Thursday, July 29, 2010

Land Grab

Socialist Banner have repeatedly drawn attention to the Great African Land Grab and another story about it has been spotted. As commodity prices have soared on the back of rising global food demand, weather fluctuations and a growing biofuels industry, anti-poverty campaigners have grown increasingly concerned about speculative land-grabbing in Africa and other developing regions.

A World Bank report is due to be published next month, but a draft copy leaked to the Financial Times painted a picture of largely speculative investment badly lacking agricultural expertise, and a rush towards countries with lax laws. It mentioned only a handful of successes.

"Investor interest is focused on countries with weak land governance,"
the draft said. Although investment deals promised jobs and infrastructure "investors failed to follow through on their investment plans, in some cases after inflicting serious damage on the local resource base". The report also flagged that "the level of formal payments required was low", thereby fuelling speculative investment. Investors crowd out the poorest local producers and at the same time invest little in improving the agricultural processes needed to meet the huge jump in world food production required to feed a growing population.

Aurelie Walker, Fairtrade Foundation's trade policy advisor, said: "Governments with weak institutions laws and regulations are easy targets for wealthy investors."

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Looting of Africa

In terms of natural resources, Africa is the most abundant continent on earth.

BP has stated that Africa holds 127 billion barrels of untapped oil, almost ten per cent of global reserves.Oil was first drilled commercially in Africa in Oloibiri in the Niger Delta, in 1956 by the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell. There are now ten oil exporting nations in Africa, with another three soon to join that list.

There are ten major diamond producing nations in Africa, the largest being Botswana, where the industry is worth $158bn a year.Diamond production remains a major source of revenue for Africa. In Sierra Leone, income from the diamond trade rose by a quarter to $35m in the first six months of the 2010.

Coltan or "colombo-tantalite ore" is a mineral used to make electric capacitors in computers, gaming consoles and mobile phones. One of the world's largest reserves is in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But rather than a blessing, most of Africa's commodities have proved a burden; allegedly stoking conflict, funding wars and leading to rampant labour market abuse.

Africa's largest single oil exporting nation is Nigeria. While no official figures exist, Standard Bank estimates the country has made $6 trillion in oil revenue over the last 50 years. The International Energy Agency says Nigeria holds 37 billion barrels of reserve oil, dwarfing that of Norway which has just 6 billion. Yet 70% of Nigerians live under the poverty line and the country has consistently been ranked among the most corrupt on earth by international observers.Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria has to import 60% of its own fuel.

The portability and high value of diamonds have made them a favourite source of funding for rebel groups across the continent. Angola, Congo and the Cote D'Ivoire have all been subject to the trade in so called "blood diamonds"..During the brutal 10 year civil war in Sierra Leone, the diamond mines in Kono were controlled by the rebel RUF forces, led by Foday Sankoh. Diamonds smuggled from the region were allegedly passed on to Charles Taylor, president of neighbouring Liberia, who in turn helped arm the rebel movement.Diamonds from blacklisted countries like Zimbabwe are still routinely being traded on the international market.

Most of the coltan mines in the DRC are in the remote South Kivu district. In 2001 a report by the United Nation Security Council claimed that rebel forces, regrouping in the country after the Rwandan genocide, had taken control of the mines and were using coltan to fund their operations, often using forced or child labour. These groups included the CNDP, a Tutsi rebel force led by General Laurent Nkunda, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a Hutu rebel group responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, which had the backing of the Congolese government under President Mobutu.The report concluded that the DRC was suffering a "systemic and systematic" looting of natural resources, with the CNDP alone raising $250m over 18 months by selling coltan.A follow up report by the UN in 2008 claimed the looting of the mineral in the DRC was still rife. Rwanda is estimated to have made $19m from coltan sales in 2008, a rise of 72% on the previous year, even though no coltan is mined within Rwandan borders.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

food but no money again

In Malawi there is food but no money to take it to the people. Another year with a surplus harvest of maize, the staple food, is good news for Malawi which has the capacity to provide "all the maize needed for humanitarian response for the year, thanks to this surplus," the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) said in its latest report. Dry spells in the south have left around 700,000 people in need of food assistance. But the bad news is that distributing the food aid has been delayed because funding for operational costs has not yet been made available. Malawi's Department of Disaster Management Affairs does not have a budget for this aspect of its response.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Politics of Poverty

The loss of a parliamentary constituency in Mufumbwe keeps on to erode the political majorities of the ruling MMD come the 2011 presidential elections. This took place on 28 April after the death of MMD Member of Parliament for Mufumbwe Misheck Bonshe.

The PF/UPND pact won by a landslide victory—in an election characterised by political violence in which a police officer was assaulted. Indeed, north western provinces as at now is slowly sliding into a PF ally and the loss of Mufumbwe brings to two constituencies won by the PF ever since Rupiah Banda came to the presidency in 2008.

Talking in terms of ethnic and tribal loyalties, it is correct to infer that the ruling MMD lost the original political majority when the late President Levy Mwanawasa came to power in 2002. Mwanawasa flushed out Bemba political following from the MMD in order to distance himself from the corrupt regime of his mentor Fredrick Chiluba.

This switch in ethnic loyalties came to the fore during the 2006 general election, when the MMD lost heavily in Northern and Ivapula provinces (Bemba-speaking provinces).

People in Zambia tend to vote for political leaders to whom they have close ethnic and tribal affinities—though that seems not to be the case in the urban mining towns (in the Copperbelt Province), where voting is determined by economic and social factors. Let it be understood that both UNIP, MMD, UPND and PF started as tribal political movements—commanding ethnic support in their respective tribal homelands. There we find political leaders in Zambia tend to evade the fact on the pretext of massing a natural following.

It is a fact that the Catholic clergy in Zambia proves to be a thorn in the flesh of every ruling political party, especially during the presidential elections. More or less the Catholic is always siding with the political opposition. On 10 April a group of unidentified women staged a demonstration at the Vatican embassy in Lusaka, calling for the removal of the Catholic Archbishop in Zambia Telesphore Mpundu. It is a well-known fact that Mpundu does openly advocate for régime change in Zambia. Investigations that were carried out by the political opposition revealed that a group of women who had staged a demonstration at the Vatican embassy were not Catholic women as was alleged by the ruling MMD—but a clique of political thugs hired by the MMD.

It is now a common experience in Zambia for political journalists and Catholic clergy to be assaulted in public by MMD party cadres. The flamboyant Catholic priest of Kitwe, Father Frank Bwalya was recently detained by the police when he was found distributing and brandishing RED CARDS during the youth day holiday celebrations. The meaning behind this red card politi8cal campaign calls for the unilateral vote of NO CONFIDENCE in President Rupiah Banda. Frank Bwalya has formed a political movement called CHANGE LIFE Zambia that openly advocates for the resignation of Banda.

The Catholic church plays a major rôle in the social and community upkeep of ordinary people—it runs mission schools and health institutions in some rural areas of the country. More or less the Catholic church supplements the government’s economic programme. Indeed the Catholic church does play a part in influencing political consciousness among poor and disgruntled majorities.

As befits a Zambian cultural and traditional setting, the untimely death of Levy Mwanawasa has been attributed to witchcraft either from his relatives or political enemies. It is a taboo among Zambians to speak ill of the dead, thus many politicians keep mum on the political defects of the late president Mwanawasa. Indeed, it is wantonly difficult to change the ethnic mindset of village dwellers in rural areas—thus socialist propaganda must be concentrated in urban areas among workers and students. It may come to pass that many an ordinary Zambian may want to know whether the former and second republican President Chiluba’s heart problem was induced by corruption allegations slapped upon him by the late Mwanawasa. Indeed, even since he won his corruption case, Chiluba does not go for medical check-ups in South Africa unlike it was [sic] in the past years.

We in the WSM do not advocate for régime change either in Zambia or elsewhere—we advocate world socialism—a classless, moneyless and stateless society.

K. MULENGA, Zambia

Letter from Zambia

Democracy is an all-encompassing word used to describe the political state of modern times. More or less democracy describes a political state in which fully fledged parliamentary legality flourishes and political parties come to power through the ballot box. The art of constitutional government as we know and practice it in Zambia is derived from British colonialism (parliamentary democracy). But parliamentary democracy is not a static condition—political constitutions have been revised in Africa day in and day out to suit respective political parties that may happen to be in power. In Zambia the ruling MMD has been experimenting to revise the current political constitution, in a move aimed to make it impossible for opposition leader Michael Sala to stand for the 2011 presidential election.

It is the case in Zambia today that the methods of political change are fraught with many difficulties—chief among these is the regional fragmentation of voting patterns, i.e. people still vote on tribal allegiances. Zambian politics is heavily influenced by political charisma. The first president Dr. Kenneth Kaunda was a charismatic leader and still remained a flamboyant personality. Charismatic politicians have a propensity to capture public worship either through making articulate speeches or wearing fine suits. Both Kaunda and Chiluba had a gift of making inspiring speeches and a flair for clean and smart clothes. Chiluba is said to have possessed two hundred pairs of shoes worth hundreds of dollars.

Both Kaunda and Chiluba had the gift to foresee what the masses’ feelings were and used to take advantage of a given moment by seemingly voicing those feelings. And it became very problematic for many ordinary Zambians to rally behind the late president Levy Mwanawasa, who lacked a magnetic personality and was a poor speech-maker. Indeed, the current president, Rupiah Banda lacks a political flair for publicity and lacks a flair for speech making.

Freedom for expression in Zambia has been conceived in wrong terms. It has meant incessant political criticism of ruling government in methods likely to provoke political violence. We in the WSM abhor the methods of political criticism that is spearheaded by the PF and UPND because they border on intimidating certain individuals instead of offering an alternative political system against the existing political status quo (capitalism). Political demagogy by itself is not an antidote to unemployment and inflation. The vicissitudes of human rights, gender equality and freedom of expression will not exist in socialism because a socialist will entail the actual embodiment of political and gender emancipation.

Indeed, the failure of political groupings in England to win an outright parliamentary majority during the May 2010 general election did not result in political violence and was resolved in an amicable manner. It is a test case for parliamentary democracy from which political leaders in Africa must learn a lesson. Presidential elections do not give rise to political violence in England unlike it is the case in most African countries.

In an election portrayed to be a poetical tragedy, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been voted out of power through incessant criticism by the mass media. It is the case that ever since he replaced Tony Blair as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, he was dubbed as an out of fashion political figure in contrast to the charismatic and flamboyant Tony Blair. The Conservatives and Liberals have formed a coalition government held together by trust—both of them failed to win an outright majority in the House of Commons.

K. MULENGA, Zambia

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A "deadly financing gap"

Poor sanitation and bad hygiene cause the deaths of one in five Liberians, according to the World Health Organization.Diarrhoea kills 20 percent of children who die aged five or under in Liberia according an Oxfam report.

Three out of four Liberians have no access to safe drinking water and six out of seven cannot access sanitation facilities, such as toilets.

Water and sanitation receives less funding than health, education, transport, energy and agriculture, according to the global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water

The Gravy Train

After resisting calls to pay income tax for years, MPs in Kenya finally agreed yesterday night to pay the tax, but only after giving themselves a sweetener of 240,000 shillings (£1,960) taking their monthly pay to 1,091,000 shillings (£8,920)- a monthly pay rise of nearly 25%, making them some of the best-paid legislators in the world.Instead of seeing their take-home pay reduced, ordinary MPs will be £100 richer each month, even after tax, thanks to the salary boost.

In Kenya the minimum wage was last month raised to £50 a month for employees in cities and £25 for farm workers.