Friday, November 24, 2017

In Car, who will provide the health-care?

The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has evacuated its staff and suspended its programmes after its base in Bangassou was violently robbed on Monday night. Four patients have died and thousands are stranded without healthcare in an embattled Central African Republic town, after the attack forced the last charity working there to pull out. 50 urgently needed surgery or were in intensive care when doctors and nurses left them in the hospital.  The southeastern diamond-mining town, which borders the Democratic Republic of Congo, has witnessed some of the deadliest clashes this year between rival militias, as violence has escalated throughout the country.

"This was a really tough decision for us, but we cannot put the lives of our staff on the line," MSF's head of mission Frederic Lai Manantsoa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Leaving the population utterly abandoned is a painful admission."

MSF was the last aid organisation working in Bangassou as violence has pushed others out in recent months. Half a million people in the region depended on MSF for health services. The area is controlled by armed groups fighting over land and resources who frequently target civilians.

Quote of the Day

"Right now, we are moving into the lean season, and by July of 2018, many thousands of people across South Sudan – not just isolated pockets of the country – will be dying from hunger," said Jerry Farrell, representative in South Sudan for Catholic Relief Services. "What is most tragic is there absolutely shouldn't be hunger in South Sudan," adding that people of different tribes inter-marry and work together but that the conflict is instigated and fanned by politicians.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ghana's 60 years of independence

Ghana's president President Nana Akufo-Addo said aid to his nation from donor countries was unsustainable and harmful to both sides.
"We do not want to remain the beggars of the world, we do not want to be dependent on charity," he said in a speech in London, setting out a vision for Africa's future. "We can and we should be able to build a Ghana with use of her own resources and their proper management as a way to engineer social and economic growth in our country," he said. "We do not want to be pitied," he said. "We do not want to be pawns or victims."
Resource-rich Ghana is an exporter of gold and oil and the world's second largest cocoa producer. Akufo-Addo has vowed to clean up corruption in the West African nation's cocoa sector and restore output to 1 million tonnes by 2020.
Ghana was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to win independence from colonial rule 60 years ago. "We are painfully aware we are nowhere near where we should be," he said in the speech to the Royal African Society. "After 60 years it is obvious that the aid bus will not take Africa where it has to be."
"We have to stop the aid, it messes up our economy, it messes up our markets," added Herman Chinery-Hesse, a Ghanaian software entrepreneur.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Power struggle in Zimbabwe (1983)

A bit of history to offer some perspective on today's events in Zimbabwe

From the May 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent massacres in Zimbabwe have shown more clearly than ever that the real choice facing black workers in Africa is not between “white” and “black" rule. The issue runs deeper, and is a question of power itself. Zimbabwe, like Russia, is a capitalist state masquerading under the name of socialism. The rich resources of gold, chromium, tobacco, asbestos, copper and diamonds are controlled by a minority, including private shareholders and state bureaucrats both within and outside its artificial national boundary. The majority of the people are wage-workers, earning under £25 a month in many cases, so that their “national” bosses can accumulate capital.

At the end of March, the government stepped up a campaign of terror aimed at “dissidents” supposedly associated with Joshua Nkomo’s opposition ZAPU party. The Fifth Brigade, a government force of specially trained ex-guerrillas, were reported to have slaughtered whole villages in Matabeleland, in a series of horrific atrocities. Thousands were detained without trial, opponents were tortured and trade unions suppressed. Government denials of these barbaric examples of a capitalist state in action rang very hollow. For example, in the Assembly on February 3, Nkomo accused the Fifth Brigade of having raped "masses of teachers” near Tsholotsho. The Deputy Minister for Education hotly denied this, pointing out that it was six teachers who had been raped, not “a mass”. Brigadier Garver, in charge of National Army operations, was sent to instruct the Fifth to be less brutal in future. Food aid and drought relief to Matabeleland was cut off by the government as part of its "anti-dissident" campaign. Thousands are on the verge of starvation and relief was resumed in some parts only after some ministers said they had seen local people eating grass.

There is a long-standing animosity between the Shona and Ndebele tribes, with the Shona forming the great majority, except in Matabeleland. There, former members of Nkomo’s Z1PRA guerrillas had imposed a brutal reign of terror "on behalf’ of the Ndebele agricultural workers, whose white farmer employers are protected by the government. This was the reason given for sending in the Fifth Brigade, known to many as the “Shona hitmen". But the real issue is one of class, not tribe. The tribal divisions are to some extent being bridged. The new head of ZAPU, since Nkomo’s departure is himself a member of the Shona tribe. At least one government minister (Mark Dube) is of the Ndebele tribe. Clearly, neither the self-appointed "dissident" guerrillas of Matabeleland nor the government shock troops can serve the interests of the majority who are excluded from all power and property. The new black and white élite  drink in the exclusive Harare Club (known as the Salisbury Club under the previous regime) and dine extravagantly at La Fontaine. They know that their wealth is secure as long as their wage-slaves kill and maim one another over past divisions and diversions, instead of rejecting political violence and demagoguery and uniting for socialism.

News reporters from various foreign newspapers have been expelled or banned from working in Zimbabwe for revealing the details of the government campaign. The slogans of peace and freedom on which Mugabe won support have been rapidly abandoned. It is just one of many ironies of the situation that one of the banned journalists was Nick Worrall of the Guardian, whose father was banned by the Ian Smith regime in 1969 when working for the same paper. There are many other examples of continuity between the former “colonial” and white-racist regime of Smith and the "black nationalist” rule of Mugabe. The Central Intelligence Organisation is run directly by Mugabe, as it was by Smith, and the Ministers for Security and Defence are now answerable directly to him, rather than to the Cabinet. The notorious Emergency Powers Act, under which some members of the present cabinet were once indefinitely detained, has been renewed every six months since independence three years ago. The traditional tortures of electric shock and suffocation by water have been kept in use for opponents of the state, and some claim to have been tortured by the same white officers as during the war for independence. The Law and Order Maintenance Act has never been repealed, and there has been a renewed use of Smith’s Indemnity and Compensation Act, which prevents any prosecutions from being brought against state forces. Ministers have even complained publicly that the judges are not as keen to enforce these oppressive laws as they were under the previous regime. Political rallies can now only be held with government permission, and Mugabe has been pressing for the abolition of the Senate and the further consolidation of state power for his party.

For many workers in Zimbabwe, 1980 was a year of great hope. After years of poverty. violence and institutionalised racism, there was at last a chance to vote for a black leader of the newly-established independent state. The election was hardly democratic, with widespread intimidation. Mugabe (ZANU) called himself a "Marxist" and promised wide-scale nationalisation and social reform in contrast to the “free market” capitalism of Bishop Muzorewa. He also depended to a large extent on Shona tribal loyalty. The government now claims that it has had to resort to all the oppressive actions of its predecessors because it has come under pressure from multinationals, white farmers, armed dissidents, militant socialists, drought and world recession. But this is merely a rather belated admission of what Mugabe could not afford to admit during his election campaign. Without democratic revolutionary action by a majority of workers, the system of production for profit remains, with all its violent contradictions. Mugabe is not a Marxist, but a Leninist. Although he opposes the Leninist state dictatorship in Russia, nevertheless he stands not for workers freeing ourselves by taking over the world’s wealth democratically, but for the control of society by a bureaucratic elite who “charitably” grant crumbs of reform “if conditions allow".

In this he represents a continuity with the history of oppression in Africa, rather than radical change. Like the rest of the continent, Zimbabwe has passed under the control of one band of parasites after another over the last hundred years, while the impoverished majority of black workers have worked to produce wealth which they do not own. In 1890, the British South African Company used armed force to invade Matabeleland (Southern Rhodesia) and take from King Lobengula its rich mineral and agricultural resources. The natives were herded into “reserves” and the fertile land was handed over to white European settlers. Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were taken at the same time, and these states were linked by Britain in 1953 into the Central African Federation. This was an attempt to form an enlarged and lucrative market area under the control of the “settler” government. The Federation was broken up under African pressure in 1963 and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland became independent as Zambia and Malawi.

Rhodesian state racism
The white settlers in (Southern) Rhodesia had ruled from their own parliament in Salisbury (now Harare) since 1923, but the British government refused to grant them full independence until the Africans who formed 19 out of 20 of the population were given more of a share in the government. This the colonial government refused to do and in 1965 Ian Smith made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. The resulting United Nations sanctions were widely broken, but it took fourteen years of negotiations, culminating in the Lancaster House talks, before independence was granted to the new state of Zimbabwe. From 1973 a violent guerrilla war had been waged by the Patriotic Front, representing the forces of native rather than settler nationalism. Through all these struggles since 1890, there is one common factor. Developments in the productive forces of the region have produced a succession of propertied interests competing for state power. It may appear strange to trace a line of descent from Mugabe, through Ian Smith to Cecil Rhodes himself, but each of these has stood for a particular sectional interest, always dressed up as something with more popular appeal. Mugabe represents a trend which is already prevalent in Africa, in which the traditional capitalist exploitation of wage-labour for the accumulation of capital is organised to a large extent by the state, rather than by private individuals. This nationalisation, often referred to as “public" ownership, is popular with would-be rulers of states which are not highly industrialised. since it allows the rates of profit and the pace of capital accumulation to be rapidly increased by organising industry in larger units.

Since 1890, most workers in Zimbabwe had suffered not only the poverty and insecurity of all those who depend on selling their daily ability to work in order to live but were seen by the colonial government as barely human, because of the colour of their skin. Almost inevitably, the constant fear and terrible indignity of this second-class existence was assumed by many to be simply the result of white rule and foreign domination. By the 1970s many black workers had gained the political confidence and strength to challenge that rule, and the arguments for “self-determination" and "democratic national independence" gained many committed supporters for the Patriotic Front. But the vote for Mugabe in 1980 was a vote for state capitalism. The informal apartheid of Rhodesia was to become a thing of the past, but the pervasive contradictions of world capitalism were to be allowed to flourish, under the enthusiastic leadership of Robert Mugabe. We do not just make these observations with hindsight. Before the election, the Socialist Party of Great Britain stated:
Whoever gains power, we may be sure he will be hell-bent on building up the capitalist economy and on training his citizens to become hard-working, obedient wages slaves, regardless of whether his advice, investment and technical assistance comes from the Soviet Union. Great Britain, South Africa or wherever. The hollow phrase “Victory to the Patriotic Front", beloved by the left-wing, means for African workers the victory of a different style of exploitation. (Socialist StandardMarch 1980.)
Many lives were lost in the war for "self-determination" and "majority rule”. It is now clear that even with a black figurehead in Zimbabwe to represent international capital, the problems of class division and violence persist. Events in Zimbabwe have shown that capitalism, as a system of production, is truly world-wide. Seventy per cent of industrial and commercial assets there are owned by multinationals. I.onhro controls over a million acres of ranchland, and the South African-based Anglo-American corporation dominates the sugar, mining and banking sectors. Any notions of national self-sufficiency are unrealistic and backward-looking in a world of rapidly growing interdependence. The capitalist class ignore national boundaries when they are seeking profitable investments. The nationalist response to the oppression of imperialism is its mirror image and leads to further oppression on a local scale.

The pressure of global uniformity is so great today that it has not been possible to implement even Mugabe's cynical programme of state capitalism. As early as 1980, his party policy-makers encouraged "the continuity of private enterprise in Rhodesia" and accepted “the need for a close commercial and logistic relationship with South Africa". (Guardian, 28 January 1980.) Now Bernard Chidlero. Minister for Economic Planning and Finance, has produced a National Development Plan which stresses the importance of foreign companies:
Government recognises the need to stimulate private sector investment by creating a favourable investment climate and taking necessary fiscal, monetary and other financial measures. (Guardian, 24 March 1983.)
Nationalisation has been held back for fear of losing the particular capital and technology tied up with European interests and the Western trade which is linked with them. There is also the fear of military interference from South Africa, which has occurred in Angola and Mozambique. Land reform has been held back for fear of alienating the 4,600 English commercial farmers who own 38 per cent of the land and receive 47 per cent of foreign currency earnings. A clause in the Lancaster House agreement threatens that if any land is seized, British land resettlement funds would be withheld; 700,000 African families are still struggling to survive on the poor soil of the old Tribal Trust Lands, which have simply been renamed the Communal Lands. The overwhelming point which arises from this is that a small minority, of whatever colour, monopolise the resources of Zimbabwe, as in the rest of the world. The shareholders of the Anglo-American Corporation are of a great variety of nationalities and colours.

In a speech in the Zimbabwe Assembly in July 1982, Robert Mugabe said of dissenters:
Some of the measures we shall take are measures which will be extra-legal . . .  an eye for an eye and an ear for an ear may not be adequate in our circumstances. We might very well demand two ears for one ear and two eyes for one eye. (Guardian, 23 March 1983.)
The time is long overdue for us to turn with disgust from this vicious talk of murdering workers for opposing one of the national state governments of capitalism. This is where the "practical politics" of administering the profit system lead. The suffering of black Africans at the hands of white colonisers was often beyond description, so that a great deal of emotional energy has gone into the forming of the newly independent states. Similarly, the Jews who formed the state of Israel after their experience of Nazi Germany were committed to the idea of the Jewish national state. But all these nationalist movements whether Irish. Polish or Pan-African. are tragically caught within the net of capitalist social relations. As such, they have no future except as administrative units for the profit system.

Socialists are engaged in the enormous task of persuasion and organisation to build a powerful world-wide movement for democratic revolution. There can be no socialism without a majority of socialists. One of the most popular strip cartoons in Africa in the 1970s was Seraphina in Jeune Afrique, in which the heroine fights against Octagone. headquarters of the “Soviet-American Republic”. Many Africans are aware of how the Warsaw Pact countries merely mirror the West in their capitalist policies of profitable investment, military expansion, state oppression of dissent and, above all, the persistence of the exploitation of wage-labour for the accumulation of capital. At the moment, Africa is still itself reflecting the same domination of the world by the interests of private and state property. The political leaders are looking for sheep to follow them to the semi-realisation of their empty, divisive dreams. But the power of class consciousness has been accumulating for centuries, and the African workers know what has happened to them. They have only to take the next step towards human liberation, and the arrogant élitism of Mugabe and the others who offer to act “on our behalf" will be broken forever. There are not three worlds — just one, and it is ours for the taking.
Clifford Slapper

The palace putsch

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets celebrating the military coup which ended the rule Robert Mugabe at the age of 93, having been more than 37 years in power.

Mugabe is being replaced by his long-standing Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) comrade, Emmerson Mnangagwa (aged 75). On Sunday at Zanu-PF’s emergency central committee meeting, Mnangagwa was made president. 

The only armed resistance apparently came from a few Mugabe loyalists in the police force and Central Intelligence Organisation, and from Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo’s bodyguards, one of whom was murdered by army troops during Chombo’s arrest. Moyo and another G40 leader once considered potential presidential material, Saviour Kasukuwere, were apparently picked up early on November 15 and taken to the army barracks. According to an insider interviewed by journalist Sipho Masondo, “People are romanticising the coup and saying it was not bloody. It was damn bloody. People are being beaten badly.”

What provoked the November 15 coup was Mugabe’s attempt to elevate his shopaholic wife “Gucci Grace” (aged 52) to the vice-presidency with the obvious intention of succession. Anti-Mugabe protesters carried signs saying, “Leadership is not sexually transmitted.” Grace Mugabe’s faction of Zanu-PF is known as “Generation 40” (G40), implying the readiness of a younger replacement team within the ruling party. Mugabe himself was most closely aligned to this group. 

Mnangagwa had fought Rhodesian colonialism in the 1970s, and soon became one of Mugabe’s leading henchmen, rising to the vice presidency in 2014. But Mugabe fired him on November 6, signaling Grace’s ruthless ascent. Mnangagwa leads the older “Team Lacoste” faction, whose logo-based signifier is his revealing nickname, “The Crocodile.” Mnangagwa is widely mistrusted due to his responsibility for (and refusal to acknowledge) 1982-85 “Gukhurahundi” massacres of more than 20,000 people in the country’s western provinces (mostly members of the minority Ndebele ethnic group, whose handful of armed dissidents he termed “cockroaches” needing a dose of military “DDT”); his subversion of the 2008 presidential election which Mugabe initially lost; his subsequent heading of the Joint Operations Committee secretly running the country, sabotaging democratic initiatives; as well as for his close proximity – as then Defence Minister – to widespread diamond looting from 2008-16. Mugabe himself last year complained of revenue shortfalls from diamond mining in eastern Zimbabwe’s Marange fields: “I don’t think we’ve exceeded US$2 billion or so, and yet we think that well over US$15 billion or more has been earned in that area.”

Not only was this vast scale of theft confirmed by local anti-corruption campaigner Farai Maguwu. In order for Mnangagwa to establish the main Marange joint venture – Sino Zimbabwe – with the notorious (and now apparently jailed) Chinese investor, Sam Pa, the army under Mnangagwa’s rule forcibly occupied the Marange fields. In November 2008, troops murdered several hundred small-scale artisanal miners there. (At a massacre solidarity visit to Marange on November 10, two dozen progressive activists – including Maguwu and 21 foreigners from a People’s Dialogue network that includes Brazil’s Movement of Landless Workers – were arrested for trespassing.

 According to Wang Hongwi of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, “Mnangagwa, a reformist, will abolish Mugabe’s faulty investment policy. In a country with a bankrupt economy, whoever takes office needs to launch economic reforms and open up to foreign investment… Chinese investment in Zimbabwe has also fallen victim to Mugabe’s policy and some projects were forced to close down or move to other countries in recent years, bringing huge losses.” Hongwi did not mention whether Sam Pa represents the ethos of such Chinese investors. Mnangagwa could be a Zimbabwean version of market-liberaliser Deng Xiaoping.

Mnangagwa is not only being toasted in Beijing, but also by Tory geopolitical opportunists in London. The UK ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing has for three years attempted to “rebuild bridges and ensure that re-engagement succeeds to facilitate Mnangagwa’s rise to power” with a reported “$2 billion economic bail-out.”

Harare activist Tom Gumede wrote  just before the masses hit the streets: “This is the time for workers, students and the poor of Zimbabwe to build a formidable unity for the future beyond Mugabe. A fractured population will lose the battles of the future… Another Zimbabwe is Possible. Through mass action the resistant Mugabe will finally be dislodged. His current cover under the Constitution will be blown up when people have spoken beyond the military takeover… Viva People Power and No to Elitist Transitions.”

Full article here
https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/11/20/zimbabwe-witnessing-an-elite-transition-as-economic-meltdown-looms/

Monday, November 20, 2017

The South African Rich



The number of super-rich South Africans has increased this year, while the average local person has got poorer, according to the latest Global Wealth Report, released this week by the Credit Suisse Research Institute.

The report’s findings show that 84 000 South Africans are among the top 1% of global wealth holders, up on last year’s figure of 66 000.

South Africa has 58 000 US dollar millionaires, which represents a significant increase on last year’s figure of 45 000.
This increase in the extremely wealthy starkly contrasts with GDP per capita, which dropped from 2016 levels of $15 158 per adult to $8 753 per adult.
In a small positive for the local ­population, 2017 indicated an upturn in mean wealth for the South African ­population from $20 589 per adult to $21 849.
Credit Suisse estimates that about 1.5 million South Africans, out of a total population of 56 million, fall into the top 10% of the globe’s most wealthy.
The report found that, in South Africa, personal wealth was largely comprised of financial assets, which contributed 64% to the household portfolio.
Looking worldwide, the report stated that, ten years on from the onset of the global financial crisis, global wealth has grown by 30%.
Total global wealth grew at a rate of 6.4% in the year to mid-2017, the fastest pace since 2012, and reached $280 trillion, a gain of $16.7 trillion.
The number of millionaires globally has increased by 170%, although the ­composition of the millionaire segment is changing fast.
In 2000, as many as 98% of millionaires were heavily concentrated in high income economies.
Since then, 23.9 million “new millionaires” have been added to the total, of whom 2.7 million – 12% of the total ­additions – originated from emerging economies.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Soil in Africa

Breadbaskets are regions that produce a large and stable surplus of one or more major food crops that not only meet local demand, but substantially contribute to the food supply in other regions. By this definition, there are only a few major breadbaskets in the world. The only rain-fed corn and soybean breadbaskets are the U.S. Corn Belt, Brazilian Cerrados and Argentinean Pampas.

Current yields in sub-Saharan Africa are well below what could be achieved given the region's farmable land and annual rainfall. The area receives more rainfall per year than other breadbaskets around the world. Given these factors, there is a persistent narrative that sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to become a grain breadbasket if production is intensified.

A lack of data on soil depths that will support root growth has limited rigorous evaluations of how well sub-Saharan soils can support high, stable yields. This is a critical parameter because deeper soils can buffer against rain-free periods. 

Soils in the U.S. Corn Belt are deep and young, laid down during the past 20,000 years, whereas sub-Saharan soils are weathered and much older, dating back at least 540 million years. In the U.S. Corn Belt, the soils are deeper than 1.5 meters.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Mugabe's Corruption

Standing in front of the 30 or so luxury villas that she has had built 
“We are blessed because we have Baba Mugabe,” she said. “He is the poorest president the world over." Grace Mugabe once declared.
Robert Mugabe has about £1bn-worth of assets, much of it invested outside Zimbabwe. 
There were rumours that his assets “include everything from secret accounts in Switzerland, the Channel Islands and the Bahamas to castles in Scotland”. Grace Mugabe is said to have bought a number of properties in the affluent Sandton suburb of Johannesburg and there are reported to have been property purchases in Malaysia, Singapore and possibly Dubai.
The first lady is reported to have the sort of designer shoe collection that might be expected of a dictator’s wife and, notoriously, is said to have spent $75,000 (£56,000) on luxury goods on a single shopping spree in Paris.
 Earlier this year the couple’s youngest son, Bellarmine Chatunga, posted on Instagram a photograph of his watch with the caption: “$60,000 on the wrist when your daddy run the whole country ya know!!!” Shortly afterwards, a video emerged showing the 21-year-old dousing his watch with champagne from a bottle of Armand de Brignac gold champagne, which retails at around $400 a bottle.
A small glimpse of Robert and Grace Mugabe’s wealth came to light in 2015, during a dispute over ownership of a $7.6m home in Hong Kong. There was a second glimpse earlier this year when the government-owned Herald newspaper reported that Grace had ordered a $1.35m diamond ring to mark her wedding anniversary.
 In Zimbabwe itself, the couple have been more brazen. As well as the compound at Mazowe and the palatial home in the capital’s wealthy Borrowdale district, they have a number of land holdings. The best known is the Omega Dairy farm, one of the largest dairy farms in southern Africa. Opposition politicians have claimed that the Mugabes actually own 14 farms in the country, which would be in contravention of the constitution, which limits land holdings.

224 million Africans are hungry

 The number of hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa rose by 10 percent to 224 million in 2016, largely due to conflict and climate change, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Swathes of Africa have been hit by prolonged droughts and floods over the last year, worsened by lower commodity prices and a sluggish global economy, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization said. Africa is highly vulnerable to climate change due to its poverty and reliance on rain-fed agriculture, experts say.
Hunger is about twice as prevalent in countries with long-running conflicts than in peaceful nations, it said.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cars and Congo's Cobalt

Many believe that electric that only a matter of time before electric cars as clean green vehicles become the norm and the guilt of transport emissions becomes a thing of the past. But ethical question marks loom large above the mining conditions of cobalt - a mineral used in the lithium-ion batteries that power cars, ( as well as smartphones and laptops.)

More than half of global supplies hail from one of the world's poorest nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where corruption abounds and children toil. The World Bank estimates two thirds of Congolese people live on less than 0.86 euros ($1.90) a day and Amnesty says hunger and unemployment often drive people to hunt for valuable minerals.

"Working conditions are appalling, there is no safety equipment and people risk getting buried alive in hand-made mines,” Matt Dummlett, a researcher at Amnesty International, told DW. "I've seen children as young as seven working on the surface, collecting stones and facing brutality and intimidation during long days in the heat."

 Carmakers, including VW and Daimler, where electric vehicles are expected to make up a quarter of sales by 2025, accelerate towards a cleaner future, and as engineers fine-tune new designs to compete with the likes of Tesla, they boost competition for raw materials. Volkswagen recently launched a tender to secure cobalt supplies for at least the next five years - following similar efforts by BMW and Tesla Motors - and overall demand for the mineral is forecast to jump eleven-fold by 2025.

Research by non-profit Global Witness reveals that between 2013 and 2015 more than 647 million euros in mining revenues paid by companies to Congolese state bodies was lost to the treasury. Many Congolese mining licences are sold by Gecamines, the state mining company, which Global Witness researcher Peter Jones calls a "black hole”. "Gecamines is headed by one of [President Joseph] Kabila's inner circle. It has repeatedly sold off stakes in its mining projects, it doesn't publish its accounts and there is no way of knowing where exactly money paid into it could end up,” Jones said.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"Working Like a Robot"

Tanzanian domestic workers in the Gulf are beaten, sexually assaulted and deprived of pay, rights campaigners said.

Thousands of Tanzanian women work in the Middle East, lured by promises of salaries 10 times higher than they could earn at home. But visa-sponsorship rules in Oman and the United Arab Emirates, known as the kafala system, mean they cannot change jobs without their employer's consent and can be charged with "absconding" if they flee, Human Rights Watch said. Recruiters are increasingly turning to East Africa where protections are weaker. Employers often got away with paying East Africans far less than Asians.
Most of the  women interviewed were made to work 15 to 21 hours a day and had their passports confiscated, HRW said. More than half were underpaid and some said they were not paid at all. Around two in five reported physical abuse and the same proportion said they were sexually harassed or assaulted.
One Tanzanian woman employed in Oman told researchers how her employers attacked her when she returned from hospital after fainting. She said she was raped by her employer after being stripped and beaten by two women in the family. "They took the money I earned ... I was scared, traumatised, and didn't know who to speak to," she was quoted as saying.
Another woman, who worked 17-hour days, said she fled after being sexually assaulted. But when she tried to file a complaint with the police they told her she faced charges for running away and said she must pay a fine of more than $500 or spend time in jail.
Anti-Slavery International said abuse was very common and called on Tanzanian embassies to do much more to help exploited workers. "It is outrageous that they are being sent back to abusive situations when they ask for help," said spokesman Jakub Sobik.

Lagos Land Grab

Amnesty International has called on the Nigerian government to stop the violent evictions of people from waterfront communities in Lagos that have left 11 dead.
The human rights organisation says 30,000 people have been evicted and 11 have died in midnight evictions in which police have set houses on fire, shot live ammunition and teargas at residents and then sent bulldozers in to destroy their homes. The evictions have been carried out in defiance of court orders. Residents have told of children being killed by bulldozers.
These fishing communities live on land that has become very desirable for property developers in a city where the rich mostly inhabit islands linked to mainland Lagos by long causeways.
“The children were still sleeping inside when the demolishers started tearing their house apart,” Pastor Ashegbon, a resident of Otodo Gbame, told the Guardian in May, while Pastor Mallon Agbejoye said: “We sleep in these piles of ruins. When it gets dark we make tents of mosquito nets and sleep inside them with our children. We are stranded with our family with no money and no shelter. Accommodation inside the city is expensive and we cannot afford it.”
Celestine Ahinsu, from the evicted Otodo Gbame community, told Amnesty: “After a couple of days, we started seeing the bodies floating. I saw three – a man with a backpack and a pregnant woman with a baby on her back. The community youths brought the bodies from the water. The relatives of the pregnant woman and child came to take their bodies.” Despite repeated evictions, hundreds of thousands of people still live in Makoko, wryly nicknamed the “Venice of Africa”, but Otodo Gbame is now just acres of white sand.
“For the residents of these deprived communities, many of whom rely on their daily fish catch to make a living, the waterfront represents home, work and survival,” Amnesty’s Osai Ojigho said. “Forced evictions mean they lose everything – their livelihoods, their possessions and in some cases their lives. These ruthless forced evictions are just the most recent examples of a practice that has been going on in Nigeria for over a decade, in complete defiance of international law." He said “The Lagos state authorities must halt these attacks on poor communities who are being punished for the state’s urban planning failures. The instability and uncertainty created by forced evictions is making their lives a misery as they are left completely destitute.”

Monday, November 13, 2017

Kenya's Tax Cheats

Wealthy Kenyans are learning from their peers around the world by constantly seeking elaborate schemes to protect their money and keep it away from the tax man at all costs. Private tax consultants are paid top dollar to devise means of routing investments the world over through layers of ownership structures deliberately designed to fool tax regimes.
Philip Muema, the managing partner at Nexus Business Advisory, said most high net-worth individuals prefer to spread risk by investing in various jurisdictions. “It is in everybody’s interest to pay the lowest possible taxes as long as it is not illegal,” Muema, who has previously been a partner at global consultancy firm KPMG in Kenya said. Many Kenyan businesses are owned by shell companies domiciled in countries where the tax rates are near zero.
Such parent companies, some owned by Kenyans, extend loans to local subsidiaries ensuring that most of the earnings made are shipped out to settle the debts in the jurisdictions where the income is hardly taxed. In that way, the owners of the business have effectively been cushioned from the harsher taxation schedule at home.
Before the tax havens, Kenya too was once a preferred destination for off the books big money investment. At the height of the piracy menace along the Indian Ocean coastline, Kenya was the go to destination from the heists.
Investment experts partly attribute the Nairobi real estate boom to this period, when the market was awash with unbankable money that was used to buy off properties in Kilimani, Kileleshwa, Eastleigh Nairobi West and South C as well as finding their way into the hospitality industry with hotels being bought off in Nairobi and Mombasa as a laundering scheme. All this from ransom money, paid to cartels operating off the shores of Kismayu with connections in Nairobi and European capitals. Proceeds from this period of lax financial laws in the country also made it to the transport sector, where many put their money in matatus as a form of legitimising income from dubious sources.

Inequality in Gauteng

The bottom half of Gauteng’s richest residents earn at least 32 times more than households that fall into the median income bracket, a Gauteng City Region Observatory survey shows.
Residents who are at the lower end of the elite 1% make upwards of R76,800 a month, while those who fall into the median income bracket earn R2,400 a month, figures contained in the region observatory’s 2015-16 quality of life survey show. The survey is done every two years.
The 1% is described as a group of elite earners whose income outstrips that of most of the population.
The 1% earns about 31% of the income in the province, while 69% goes to the rest of Gauteng’s residents, the survey results show.
Fewer than half of people in the province owned a house.
Residents who fell into the 1% category were also more likely to have obtained higher education qualifications, than their poorer peers in the province.
A downside of being part of the 1% group of elite earners was a high debt burden.
A total 80% of households in the 1% group had a personal computer, laptop or tablet.
The 1% group were less affected by crime, presumably because they could afford better security, 

Re-Locating Refugees

 About 43,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered by U.N. refugee agency UNHCR are now in Libya. Many are trapped in smuggling networks or detention centres where they are exposed to a range of abuses including rape and torture that have been widely documented. Most migrants travelling through Libya towards Europe come from sub-Saharan African countries. Many fleeing poverty, repression or conflict journey across the desert through Niger, Algeria or Sudan. The Libya to Italy crossing has become the main migrant route to Europe since an agreement between the EU and Turkey shut down smuggling through Greece last year.

A group of 25 refugees have been evacuated from Libya to Niger to have resettlement claims processed, in the first operation of its kind from the North African country, the United Nations said. The initial group evacuated by air from Tripoli to Niamey on Saturday was made up of 15 women, six men and four children from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan.

"We hope to be able to carry out more evacuations in the near future," said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean. But he said the scheme would remain "limited in scale" as long as commitments to resettle refugees remained "insufficient". "These refugee evacuations can only be part of broader asylum-building and migration management efforts to address the complex movement of migrants and refugees who embark on perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea," he said.

European states have pledged tens of millions of euros to Libya, Niger and migrants' countries of origin in an effort to stem the flows. European policy has drawn criticism from human rights groups that say it traps migrants in Libya, exposing them to further abuse there.

Africa and Climate Change

Despite its negligent contribution to global emissions, Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change—already suffering droughts, floods, affecting the predominantly rain-fed agricultural productivity and production.

 According to Professor Seth Osafo of AGN, “The slow progress by developed country parties towards reaching the US$100 billion goal of joint annual mobilization by 2020 is not in Africa’s interest.”

 Emphraim Mwepya Shitima, Chief Environmental and Natural Resources Officer at Zambia’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, said the developing country community needs financial resources now more than ever. 

With the US pullout meaning the loss of a major financial contributor, there are fears that the resource mobilization process might even get slower. Mithika Mwenda, Secretary General of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), a consortium of African civil society organisations, is also concerned and is pushing for industrialised countries to set more ambitious goals in terms of their emission cuts.

South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor believes private companies which drive scientific innovations in the developed world must stop seeing the developing world just as a mass clientele—where research and development is done just for corporate interests and not for the benefit of the people.

 "A number of private companies only have commercial relationships but do not have innovation relationships with the developing world; so the nature of partnerships between my continent Africa and other parts of the developing world must change,” she said. “If we are to do science in the 21st century…the way we perceive Africa and scientists in Africa has to fundamentally alter.”

Tuaregs V. Fulanis

When Doundou Chefou first took up arms as a youth a decade ago, it was for the same reason as many other ethnic Fulani herders along the Niger-Mali border: to protect his livestock. He had nothing against the Republic of Niger, let alone the United States of America. His quarrel was with rival Tuareg cattle raiders.

Yet on October the 4th, he led dozens of militants allied to Islamic State in a deadly assault against allied U.S.-Niger forces, killing four soldiers from each nation. Nigerien Defence Minister Kalla Mountari describe him as "a terrorist, a bandit, someone who intends to harm to Niger.” 

 Chefou used to be an ordinary Fulani pastoralist with little interest in jihad, several government sources with knowledge of the matter said. The transition of Chefou and men like him from vigilantes protecting their cows to jihadists is a story Western powers would do well to heed. 

For centuries the Tuareg and Fulani have lived as nomads herding animals and trading - Tuareg mostly across the dunes and oases of the Sahara and the Fulani mostly in the Sahel, a vast band of semi-arid scrubland that stretches from Senegal to Sudan beneath it. Some have managed to become relatively wealthy, accumulating vast herds. But they have always stayed separate from the modern nation-states that have formed around them. Though they largely lived peacefully side-by-side, arguments occasionally flared, usually over scarce watering points. A steady increase in the availability of automatic weapons over the years has made the rivalry ever more deadly.

A turning point was the Western-backed ouster of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. With his demise, many Tuareg from the region who had fought as mercenaries for Gaddafi returned home, bringing with them the contents of Libya’s looted armories. Some of the returnees launched a rebellion in Mali to try to create a breakaway Tuareg state in the desert north, a movement that was soon hijacked by al Qaeda-linked jihadists who had been operating in Mali for years. Amid the violence and chaos, some of the Tuareg turned their guns on their rivals from other ethnic groups like the Fulani, who then went to the Islamists for arms and training.

In November 2013, a young Nigerien Fulani had a row with a Tuareg chief over money. The old man thrashed him and chased him away. The youth came back armed with an AK-47, killed the chief and wounded his wife, then fled. The victim happened to be the uncle of a powerful Malian warlord. Over the next week, heavily-armed Tuareg slaughtered 46 Fulani in revenge attacks along the Mali-Niger border. The incident was bloodiest attack on record in the area.

“That was a point when the Fulani in that area realized they needed more weapons to defend themselves,” said Boubacar Diallo, head of an association for Fulani livestock breeders. He has documented dozens of attacks by Tuareg raiders that have killed hundreds of people and led to thousands of cows and hundreds of camels being stolen.

“The Tuareg were armed and were pillaging the Fulani’s cattle,” Niger Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum told Reuters. “The Fulani felt obliged to arm themselves.”

Gandou Zakaria, a researcher of mixed Tuareg-Fulani heritage in the faculty of law at Niamey University, has spent years studying why youths turned to jihad. 
“Religious belief was at the bottom of their list of concerns,” he told Reuters. Instead, local grievances were the main driving force. Whereas Tuareg in Mali and Niger have dreamed of and sometimes fought for an independent state, Fulani have generally been more pre-occupied by concerns over the security of their community and the herds they depend on.b“For the Fulani, it was a sense of injustice, of exclusion, of discrimination, and a need for self-defense,” Zakaria said.

Al-Sahrawi recruited dozens of Fulani into the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), which was loosely allied to al Qaeda in the region and controlled Gao and the area to the Niger border in 2012. After French forces in 2013 scattered Islamists from the Malian towns they controlled, al-Sahrawi was briefly allied with Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an al Qaeda veteran. Today, al-Sahrawi is the face of Islamic State in the region. Two diplomatic sources said there are signs al-Sahrawi has received financial backing from IS central in Iraq and Syria.
“There was something in his discourse that spoke to the youth, that appealed to their sense of injustice,” a Niger government official said of al-Sahrawi.

How Chefou ended up being one of a handful of al-Sahrawi’s lieutenants is unclear. The government source said he was brought to him by a senior officer, also Fulani, known as Petit Chapori. Like many Fulani youth toughened by life on the Sahel, Chefou was often in and out of jail for possession of weapons or involvement in localized violence that ended in deals struck between communities, the government official said.

Diall has met Chefou several times, said he was “very calm, very gentle. I was surprised when he became a militia leader”.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Calling the Financiial Elite

The spread of mobile phones across Africa has been one of the continent’s success stories over the past two decades, transforming lives through better communication. It has also resulted in huge profits for powerful international companies – and for some of Africa’s wealthiest and best-connected individuals. 

An investigation for the Observer into the African interests of UK mobile phone giant Vodafone, by the Finance Uncovered network, has raised serious questions about transparency and the processes by which western firms entered Africa’s telecoms markets. Often western operators that wanted market access in a particular country would have to choose between accepting a government stake in the venture, or giving significant shareholdings to “local investors”. But how those governments selected their partners appears contentious, and questions have been raised over how some deals were structured.

 In certain cases, politically connected elites secured shares in Vodafone subsidiaries by borrowing money from Vodafone itself. Such arrangements are legal, and for the lucky few able to do such deals the rewards have been huge. 

The International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank, estimates that mobile phone revenue in sub-Saharan Africa grew from $100m in 1995 to $40bn in 2015. Last September, Vodafone raised $1.1bn by selling a mere 5% stake in its main African subsidiary, Vodacom Group. And the month before, Vodacom Tanzania raised $213m by selling a 25% stake. The flotation, the biggest on the Dar es Salaam stock market, was a coup for one of Tanzania’s wealthiest businessmen, Rostam Aziz. A US embassy cable quoted a fellow politician saying of Aziz: “I don’t know what magic that guy has, but he is the power behind the throne.”  From a successful Tanzanian trading family, with interests in mining, agriculture, ports and media, Aziz became an MP in 1994 and went on to become the national treasurer for the ruling party after he bankrolled and managed Jakaya Kikwete’s successful presidential campaign in 2005. In 2011 he resigned as an MP amid corruption allegations. By this time he was a very wealthy man. 

In 1999 an Aziz company acquired a 10% stake in Vodacom Tanzania. Over the next eight years Aziz increased his shareholding to 35% via two companies, Mirambo and Caspian. Under rules that were common to shareholders in Vodacom Tanzania, local investors such as Aziz’s companies were obliged to lend the telecoms operator money to help it build its network. But Vodacom also lent Aziz’s company millions of dollars to help him with those obligations. By 2012, Vodafone says, Aziz’s company owed Vodacom $52.5m. Two years later Aziz’s company sold half of his shares for $240m. His shareholding catapulted him on to the Forbes list of global billionaires. Vodacom Tanzania now wants to buy out Aziz’s company’s remaining share, which would net him another huge payday.

Vodacom Tanzania is not the only Vodafone interest in Africa that has resulted in significant profits for influential and well-connected minority shareholders. In 1999 the Kenyan government of Daniel arap Moi allowed Vodafone Kenya to buy a 40% share in the state-controlled telecoms operator, Safaricom, for $42m.  Vodafone had been given “advice and assistance” on securing the investment by an anonymous Guernsey-registered company called Mobitelea. In 2001 Vodafone granted Mobitelea share options in Vodafone Kenya at 1999 prices, enabling it to buy a stake in Safaricom. Finance Uncovered estimates that these options eventually yielded Mobitelea a profit of about $51m in 2009, a reflection of Safaricom’s spectacular success. The involvement of Mobitelea did not surface until 2007, when the Kenyan government floated some of its Safaricom holding, and was required to list all current shareholders. But exactly who was behind the company has never been publicly disclosed. There is speculation that members of Moi’s inner circle may have benefited from the deal.  Vodafone says it was legally obliged not to publicly disclose the identity of the beneficial owner of Mobitelea for reasons of commercial confidentiality.  John Githongo, Kenya’s renowned anti-corruption champion and chairman of the Africa Centre for Open Governance, said he was concerned that the true beneficiaries behind Mobitelea had never been identified publicly.
“Reportage of these transactions continues with a bitter taste left in the mouth,” Githongo said. “How would British media and NGOs respond to the same practices if they took place within the UK?”
In 2007 Vodacom Mozambique lent Emotel, a telecom company owned by the economic arm of Frelimo, the country’s ruling party, nearly $1m to enable the government to meet its obligations to become a 3% shareholder in the telecom operator. Vodafone said Vodacom was told by the government that if it wanted to operate in the country it would have to partner with Emotel. Another shareholder was Intelec, a company that administers the business interests of Armando Guebuza, president of Mozambique until 2015, and one of the country’s richest individuals. A third was the Whatana Investment Group, an investment company chaired by Graça Machel, Nelson Mandela’s widow. Her first husband was Samora Machel, the president of Mozambique until his death in 1986.
The former chair of the public accounts committee, Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, questioned whether Vodafone could have done more to ensure that ordinary Africans benefited from the transactions.
“Vodafone should not just hold its nose while the wealthiest in Africa get even wealthier,” Hodge said. “They could have used their power to ensure that, where there were local ownership rules, the ordinary people of the country benefited, rather than the wealthy elite.”