Monday, March 31, 2008

What Price Platinum 2

As a follow up of this earlier Socialist Banner report , we now read , Alleged human rights abuses by Anglo Platinum , the worlds leading producer of platinum, could spark investigations through-out South Africa’s mining industry. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said it would probe accusations by international rights watchdog, ActionAid, of forced resettlement and contamination of water supplies in communities surrounding AP’s Limpopo province mines in the north of the country.

"Some of the poorest people on earth are paying a heavy price for the global platinum boom," according to Zanele Twala, ActionAid’s country director in South Africa. "Communities, especially women, have lost their main means of survival – access to land and water. We believe this constitutes a violation of their basic human rights."

Food Price Protests

People across West Africa, and elsewhere in the world, have taken to the streets to protest price hikes in fuel, staple foods and other basic necessities.

A crackdown by police against Senegalese citizens who gathered in the capital Dakar on 30 March to protest the high cost of living was “brutal”, say human rights groups. Police used tear gas and batons to disperse a demonstration organised by the national consumers' union to protest recent hikes in the prices of rice, oil and soap. Security forces also allegedly brutalised journalists and confiscated cameramen’s video.

The Dakar-based African human rights coalition RADDHO (Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme) said in a statement on 30 March that it firmly condemns "unspeakable" acts by security forces which "violate" people's rights. It likened alleged beatings with electric prods to "torture" and called for an investigation into "all acts of violence and poor treatment suffered by demonstrators".

"The interior ministry or at least the police force believe that maintaining order means stepping up repression," Leonard Vincent, Africa director of the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders

Opposition political leader Abdoulaye Bathily recently told reporters that rising poverty and a disregard for human rights has made Senegal "a bomb that could explode at any moment."
At least a dozen protestors in COTE D'IVOIRE were wounded during several hours of clashes with police on 31 March as they demanded government action to curb food prices.
The demonstrations took place in Cocody, where Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has a residence, and in Yopougon, a thriving area for shopping and nightlife. Ivorian police used tear gas and batons to disperse protestors who were burning tires and overturning parked cars.
At the height of the demonstration, before riot police started firing tear gas, IRIN saw around 1,500 protestors chanting “we are hungry” and “life is too expensive, you are going to kill us.”
A kilo of beef has increased from 700 CFA (US$1.68) to 900 CFA (US$2.16) in just three days One litre of oil has increased from 600 CFA (US$1.44) to 850 CFA (US$2.04) in the same time.
“We only eat once during the day now,” said another protestor, Alimata Camara. “If food prices increase more, what will we give our children to eat and how will they go to school?”
Elsewhere , in Cameroon protests against food prices in late February turned violent and in Burkina Faso this year there have been food riots in all the major towns in the country in which hundreds of protestors have been arrested. In Mauritania the high price of imported wheat and rice products brought people onto the streets in late 2007.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Help or Hinderance

The European Union has been accused of "supporting a dictator" by deploying a military mission to Chad that is largely comprised of troops from France, the country's former colonial master.

Tobias Pfloger, a Left German member of the European Parliament , severely criticised Eufor in a Mar. 27 debate.Arguing that the logic of sending this mission is unclear, he described its deployment as "highly irresponsible".
"The best thing would be to put a stop to the Eufor Chad mission now, to say we don't want the situation on the ground to escalate due to the presence of our mission," he said."People seem to be putting on velvet gloves and refraining from criticism because it is linked to the French government,"

French Green MEP Marie-Anne Isler-Béguin. "At the moment, we are basically supporting a dictator," she said.

Nearly half of a 3,700-strong EU force (Eufor) had arrived in Chad, with the remainder expected to be there before the local rainy season begins in May or June. The domination of French soldiers in the force has fuelled claims that it would be virtually impossible to distinguish the operation from almost 2,000 French troops participating in a separate mission in Chad. Known as Epervier, the latter mission has shored up the regime of President Idriss Deby, who seized power in a 1990 military coup. During an uprising in the capital N'Djamena earlier this year, French troops guarded the airport where helicopter gunships used to ward off rebel fighters were based.This was not the first time that Deby has effectively been rescued by French troops, who are stationed in Chad under an agreement dating from the 1970s. In 2006, the French gave logistical support to Deby when he successfully repelled an onslaught by the rebel United Front for Democracy.France's government has also been reluctant to publicly criticise Deby and his henchmen for ordering the arrest of opposition leaders, some of whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Michael Gahler, a German conservative, suggested that France's existing presence in Chad could compromise Eufor's nominal impartiality. "The question is: can the people in Chad distinguish between these white faces -- the neutral troops and the troops that are there on the side of the government?"

Friday, March 28, 2008

Water , water everywhere but not a drop to drink

An estimated 84,000 Ghanaians dying each year from diseases related to poor water quality . The Ghana Water Company says it is no longer able to supply even half of the 150 million gallons of water that people in the capital , Accra, require each day.

Accra could have an abundant water supply from the nearby Volta Lake, the world's largest manmade body of fresh water. But many of the pipes delivering the water to the city are cracked and broken and the government has done little to repair them. As a result many residents resort to polluted rivers and ponds, or hand-dug wells where the water is often unclean.

The government acknowledges the problem. “It’s about aging infrastructure, lack of investment and waste,” the minister for water resources, Boniface Abubakar Saddique told IRIN . To raise more capital for infrastructure the ministry restructured the way it managed water in 2006, handing control over to a private company, Aqua Vitens Rand Limited. Two years later, however, fewer people in Accra can access water than when the system was government-run .

A representative of the non-governmental organisation ISODEC (Integrated Social Development Centre) said , “Its sad politicians constantly spew rhetoric on providing potable water to citizens but never offer concrete alternatives.”

The government intends to purchase two executive jets at a cost of US$105 million . At least , the workers of Ghana now know the President's priority.

In Burkina Faso 5.7 million Burkinabes have no access to clean water and 12.6 million lack adequate sanitation facilities. In some parts of the country only 2 percent of the population has access to clean toilets .

The government said it will use the African Development Bank, World Bank and bilateral donor funds to install 617,000 new toilets around the country, build 520 new pipe networks in rural areas, fit water taps in over 100,000 homes and install thousands of water-pumps.
"Finally the international community is realising that any development initiatives introduced in Burkina Faso must include investments in water, otherwise the Millennium Development Goals will be doomed to failure." the non-governmental organization WaterAid told IRIN.

Short of money = Short of food

At the risk of being seen as the boy who cried wolf once too often , another article about the pending effects of rising food prices has come to our attention and one distinctive feature of the article is its mention of the influence on the middle classes , another example of the proletarianisation of them .

“Everything is very expensive - we are now living on borrowed money,” Towela Ngwira, a shopper at a market in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, told IRIN. “For us it is no longer hand-to-mouth but hand-to-hand because all the money we get has to be given to someone else [from whom we borrowed]...We are now surviving on dry foods such as Kapenta [sardines], dry fish, and dry beans, because fresh foods are very expensive. We have even stopped buying bread for breakfast - it’s too expensive for us.”

This week South Africa, the regional economic giant, released figures showing the annual consumer price index for food, a measure of food price inflation, had increased to 14.1 percent. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation , the global picture is even bleaker: FAO’s global food price index rose 40 percent in 2007 compared to 9 percent in 2006. The causes are global. Worldwide food stocks have hit historic lows, while demand has never been higher. The combination has resulted in prices of basic staples such as wheat, corn and rice hitting record highs, up 50 percent or more in the past six months.

According to André Jooste, senior manager of market and economic research at South Africa’s National Agricultural Marketing Council, although the poor are inevitably the hardest hit, even professional urbanites are beginning to feel the squeeze. “The middle-class will start changing their buying patterns, moving away from special products to cheaper alternatives. They will have to” he said.

In Malawi’s southern town of Zomba, Harrison Kumwenda has seen the produce from his one and a half acre plot fall by more than half. He blames a combination of expensive fertiliser, and the weather.
“We were buying a bag of 50kg of maize at the price of K800 (US$ 5.8) in December but the vendors are selling a bag of 50kg at K3,000 (US$ 22) which is very high”.

In Zambia, the authorities “have decided to restrict the export of maize only to countries that have active contracts with us until we ascertain the quantity of maize stocks in the country,” Sara Sayifwanda, Zambia’s minister of agriculture, told IRIN. “It is important for us to take precautions because we don’t know as yet how exactly this harvest season will be; we may have maize shortages in certain places.”

Peter Cottan, vice president of the Millers Association of Zambia, said some millers had started hoarding their maize stocks in anticipation of a shortage. “We expect the prices to even go higher,” he said.

The Basic Needs Basket, an index of market prices compiled monthly by a local faith-based think-tank, the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflections (JCTR) in Zambia, has shown an unprecedented increase in the cost of basic food items: the average monthly cost rose by 10 percent from January to February.
“The obvious and common underlying factor... has to do with how much is available on the market,” JCTR spokesperson, Miniva Chibuye, explained. “The current upward trends in food prices pose serious challenges to human development and require that strategic planning and responses begin now.”

Of course , the position of Socialist Banner is that the capitalist system is inadequate to plan or respond to its own inherent failings of supply and distribution , an explanation which can be summed up as "Those who can't pay , can't have "

Thursday, March 27, 2008

divide and rule

Socialist Banner has pointed out the threat of discrimination in South Africa against in-comers from other parts of the continent and now another news report high-lights the problem .

Human rights organisations in South Africa have condemned a spate of xenophobic attacks that have reportedly left four people dead and hundreds homeless.
"At least a 1,000 people have also been left homeless in the latest attack - we are really concerned," said Vincent Moaga, spokesman for the South African Human Rights Commission .

The United Nations Refugee Agency said it had recorded at least half a dozen attacks against foreign nationals in the past few weeks, including the fatal shooting of two migrants in another township outside Pretoria on 18 March. Following the killing, thousands of people went on a rampage, assaulting foreigners in four other informal settlements, reported local newspapers.

"Most of the attacks seem to stem from social tensions within the communities," said Jack Redden, UNHCR spokesman in South Africa. "Many foreign nationals unable to afford rentals in city centres have begun to relocate to townships - and have become the focus of simmering tensions within townships over lack of service delivery." Nearly 17 million strong labour force remain officially unemployed in South Africa. A further 3.5 million are classified as "discouraged work-seekers" or "unemployed." South Africa as the regional economic superpower has attracted migrants - both legal and illegal - from across the continent and beyond

"It is a new kind of racism," commented Annah Moyo, a human rights lawyer with the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF). "It is understandable, I think, because South Africans feel threatened as many employers prefer to hire foreign nationals because they can exploit them - but violence can never be justified."

Divide and rule to maintain whites in political power has been the history of Africa in the past but now industry and commerce , much of it black owned , now use the same tactic to weaken the working class to continue their control .

Shared exploitaion deserves the response of united resistance.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

what price platinum?

From the BBC

Mining giant Anglo American courts prime ministers and presidents, keen to be seen as leading the way in corporate responsibility. But there are concerns that people are being forced off their land as the world's third largest mining operation seeks huge profits from the increasing world demand for platinum.

The global drive for clean air is driving the market in platinum which is used to produce catalytic converters. Nearly 90% of the world's platinum reserves are in southern Africa with Anglo American's mines proving to be highly productive and profitable. It makes the company a major player in the South African economy paying nearly £1bn in tax to the government. Nearly 20,000 South Africans have been displaced by mining giant Anglo American in its search for platinum, a BBC File on 4 investigation has found.

This platinum rush has seen a new wave of mines with deep pit mining abandoned and massive open casts mines coming on stream. But thousands of villagers have had to move from their ancestral lands - relocated to purpose built townships financed by Anglo American's subsidiary Anglo Platinum which offers compensation and new land. Not everyone was happy to leave. Villagers who have resisted claim they have been shot with rubber bullets by the police.

Villager Rose Thlarera told File On 4: "I worked my arse off working for these people - for white people - and cleaning their houses. I'm not going to move just because they come and tell me - force me to go - I can't do that. I believe I have also got rights" Rose said . "What the mine is doing to us is worse than the apartheid era - during apartheid we had our water and electricity but we didn't have the mine amongst us." She added: "They are forcing us out - they don't care how they are getting their platinum."

With no water the remaining villagers rely on a seep dug next to a stream, "We don't think it is clean - it is not healthy any more," said Rose.

They fear the water is polluted with chemicals from the nearby mine and Abel said he was hospitalised for three weeks with a stomach ailment and breathlessness. Last October an independent analysis, commissioned by the charity Action Aid , of water at 10 sites near Anglo Platinum mines in the Limpopo Province found water unfit for human consumption. The analysis by environmental chemist Carin Bosman found it contained high concentrations of salts, particularly nitrates, which could cause stomach cancer and sometimes a fatal blood disorder - one of its symptoms is breathlessness. Her analysis at one village Ga-Molekane, found the village water supply has extremely high levels of nitrates and bacteriological contamination. Ms Bosman said she is certain a waste reservoir next to the mine is responsible for the contamination.

An Action Aid report also accuses the company of exploiting those forced to leave their land.
"People need to be given fair amounts of compensation, they need to be asked whether they want to be moved or not in these mining processes of mining and they should be compensated adequately for that," said its author Mark Curtis.

Anglo Platinum has also been criticised over safety standards - on average, around 20 people a year are killed whilst working in its mines.

The question is what price platinum and who ultimately has to pay that price ?

Maize production down in Kenya

Costly farm inputs , such as the price of fertiliser , plus insecurity in Kenya's key food production regions are threatening the country with starvation, agricultural experts warn.

Farmers displaced by post-election conflict and cattle-rustling are hesitant to return to their pieces of land because of fears of a possible replay of the violence. As a result, about half of the agricultural land in North Rift, the key maize producing area, has not been prepared for the planting season this month . In Trans Nzoia, which normally produces 60 per cent of the country's maize requirements, agricultural experts forecast a deficit of 500,000 bags - if conditions favour farmers. However, the figure could be as high as three million bags. In Uasin Ngishu, North Rift, the area agricultural officer Grace Kirui predicts a shortfall of 600,000 bags this year. And in Kericho, only one third of the farmers have planted, according to the district agricultural officer Khadija Baraza. Thus, the country may be faced with a five million-bag food deficit - a situation that threatens to wipe out the current grain reserves by August. Some farmers in Lugari, Uasin Ngishu and Trans Nzoia are already anticipating severe shortages by July and are holding on to their maize until the producer price goes up.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Belly Politics in Gabon

"God brought him to us and only God can call him away. For us there is only Bongo. He is irreplaceable."

Gabon , population 1.5 million people (life expectancy, 53) , the fifth biggest oil exporter in sub-Saharan Africa , is ruled by Omar Bongo , now the longest-ruling head of state, not counting the monarchs of Britain and Thailand . He has ruled for 40 years . Born Albert Bernard Bongo, the youngest of 12 children on Dec. 30, 1935, Bongo served as a lieutenant in the French Air Force, then climbed quickly through the civil service and assumed the presidency on Dec. 2, 1967, after Gabon's first post-independence leader died. Six years later he converted to Islam and took the name Omar.

Bongo has displayed plenty of dictatorial tendencies. His government has jailed journalists who dared criticize him personally, and has cowed most of the rest into self-censorship. But Gabon's prisons are not filled with political prisoners and rivals don't disappear or turn up mysteriously dead in the night.
Instead, he "attacks" his opponents by bringing them into his fold, offering them top posts, giving them a piece of the pie . Bongo's principal opponent in the 2005 election was Pierre Momboundou. After losing the vote by a landslide, Momboundou asked for and got $7 million a year later for development in his constituency (he's now a member of parliament).

But oil dependency means the country has more oil pipeline (886 miles) than paved roads (582 miles). Only 1 percent of its land is cultivated and Gabon produces virtually no food. Instead, basics such as tomatoes are imported from France, the former colonial master, and neighboring Cameroon, pushing prices so high that Libreville, the capital, is the world's eighth most expensive city, according to Employment Conditions Abroad International. Gabon once boasted world's highest champagne consumption per capita . 90 percent of the country's income goes to the richest 20 percent the population, while the bottom 30 percent lives on less than $1 a day.

Bongo, by contrast, has amassed a fortune that makes him one of the world's richest men, according to Freedom House, a private Washington-based democracy watchdog organization. Nobody really knows how much he is worth, but there have been clues. French media have reported his family owns abundant real estate in France — at one time more Paris properties than any other foreign leader. In 2003, an official of French oil giant Elf Aquitaine testified he had opened several Swiss bank accounts for Bongo into which commissions were paid on multimillion-dollar oil deals. . Bongo's daughter-in-law, married to his son the defense minister, appeared on the American reality show "Really Rich Real Estate" in 2006, shopping for a $25 million Beverly Hills mansion.

Gabon today is "neither dictatorship nor democracy, neither paradise nor hell," said Louis-Gaston Mayila, who heads a pro-Bongo political party "We are something in between."

Moussirou Mouyama, a linguistics professor at Libreville's Omar Bongo University , however , says "It's belly politics . If you don't go along, you don't eat."

The Draining of Health- workers

Socialist Banner has directed attention to the export of people and their skills and talents from African countries before ( here and here ) and yet another report on the problem has come to our attention that highlights the problem of the brain drain .

Poor working conditions and inadequate pay have driven away health professionals from developing countries, thereby undermining medical services, a conference to address the global shortage has noted. The deficit, the conference heard, had reached four million doctors, nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals. Of these, one million are needed in Africa alone .

Some 57 countries, especially in Africa and Asia, are particularly affected and unable to effectively provide access to essential health services, prevention and information campaigns, drug distribution and other life-saving interventions such as immunisation, maternity care and treatment of several diseases. While Sub-Saharan Africa has 11 percent of the world population and 24 percent of the global burden of disease, it has only 3 percent of the world’s health workers. In Africa, 36 countries have fewer than 2.3 doctors, nurses and midwives per 1,000 people, mainly because of “brain drain” of trained personnel to developed countries. Only two countries have fulfilled a 2001 pledge by African countries to commit 15% of their national budgets to funding the health sector to meet the Millennium Development Goals. None of the East African countries have met that pledge. Uganda contributes 9.6%, while Kenya and Tanzania contribute only slightly more.

Uganda’s health minister, Stephen Malinga, said his country had lost more than 500 doctors and thousands of nurses, of whom 200 were working in South Africa. "Our neighbours have also taken them ... they are paid in dollars in Sudan and others with indispensable expertise have gone to Rwanda," he said. Those who opt to stay in Uganda, Malinga explained, were earning so little they could often not afford to pay the rent. Uganda thus had one doctor for 100,000 patients. [ An EU official said "The corruption index in Uganda, especially in the health sector, is still very high. I think health comes second after the Police in corruption.”]

Global Health Workforce Alliance said one in four doctors trained in Africa was working in western industrialised countries.

"They seek better employment and quality of life. Income is an important motivation for migration as well as better working conditions, career opportunities and more job satisfaction," Sigrun Mogedal, one of the conference organisers said.

The conference held out its begging bowl to solve the problem with the usual plea for funds - a 10-year global action plan to deal with the problem, which would require US$3.3 billion per year to train 1.8 million health workers in Africa for the next eight years. Another $27 billion would be required to pay them to stay. Needless to say , no solution , at all .

Stating the Obvious

If West African governments are serious about reducing migration from their countries they must invest in improving living conditions and reducing inequality, according to sociologists, economists and other experts .

"The distribution of economic gains is still largely inequitable, leaving the vast majority of the people below the poverty line," the UN's African Institute for Economic Development and Planning , Aloysius Ajab Amin told participants, blaming economic policies that are failing people in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Amin said youths across the continent lived in "misery" caused by soaring unemployment and inadequate basic infrastructure while seeing their peers who have migrated sending money back home. "What readily comes to their mind is how to join the migration train."

Abdoulaye Kane, of the University of Florida's Centre for African Studies, said he was concerned that in many societies in the Sahel region of West Africa where migration has become the norm, other options were dissolving. "If you go to the border area of Senegal, Mali and Mauritania now you have a whole social pressure on young people to move, to migrate, to go out, because it's seen as the only way to succeed socially speaking . People are now saying you don't need to go to school, because they compare those who went to school and those who have migrated in terms of their buying power."

Sociologist Ba said:-
"Migration is a reaction to scarcity..."

Friday, March 21, 2008

The cup of plenty ?

South Africa’s budget for hosting the 2010 World Cup this week hit an estimated $3.7 billion. The cost has risen more than twelve-fold from an original estimate of $295 million.

Is the continent’s first hosting of the world’s biggest single-sport event worth the money?

How many hospitals, clinics and schools have been built or improved, in a country where more than four million people live on less than a dollar a day? Will the expense eradicate crime, reduce joblessness, reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS, feed the hungry ?

The legacy of the World Cup is of questionable value, as the country already has good football facilities. A new stadium in Cape Town was built, against the wishes of residents, on a golf course, in a city where there are already two perfectly good stadiums.Other venues are being expanded, at huge cost, but will probably never be filled to capacity after the conclusion of the World Cup.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Proletarisation of the middle classes

Food costs are soaring across Egypt. The price of chicken has gone up by 40% in three months, and heating, electricity and transportation costs have more than doubled in the last year. It is not just the poor who are suffering. Increasingly, the middle classes are being pulled into poverty. And as protests grow, the rumbles of discontent are starting to worry the government of President Hosni Mubarak.

Dr Mona Mina is the driving force behind an organisation called Doctors Without Rights.
The signs she and her colleagues are carrying say:
"Two-hundred-and-thirty pounds a month is not enough to feed our families."
The average wage of a doctor, 230 Egyptian pounds, works out at less than £25 ($50) a month.

"People think we are beyond money. But how can we live?" said Saad , a surgeon at Nile Hospital . "How can I give the best when I work long hours and earn as much as a nurse or a mill worker? Our salaries need to be commensurate with prosecutors'. They earn 2,000 pounds a month. So, is it more important to put someone in jail or to save someone from dying?"

Civil servants have started to organise. But it is the doctors - middle class, highly respected but poorly paid - who have caught the mood of the country with their audacious but thwarted proposal for a strike.

"We have two classes today in Egypt -- the capitalists and the poor," Farahat , an orthopedic specialist , said. "We have no middle class anymore. Given such conditions, there must be labor strikes."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Africom Again

In a key briefing to Congress on 13 March, General William "Kip" Ward, head of the US Command for Africa, AFRICOM, devoted only 15 seconds of his four-and-a-half minute opening remarks to a possible humanitarian role. His remarks came in sharp contrast to a year ago when officials announced that the command would concentrate on humanitarian assistance.

Real Reasons for AFRICOM

Professional military officers have made it clear that the new Africa Command has three main purposes.

First and foremost, the new command's main mission is to protect American access to Africa's oil and other resources, preferably by enhancing the ability of African allies to guard these resources themselves on behalf of the United States. But, to prepare for the day that Washington decides to try to use American troops in a desperate bid to keep them flowing, the United States is also acquiring access to local African military bases and dramatically expanding its naval presence off Africa's coastline, especially in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea region. Imports from Africa are expected to reach 25% by 2015, making Africa one of the largest future suppliers of U.S. oil - larger even than the Persian Gulf.

The new command will also expand and intensify counter-terrorism operations in Africa and will make the continent a central battlefield in the Global War on Terror. Through AFRICOM, the Pentagon will intensify and extend U.S. counter-terrorism operations in Africa as well as its involvement in counter-insurgency warfare and other internal security operations in African countries. American troops are already engaged in combat operations in Somalia where air and naval strikes aimed at alleged al-Qaeda members instead killed dozens of Somali civilians in January and June 2007 and U.S. troops were engaged in combat-support operations in Mali in September 2007.

Finally, the new command is designed to counter China's efforts to increase its influence and its access to African oil and other raw materials. The creation of AFRICOM is one element of a broad effort to develop a "grand strategy" on the part of the United States to compete with, and eventually restrain China's activities. It is also intended to demonstrate to Beijing that Washington will match China's actions, thus serving as a warning to Chinese leaders that they should restrain themselves or face possible consequences to their relationship with America as well as to their interests in Africa.

Africans are not asking for AFRICOM. In fact, most African civilians, governments, and many regional bodies have voiced a vehement "no" to the presence of an American military force in their backyard...Not only are the activities and structure of the command contentious, but the issue of erecting a headquarters on the continent is particularly alarming, especially to Africans. ...If history is any indication, the United States will prioritize its headquarters construction on what is in the strategic best interest of the United States, regardless of the consequences for democracy and human rights in Africa... Many African governments and regional bodies have noted the potential for further militarization and have voiced objection to a headquarters on the continent. According to Southern African Development Community's (SADC) Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, "Africa has to avoid the presence of foreign forces on its soil, particularly if any influx of soldiers might affect relations between sister African countries." SADC is comprised of 14 southern African nations and has adopted a regional stance against AFRICOM and foreign military presence. As such, the Pentagon has made a concerted effort to shift the rhetoric away from "base" or "headquarters" and toward "lilypad" or "office." Regardless of the language or the final outcome, AFRICOM will have access to several military bases on the continent and will use the surrounding waters to push Bush's defense agenda forward.

Further info at Resist AFRICOM

World Bank and African Agricuture

Extracts from an article here

A recent evaluation of the World Bank’s research output challenged the institution’s reputation as the world’s ‘knowledge bank’ referring to its habit of taking ‘new and untested results as hard evidence that its preferred policies work’, singling out the flagship World Development Reports published annually as a medium through which advocacy of the World Bank’s favoured policy recommendations sometimes takes precedence over balanced analysis.

WDR 2008 espouses a continuation of World Bank rural policies of the last quarter century. First, it argues that agriculture is key to poverty alleviation, especially for African smallholder farmers. The majority of Africa’s poor live in rural areas and farm to varying extents. Second, it stresses that liberalized national markets will remain the primary force for achieving productivity increases and poverty alleviation. Accelerated growth will be achieved through agricultural productivity improvement but the ‘green revolution’ model of state investments and subsidized support for agricultural inputs are discounted. African states are seen to be seriously flawed and therefore best restricted in scope and decentralised to preclude government intervention in the national economy. Smallholder households will participate in commodity, capital, land and labour markets, to seek multiple pathways out of poverty; either through encompassing agricultural production, rural non-agricultural enterprises or out-migration.

Beneath these entirely business-as-usual policies, there are starkly contradictory objectives: the humanitarian concerns of poverty alleviation clash with a Darwinian market fundamentalism. ‘Market fundamentalism’ is defined here as the unshakeable belief in the innate nature of the market as a prime mover of exchange and optimizer of production without regard for the political imbalances and social biases of markets as historical institutions. States are seen as potential concentrations of vested interests and power in stark contrast to markets as neutral forums of exchange...

...In global agricultural commodity markets, African smallholder producers have been losing market share continually over the last three decades. Africa’s traditional export crops, the beverage crops: coffee, cocoa, tea, as well as cotton, tobacco, cashew, etc. have steadily declined to now quite negligible export levels. The comparative advantage that African smallholders held in these crops has been undermined by far more efficient producers elsewhere. There is no evidence provided to suggest that the broad masses of African small-scale peasant farmers will experience anything other than continuing difficulties in meeting the rigours of global commodity market chains with their highly regulated standards and time schedules...

...Under current market fundamentalist thinking, large-scale agriculture is deemed to be competitive, not small-scale family production. The WDR 2008 infers that the lack of competitiveness of African smallholder commodity production will necessarily catapult many farmers into contract farming or agricultural wage employment. The wider relevance of contracting in an African context lies in its potential for increasing economies of scale and assuring quality. Contract farming and agricultural wage labour are recommended when accompanied with fair remuneration and working conditions. The question remains how such just conditions are to be secured. Large-scale farms and agri-business are not charities. A deluge of farmers, exiting the smallholder sector as ‘refugees’, and flooding rural labour markets, will meet with extremely low returns and harsh working conditions. Contract farming is usually selective in its outreach, often restricted to locations near big cities or major roads. Socially, over time it tends to exclude smaller, poorer producers, and the crops grown are primarily export cash crops rather than food staples. It constitutes a top-down take-it-or-leave-it approach with limited technical transfer. Undoubtedly it can benefit some farmers, but it is not an omnibus solution to low productivity and food insecurity for the majority of African peasant farmers. Similar arguments are made for the efficiency of large-scale farm and plantation production. In relinquishing their autonomy, do smallholders gain in terms of income and security of employment? Smallholders’ bargaining power in contract farming can be very limited particularly in relation to the increasing influence of supermarket value chains. Agricultural wage labourers tend to have even less room for manoeuvre with casualization of the agricultural wage labour a common tendency. The WDR 2008 admits that agricultural wage labourers have been known to face highly exploitative working conditions...

... WDR 2008 suffers from a logical inconsistency between its acclaimed goal of poverty alleviation for African smallholder farmers and its conviction that large-scale commercial farming is the inevitable future of farming. African small-scale family farmers must meet the productivity levels, rigorous product standards and delivery schedules of international value chains to compete effectively, yet without necessary support. At present hundreds of millions of African peasant smallholders are not competing successfully in global commodity markets. The World Bank adopts a matter-of-fact position that they will relinquish their autonomy as agricultural producers and work as contract farmers or wage labours in large-scale agribusiness or alternatively leave agriculture to seek their livelihood elsewhere. Their sanguine attitude towards peasant labour redundancy does not tally with their professed concern for the African rural poor. Beneath the WDR 2008’s public relations spin about poverty alleviation, they are conferring carte blanche support to a ‘survival of the fittest’ economic trajectory in which the grossly imbalanced commercial interests of large-scale OECD subsidized farmers, supermarket chains and agribusiness have full scope to compete against unsubsidized peasant farmers engaged in rural ways of life that that have managed hitherto to endure for millennia...

...African smallholders have a ‘loser’ status in the WDR2008, but the World Bank appreciates that allowing the global market to fully decimate African peasant agriculture would spell political and human disaster in the weak African national economies where farmers’ only option is to join over-crowded rural and urban informal sectors where average levels of capitalization, skills and productivity are exceptionally low. Thus the African countryside of the future is in effect likely to be relegated to a large ‘holding ground’ to ensure basic welfare of the rural population and provide labour for other sectors of the economy as and when needed...

... The reality is that customary land rights are no longer the central issue in many African countries. Smallholder farmers are often in competition with large-scale farmers who receive preferential state support. Small farmers have already been or are currently being pushed into vulnerable ecological areas outside their traditional home areas...

...The World Bank has not been held accountable for the agricultural policy misjudgements and blunders they have enforced in Africa over the last 25 years through structural adjustment policy and debt conditionality. Now, with impunity, they are throwing their weight behind the rapid redundancy of a potentially massive number of peasant smallholders in the name of African development...

...In other words, those left in the countryside live on tribal communal ‘holding grounds’, akin to the Bantustans of the apartheid period of South African history, eking out an existence on the basis of exceptionally low-yielding, uncapitalized agriculture. Like the Bantustans, these holding grounds could function as labour reserves for the mainstream national economy and would most likely be based on conservative tribal customary legal frameworks not only with respect to land but in wide array of other spheres as well. It is indeed an irony that such a possibility resurfaces little more than a decade after South Africa managed to rid itself of this ‘separate and unequal’ model of rural exploitation in the name of development.

America Needs African Mercenaries

An American private security company put 'help wanted' ads in Namibian local papers in September 2007, hundreds of Namibians lined up to apply for the non-combat security guards positions on offer in Iraq and Afghanistan. A firm called Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group (SOC-SMG) announced a recruitment drive through the adverts in local newspapers. The Nevada-based private security company clients include the US Army and the US Marine Corps. Namibia’s independence war ended nearly 20 years ago, but the experience gained by many soldiers during the conflict has made the country a fertile hunting ground for private security companies seeking recruits for the world's 21st century wars.

Alex Kamwi, executive director of Namibia Ex-Freedom Fighters and War Veterans Association said most former soldiers "were just educated at the battlefield, with an AK-47." As a result, he said, many veterans were unemployed, had few marketable skills and were "very, very poor...They were really rushing, in large numbers, to get a job – because they are suffering!" said Kamwi. About 35 percent of Namibia's about 2 million people are unemployed.

The private military and security companies in support of US-led efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly looking to Africa for so-called "third-country nationals (TCNs)", who are playing a growing role in the military-backed operations there. An estimated 155,000 contract personnel are currently in Iraq in support of the US occupation. About 30 percent of them are TCNs, according to the US Department of Defence. These contractors are used for a range of jobs such as non-combat security contractors hired to guard personnel and convoys, as well as static installations, including bridges and pipelines. TCNs with more advanced skills are sometimes employed to train military personnel, participate in de-mining operations, or interrogate detainees.

The growth of the private security industry is increasingly targetting developing countries where many TCNs have valuable conflict experience, said Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, a Washington DC-based trading group for private security companies. Should the US government only hire Americans to do these jobs, the costs would just be insane

"They have some knowledge about risk mitigation, and about what is risky in a war zone. Most people in the world don’t know what this is. People in Africa do. I mean a lot of people have been in these areas and they have this amazing amount of experience they bring to their jobs," Brooks said.

Hiring personnel from Africa also has another attraction. "They tend to be much cheaper than Americans or Westerners – maybe by a factor of 5 or 6," Brooks told IRIN. "Should the US government only hire Americans to do these jobs, the costs would be just insane."

What is inexpensive by Western standards can be a pay bonanza in Africa and other developing countries. In Namibia, word of mouth spread that the security jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan would pay about US$550 per month, or about 10 times the monthly wage of a local security guard.

"When somebody is poor and trapped in this poverty, what choice do they have?," said Phil ya Nangoloh, executive director of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in the capital Windhoek. Ya Nangoloh said profit-driven recruiting companies were looking only for the cheapest labour, which means they can exploit the desperately poor and uneducated. "Some of them do not have even have access to newspapers or television to know what is going on there with the suicide bombers," Ya Nangoloh said. "Some of these people looking for jobs may not even know where Iraq is. They may think that it is a country next door."

Amnesty International USA’s Business and Human Rights Unit told IRIN that some TCNs effectively work in conditions of "indentured servitude," in which they sign employment contracts that last for three to five years, "but spend their first year just paying off travel expenses,"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Black Gold

The blogger A Very Public Sociologist has posted a very interesting article on Ethiopia and the coffee industry , in particular , the documentary Black Gold . It can be read here in full .

Some extracts :-

Can the market be used to overcome the negative effects of the market? An affirmative answer is implied throughout Black Gold, the 2007 documentary looking at exploitation in the Ethiopian coffee industry...All that's needed is an opportunity for the poor nations to trade their way out of poverty. But all this is rather naive - it assumes the US and EU would consent to ceding their strangleholds on markets out of charity. Just supposing they did, multinational corporations will step in where states have stepped out and ensure global markets remain rigged in their favour. In other words, trade isn't the solution to the problem, it is the problem...

He concludes and Socialist Banner can only concur with the sentiments expressed :-

As long as production is subordinate to the market, as long as workers are not paid the full value of their labour power, superexploitation and one-sided development/underdevelopment will remain the lot of Africa. And no amount of consumption with a conscience will change that.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Migrating capitalism

The Malaysian textile company Ramatex came to Namibia in 2001. The N$1 billion project (about US$127 million) was the first large-scale industrialization investment in the country. It decided to close down its operations -- a move that will destroy 3,000 jobs. The company had been provided with an incentive package that included subsidized water and electricity and a 99-year lease exemption for the 65-hectare site. The government provided the site with electricity and sewerage infrastructure to the tune of N$100 million (almost US$13 million). It was exempt from corporate tax, import duties on imported inputs, value added tax (currently at 15 percent), and transfer duties. It was permitted to repatriate their capital and profits while enjoying freedom from exchange controls. It could hold foreign currency accounts at local banks.

Ramatex arrived in Namibia to benefit from the United States' Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). AGOA provides preferential access to certain imports, such as clothing and textiles, from developing countries in Africa. Namibia started the Export Processing Zones (EPZ) in 1996 with wide-ranging incentives to create an accommodating and profitable environment for manufacturers exporting to markets outside the Southern African Customs Union. The state-owned Offshore Development Company (ODC) promotes and markets Namibia's EPZ to facilitate export-led industrialization.

Five years ago, the workforce stood at nearly 8,000. In 2005, a subsidiary shop called Rhino garments closed down. Ramatex's cotton spinning and ginning plant closed shortly afterwards and the workforce shrunk to 3,000. The company's products were mainly exported to the USA, but its production and sales volumes were never made public resulting in persistent questions about the company's claim that it was making a loss . Now it is to close down completely with the loss of those remaining jobs . The non-suspecting workers, mostly young women, found the main gate to the textile company, which is situated on the outskirts of Windhoek closed when they reported for duty. Instead of clocking in, the workers were greeted by a heavy presence of security forces, which included members of the Special Field Force, City Police, Namibian Police officials and traffic officials who had cordoned off the area . The Namibian Police feared that the angry workers might vandalise the property and steal some of the materials and sewing machines belonging to the company. The police were also concerned that if they allowed the workers in, it would be very difficult to remove them from the premises afterwards. After long hours of negotiations, the workers were allowed to collect their personal belongings in small groups that the Namibian Police could easily control.
The Namibian Labour Commissioner told workers that he would ensure that Filipino and other Asian workers would also receive just payment and treatment during negotiations. In the past, Asian workers at the company have allegedly been quietly deported when labour issues between them and the company became a problem.

Prime Minister Nahas Angula said Ramatex has acted in bad faith because it had earlier agreed with the Government that it would give one year's notice before closing down but instead only gave a month's notice. "They cannot just wake up in the morning and say they are leaving." he said

According to researcher Herbert Jauch of Namibia's non-governmental Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRi), ordinary workers usually lose out as transnational companies make use of EPZ regimes in countries for a short while, only to quickly disappear again to the next.
''Transnational corporations like Ramatex are highly mobile and exploit the opportunities created by neoliberal globalization,'' Jauch wrote in a recent study called ''The Textile and Clothing Industry in Sub-Saharan Africa.'' ''There is a need to tackle such companies by questioning the neoliberal global order and by creating mechanisms of democratic control that will ensure an end to exploitative practices and the free reign of capital,'' Jauch stated in the publication.

Over and over again , workers learn the hard lesson that businesses exists to accumulate capital and will forever seek fresh pastures and new exploitation .

Monday, March 10, 2008

Poor Health in South Africa

The deaths of up to 40,200 South African babies and children could be prevented every single year if gaps in the healthcare system, including poor patient care and lack of interventions to address HIV/AIDS, were addressed. Every year at least 20,000 babies are stillborn, another 22,000 die within the first month of their lives and 1,600 mothers die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Some 75,000 children die before their fifth birthday, according to a report.

"We are talking about a lot of deaths. Under five mortality appears to be increasing. Maternal mortality appears to be increasing. HIV infection amongst pregnant women appears to be increasing," says Dr Mark Patrick, a paediatrician at Grey's Hospital in Pietermaritzburg and one of the report's authors."The fact that 260 mothers, babies and children die every day in South Africa should make people stop and think and ask why this is happening."

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Black Power

Africa has two new billionaires , both of whom are black. But Africa's richest men, according to the Forbes rich list, remain two white South Africans who inherited their wealth. They have now been joined by a Nigerian industrialist who seems to be in every industry going and a black South African mine magnate . But with only four entries on the list Africa remains the continent with the fewest mega-rich citizens. You need at least $1.3bn to get on the Forbes list.

Aliko Dangote is Nigerian and has built a $3.3bn fortune from a loan from his uncle.
In a little over 25 years, Mr Dangote has built an empire that includes the number one sugar production company in the country, a cement factory and a virtual monopoly on the production of pasta in Nigeria. His company bought two refineries in the last days of the regime of Olusegun Obasanjo, but the sale was cancelled by the new president Umaru Yar'Adua, after allegations that due process was not followed. Last year Mr Dangote told the BBC about his close connections with government.
"If we don't have the right people there then all the money I have is useless."

The second newcomer is South African Patrice Motsepe.
The lawyer who bought several unprofitable gold mines and turned them round, now has a fortune of $2.4bn. Born in the township of Soweto, he moved from being the first black partner at Bowman Gilfillan law firm in Johannesburg to running a mining contract firm after Apartheid collapsed. His African Rainbow Minerals now has annual sales of $875 million. Forbes says Mr Motsepe took full advantage of the Black Economic Empowerment laws that require mining firms to be over a quarter black-owned.

Two white South Africans remain on the list:
Nicky Oppenheimer and family own De Beers and are worth $5.7bn.
Johann Rupert and his family head Swiss luxury goods group Richemont. This includes the Cartier label and their fortune has dipped to $3.8bn

Friday, March 07, 2008

Swazi Strikes

A bloody week of the worst labour strife in a decade has exposed cracks in the Swazi government's poverty-alleviation plan of creating thousands of low-paying jobs by promoting a textile industry.

In the strike action, which began on 3 March, workers participating in peaceful marches to demand better salaries have been teargassed and beaten by police . Local media reported that the Swaziland police carried out unprovoked attacks on peaceful marchers on the first day of the strike. Several injuries were reported after riot police shot teargas into a line of marchers . On 5 March, several marchers were beaten and teargassed after vandals sealed the lock on the gate of a textile factory with glue. Uncertain of the culprits' identities, the police randomly struck at marchers, some of whom had to be hospitalised.

Textiles have become a key player in Swaziland's otherwise moribund manufacturing sector, which saw many of its multinational companies relocate to South Africa when apartheid ended in 1994 . Swaziland's textile industry is dominated by garment-making factories owned by Taiwanese immigrants who came to Swaziland in 2000/02 to take advantage of preferential trade conditions with the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act . The country is one of the few that has diplomatic ties with Taiwan and does not recognise the People's Republic of China. Taiwan returned the favour by encouraging its garment-makers to invest in Swaziland.
In turn, the Swazi government has offered tax holidays to incoming firms, and constructed factory shells that are sometimes leased for free of charge to large employers.

Low wages and "cultural conflicts" bedevilled labour relations from the outset, but came to a head when a strike vote was approved by 30 percent of the nation's 16,000 Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union members . The union seeks to raise wages by 12 percent.

"My take-home pay is R300 (about US$38) a fortnight," said Cynthia Ndwandwe, a mother of five employed by an Asian-owned garment factory. "I can no longer afford to buy bread."

"Textile workers are forced to live on mediocre salaries," said Fakudze , president of SMAWU . "How can breadwinners be expected to provide for their families on just R600 ($77) a month?"

Siera Leone's Poor Health

Adding to our earlier blog on the dire condition of the sierra Leone health reources , another report came to our attention .

In the 1970s records show tens of thousands of people used the health system every year. Sierra Leone was renowned for having some of the best surgical training facilities on the continent. Today, after the country’s devastating civil war from 1991 to 2002, the average life expectancy is 41. In 2007 Sierra Leone slipped down from second to last into last place in the UN Development Programme’s annual Human Development Index. The UN estimates there are just 65 trained medical doctors in the country to serve a population of 5 million who are mostly rural dwellers.

When people come to see Dr Dominic Weellah for anything more complicated than diarrhoea or malaria he often just gives them a placebo and sends them home.
“What else can I do?” he shrugged. “People just have to find their own way.”

Weellah’s clinic, in the remote centre of Sierra Leone, has no windows, just gaping holes in the walls and a rusty roof that has almost collapsed. There is no surgical equipment and a medical cabinet that is almost empty. He serves a community of over 10,000 people and the state-run clinic 17 km along unpaved roads is not much better.
“If you are really sick you either die or go to Freetown [more than 200 km west],” he said. “Even assuming patients can make it, facilities there are hardly brilliant.”

Indeed in Freetown the hospital facilities are shocking. Running water for an average of one hour every day .

“The most basic tools we need to do our work are not there,” said Sister Hannah Mansaray, a nurse and midwife. “We can’t even measure blood pressure.” When any surgery is performed, patients need to provide their own gauze, bandages and sterilising equipment, she said .
The hospital the Princess Christian does not have a proper blood bank. A small fridge only contained blood type O+.
“If people need a different blood they will have to come with someone who can provide it,”

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Water War ?

Colonial era treaties granting rights to water from Nile tributaries to Egypt are leaving Ethiopian farms without access to irrigation. As dry seasons grow longer in the arid plains of Eastern Kenya and Ethiopia, tribal conflict over access to watering holes is on the rise, exacerbated by the proliferation of arms from neighboring Somalia.

While Americans fret over rising gas prices and global tension over oil, the world’s poor are struggling to secure access to another, even more basic resource Water . Water scarcity in East Africa is fueling conflict and thwarting development , it is reported

With clean water access increasingly scarce, the burden of securing a daily water supply has become a daunting task for women and young children who often spend hours a day carrying water for their families from remote locations.

Kenya Water Crisis Looms
A crisis posing a risk to 35,000 people is looming in the north and south-east over water scarcity and pressure on grazing pastures.

"For pastoralist communities, scarcity of water for people signals hunger because livestock, their only source of food and income, are at greater risk," warned Enrico Eminae , ActionAid Coordinator in the north east region . "It also triggers conflict over resources as people from different clans crisscross each others territory in search of pasture and water", he added.

Pastoralists are putting pressure on the neighbouring villages of Darwed, Didkuro and Wangaidahan in search of alternative livelihoods. Pastoralists in southern Ethiopia and western Somalia are even more affected and there is danger of them migrating to Kenya causing stress on already strained resources

Food Waste in the UK

Britain is throwing away half of all the food produced on farms .

About 20 million tons of food is thrown out each year: equivalent to half of the food import needs for the whole of Africa.

Last week Japan pledged more than 300 million yen in food aid for Burundi, in Africa, where malnutrition runs at 44 per cent. The food thrown away in the UK last year would meet the equivalent of Burundi's shortages more than 40 times over.

The United Nation's World Food Programme has admitted it might have to ration food aid in response to rocketing global food prices that have soared by more than 75 per cent since their lows of 2000, jumping by more than a fifth last year alone, prompting riots in some countries.

Tim Lang, food policy professor at City University, said: "Waste is a fundamental part of the food economy and it will be hard to get rid of. I do not see how simply appealing to morals will do it."

The need for profit takes precedence over the peoples need for food .

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Chasing the Chinese

Socialist Banner has often reported on the Chinese colonial expansion into Africa and in particular we said here that :

"...It is alleged that Chinese investors mistreat ordinary Zambian workers ... The ZCTU (Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions) has spoken out strongly against the New Economic Zone by pointing out that Chinese investors pay low salaries and the incidence of accidents at workplaces..."

We now read in this report :

"A Chinese manager at a copper smelter in northern Zambia has been admitted to hospital after being assaulted by workers demanding better conditions. An estimated 500 workers at the Chinese-owned Chambishi mine site started throwing stones at the managers as they attempted to hold talks. Police came in to restore order and rescue the Chinese who had taken refuge by locking themselves in their offices." [ Chambishi Smelter, which is under construction, is part of a huge multi-million dollar Chinese investment in the area. ] .

A kitchen for Chinese workers and a guard's house were set alight and hostel windows smashed .

"The Chinese are not respecting Zambian labour laws," said a workers' representative .

While fully sympathising with the reactions and resistance of those Zambian workers , the previous Socialist Banner article cited, concluded "...chasing away Chinese investors is not a method of abolishing capitalism..." and what was really required is workers of Zambia uniting under the banner of international working class solidarity—Socialism.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Time To Demilitarize US Policy in Africa

From an article on American foreign policy in Africa by Bruce Dixon in Black Agenda Report -"the journal of African-American political thought and action " . It makes some pertinent points but unfortunately ends up with an appeal for an "ethical" American policy - as if capitalism can ever be morally good

It's time to demilitarize US policy toward the African continent. Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have provided military aid, military training, military assistance and arms transfers to at least 50 out of 53 African nations. and fomented no less than fourteen wars. Bipartisan US policy until now has been about arming Africans, and keeping the continent hungry, sick, desperately poor and permanently at war with itself. Thanks to our policy of flooding the African continent with arms,the price of an AK-47 assault rifle is lower on the African continent than anyplace else on earth.

Of the nine countries where armed conflicts are now in progress, US-supplied arms and training are a factor in every one. In the Ethiopian civil war, in the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia, in Chad, in Morocco and Western Sahara and Sudan, in the continuing Algerian civil war and of course in the Congo's holocuast, which has accounted, conservatively, for six million dead since about 1996, the highest death toll of any conflict since World War 2. The US has equipped, trained and supplied every one of the national armies that have invaded and occupied parts of the Congo, from Kenya and Uganda to Rwanda, Burundi, Angola and even Namibia. US arms are also in the hands of non-government gangs and private armies that ravage and depopulate whole regions to facilitate the extraction of the coltan for our cell phones and computers, the titanium for our aircraft, and the uranium for our nukes.

America's militarized foreign policy on the African continent does not benefit Africans. The inauguration of AFRICOM, the US military headquarters for the African continent, was met with universal condemnation and scorn by ordinary Africans across the continent, and their governments. Africans don't want US arms, they don't want US intervention, and they don't want US bases.

African opposition to US military presence was the reason Bush did not set foot in the continent's most populous country, Nigeria or in South Africa during his recent visit, and why he stayed only a matter of hours in Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. Not one African country has dared the wrath of its people by requesting to host AFRICOM. But the ring of US bases, from Mombasa to Djibouti on the east to Angola and the Gulf of Guinea on the west, continues to grow. US forces regularly fly bombing missions over Somalia in support of the Ethiopian invasion.

America's foreign policy elite, its multinational corporations, the Pentagon and its constellation of military suppliers and mercenary contractors know what they want. They want the coltan, the oil, the gold, and the diamonds. They want to privatize every state and social resource, down to the water supplies. They want to tie African agriculture to genetically engineered American crop varieties, and collect royalties for the use of these “patented” plants. They want to prevent African nations from spending their own wealth from their own resources on health and education infrastructure, on food subsidies, on growing jobs and healthy internal economies. And they want to keep Africa a war-torn hell on earth, because it's good for business. If you're not a “failed state” yet, they'll make you one.....

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Poor Health in Sierra Leone

The BBC has been carrying a series of reports from a medical clinic in Sierra Leone and it makes dire reading . Needless to say , poverty as both a cause of illness and a problem in providing health -care is highlighted but no more so than in its latest instalment .

"The biggest emergency ...has been a possible case of pre-eclampsia - a condition where the pregnant woman has high blood pressure and swells up. It may kill both the baby and the mother. We knew she might have pre-eclampsia and that she needed to go to the hospital as quickly as possible. We called her relatives and told them that they must take her to the hospital - fast. First they pleaded with us, saying, "Please let her stay. She will make it... she can deliver here." They were worried about possible medical fees at the hospital..."

Sometimes we refer people and they don't have the money - they tell us they are going to the hospital and then they go home. It is really difficult to convince people in the community here as they are poor and don't always understand how serious certain conditions are...Patients who come to our clinic pay between $1 and $2 for treatment, less than at the hospital. But we don't have the facilities, drugs or the equipment to treat serious cases, so we have to refer them.