Monday, January 27, 2020

The Suffering in Somalia

The number of Somalians being pushed out of the countryside and into the capital Mogadishu has reached an unprecedented high, putting pressure on the city’s already poor infrastructure and threatening its faltering recovery from three decades of conflict. More people arrive in Mogadishu daily, driven to the city by multiple climate shocks and violence between al-Shabaab, Amisom and the Somali national forces. Last year alone, more than 100,000 people arrived in the capital, many of them returnees from refugee camps in Kenya and Yemen.
Nationally, over 2.6 million Somalis are displaced within the country, with Mogadishu hosting the largest concentration of people forced from their homes. Many in the city have not had a permanent home since the civil war broke out in 1991.

More than 800,000 internally displaced people dwell in informal settlements across Mogadishu, according to the office of the mayor. They are crammed into makeshift shelters with little or no sanitation and limited access to the most basic services. Scattered over 700 sites across the capital, families mainly consisting of women and children share common latrines and survive on one meal a day. Every morning, women from the these camps head into the city centre, looking for casual jobs such as clothes washing. With no family or clan connections to the local host community, they face abuse and sexual exploitation.
There are “critical” levels of malnutrition, according to an assessment by Somalia’s food security and nutrition analysis unit.
A local radio station reported that about a dozen children had died of starvation in one encampment in Kahda district. Among them, said the station, were young twins whose mother had been killed in last month’s truck bomb explosion.
Mogadishu, second on Demographia’s 2015 ranking of the fastest growing cities in the world, has limited capacity to integrate such a large number of displaced people into its urban development system.

“The most significant challenge posed by conflict and natural disaster induced displacement is its impact on rapid and unplanned urbanisation and the rural exodus,” said Dr Hodan Ali, head of Benadir regional administration’s durable solutions unit. “Mogadishu is emerging from 30 years of conflict. The infrastructure, basic services and local government capacity are extremely limited and, as such, its ability to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and impoverished members of the city is small.” He went on to explain, "The biggest challenge we have in Mogadishu is that the majority of the investment goes into aid and handouts. I don’t think that is an effective way of utilising hundreds of millions of dollars and having to see the conditions we have in the camps."

Capitalising on the gap left by a weak government and the lack of a formal camp management system, an illicit business has sprung up, with “gatekeepers” soliciting land for new arrivals, linking them up with aid agencies, and in return taking a cut of what little aid they may receive.

Humanitarian organisations with limited access to the camps due to security restrictions are left with little choice but to collaborate with the unofficial gatekeepers, in effect paying – and empowering – illicit middlemen.
Somalia’s overall humanitarian situation remains critical, with more than 5 million people in need of assistance according to figures jointly released by the UN and federal government of Somalia. The recent flooding in many parts of the country, which affected over half a million people, has compounded the already dire humanitarian crisis. 

The greatest immediate uncertainty for people displaced to Mogadishu, however, remains forceful evictions, since most are staying on private land. Last year alone, more than 100,000 people were pushed off temporary settlements.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Another Tragedy for Africa

A locust invasion in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has left crops devastated. It is the biggest swarm in decades, with billions of the ravenous insects eating their way through the already climate-ravaged region. For Ethiopia and Somalia, the infestation is the biggest in 25 years, and for Kenya it is the greatest swarm in 70 years, according to the FAO.

Experts warned Friday that the insect infestation could have disastrous effects on a region still recovering from recent drought and aggressive floodingIn an already vulnerable region with high levels of poverty, the locusts can further devastate crops, resulting in "a major food security problem", said Guleid Artan of the Climate Prediction and Applications Centre at a press conference in Nairobi. The locusts were the latest symptom of extreme weather conditions that also saw a 2019 drought end in one of the wettest rainy seasons in four decades in parts of East Africa, with mass floods killing hundreds.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that one locust invasion in Kenya covered around 2,400 square kilometers (930 square miles) and contained up to 200 billion locusts which descend to feed off plants and vegetation.
A locust consumes their own weight in food every day. Farmers face frustration as vegetation for their livestock is consumed by the ravenous locusts. Many were just slowly recovering from three years of drought, a process which usually takes up to five years.
The FAO warned that the insects could "reproduce rapidly and, if left unchecked, their current numbers could grow 500 times by June,'' spreading to Uganda and South Uganda. If the locusts are not controlled by the beginning of the next planting and rainy season around March, herders could see more crops devastated.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Africa's Richest Man

Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, became $4.3 billion richer in 2019 as his fortune continued to grow on the back of investments in cement, flour and sugar.

The Nigerian businessman and Africa’s most prominent industrialist ended the decade with a net worth of almost $15 billion, making him the 96th wealthiest man in the world.
His conglomerate, Dangote Industries, includes the biggest cement company on the continent, the Lagos-listed Dangote Cement Plc. That’s one of four publicly traded companies under the Dangote umbrella that account for more than a fifth of the value of the Nigerian stock exchange.

Angola - National liberation?

Africa's richest woman made her fortune through exploiting her own country, and corruption. Isabel dos Santos, who is known as “the princess” in Angola, the oil-rich nation her father ruled as president for almost four decades, has long denied that her estimated $2.2bn (£1.7bn) fortune is the result of nepotism or corruption. 

The Luanda Leaks are based on a trove of 715,000 emails, charts, contracts, audits and accounts. Documents show how she and her husband were allowed to buy valuable state assets in a series of suspicious deals. 

The leaked documents also show  Dos Santos approved $58m of suspicious payments to a consultancy company in Dubai called Matter Business Solutions.
She says she has no financial interest in Matter, but the leaked documents reveal it was run by her business manager and owned by a friend.

The businesswoman, who spends much of her time in London, controls interests across Africa and Europe spanning banking, telecoms, TV, cement, diamonds, alcohol, supermarkets and real estate. The material reveals an opaque network of about 400 companies, many of them offshore, connected to Dos Santos, Dokolo and their associates, and the assistance given to the couple in managing them by a coterie of European and American management consultants, accountants and lawyers.

1. The state oil company Sonangol sold Dokolo what has become the couple’s most valuable asset: a stake in the Portuguese oil corporation Galp, now worth €750m after an initial loan-backed payment of just €11m.

 2. A total of $115m in payments to consultancy firms, ordered while Dos Santos was chair of the state oil company, were routed through a Dubai company controlled by her associates.
 3. A business venture with the state diamond company allegedly resulted in $200m of public debt propping up an ailing Swiss jewellery brand partly owned by Dokolo.

4. Two Dos Santos companies and their subcontractors stood to collect up to $500m in fees from a Dubai-style real estate development in the Angolan capital, Luanda, that was later cancelled by the new president for “over-invoicing” and “disproportionate compensation”.
The former president's daughter has made the UK her home and owns expensive properties in central London.

Andrew Feinstein, the head of Corruption Watch, says the documents show how Ms Dos Santos exploited her country at the expense of ordinary Angolans.
"Every time she appears on the cover of some glossy magazine somewhere in the world, every time that she hosts one of her glamorous parties in the south of France, she is doing so by trampling on the aspirations of the citizens of Angola."

Dos Santos and her half-brothers and sisters are among the most prominent members of the oligarchy of powerful families in Angola. Her father came to office in 1979 as head of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). After the end of the civil war in 2002, President Dos Santos and the MPLA consolidated power by bringing the most valuable sectors of the economy into government ownership. 

The spoils were shared with a select group with links to politics and the military. As a result, Africa’s second-largest oil producing nation became known as one of the most corrupt countries on Earth, ranking near the bottom of the Transparency International corruption perceptions index.
“These are the classic symptoms of a captured state,” said Steve Goodrich, a senior research manager at Transparency International UK, after reviewing the Luanda Leaks findings. “Here we have industry and politics all in one family, with no apparent separation of powers.”
The blue chip firms PwC and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) collected millions in fees, providing services such as auditing of accounts and management consultancy.
Isabel dos Santos’s half-brother, José Filomeno dos Santos, is on trial for the attempted looting of $500m from the country’s sovereign wealth fund. He has pleaded not guilty. Her half-sister, Welwitschia dos Santos, a member of parliament, was impeached last year after moving to Britain.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Fake medicines

Globally, the trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals is worth up to $200bn (£150bn) annually, with Africa among the regions most affected, according to industry estimates. The World Health Organization (WHO) says 42% of all fake medicines reported to them between 2013 and 2017 were from Africa

  • Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone seized 19 tonnes of counterfeit medicines in 2018
  • Smugglers in Ivory Coast were intercepted trying to bring in 12 tonnes of counterfeit pharmaceuticals from Ghana in 2019
  • An Interpol-led operation in seven West African countries seized more than 420 tonnes of illicit pharmaceutical products in 2017
  • Nearly 19.88 tonnes of fake medicines were seized in Mali between 2015-18
The accounting firm PwC says the proportion of fake pharmaceuticals in some countries can be as high as 70%, in developing regions such as Africa. The WHO estimates one out of every 10 medical products in low- and middle-income countries, which includes most of Africa, is sub-standard or fake.
Analysis by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for the WHO estimates substandard and fake anti-malarial drugs could be causing 116,000 extra deaths from the disease every year in sub-Saharan Africa at a cost to patients and health systems of on average $38.5m a year.
And in 2015, a study published in the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated more than 122,000 children under the age of five died each year because of sub-standard anti-malarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.
Scientists say poor quality drugs are important contributors to under-five mortality rates.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Zimbabwe's Corruption

Zimbabwe needs urgent economic and political reforms to transform its economy amidst a growing national crisis, researchers say in a new study that urges swift policy changes and a sound financial framework to attract investment.

The country has been reeling from one of the worst droughts in decades, with the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) identifying Zimbabwe as one of the 15 critical emergencies around the world at risk of crisis without rapid intervention.
More than 7 million Zimbabwean are food insecure owing to a projected 50 percent fall in the 2019 cereal harvest. This month the WFP is doubling its assistance to reach 4.1 million people who are hardest hit in rural areas.
A study  made a note that there is no reform culture among the custodians of reforms in Zimbabwe.

Besides, the country’s multilateral debt, estimated at over $8,2 billion, has prevented any potential inroads with the international organisations involved with the compact.
“Clearance of multilateral debt arrears: the sanctions rhetoric seems to have taken the centre
stage ahead of reform implementation,” noted the study, adding that, “This behaviour has promoted corruption and stands in the way of reforms;
Economic analyst, John Robertson, said nobody agrees with the government on the point of economic sanctions imposed by the Western countries on individuals accused of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
“The sanctions are not applied to the country; the sanctions did not cause the country’s failure. The failure is caused by our decision to close down our biggest industries,” Robertson told IPS, referring to the destruction of the agriculture sector and the collapse of the manufacturing sector.
“The policy choices that we made have caused so much damage to our productive sectors starting with agriculture,” said Robertson, adding, “We imposed upon ourselves a serious handicap when we said the land in the country no longer has market value land so [people with] land can no longer borrow against ownership rights to that land because the land is now the property of the state.”
David Moore, researcher and political economist at the University of Johannesburg, told IPS that if the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) party had maintained its neo-liberal and white-farmer-friendly economic promises it might have kept the “west” on its side.
But cabals and corruption cannot be dismantled – they are the pillars of the party, he said. And so the military-party complex so tight that it cannot be untied: they are integral parts of the country’s political economy.
Academic and social commentator, Rudo Gaidzanwa, concurred saying it will take pushing to get ZANU (PF) ruling party and its military allies to undertake political and social reforms.
“The types of political and economic reforms that the civilians want will undermine the interests of the militarist elements in the state and the security sector,” Gaidzanwa, a Sociology Professor at the University of Zimbabwe, told IPS.
“ZANU won’t stand for anything that undermines their hold over the state and the society. It is not likely that any meaningful reform will occur unless dramatic social and political changes occur in Zimbabwe,” she said, adding that the ZANU PF led-government and elites have used economic sanctions as a convenient excuse to evade responsibility for economic and social crises.
Sanctions have not prevented the president and his cohorts from pillaging mineral resources. The current chaos was ideal for pillaging resources and undermining the rule of law and democracy, she said.
“Rigged elections are an issue because they prevent the will of the people from prevailing,” Gaidzanwa told IPS. “The present situation over contested presidential elections between (Nelson) Chamisa and (Emerson) Mnangagwa is symptomatic of that struggle…These issues have dogged our elections for decades and remain unresolved hence our dire economic and political situation.”
  • After Mugabe was ousted from power Zimbabweans went to the polls in July 2018 to elect a new leader, with Mnangagwa winning 50.8 percent of the voted compared to Chamisa’s 44.3 percent.
  • The results were disputed.

Southern Africa's Food Crisis

The United Nations World Food Programme said on Thursday that a record 45 million people in the 16-nation Southern African Development Community faced growing hunger following repeated drought, widespread flooding and economic disarray.

Southern Africa is in the grips of a severe drought, as climate change wreaks havoc in impoverished countries already struggling to cope with extreme natural disasters, such as Cyclone Idai which devastated Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019.

Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of southern Africa, is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, fuel, medicines and electricity.
"This hunger crisis is on a scale we've not seen before and the evidence shows it's going to get worse," the WFP's Regional Director for Southern Africa, Lola Castro, said in a statement. "The annual cyclone season has begun and we simply cannot afford a repeat of the devastation caused by last year's unprecedented storms."
The agency plans to provide "lean season" assistance to 8.3 million people grappling with "crisis" or "emergency" levels of hunger in eight of the hardest-hit countries, which include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Malawi. To date, WFP has secured just $205 million of the $489 million required for this assistance and has been forced to resort heavily to internal borrowing to ensure food reaches those in need, it said.
In December, the United Nations said it was procuring food assistance for 4.1 million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the population of a country where shortages are being exacerbated by runaway inflation and climate-induced drought.
"Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst hunger emergency in a decade, with 7.7 million people – half the population – seriously food insecure," the agency said.
In Zambia and drought-stricken Lesotho, 20% of the population faces a food crisis, as do 10% of Namibians.

2020 - Africa's response to climate change

-United Nations World Food Program recently released 2020 Global Hotspots Report. According to the report, millions of citizens from Sub-Saharan African countries will face hunger in the first half of 2020 for several reasons including conflict, political instability and climate-related events such as below-average rainfall and flooding.

Focusing in on the latter, climate-related extreme events have already caused 52 million people across Africa to go hungry and over 1 million people to be displaced by flooding. 
Of course, African countries are not alone in this challenge and Italy, Southern California, and Southern France have recently been impacted by flooding linked to the changing climate.  Australia has equally suffered from massive bushfires linked to the changing climate.
Many African countries are strengthening their predictive capabilities. For instance, there are several centers that provide climate-hydro-agricultural monitoring and outlooks including AGRHYMET in West Africa, The IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre in Eastern Africa, and SADC drought monitoring center in southern Africa.
Furthermore, in 2019, three Southeast African countries, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, along with four Southwest Indian Ocean countries launched the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Platform, with the goal of sharing disaster prevention information.
In addition, individual countries are doing their best to implement predictive frameworks. Kenya, for example, has a Predictive livestock early warning system to help pastoralist communities. Uganda has a National Climate Change Policy, a supporting political structure for its implementation and has continued to step up its efforts on addressing climate change. Ghana has a national climate change adaptation strategy and in 2018, UNEP worked with Ghana to implement a drought early warning system.
However, even with so many predictive frameworks initiatives, the African continent is yet to protect its citizens from climate-change related disasters. Clearly, disaster predictive frameworks can only go so far.
Thus, African countries must double down and implement many other complementing efforts to mitigate climate change and help farmers and citizens of African countries to stay on top. After all, even if predictive frameworks succeed, farmers must still be able to prevent disastrous climate change impacts such as drought.
Once crops have been planted, for example, farmers are still limited in actions they can take to protect their growing crops from extremities such as drought and flooding.
The foundation of resilient agriculture begins with healthy soil. Healthy soils, that have soil organic matter, improve the activities of microorganisms that live in the soil, which in turn help plants to utilize nutrients and cope with climate-related stresses such as drought and flooding while combatting pests and diseases.
Of course, it matters what crop varieties that farmers plant. As such, there is need for more investment on science that is geared towards developing crop varieties that are resilient to drought and flooding.
More than ever, initiatives such as stress tolerant maize, the Wheat rust resistant seed  and initiatives aimed at breeding disease resistant and improved cassava plants, must be sustained, and the varieties developed from these efforts must be deployed to farmers.  But, only with healthy soils as a base will all the complementing measures fully deliver on their promise.
Climate-smart agriculture success stories coming out from African countries show that indeed, adopting these practices has the potential help African citizens to deal with the new and harsh realities accompanying the changing climate.