Friday, September 18, 2020

Mozambique's Misery

 For decades Cabo Delgado, in the northern corner of Mozambique, has been the country’s El Dorado, promising billions in natural gas and gemstones but delivering its population only violence and displacement. 50,000 people have fled their homes since March and Mozambique’s neighbours are currently debating sending in regional forces to help defeat militants who seized a strategic port in the town of Mocímboa da Praia last month. Those who have fled Cabo Delgado in the past six months take the total number of people displaced in the region to more than 200,000 (10% of its population) since 2017, when Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamaa launched an insurgency. More than 1,000 people have been killed in the past three years. 

Inocência Mapisse, a specialist in oil, gas and mining based in the capital, Maputo, said the Cabo Delgado reserves could transform Mozambique’s agriculture-based economy, but that the government was still not investing in the region or its people.

“If we look at the budget for Cabo Delgado province in the last 10 years, it’s the same in terms of the percentage of the [national] budget. It does not change,” she said. She described it as an El Dorado, promising transformative riches that cannot be accessed because of the fighting over them.

The chaos is caused by Isis-linked militant group Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamaa, known locally as al-Shabaab (though it has no links with the better-known Somalia-based Islamist militant group of the same name).

Cabo Delgado has spent decades underdeveloped. Even past decade’s dual discoveries of $50bn (£38bn) worth of natural gas and rubies that sell for hundreds of millions of dollars brought only  misery for local people. More than a fifth of people do not have enough food. Many are forced to seek shelter with relatives and stretch shared resources. Prices for fuel and staple foods such as rice and maize have increased. The fighting this year has seen many humanitarian groups withdraw from the region. Agencies say they can only access some of the worst areas by air, river or sea, and that rural areas have been all but abandoned because of Covid-19.

Over the past 10 years, local people say the government has forcibly removed whole communities from state-owned land after granting ruby, mining and gas exploration concessions to private companies. Human rights campaigner David Matsinhe said that in the absence of government services, people have lost access to the land they relied on for food, shelter and income, due to the expansion of mining and gas extraction, while being deemed unqualified for jobs in these new industries.

“They are not only unemployed, they are also unemployable. They are complaining, they have protested against their expulsion [from the land],” he said. “They are saying … it’s only outsiders who come here to benefit and we’re sitting here watching them.” These grievances had fuelled the conflict more than any influence from international terror groups, Matsinhe said. “When they speak about the radical preacher coming to radicalise young people, they are forgetting that the government has done for the radical preacher about 80% of the job. He just comes to harvest,” he said.

 Last year, the British company Gemfields, owner of the luxury jewellery brand Fabergé, agreed a £5.8m settlement over alleged human rights abuses by security personnel with Mozambicans living in Montepuez, Cabo Delgado’s second-largest city,

 Amnesty International last week demanded an investigation into videos appearing to show soldiers torturing and beheading detainees.

Jasmine Opperman, Africa analyst at the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (ACLED), said, “The insurgency is reliant on youth dissatisfaction and discontent with the government. The SADC cannot and must not think that a military intervention, in isolation from a … project to deal with the root causes, will solve the problem.

Somali money transfer firms 'used to pay arms dealers'

A report into Somalia's popular money transfer systems has found that more than $3.5m ($2.7m) in cash has been moved between suspected weapons traffickers in recent years.

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime alleges that a prominent Yemeni arms supplier was able to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in remittances despite being under US sanctions.

The findings could further hinder attempts by Somali transfer companies to work with international banks which fear flouting anti-money laundering regulations.

In response to the report, four Somali companies told the Reuters news agency that they did their best to comply with global regulations.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Sudan's Inflation

 Millions of people in Sudan are facing hardship as the cost of food and transport soars amid economic turmoil in the country. The government declared a state of economic emergency last week after a sharp fall in currency. Reuters reported on Tuesday that the Sudanese pound had dropped to 234 against the dollar, from 140 the previous month.

The cost of some staple foods has increased by 50% over the past few weeks, driving inflation to a record high of 167%, up from 144% in July.

The price of sugar had risen from 100 to 150 Sudanese pounds (about £1.40 to £2.10) in the past two weeks, while a loaf of bread can cost two pounds in Khartoum and up to seven times more outside the capital. Beef has increased from 500 Sudanese pounds in June to 800 pounds this month.

In April, the government raised the minimum wage from 245 to 3,000 Sudanese pounds, the largest increase in salaries in the country’s history. But the move was “funded by printing more money, because there are no resources”, said Hafiz Ibrahim, an economist based in Khartoum.

The country is also grappling with recent devastating floods, which killed at least 99 people and affected more than half a million, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Reuters, the government is still waiting for the promised $400m financial package from donors that is to be administered by the World Bank.

El Obaien, 38, who works at the ministry of health in Khartoum, said he’s eating less and has stopped going out as often due to the rise in transport costs.

“I reduced the meals that I have per day, and I stopped thinking about the quality of food. I just eat anything that would be cheap enough and I can afford,” he said. “I don’t go out except when necessary, and when I do so I try to do all the things on the same day just to reduce the expenses of the transportation.”

Monday, September 14, 2020

Corruption and Inefficiency in South Africa's Hospitals

 Suspected Covid-19 patients were routinely left for hours in an open tent, in sub-zero temperatures, outside a South African hospital during the mid-winter peak of the pandemic, leading to "many" people dying of suspected hypothermia.

"It was freezing in that tent. As soon as night falls it's horrible, you can see the patients declining. Hypothermia is one of the major causes of death here. Especially in that tent," said a doctor at Sebokeng Hospital. "We're tired and sad and fearful for our patients. I ask myself how many people need to die unnecessarily for there to be an adequate investigation," she said.

The marquee-sized tent was erected in the car park and used by the hospital as a makeshift triage and waiting room - over the course of several cold and hectic weeks in July, with elderly patients collapsing after being left for two days or more without sanitation, food or proper heating. The doctor said sick people were forced to crowd around three small electric heaters that frequently broke.

"We don't have drugs. No ventilator equipment. There was PPE lying all over the place, waiting to infect more people," said the doctor, who complained that a number of medical staff had caught the virus as a result of the conditions.

Leaked messages have revealed that the decision to use tents provoked an angry backlash from experts in the provincial health department. Medical advisers urged management not to use the tents, precisely because of the risk to patients.

The revelations have emerged as South Africa's government has acknowledged and condemned widespread corruption and mismanagement during its response to the pandemic. The pandemic has also exposed deep institutional weaknesses, including a widespread culture of corruption and apparent nepotism, and the dangers of a system of "cadre deployment" that has seen key departments led by allegedly incompetent political appointees from the governing African National Congress (ANC). 

President Cyril Ramaphosa has angrily condemned the corruption, citing examples of price hikes of 900%, and lashing out at "hyenas" seeking to profit from disaster.
A number of senior officials and ministers have been criticised for instances where their relatives have secured large contracts from government. The South African authorities say they are now investigating government departments over irregularities in coronavirus-related tenders worth 5bn rand ($290m; £220m).

 Staff had repeatedly complained about conditions, and inquired about how special Covid-19 relief funds were being disbursed.
"We haven't seen that money. I do know management is aware of our struggles. We've tried multiple times as doctors and nurses to try to ask management where the money is being allocated," the doctor said. "Are we going to get more staff, more resources? And we don't really get answers, and that is devastating for us."

Friday, September 11, 2020

South Africa - Another Failed State?

 South Africa faces a precipitous economic and political collapse by 2030 unless it changes its economic model and implements growth-friendly policies, according to Eunomix Business & Economics Ltd.

"Bar a meaningful change of trajectory, South Africa will be a failed state by 2030," Eunomix said in a report.

 The Johannesburg-based political and economic risk consultancy forecasts the country will rank near the bottom of a table of more than 180 countries in terms of security, similar to Nigeria and Ukraine, and have prosperity akin to Bangladesh or Ivory Coast. 

The consultancy blames a structure created during the White-minority apartheid era that was designed to exclude the Black majority, creating one of the world's most unequal societies. Since the advent of democracy in 1994, the ruling African National Congress perpetuated that situation by rejecting job-intensive growth policies and instead raising wages and subsidizing the poor through welfare, Eunomix said.

While less than a quarter of the population is in work, South Africa's wage bill as a percentage of gross domestic product significantly exceeds that of countries such as India, Thailand and the Philippines.

The ANC's strategy is "a dichotomy born of apartheid, resistance and crystallized by ideological puritanism and entrenched interests," the consultancy said. "The country should not choose between imagined opposites. It should adopt a dual-track approach that reconciles them."

"The pandemic is the last nail in the coffin of strategic fiasco," Eunomix said. "The economy is unsustainably narrow and shallow. It rests on a small and declining working population burdened by very high debt and taxes."

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Energy and Africa

 Africa currently accounts for less than 4% of global carbon emissions. But across the continent, standards of living are rising and the entire population is set to double by 2050. Either way, energy consumption in Africa is set to rise.

 Africa is not locked into fossil fuels.  It is the hypocrisy on the part of energy donors and investors, because they want to fund dirty projects in Africa.

Africa is incredibly blessed with renewable energy. The whole continent has access to solar energy. There's huge potential for wind energy. In East Africa we have the huge potential of geothermal energy and different parts of the continent also have access to hydropower. 

Not a single African country that isn't blessed with renewable energy power. What  is lacking is an effective strategy that allows the continent to actually effectively exploit the renewable energy power that exists. 

Those nations that became wealthy while contributing to climate change shall compensate those who did not and who are experiencing the worst effects. That will include compensating Africa and incentivising Africa to keep fossil fuels in the ground and exploit the abundant resources we have in renewable energy.  If we believe that the polluter should pay, then we must argue that those who are responsible for contributing to climate change shouldn't be allowed to shirk that responsibility. 

Nigeria is the biggest oil producer in Africa. A lot of its oil goes out of the country and Nigeria is still energy poor. You still have long queues in every service station for a basic product that the country is producing, but then exporting and then importing the refined product. This is still quite inefficient commercially, because it's characterised by imported, expensive and environmentally unsustainable fossil fuels. So here is an opportunity where we can either go down the path of an old-fashioned energy system that will lock Africa into standard assets. Or pursue a cleaner, sustainable path.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

“Failing Africa’s Farmers, Starving the Continent.”

Africans are demanding answers after a recent report found that Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) strategies have failed spectacularly to meet its goals of increasing productivity and incomes for millions of small-scale farming households by 2020.

The report, “False Promises: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa,” found that the 14-year, billion-dollar AGRA initiative has failed spectacularly to meet its self-proclaimed objectives.

The report showed that yields have risen slowly, poverty remains endemic, and there has been an alarming 31% increase in the number of undernourished people in AGRA’s 13 focus countries.

 Three African organizations are issuing a public letter to AGRA demanding it release internal documents on its impacts. They demand that AGRA provide “evidence to refute the study’s findings that AGRA and the larger Green Revolution project are failing to meet its goals of doubling yields and incomes for 30 million small-scale farming households by 2020 while reducing food insecurity by half.”
In the public letter, PELUM-Zambia, BIBA-Kenya, and HOMEF of Nigeria ask Andrew Cox, AGRA’s Chief of Staff and Strategy, to provide evidence from AGRA’s own monitoring and evaluation to address the serious concerns raised in the False Promises report.
They note that AGRA refused researchers’ requests for such data to inform the report. They pose a provocative series of concrete questions about AGRA’s impacts.
“African farmers deserve a substantive response from AGRA to the findings in the report. So do AGRA’s public sector donors, who would seem to be getting a very poor return on their investments. African governments also need to provide a clear accounting for the impacts of their own budget outlays that support Green Revolution programs.”
They conclude with a plea that could be addressed to all the esteemed stakeholders at this year’s Green Revolution Forum: “We hope this request can refocus this important discussion on AGRA’s 14-year record in increasing productivity, incomes, and food security for smallholder farmers in Africa.”
As Zambian researcher Mutinta Nketani told the German outlet DW, when an organization like AGRA “fails to achieve the goals it had set itself, all alarm bells should go off — not only amid civil society, but also amid AGRA itself as well as its donors.”
 AGRA promised that commercial seeds and fertilizers will dramatically increase yields, allowing small-scale farmers to sell surplus crops, increase their incomes, and improve their food security.
According to the False Promises report, none of that has happened as AGRA reaches its self-declared 2020 deadline:
    • • Instead of doubling yields (a 100% increase), yields have gone up only 18% over 12 years for staple crops. Even for maize, heavily promoted by AGRA and subsidized by governments, yields increased a disappointing 29%.
    • • All the subsidies to maize diverted land and investment from other crops, some more nutritious and climate-resilient than maize. Millet production fell 24% under AGRA with yields declining 21%.
    • • Not only did farmer incomes fail to rise, hunger increased dramatically in AGRA countries, rising 31% since 2006 according to United Nations estimates.

      These policies, heavily funded now for 14 years, have failed. Rwanda’s former Agriculture Minister Agnes Kalibata now leads AGRA.  Her appointment by the U.N. Director General to lead next year’s scheduled Global Food Systems Summit is being questioned.
     Rwanda is a very poor example for sustainable and inclusive agricultural development. Under the government’s strict mandates to increase maize production, crop diversity declined dramatically. Kalibata may point to a 300% increase in maize production and a 66% increase in yields, but traditional and nutritious crops like sorghum and sweet potato withered from neglect. Overall yields for a basket of staple crops increased just 24%. And according to the latest U.N. figures, the number of undernourished Rwandans increased an alarming 41% since 2006 in spite of the boom in maize production. The report calls Rwanda “AGRA’s hungry poster child.” A former U.N. official recently decried Rwanda’s approach under Kalibata as “replacing hunger with malnutrition.”

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

The Police Against the Poor

Police violence has increased all over the continent. In most cases, perpetrators get away without appropriate sanctions. People are now raising their voices all over the continent to denounce police brutality in their countries.

From Soweto to Nairobi, police brutality cases are on the rise, and citizens are outraged and feel abandoned. Police brutality has become a hot topic globally, with activists and organizations regularly staging demonstrations. In some African countries, violence meted out by security officers worsened after governments imposed curfews to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The South African Police Service has faced unprecedented local and international media attention over several incidents in which people have died or have been assaulted by the police. The country has a history of law enforcement violence due to racial and socioeconomic disparities that have continuously plagued the Rainbow Nation.

A 2019 report by Corruption Watch suggested South Africa's police are the most corrupt public servants — with abuse of power and bribery being ripe. "The trend is systemic and has been institutionalized from the very top," said Wikus Steyl, a lawyer in Johannesburg. Steyl, who represents victims of police brutality, said he wants to see more responsible officers in charge.

According to annual statistics from the Independent Police Investigative Department, South African police officers killed 538 people in the 2017-2018 reporting year, and 440 people in the 2018- 2019 reporting year.  

On March 25, Kenya ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew to tackle the spread of the coronavirus. Shortly after, Human Rights Watch reported that six people had died at the hands of police officers. According to Demas Kiprono, a lawyer at Amnesty International Kenya, 20 people have been killed by police during the COVID-19 curfew. But the numbers of reports of violence are much higher. Five hundred complaints against police brutality have been registered.

"Whenever people see the police here in Uganda, what comes to their mind is impunity, torture and arbitrary arrests, " said Andrew Natumanya, a photographer in Uganda's capital, Kampala.  

"It is bad, really bad. Most people avoid the police intentionally. It is sad that one has to avoid the very people who should provide security," Chineye, a banker in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, told DW.  

The use of force by the police appears to be linked to the criminalization of poverty in Africa, with observers saying illegal use of force is mainly recorded in poor neighborhoods and low-income areas. As a result, police measures and curfews have had a discriminatory and disproportionate effect on the poorest.

Africa's Green Wall

The world’s most ambitious reforestation project, the Great Green Wall of Africa, has covered only 4% of its target area but is more than halfway towards its 2030 completion date.

More funds, greater technical support and tighter oversight will be needed if the plan to plant 100m hectares of trees and other vegetation is to be realised, say the authors.

The Great Green Wall was conceived in 2007 by the African Union as a 7,000km (4,350-mile) cross-continental barrier stretching from Senegal to Djibouti that would hold back the deserts of the Sahara and Sahel. Its supporters said it would improve livelihoods in one of the world’s poorest regions, capture carbon dioxide and reduce conflict, terrorism and migration.

“The Great Green Wall is a new world wonder in the making,” said the UN deputy secretary general, Amina Mohammed. “It shows that if we work with nature, rather than against it, we can build a more sustainable and equitable future.”

“The time for business as usual is over,” said the African Union’s commissioner for rural economy and agriculture, Josefa Sacko, in a call for more sustainable agriculture, clean energy and water management to deal with the drylands of Africa.

In terms of the target area progress was far less impressive. After an investment of more than $200m, only 4m hectares have been planted in the past decade. To achieve the 2030 target, more than twice that area will need to be restored every year at an annual cost of $4.3bn. The results varied enormously from country to country. Ethiopia, which started reforesting earlier than other nations in the region, is a frontrunner, having reportedly planted 5.5bn seedlings on 151,000 hectares of new forest and 792,000 of new terraces. Other countries have lagged due to different geographies, levels of governance and economic development. Burkina Faso planted 16.6m plants and seedlings and Chad 1.1m, though both nations received more financial support for the project. A major problem is monitoring. Individual nations provide their own estimates, but there are doubts as to how many of the 12m trees planted in Senegal, for example, have survived.

Some scientists have expressed scepticism about creating walls of trees when grasslands can be more effective in certain regions. Shifting climate patterns have also slowed or reversed the expansion of some deserts. There is also greater political support for investing in soil restoration and water management of productive areas rather than planting trees in remote, sparsely inhabited areas. This has affected the objectives, if not the enthusiasm and effectiveness, of the project.

Chris Reij of the World Resources Institute said the modest results until now showed the need for more focus on what has and has not worked.

“I’m a fan of the GGW. It’s a very useful initiative, which shows the political will of governments to fight land degradation,” he said. “At the same time I’m quite critical. The original idea of planting a green wall in areas of less than 400mm [of rainfall] to stop the advance of the Sahara has largely been abandoned, although not in the rhetoric. “It is now much more about creating great green and productive landscapes, even though they don’t express it in these terms. There is a ton of good experience across the Sahel upon which it is possible to build. There are many more smaller and bigger successes than often assumed, which can be scaled.”