Saturday, December 31, 2016

Libyan skullduggery for control of key oil installations

 War by proxy or deed, business by other means, is an inevitability  in capitalism. It is fought over trade routes, markets shperes of geopolitical interest and raw materials.

(*Source below) With Islamic State driven from its last urban stronghold in strife-ridden but energy-rich Libya, fresh turmoil is brewing over control of lucrative oil installations.

 And a polarizing military figure who once enjoyed close U.S. support — Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar — is at the heart of the unfolding struggle.

 The North African country is splintered by an array of rival armed groups, some of them loyal to one of two competing governments. Haftar has carved out a powerful fiefdom independent of the weak but internationally supported administration in the capital, Tripoli.

 Three months ago, forces loyal to Haftar seized the main terminals at the heart of Libya’s “oil crescent,” a concentration of oil-shipping ports and facilities on the Mediterranean coast. That gave him and his ally, a rival government based in the country’s east, control over crucial oil exports, which currently amount to about 600,000 barrels of crude a day.

 That grip has not gone unchallenged. This week, Haftar’s forces — the self-styled Libyan National Army — beat back a series of attacks by a loose coalition of armed groups based in western Libya. The attackers consisted of a mishmash of Islamist fighters and some backers of the Tripoli government, including a militia leader named Ibrahim Jadran, who headed a semi-official force that formerly controlled the oil facilities.

 Few expect the fighting to end any time soon — but in the meantime, Haftar, who is based in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, has seen an exponential leap in his personal power and prestige in the months that the oil terminals have been under his thumb. 

 “It’s been a huge boost for him, and really shifts the momentum to his advantage,” said Frederic Wehrey, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. “He has credibly shown the international community he’s guarding the oil fields, and the oil is flowing, with revenue going into central coffers…. It’s an enormous card that he’s been able to play.”

 Born in 1943, the field marshal — a title conferred on him by the eastern government, not recognized by the Tripoli one — has faced reversals of fortune before. In fact, they have defined Haftar’s long career.

  A onetime key lieutenant of dictator Moammar Kadafi, who was killed in 2011 after being ousted in a popular uprising, Haftar fell out of favor after commanding Libyan forces on the losing side of a 1980s conflict in the neighboring African state of Chad. He fled into exile in the United States, and from a base in northern Virginia, cultivated close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency.
Islamic State may soon lose its stronghold in Libya. H

 He returned to Libya to fight on the side of anti-Kadafi forces, but failed to achieve the degree of influence he had hoped for in the power struggle that erupted after the dictator’s downfall.

 In 2014, he again burst into view when he went on national television to outline his plan for “national salvation,” launching a wide-ranging battle against Islamists who then held sway in Benghazi and other eastern towns and cities.

 Backed by a number of former military commanders and an impressive array of military hardware left over from Kadafi’s time, Haftar won popular backing by doing what the then-central government could not: largely restoring stability in Benghazi and other eastern towns, where a local Al Qaeda affiliate, Ansar al Sharia had staged a chaotic campaign of assassinations and bombing attacks.

 Confident and charismatic, Haftar has demonstrated an astute grasp of regional political forces at play. He won the support of Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah Sisi, whose stridently anti-Islamist views dovetail neatly with Haftar’s, and of the United Arab Emirates, another avowed enemy of the Islamists.

 Haftar is also well-positioned to take advantage of a newly assertive Mideast stance by Russia. He has made several trips to Moscow this year, most recently last month, when he was photographed in a Russian-style fur hat as he headed to high-level official meetings.

 Russian news reports said he may have submitted a “wish list” of weapons if a U.N. arms embargo applying to all parties in Libya except the Tripoli government was lifted.

 And Haftar and his allies are said to have been heartened by the incoming U.S. administration of President-elect Donald Trump. Analyst say Haftar’s inner circle believes the new American president may tilt away from the Tripoli government, which has some Islamist-leaning elements — even if that means breaking with the United Nations and Europeans.

 The Tripoli government “is in a very weak position in relation to Haftar, and that’s a big turnaround,” said Richard Reeve, a Libya expert at Britain’s Oxford Research Group, an independent think tank. “He’s a force to be reckoned with.”

 Though the field marshal will probably stay in the spotlight and continue to flex his military muscle, Libya’s other power struggles haven’t gone away. 

 The battle against Islamic State in the coastal city of Surt, though unrelated to the struggle for the oil installations Haftar controls, sapped the strength of powerful militias based in the western city of Misrata. The seven-month campaign to retake Surt ended this week when the Misratans and their government-allied supporters finally cleared out the last square city block Islamic State fighters were holding.

 Islamic State, although ejected from its only urban redoubt in Libya, nonetheless remains a threat, according to analysts and the U.S. military, which oversaw coalition airstrikes against Islamic State positions.

 “There’s still ISIS in Libya,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said after Surt was declared free of the militants, using another acronym for the group. “They are out in the desert, they are underground, they have blended into the population, and they are going to be a challenge for the Libyan government in the future.”

 Amid Libya’s volatile political landscape, Haftar’s wider ambitions may be limited by unpopularity outside his eastern sphere of influence. In other parts of the country, he is despised for both his American links and his past as a Kadafi confidant and enforcer, with Islamists holding him in particular disdain.

 But some of Haftar’s backers aspire to greater powers for him, with some suggesting that the entire country would benefit from emergency military rule — presided over by the field marshal. 

 “His opponents accuse him of being another Kadafi, of wanting to take Libya back to a military dictatorship,” Wehrey said. “He’s a military man through and through, and he wants to have a seat at the table — he’s emerged as the indispensable power broker in Libya.”(End source)*
 We live in a world capable of destroying itself several times over. Such a situation is not inevitable. Although war has a long history it can be brought permanently to an end.

 A world without the twin concomitants of capitalism, war by deed or proxy and poverty absolute or relative, will provide its own challenges when we get there.

*From L.A. Times

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Marxmas

We address our Christmas message to the working class, about to enjoy yet another wretched holiday under capitalism.

At Christmas time the religious want to rejoice in fantasies about a messiah born of a virgin. The television channels seek the highest ratings for their Christmas Specials. While the retailers use Santa to seduce children into a life of consumerism.

December 25th was a holy day long before Jesus Christ was even thought of. Primitive man worshipped the sun because the course of his life was dominated by the yearly round of that planet in the heavens. This practice was wide spread but especially in northern countries mid-December was thought to be a critical time, as the days became shorter and shorter and the sun itself weaker. Great bonfires were lit to give the sun god strength and, when it became apparent that the shortest day had passed, there was great rejoicing. Thus the Roman winter-solstice festival, held on December 25th in connection with the worship of the sun-god Mithra, was known as the birthday of the unconquered sun-god.

Socialists seek a decent society where all are co-operative and sociable but not just for one day a year.  Christmas is supposed to be a time of good cheer. But it is impossible to disregard capitalism and the misert and distress it causes  even at this time of the year. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

What’s Next for Dadaab

Kenya now aims to close Dadaab by the end of June 2017. Conditions in  Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee complex, are deteriorating fast. Mark Yarnell from Refugees International says its residents face either starvation or returning to a conflict zone. The refugees being slowly starved out of Dadaab are expected to return to the very conditions that caused them to flee in the first place.

A funding shortage has forced the Word Food Program (WFP) to cut food rations for refugees in Kenya and beginning this month, the WFP cut monthly food rations in half for all refugees in Kenya through at least April unless it receives $13.7 million from donor governments. By cutting food, the international community, in addition to causing immediate harm, is reinforcing the Kenyan government’s message that Somali refugees are not welcome.

A prolonged drought across the border in Somalia, combined with ongoing insecurity, is exacerbating a humanitarian crisis there. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the current rainy season has been 50 to 70 percent below average thus far. More than 5 million Somalis – about 40 percent of the population – are in need of food aid, and that number is expected to rise in the coming months unless there is an immediate surge in humanitarian assistance. As the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, stated: “The drought situation is extremely worrying and could deteriorate rapidly if we don’t act now. We are running against time.”

Despite the push to return refugees, fighting inside Somalia continues to force civilians to flee their homes on a daily basis. It also hinders the ability of aid workers to access people in need, thus compounding the impact of the drought. Recently, fighting between forces loyal to the semi-autonomous regions of Galmudug and Puntland displaced over 75,000 people.

Refugees in Dadaab, most of whom are Somali, face an impossible choice: stay in Dadaab where the future is uncertain and conditions are deteriorating or return to Somalia to face insecurity and hunger. The U.N. maintains that the returns are voluntary, that refugees have a choice. But so long as a deadline for camp closure exists with no other option for refugees but to return to Somalia, the logic does not square. One woman as she waited outside a UNHCR return help desk, where refugees can sign up for the repatriation program. I asked for her thoughts on the voluntariness of the program. “This is about fear. It’s not about choice,” she said emphatically.

In Dadaab, nearly every refugee we interviewed told us they were fearful about what might happen to them if they did not sign up for the UNHCR return program, which includes $200 upon departure from Dadaab and $200 upon arrival in Somalia, plus a six-month subsidy per household.
“Everybody wants to take the money before being kicked out,” one refugee told us. “Maybe the government will beat us or set the camp on fire,” another said. A number of refugees spoke about threatening messages from Kenyan government officials that aired on the local radio station – messages such as, “We are going to show you the way to go back if you don’t go on your own.”

Kenya deserves to be criticized harshly for threatening to shutter the camps and push refugees out. But they are not the only ones at fault. Lofty commitments and declarations by the UN meant little as they did not translate to tangible improvements for people on the ground.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Welcome to socialism (video)

Uganda's oil land-grab

Since oil was discovered in Uganda’s Bunyoro sub-region in 2006, the value of land adjacent to the oil the sites have increased dramatically. The discoveries triggered a rush for land acquisition by investors and speculators. Over the past decade, many rich individuals have invaded the area and claimed ownership of land adjacent to the oil sites.

Oil wells were discovered in communal settlements, game parks and on the shores of Lake Albert. The area is mainly inhabited by fishermen, subsistence farmers and hunters, who lived on customary land and had no formal documentation to prove the ownership. Consequently, investors continued to acquire land for oil-related projects such as oil waste treatment plants, central processing facilities, pipelines, industrial parks and other petroleum- related investments.

This has raised the stakes for land ownership and the rights of customary land owners are at risk as the wealthy and influential elites attempt to gain titled land in what is called the Albertine graben. Many customary land owners in the oil-rich Albertine graben claim the rich and politically connected individuals are processing freehold land titles on their land without their consent and approval.

"Although, we have owned this land communally since time immemorial, there are rich people coming here claiming to have land titles for our land in anticipation that government intends to set up an oil Central Processing Facility (CPF) here," said Mr Kaseegu, who is also the Kisimo LC1 chairperson.

"New land claimants who had never expressed interest in the land before oil discoveries have emerged in Buliisa district, threatening the interests of residents who have owned land communally for so long," says Mr Angalia Mukonda, the chairperson of Buliisa Elders Forum.

According to the Kiryamboga village chairperson, Mr Geoffrey Nnsi, more than 400 families who owned the land under a joint customary ownership since time immemorial permitted Tullow Oil to prospect for oil in the area.

But the residents were shocked, he says, when they received a copy of a letter from Ntambirweki Kandeebe & Company Advocates indicating that the land where the oil well had been discovered belonged to Gids Consult Ltd as a registered proprietor with a title (FRV 146 Folio 13).

"Our clients have found drilling rigs and fences on their land. There are also vehicles belonging to you and other equipment parked on our clients' land," Mr Ntambirweki Kandeebe wrote to the Tullow Uganda General Manager in a letter dated February 27th, 2014.

"You have gone ahead to construct roads on our clients' land without our clients' knowledge and permission thereby impeding their use of land and interference with their freehold ownership," he stated.

In Africa - America First

Al-Qaeda doesn’t care about borders. Neither does the Islamic State or Boko Haram. US Brigadier General Donald Bolduc thinks the same way.

“Terrorists, criminals, and non-state actors aren’t bound by arbitrary borders,” the commander of Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) told an interviewer early this fall.  “That said, everything we do is not organized around recognizing traditional borders. In fact, our whole command philosophy is about enabling cross-border solutions, implementing multi-national, collective actions and empowering African partner nations to work across borders to solve problems using a regional approach.”

A SOCAFRICA planning document offers an insight onto the scope of “multi-national, collective actions” carried out by America’s most elite troops in Africa and details nearly 20 programs and activities -- from training exercises to security cooperation engagements -- utilized by SOCAFRICA across the continent.

Publicly, the command claims that it conducts its operations to “promote regional stability and prosperity,” while Bolduc emphasizes that its missions are geared toward serving the needs of African allies. The files make clear, however, that U.S. interests are the command’s principal and primary concern. “SOCAFRICA’s foremost objective is the prevention of an attack against America or American interests,” according to the declassified secret report.  In other words, a “foreign agenda,” not the needs of African partner nations, is what’s driving the elite force’s border-busting missions. “We will prioritize and focus our operational efforts in those areas where the threats to United States interests are most grave,” says a formerly secret SOCAFRICA document.  “Protecting America, Americans, and American interests is our overarching objective and must be reflected in everything we do.”

Bolduc is fond of saying that his troops -- Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, among others -- operate in the “gray zone,” or what he calls “the spectrum of conflict between war and peace.”  Another of his favored stock phrases is: “In Africa, we are not the kinetic solution” -- that is, not pulling triggers and dropping bombs.  He also regularly takes pains to say that “we are not at war in Africa -- but our African partners certainly are.”

This is not entirely true. As part of its long-fought shadow war against Somali al-Shabab militants, the U.S. has carried out commando raids and drone assassinations there (with the latter markedly increasing in 2015-2016). On December 5th, President Obama issued his latest biannual “war powers” letter to Congress which noted that the military had not only “conducted strikes in defense of U.S. forces” there, but also in defense of local allied troops.  The president also acknowledged that U.S. personnel “occasionally accompany regional forces, including Somali and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, during counterterrorism operations.” Obama’s war powers letter also mentioned American deployments in Cameroon, Djibouti, and Niger, efforts aimed at countering Joseph Kony’s murderous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Central Africa, a long-running mission by military observers in Egypt, and a continuing deployment of forces supporting “the security of U.S. citizens and property” in rapidly deteriorating South Sudan. The president offered only two sentences on U.S. military activities in Libya, although a long-running special ops and drone campaign there has been joined by a full-scale American air war, dubbed Operation Odyssey Lightning, against Islamic State militants, especially those in the city of Sirte.  Since August 1st, in fact, the United States has carried out nearly 500 air strikes in Libya, according to figures supplied by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

On any given day, between 1,500 and 1,700 American special operators and support personnel are deployed somewhere on the continent.  Over the course of a year they conduct missions in more than 20 countries.  According to Bolduc’s November 2015 briefing, Special Operations Command Africa carries out 78 separate “mission sets.”  These include activities that range from enhancing “partner capability and capacity” to the sharing of intelligence. Most of what Bolduc’s troops do involves working alongside and mentoring local allies.  SOCAFRICA’s showcase effort, for instance, is Flintlock, an annual training exercise in Northwest Africa involving elite American, European, and African forces, which provides the command with a plethora of publicity.  More than 1,700 military personnel from 30-plus nations took part in Flintlock 2016.  Next year, according to Bolduc, the exercise is expected “to grow to include SOF from more countries, as well as more interagency partners.” the SOCAFRICA strategic planning document produced in 2012 indicates the existence of one or more other training exercises.  Bolduc recently mentioned two: Silent Warrior and Epic Guardian.  In the past, the command has also taken part in exercises like Silver Eagle 10 and Eastern Piper 12. 

Such exercises are, however, just a small part of the SOCAFRICA story.  Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) missions are a larger one.  Officially authorized to enable U.S. special operators to “practice skills needed to conduct a variety of missions, including foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare, and counterterrorism,” JCETs actually serve as a backdoor method of expanding U.S. military influence and contacts in Africa, since they allow for "incidental-training benefits" to "accrue to the foreign friendly forces at no cost."  As a result, JCETs play an important role in forging and sustaining military relationships across the continent. Just how many of these missions the U.S. conducts in Africa is apparently unknown -- even to the military commands involved.  As TomDispatch reported earlier this year, according to SOCOM, the U.S. conducted 19 JCETs in 2012, 20 in 2013, and 20, again, in 2014.  AFRICOM, however, claims that there were nine JCETs in 2012, 18 in 2013, and 26 in 2014. Whatever the true number, JCETs are a crucial cog in the SOCAFRICA machine.  “During a JCET, exercise or training event, a special forces unit might train a partner force in a particular tactical skill and can quickly ascertain if the training audience has adopted the capability,” explained Brigadier General Bolduc. “Trainers can objectively measure competency, then exercise... that particular skill until it becomes a routine.”

 SOCAFRICA also utilizes a confusing tangle of State Department and Pentagon programs and activities, aimed at local allies that operate under a crazy quilt of funding schemes, monikers, and acronyms.  These include deployments of Mobile Training Teams, Joint Planning Advisory Teams, Joint Military Education Teams, Civil Military Support Elements, as well as Military Information Support Teams that engage in what once was called psychological operations, or psyops -- that is, programs designed to “inform and influence foreign target audiences as appropriately authorized.”

Special Operations Command Africa also utilizes an almost mind-numbing  panoply of “security cooperation programs” and other training activities including Section 1207(n) (also known as the Transitional Authorities for East Africa and Yemen, which provides equipment, training, and other aid to the militaries of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Yemen “to conduct counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda affiliates, and al-Shabab” and “enhance the capacity of national military forces participating in the African Union Mission in Somalia”); the Global Security Contingency Fund (designed to enhance the “capabilities of a country’s national military forces, and other national security forces that conduct border and maritime security, internal defense, and counterterrorism operations”); the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism (or PREACT, designed to build counterterror capacities and foster military and law enforcement efforts in East African countries, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda); and, among others, the Trans-Sahel Counterterrorism Partnership, the Global Peace Operations Initiative, the Special Operations to Combat Terrorism, the Combatting Terrorism Fellowship, and another known as Counter-Narcotic Terrorism. 

A 2013 RAND Corporation analysis called such capacity-building programs “a tangled web, with holes, overlaps, and confusions.” A 2014 RAND study analyzing U.S. security cooperation (SC) found that there “was no statistically significant correlation between SC and change in countries’ fragility in Africa or the Middle East.”  A 2016 RAND report on “defense institution building” in Africa noted a “poor understanding of partner interests” by the U.S. military. In Africa, terrorist organizations and attacks have spiked alongside the increase in U.S. Special Operations missions there.  In 2006, the percentage of forward-stationed special operators on the continent hovered at 1% of total globally deployed SOF forces.  By 2014, that number had hit 10% -- a jump of 900% in less than a decade.  During that same span, according to information from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, terror incidents in Africa increased precipitously -- from just over 100 per year to nearly 2,400 annually.  During the same period, the number of transnational terrorist organizations and illicit groups operating on the continent jumped from one to, according to Bolduc’s reckoning, nearly 50.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The African Marshall Plan

The Marshall Plan launched by the United States in 1948 to aid the recovery of war-torn Europe had a strong focus on the private sector. Money was transferred to European governments, but they were required to use it for loans for local businesses.  German Development Minister Gerd Müller is trying to drum up support for a Marshall Plan for Africa. Little is known about what it will involve, or cost. But critics doubt it is the right road to African renewal. Ulrich Delius from Germany's Society for Threatened Peoples has misgivings about the use of the term 'Marshall Plan' in this context.
"Marshall Plan makes people think of reconstruction after World War Two in Europe." Politicians are misusing the term to disguise their true intentions, he said.

Germany is anxious to stop a growing number of migrants - many of whom come from Africa - from making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Germany's TAZ newspaper claims that European industrial and arms companies will be among the beneficiaries of plans to help Africa fight migration.

"The funds which African countries have been promised to help them fight migration will find their way, first and foremost, to German and European industrial and arms companies," said Simone Schlindwein, the paper’s Africa correspondent.

Together with 24 other journalists, after research in 37 African and European countries, she believes to be the hidden back story to the EU's new migration policy.

"After much painstaking work, we gained access to unpublished documents which has so far been denied to the European public," said Christian Jakob who is overseeing the project at TAZ. The journalists received documents from NGOs such as Statewatch and from insiders apparently critical of EU policy.

Instead of linking development aid to good governance or observance of human rights, the EU is now evidently prepared to financially reward states who keep migrants away from Europe, take back failed asylum-seekers, and introduce biometric controls at their borders. Biometric identity cards are going to be combined with Visa or Master Cards, Schlindwein claims. Every trip to an ATM won't only reveal the identity and location of the user to financial institutions but to state authorities as well. The planned surveillance of Africa would be far more penetrating than anything conceivable in Europe from a data protection perspective, Schlindwein said.

Defense contractors such as Airbus and Rheinmetall, normally associated with tanks and other weapons systems, will be building high tech border installations in many African countries. These firms will be receiving EU funds which were previously earmarked for poverty reduction and humanitarian aid. "German companies, such as Giesecke and Devrient, which specialize in biometrics and encryption, have secured orders from Algeria to Cape Town," Schlindwein said. "These orders were not put out to tender, but mostly wrapped up at meetings in presidential palaces in the middle of the night."

Many European parliamentarians are apparently unaware of the deals their governments have forged with African dictators behind closed doors, Schlindwein said. The EU, she claims, has promised Sudan's authoritarian ruler Omar al-Bashir - who is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC - that it will cancel his country's debts if it stops migrants from Eritrea and Ethiopia leaving for Europe takes back its own citizens who have already arrived in Europe.

These African governments are not just willing tools serving European interests, they also have their own policy targets as well. The world's biggest refugee camp, Dadaab, is in Kenya and the country intends to close it down. At the same time, it is planning to build a huge border fence along its frontier to Somalia."So the Somali refugees once they have left [Dadaab] won't be able to come back," Schlinwein said."The new European rationale on migration is spreading through the whole of Africa."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Burundi's refugee problem

More than 325,000 people have fled Burundi and a further 100,000 have become internally displaced since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would stand for a third term, leading to protests, unrest and a brutal crackdown. This exodus effectively reversed a massive repatriation movement that saw approximately half a million refugees who fled conflict in Burundi return between 2002 and 2010.

Despite the seriousness of the human rights situation, Burundi was not in a state of war. But few Burundians were surprised. They had been seeing the signals of a pending crisis for months, if not years. Since coming to power, Nkurunziza‘s government had been growing increasingly repressive, deploying a toxic mix of media control, intimidation of civil society and arbitrary arrest of opposition members. The announcement of Nkurunziza’s intention to stand for a third term was simply the final straw.

While most of those who fled since 2015 did so out of fear – either of being directly targeted as a result of political affiliation, or a more general fear of the situation escalating into civil war – these reasons dovetailed with broader social, economic and cultural concerns, many of which related to land disputes exacerbated by shortcomings in the wide-scale repatriation process in the 2000s.

Many of the people we interviewed were disillusioned because promises made to them at the point of return were not kept. This injustice was further reinforced when, in the absence of sufficient assistance on return as promised, they were both economically marginalized and politically ignored – particularly those who were unable to reaccess their family land. Thus, the president’s third term in office was simply a catalyst for deeper, structural issues, including the government’s failure to address injustices that lay at the heart of decades of conflict and led to a chronic deficit in civic trust. The exodus also stemmed from a lingering failure to reabsorb hundreds of thousands of refugees and people displaced inside the country who had been living in external or internal exile for years or even decades. The marginalization and injustice that had driven them into exile in the first place was compounded by the failure to address these issues as part of a meaningful resolution to their exile.

In other words, neither the causes of their previous displacement – the genocide in 1972, or the decade-long civil war in the 1990s – nor the challenges that arose during the effort to repatriate them home have been sufficiently addressed or resolved. This latest round of displacement is therefore the continuation of events that are deeply embedded in Burundi’s post-colonial history, and the current crisis must be seen as part of a wider story of conflict and displacement that continues to haunt the country.

In one of the poorest countries in the world, the government’s failure to tackle these drivers of conflict and displacement, and to ensure that resources were accessible to the population rather than hoarded by the few in power, left people disillusioned with those in authority, regardless of their political affiliation, and with few opportunities to escape poverty. While people might technically have been called citizens of Burundi, the lack of substance to their citizenship has been a terrible disappointment to most.

It was hardly surprising, therefore, that at the first sign of trouble in Bujumbura, many took the decision to flee once more into exile, despite devastating consequences to them and their families. Their plight demonstrates that peace is never going to be sustainable when individuals or groups are left to carve out their lives on the margins – whether inside or outside the country.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Squeeze on Obiang

Just a few weeks after 11 lavish vehicles belonging to Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, were seized in Switzerland, a 250-feet luxurious yacht belonging to him has been confiscated by the Dutch.

The $120 million yacht was reportedly seized, after it attempted to leave Makkum, Netherlands, for Malabo, the capital city of Equatorial Guinea.

Farms not oil wells

Most African governments have focused on growth in extractive industries such as oil and mining, resulting in some neglect of agriculture, said Kanayo Nwanze, the president of the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development, based in Rome. That’s heightened food insecurity and crippled opportunities for the majority of the continent’s population that lives in rural areas, he said in a telephone interview from London.

"Oil hasn’t fed people," Nwanze said. "It has enriched the pockets of a few people and the majority have become poorer. A vibrant agricultural sector not only feeds your population, it creates jobs, it generates wealth and it will keep people on their land."

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

South Africa's richest men

South Africa’s 10 richest men:
  1. Christo Wiese – R81.2bn (Brait SE)
  2. Ivan Glasenberg – R60bn (Glencore)
  3. Stephen Saad – R16bn (Aspen Pharmacare)
  4. John Whittaker – R15.9bn (Intu Properties)
  5. Laurie Dippenaar – R12.9bn (First Rand)
  6. Bruno Steinhoff – R12.6bn (Steinhoff)
  7. Atul Gupta – R10.7bn (Oakbay)
  8. Johann Rupert – R10.6bn (Remgro)
  9. Jannie Mouton – R9.8bn (PSG Group)
  10. Koos Bekker – R9.6bn (Naspers)
  11.  Patrice Motsepe - R9.55-bn (African Rainbow Minerals) 
  12. Here are how other black individuals fared in the top 100 Paul Baloyi of enX Group ranks 46th with R1.17-billion. Harishkumar Mehta‚ with holdings in Redefine Properties‚ the Spar Group and Tiso Blackstar‚ is ranked 50th with R1.12-billion. Mzolisi Diliza of Growthpoint Properties came in at 56th place with R962-million. Sipho Nkosi of Exxaro Resources is 58th with R944-million.Ramachandran Ottapathu of Choppies Enterprises ranks 66th with R756-million.Polelo Zim with holdings in Northam Platinum and Sanlam came in at 69th place with R725-million At 75th place is Mxolisi Mgojo of Exxaro Resources with R655-million  Joe Madungandaba‚ with holdings in Afrocentric Investment Corporation and Jasco Electronics‚ is 79th on the list with R624-million.Farouk Ismail of Choppies Enterprises is 83rd with R564-million.Zwelibanzi Mntambo of Exxaro Resources is ranked 88th with R534-milliion.Mustaq Enus-Brey with holdings in Brimstone Investment Corporation‚ Life Healthcare and Nedbank came in at 95th place with R489-million Woolworths SA CEO Zyda Rylands is ranked 166th with R202-million‚ and is one of few women on the list 
  13. The study also lists top earners of which TMG Digital has counted nine black people in the top 100.
  14. They are: MTN Group's Raymond Dabengwa‚ AngloGold Ashanti's Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan‚ First Rand's Sizwe Nxasana‚ Gold Fields' Alfred Baku‚ Standard Bank's Sim Tshabalala‚ Exxaro Resources' Sipho Nkosi‚ Sasol's Nolitha Fakude‚ MMI Holdings' Ngao Motsei and Shaik Yunis of Deneb Investments‚ E Media Holdings and others.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The UK Spy Machine in Africa

Kenya, a former colony, hosts a permanent UK base and thousands of troops rotate through it every year to be trained in warfare in arid environments.
Britain’s electronic spy agency listened in on businessmen, government departments and politicians, including heads of state closely allied to the UK, according to the latest Snowden leaks.
The documents, first seen by French Newspaper Le Monde, are likely to cause severe diplomatic issues between the UK and, for example, Kenya, whose President Mwai Kibaki As well as intercepting Kibaki’s communications, the UK also spied on then Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Other victims of UK espionage include roving businessmen from Ivory Coast, Gabon, Tunisia, Mali and Congo and members of the military, intelligence community and former and current statesman from a number of counties, including Angola.
The documents also show that the UK listened in on calls by the leader of another former colony, Nigeria.
Phone calls between the oil-rich nation’s President Umaru Yar’Adua and his main advisers were also invasively monitored. As were those of the then-serving heads of state of two other freed UK colonies, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
Many of the intercepts seem to have been aimed at economic activity, including the Democratic Republic of Congo’s department of mines, Kenyan banker Chris Kirubi and the Nigerian billionaire Tony Elumelu – one of Africa’s most influential men.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Capitalism Vanilla-style

Madagascar provides about 80% of the world’s supply of vanilla. Madagascan vanilla is used in chocolate, cakes and ice-cream sold to consumers around the globe by some of the world’s biggest brands.

Retailers are profiting from the world’s second most expensive spice are ignoring the desperate plight of impoverished Madagascan farmers. According to a new report by research and media centre Danwatch, the vanilla supply chain is keeping farmers locked in a cycle of exploitation, poverty and child labour. Malnutrition and child stunting are realities of family life. The Danwatch report claims that the plight of Madagascan farmers has been largely ignored by exporters and retailers profiting from the $192m (£152m) trade in Madagascan vanilla. 

Prices fluctuate, but industry reports show the commodity is currently selling at between $200 (£160) and $400 a kilo. Xidollien’s mother, Liliane, gets just £6 a kilo for the family’s vanilla pods from the “collectors”, young men on motorbikes who come to the village to buy the pods after each harvest. She has no idea where her crop ends up. “I sell to a collector. When it goes, it’s gone,” she says with a shrug.

Rajao Jean, president of a local farmers’ association, says that when farmers become desperate for food during the long wet months, the same collectors return to offer a “vanilla flower contract” – loans to see them through to harvest. The collectors fix the price and return after harvest to collect their debt and the high interest it has accrued, buying the pods far below market value. Jean says that if farmers have a bad harvest or have their plants stolen, they can be forced to sell land, animals and possessions in an attempt to pay off this debt. He explains that a loan of £1 in March could have escalated to £10 by harvest time in July.

“The farmers are making a scarce profit,” says Jesper Nymark, executive director of Danwatch, adding that the investigation reveals a lack of traceability and transparency in supply chains. “Several of the importers and retailers we have spoken with are not able to say which specific farms their vanilla comes from, and whether there is vanilla in their supply chain that has been produced by children.” He continued, “Retailers and importers are obliged by UN guidelines to do whatever [is] in their power to know their supply chain, and to correct violations of human rights if they occur,” says Nymark. “According to the experts we have talked to, there seems to be quite the task ahead in ensuring that people in Madagascar are supported, not exploited, as a consequence of the lack of transparency in the supply chain for the vanilla sold in local supermarkets.”

The International Labour Organisation estimates 20,000 children are working in the Madagascan vanilla trade, the majority of them in the Sava region. The country has ratified international child labour conventions and set a minimum working age of 15, but the ILO says there are 2 million children between the ages of five and 17 engaged in various forms of work on the island; nearly 9% of the total population.

Many here don’t consider children working alongside their parents as a problem. Tombo Tam Hun Man, former mayor and now local vanilla kingpin in Andapa, one of the main towns in the vanilla-producing region, says that children helping in the fields is a natural way for them to learn about vanilla farming.
 Under Madagascan law, children must go to school until they are 14, but he admits that few children in the vanilla villages will get an education. “If you don’t start to teach your kids to do something, what will they do? It is better than nothing,” he says. With few government schools, private fee-paying schools are often the only option for farming families. There is no visible evidence of any infrastructure or investment in the vanilla communities by any of the exporters or retailers using Madagascan vanilla pods.

The Madagascan authorities have attempted to regulate the vanilla trade, introducing a code of conduct in 2015. However, resources to implement the code are insufficient, says Bety Florent, president of the regional child labour committee. “We are still at a basic stage. There is still no effective measure,” she says, explaining that only 16 of 86 child labour committees proposed by the government have so far been set up in the region.

Land reform is no reform

South Africa has a history of colonisation, racial domination, and racially-based land dispossession. Black people were forced off the land they owned and they depended for their livelihoods through numerous legislative policies and other coercive measures. In 1994, South Africa’s democratic government implemented land reform to rectify these past racial injustices, to correct skewed land ownership patterns and to alleviate poverty. There is a general agreement that land reform has been a failure and needs to be sped up. Research shows that between 70% to 90% of the projects (including land restitution projects) have failed. The  study showed that beneficiaries remain poor 17 years after being given their land back. Most are unable to generate a livelihood from agriculture and depend on state social grants for survival. Beneficiaries were able to rejoice at having their land back, but they have been unable to escape poverty.

What’s gone wrong?

The Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies notes that: “South African land reform beneficiaries have been victims of unworkable project designs, largely irrelevant to their livelihood possibilities, aspirations and abilities.”

Land reform has contributed little to helping beneficiaries earn a livelihood from the land. An important component of land reform was for the beneficiaries to become self-sufficient. Projects are designed in a way that favours capital intensive commercial farming unsuitable to the beneficiaries’ circumstances. Other reasons include inadequate post-settlement support, lack of skills, poor planning and infighting within communities. Findings show that land beneficiaries have been virtually neglected by the government.

One farmer commented on the absence of support: “We don’t get the necessary support from the government man! We don’t get it, at all, they are not interested in coming to support us and help us to give us something … They should come here and make a workshop and call us together, those who are interested in farming and stuff like that, there would be a lot of people because I am not the only one… They don’t support us! They do give the land, and what’s the reason of giving people land and then not helping them? Because we need a tractor, we need this and that, we need seeds…” 

Giving people land and then depriving them of appropriate support to earn a living from the land is regressive. It is self-defeating for the government to dump people on land without sufficient or relevant support. If land reform continues in its current fashion, its prospects are doomed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Amelioration is no cure

About 2.8 billion people - between a third and a half of the world's population - burn solid fuel such as wood, crop waste, charcoal, coal and dung to cook their food in open fires and leaky stoves. Inside those homes, cooking smoke is eye-stingingly visible, and it blackens the walls. But the invisible effect it has on the tiniest, branching airways of the lungs is what makes this a global crisis. Those smoke particles are taken up by cells that form part of the natural defences of the lungs. In doing that, they diminish the function of these cells, increasing the risk of infections and chronic illness. Crucially, smoke is a key driver of child pneumonia - a leading cause of death in children under five in many countries across the developing world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that four million premature deaths every year - in children and adults - can be attributed to indoor air pollution. That is why in 2010, the United Nations Foundation and the US State Department launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC), with a mission to "foster the adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels in 100 million households by 2020".

Cleaner cookstoves, the alliance says "save lives and reduce illness". There is, however, a problem. A study run by Kevin Mortimer in Malawi over the last two years, and written up in the Lancet, shows that the cookstove alone does neither. A big clinical trial in Malawi was expected to show children are less likely to die of pneumonia if they live in a home where food is cooked on a smoke-free stove rather than an open fire. Instead it suggests the stove makes no difference. "We followed up and monitored the health of 10,000 children for this study, and our results basically show that there is no difference in cases of pneumonia between the intervention and the control group," he says. "The hard science - certainly from our study - is perhaps at odds with the claim that stoves along the lines of the ones we've used here save lives and reduce illness."

Where does this leave a huge UN-backed project to get 100 million clean cookstoves into homes in the developing world by 2020?

"Exposure to household air pollution is a problem of poverty," says Kevin Mortimer, a medical doctor and a respiratory health researcher at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. "If you're not poor, you're not exposed."


Namibian 2.1 million population is multicultural multiracial and multilingual.

The San were the earliest inhabitants of Namibia, followed by the Damara and Nama people. Bantu groups, known collectively as the Ovambo people, began immigrating to Namibia around the 14th century and became a majority in the late 19th century. The OtjiHerero, Caprivian, Kavango, Baster, Afrikaans, German, Himba, and English people round out the population of today’s Namibia.

During European colonization in the late 19th century, the German Empire established rule over most of the territory as a protectorate in 1884. It began to develop infrastructure and farming, and maintained the land as a German colony until 1915, when South African forces defeated its military. In 1920, after the end of World War I, the League of Nations mandated the country to the United Kingdom, which delegated the administration of the country to South Africa. The South African leaders imposed their own laws, including racial classifications and rules. In 1948, with the National Party elected to power, South Africa applied the apartheid regime to Namibia, known at the time as South West Africa.

In the later 20th century, uprisings and demands for political representation by native African political activists seeking independence resulted in the U.N. assuming direct responsibility over the territory in 1966, though South Africa maintained de facto rule. In 1973, the U.N. recognized the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) as the official representative of the Namibian people; the party was and continues to be dominated by the majority Ovambo ethnic group. In response to continued guerrilla warfare, South Africa installed an interim administration in Namibia in 1985. Namibia obtained full independence from South Africa in 1990, though Walvis Bay and the Penguin Islands remained under South African control until 1994.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Dirty fuels - dirty air

In September, the blog reported how many Africans were being poisoned by the air they breathed in the name of profit. 

Five West African nations are banning ‘dirty’ European fuels – exported fuels with higher sulphur levels – in response to concerns over vehicle emissions and in an effort to bring safer, cleaner air to more than 250 million people, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said

Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire introduced strict standards that will ensure cleaner, low sulphur diesel fuels, and better emissions standards, thus effectively cutting off Europe’s West African market.

Not before time. 

Monday, December 05, 2016

Burundi's descent into hell

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said Burundi's brutal regime has set the small central African country on a "descent into hell", warning of the risk of genocide.

In a 200-page report, the FIDH documented how state-sponsored violence and opposing rebel groups have perpetuated a cycle of violence. More than 1,000 people have died and up to 800 are missing. Some 8,000 are being held for political reasons and more than 300,000 people have fled the country
"The crackdown by the security services and the (ruling party's youth wing) Imbonerakure... aims primarily at retaining power through any and all means," the report said. "All the criteria and conditions for the perpetrating of genocide are in place," the report said, listing "ideology, intent, security institutions... identifying populations to be eliminated, and the using of historical justifications."

Anschaire Nikoyagize, of the rights group, ITEKA League,said in a statement: "The crimes of the regime have become systematic... Crimes against humanity are occurring and there is a risk of genocide."

Burundi suffered a brutal civil war from 1993 until 2006 between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis, which claimed an estimated 300,000 lives.

A failed coup in May 2015 was the "breaking point" after which the authorities adopted a "logic of systematic repression", the report said. After Nkurunziza's re-election in July 2015, the repression deepened, it said, citing targeted killings and massive arbitrary detentions. In addition, ethnic Hutus in power "have sought to turn a political crisis into an ethnic one, equating 'opponents' and 'rebels' with Tutsis," the report warned.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The girl-soldiers of the DRC

Eastern Congo is plagued by dozens of armed groups that prey on locals and exploit mineral reserves. Millions died between 1996 and 2003 as a regional conflict caused hunger and disease.

Girls in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are joining armed groups because they cannot afford to go to school, while former girl soldiers struggle to return to class amid stigma from their communities, a charity said. Around a third of all children in armed groups in the country are estimated to be girls, who are often married off to militants and are vulnerable to abuse and rape, activists say. While civil society groups have had some success in getting boys out of armed groups and into re-integration programmes, this shame and fear of rejection back home has kept many girls in the bush.
"If we leave the group, we're going to be targeted ... so many girls accept and continue to live with their bush husband," said one of the 150 former girl soldiers interviewed.

Many girls in the region join militia groups to obtain food and money, to seek protection against violence, or because their families cannot afford to pay their school fees, according to a report by Child Soldiers International.

"It is deeply shocking that, because their families cannot afford to pay school fees, some girls see joining an armed group as their only option, and decide to throw themselves in harm's way," said Isabelle Guitard, director of programmes at Child Soldiers International. While primary education is free and compulsory by law, most schools in Congo charge fees for books and uniforms.

Senegal's Islamic Schools

Many are sent by parents in Senegal to Islamic schools, called daaras, where they are expected to receive food, shelter and teachings from the Koran. But tens of thousands of children in daaras across the West African nation are forced to beg in the streets to make money for their teachers, called marabouts, said rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Anti-Slavery International.

President Macky Sall in June ordered the removal of children from the streets and said those who force them to beg would be imprisoned in a drive to end a practice estimated by the United Nations to generate $8 million a year for Koranic teachers in the capital.

Yet fewer than 1,000 talibe [street-kids] of more than 30,000 in Dakar have been swept off the streets to date, with marabouts hiding them away or dressing them smartly to evade detection, said the state's national director of child protection Niokhobaye Diouf. "Many disappeared after Sall's announcement ... hidden by the crooked people who profit from their begging," Diouf said.

Sall vowed to close unsafe daaras after nine children died in 2013 in a fire, yet few have been shut down, while an anti-trafficking law passed in 2005 to stop the abuse of talibe has since led to only a dozen prosecutions of marabouts, HRW said. A draft law to regulate and modernise the daaras has stalled amid concerns from marabouts about the integration of the schools into Senegal's education system, activists said.

Many activists said prosecuting marabouts is key to ending abuses. "With the regulatory law in limbo and daaras not part of the education system, how else can Senegal ensure talibe are not subjected to begging and abuse?" said Lauren Seibert of HRW.

Yet few prosecutors choose to take on cases against marabouts, according to a spokesman for the justice ministry's anti-trafficking task force (CNLTP). Only a handful of marabouts have been jailed in cases of extreme abuse and deaths of talibe in recent years, activists said, while Senegal has only made two convictions for forced begging since 2014, found the U.S. TIP report.

"It may be harder to change the mindset of prosecutors than that of marabouts," said Laetitia Bazzi of the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF).