for the real emancipation of the great majority.

There can be no national solution to the struggles of workers in South Africa because capitalism is itself international. Their struggles are closely linked to the struggles of workers here in Britain and elsewhere; our fate is bound up with theirs.

The Socialist Party therefore urges our fellow workers in South Africa to seriously consider the socialist alternative.

What we seek cannot be brought about by putting our trust in leaders, however enlightened; it must arise from the self-organization of ordinary people, conscious of that alternative, and determined to make it a reality. Together, we can make it a reality. In so doing, we will have nothing to lose but our chains; we have a world to win.

South Africa's Progress

Eighteen years after the end of apartheid, South Africa is now judged to be one of the most unequal societies in the world and its 19 million children bear the brunt of the disconnect.
The Unicef report found that 1.4 million children live in homes that rely on often dirty streams for drinking water, 1.5 million have no flushing lavatories and 1.7 million live in shacks, with no proper bedding, cooking or washing facilities.
Four in 10 live in homes where no one is employed and, in cases of dire poverty, the figure rises to seven in 10.
A total of 330,000 children - and five million adults - are presently infected with HIV, and 40 per cent die from the pandemic annually.
Child support grants, introduced in 1997, now reach 10.3m children but another one million who are eligible do not yet receive them.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Pygmies Exploited

Survival International was founded in 1969 and is the only international organization supporting tribal peoples worldwide.

Tribal children in the African rainforests have been paid in glue to sniff, and alcohol, in return for menial work, a new Survival International report has revealed. 

The report found instances of market traders in the Republic of Congo plying children from the Bayaka tribe with glue in 2013, in exchange for cleaning out latrines.

In Cameroon Baka tribespeople, illegally evicted from their forest homes, are often paid in five glasses of moonshine in exchange for half a day’s manual labor. A combination of poverty and depression caused by the theft of their land forces many to turn to heavy drinking as an escape from their troubles.

Across much of central Africa, dispossessed hunter-gatherer peoples are frequently paid in addictive substances, most commonly home-brewed alcohol.

Atono, a Baka man forcibly evicted from his land said: “Now we are falling ill because of the change in our diet. Our skin doesn’t like the sun and life in the village. In the forest we are healthy and put on weight. Now no one has any muscles, everyone looks ill. We are forced to drink to forget our troubles.” 

Problems of addiction and substance abuse are common among tribes who have had their land stolen from them. In Canada, alienated Innu children whose people were forced to abandon their nomadic way of life turn to sniffing gas from plastic bags. Likewise in Australia, rates of alcoholism among Aboriginal people are higher than among the wider population.

Boniface Alimankinni, an Aboriginal Tiwi Islander, said: “We had no self-respect and nothing to give our sons except violence and alcoholism. Our children are stuck between a past they don’t understand and a future which offers them nothing.”

Drug addiction and alcoholism are not inevitable for tribal peoples. They are the result of failed policy, imposing “progress” and “development” on peoples who are otherwise largely self-sufficient. Industrialized societies subject tribal peoples to genocidal violence, slavery and racism so they can steal their lands, resources and labor. These crimes are often carried out in the name of progress and development.

Friday, January 22, 2016

‘Philanthrocapitalism’ - another word for global capitalism.

Colin Todhunter on the Countercurrents website reviews the latest report on the Gates philanthropy in Africa. He highlights one criticism - the foundation’s promotion of industrial agriculture across Africa, pushing for the adoption of GM, patented seed systems and chemical fertilisers, all of which undermine existing sustainable, small-scale farming that is providing the vast majority of food security across the continent.

According to the report, the BMGF is promoting a model of industrial agriculture, the increasing use of chemical fertilisers and expensive, patented seeds, the privatisation of extension services and a very large focus on genetically modified seeds. The foundation bankrolls the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in pushing industrial agriculture.

A key area for AGRA is seed policy. The report notes that currently over 80 per cent of Africa’s seed supply comes from millions of small-scale farmers recycling and exchanging seed from year to year. But AGRA is promoting the commercial production of seed and is thus supporting the introduction of commercial seed systems, which risk enabling a few large companies to control seed research and development, production and distribution.

In order for commercial seed companies to invest in research and development, they first want to protect their ‘intellectual property’. According to the report, this requires a fundamental restructuring of seed laws to allow for certification systems that not only protect certified varieties and royalties derived from them, but which actually criminalise all non-certified seed.

The report notes that over the past two decades a long and slow process of national seed law reviews, sponsored by USAID and the G8 along with the BMGF and others, has opened the door to multinational corporations’ involvement in seed production, including the acquisition of every sizeable seed enterprise on the African continent.

At the same time, AGRA is working to promote costly inputs, notably fertiliser, despite evidence to suggest chemical fertilisers have significant health risks for farm workers, increase soil erosion and can trap small-scale farmers in unsustainable debt. The BMGF, through AGRA, is one of the world’s largest promoters of chemical fertiliser.

Some grants given by the BMGF to AGRA have been specifically intended to “help AGRA build the fertiliser supply chain” in Africa. The report describes how one of the largest of AGRA’s grants, worth $25 million, was used to help establish the African Fertiliser Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) in 2012, whose very goal is to “at least double total fertiliser use” in Africa. The AFAP project is being pursued in partnership with the International Fertiliser Development Centre, a body which represents the fertiliser industry.

Another of AGRA’s key programmes since its inception has been support to agro-dealer networks – small, private stockists of transnational companies' chemicals and seeds who sell these to farmers in several African countries. This is increasing the reliance of farmers on chemical inputs and marginalising sustainable agriculture alternatives, thereby undermining any notion that farmers are exercising their 'free choice' (as the neo-liberal evangelists are keen to tell everyone) when it comes to adopting certain agricultural practices.

The report concludes that AGRA’s agenda is the biggest direct threat to the growing movement in support of food sovereignty and agroecological farming methods in Africa. This movement opposes reliance on chemicals, expensive seeds and GM and instead promotes an approach which allows communities control over the way food is produced, traded and consumed. It is seeking to create a food system that is designed to help people and the environment rather than make profits for multinational corporations. Priority is given to promoting healthy farming and healthy food by protecting soil, water and climate, and promoting biodiversity.

Recent evidence from Greenpeace and the Oakland Institute shows that in Africa agroecological farming can increase yields significantly (often greater than industrial agriculture), and that it is more profitable for small farmers. In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (Olivier de Schutter) called on countries to reorient their agriculture policies to promote sustainable systems - not least agroecology - that realise the right to food. Moreover, the International Assessmentof Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was the work of over 400 scientists and took four years to complete. It was twice peer reviewed and states we must look to smallholder, traditional farming to deliver food security in third world countries through agri-ecological systems which are sustainable.

Colin Todhunter concludes Bill Gates “is spearheading the ambitions of corporate America and the scramble for Africa by global agribusiness.”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Marriage and Poverty

Tanzania has one of the highest adolescent pregnancy and birth rates in the world with one in every six girls aged between 15 and 19 getting pregnant, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

While Tanzania has made huge progress in enrolling children in primary schools, few girls in rural areas manage to finish their education due to pregnancy said Consolata Mabula, a district social worker in Shinyanga region.

Zulmira Rodrigues, the UNESCO representative in Tanzania explained that “Education is the only key to allow young girls make informed decisions about their lives to improve their social economic wellbeing,” she said. According to her, most adolescent girls in rural areas often succumb to sexual violence and unwanted pregnancies due to a lack of proper reproductive health information.

“Some parents would rather marry off their daughters to get a dowry than let them go to school” said Leah Omari, a lecturer at the Institute of Social Work in Dar es Salaam. According to UNESCO, teachers in Shinyanga region reported that some parents have been instructing their daughters to deliberately fail so that their education would be terminated and then they could get married.

While sex with underage girls is criminalised in Tanzania, activists say parents often use this tactic to marry off their daughters under special dispensation granted by the marriage law. According to Tanzania’s Marriage Act of 1971, a girl as young as 15- years old can get married with parental or a court consent.

“Poverty is a key factor,” says Eda Sanga, the Executive Director of Tamwa - a women’s rights organisation based in Dar es Salaam. “Parents force underage girls to marry so they can escape the role of taking care of their daughters and grandchildren.”

Dadaab - A refuge?

When people fled the civil war in Somalia they hoped their  stay across the border in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp would be short-lived. Twenty-five years and three generations on of refugees 350,000 Somalis call this barren, dusty settlement, home. Dadaab was initially established as a temporary haven for some 90,000 refugees fleeing the 1991 clan fighting. It is now a sprawling, bustling complex of five camps, boasting cinemas and soccer leagues – the third largest city in Kenya, after Nairobi and Mombasa. Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee complex. It is a commercial hub, with refugees running successful businesses from bakeries to designer boutiques. It provides services and a ready market for locals, and a huge tax return to the Kenyan government. A report commissioned by the governments of Norway, Denmark and Kenya in 2010 found that the camps’ businesses generated an annual turnover of around $25 million. The host community earned some $1.8 million from the sale of livestock alone to refugees.
“We pay a heavy tax to the government every year. Much more money than what they collect from the locals. Yet they don’t give back anything to us,” said Ali Kasim, a member of one of Dadaab’s business associations. “We cannot challenge them. Unlike the host community, who are not afraid to demand their rights.”

One reason for Dadaab’s growth is the Kenyan government’s strict encampment policy, which prevents refugees from settling outside. Most governments have traditionally seen this as convenient logistically, and as a way to reduce potential friction with host communities. It’s increasingly argued that refugee camps should only be a last resort as they create more problems than they solve. They are not only unsustainable over the long term – damaging to the environment and a turn-off for donors – but in corralling refugees behind their gates, they also deny them basic rights and freedoms.

Dadaab is under the overall control of the Kenyan government and UN refugee agency, UNHCR. But its five camps – Dagahaley, Hagadera, Ifo and more recent additions Ifo II and Kambioos – are in practical terms run by democratically-elected community volunteers.
“We work hand in hand with the aid agencies. We have developed a very smooth system where we coordinate all the activities of the camps ranging from sanitation to security,” explained Rukia Ali Rage, the chairwoman of Ifo camp. "It would be impossible for UNHCR and its partner agencies to implement their programmes without the support of the community leaders,” she told IRIN. 

Rage took over the leadership of Ifo in a camp-wide election in 2014, and is due to step down when her term ends later this year. It’s a lesson in democracy that the Somali government in Mogadishu, where elections are also due this year, will hopefully emulate.

The role of community leaders became significant out of necessity. UN staff temporarily pulled out of Dadaab in 2011 following the kidnapping of aid workers, and youth volunteers took over running the camps' basic services.

“We have an umbrella youth consortium consisting of several youth groups. Each group carries out a project that is similar to the ones run by the UN and its implementing partners,” said Ali Hussein, deputy chair of the Ifo youth consortium. “In this way, we not only develop our capacity, but we also hold the agencies accountable and help our community in return.”

But while that is positive, “the biggest challenge we have is that we are not involved in the initial design of the projects,” said Rage.  “We would like to be given a more active role in the decision-making at the early stage so that we can better represent the interest of the people of concern.”

A big threat hangs over Dadaab. With the rise of al-Shabab and its high-profile attacks inside Kenya, politicians have been quick to accuse the camps of providing sanctuary and support to the jihadists. That ignores the fact that al-Shabab also recruits - highly successfully - among non-ethnic Somalis in Kenya. In April last year, Deputy President William Ruto ordered the closure of Dadaab and the return of all refugees following an al-Shabab attack on Garissa University – 100km to the southwest – that killed 142 students. Under international pressure, and following an uproar from human rights groups, he backpedaled.

Only a modest 5,000 refugees have taken advantage of a repatriation programme that began in December 2014.  Most of those who have volunteered are the relatively new arrivals that entered Dadaab between 2006 and 2011, fleeing violence and famine.
“We have been here for more than 20 years and we have nowhere to return to. Our homes were destroyed during the conflict,” said Abukar Ahmed, a long-term resident of Ifo camp. “Those who are returning arrived only a few years ago and have all their belongings intact.”

Abdirashid Abdullahi, with Dadaab’s Gargaar humanitarian FM radio, explained.
“For a significant number of refugees, the only home they know is Kenya. So keeping them in camps against their will is not helping them,” he said. “It’s time to review the repatriation process and look for other sustainable solutions to bring an end to the world’s largest refugee complex.”

The DRC - Who benefits from the chaos

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the least developed countries in the world. Yet it is also home to $24 trillion worth of untapped mineral reserves. In the eastern hills of the country, the "three Ts" - tantalum, tungsten and tin - are mined by hand, eventually making their way into electronic devices across the world.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) more than 5.4 million have killed since 1998, so coffins, are the one thing which people will spend their limited money. For the funeral undertakers, business is good. Prostitution is also a prosperous industry thanks to the war. With more than 30 armed groups in the region, there is a growing market of men seeking sex. But with little money, plenty of weapons and ample alcohol, the soldiers often rape and threaten the women.

War is another profitable activity, with many investors - both internally and externally. The United Nations, for example, sent 19,815 blue helmets to the country through its United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO), the second-largest mission in the world. For the home countries of those troops - Pakistan, India, Uruguay, Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi - the mission can be extremely profitable: the UN pays them four times the cost of the deployment.

Then there are the NGOs. More than 80 humanitarian organisations ply their trade in the DRC, as part of an arguably self-sustaining business. One NGO mission chief confessed: "I don't know what we're doing here. Our presence raises the price of food and rent, we stop people from moving on, from taking their own decisions and demanding their government take responsibility. We should have left Congo years ago."

Another booming the trafficking in blood minerals, for nothing serves this illicit trade better than a failed and unstable state that is incapable of collecting taxes and stopping neighbouring countries from looting its riches through strongman proxies.

 Rubaya in the province of Masisi is three hours' drive from Goma and the epicentre of the blood minerals war. Some tech lobbies, perhaps wishing to wash their hands of any responsibility for the exploitation of blood minerals, recently insisted that coltan is no longer used in the making of mobile phones, tablets, consoles or cameras, and that the mines were closing. But in truth, demand for the mineral is still much greater than its supply. Around 80 percent of the world's supply resides under Congolese soil. 5,000 miners, many of them children and teenagers, continue to toil in a state of quasi slavery in DRC, at first under the open sky and then, when there is no more of the mineral left on the surface, in deep tunnels where they eat, sleep and work from dawn until dusk, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Many work nearly nude, without helmets or protective gear, and some are even barefoot. Others wear fake Real Madrid or Barcelona shirts. The luckiest have wellington boots. The mines are particularly dangerous during the rainy season, when the damp earth can crumble, leaving miners at the mercy of carbonic gas or crushed inside underground caverns.

In North Kivu there are between 5,000 and 6,000 Congolese rebels spread among 30 armed groups. In addition to racial hatred, they are motivated by a desire to control the mineral resources - and will massacre entire villages in an effort to do so.

A dark web of large multinational companies, corrupt officials and unscrupulous states concealed by anonymous tax haven bank accounts participate in the ancient game of looting the DRC. The UN has denounced neighbouring countries such as Rwanda and Uganda for selling  minerals that are not theirs and for feeding armed groups in order to keep the trade alive. Meanwhile, the developed world receives its sacks of cassiterite, coltan, gold, diamonds, uranium, tungsten and manganese cheaply and promptly.

 Who then, other than the Congolese themselves, could want a conflict that sustains such a business to end?

From here

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Fact of the Day

Two-thirds of last year's 2.6 million stillbirths were in Africa. At present rates of progress, it will be 160 years until a woman in Africa will have the same chance of her baby being born alive as a woman in a high-income country

South African Inequality

In 2014 it was found that two men (Johan Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer) owned the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the South African population.

Oxfam says South Africa is deeply unequal with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. Its report says in 1993, as apartheid was coming to an end, the richest 10% of the population had a combined annual income of $36 billion. By 2011 this has grown to $69 billion. In comparison the poorest 10% earned a combined income of $1 billion. In all of 17 years this did not increase at all.

Oxfam says in 1993 3.7 million people in South Africa, which constituted the richest 10% of the population, earned $25 billion more than the poorest 50% of the population (19 million people). That meant 3.7 “mainly white people” earned four times more “than 19 million mainly black people”.

By 2011 the richest 10% (around 5 million people) had an income of $69 billion compared to the poorest 50% who had an income of $11 billion. This means “five million still mainly white people where now earning 6 times more than 25 million mainly black people”, says the charity.

The report states that while economic growth is often seen as the solution to the problem of economic inequality, the questions should be asked what is happening with regards to growth while this explosion in inequality is continuing? Some of the facts that needs to be considered are:

In 1993 the population of South Africa had a total income of $77 billion.
By 2011 this total income had grown to $128 billion.
The income of South Africa’s population had grown by 40%.
The income of the richest 10% had grown by 64%.
The income of the poorest 50% had grown by 3%.
The income of the poorest 10% had not grown at all.

A growth of 40% in the total income meant nothing for the poor.

Congo's Child Cobalt Labourers

Cobalt is a vital component of lithium-ion batteries. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) produces at least 50% of the world's cobalt. Miners working in the area face long-term health problems and the risk of fatal accidents, according to Amnesty. 

Amnesty has accused Apple, Samsung and Sony, among others, of failing to do basic checks to ensure minerals used in their products are not mined by children. In a report into cobalt mining in the DRC, it found children as young as seven working in dangerous conditions. It has collected the testimonies of children who allegedly work in the mines. UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 40,000 children working in mines across southern DRC. The majority of the children working in the mining industry in DRC do not enter the underground mines but perform a variety of tasks on the surface, including scavenging for ore and sorting minerals that have been mined underground.

Paul, a 14-year-old orphan, started mining when he was 12 and told researchers: "I would spend 24 hours down in the tunnels. I arrived in the morning and would leave the following morning ... I had to relieve myself down in the tunnels … My foster mother planned to send me to school, but my foster father was against it, he exploited me by making me work in the mine."

The Amnesty report, which was jointly researched with African Resources Watch (Afrewatch), traced how traders buy cobalt from areas where child labour is rife, selling it on to firm Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd. Amnesty contacted 16 multinationals who were listed as customers of the battery manufacturers, who in turn source minerals from Huayou Cobalt. One company admitted the connection while four others were unable to say for certain the source of the cobalt they used. Five denied sourcing the mineral from the firm, despite being listed as customers in company documents and two others said that they did not source cobalt from DRC. Six firms said that they were investigating the claims.

"It is a major paradox of the digital era that some of the world's richest, most innovative companies are able to market incredibly sophisticated devices without being required to show where they source raw materials for their components," said executive director of Afrewatch Emmanuel Umpula. "The abuses in mines remain out of sight and out of mind because in today's global marketplace, consumers have no idea about the conditions at the mine, factory and assembly line. We found that traders are buying cobalt without asking questions about how and where it was mined."

Mark Dummett, business and human rights researcher at Amnesty said "The glamorous shop displays and marketing of state of the art technologies are a stark contrast to the children carrying bags of rocks and miners in narrow man-made tunnels risking permanent lung damage," he said. "Millions of people enjoy the benefits of new technologies but rarely ask how they are made. It is high time the big brands took some responsibility for the mining of the raw materials that make their lucrative products.” He continued "Companies whose global profits total $125bn (£86.7bn) cannot credibly claim that they are unable to check where key minerals in their productions come from."

The Nigerian thieves

Fifty-five Nigerians, including former ministers, governors, business leaders and public officials, have stolen nine billion dollars in public funds in seven years, the information minister claims. The looted funds could have built 36 hospitals or educated 4,000 children through university, Mohammed said. 

According to Mohammed, the stolen money included USD 2.1 billion meant to buy weapons to fight the Boko Haram terrorist group but instead was diverted to the election campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Prayer won't help

On Saturday January 10, President Peter Mutharika led Malawians in national prayers for the rains at a ceremony held in the capital, Lilongwe.

Since El Nino hit, Malawi has experienced no rain for at least three weeks, leaving people in despair and in fear of going hungry again this year. Malawi has only one rainy season which begins in November and ends in April. When El Nino hit, most people had planted their maize (the country’s staple food) while others had even applied fertiliser.

El Niño is a prolonged warming in the Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures when compared with the average temperature. A typical definition is a 3-month average warming of at least 0.5 Celsius in a specific area of the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean. Generally, this happens at irregular intervals from two to seven years, and lasts nine months to two years. The average period length is five years.

It is estimated that about 2.8 million people in the country are in need of food aid following last season’s dry spell and floods, according to a report by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee.

Furthermore, many households have failed to purchase fertiliser under the government’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) following an increase in the price of the fertiliser. This has left the poor farmers even more vulnerable as they cannot afford to either re-plant their gardens or re-apply fertilizer when the rains eventually come. The current economic status of high inflation and interest rates has further reduced people’s buying power. Most people are failing to buy a bag of maize which vendors are selling at between about 15 dollars and 18 dollars per 50kg bag. At the official government market Admarc, it is priced at about 16 cents a kilo.

Ethiopia - land of low wages

Between 2010 and 2014, Ethiopia's economy grew at an impressive 10.4 percent annual rate, driven mainly by large public expenditures under the umbrella of an ambitious Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP). The plan seeks to transform Ethiopia into a middle-income country by 2025. As part of the GTP, selected industries such as textiles and leather with high-growth potential have been prioritised for foreign investment.

"Our factory is a bit like a military organisation. The labour here is not highly educated so we have to use a very simple way to communicate and organise them," said Nara Zhou at the Huajian shoe factory in Ethiopia. The company employs about 3,000 workers in Ethiopia and generates $20m worth of exports by producing shoes for international brands such as Guess, Naturalizer and Toms destined for US and European markets.

With a growing number of brands such as H&M starting to source from Ethiopia and existing companies ramping up production capacity, the three percent of Ethiopia's exports that came from textiles and leather in 2013 may well double in the next couple of years, according to government estimates.

Rising production costs in Asia are the key drivers prompting manufacturers such as Huajian to look for alternative production sites. Ethiopia seems to be ticking many of the boxes for investors: abundant cheap labour, no tariffs, and a stable political environment. Entry-level salaries in Ethiopia range from $35 to $40 per month, significantly below average Chinese manufacturing wages of $629 per month, a figure reported to have tripled between 2000 and 2010. In Bangladesh, textile workers are required to earn at least $68 per month. Ethiopia, however, has no minimum wage except for public servants.

The absence of a minimum wage means that market dynamics determine the salaries of factory workers. The government is sceptical about introducing a minimum wage, which might scare away investors. Union representatives say monthly wages should be 2,000 birr ($100), twice as high as today's entry-level wages. With urban unemployment at about 18 percent, workers must often accept whatever wage is offered, or have no income at all.

"I am happy I have a job but if I had an option, I wouldn't work for this amount of money and under these conditions," said Meseret Asrat, a 24-year-old employee at Ayka Textiles in the capital Addis Ababa. Asrat earns $41 per month after the factory's recent wage increase.

Ayka is considered a success story when it comes to workers' rights in Ethiopia. The country's biggest garment exporter and an employer of 8,000 workers, Ayka is also one of few textile and leather factories to have established a functional trade union. "In the beginning it was difficult to establish the union. The management didn't want the workers to unite and speak with a common voice," said Mesfin Teshome, who leads Ayka's trade union. The union won a 25-percent wage increase in a collective bargaining agreement negotiated last year. But winning further salary increases remains a challenge, Teshome said, partly because the company's profits are not made public.

Ethiopia's constitution guarantees workers the right to associate, most factories do not have trade unions. "If the business owners refuse, there is not much we can do," Angesom Gebre Yohannes from the Industrial Federation of Ethiopian Textile, Leather and Garment Worker Trade Unions, told Al Jazeera. "The law is there, but the struggle to implement it is left up to us and the workers."

The Ethiopian Drought

The UN says the worst drought in 30 years in Ethiopia means 400,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and 10 million more need food aid.

Save the Children, the international non-governmental organisation, says the drought in Ethiopia represents as big a potential threat to children's lives as the war in Syria. "We only have two emergencies in the world that we have categorised as category one. Syria is one and Ethiopia is the second.” 

Ethiopia has vast water resources, but not the irrigation infrastructure to get it to those in need.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Pygmies

For the first time, a comprehensive survey is offering a measured estimate of the Pygmy population in Central Africa. In addition to tallying the number of Pygmies, the study plots the geographic range of Pygmy communities and highlights the natural resources most vital to their existence.

The study puts the Pygmy population at approximately 920,000. Their range is spread across 440 million acres of tropical forest in Central Africa, an area encompassing nine countries.

Pygmies are the largest group of active hunter-gatherers on Earth. But the Pygmies are also a tiny minority.

"At the end of the day, 900,000 people living in small groups in such a vast area can very easily be ignored, leading to their cultural extinction," study co-author John Fa, a researcher at the Manchester Metropolitan University in England, said. "Given the extraordinary role they have played in the human story since well before antiquity, we don't want that."

"This is a very underprivileged and neglected group of people many of whom have already lost their forest land, livelihoods and whose rich cultural traditions are seriously threatened in many regions," explained study co-author Jerome Lewis, an anthropologist at the University College London. "Information on their locations and population numbers are crucial for developing appropriate human rights, cultural and land security safeguards for them, as for other indigenous peoples."

It's tough feeding family on a wage

Research by MoveHub shows that Uganda is the most expensive place in the world to do a weekly shop (just over 275 per cent of a weekly wage), based upon the local cost of grocery staples, compared with local wages.

Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe complete the top four, with 257 per cent, 215 per cent and 188 per cent respectively going to food costs. Tanzania is 7th (161 per cent) and Zambia is 9th (121 per cent)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Has Apartheid Gone?

CEO Sim Tshabalala of Standard Bank, one of South Africa’s largest banks has said that the country must weed out racism before its economy can advance.

Apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994 but gross inequality between black and white South Africans has persisted. Census data from 2012 showed that black South Africans earn an average of 60,613 rand ($3,641) per year, which was a 169 percent increase over the previous 10 years. Their white counterparts, on the other hand, earn an average of 365,134 rand ($21,932) — six times the average income for black South Africans. Two decades after the end of white minority rule, wealth and income gaps are still clearly visible along racial lines and perceptions of white privilege loom large.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

In God We Trust...

Zambian president’s made a call for prayer rallies for the country’s embattled currency. President Edgar Lungu wants his people to pray for the kwacha on a national day of devotion and fasting on Sunday to reverse a decline in the world’s worst currency and fix a litany of problems from plunging copper prices to electricity shortages. He is seeking divine intervention to help an economy in crisis as the kwacha’s slumps against the dollar.  Trevor Simumba, managing director at Sub-Saharan Consulting Group Zambia, a business advisory firm, said “We know God can do miracles, but He cannot change things that are facts on the ground.”

China's imports from Africa fell nearly 40 percent last year, officials said Wednesday, as low commodity prices and slowing growth in the Asian giant hit trade.  Natural resources from Africa such as iron ore and oil have helped fuel China's economic boom, and it became the continent's largest trade partner in 2009, giving it growing diplomatic influence. But growth in the world's second-largest economy has slowed to its lowest since the aftermath of the global financial crisis, punishing world prices for commodities -- the bedrock of African exports. Oil exporters are expected to be hit especially hard. China said its imports from Nigeria slumped more than 50 percent by value last year. Beijing said in November its direct investment in Africa dropped "more than 40 percent". The World Bank warned that a synchronised slowdown in the biggest emerging markets, the so-called Brics, could be intensified by a fresh bout of economic turmoil. According to the International Monetary Fund, Africa’s real gross domestic product fell from 5% in 2014 to 3.7% in 2015.

Meanwhile, Africa's demand for Chinese goods is rising. In 2015 China sent $102bn worth of goods to the continent, an increase of 3.6%.

Ibrahim Mayaki, the head of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, said the sustainability of African debt is in question as repayment services – already a major portion of state budgets – look set to increase significantly.  “This will lead states to make tough choices, from the amputation of certain infrastructure investments to the postponement of social services,” Mayaki said

Aly Khan Satchu, an independent trader in Nairobi explained “Those countries that were just making it now have tipped over the edge because they are going to find it very expensive to borrow international money. They are being squeezed, they don’t have enough of a productive economy and also taxes will slow down very, very dramatically.” For Satchu, the hardest-hit African countries will be forced to call on the IMF for help in raising money on international markets, as oil-producer Ghana has already been forced to do.

Africa’s top oil producer, Nigeria, is facing pressure to devalue the naira, which has come under extreme pressure despite unorthodox monetary policies aimed at restricting the supply of dollars. Satchu says a devaluation is inevitable, and that the tough market conditions may force necessary policy changes. “It’s an irony that Nigeria is sending any of its oil out to be refined only to import it back,” he said. “It’s definitely been a wake-up call. You find policymakers tend to make changes when their feet are held to the fire; this is the equivalent of having their feet held to the fire.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Zimbabwe Child Poverty

Poor nutrition in Zimbabwe is exposing vulnerable children nutrition to mental health challenges according to humanitarian agencies. UNICEF’s Zimbabwe Poverty Atlas 2015 shows high poverty levels across the country that are affecting children’s mental health.

The report, UNICEF, the World Bank and government officials said the poverty atlas is an attempt recognise that “Children are rarely recognised in poverty alleviation efforts and their needs are not properly addressed.” According to the report, no child from the poorest health quintile reaches higher education, with eight of the country’s ten provinces registering poverty levels between 65 and 75 per cent. Last year, the Zimbabwe Vulnerable Assessment Committee found that up to 36 per cent of children in Zimbabwe have stunted growth which experts say has not only affected them physically, but has also slowed their mental growth because of poor diets.

“Child poverty has reduced their mental health and is reponsible for poverty when they are adults,” said Dr. Jane Muita, UNICEF’s deputy resident representative in Zimbabwe. “Child poverty results in lower skills and productivity, lower levels of health and educational achievement,” Dr. Muita said.

“The problem with children’s health and their mental development is that the attitude of both parents and some health workers is that these children will soon grow out of these challenges,” said Obias Nsamala, a Bulawayo pediatrician. “But what I have seen with many children under 5 years is that these mental deficits can be detected when they come for treatment but only become an issue by the time they have began school. I think that is why for a long time this country had something like special classes for children not intellectually gifted. I believe its been a wrong approach because some of these children may be slow learners or intellectually challenged not because of some genetic deficit but because all the signs were ignored earlier on based on their backgrounds and access to adequate meals,” he said.

There are no available figures of how mental health has affected children, but concerns by parents has been highlighted by the UNICEF report on child poverty and their mental health. In some parts of Zimbabwe in the south-west districts such as Nkayi were found to have up to 95.6 per cent of poverty, while Lupane poverty levels stood at 93 per cent according to the UNICEF’s Zimbabwe Poverty Atlas. There are concerns that this will slow the country’s march towards realising its Sustainable Development Goals to reduce child poverty by 2030. 

Nestle and Child Slavery

The US Supreme Court has rejected a bid by three of the world’s biggest food producers to throw out a lawsuit holding them accountable in a landmark child slavery case. The lawsuit alleges violations of the Alien Tort Claims Act, Torture Victim Protection Act, US Constitution, and California state law.

Nestlé, Archer-Daniels-Midland, and Cargill are being sued for using unpaid children to harvest cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire. The Supreme Court decision backs up a 2014 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that refused to dismiss the lawsuit against them. The companies stand accused of aiding and abetting human rights violations by purchasing cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire in full knowledge of the country’s child slavery problem. Ivory Coast produces 40% of the world's cocoa.

Three individuals filed a class action in 2005, alleging they had been trafficked from Mali as children and forced to work harvesting cocoa beans without pay. They say they worked for up to 14 hours a day and suffered physical abuse including whipping. According to court documents, they were kept in locked rooms when not working and were fed only scraps of food. One plaintiff described guards slicing open the feet of child workers trying to escape. The accusers claim the companies offered financial and technical assistance to local farmers to guarantee cheap cocoa - and benefited economically from violations of international labor conventions and law.

In 2010, Nestlé successfully stopped a bill in the US Congress that would have made cocoa products carry labels guaranteeing no child labor was used. A 2015 report by the Fair Labor Association, which includes Nestlé as a member, found evidence of forced and child labor in Cote d’Ivoire farms used by the company during a number of unannounced visits the previous year. Nestle has long been criticized for its policies involving children, going back to the 1970s with reports such as “The Baby Killer” and “Nestle Kills Babies”, which said the company deliberately contributed to the malnutrition and deaths of infants by discouraging breastfeeding in the name of their brand of formula and dressed up sales reps as nurses. More recently, Nestlé has been accused of unethically bottling California water during droughts, destroying rainforests and orangutans in pursuit of palm oil, and failing to keep lead out of noodles in India.

Several business groups in the US and Europe, including the US Chamber of Commerce, came out against the lawsuit because ending child slavery would be a threat to investment and “corporate human rights”. In their Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court, they wrote: "Some judges might genuinely desire that US companies stop doing business with cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, perhaps hoping that such non-participation would benefit local farmers and children. That foreign affairs decision, however, is not the judiciary’s to make, and the ATS certainly is not a tool that private parties may wield to dictate foreign policy."

Despite the court ruling, Nestlé, the world's largest food company based on revenue, its stock went up on Tuesday by more than two percent.