Monday, July 30, 2007

Sierra Leone thwarted from producing own food

Food imports are keeping Sierra Leone from realising agricultural self-sufficiency . 80 percent of food is imported, mostly from the USA and Europe, and local farmers struggle to compete.

According to ActionAid, of the 780,000 hectares of available farmland in Sierra Leone, but just only 15 percent is being used for food production. Local crops are of higher quality than those being imported from Europe and North America. Local rice is much better than imported rice; it is higher in nutritional value and more disease resistant.
Yet the country continues to eat rice from outside its borders. Multinational companies and the promotion of trade liberalisation have opened up countries like Sierra Leone for dumping of farm products from highly subsided farmers in the EU and the USA .

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation , 80 percent of Sierra Leoneans live in poverty and most households do not have access to sufficient food.

According to ActionAid, 852 million people around the world suffer from chronic hunger.

see here

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Birth and Death

In the 35 countries covered by the report of the World Bank , mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, the estimated 210 million women who become pregnant every year worldwide, more than 500,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth. One in five women resorts to abortion because of poor access to contraception . 68,000 women die each year as a result of unsafe abortion, while 5.3 million suffer temporary or permanent disability, and many end up being ostracised within their own communities.

"Poor women endure a dis-proportionate burden of poor sexual and reproductive health because they run into financial or social barriers getting access to these basic but vital programs," said Mrs. Joy Phumaphi, the World Bank's Vice President for Human Development, a former WHO Assistant Director General, and a former Health Minister in Botswana, 1999-2003. "The low status of women often poses a barrier because in many societies, women lack the power to make their own decisions about using contraceptives or using other reproductive health-care," said Phumaphi.

UN warns of pending food shortages

The top United Nations humanitarian official today, highlighting the impact of severe droughts in several southern African countries .
"We're anticipating quite serious problems of food insecurity" in the region, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said at a press briefing in New York.

Swaziland was hit by the worst drought in 15 years and its maize harvest of 26,000 metric tons was the poorest ever. Lesotho declared a food emergency earlier this month after suffering the worst drought in three decades and a 40 per cent dip in the maize harvest, a staple crop. Nearly 400,000 people - or one fifth of the population - will be in need of emergency food aid as a result. Elsewhere in the region, Zimbabwe's cereals harvest plummeted 44 per cent since last year, resulting in one third of the population requiring some form of food assistance by early next year. In spite of the Government's imports of maize, wheat and rice, will still face a gap of approximately 350,000 tons of cereals which will mainly be met by the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Also highlighted the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which he characterized as a "long-running humanitarian crisis" due to food insecurity, limited basic services and problems brought about by conflict, communicable diseases and natural disasters. Of particular concern is the situation in the country's volatile east, where some 700,000 people have been displaced by recent instability. If large-scale fighting breaks out in the area,
"there is a real fear of very severe humanitarian consequences for the civilian population caught in the middle of that fighting," Mr. Holmes said.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Capitalist Leeches

Capitalism has only one remit - maximise and accumulate profits . Investment abroad is done not out of goodwill to benefit local people but to achieve a return for shareholder .

It comes as no surprise to socialists that BBC Radio 4's File on 4 has learned that almost £100 billion a year is taken out of Africa through accounting practices , both legal and illegal , - several times what the continent receives in aid.

Because of the way Kenyan tax laws have evolved, foreign companies can quite lawfully contribute very little in the way of taxes to the country's economy . Some international companies have been found to have acted illegally .

Kenya's official export statistics say almost 50 million kilos of tea left there in 2005 bound for Britain. But the British import statistics showed 75 million kilos - one and a half times as much - arriving here from Kenya. Companies shipping tea to the UK were under-reporting exports in order to avoid paying tax.

There is also widespread under-reporting of profits by flower companies, many of which are owned by Europeans. If you do not declare the full value of income that you have earned as a business, it means you are underpaying taxes - a practice known as "transfer pricing" - the means by which firms value their goods for tax purposes when they move them across international borders. In effect, this allows companies to undervalue their products when they leave Kenya and to place their profits elsewhere . File on 4 found there were also perfectly legal accounting practices which allowed British firms to register their profits outside Kenya.
Britain's acting High Commissioner to Kenya, Ray Kyles, said it was not the job of foreign governments to encourage their corporate investors to pay tax.

Christian Aid said this capital flight amounted to "the looting of the continent".

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cocoa wars

First came "blood diamonds" from Sierra Leone.

Then came "blood timber" from Liberia.

Now another West African conflict is being funded by yet another commodity beloved in the West: " blood chocolate." from Ivory Coast

Government and rebel leaders of the world's leading cocoa exporter, Ivory Coast, both siphoned off millions of dollars from the cocoa industry to finance the 2002-03 civil war that divided the once-stable and prosperous country in two, according to a recent report from Global Witness, a London-based group that focuses on resource-fueled corruption. The government received more than $58 million from institutions and cocoa revenues, while the rebel New Forces pocketed about $30 million since 2004 in taxes and revenues, claims the report titled "Hot Chocolate: How Cocoa fuelled the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire." Global Witness not only contends the cocoa trade drove the war economy but that the industry still serves the interests of both the government and the rebels who have reaped political and economic benefits with impunity.

Ivory Coast is the world's leading producer of the commodity, responsible for about 40 percent of global exports, which earned more than $1 billion in 2006.

The Real Role of Leaders

The real role of leaders.

Is it not interesting that whilst Safia "the Roman", Amina Lawal, Bariya Mazagu and many more yet to come face torture or even death a la sharia in Northern Nigeria for no crimes committed, Mohammed Abacha, son of the late Sani Abacha is granted bail after having been charged in court on 101 counts of corruption and theft? Yet Gen. Obasanjo maintains a deafening silence over both cases? What is the reason behind this "silence means consent"? It is that leaders are by necessity selfish and hypocritical? He is dumb in the face of religious barbarism because he fears to lose support from the Muslim north with elections around the corner. He is also blind to the release on bail of a convicted criminal obviously because the bail case happens to coincide with his visit to Kano, the hometown of the Abachas and any comments might worsen his electoral chances in an already strong opposition city.

Nepad –The clash of the Titans

If money is the root of all evil then so is the multi-billion dollar African economic renaissance package called Nepad. Whereas Abdoulie Wade, Thabo Mbeki and Obasanjo are leaving no stone unturned in their bid to secure funds for Nepad, others like Yahya Jammeh of Gambia are ridiculing the project. New African of September 2002 reports that Jammeh has dismissed Nepad as something that "will never work. You come up with a programme and depend on nothing but begging. I, Jammeh, will Not kneel down before any man and beg. I will only kneel before God" Every African leader, in fact, kneels before the almighty World Bank and the IMF! Charity begins at home, it seems. Billions of dollars begged will first have to satisfy the immediate families of Wade, Mbeki and Obasanjo before any left over (if there’ll be any) can trickle down to the families of the likes of Jammeh. That is genuine leadership in a money-based world!

The State

On whose side is the state?
Nowhere has the state ever been neutral. On the contrary it always works in the interests of the haves and against the have-nots. In February this year Trevor Manuel, the South African Minister of Finance, in his budget statement, announced a large surplus of a quarter of a trillion rand. So who gained from the windfall? The government cut taxes by significant margins, such that the rich got the top marginal rate of 42% of earnings cut to 40%. But a huge clamor for a basic income grant of 100 randfor all citizens fell on deaf ears. Instead, 2.5 billion rand was set aside for the hiring of more policemen on the beat; some 16000 rand to keep the coercive state machinery well lubricated
Later in July when municipal workers in Johannesburg went on strike, the police were unleashed on them for daring to ask for better conditions of service.

Fooling the people

The western powers divided Africa into small units for the sole purpose of pillaging the resources of their colonies. Today, African leaders are talking about uniting the continent as a means of redressing the sorry state in which it finds itself. But in practice they are fighting tooth and nail to maintain the artificial borders as the colonialists demarcated them. And the reason? Like the colonialists before them, they have a firm grip over the resources of their fiefdoms and the wealth created is for their own personal use. Barely a week after the birth of their AU in Durban, South Africa, and Wade of Senegal openly expresses his preference for money over people. Gambian private and commercial vehicles were barred from crossing into Senegal because of a misunderstanding over taxes. Even the Gambian Foreign Minister, who was on his way to Mauretania on an international assignment, was turned back at the border by Senegalese authorities. (The Independent Friday 19-21 July 2002)

Leaders or criminals?

The leaders of the world’s most powerful nations, the G8, gathered in Canada for their annual summit a few months ago. The two-day meeting was held in the small mountain resort of Kananarkis. They were guarded by thousands of police within a twenty-mile security zone and there was only a single road leading into the resort with 16 checkpoints. (BBC June 2002). Why should leaders be treated like prisoners or they really are criminals?


Madagascar was excluded from the AU meeting in South Africa as the Central Organ of the OAU ironically recognized neither of the two contestants to the presidency. The leader of the CO is none other than A. Wade of Senegal, who was the same man who brokered a peace plan (in his Dakar ) which agreed on a recount of the ballot and who said that whoever emerged winner was the legitimate choice of the people. It was done and Marc R. got the people’s mandate. So how come Wade led his gang of kingmakers to ostracize Madagascar? How reliable are these leaders?

From African Socialist No1

Friday, July 20, 2007

Wealth and Food

Socialist Banner has previously remarked on fashion and women's figures and now we have again been directed to a similar BBC story .

In some African societies being fat remains a symbol of status and power and in Nigeria, the rich can pay for special "fattening rooms" to put on extra weight.

"In the morning you eat fine," says Happiness Edem, recalling her time in the fattening room in the Nigerian city of Calabar. "After eating you can take a bath. From there you can sleep, you sleep fine, you wake up, you eat, you sleep." Happiness attended the fattening centre for a total of six months, at the request of her husband, Morris Eyo Edem, leading up to their wedding.
By the time she had come out, her body shape had changed completely - to the delight of her husband.

As a prince, Eyo Edem requires a particularly large wife, and adds that a slim wife would have no appeal for him.

"I don't think I will ever even do that," he says. "People will think I am not rich... If a woman is not fat and has not gone through that process she does not qualify for marriage."

"When you are fat, it makes you look healthy," says Happiness. "People respect you. People honour you. Wherever you go, they say, 'your husband feed you fine'

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Zimbabwe - Mugabe - corruption and cement

Scarce building materials, earmarked to rehouse victims of Zimbabwe's Operation Murambatsvina, have been diverted to other projects, including work on a mansion for President Robert Mugabe . Operation Murambatsvina, supposedly aimed at clearing slums and flushing out criminals, left more than 700,000 people homeless or without a livelihood.

A visit by an IRIN correspondent to Hopley Farm, a government camp 25km southeast of Harare, for internally displaced people who lost their homes found all construction activities had ground to a halt. Local government officials responsible for the construction of housing for 1,000 families told IRIN the programme had been stopped after cement and money for workers' salaries had run out.

The officials showed IRIN a letter written to Ignatius Chombo, the minister of local government, which read, "Please take note of the 11,150 bags [of cement], said to have gone to President Robert Mugabe's residence in Borrowdale..the cement was said to have been returned, when in actual fact it was not. The cement was used in Borrowdale towards the construction of the president's house." Mugabe is renovating the Borrowdale Brooke home of the world's former number one ranked golfer, Nick Price; some sections of the property, such as the security wall and workers' accommodation, are still being built.
Cement destined for housing at Hopley Farm was also being used in other projects, such as the construction of the Manyuchi Dam in Masvingo Province, in the southeast, repairs to Harare's maximum-security Chikurubi prison, and also for renovations to some district hospitals.

None of the houses built so far include lavatories or potable water, and prospective tenants have been told that the costs of installing these facilities would have to be borne by them. In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, municipal authorities have evicted the beneficiaries of Operation Garikai housing, on the basis that the dwellings could only be deemed habiltable if the government provided water and sanitation.

The Bear comes to Africa

Joining the West , China and India to gain access and control of the natural resources and wealth of Africa it is reported that Russia has expanded its commercial inroads into the continent .

According to rough estimates, the investments of four companies alone - Rusal, Nornikel, Alrosa and Renova - in Sub-Saharan Africa constitute about $5 billion. Others are also active, including metal group Evraz, oil giant Lukoil and a number of banks.

Renova is one of the most dynamic Russian players in Africa. Its largest African project is the development of a manganese deposit in the Kalahari Desert. Renova's head, Viktor Vekselberg, member of the International Investment Council for South Africa, is known to local journalists as Mr South Africa in Russia.

Russian banks are also moving into Africa. The Vneshtorgbank has opened the first Angolan bank to have predominantly foreign ownership. In the meantime, the Renaissance Capital already owns 25% of the shares in Ecobank, one of the most advanced Nigerian banks, with branches in 11 African countries. The Renaissance Bank is actively promoting the idea of Russian investment in Africa and is even about to launch an African investment fund.

Like hyenas and vultures , big business , no matter what nationality , seek out rich pickings

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Child Labour -Sierra Leone

A recent report by the Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) in Sierra Leone, interviewed 267 children who work in mining areas across the country and found that 55 per cent of the child miners live with at least one parent. The report also found that 38 per cent live with a relative and seven per cent live on their own.

"It's an issue of poverty. The people are so poor after the war that they cannot actually afford to send their kids to school." Tongu said there are thousands of children working in mines across the country, many of whom don't go to school - a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that even in wartime, all children have the right to receive an education. "Child mining, to me, is one of the worst forms of child labour," said Tongu. "The conditions are hazardous and the work is heavy." He said children work long hours for little or no pay and are often taken from their families by relatives who say they will care for them and then put to work in the mines.

Abu Marrah knows all about this. He has never been to school and is unsure of his age, which is in the range of 10-12 years. He was taken from his family in Kabala by his uncle and promised a job in carpentry, but for the last year has spent most of his days mining at Zone 3/7. He digs in heavy clay, hauls gravel and is immersed in filthy water for much of his day.
"The work is hard," he said. "I am part of those who wash the gravel. I only have one meal per day and I come early in the morning and I am here up until 2 o'clock." Marrah said . He often works for days without finding a diamond and those he has found have never earned him more than Le 1000.

And for Isatu Kamara and others like her who continue to bring their children to work in mines all over the region. "We have no choice, we have no money," she said.

It's Oil Again

ETHNIC clashes in Buliisa District in Western Uganda could have more to do with oil discoveries than grazing rights according to this report.

Contrary to the impression created that the Bagungu natives and the Balaalo pastoralists just woke up a few weeks ago and started feuding over rights to use land for either cultivation or grazing, the groups unknowingly represent bigger interests in Uganda's newly discovered oil. 25 square mile piece of land for which the duo is contesting ownership is part of a 55 km stretch of land that oil explorers have earmarked for exploitation.

The local MP Steven Biraahwa has confirmed that he was officially notified by the oil prospectors that the area under dispute is sitting on vast oil deposits.

We were told just 10 days ago that we have more oil," he said by telephone on Saturday, adding that he is sure that the Balaalo had been pushed by "rich men" in Kampala to occupy the Bagungu land for other reasons than pasture. "They have refused free grazing land. Why do they want [these] particular lands," he asked

The Bagungu and Balaalo are currently embroiled in a bitter contest over who enjoys full rights of land that is communally owned. The Bagungu have claimed that they want to cultivate cotton on the land which they say is rightfully theirs while the Balaalo say they bought the land.

Daily Monitor has accessed official maps of the oil fields which have been in the possession of Buliisa District authorities for quite some time. It has emerged that this information was also available to powerful "big shots" in Kampala who local politicians accuse of fronting the Balaalo pastoralists. The maps reveal drawings of seismic lines, used to identify and map oil and gas deposits prior to drilling, of the specific areas in Buliisa District that the explorers have earmarked with oil potential. The contested land in Waisoke and Bugana villages is in the middle of the exploration blocks.

According to a map released by the Petroleum Exploration and Production Department in March 2006, the contested land is within the 4,675sq km of land licensed to Tullow Oil for exploitation. Now with the prospect of oil, the contest over who enjoys legal rights (and stands to be handsomely paid off) is set to take a new dimension.
"After realising that the land we bought has oil deposits, the Bagungu have turned against us. They want to illegally repossess this land," said Benon Bangirana, a Mulaalo.
A highly placed source at the Buliisa District headquarters, said the conflicting parties want to obtain "exclusive ownership" over the resourceful land "so as to have a share on the petrol dollars...The issue of oil is paramount," he said, "Both sides have powerful backup but the issue of oil is very paramount."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Police disperse anti-hunger protesters

The BBC reports that a protest march against hunger and poverty was stopped by the Nigerian police - because city environmental protection officials complained about the litter from discarded polythene bags and about the loud music played by the campaigners.

Despite the country's massive oil wealth, one in three of Nigeria's 140 million people goes to bed hungry, Action Aid says.

"Their hunger is an indictment of those who have more than enough to eat in a country with more than enough resources and potential to banish the hunger it breeds" organisers of the march said.

The Street Kids of Zambia

It is true that there is a problem of “Street Kids” in Zambia and it is a problem that cannot be resolved within the divisive and oppressive political and economic structures of capitalist society . The Zambian government believes that the main factor behind the incidence of Street Kids in urban areas of Zambia originates from the increasing rates of HIV/AIDS pandemic . It is inferred that most of those kids are orphans . But this is a blatant political misconception parroted by those who are benefiting from tax-payers money being wasted on the recently created Youth Rehabilitation Centres ( Kambilombilo In Kitwe).

It is a fact that many of these kids are mentally damaged - they cannot be socially integrated into mainstream society through skills empowerment or as the case may be . More or less , 90% of these kids return back to the streets often graduating from these rehabilitation centres .

What every sane minded person understands and appreciates is the fact that the presence of Street Kids only began in 1992 - after the MMD came to power. The loss of jobs consequent to the economic policies of Privatisation led to urban unemployment , disease , and crime . Thus we may infer that the main deciding factor of child delinquency in Zambia originates from the economic policies of privatisation and not otherwise .

The majority of Street Kids have living parents and extended relatives - it is HUNGER that drives them on to the streets .

Indeed , the phenomenon of homeless kids is an eye-sore in every capitalist country . It is the consequence of income and wealth inequalities that prevail under capitalism .

What I am trying to emphasise is the fact that we live in societies where there is antagonistic class interests between the workers and the rich (the bourgeoisie) . There is no need to lose hope that capitalism will remain intact no matter how hard we advocate Socialism . We are not deaf to economic and social programmes that are aimed at ameliorating working class living standards - but we are averse to supporting wholeheartedly the abstract principle of economic reformism conceived under political democracy as such.

Our political vision is Socialism . The complete eradication of capitalism though political means .Working class inspired political revolution .

K. Mulenga

Friday, July 13, 2007

Gates and Aids

The Socialist Banner is no friend of Bill Gates and other capitalist philanthropists [ see here ]believing that only going to the root cause of Africa's problems will alleviate the poverty that exists - and that problem is capitalism , itself . But we do acknowledge that out of charity there can be some limited good , even if in this case it is bad news .

We now note that a $37 million 3 -year study funded by the Gates Foundation have found that women who used a latex diaphragm for possible protection against HIV had the same infection rates as those who did not. Researchers conclude that they cannot recommend use of a diaphragm as a low-cost intervention that women could use as a means of reducing their risk of HIV infection.
Researchers are desperately seeking a low-cost method that women could use -- without the consent of male partners -- to protect themselves against HIV. About 20 percent of adults are infected in Zimbabwe and South Africa, where the experiment was conducted, and women there run twice the risk of infection as men. In cultures where women are traditionally subservient to men, they have less of a say about matters of sex -- when to have it, whom to have it with, and whether condoms or other safer sexual practices will be used.

The study was conducted in Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa, and in Harare, Zimbabwe. It enrolled nearly 5,000 women ages 18-49 and followed them an average of 18 months. Half of the women were given diaphragms and a gel lubricant, while the other half were not. Both groups were also given condoms and extensive counseling to have their partners use them.
By the end of the study, HIV infection rates were high and almost identical .

Congolese in UK

Campaigners say failed asylum-seekers sent back to the Democratic Republic of Congo become prime targets because they are seen as traitors and warn that people sent back have disappeared without trace but plane-loads of rejected asylum-seekers have been returned . Amnesty International warns that executions, murders, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, torture and life-threatening prison conditions are routine in the DRC.

The British embassy in Kinshasa says it has no evidence that they face mistreatment upon their return. Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the former home office minister, has said there is "no objective evidence that those returning to the DRC are being specifically targeted for abuse simply because they have sought asylum".

The Bishop of Winchester protested recently that the Home Office "always makes Kinshasa sound like Dorking" and that everyone with experience of the DRC - including himself - found the "mantra-like assurances of the department simply incredible".

A court challenge to the Home Office's insistence that the country is safe is planned for September. Activists will present a dossier of information about the dangers to opposition activists and other dissidents in the DRC.

There are an estimated 6,500 Congolese refugees in Britain. The numbers of asylum-seekers have dropped from 1,475 in 2004 to 1,080 in 2005 and 570 last year. There were 125 in the first three months of this year. Just over 20 per cent of their applications are granted.

The Congo Support Project co-ordinator said: "The situation is dire. The treatment of failed asylum-seekers is very bad - there is a very high risk of people [being] arrested when they are sent back."

Donna Covey, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "It will be safer and fairer to halt forced removals while the courts are considering the guidance about the Congo."

Scullduggery in Djibouti

We read , Djibouti ,a statelet with a population of 790,000 , borders Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia and faces Aden across the mouth of the Red Sea. The large French military base there has been partially loaned to the United States since 2001 to help American operations in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.

Recently released classified documents suggest that France covered up the murder of one of its own judges in the tiny African state of Djibouti in 1995 . Judge Bernard Borrel, 39, was officially in the former French colony on the Red Sea - site of France's largest military base in Africa - to help to reform the penal code. It has since emerged that he was also investigating alleged drugs and arms smuggling by the man who was to become Djibouti's president, Ismael Omar Guelleh.

Borrel's partially burned body was found at the foot of a ravine in October 1995. The local authorities, supported by Paris, declared that he had committed suicide. For 12 years his widow, Elisabeth, has fought to prove that her husband was murdered.Last month President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to meet her - the first senior French politician ever to do so. He promised to ensure that all relevant classified information was released.
Within hours the chief public prosecutor in Paris released a statement confirming that the medical evidence proved that Borrel was murdered. This week, two senior former French intelligence officers who were present in Djibouti at the time told a judge that Borrel was investigating the smuggling of drugs and arms through the strategically placed statelet at the junction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This "traffic" allegedly involved French citizens and Mr Guelleh - known as "IOG" - the nephew of the then president and the heir apparent to the role. Mr Guelleh was elected head of state four years later.

In recent days it has also emerged that the French military in Djibouti knew about Borrel's death two hours before his body was found by local police. Radio France Internationale has been accused of bowing to pressure from Djibouti and the French government to remove an investigative journalist from the Borrel story in 2005.

Mme Borrel and her lawyers have maintained for years that France tried to hush up the affair because it did not want to jeopardise its strategic interests in Djibouti.

The Price of a Healthy Diet

New research by Save the Children has revealed that in order to feed their family a healthy diet the world's poorest people are facing food costs that are more than three times their income.

The charity's latest report, Running on Empty , measured for the first time just how wide the gap is between the price of feeding a family enough nutritious food to be healthy and how much people in developing countries can hope to earn.

The research, carried out in four locations in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Tanzania, showed that between 15 %(in Ethiopia) and 79 %(in Bangladesh) of households simply couldn't afford to feed their children a healthy diet.

The estimated cost of a healthy diet for the poorest in the study locations in the four countries would be like an average household in the UK facing a weekly shopping bill of up to £1,700. The comparative cost of the diet compared with the equivalent average weekly earnings in the UK, was:
* Bangladesh £1,704 a week
* Ethiopia £677 a week
* Myanmar £584 a week
* Tanzania £593 a week
[The comparative cost of a healthy diet figure was found by comparing the price of buying enough food to feed a family in the research country a healthy diet with the average earnings of the poorest families. We multiplied the average weekly earnings of a household in the UK (£533 – DfWP 2006) by this ratio to create the equivalent figure in terms of the average UK family.]

"The poorest families simply do not have the money to afford to ever feed their children enough good food for them to grow up healthy and strong. Poverty has condemned them to a hand to mouth existence and their children to a future of stunting or early death. In 2000, world leaders promised to halve the proportion of hungry children in the world - but they are failing to deliver." - Save the Children

Chronic malnutrition is responsible for 5.6 million child deaths a year.

Millions more children around the world will be stunted because of this persistent hunger, which will affect their entire lives - they will be less well developed both mentally and physically, more prone to disease, and when they reach adulthood will be weaker and less able to do manual work.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Beyond any drought

A new report discusses NGOs .

The Sahel has long been vulnerable to drought, impoverishment and food insecurity, as the droughts of the mid-1970s, 1980s and 2005 show.In the Sahel, shocks from drought and flood are inevitable, but unpredictable in terms of location and timing, andlargely uncontrollable. The people of the Sahel are thus intrinsically exposed to climatic shocks or hazards.This assumption equates vulnerability with inadequate food production as opposed to food access. The levels of malnutrition seen in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso in 2005 were out of all proportion to the drop in production levels and could not be explained on the grounds of climatic variation alone, [not even in combination with the locust invasion] . Climate does not cause vulnerability. Since independence, development agencies and development programmes have been promising real change in these three incredibly poor countries. Why has this development been unable to break the cycle of poverty ?

Inappropriate aid policies are partly responsible for the Sahel region’s poverty according to a strongly-worded report issued jointly by 10 international NGOs to be released on Wednesday in London. The report, which is called ‘Beyond Any Drought', is supported by a network of high-profile international NGOs including Oxfam, the British Red Cross, CARE International, Save the Children and Action Against Hunger, breaks with the usual positive image of the work of aid agencies to say donor-funded projects in the region are often based on “shallow analyses” that ignore common sense.

More specifically, the report says that donor pressure means aid agencies focus too much on measuring the production of heavy, nutrient-scarce staples like millet and sorghum while ignoring basic economic issues such as whether people can afford to buy them. Nutrition appears as a medical issue rather than an issue of access and power. Food security is too easily seen as a set of technical questions, but is in fact based on profoundly political issues.

The most vulnerable households are highly dependent on the exploitation of common-property natural resources,particularly during drought years. Examples include firewood collection for sale, collection of leaves and other wildfoods for human consumption and for medicine. In northern Nigeria the dependence on wild products is an effective indicator of low levels of wellbeing at household and at community level. Households unable to access common property resources, such as wild foods, are more susceptible to draw on their assets and get into debt.The capacity for local communities to manage common-property resources, such as village forests and water sources,has been eroded through the expropriation of many of these resources by the state. Government agencies put in place to take responsibility for the management of these resources have largely failed. In practice, government departments were reluctant to pass on authority over resources (such as timber from forests) that often provided a valuable source of income, and communities were expected to assume responsibility with very few benefits

The American government’s aid agency USAID is singled out for specific criticism. It undertakes what the report calls “risky” policies including the dumping of thousands of tonnes of American surplus food stocks on the continent. the US Government allocates a budget of $1.2 billion annually to purchase surplus grain for food relief, with the overt objective of creating export markets overseas. This food may be distributed in kind or “monetized”, sold on local markets in exchange for cash to be spent on activities related to emergency relief and recovery. The process is hugely costly and inefficient once transporting and marketing is taken into account. Further, the risks of flooding local markets, depressing the price of grain and thereby undermining local producers’ livelihoods is well known.The report says that CARE, another of the NGOs behind the report, is going to stop accepting USAID food on “ideological and practical” grounds.

In spite of rhetoric around learning, NGOs find it very difficult to apply lessons on the ground. In five or six years there could be a complete change of staff in all the major development agencies, leading to institutional forgetfulness and a lack of profound understanding of the issues. Socialists have a longer memory and know that attempts to tackle Third World poverty will often be thwarted by the international market system and will frequently be foiled by the national ruling class appropriation of the local resources and wealth . The majority of aid organisations develop their programmes “on the basis of their own priorities and their own visions” the report says and when designing aid projects the views of locals are usually ignored . It will be the democratic empowerment of the workers by socialism that will begin to genuinely address the needs of the people of Africa .

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Capitalist's Sugar-Daddy

As stated in an earlier posting those in the bio-fuel industry are busy throughout Africa land -grabbing .

The Independent reports from Uganda that Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan President, is attempting to push through legislation that would strip the 75,000-acre Mabira Forest Reserve, on the north shore of Lake Victoria, home to 300 bird species as well as rare primates, and which plays a vital role in the country's eco-system, storing carbon and regulating rainfall , of its protected status. In 2001, a deal signed with the World Bank saw the government receiving £180 million to construct a hydroelectric dam on the Nile in return for guaranteeing the forest's protection but no longer protected if certain Ugandan politicians have their way .

The Mehta sugar corporation wants the reserve carved up so they can expand sugar cane plantations for biofuel production. The conversion of an increasing proportion of the world's food crops into bio-fuel is pushing up agricultural commodity prices and spurring new sugar cane plantations throughout Africa. And big profits for some . The Mehta family, among the richest in the country, have close ties to the Museveni government . In a report submitted last year to the environment ministry by the Mehta group, it was claimed that the area it wants is heavily degraded and of little environmental value. This was disputed by the National Forest Authority but the government responded by sacking the entire NFA board.

Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of rainforest scientists and NGOs, said the Uganda give-away could be part of a worrying new trend.

The RSPB said: "Slicing up Mabira would be an environmental disaster and makes no economic sense at all."

Care International warned the deforestation risked starting drought and flood cycles and a reduction in the health and volume of Lake Victoria.

Nature Uganda said "If a quarter of Mabira is chopped down, the effect on the forest will be far reaching, reducing the range of species, causing encroachment, erosion and siltation. There will be less water in our rivers, less rain, less carbon stored and fewer tourists."

Opposition MP Beatrice Anywar have pointed out that the plan makes no economic sense. Sugar yields in Uganda are among the lowest in Africa, while the destruction will hurt the tourism industry, which is among the country's biggest foreign currency earners, and destroy the best source of food and income for the people of the Buganda Kingdom, which surrounds the reserve.

Economists and Environmentalists are concerned the consequences of a headlong rush into so-called "green fuels" could be to increase greenhouse gases and push up food prices, effectively starving the world's poor.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mauritanian slavery

A new bill in Mauritania making slavery punishable by up to 10 years in prison is inadequate, says Anti-Slavery International , a lobbying group. The proposed law was too weak.

Slavery has existed for centuries in Mauritania. A presidential decree abolished it in 1981, but no criminal laws were passed to enforce the ban.

"Unfortunately the proposed bill only defines an element of the practice in Mauritania," spokeswoman Romana Kacchioli told the BBC Network Africa programme .

It does not cover contemporary aspects of slavery, such as forced marriage, indentured labour or debt bondage .

And we of Socialist Banner would add , nor cover wage slavery ,either

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Presidents house is his castle

Congo's president , Denis Sassou-Nguesso , defended himself against charges of corruption and the fact that he is connected with the ownership of properties that include flats in Paris's Foch Avenue, in Parisian suburbs such as Courbevoie and Velizy, and in expensive areas in the south of France such as the Cote d'Azur said :-

"In France, all the world's leaders have castles and so on. I am very surprised that only two people are targeted"

As if that is a defence .

Benjamin Mutsila, president of Congolese Diaspora, told the BBC.

"The properties never belong directly to presidents themselves but instead to their daughters, sons, nephews or [are] registered to property companies . It is not a president's salary that could have generated the considerable resources needed to acquire such property "

The African Union - An "Old Boys" Association

The recent African Union summit has once again raised the prospect of a United States of Africa . Whether this is ever going to be likely , Socialist Banner serious doubts , since there are often too many inter-capitalist rivalries for such an entity to exist . Not too mention the overblown giant egos of some of the African nation's leaders

We reprint an article from African Socialist No. 5

THE AFRICAN UNION - An "Old Boys’ Association"?

At the 2nd AU summit in Maputo the BBC asked the new AU chairman, President Chissano of Mozambique to sum up in 30 seconds the achievements of the Union. His reply was " I don’t need the 30 seconds you have given me. Quite simply, we have more cohesion and more solidarity." What the BBC did not ask Chissano to clarify was the meaning of his first person plural of the pronoun "we". Did he use it to mean "we the masses of Africa" or "we the privileged few gathered here"? This is the question we, socialists (in Africa), are answering below.

In our part of the world it is not unusual for the alumni of an institution to form an "Old Boys’ Association". And it is important to be part of one, especially those of the institutions which are the preserve of the privileged in society. Such associations constitute some of the vital social networks, through which members can take undue advantage over others when it comes to employment, promotion, and other forms of scarce or "competitive" opportunities and needs. Even at its second summit, at such a teething stage, the AU already hinted noisily at its "Old Boyist" leanings.

The post of chairman of the AU Commission is a highly privileged and therefore "lucrative" job. It is the equivalent of the position of Secretary General in the erstwhile OAU. The struggle for that position was therefore expected to be a keen one but curiously enough, it was not. Amara Essy, the outgoing and interim chairman had foreseen a hot battle for his seat and made it clear he would not contest. Being at the helm of affairs at the AU, he had known for a long time that the heavyweights – Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Senegal – wanted the chairmanship of the Commission to the exclusive preserve of former heads of state. In fact he had noticed a very high preference for Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali to take the seat (even before he had completed his term of office as Malian President). According to speculations, which were rife at the secretariat in Addis Ababa, Olusegun Obasanjo would, as planned, come unto the throne after Konare’s term. These machinations were as far back as 2002.

But in spite of all the fears of Essy, his country’s president, Laurent Gbagbo would hear none of that. It was "for the good of La Cote d’Ivoire", the president reported to have insisted.
When the heavyweights realised that Cote d’Ivoire had put forward their man Essy’s candidature, they quickly talked to Gbagbo and that was it. The latter simply pulled the rug from underneath Essy without any second thoughts. When news of the incumbent’s withdrawal by his country reached the delegates at the summit, it was met with an outcry by many delegates who dismissed the AU as "a club of retired heads of state". But Abdoulie Wade, the Senegalese president, the charade in the following words "It does not matter who heads the AU as long as the person has the right profile to carry out his important task. The advantage that Alpha Oumar Konare has (which Amara Essy hasn’t) is that as a former head of state he can phone any other head of state, even go and see them without having to organise an official meeting, something which another person cannot." What stupidity!

But this does not surprise us in the least because even from the very onset, the Eminent Persons Advisory Panel was constituted from among the same "old boys". They include individuals who have worked or are still working with the UN system, the OAU, or have been presidents or heads of state before. They definitely must have rubbed shoulders with each other for years and collectively perfected in the art of hoodwinking the masses with deliberate diplomatic untruths. If, therefore, such a selected few cannot have cohesion, who else can? These are people who can never understand the plight of the suffering masses because they are so far away from reality.

As for the overwhelming majority of the African people, the AU is a concept that they have either never heard of (not with this pervasive illiteracy here), or they are too busy looking for food to take any note of it. Thus, it is only in this context that Chissano’s "we" can be understood.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The blood-stained hand of Mitterand

Documents in today's Le Monde for the first time confirms long-held suspicions against France's president François Mitterrand supported the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide despite clear warnings that mass killings of the Tutsi population were being orchestrated , according to The Independent .

Previously secret diplomatic telegrams and government memos also suggest the late French president was obsessed with the danger of "Anglo-Saxon" influence gripping Rwanda. In three months from April 1994, at least a million Rwandans - mainly Tutsis - were systematically slaughtered in killings engineered by the Hutu regime to exterminate its ethnic rivals and repel the Uganda-trained Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The documents, obtained by lawyers for six Tutsi survivors who are bringing a case against France for "complicity with genocide'' at the Paris Army Tribunal, suggest the late President Mitterrand's support for the Hutus was informed by an obsession with maintaining a French foothold in the region. One of the lawyers, Antoine Compte, said France was aware of the potential danger of its support for the pre-genocide Rwandan government.
"Massacres on an ethnic basis were going on and we have evidence that France knew this from at least January 1993. The French military executed the orders of French politicians. The motivation was an obsession with the idea of an Anglo-Saxon plot to oust France from the region."

Among the evidence to suggest France was informed of the mounting genocide is a diplomatic telegram from October 1990 in which the French defence attaché in the Rwandan capital Kigali alerts Paris of the "growing number of arbitrary arrests of Tutsis or people close to them". The cable adds: "It is to be feared that [it could] degenerate into an ethnic war.''

Another diplomatic memo, quotes a Rwandan informant as saying that thepresident of the country, Juvenal Habyarimana, had suggested "proceeding with a systematic genocide using, if necessary, the army''.

Even though Rwanda was Belgian for most of the colonial era, France took a strong interest in the country after independence, seeing it as a bulwark against the powerful influences of English-speaking Uganda and Kenya. In the 1980s, French involvement in Rwanda was limited to two dozen military advisers. But when the Uganda-based RPF began launching attacks against President Habyarimana's regime in 1990, France sent arms and troops. Critics claim French troops stood by and watched as Rwandan Hutu soldiers massacred Tutsi civilians.

See Rwanda Genocide and also La Francafrique

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Road to Hell is Paved by Good Intentions

Food aid sent to Somalia to combat one of the world's largest malnutrition crises has been criticised by Somali elders for being delivered at the start of the harvest season.

It is not the first time that Marere's elders have criticised the UN's World Food Programme . After a chaotic food distribution last year, which also took place during the harvest season, the elders wrote to WFP asking the UN organisation not to deliver food again. It is driving farmers into poverty by effecting the local market prices , lowering the price of maize by 60 per cent.

Musa Yusuf Ahmed, 44, was a policeman before the Somali government collapsed in 1991. Now, he tries to make a living from farming, growing maize, beans and watermelons. He normally sells a 50kg bag of maize for 100,000 Somali shillings (about £3.10), but Mr Ahmed said it had dropped to 40,000 (£1.25). "For we farmers it is a big problem," he said. "The food will benefit the people with no money but it will hurt the farmers."

The US Department of Agriculture gives commodities to charitable organizations to sell in low-income countries where they are working. From these sales the NGOs obtain local currency, which they use to finance their projects in those countries. Because the commodities are sold , the local buyers obviously had the purchasing power to buy those commodities. These sales then must have displaced potential commercial sales – by either local farmers or other suppliers. When “monetization” of food aid displaces sales of local farmers, it drives down the local market price. This may actually increase poverty .

In the short-term food aid benefits targeted vulnerable beneficiary households but creates a dependency syndrome and a distortion of local food prices and markets. The low market price creates a disincentive to food producers. Investment decisions change in the production plans of the subsequent season in favour of cash crop production .

The simple task of stopping people from starving or going hungry is never a simple task under capitalism .