Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Food amidst starvation

In parts of west Africa people are being forced to eat leaves and collect grain from ant hills, say aid agencies, and are warning that 10 million people face starvation across the region.In Niger more than 7 million people – almost half the population – currently face food insecurity in the country. According to UN agencies, 200,000 children need treatment for malnutrition in Niger alone.

Yet it is not a shortage of food thats causing the hunger but the they cannot afford the food.

"When you walk through the markets, you can see that there is food here. The problem is that the ability to buy it has disappeared. People here depend on livestock to support themselves, but animals are being killed on the edge of exhaustion, and that means they are being sold for far less money. And on top of that, the cost of food basics has risen" explained Caroline Gluck, an Oxfam representative.

"The question now is how many people do we have to see die before the world will act?" she asked.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Congolese Armies

Who's who in the DRC

Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)
The FDLR was formed by Rwandan Hutus linked to the 1994 genocide and includes former members of President Juvénal Habyarimana’s army and Interahamwe militia. After they were routed by President Paul Kagame’s troops following the genocide, they regrouped in DRC to plot a return to power in Kigali, forming an armed group that eventually became the FDLR.
Former DRC President Laurent-Désiré Kabila formed an alliance with the FDLR to battle Kigali’s influence in eastern Congo after 1998 and some joined his army. But Kabila’s son Joseph, now DRC president, allowed Rwandan troops to enter Congo in 2009 and hunt the FDLR. UN security sources estimated the number of FDLR at 3,000, down from 6,000 in 2009.FDLR has allied with other groups, such as Michel Rukunda’s Republican Federalist Forces (FRF), a South Kivu militia claiming to defend the interests of the Banyamulenge (Congolese ethnic Tutsis) and some Mai-Mai groups.

Mai-Mai groups
Its fighters, who spray themselves with “magic water to protect themselves from bullets”, are essentially self-defence militias formed on an ad-hoc basis by local leaders who arm young men in villages, often along ethnic lines.
Some of the larger ones are better known, such as the Congolese Resistance Patriots (PARECO) or Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), which joined the peace process in March 2009, promising to transform into peaceful political parties.
On 2 June, 500 members of the Kifuafua Mai-Mai group returned to their positions in Walikale in North Kivu, claiming that their agreed integration into the army had been delayed for too long. Most Mai-Mai groups are local forces known by the name of their leader. The Yakutumba group, which bears the name of the “major-general” at their helm, kidnapped eight aid workers in South Kivu in April.

National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) The CNDP threatened to invade Goma, capital of North Kivu, in November 2008. Later, Rwanda placed its leader Laurent Nkunda under house arrest. Bosco Ntaganda, who is indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), replaced Nkunda and agreed to steer the group towards peace. In March 2009, the CNDP became a political party and 3,000-4,000 of its fighters joined the Congolese army. Some 1,000 to 2,000 are resisting integration.
Most observers believe the CNDP retained its chains of command within the army. The group administers much of Masisi district and is involved in a range of activities in North Kivu, from artisanal mining to charcoal trafficking and extortion. It is accused of organizing the transfer of its Rwandan supporters to Masisi, raising friction between Rwandese in DRC and other ethnic groups.

Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC)
The group, active in North Kivu, is led by General Gad Ngabo, who crossed into the Congolese district of Rutshuru from Uganda recently. Sources say he is recruiting across ethnic lines, gathering potential to compete with CNDP for control of some North Kivu areas. The group is estimated to number a few hundred fighters.

Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF/NALU)
Ugandan rebel leader Jamil Mukulu founded a Muslim militant group in the early 1990s, despite converting back and forth between Islam and Catholicism. Under pressure from the Ugandan army, he recruited officers from former dictator Idi Amin’s regime and amalgamated the NALU, another Ugandan rebel group believed to harbour supporters of former president Milton Obote.
The militia crossed into DRC in the mid-1990s and has remained in the Beni area of North Kivu. Analysts consider the group “dormant” with about 1,300 men. Peace negotiations between ADF/NALU, Uganda and the DRC began in 2009 with UN facilitation, but in April, the Congolese army blamed a deadly attack on a military training centre near Beni on a coalition of ADF/NALU and local Mai-Mai fighters.

Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)
Joseph Kony founded the “Holy Spirit Mobile Force 2” in northern Uganda in 1987 after a rebel group by the same name was crushed while opposing President Yoweri Museveni’s government. In 1989, Kony renamed the militia the Lord’s Resistance Army, claiming that his objective was the establishment of a Christian-inspired theocracy in Uganda.
The LRA first moved into Southern Sudan in the mid-1990s but the 2005 Sudanese peace agreement and the indictment of Kony by the ICC forced the group to cross into DRC’s Garamba National Park.
In December 2008, Ugandan, Southern Sudanese and Congolese armies launched a joint offensive in Garamba, but failed to wipe out the LRA leadership. The group, which is divided into small groups, move on foot across the Uélés districts of northeastern Congo, the east of the Central African Republic (CAR) and parts of Southern Sudan.
Between December 2007 and April 2010, the group is believed to have killed 1,796 civilians and abducted 2,377 in Congo. It is particularly notorious for forced recruitment of child soldiers, turning boys into killers and girls into porters or sex slaves. It also mutilates lips and ears to terrorize the population.

Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri/Popular Front for Justice in Congo (FRPI/FPJC)
FRPI and its splinter group FPJC are active in the southern part of Ituri, where they battle government forces and UN peacekeepers. FRPI’s former commander Germain Katanga is on trial at the ICC with two other Ituri militia leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the recruitment of child soldiers, mass murder and rape. Analysts describe the group as “residual” yet its humanitarian toll remains high.
In 2009, about 5,000 people fled into the Mokato-Ngazi forest after fighting between the DRC army and FRPI/FPJC militants. When government forces and humanitarian agencies accessed the area three months later, an unknown number had starved to death. Jean-Claude Baraka, an FPJC leader, was recently arrested. But FRPI chief “Colonel Cobra” Matata, who had agreed to integrate the national army, reportedly deserted earlier this month to rejoin his militia in Ituri.

Enyele/Independent Movement of Liberation and Allies (MILIA)
Ethnic tensions dating back to the colonial era flared up last November in northwestern Equateur province. Members of the Lobala group, known as “Enyele” after the name of the village where the violence erupted over fishing rights, first attacked the border town of Dongo and defeated police sent to quash them. Civilians fled across the river to the Republic of Congo, and only 20,000 residents have returned.
Adopting the acronym MILIA, they moved southwards across the jungle and stormed the provincial capital, Mbandaka, on 4 April. They also disrupted supplies as far as the eastern city of Kisangani.
On 5 May, the DRC arrested Ondjani Mangbama, the Enyele leader, but his status remains unclear. The Enyele insurrection began in former Congolese ruler Mobutu Sese Seko’s Equateur home province, now a stronghold of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s MLC opposition party.

Last but not least :

Armed forces of the DRC (FARDC)
The FARDC has been accused by human rights groups of involvement in criminal activities, but the government denies the accusations. In 2009, its 213th brigade was cited in the deaths of civilians in Lukweti, North Kivu, during the UN-backed Kimia 2 offensive against the FDLR.

From here

Gun Trade

Arms spending in Africa is rising once again. Billions of dollars are being poured into armoured vehicles and logistics.Since the end of the Cold War, global military spending has fallen by 35%. But the Stockholm Peace Research Institute estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa it has risen by almost a third over the same period. In Uganda alone, spending on military hardware almost doubled in a single year (1997-98), according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Paramount Group, a South African-based firm and the largest privately owned defence contractor on the continent sales have been rising by a quarter year-on-year since 2005.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup Losers

Socialist Banner makes no apologies for drawing attention yet again to the wasteful World Cup jamboree.
South Africa , a land of fabulous wealth, with 90% of the world’s known platinum reserves, 80% of its manganese, 70% of its chrome and 40% of its gold, as well as rich coal deposits. Plans to develop a satellite programme (in co-operation with India and Brazil). Ten stadiums newly built or upgraded at a cost of 15 billion rand. Rachael Zulu, a 43 year-old mother of two, says there is no way she could afford to buy a ticket to see the national side ''Bafana, Bafana'' play at any of the new stadiums. ''I don't know of anybody living here who is going to the World Cup; we are all poor .I don't know of anybody living here who is going to the World Cup; we are all poor,'' she says. In 2008 three-quarters of South Africans had incomes below 50,000 rand a year (83% were black ) – Only 0.6% of South Africans earned over 750,000 rand, (of whom three-quarters were white and 16% ,or about 30,000 individuals, black)
Rampant corruption and patronage throughout the public sector;
the world’s highest unemployment rate, with more than one in three out of work;
one in eight of the population infected with HIV/AIDS; public hospitals described as “death traps” by their own health minister;
80% of schools deemed dysfunctional;
terrible drug and alcohol abuse;
One in five teenagers aged 15-17 had tried to commit suicide
a crumbling infrastructure; lethal roads.
40% of the population still lives on less than $2 a day.
Although the world’s 24th-biggest economy, South Africa ranks 129th out of 182 on the UN’s Human Development Index (and 12th in Africa).

50 murders, 100 rapes, 330 armed robberies and 550 violent assaults are recorded every day. South Africa now has 300,000 private security guards, almost double the number of police. “We are scared to the point where we are no longer free.” Max Price, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, said after the murder in March of yet another member of the university’s staff: “We no longer trust strangers and we hate what we have become.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pervasive Poverty in Swaziland

With a population of about 1.1 million, Swaziland has over 759 000 people living below the poverty line.48 per cent of the population lived on less than US $ 1 per day which translates to about E7.50 in local currency while 78 per cent lived below US $ 2 per day. The United Nations Complementary Country Analysis which was published in April this year blames this problem to the inequalities in the distribution of wealth in the country and the HIV/AIDS scourge where the country remains with the highest HIV prevalence in the world.

Income distribution remains skewed, with 56 per cent of wealth held by the richest 20 per cent of the population, while the poorest 20 per cent of the population owns less than 4.3 per cent.

HIV /AIDS translates to an estimated loss of 20 years of life expectancy in the country.

20-25 per cent of Swazi households are food insecure.

29 per cent of children under the age of five are showing signs of stunting which is an indication of malnutrition over an extended period.

The mortality rate has risen dramatically, with maternal mortality increasing from 229 deaths per 100 000 births in 1996 to 589 per 100 000 in 2006.

In Swaziland there is limited access to and control of productive assets such as land and water for sustainable livelihoods for the poor, and inadequate capacity to participate in policy making and decisions.The UN noted that physiological and social deprivation which includes risk, vulnerability, lack of autonomy, powerlessness and lack of respect was prevalent in the country.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

For a One Big Union

From the ITUC 2010 annual survey of violations of trade union rights.

Trade unions in Africa suffer from a general lack of respect for their organisations and their activities, both from employers and the authorities. This seriously hampers the free enjoyment of trade union rights. Demonstrations and strikes are often dispersed by the police, who often resort to violence. Sometimes trade union leaders are targeted directly, as shown by the assassination attempts on three union leaders in Burundi and Chad.

Violent repression of striking workers marked the year in South Africa. On several occasions, police and security guards fired at striking workers, most of whom were protesting about pay issues. During the year, a total of 16 workers were reported as having been injured.

Teachers in both Algeria and Kenya organised mass rallies connected to their struggle for better working conditions. In both countries, activists were injured in clashes with the police and many were arrested, and in Kenya, the Teachers’ Service Commission (TSC) subsequently ordered 90,000 teachers in senior and managerial positions to leave the teachers’ unions.

In Egypt, the Real Estate Tax Authority Union officially became the first independent union in over 50 years to be established in the country. However, since its inception, the union has suffered from interference in its internal affairs, with its members being intimidated, harassed and even assaulted, whilst the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, which is the only legally recognised national trade union centre and has close ties to the ruling party, has tried to pressure the authorities into withdrawing the recognition of the union.

Zimbabwe’s abysmal record of violence and repression of trade unions and their members caused the ILO to send a Commission of Inquiry to the country in February. During the year, trade unionists continued to be harassed by the police and supporters of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, whilst mass dismissals of striking workers took place, numerous unionists were arrested, several workers were severely beaten by the police while others were shot, and one union leader’s home was raided.

Trade unions are the butt of constant harassment and repression in Swaziland, where the State of Emergency has been in force for over 35 years. Arrests of union leaders and beatings of protesters are not uncommon.

Violations of human and trade union rights are also a matter of serious concern in Sudan. The law only allows one trade union federation, which is controlled by the government and engages more in disciplining workers than protecting their interests. Unionists who operate outside the official union live under constant fear, and 2009 saw no improvement of the situation.

The demands of workers and their representatives are frequently ignored or rejected by employers or the authorities throughout Africa. Furthermore, even where a collective bargaining agreement has been concluded, it is often not honoured. This problem applies in particular to countries like Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania. The authorities also discriminate against independent or representative unions. In Benin, for instance, the government has favoured “patriotic” trade unions and associations and has refused to consult with the representative organisations. Unions have been unduly denied registration in Algeria, Swaziland and the Central African Republic, whilst in Equatorial Guinea the refusal has been systematic.The right to strike is frequently infringed in practice. Workers regularly suffer from retaliation for having participated in strikes, which are often broken up by the police. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, the authorities took repressive measures against thousands of striking dock workers, leaving 60 people injured, several of them seriously. Strikers were also assaulted in other countries including Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria and Tanzania. Nearly 700 workers were arrested during the year for participating in legitimate trade union activities, mainly in Algeria and South Africa.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Botswana V Bushmen

Socialist Banner previously reported on the plight of the indigenous San people (Bushmen) being deprived of access to water by the Botswana government here . We now read that in desperation the Bushmen are taking legal measures to assert their basic human right to water. They are taking the government of Botswana to court over its refusal to allow them access to a water borehole on their land. The case is due to be heard at Botswana’s High Court in Lobatse on 9 June 2010.

Jumanda Gakelebone, a Bushman from the CKGR, explained "The High Court said we have the right to live on the land of our ancestors. Surely that includes the right to drink our water. Many Bushmen, especially the old people and the young are suffering from lack of water. It pains us that the animals and tourists on our land can drink our water to their heart’s content yet we go thirsty. We pray that the court will give us back our water."

It is claimed by Survival International and others that the Kalahari was being emptied so that tourists would have uninterrupted views of wildlife. The Botswana Tourism Board, a government body, won a World Travel and Tourism Council award which recognizes "dedication to and success in maintaining a programme of sustainable tourism management". Wilderness Safaris built a safari lodge on the ancestral land of the Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, without consulting the Bushmen or obtaining their consent.The lodge, sporting a bar and swimming pool for tourists, is situated on the ancestral territory of the Bushmen who are being deprived of water.Survival director, Stephen Corry, yesterday said, "The Botswana Tourism Board is violating UN norms on indigenous peoples. If this is prize-winning ‘sustainable tourism’, it highlights the emerging conflict between tribal peoples and the way their lands are used to benefit rich tourists and the companies which service them..."

At the same time, diamond firms are understood to have the government’s support for fresh prospecting in the reserve, which is the size of Denmark. It has given the Gem Diamond company permission to open a mine in the reserve.