Thursday, June 23, 2022

Racism Within the Aid Sector

 British MPs have issued a scathing report on racism in the aid sector, warning that colonial mentalities are pervasive across charities and in government.

In their public appeals, international aid organisations depict the communities they serve as “helpless and needy” and “strip them of their dignity”, implying the countries in which they work are “inferior to the UK”, said the international development committee.

Its report, released on Thursday, found UK staff working under Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) contracts who were overwhelmingly white, were paid significantly more than people hired locally. One UK staff member was paid 10 times more than a locally employed colleague.

Lorriann Robinson, from international consultancy firm Advocacy Team, told MPs she had seen examples of projects where applying the FCDO’s rates meant it was possible to have a professional with 15 years’ experience working alongside a graduate from the UK with two years’ experience who is paid more. “That is an example of what we would say is a policy that is producing inequities between racial groups,” she said.

Boards and senior leadership positions in NGOs are dominated by white people and based in high-income countries such as the UK, underpinned by false assumptions that best practice originates in wealthy states, the report said.

Themrise Khan, an international development professional from Pakistan, said aid was “yet another vehicle to indulge in racist practices”.

She said aid was meant to rebuild countries after the end of colonial rule but had ended up being “a vehicle for former colonisers to continue to control most of their former colonists by holding them ransom to aid”.

“If we want racism in aid to end, we must accept the fact that the northern system of aid and everyone in it also abets racism,” Khan said.

At present, decisions around aid spending are often made in the headquarters of European and North American donors. They are detached from the communities they serve which can lead to their work being less effective, the report said.

Racism in aid sector is a hangover of colonialism, says scathing report by MPs | Global development | The Guardian

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Nicotine Kills

 


As a global anti-tobacco lobby grows amid concerns of unabated tobacco-related deaths, researchers are training the spotlight on tobacco consumption and its toll on public health and national economies. 

In a new report by the University of Chicago, researchers who have created a Tobacco Atlas after surveying 63 countries say global smokers now exceed 1.1 billion people. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says tobacco causes more than 8 million global deaths annually. More than “7 million of those deaths resulting from direct tobacco use, while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.”

While, according to researchers, global smoking prevalence is dropping, from 22.6 percent in 2007 to 19.6 in 2019, Africa and other developing parts of the world are recording an increase in tobacco consumption, the report says.

“Some African countries are seeing an increase in adult and youth smoking. What we’ve seen in Africa is the slowest decline in smoking prevalence of any region,” said Professor Jeffrey Dope, lead author of the Tobacco Atlas and a professor of public health at the University of Illinois.

“The tobacco industry is aware of this. They are working very hard to convince governments that tobacco is very important for the economy. Unfortunately, they’re having some success,” Dope said during a Zoom report launch early this month.

“Global progress is threatened by growing smoking rates among children aged 13 to 15 in many countries and by tobacco industry tactics such as targeting poor countries with weak regulatory environments,” the researchers said.

“We have countries where female teens smoke more than male teens and adult females, which is happening in different parts of the world,” said Violeta Vulovic, senior economist at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Chicago.

“The tobacco industry aggressively markets to children, especially through flavour products. And through social media, especially influencers, the industry clear understanding that the peer-to-peer effect is perhaps the most effective way to get kids to try smoking,” Vulovic said.

African countries continuing to rely on tobacco for forex earnings, findings contained in the Tobacco Atlas are not likely to persuade governments to slow down the production of what across the continent has been called “green gold.”

Tobacco Consumption Slows in the West, Grows in Africa | Inter Press Service (ipsnews.net)

Glencore Guilty of Corruption

 A British subsidiary of Anglo-Swiss commodities giant Glencore has formally pleaded guilty to seven counts of bribery in connection with oil operations in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and South Sudan.

Glencore Energy admitted to paying more than $28m in bribes to secure preferential access to oil – including increased cargoes and preferable dates of delivery – and generate illicit profit between 2011 and 2016.

Glencore is also paying $29.6m directly to state-run Brazilian oil company Petrobras in compensation for defrauding the company and roughly $10m to authorities in civil penalties, prosecutors have said.

Helen Taylor, a legal researcher at pressure group Spotlight on Corruption, urged authorities to now investigate and prosecute senior executives who had condoned the wrongdoing.

Glencore UK subsidiary pleads guilty to bribery in Africa | Courts News | Al Jazeera

Socialist activity in Gambia (1999)

 Party News from the June 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

An account of the recent visit by two delegates from the Socialist Party to Gambia (2 – 9 April).
A six-hour flight from a rain-swept Manchester airport, south across France, Spain, picking up the African continent in shape of Morocco, down across the yellow landscape of Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal and the final descent to Yundum airport 10 kilometres out of Banjul, the capital of Gambia. We were familiar with the names of many people and places having been involved for the last 3 years in a campaign of correspondence with like-minded Socialists, all started by the placing of socialist articles in English-speaking newspapers and journals. The interest generated had convinced the EC to endorse our visit in the hope that we could establish the true extent of socialist activity and the potential for consolidating ties.

Gambia is a narrow strip of land some three hundred miles along the banks of the river Gambia, a small country with a population of 1.2 million, its capital Banjul being situated on an island at the mouth of the river.

We were met at the airport by a number of members and driven off in a yellow taxi belonging to one of the comrades along roads that had more holes than the Labour Party’s case. First impressions were of long stretches of low-level dwellings and shops and it felt that most of the population was out and about on the road that led to the Kombo (district) of Serra Kunda, a hive of human activity and as it turned out inactivity too.

We made our headquarters in a cheap hotel in a place called Bacau and as events turned out we took over the telephone and were to receive a continuous flow of visitors as we organised a series of meetings and discussions. Before we had any real time to get to know our comrades we met with a bar owner from Freetown, Sierra Leone who in the course of a conversation informed us that “Marxism cannot be said to have failed because it had never been tried!” Like many of the residents in the area this man had fled his home country and the carnage behind him. He had a lively interest in Socialism and we left him with tapes and literature. He proved to be a useful contact and in the course of events we were to use a room in his bar for a number of meetings. He also agreed to the comrades using his room as a headquarters after we left with the further promise of a room in his house for a more permanent headquarters. Things were up and running.  

As the week progressed we held 4 meetings with an average attendance of 16 members and potential members. The meetings were lively and productive resulting in the establishment of an interim Executive Committee, General Secretary and various other requisite positions. Due to the problems of geography and the fledgling nature of the enterprise, positions were agreed by the comrades present and are to be maintained for 6 months until such time as more democratic voting procedures can be organised involving the membership throughout the country. Representatives of the various provincial branches of Brikama, Basse, Farafenni, Georgetown and Banjul were present and took up positions on the EC. A clear impression was gained that these people were serious-minded and determined to make advances. They had a commitment to democratic accountability and the need to ensure that a formal structure procedure was adhered to. An EC meeting was to be held every 2 months in Bacau with clearly defined Party committees responsible for all essential tasks in the running of an efficient socialist organisation.

The potential for growth is very encouraging. Many of the comrades are school teachers and are busy holding meetings in schools up and down the country. A highlight of the visit was our being able to hold a meeting in a technical school in a small town, Brikama. Two of the comrades also addressed the meeting and the level of interest was heart-warming. The students showed a good understanding of many aspects of Socialism and a good understanding of current world issues. These were confident, articulate young men and they demonstrated a critical and analytical approach to the subject of Socialism.

A number of journalist contacts were established, one young man being a member of the organisation which culminated in an interview with the daily Observer newspaper which will hopefully be published shortly. We gave a no-holds-barred account of the case for World Socialism.

It is not difficult to use the material conditions at hand to argue the necessity for socialism. A major problem in Gambia is unemployment. The majority of the population in the Bacau region appeared to be in a condition of enforced idleness. There just aren’t any jobs nor is there any welfare provision. The result is a culture that forces the youth to attach themselves to the Toubab (white person) with whom they have come into contact as a result of the emerging tourist industry. These are resourceful people who over the years have invented quite plausible reasons why you should part with your money. Over and above the fact that the unwary tourist will be charged massively inflated prices if they are unaware of the custom of haggling, these young people known as “bumsters” will convince you that their services are both necessary and in need of financial recompense. This entrepreneurial spirit led one young man to try to persuade us that there existed a beach tax payable to him as a representative of the local administration. Holy water at a reasonable price abounded, along with the stroking of a crocodile and sponsoring of schools. A friendly handshake could cost around 50 Dalasi (£3). We declined to visit too many new-born babies for fear that we would be cleaned out.

The visit must be interpreted in the context of African culture. It is different from that which we see in Britain. In the rural villages there exists a healthy spirit of community sharing. People work co-operatively on a variety of ventures. Everybody knows everybody and shares common interests. The fragmentation of society so common in Western cities and towns is alien to the people we met. This is fertile ground for socialist argument. A warmth of humanity is in evidence, a genuine interest in fellow human beings and the physical manifestation of full handshaking. The hospitality we encountered, the socialist ideals we shared and the desire to build a more sane world community will live with me for the rest of my life.

It was also encouraging to note the ambition of many of the comrades. Many were from Nigeria and had contacts throughout West Africa. They saw the Gambia venture as but the first step, intending to link up and establish firm footing throughout the region. The possibilities to support the comrades are considerable. To enable them to flourish they will need good supplies of literature, tapes and so on. There are many possibilities to place articles and letters in a number of English language journals including the Observer and New African. There is a need for money to enable them to carry on their activities over and above the money they are intending to raise themselves.  

The comrades in Gambia decided on the name “A World of Free Access” taking into consideration the current political climate. They thought that the government would be overtly hostile to any aspiring political party and that its members would be at risk. New political parties are not able to register until early in the next century. This is their stated aim and they intend to put the meantime to good use in a concerted campaign of education and the building of a strong membership. If we are serious in our stated aims to see the spread of Socialism on a global level then this is an opportunity not to be wasted.
Andy Pitts

Solidarity with Zimbabwean Strikers

 


Zimbabwean healthcare workers, the country’s nurses, doctors, pharmacists, radiologists and other medical professionals, have gone on strike to compel the government to pay salaries in US dollars as spiralling inflation has eroded the purchasing power of their take-home pay.

Striking workers held placards and danced outside Zimbabwe’s main hospitals, such as Parirenyatwa in the capital Harare, which is one of the country’s largest referral hospitals, and Sally Mugabe Central Hospital, also in the capital, demanding better salaries.

Zimbabwe is in the grips of an economic crisis characterised by hyperinflation, a rapidly devaluing local currency, 90 percent unemployment, and declining manufacturing output. With the purchasing power of their salaries decimated by an inflation rate upwards of 132 percent, the striking public health workers and other civil servants are demanding that their salaries be paid in US dollars, which they see as a more stable currency. Zimbabwe adopted the use of US dollars in 2009 after its local currency was decimated by hyperinflation. It re-introduced its own currency again in 2019, which is also now failing to hold its value against the US dollar.

Dr Tapiwanashe Kusotera, the leader of Health Apex, a body representing all unions in the healthcare sector, said the government must “cushion the workers” from the vagaries of inflation, and “address specific issues such as cost of living adjustment and working conditions”.

Zimbabwe Nurses Association Secretary-General Enock Dongo warned lives would be lost if the labour dispute was not resolved quickly.

“Nurses got only ZWL$20,000 last week as salaries. This is around US$50 at the official auction rate and only US$30 at the black market,” Dongo explained. “There is just no way any employee can survive on that. The nurses are saying that they can’t survive on that.”

Gift Mugano, visiting professor of economics at the University of Zimbabwe Business School, warned that Monday’s industrial action was the beginning of more strikes in the country.

“This is the beginning of such strikes. I must say that the people have been very patient,” Mugano said.

Zimbabwe healthcare workers strike over wages, inflation crisis | Business and Economy News | Al Jazeera

Monday, June 20, 2022

Hunger Spreads Across the Sahel

 Niger is on the frontline of the climate crisis. The food is all finished and until the rains come no planting can be done in southern NigerIncreasingly erratic rainfall and longer dry seasons mean that many parts of the country have not had a good harvest in a decade. Temperatures are rising 1.5 times faster here than the rest of the world, leading to a cycle of droughts that are eroding the 14% of land that is arable. Last year there was a 39% drop in cereal production.

“The population is on the brink of a dire humanitarian crisis,” says Ilaria Manunza, of Save the Children. “In fact, we are already in the middle of it – the child malnutrition rate is one of the highest in the world.”

Jihadist violence has spilled over from neighbouring Mali and Nigeria, uprooting hundreds of thousands of people, while the economic shock of the war in Ukraine 2,800 miles away has sent food prices soaring.

About 44% of Niger’s children are malnourished and 4.4 million people – 18% of its population – are predicted to face crisis levels of food insecurity or worse this year, twice as many as last year.

Underresourced humanitarian agencies only have funds to help 3.3 million people, leaving more than a million without the aid they need, as donors grapple with other crises. A recent emergency response plan from Niger’s government to deal with the crisis has a shortfall of $200m in its $280m budget, while the UN’s World Food Programme slashed rations to those it helps in Niger by 50% in January as the global food crisis bites.

Like other Sahel countries, Niger sees a big rise in child malnutrition cases during the “lean season” – the gap between harvests that lasts for about four months, starting in June. But doctors and humanitarians say these spikes are becoming more pronounced as the climate crisis bites. The lean season is starting earlier than expected as poor rains mean failed harvests, leaving families unable to replenish stocks or feed themselves.

Everything is becoming very expensive. You see a lot of men and women begging for food. The situation is similar in Burkina Faso and Mali, where people cannot be reached because of jihadist violence. In total, 41 million people across west Africa are facing food insecurity this year, a number that has quadrupled since 2019.

 Paolo Cernuschi, Niger director for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), explained, “We already had critically high malnutrition rates, with climate change and insecurity. Now we have the war in Ukraine piled on top and food prices have reached all-time highs.”

The IRC has been forced to scale back its operations amid soaring fuel and food prices. On Thursday, David Beasley, head of the WFP, said the economic shocks of the Ukraine war had caused his organisation’s operating costs to rise by $70m a month. As a result, the WFP has reduced people’s rations and was recently forced to suspend some operations in South Sudan, where it feeds 6 million people.

Ali Bandiare, president of the Nigerien Red Cross, says the crisis is the worst in the past decade: “And at the same time, it is one of the least funded. The war in Europe is adding to this problem. We fear redirecting humanitarian budgets to deal with the Ukraine crisis risks dangerously aggravating the situation.”

‘We just pray for rain’: Niger is in the eye of the climate crisis – and children are starving | Global development | The Guardian

Sunday, June 19, 2022

State and class in pre-colonial West Africa

 From the May 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Was the state instituted for mutual protection or did it arise when society became divided into classes?
Long before Marx and Engels, political thinkers and philosophers had written extensively on the concept of the state. In the 1640s, Thomas Hobbes had argued that the state was essentially a contract between the individual and the government. The alternative, called by Hobbes the state of nature, was a thoroughly unpleasant life—solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

This, according to Hobbes, the state emerged to improve mankind’s lot. However, Engels, summing up his historical analysis in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, argued that the State was a product of class society: “It is an admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel.” As if to echo Engels, Marx pointed out that the state could not have arisen, let alone maintained itself, had it been possible to reconcile classes. According to Marx the state is an instrument of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another.

Marx revealed that a definite level of development of labour productivity is essential before there is real opportunity for humans to exploit other humans. If people produce only the minimum of products required to maintain their physical existence and reproduction, any systematic appropriation of someone else’s labour is out of the question. The opportunity to appropriate someone else’s labour appears only when the productive forces have developed to the level at which the quantity of goods produced somewhat exceeds the minimum required to maintain the direct producers’ lives. The question then arises: Did Africa’s labour productivity reach a level that provided the opportunity for humans to exploit their fellow human beings? The answer is both no and yes. The appropriate answer to this question would enable us to determine the original of the state in pre-colonial Africa.

But it would be absurd to think of only the level of productive forces without the relations of production. Productive forces cannot be developed in a vacuum. People produce them jointly—in groups rather than on their own. People’s relationship to the means of production determine their position and place in the production and the mode of distribution of the products. Where one group of people makes its living by appropriating the labour of the other, then society is divided into the exploiter and exploited. The need to maintain this vampiric relationship of production leads to the rise of an apparatus of coercion and conditioning to systematically brainwash the exploited into accepting their exploitation as a normal condition of life or to crush their resistance.

Before private ownership
If this analysis of state and class is anything to go by then one cannot authentically talk of the state among some of the communities in Ghana before the 14th century. The predominant principle of social relations was that of the family and kinship associated with communalism. Among the Gur social groups in the Upper East Region of Ghana, for example, every member of the society had their position defined in terms of their relationship with their mother’s or father’s family. Leadership was based on religious ties to the Tindana, or custodian of the land, who ran the affairs of the people with a committee of elders chosen from all the families and clans of the territory. This committee administered land, the major means of production not as its personal property, but as the property of all the people in Gurum-Tinga (Gur land) who had the right to till it. Hunting, fishing and grazing grounds for animals were organised in a similar manner. No-one starved whilst others stuffed themselves with food and threw the excess away or sold it for profit. The basic economic law was that of providing the members of society with the necessary means of subsistence through communal ownership of the means of production. The absence of private property in the means of production, of the division into classes and the exploitation of man by man excluded the need for a state. Production was essentially of use values; and there was no alienation of the producer from his means of production.

The fundamental flaw in the social organisation of the Gur however was that the position of the Tindana was supposedly sanctioned by the gods, and therefore permanent. This notion also applied to the elders of families and clans who served in the committee of elders. Only death could loosen their grip on authority. This meant that people occupying positions of trust could use their positions for personal gain, taking a significant share of communal property and becoming rich; indeed vestiges of private ownership of property began to rear its ugly head in the Gur community around the 16th century. However this development did not reach its fullest maturity before the violent intrusion of British colonial rule. To a very large extent, this explained why the British colonial government had to create chiefs in Gur land and use them as instruments of its policy of exploitation and dehumanisation.

It is also important to note that once African societies began to expand by internal evolution, and the instruments of labour were perfected, people obtained more means of subsistence than was essential for their survival. The restricted nature of communal property and the egalitarian distribution of products of labour that characterised people such as the Gur acted as a drag on the further development of the productive forces. The need for joint labour disappeared with the appearance of sickles, iron-tipped hoes, spears and arrows. What this meant was that the possibility of individual labour also emerged. But individual labour brought about private ownership, private ownership brought about inequality between the people; and rich and poor people emerged. In the Mali empire, for example, the dominant mode of production was feudalism even though the communal and slave modes of production had not completely died out. By the end of the 15th century there were both chattel and domestic slaves in Mali comparable to the feudal serfs in Europe. In Senegal Portuguese traders also found that there were elements in the population who worked most days for their masters and a few days per month for themselves—a budding feudalist tendency.

A cursory look at the socio-economic and political scene in Africa before colonisation does not reveal one dominant mode of production. Also it is not easy to compartmentalise the socio-economic formations and arrange them in a sequence as some writers do, because the social and economic terrain reveals considerable unevenness in development. There were social formations representing hunting bands, communalism, feudalism while other formations represented a mixture of these. It was upon these that colonialism was superimposed.

Adongo Aidan Avugma

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Uranium mining exposed (1992)

 


Book Review from the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Past Exposure. By Greg Dropkin and David Clark. Namibia Support Committee in association with People Against Rio Tinto Zinc.

Inspired and encouraged by the Mineworkers’ Union of Namibia, Past Exposure is a highly technical yet eminently accessible expose of the deadly health and environmental hazards associated with the world’s largest opencast uranium mine, Rossing Uranium in Namibia which is largely owned by Rio Tinto Zinc.

Rossing’s manager of corporate affairs has dismissed the book as “a collection of distortions and half-truths cunningly woven together into a plausible text”. But the authors, Greg Dropkin and David Clark, use highly confidential internal company documents, personal testimonies made by mineworkers, and up-to-date environmental and medical research into the effects of uranium mining, to show that it is in fact Rossing Uranium which has been economical with the truth over a period of many years.

Dropkin and Clark demonstrate that, despite the company’s claims to operate within recognised international standards of health and safety, workers have been continually exposed to excessively high levels of silica dust and of uranium dust and radiation which cause, amongst other things, diseases of the chest and lungs, kidney failure, and cancer and hinder the mental and physical development of unborn babies.

In the case of radioactive radiation the authors show that there is no such thing as a safe level of exposure and that, even if there was, the company has not, despite its claims to the contrary, been properly measuring and monitoring the levels of radiation doses received by workers. The workers most exposed to silica dust and other health hazards tend to be black. The specialist in charge of monitoring chest complaints ascribes these to smoking and “ethnic" differences!

The detailed discussion of water pollution caused by uranium mining completely demolishes any company statement that it has not polluted any groundwater systems or the Khan river. Radioactive waste from uranium mills is stored in tailings dams. It leaks into the surrounding air and water and develops a serious long-term environmental problem. It seeps into the soil and enters food chains as well as poisoning the water. Rossing’s water management data is a well-kept secret but Dropkin and Clark estimate that
780 million gallons of tailings liquid seeped out in a twelve-month period . . . the contamination may be anywhere from the ground-water system to the Khan and/or Swakop rivers reaching the sea at Swakopmund.
Past Exposure has two main objectives. Its first is to empower the workers at Rossing Uranium in their efforts to negotiate a health and safety agreement with RTZ in line with agreements at other uranium mines, mostly notably Rio Algom, RTZ’s Canadian uranium mine. At this mine, as the authors point out in some detail, far superior though by no means perfect standards of health and safety prevail as a result of sustained and informed pressure put on the mining company by the Canadian mineworkers.

The publication of the book has already caused a stir in Namibia. Extracts were published in The Namibian newspaper which has as a result faced threats of legal action from the mining company. Since the publication of the book the Namibian government has requested the International Atomic Energy Agency in conjunction with the World Health Organisation to investigate issues of health, radiation exposure and waste disposal at the mine.

The book’s second main objective is to raise awareness about the hazards of the nuclear industry of which uranium mining is a primary feature. In the present economic recession miners are not only fighting for better health and safety agreements but also for their jobs in the face of savage redundancies. Like many workers around the world they are caught in that cruel contradiction of having to fight for a job that is useless or dangerous producing a commodity that is useless or dangerous, or face the prospect of unemployment.

This is a contradiction which the authors, as long-standing opponents of the nuclear power industry, acknowledge; and while they themselves would wish to see the end of the nuclear industry they point out that it is “most important that the workers employed at Rossing and elsewhere in the nuclear industry' should be engaged in a real debate about its future”.

It is difficult to see how the Namibia Support Committee who co-publishcd this book can square their anti-nuclear position and their obviously sincere support for the mineworkers of Namibia with their long history of support for SWAPO, the government of the Namibian state which gained its independence in 1990.

SWAPO does not appear to be interested in engaging in any serious debate over the future of the Namibian workers without a uranium mine. Nor would it be in its interests to do so. The nuclear industry is highly profitable and controlled on a global scale by a few multinational conglomerates. The Namibian economy is heavily dependent on uranium mining. If any Namibian government is to successfully ensure its position then it does so by working closely with those multinationals who control uranium mining.

As early as 1975 SWAPO was in negotiation with RTZ when they asked the company to issue a statement recognising SWAPO as the prospective Namibian government. In 1985, despite calling on all multinational companies to quit Namibia forthwith because they “fuel Pretoria’s war machine”, SWAPO made the following statement:
When Namibia is free we will certainly reach an agreement with [the multinationals] which will be beneficial to all of us. (Quoted in Plunder by R. Moody).
Beneficial to all but the workers in the Uranium mines and ordinary people around the world who in growing numbers watch with dismay as the world’s resources are plundered to fill the pockets of'a few leaving a trail of human and environmental devastation, the effects of which will be felt for generations to come.
Kerima Mohideen


"The company keeps saying that the uranium we work with is harmless but I never had a skin ailment until I started working in this area. Because they have never taken interest I conclude that Rossing are concerned about profits and not the health of workers. We desperately need outside expertise to tell us about the short-term and long-term effects of working with uranium. For this we need international help, especially from the international trade union movement'’.
—statement made by worker at Rossing Uranium mine in Namibia.

Child Brides

 Africa is home to 130 million child brides, both girls under the age of 18 who have already married and adult women who were married as children. 

Nearly 140 million girls and women in Africa have undergone female genital mutilation.

Child marriage and female genital mutilation are a violation of children’s rights. Yet, in many communities across the continent, girls continue to be at risk of one or both practices. Child marriage is present throughout the continent, with the highest levels across the Sahel and in pockets of Central and Eastern Africa. Nine out of ten countries with the highest levels of child marriage in the world are in sub–Saharan Africa, including respectively Niger, the Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Guinea and Nigeria.

“Ending child marriage is a key priority for UNICEF. To accelerate efforts, we need to invest in areas for high impact, notably reducing poverty as a main driver of child marriage, ensuring girls’ access to quality education and learning at scale and social and behaviour change in favour of girls’ and women’s full and active participation in social and economic life..." said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

If progress is not accelerated, an additional 45 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa will become child brides in the next decade, driven by slow progress and demographic growth.

130 million African girls and women today married as children - World | ReliefWeb

Friday, June 17, 2022

Corruption and its Accomplices

 


Last month, as part of the launch of its publication Understanding Corruption, the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption held an event entitled Breaking Free from State Capture, featuring a keynote address by Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-British telecoms billionaire.

State capture is a form of grand corruption and refers to systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence formation of a state’s policies and laws to their own advantage. These captors, through their personal connections to the political elite, gain a long-term economic stranglehold, not just by changing the rules but by the compounding over time of their interests, power and wealth.

Ibrahim criticised the mismanagement of both natural and human resources, noting that more than 600 million African people were without electricity, which affects their quality of life, business and education. He asked and answered the question that has always been a conundrum: why is Africa so poor while it possesses so many natural resources?

He laid the blame squarely on corruption – aided by bad governance and poor leadership but more so by illicit financial flows entrenched in the US and Europe. He quoted the UN’s estimate that this amounts to more than $89bn (£75bn) a year – roughly 3.7% of Africa’s GDP – as money-laundering in the US and Europe enables the proliferation of corruption, supporting criminals and dictators.  He singled out big corporations such as Starbucks, Apple and Google, which have all had tax avoidance schemes investigated. He omitted Meta, Microsoft and Amazon.He lamented the dire need for registers of beneficial ownership of companies, previously shrouded in secrecy but now suddenly under scrutiny in tracing and freezing assets of Russians.

Ibrahim ended with a declaration that corruption needed to be confronted in Westminster and Washington before it could ever be dealt with effectively in Africa. 

Corruption blights the developing world but the US and Europe are accomplices | Kenneth Mohammed | The Guardian

Congo's Lungs of the World


 A large region of carbon-rich peat, discovered in central Africa, is under threat from uncontrolled development - posing a significant risk for future climate change.

"This peat is so important in the context of climate change. We have a very large amount - some 30 billion tonnes - of carbon stored here. And if it is released into the atmosphere it is going to accelerate global change," said Suspense Ifo, Congo-Brazzaville's leading expert on the peatlands. "That's about 20 years of US fossil fuel emissions. I think these ecosystems aren't yet valued as they should be at the international level. [The Congo-Brazzaville government] needs the international community to support them financially to ensure these peatlands remain protected," said Dr Dargie.

The peatlands hold far more carbon than the vast forests in which they are found. But the peat, which has taken thousands of years to build up, can be destroyed within a matter of weeks if allowed to dry out.

The main threats come from longer dry seasons, linked to climate change, and from man-made actions like unsustainable farming practices - a serious challenge as Congo-Brazzaville and its neighbours seek to develop their economies and adapt to growing populations.

A more recent concern is the possibility of significant oil deposits being confirmed and exploited, close to the peatlands. Congo-Brazzaville's government has already begun parcelling out blocks of land and looking for potential investors.

"You can't ask us to keep our natural resources under wraps. If we need to exploit them, we shall exploit them, in a sustainable way and in accordance with environmental rules," said Congo-Brazzaville's Environment Minister Arlette Soudan-Nonault, dismissing concerns about corruption and mismanagement. "You can't keep saying: 'These Africans - they misuse funds.' It's time we understood that it is in our common interest to conserve [the peatlands]. Because if [the West] doesn't help support our conservation work, we shall be obliged to use our own natural resources, because we need money simply to live," she added.

Moves to exploit the resources buried beneath the peatlands are already under way across the river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its Hydrocarbons Minister, Didier Budimbu, recently announced an auction of land that is to be developed for oil production. Scientists say some of the earmarked sites overlap the peatlands. Budimbu told colleagues that "national oil production must leave the modest zone of 25,000 barrels a day".

"If this plan is not stopped it will have disastrous consequences," said Irene Wabiwa Betoko from Greenpeace Africa. "So it's very imperative that the DR Congo government and donors put their effort to stop the oil blocks and start talking renewable energy."

In the  town of Ntokou, the local administrator, Alphonse Essabe acknowledged a "public information vacuum" regarding the peatlands.

"We live from fishing and hunting here. But if we are to live in harmony with our peatlands, then the big powers, the world's big polluters, need to provide funding to help us," he said.

Despite a series of international agreements about the need to protect the peatlands of the Congo Basin, there is growing frustration in the region, with ministers like Ms Soudan-Nonault accusing the West of hypocrisy.

"Without the Congo Basin, the rest of the world couldn't breathe. We Africans provide an eco-systemic service for the whole planet. It makes sense that such a service has a price. "Now that the Amazon has lost its role as the regulator of the world climate due to deforestation… the Congo Basin acts as the lungs of humanity. And the kidneys too," she said, of the peatlands' ongoing role in capturing CO2 from the atmosphere.

"What has happened to all the promises made by the international community? You can't tell us: 'Tighten your belt so the rich world can breathe.' In the meantime, you get richer, and we are starving.

"We won't be able to restrain ourselves indefinitely," said Ms Soudan-Nonault, hinting that Congo-Brazzaville would turn to China for assistance and that "we will accept the best offers" of support.

Congo peat: The 'lungs of humanity' which are under threat - BBC News

Also see SOCIALISM OR YOUR MONEY BACK: Climate Change - Paying for Loss and Damage.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Tourism or Tradition?

 Ten Maasai leaders were detained and more than 30 people wounded during violent clashes with police in northern Tanzania  as they protested against eviction from their land to make way for a luxury game reserve. Hundreds of people are in hiding after the protests in Loliondo, which borders Serengeti national park.

The protests began when police began to demarcate 1,500 sq kms (540 sq miles) of land to make way for the reserve, to be operated by a UAE-owned company. The Maasai regard this land as their homeTanzania’s tourism minister, Damas Ndumbaro, said the Maasai did not have a claim to their homeland. 

Maasai leaders ​arrested in protests over​ ​Tanzanian game reserve | Global development | The Guardian