Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Tigray and the Eritrean Refugees

 The United Nations has sounded the alarm over the severe effect of food shortages on the thousands of Eritrean refugees sheltering in camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, requesting “urgent access” to be able to deliver badly needed aid.

Communications and transport links to Tigray have been severed, and the UN and humanitarian agencies have pleaded for access to provide food, medicines and other supplies in the camps that sheltered nearly 100,000 Eritreans before the hostilities began.

“We, as humanitarians, have lost access and contact with the refugees since the last month that this fighting has been ongoing, and now there are worrying reports of attacks, of abductions and also of recruitments in and around these refugee camps,” UN refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch told Al Jazeera“The camps will have now run out of food supplies – making hunger and malnutrition a real danger, a warning we have been issuing since the conflict began nearly a month ago.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, and he has rejected the idea of dialogue with the TPLF rebel leadership.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Will Biden Benefit Africa

 Democrat and Republican presidents have approached Africa primarily for access to, and control of extractive industries and for counter-terrorism operations. This approach, under the influence of the cold war, translated into the US supporting Africa’s strongmen.

The most prominent of these strongmen, including but not limited to Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema, in power since 1979; Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, head of state since 1986; Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh, in post since 1999; Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, ruling since 1994, and Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki, in power since 1993 have been responsible for more than 22 million deaths on the continent since independence in 1960. That is almost twice as many people forcibly transported from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade. Yet it seems no US president has found this troubling. The bloodiest killing field has been the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where brutal US-backed strongmen killed more than 5.4 million Congolese people over access and control of minerals between 1998 and 2008, and sparked outbreaks of disease, famine and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Obama delivered almost nothing meaningful; not because of a Russian or Chinese veto at the UN security council but because in the first few years of his presidency some in his team sought to protect people such as Joseph Kabila, former president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose security forces were linked to killings and torture, and Paul Kagame, whose tight grip on the Rwanda presidency has earned him the tag of “benevolent dictator”. The result? Tragic. During the Obama presidency, 11 African strongmen clung to power, killing thousands of their citizens and displacing millions more. Yet almost not a single one of them faced a serious tit-for-tat consequences from the US – and this has been a colossal disaster for democratic forces across the continent.

The result? Tragic. During the Obama presidency, 11 African strongmen clung to power, killing thousands of their citizens and displacing millions more. Yet almost not a single one of them faced a serious tit-for-tat consequences from the US – and this has been a colossal disaster for democratic forces across the continent.

 Will the Biden-Harris administration end the US’s longstanding but shortsighted and destructive support for Africa’s strongmen? How may President Biden respond to #EndSars, a movement against police brutality in Nigeria, or #CongoIsBleeding, a campaign against exploitation in the mines of the DRC? What will he do to de-escalate growing tensions inside Ethiopia or in Eritrea.

Many are wondering whether or not Biden will refocus US policy and push for peace in Somalia, Libya, Cameroon or Mozambique? Will he support the creation of an international criminal tribunal for Congo to end the continuing killings and use of rape as a weapon of war and, simultaneously, jump-start development in Africa’s great lakes – a region that seems pitifully prone to strongmen and mass killing?

Answers to these questions are unclear. 

Obama didn’t deliver for Africa. Can Biden show black lives matter everywhere? | Global development | The Guardian

Monday, November 30, 2020

Gabon's Oil Woes

In Gabon, the petrol sector is the largest contributor to GDP, representing upwards of 20% of revenue, according to the World Bank. Most of the country’s petrol reserves – estimated at about two billion barrels – are concentrated in the area south of Port Gentil. A string of different oil companies have operated in the region since 1956. Total was the first company to drill and extract petrol in the area, before selling to Perenco in 2018. Perenco, which has an important presence across the African continent, is the primary producer of crude oil in Gabon and the second largest French oil company after Total.The structures on these sites are old and haven’t been properly maintained. The ocean, the land, the forests and the lakes in the area have all become increasingly polluted over the past three or four years. Sometimes you find petrol, its derivatives or acid in the lakes, sometimes you find it in the middle of the forest. 

 Residents of Étimboué in western Gabon have faced multiple oil spills over the past two years. This is ancestral land. People have been living here since well before independence in 1960. Some people have left because of the pollution but most people want to stay. They think that Perenco is letting the situation get worse in order to push them to leave. Exhausted and angry, they are speaking out against Perenco, an independent Anglo-French oil company with headquarters in Paris and London, which is currently extracting petrol from about fifty different oil fields in the area. Locals report that Perenco’s equipment is poorly maintained and out of date, likely causing the spills. This contamination has had wide-ranging effects on the local population, including health problems, water pollution, poisoned crops and fish. They haven’t carried out the clean-up operations properly and aren’t planning on paying out any damages to residents affected by the spills.

A group of locals first spoke out in October 2020 about the growing problem with pollution in the region. They pointed the finger at Perenco, which extracts 95,000 barrels per day in this area alone. The old pipelines, which were installed about 40 years ago, are constantly developing holes. Some of the pipelines are under water, others are underground. Some are even above ground. There are also very old oil wells, which are in poor condition, and they leak and cause spills as well. 

They use lake water for washing and cooking but it is polluted both upstream and downstream from the village, which means they can’t drink it. There are also all of the industrial plants that emit gas. There is one plant near the bridge, north of Lake Nkomi where they have flare stacks, which are used to burn off flammable gas. The process, called gas flaring, creates a lot of pollution. It is a means of getting rid of the gas that is extracted alongside the petrol. That pollutes the air, which then negatively affects health and the environment. Also noticed more and more respiratory problems among  younger children, especially asthma. 

George Mpaga, coordinator of an organisation called ROLBG, a French acronym meaning Free Network of Organisations for the Good Governance of Gabon, says that he is also worried about the effects of the pollution on the animals who live in the area, including antelopes, crocodiles and turtles. He is also worried for the fishermen, whose hauls are diminishing. 

Officials tend to just close their eyes to the problem. So do many of the national media outlets. There are only a few independent websites that have published the testimonies and complaints of locals living in this area. Perenco is often described in the media as an opaque organisation with close ties to the Gabonese government. Perenco doesn’t disclose its annual revenues or its internal governance structure. It has also been mentioned in several investigations by independent media outlets into matters of corruption.

Gabonese citizens raise the alarm over oil spills by French company Perenco (

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Zimbabwe Miners Dead

 Dozens are feared dead and others still trapped underground after an abandoned goldmine collapsed in Zimbabwe According to officials, nearly 30 miners remain unaccounted for Six miners have been rescued. Support pit props had apparently been damaged by blasting.

The mine collapse comes weeks after six miners died in Esigodini, southern Zimbabwe, while five others died in Chegutu when mines collapsed. Last year 24 miners died at Battlefields, Kadoma, 125km from Harare, when the shaft they were working was flooded following heavy rains.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Children pay the costs for chocolate

  Child labor remains a problem in cocoa farming. For years, the chocolate industry has promised to end the practice, but a new study shows it has actually increased. Despite decades of promises, success is still a long way off, as a new study by the NORC research institute at the University of Chicago shows.

 20 years ago, major chocolate manufactures like Mars and Nestle have promised to end the worst forms of child labor. They even set themselves clear goals and deadlines by signing the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001.

When the targets were missed, they were repeatedly postponed and adjusted. "In 2005, the deadline was extended to 2008, and then in 2008 to 2010," said Johannes Schorling from Inkota, a development policy network based in Berlin.

In 2010, a revised target was announced to reduce child labor by 70% come 2020. "That hasn't happened either, on the contrary child labor has actually increased over the last 10 years," Schorling told DW. According to the NORC study, the use of child labor is now at 45%, an increase of 14% points. Given the goal of a 70% reduction, such an increase might well be termed a complete failure.

1.6 million children in the two largest cocoa-growing countries, Ivory Coast and Ghana, work in cocoa farming, the study reports. Together the two nations produce around two-thirds of the world's cocoa beans.

On every second cocoa farm there, children as young as five have to pitch in instead of going to school because their parents are too poor to hire farm hands. Children are even used for more dangerous work, such as weeding or harvesting with machetes.

A big problem for farmers is the low price cocoa fetches on world markets. In recent years, a ton of cocoa beans brought in just over $2,000 (€1,680), only half of the price it fetched in the 1970s. The farmers must therefore be more productive. Market forces alone seem unable to ensure that farmers can actually secure a livelihood. It takes years for cocoa trees to produce good yields, so farmers cannot just grow something else when prices fall.

Farmers receive only a tiny fraction of what customers pay for a bar of chocolate. Most of the money goes to the chocolate companies and retail chains, which are mostly based in the US and Europe, and increasingly in Asia. Cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast earned only $0.78 a day on average, according to a study by Fairtrade, an NGO, compared with a living wage of $2.51.

Cocoa farming, cheap chocolate and child labor | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 26.11.2020

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Africa Needs To Be Powered By The Sun

  Access to electricity has fallen for the first time in seven years in sub-Saharan AfricaAn increase of 13 million people across sub-Saharan African countries did not have electricity this year, bringing the total figure to about 600 million people.

This means that fewer people have been able to access air-conditioning across countries where “it is getting hotter”, Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, explained. “Air con is a key issue. Look, for example, to Japan. Nine out of 10 households have air con. In the United States, again, almost every household has air con. But when it comes to sub-Saharan Africa, it is one out of 20 households that have air con.”

Growing populations across sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from increasing extreme heat as the climate crisis worsens. The African continent has so far warmed at a faster rate than the global average. This is leading to an increase in deadly heatwaves.

More development of solar power across sub-Saharan African countries will be key to boosting access to electricity, according to Dr Birol.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has the richest potential for solar energy,” he said. “It gets back about 40 per cent of the world’s solar radiation and yet houses less than 1 per cent of solar electricity.” 

The amount of solar electricity generated across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa is currently around three times smaller than the amount in the UK, which receives a fraction of the sunshine.

Dr Birol said: “It is the cheapest source of electricity generation in sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world. I can see that solar power could well become the continent’s top electricity source..." Dr Birol said: “I don’t expect coal to play a key role in Africa’s energy future. Solar is the king of the global electricity markets, and soon it will be king of the African electricity sector.”

Electricity access is declining in sub-Saharan Africa but solar offers a way forward, says IEA chief | The Independent

Zambia Defaults on Debt Re-payment

 Zambia missed a $42.5m (£32m) coupon payment on its bonds in October and then missing another payment on 14 November meant it has become the first African country to default on its debts since the pandemic, leading to fears that a “debt tsunami” could engulf the continent’s most heavily indebted nations as the financial impact of coronavirus hits.

Zambia’s finance minister, Bwalya Ng’andu, blamed the banks and asset and fund managers who wanted to see more transparency over an estimated $3bn debt to China, but who refused to sign the necessary confidentiality agreements, he said.

 “The position of the Chinese banks is: ‘You’re not going to give anybody any information without the confidentiality agreements in place’.”

Even before the pandemic, Zambia was due to pay $1.7bn to service its debts this year – equating to more than 8% of the country’s GDP for 2020. But coronavirus plays a key role in the recent default. As financiers negotiate with finance ministers over repayment terms, the virus is depleting Zambia’s already fragile healthcare resources. So far Zambia has recorded almost 18,000 cases of the virus.

“It is simply immoral for bondholders to demand full repayment and to make huge profits on Zambia’s debt while the country struggles with Covid-19, a major economic crisis and spiralling poverty levels,” said Sarah-Jayne Clifton, director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which estimated that some financial institutions will make a 250% profit on their Zambian bonds.

“At a time when hospitals and healthcare systems are buckling under the strain of Covid-19, it is perverse that poor countries are having to pay $3bn a month in debt repayments to rich banks, investment funds or the World Bank, while their populations fall further into poverty and destitution,” said Chema Vera, Oxfam International’s interim executive director. “Debt needs to be cancelled, postponing it is futile.”

If Zambia has had to default, they could too. “Ghana looks very risky to me,” said Tim Jones, head of policy at the Jubilee Debt Campaign. He said Angola, Chad and Congo-Brazzaville were also at risk.

 The Institute of International Finance warned of a “debt tsunami” as global indebtedness topped $277tn in the third quarter of this year. In emerging markets, which are more likely to default, debt has risen by more than a quarter.

Zambia's default fuels fears of African 'debt tsunami' as Covid impact bites | Global development | The Guardian

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Ethiopia's Civil War

 Confidential UN papers warn that, despite talk of success, the Ethiopian army faces heavy resistance and regional stability is at risk. Ethiopian government forces are meeting heavy resistance and face a protracted “war of attrition” in the northern region of Tigray.

The UN assessment, interviews and other international aid organisation analyses all suggest any expectation of a rapid and decisive victory is optimistic, and that resistance is likely to stiffen as Tigray troops fall back into mountains east of Mekelle.

Information has been difficult to obtain and confirm with communications cut to Tigray and journalists banned. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been killed so far and many more have been displaced. More than 36,000 have fled into neighbouring Sudan, and large numbers are on the move within Tigray to avoid the fighting.

“Although Tigray regional forces may have initially been backfooted by the EDF’s swift advances, the terrain in eastern Tigray is easier to defend… and if they make a stand, they have the capability to stall the EDF advance,” one analysis reads, warning that this will then “change the dimension of the conflict from one of rapid movement into one of attrition”.

“After the EDF have reportedly ‘taken’ key towns such as Humera, Dansha, Shiraro, Alamata and Shire, and then pushed on with their advance, fighting has continued to be reported, or has subsequently erupted again in these locations,” one reliable account said. Well-trained and heavily armed frontline units from the Ethiopian army bypassing main towns to avoid costly urban fighting as they hurry towards Mekelle. But the militia and paramilitaries deployed in their wake are neither as well-equipped nor as disciplined and so are vulnerable to counter-attack.  If Ethiopian forces continue to advance, their supply lines and rear areas will become more vulnerable to guerilla attacks and casualties will mount.

The reports depict a complex and dynamic conflict across much of Tigray, with major clashes in the west of the region – as Ethiopian forces sought to advance towards the strategic town of Humera – and in the south-west, along the main road to Mekelle. Heavy fighting has also been reported around the town of Alamata, six miles from the border with neighbouring Amhara province which is fiercely loyal to the central government. Ethiopian planes have launched air strikes, and Tigrayans have fired missiles into Amhara and Eritrea, which has supported the offensive to remove the TPLF. At least one massacre has been reported: it has been blamed on retreating Tigrayan militia targeting a community seen as loyal to the central government, but there is no confirmation of this.

“Even if the EDF are successful in their mission to take Mekelle,” the UN assessment warns, “this will not necessarily end the conflict. It is likely that a protracted asymmetric conflict and insurgency would continue. From a humanitarian perspective, the longer the conflict is drawn out, the more severe the crisis will become.”

UN report deepens fears that Ethiopia Tigray conflict could be long and brutal | World news | The Guardian