Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Nigerians say no to Monsanto

GMO-advocates promote the biotechnology as not only safe for human consumption and the environment, it’s also a solution to malnutrition and global food security, as these crops have been genetically tinkered with to provide certain nutritional benefits and/or spliced-and-diced to resist certain pathogens and other roadblocks. For instance, Monsanto’s Water Efficient Maize for Africa, a five-year development project led by the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation, aims to develop a variety of drought-tolerant maize seeds.

But many Nigerians are urging the Nigerian government to reject Monsanto’s attempts to introduce genetically modified (GMO) cotton and maize into the country’s food and farming systems. One hundred organizations representing more than 5 million Nigerians, including farmers, faith-based organisations, civil society groups, students and local community groups, have submitted a joint objection to the country’s National Biosafety Management Agency (NABMA) expressing serious concerns about human health and environmental risks of genetically altered crops.

“We are totally shocked that it should come so soon after peer-reviewed studies have showed that the technology has failed dismally in Burkina Faso,” Nnimmo Bassey, the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, one of the leading opposition groups, said in a statement. The Bt cotton is being phased out in Burkina Faso. “It has brought nothing but economic misery to the cotton sector there and is being phased out in that country where compensation is being sought from Monsanto.” He explains in a video “Genetically engineered crops are not engineered to help anybody. They are engineered to help the industry that produces the crops.” 

Monsanto’s crops are genetically enhanced to tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosate which was declared as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) last March. “Should commercialization of Monsanto’s GM maize be allowed pursuant to field trials, this will result in increased use of glyphosate in Nigeria, a chemical that is linked to causing cancer in humans,” Mariann Orovwuje, Friends of the Earth International’s food sovereignty co-coordinator, said in a statement. Nigeria doesn’t have a platform to test for glyphosate or other pesticide residues in food and food products, nor do they have an agency that can monitor the herbicide’s impact on the environment, including water resources.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

ISDS in Africa

Those that read our companion blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back will be aware that it has posted several times about investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). We read in this article how it effects Africa. 

African countries have been active in concluding international investment treaties. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), as of end 2013, 793 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) have been concluded by African countries, representing 27% of the total number of (BITs) worldwide. Several African countries are actively negotiating additional agreements. For example: the Southern African Customs Union is negotiating with India and the East African Community, including Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, are in discussions with the United States.

However, African countries are increasingly subject to investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) cases, including claims that challenge the regulatory actions of host countries in a wide range of areas, including public services and race relations. Out of all cases registered under the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 16% of these cases. In 2014, cases against Sub-Saharan Africa amounted to 20% of the overall number of new cases brought under ICSID during that year.

Since 2006, several African countries, including Ghana, Congo DR, Zambia, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar have taken actions in terms of regulatory or institutional changes, including amending laws or initiating the renegotiation of contracts with mining firms or indicated an intention to take one or both steps. In the case of African countriesthe expansion of international investment agreements could carry significant risks to policy space and policy tools necessary for industrialization and development. In the case of African countries, this implies risks to the potential use of sectoral policies to support and promote African countries’ industrialization objectives.

Much of the recent debate and controversy in regard to the international investment protection regime have revolved around their implications on policy space that developing countries need to promote development. The rising number of ISDS cases revealed how the rules established under international investment agreements, and the way they have been expansively interpreted by private investment arbitrators, encroach on government’s ability to regulate in the public interest.

The majority of the ISDS cases registered at ICSID are in the gas, oil, and mining sector; out of all the ISDS cases registered at ICSID until 2014, 26% were concentrated in the oil, gas, and mining sectors. This figure is 35% for the year 2014 alone. By contrast, in the year 2000, there were only three pending ICSID cases related to oil, mining, or gas.Through resorting to investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms, investors are challenging a broad range of government measures, not only challenging outright expropriation. Investors brought cases in relation to revocations of licenses (e.g., in mining, telecommunications, tourism), alleged breaches of investment contracts, alleged irregularities in public tenders, changes to domestic regulatory frameworks (gas, nuclear energy, marketing of gold, currency regulations), withdrawal of previously granted subsidies, tax measures and other regulatory interventions.

Similarly, ISDS have increasingly been used by investors in the extractive industries in several African countries, challenging governmental reform action, such as policy against speculation in the oil industry as well as tax measures. For example, Vanoil Ltd., a Canadian oil company, threatened to bring a case against Kenya after failure to secure extension of a pair of production-sharing contracts for onshore oil exploration in Kenya. African Petroleum Gambia Limited brought a case (contract-based) against Gambia disputing termination of hydrocarbon licenses for exploration of oil. Total E&P Uganda BV (Dutch), subsidiary of French company Total S.A., brought a claim in relation to a stamp duty imposed by the Uganda Revenue Authority on the acquisition of stakes from London-listed Tullow Oil.

The problem of the investment protection regime is multilayered and is rooted in the following deficiencies: an imbalance in the provisions of the investment treaties (including broad definitions of investment and investor, free transfer of capital, rights to establishment, the national treatment and the most-favoured-nation (MFN) clauses, fair and equitable treatment, protection from direct and indirect expropriation and prohibition of performance requirements), which focus on the investors‘ rights and neglect investors‘ responsibilities, while often lacking express recognition of the need to safeguard the host states‘ regulatory authority; vague treaty provisions, which allow for expansive interpretation by arbitrators and for the rise of systemic bias in favour of the investors in the resolution of disputes under investment treaty law.

Such trends are often not in line with the original intent of the States negotiating the treaty; the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which is led by a network of arbitrators dominated by private lawyers, whose expertise often stem from commercial law. Arbitrators have asserted jurisdiction over a wide range of issues, including regulatory measures on which constitutional courts had made a decision in accordance with the national law.

The way the ISDS system has operated so far generates deep concerns in regard to democratic governance and accountability; the lack of transparency and available public information on ISDS procedures limit the space of public participation and accountability. Currently 608 ISDS cases are known.

However, since most international investment agreements allow for fully confidential arbitration, the actual number is likely to be higher. Within this context, claims or threats by investors to bring forward a claim against a particular state are increasing.

Several countries, both developed and developing, have been reviewing their approach to investment treaties, including looking at ways of reducing their legal liability under bilateral investment treaties (BITs), especially given the surge in investor-to-state dispute cases (ISDS) from these treaties.

According to the UNCTAD, at least 40 countries and four regional integration organizations are currently or have been recently revising their model of international investment agreements[5], and at least 60 countries have developed or are developing new model IIAs since 2012[6]. UNCTAD points out that ”the question is not whether to reform or not, but about the what, how and extent of such reform“.

Developing countries seeking to reform their approach to investment protection treaties have reviewed their existing international investment agreements and their implications. Some have set a moratorium on signing and ratifying new agreements during the time of the review. Some countries like South Africa, Indonesia, Ecuador and Bolivia chose to withdraw from all or some treaties. South Africa chose to replace BITs with a new national Investment Act entitled Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill, that clarifies investment protection standards consistent with the South African constitution. Indonesia chose to develop a new model BIT, so did India.. Ecuador reverted to investment contracts as the main legal instrument defining the relation with investors, including setting clear obligations on the investor, such as performance requirements. Some states are pursuing alternatives at the regional level, through developing model rules that take into consideration the developmental concerns

Monday, March 28, 2016

South African White Poverty

The number of whites living below the poverty line is growing in South Africa. An estimated 400,000 white South Africans live in white squatter camps in South Africa. The Daily Mail UK reported that there are about 80 squatter camps where white squatter families live. They have little food, little or no running water, and no electricity. Shanty houses are surrounded by clapped out cars as children play along the dusty wasteland in the scorching sun. What water is available is infested with mosquitos, breeding illness and disease.

Although the estimate on whites living in poverty in South Africa is thought to be 400,000, this is out of a white population of about 4 million while the country’s population is about 50 million. Those who live in white squatter camps may receive a monthly stipend of about $40.95 while they are often denied access to basic healthcare services.

Leigh Du Preez, who works for the South African Family Relief Project (SAFRP) charity, said those at the camp have little chance of finding a job. Leigh said: ‘As soon as they read your application and see you are from a white squatter camp, they turn you down. ‘It’s very difficult to get a job if employers know you live in one.’

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Angola's Secret Health Crisis

Angola is facing a public health emergency.  The UN agency has declared the outbreak a “grade two emergency” on its three-point scale. (Other grade two emergencies include the conflict in northeastern Nigeria, Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu last year, and floods in Myanmar, Mozambique and Malawi that displaced tens of thousands of people.) No one knows the true mortality figures – a product of both Angola’s poor data-keeping and the government’s preference to bury bad news. But there have been media reports of 50 people (or 25 children) dying daily from malaria, yellow fever, dengue and typhoid.

Its under-funded hospitals, inadequate at the best of times, have been overwhelmed by a series of disease outbreaks, and the government has been forced to turn to private business and charities for help. The UN Resident Coordinator Pier Paolo Balladelli and the heads of UN agencies called a meeting with the Angolan Industrial Association to appeal for private sector donations and logistical help with the yellow fever crisis. Paula Roque of Oxford University said she had heard of Angolan doctors based in South Africa sending medical supplies back home to help ease the shortages in a country that is Africa’s second largest oil exporter, and until recently was a rising economic star on the continent. 

“Angola is going through a very serious economic crisis as it’s heavily reliant on oil,” said Vibeke Skauerud, from Norwegian Church Aid. “Revenues have fallen by more than half. Hospitals are running out of basic supplies. That, coupled with bad governance, has led to the deep crisis that we now see.”

An outbreak of mosquito-transmitted yellow fever has killed 168 people since it emerged in Luanda’s poor neighbourhood of Viana in December – with suspected cases now reported in 16 out of 18 provinces.  Health officials launched a vaccination programme in Luanda in February, but the World Health Organization says the campaign has been hit by a number of constraints. “These included availability of vaccines, inadequate number of vaccination teams and limited funds to cover operational activities," a WHO briefing said.  The immunisation campaign has so far reached only six out of a targeted 12 municipalities in Luanda. Cases seem to be accelerating across the provinces, with reports of yellow fever reaching the northern border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, WHO said.

Oil accounts for 95 percent of government revenue. “Of course the oil price crash could be considered one of the reasons [for the crisis], but the huge corruption across the health sector is another one, and maybe the most important one,” said Alves da Rocha of the Centre for Studies and Scientific Investigation at the Catholic University of Angola.

“Civil servants haven’t been paid their salaries. Inflation has tripled food prices. Angola is going through a real financial crisis,” Paula Roque told IRIN. 

Rafael Marques de Morais catalogues in scary detail how health workers lack even some of the most basic items, like gloves and masks. Not the best backdrop for an emerging crisis that has so far flown largely under the international radar.

Author Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, an associate professor in comparative politics at the University of Oxford explains :
"Throughout modern history, the accumulation of capital has rarely been a pretty sight, but post-socialist Angola is in a febrile class of its own. It is virtually impossible for meaningful activity to occur outside the charmed circle of the politically protected.” Mr de Oliveira describes the ditching of "ill-cut uniforms" and their replacement with "Savile Row suits" as the country's elite embraced what he calls "oligarchic capitalism, Angola style". He observes how instead of the slave masters and mercenaries of years gone by, today armies of suited overseas advisors pull the strings within ministries and state-owned firms. Mr de Oliveira also explains how corruption has permeated every stratum of Angolan society, from having to pay for "free" primary school places and university pass marks, to body disposal by the state morgue. And he notes sadly how "most people in power are perceived as thieves", but criticism is muted by a desire for emulation and a share of that "easy-oil money" from this petro-state prosperity.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The African Drought

Corn that is a food staple for much of southern Africa is now so expensive it has become a luxury many can’t afford, after the worst drought in three decades damaged crops from Ethiopia to South Africa. While the UN says the region is having its worst drought in 35 years, it’s been a century since fields were this dry in South Africa, the biggest grower on the continent, and five decades for Ethiopia. That’s compounding the strain on a part of the world where more than 40 percent of the people live at or below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank. To make matters worse, regional stockpiles are already depleted. Grain production fell 21 percent last year across southern and eastern Africa, and prospects for the next harvest, which begins in April and May, are “acutely unfavorable,” the FAO said March 9. South Africa predicts the harvest will be half what it produced two years ago and that the country will have to import corn to feed itself. Aid may still may not be enough to prevent shortages, especially for white corn, the variety used to make thick porridges known as nsima or pap, which some people in southern Africa eat for almost every meal. Most corn harvested around the world is the yellow variety used primarily as livestock feed or to make ethanol. Outside of southern Africa, only Mexico is a major producer of white maize, and it doesn’t have a lot to export, according to Oxfam.

In Malawi, one of a dozen nations affected by the dry spell, Meleniya Mateyu says she has to forage for wild water-lily roots called nyika from streams and swamps to feed her two orphaned grandchildren. The small amount of grain she gets from an aid agency is barely enough for them to eat during one meal a day. “We are surviving on nyika,” Mateyu said in an interview at her village in the southern district of Chikwawa, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital, Blantyre. “This year’s hunger is the worst I’ve seen in 10 years.”

Tendai Mhishi, a 50-year-old corn farmer in Runhanga Village, Zimbabwe, said his crop this year was a total write off. He and his six children have been skipping meals in order to ration food. "There are days one of my kids refuses to go to school all because of hunger," Mhishi said in an interview. “This year, things have been really tough.”

28 million people are already contending with hunger, according to January figures provided by the UN’s humanitarian affairs agency. The World Food Programme says that number could balloon to 50 million later this year. Another 10 million people are at risk in Ethiopia because of drought, along with millions more in conflict-ridden countries including South Sudan and Central African Republic.

Even with global food costs tracked by the UN dropping to a seven-year low, few in southern Africa are benefiting. The logistics of getting supplies from sea ports to landlocked markets in Malawi and Zimbabwe increases the cost. Like many other countries in the region, South Africa’s buying power is eroded by its weakening currency. And the economies of Angola and Zambia have been hit by struggling oil and mining industries.
“Importing food for many of these countries is going to be much more costly now than it was a year ago,” said Debbie Hillier, a humanitarian policy officer at Oxfam. “Countries have suffered very seriously from the decline in commodity prices.”

Food costs may double in Zimbabwe, which will need to import as much as 1 million metric tons of grain, said Steve Wiggins, a research fellow at the U.K.’s Overseas Development Institute. While ocean freight costs are low, the country has to import through South Africa and Mozambique. In a normal production year, local wholesale corn in Zimbabwe would cost about $120 to $150 a ton, but prices will probably be at least $100 higher this year with the added transportation costs, he said. “The country in the region that is just looking down the barrel is Zimbabwe,” Wiggins said. “The bottom 10 to 20 percent of Zimbabweans will be in terrible straits in terms of sorting out their food during 2016.”

Even with the drought, southern Africa is producing more grain than two decades ago, doubling corn output since 1998, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

African Unions (1966)

Book Review from the October 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

African Trade Unions by loan Davies. Penguin African Library, 5s.

As capitalism develops it brings into being the working class—that social group made up of those who depend on their wage or salary to live. In Africa capitalism dominates society, even if many are not yet wage-workers or cash crop farmers. Primitive production for use is being replaced by production for sale on the world market. Wage-workers in fact only make up a small part of the working population.

The proportion of wage-earners ranges from 25 per cent in the Congo to four per cent in Nigeria and the former French West African territories.

In Britain the comparable figure is over 95 per cent. Many of the workers in Africa are migrants who move between working for wages and working their tribal lands. This depresses wages to a minimum level, sufficient to keep an unskilled, single male worker. In some places, however, a permanent urban working class has come into being and this is the trend. In the Katanga copper mining area, for instance, there are second and third generation wage workers.

As can be imagined trade union organisation in these circumstances is difficult. Despite this trade unions, of varying degrees of permanency and effectiveness, have appeared. Nearly all have been associated with the nationalist movements. Not that, of course, independence has made much difference. A new privileged bureaucratic and commercial caste has appeared and the unions have been under pressure or turned into mere state agents for increasing production. One of the Ministers of Labour in what was Tanganyika has put it this way:
The union is required to educate wage earners in the need for harder work and the need for discipline and efficiency at the place of employment.
In all countries the new independent governments have come into conflict with the workers and their unions. Strikes have been outlawed or suppressed. Thus Ghana in September, 1961, suppressed a strike of dock and harbour workers and in 1964 a general strike broke out in Nigeria. This shows that nationalism is not in the interests of the world-wide working class.

Ioan Davies’ book is well worth the five shillings.

Adam Buick

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Where is the oil money

Nigeria's state-owned oil company has failed to pay the government $16bn (£11bn) in a suspected fraud, according to an official audit.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) provided no explanation for the missing funds, the auditor general told MPs.
Oil revenue accounts for two-thirds of the government's funding.
A separate audit ordered under former President Goodluck Jonathan and carried out by global accountancy firm PwC, found that the NNPC had failed to pay the government $1.48bn between January 2012 and July 2013.
It did not provide a total figure for how much revenue the NNPC should legally have handed over to the treasury.
However, the company said that it could not vouch for the integrity of the information it was given when it conducted the audit.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Introducing the World Socialist Movement (video)

Selling cancer to Africans

British American Tobacco (BAT) has signed an $11.90 million deal with Malian state tobacco company, SONATAM for the production and distribution of Dunhill cigarettes in West Africa.

BAT is latching on the gullibility and weakness of African governments. It has created sneaky and illegal policies to outsmart restrictive laws, keeping Africa as one of its most lucrative markets while endangering millions of lives. According to Euromonitor data, BAT has the largest share of cigarette sales in the Middle East and Africa.  According to Financial times, it flagged a number of African countries as offering “further opportunities” for sales growth.

Late last year, a BBC investigation uncovered evidence of bribery at British American Tobacco. BAT was accused for bribery scandal in Kenya and Uganda. This was made known by Paul Hopkins who worked for the BAT in Kenya for 13 years and claims to have facilitated bribes for several individuals. In order to prove this, he released emails to Panorama showing the company’s involvement in these deals, which detail him being told that paying bribes was the cost of doing business in Africa.

In 2008, the company was the subject of a BBC documentary, in which Duncan Bannatyne investigated the marketing practices of the company in Africa and specifically the way the company targets younger Africans with branded music events, competitions and the sale of single cigarette sticks. Many of the practices uncovered were not in line with BAT’s own code of conduct and company standards. Bannatyne also interviewed Dr Chris Proctor, Head of Science and Regulation, who admitted that advertisements targeting children from three African countries were ‘disappointing’.

In 2007 the Nigerian government alleged that BAT marketing and advert campaigns were targeting the youth amongst other things. Several states in the country followed suit, taking legal action and seeking payment for future damages in anticipation of tobacco related diseases.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

towards a visa free Africa

Nationals from African countries complain loudly about the humiliations they go through to get visas for Europe and the United States but the process for African visas is often just as frustrating. Anyone who has tried to cross borders on the African continent will have experienced the difficulties with travelling in Africa. Air fares cost more than anywhere else and few roads or railways connect the countries to each other. The immigration and police check points turn the journeys into veritable obstacle courses. We no longer have to go through Europe to fly to each other's countries, but flight connections are so few and so random, you are tempted to resort to the old routes through Europe to go to the country next door. However, this is nothing compared to the hassle one has to go through to get visas for another African country.

Ghana's is now introducing new visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of African Unity member states from July,

Friday, March 11, 2016

South Sudan's Bloody Civil War

A United Nations reports that militias allied to the South Sudanese army have been allowed to rape women in lieu of wages during fighting against rebel forces. Army-affiliated militias, made up mainly of youths, raped and abducted women and girls essentially as a form of payment, under an agreement that allowed them to “do what you can and take what you can,” the UN team reported. The militias stole cattle and other property under the same understanding, the team said.

Investigators found that 1,300 women were raped last year in the oil-rich Unity state alone. The scale and type of sexual violence committed in South Sudan is the most horrendous human rights abuse in the world, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said. “This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war, yet it has been more or less off the international radar,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said in a statement.

The UN said government fighters abducted and gang-raped girls, and cut civilians to pieces. One woman said she had watched her 15-year-old daughter being raped by 10 soldiers after her husband was killed. The United Nations assessment team recorded gruesome accounts of civilians, including women and children, being hanged from trees, burned alive, shot and hacked to pieces with machetes. Churches, mosques and hospitals came under attack, the team said.

 “Crimes against humanity and war crimes have continued into 2015, and they have been predominantly perpetrated by the government,” David Marshall, the coordinator of a United Nations assessment team, said in an interview

Amnesty International says more than 60 men and boys were suffocated in a shipping container by government forces. Amnesty International said bodies of those suffocated were dumped in a field after they were killed last October in Leer Town, Unity State. Amnesty International reported that government soldiers arbitrarily arrested dozens of men and boys in the villages of Luale and Leer in October of last year. The men rounded up were students, traders and cattle keepers rather than fighters. They then forced them into unventilated shipping containers with their hands tied behind their backs. Witnesses told researchers they heard the detainees crying, screaming in distress and banging on the walls of the container while officials watched. "Dozens of people suffered a slow and agonizing death at the hands of government forces that should have been protecting them," said Lama Fakih, Amnesty International senior crisis adviser.

The real economic migrants - the rich

Kenya's super rich are stashing their money abroad and might relocate there in just under ten years to safeguard the interest of their children according to the report on global wealth. Andrew Shirley, editor of the Knight Frank Wealth report says there is an increasing interest in property in the United Kingdom and Dubai. Shirley explained that with a lot of the wealthy children studying abroad, they have acquired global exposure and are more open to opportunities out there.

"There is a great mobility of wealth with Africans and Kenyans buying property abroad. London is the most popular for Kenyans searching for property followed by Dubai," he told the Nation in Nairobi yesterday.

According to Shirley 24 per cent of Africa's Super-rich plan ditching the continent in the next decade for personal security, political issues and to access higher quality of education, health and life.

With at least 202 new entries into the elite club of dollar millionaires last year pushing the current figure to 8,500 up from 8,300 and which is expected to grow 80 per cent to 15,300 in the next ten years, Kenya might witness significant amount of wealth locked abroad.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Uganda - Tightening controls on NGOs

Two weeks after controversially winning a fifth term, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has signed another repressive law which restricts the operations of thousands of NGOs working in the country.

Adrian Juuko, executive director of Ugandan NGO Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), said activists were worried about provisions that will prohibit an estimated 11,000 NGOs from doing anything that is against “the interests of Uganda” and the “dignity of Ugandans”.

Nicholas Opiyo, executive director of Ugandan civil liberties group Chapter Four said the law promotes “the erroneous view of the sector as a security threat rather than a development sector”, adding under it NGOs required a state-issued permit.

“The use of the term ‘dignity’ threatens organisations working on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) issues,” Juuko told IPS, stressing this clause could suggest that Uganda “would rather maintain its dignity than accept homosexuality”. He said the passage of the legislation “may be another way of reintroducing the nullified Anti-Homosexuality Act as it would equally affect organisations providing services to LGBTI persons or advocating for decriminalisation of same sex relations.” 

“Passage of this flawed bill into law could not come at a worse time,” Asia Russell, executive director of Health Global Access Project explained, adding that “Government threats, harassment and intimidation against Ugandan civil society, media, and the opposition is intensifying. In the immediate aftermath of widely criticised elections, President Museveni is throwing fuel on the fire.”

"Survival Sex"

Africa has been described as a continent of despair, war, failed states just to mention a few. It’s a continent where leaders overstay in power. It’s a continent where corruption is rampant. Ask the men in the streets and everyone will offer their own thoughts on what’s possibly Africa’s problem. What Is Africa’s problem? Poverty! Poverty is built into the current economic system. Africa is corrupt because it’s poor. Africa’s social services are dysfunctional because of poverty. Africa has weak institutions because of poverty.

The worst drought to hit southern Africa in decades has left millions of people in a state of severe food insecurity. For women in the region's refugee camps, the desperate need to feed themselves and their children has left many forced to sell the only commodity they have left to trade – their body. The Dzaleka refugee camp, around 26 miles north of Malawi's capital Lilongwe, is home to almost 25,000 people who have fled war and natural disaster elsewhere in the region, in June 2015 a lack of funds led the World Food Programme to cut food rations at the camp in half.

In 2009, Liziuzayani Kachingwe, 23, arrived in Malawi with her baby son after seeing all 11 of her siblings killed during conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kachingwe was forced to beg, borrow, and barter whatever she could to provide for herself and her son. Like many female refugees, this meant engaging in "transactional sex" — also known as "survival sex" — to acquire the goods she needed to keep the pair alive. "Any man that came with money I would accept just to feed my child.”

Another refugee forced into survival sex at Dzaleka is Jetta Botende, 27. Botende says she is forced into transactional sex because she cannot survive on her monthly food allowance. "I got 23 kilograms of maize at the monthly distributions. But this was only enough to last for three weeks," she said.

Aid agencies said the cut in rations that has driven so many women into survival sex was a result of a shortage of United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) funds for Malawi, combined with the country being hit by the effects of a devastating drought seen across the region in 2015 — effects exacerbated by the severity of the El Niño effect last year. In January, the UNHCR warned refugees had been receiving just 40 percent of their recommended minimum daily calories over the previous six months, leaving many on the brink of malnutrition. According to Plan International, an NGO which operates at Dzaleka, a lack of food was one of the main drivers of survival sex and gender-based violence in the camp. Food rations were restored last month after a successful funding drive by the UNHCR, but they will run out again in June unless more funding is obtained.

 According to Muriel Ilungwa, an aid worker for Plan International, the effect of restoring rations was almost instant. "When the food rations returned to normal we saw a drop in cases of gender-based violence and transactional sex," she pointed out. In southern Africa the lack of aid money is seriously exacerbating the sexual exploitation and violence against women.

Survival sex is common in refugee camps around the world, and is known to be used by female refugees and migrants to secure services such as transport from human smugglers. The UNHCR voiced its concerned about "credible testimonies" of sexual violence and abuse against female refugees and migrants moving through Europe. In many such cases, the line between survival sex and rape remains blurred. "From testimony and reports we have received there have been instances of children engaging in survival sex to pay smugglers to continue their journey, either because they have run out money, or because they have been robbed," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a news conference. 80 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are women and children, who are highly vulnerable to violence and sexual exploitation in the underfunded camps. Incidences of sexual exploitation have also been reported among women in the Calais refugee camp.

Despite humanitarian organizations warning the region's drought is even more serious than that which famously devastated the region in 1984, it remains relatively out of the public consciousness in the West, which is more focused on Europe's migrant crisis and humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen. Meanwhile countries such as Zimbabwe and Malawi warn that millions face starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. According to the WFP, $38 million is needed to deal with the crisis in Malawi alone. And as long as that funding it not forthcoming, the thousands living in Dzaleka will continue to suffer, with UNHCR representative for Malawi Monique Ekoko saying it is women who often bear the brunt. It's hard being a woman in this world but it's harsher in these regions where rule of law is absent.

"We have really had difficulties coming up with funding for the refugees," Ekoko told VICE News. "When there's no food to eat, a hungry man is an angry man."

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Sitting on dollars

Nigeria's central bank says that some wealthy Nigerians are hoarding $20bn (£14bn) in their foreign exchange bank accounts.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

The Dream of Africa Rising has Ended

The seed of prosperity has not sprouted, after all
In Kitwe, Zambia, a decade long commodity boom brought sleek shopping malls, tidy brick homes and dozens of private schools to this palm-pocked mining town in the heart of Africa. The population doubled and incomes soared as record copper prices and a flood of Chinese investment and workers transformed a region bordering war-ravaged Congo into a beacon for Africa’s rising middle class. 

Now the global forces that propelled Kitwe’s rise have reversed, fomenting an economic and social crisis that has interrupted dreams of greater prosperity across Zambia’s copper belt and exposed the fragility of Africa’s commodity-fueled growth model. Slowing Chinese demand has nearly halved the price of copper in two years, upending an economy reliant on the metal for 70% of its exports. Chinese contractors and restaurateurs that followed state construction companies into the landlocked country are starting to head home. Kitwe is a prime victim of the commodity bust’s outsize impact on Africa. Several mines have closed and some 15,000 workers have been laid off, with thousands more expected. Officials say each miner’s salary supports 15 dependents, exposing the entire town to the ravages of the global rout. Violent crime is rising and blackouts have become commonplace. Hundreds of miners have withdrawn their children from private schools that sprang up to cater to new aspirations. Mining industry subsidies for HIV and malaria medications have been reduced. Double-digit inflation has frozen sales of the refrigerators, televisions and cars coveted here as hallmarks of success. Kitwe’s trauma is reverberating across Zambia. Zambia’s kwacha currency is one of the world’s worst performers, losing half its value last year. In desperation, President Edgar Lungu has asked for divine intervention, decreeing nationwide days of prayer to resurrect the stricken economy.

 In  other resource-reliant African economies from South Africa to the Sahara, after years of blistering expansion, Nigeria, Angola and South Africa—whose oil, gold and platinum industries have long driven the region’s growth—are mired in crises that are freezing development and testing increasingly cash-strapped governments. Turmoil is also raising the prospect of political change. Angola’s entrenched regime is facing unprecedented public criticism. Local elections in South Africa this year could see the ruling African National Congress lose control of key cities like Johannesburg and Pretoria for the first time.

The dramatic shift has revealed how reliant many African economies remain on commodity riches, prompting some investors to reassess an “Africa Rising” narrative that exaggerated gains in manufacturing, infrastructure and education. Poverty was declining and a new middle class was springing up in Africa. This was the mantra that lured global corporations to African markets. But now the hype is losing its gloss. Western corporate belief in a rising African middle class would appear to be fading. Barclays is leaving the continent. The British banking giant is selling its South African subsidiary Absa, which it acquired in 2005. Last year, food giant Nestle shed 15 percent of its workforce in Africa.
"We thought Africa was the new Asia, but we discovered that the middle class is extremely small and not growing," Cornel Krummenacher, chief executive for Nestle's equatorial Africa region, told theFinancial Times.

Not so long ago, Africa was perceived as a growth market. In 2011, the African Development Bank (AfDB) concluded in a report that 350 million Africans counted as members of the middle class - that's 34 percent of the continent's population. That sounded like a middle class boom. In 2000, the figure was just 27 percent. More recent figures paint a less rosy picture, however. According to the Swiss bank Credit Suisse, just 18 million Africans qualify for membership of the middle class. Mthuli Ncube, professor of public policy at the University of Oxford and the former chief economist at the AfDB who oversaw that 2011 report said being middle class was a question of definition, or rather of location. "A middle class person in Switzerland or Germany is not like a middle class person in Rwanda to be fair, so there will be some differences."
Critics find this unconvincing. Political scientist Henning Melber, professor at Free State and Pretoria Universities in South Africa, said the definition of middle class as used by the AfDB in its report covers everybody in Africa who earns between $2 and $10 a day (1.83 and 9.13 euros).
"When I go into a supermarket in Namibia or South Africa and buy a carton of milk that costs almost as much as it does in Germany, then I realize this idea of what makes you middle class in Africa is pure fantasy."

Those who adhere to the notion of a growing African middle class claim they can see a continent in which affluence is spreading. There are long traffic jams because there are more cars on the roads. Shopping malls are sprouting on every corner, a sign of a growing middle class, they claim. This doesn't convince Robert Kappel, former director of German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg. "The shopping mall phenomenon has nothing to do with the middle classes in the true sense of word," he said. He says the malls are patronized by wealthy members of an upper class who are just consuming more.

Many analysts consider it unlikely that Africa's middle class will expand any further. "Once economic growth falters and the bottom falls out of commodity prices, then the phenomenon of an African middle class will disappear," said Kappel. That is exactly what is happening. Declining commodity prices and economic difficulties in China - Africa's key trading partner - are driving down African economic growth rates.

Connecting Africa

Friday, March 04, 2016

Laptops or desks?

Six-year-old Kenyan pupil Kizito Wafula could soon be using a government-funded laptop, but his school in the west of the country has no desks or chairs - and, crucially, no electricity to power it. Kenya's government pledged to give first year primary school students access to laptops in an ambitious $600m (£425m) Digischool scheme.

Kizito will continue to use scraps of paper to write down his notes, keeping them bundled in a small black plastic bag. Kizito and his six siblings live with their grandmother, who cannot afford to buy exercise books. "He doesn't have proper books so he borrows paper plucked from other pupils books," says Florence Misiko, the head teacher at St Jude Nabuyeywe in Bungoma, a poor farming area.

At school, he sits on the dusty floor with his 90 classmates, using torn cardboard boxes and worn out sacks as mats.
"It is really hard for these pupils to learn like this," says Mrs Misiko. "But we are doing everything we can even with little resources. We have actually just received several bags of cement from the county government to finish off the floors of the classes. But we need much much more, as you can see," she says, pointing at the gaping holes where windows and doors should be. Even if we get laptops, how would we have used them under these conditions? Our priority now is getting students desks and enough books."

St Jude Nabuyeywe is typical of many schools in poor and rural areas of Kenya - connection to the electricity grid and internet remains a pipe dream. 20% of Kenya's primary schools do not have the basic necessities.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Coming together in Tanzania

For decades, farmers and herders in a village located 65 km from Iringa region in Tanzania’s southern highlands, have been vying with one another for water for irrigate fields or pastures for feeding animals; triggering many fatal conflicts. The Pawaga division is considered one of the bread basket areas of Tanzania where people grow maize, rice and vegetables in the valleys whereas others keep animals in the highlands. Despite a clear demarcation of the areas that are controlled by farmers and those controlled by herders, there have been frequent clashes. Deadly conflicts have been raging in Tanzania for years as farmers and herders scramble for resources as climate change continues to take its toll. The worst conflict between pastoralists and farmers occurred in December 2000 in Kilosa district, Morogoro region, where 38 farmers were killed. Hostilities re-ignited in 2008 and eight people were killed, several houses set ablaze. Pastoralists, who are considered more affluent than farmers, are often accused of influencing political decisions by bribing local leaders who allow them to let cattle graze in farmland and trample on crops. Tanzania has approximately 21 million head of cattle, the largest number in Africa after Ethiopia and Sudan. Livestock’s contribution is at least 30 per cent of agricultural gross domestic product.

At the remote village of Itunundu, farmers and pastoralists met to discuss the best way to share land resources while charting out a strategy to prevent unnecessary fights among themselves. No one in the village ever imagined that this meeting would ever take place as the two groups had for long considered themselves enemies: they often clashed for water and pastures to feed their animals thus causing deaths and loss of property.

There are now promising signs that hostility between the two groups may be coming to an end, thanks to an initiative by Tanzania Natural Resources Foundation (TNRF) – a civil society-based initiative on land-based resources that has brought farmers and herders to the negotiating table to build an understanding of the political economy of resources-based conflicts and suggest alternative solutions. Godfrey Massay, TNRF’s land-based investment coordinator, said “Farmers and herders need to know that there are people who benefit from their conflicts and do not wish to see the conflicts resolved.” Massay said the recurring fights is a symptom of a bigger problem that requires joint efforts to resolve them because they involve externally- driven factors of bigger agricultural and conservation interests. A study conducted by TNRF in the area in 2014 revealed that resource-based conflicts in Pawaga are caused by the lack of land use planning, ‘green’ grabbing, increased large-scale agricultural investments, weak policy, corruption and scepticism toward pastoralism as a viable livelihood option. According to Massay, TNRF separately initiated talks with village leaders, farmers and pastoralists group last year to understand their point of view and establish a common area of interest. Both groups have agreed to allow pastoralists graze on rice husks after harvesting seasons for a small fee which is payable to the village government. This innovation has succeeded in eliminating the existing animosity between rival groups.  The number of violent clashes have dropped, Pawaga division officials said. “This shows that no matter how deep the conflict is, it can be resolved by just talking”said Donald Mshauri, Iringa district land officer.

Henry Mahoo, professor of agricultural engineering at Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture, told IPS that in order to resolve tensions between the two groups, a land use plan, which will clearly identify areas under pastoralists’ ownership and those controlled by farmers, should be drawn up. “All concerned parties must be involved in the negotiation process, and there must be a forum where farmers and pastoralists openly talk about their problems,” he said.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Caring about CAR

At least half of the population or 2.5 million people in the Central African Republic are facing a hunger crisis, in a situation that has become dire, the World Food Programme said. 

Bienvenu Djossa, WFP country director in CAR, said on Tuesday that the number of people battling hunger had doubled from 2015 and serious interventions had to be implemented to ensure the crisis did not deteriorate. "It is serious. The situation is worse than last year," Djossa said a statement. "It is crucial that we continue helping the most vulnerable, who need emergency food assistance to survive. This is the time when people need the maximum help possible as it is also the lean season, when people struggle to have enough food to eat before the next harvest." 

Three years of bloodshed and the displacement of nearly one million people from their homes have disrupted harvests and sent food prices soaring. An escalation of violence in September helped exacerbate a massive increase in food prices with the price of beef almost double pre-crisis levels. Families have been forced to sell their possessions, pull their children out of school and even resort to begging. Children receiving school meals under the WFP's emergency programme are putting part of their serving in a plastic bag to take home.

The UN revealed that overall crop production in 2015 remained 54 percent below the pre-crisis average. "Some 75 percent of people in CAR depend on agriculture, and with the planting season starting in less than two months, boosting agriculture now is crucial to revitalising the economy and to stability in the country," FAO Country Representative Jean-Alexandre Scaglia said. Killing and looting had almost halved the number of cattle and reduced the number of sheep and goats by almost 60 percent, the UN said. Damage to infrastructure and insecurity had also hit fishing.