Thursday, September 30, 2010


Shocking evidence of conditions akin to slavery on trawlers that provide fish for European dinner tables has been found in an investigation off the coast of west Africa. Forced labour and human rights abuses involving African crews have been uncovered on trawlers fishing illegally for the European market by investigators for an environmental campaign group. The Environmental Justice Foundation found conditions on board including incarceration, violence, withholding of pay, confiscation of documents, confinement on board for months or even years, and lack of clean water.

The ships are crewed by untrained, illiterate workers housed in dismally unsafe and unhygienic living conditions. Crews were working and sleeping show quarters with ceilings less than a metre high where the men cannot stand up. Temperatures in the fish holds on some vessels where men were being required to sort, process and pack fish for lucrative European and Asian markets were 40 to 45 degrees, with no ventilation, On some vessels the crews of up to 200 had little access to clean drinking water.

The trawlers have mostly been identified engaging in pirate fishing off west Africa. According to a recent estimate illegal fishing accounts for between 13% and 31% of total catches worldwide each year.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

new nation , old problem

We read that Juba is a city poised to become the capital of the newly independent nation of South Sudan after a referendum in January. It is a city of at least a million people although it may be closer to two million. No one knows. But it will be a national capital like no other. One without a power grid, sewage system, garbage collection, water, gas or phone lines. There are only 17 kilometres of paved road in Juba. Most of the city's residents live in shacks made of sticks, mud and thatch on potholed streets that have no name. Much of the food is imported from Kenya and Uganda. It is not so much a city as a giant refugee camp.

Much of the tension between north and south Sudan hinges on the oil fields, mainly located in the south. But there is little evidence of oil money in Juba. Behind high walls there are a few mansions built for the governor and senior ministers. There are hundreds of UN officials in the city but they also live in relative isolation in gated compounds.

toxic waste dumping

The Scottish newspaper, The Herald, exposes the scandal of "re-cycling" , a cover for tens of thousands of tonnes of toxic waste from Scotland are being illegally dumped in Africa.

Mountains of broken televisions, defunct microwaves, worn tyres, contaminated paper and other waste exported from Scottish homes and businesses end up threatening the environment and endangering the health of people in Nigeria, Zanzibar, Ghana and elsewhere. Much of the wastes contained hazardous chemicals and metals which needed to be properly disposed of. But in developing countries, they were just dumped or burned, causing dangerous contamination. The exports are “dressed” as legitimate recycling operations, with waste electrical goods hidden behind a few rows of properly packaged and working TVs in shipping containers.Recent changes like the switch from analogue to digital displays and flat screens had created a “tsunami" of old TVs and computer monitors flooding ports in Ghana and Nigeria, . There they are often recycled in primitive and environmentally damaging conditions or simply dumped or burned if there is no market for it.

More than 100,000 tonnes of old TVs, computers, microwaves, fridges and other electrical goods are reckoned to be thrown away every year in Scotland. European Commission estimates suggest maybe half of that is unaccounted for. The huge trade in illegal waste has been condemned by environmental groups.
Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “We are adding insult to injury by dumping our contaminated and toxic waste back in the very countries, like Nigeria, that have already been scarred so deeply by our thirst for cheap oil and resources.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

GM or starvation ?

South Africa produces too much maize. Its neighbours not enough. But rather than feeding those without , South Africa's surplus maize may feed Chinese chickens. South African farmers grew 13 million tonnes of maize in the harvest that ended around May. That included a surplus of four million tonnes, an excess that has pushed down prizes and threatens to bankrupt 10,000 farmers. Most of South Africa's neighbours had bumper harvests as well, driving down demand.
"The industry was not prepared for what happened. The surplus was causing panic. Over-production is not a sustainable way of producing," said Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety.

Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, which suffer chronic food shortages, refuse to accept South African maize because of worries about importing genetically modified organisms. South Africa began planting genetically modified crops in the 1990s, and now they account for 57 percent of all maize planted in the country. Often the harvests are mixed together at mills, so that importers consider all maize as genetically modified. In April, Kenyan environmentalists blocked a shipment of 40,000 tonnes of South African maize at port in Mombasa.

eduction, education , education

Almost 70 million children across the world are prevented from going to school each day, a study reveals. Those living in north-eastern Africa are the least likely to receive a good education – or any education at all, an umbrella body of charities and teaching unions known as the Global Campaign for Education has found.

Kenya, which is rated in the 50 worst countries for education, delayed plans to provide a free primary school education to 8.3 million children in September.

Girls are far less likely to attend school than boys in many of the world's poorest countries. In Malawi, of those that enrol, 22.3% of boys complete primary compared to 13.8% of girls. In rural Burkina Faso, 61% of girls are married by the age of 18 and over 85% never get to see the inside of a secondary school.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hershey, one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the U.S., is lagging behind other companies in taking steps to ensure decent working conditions in its supply chain. In the United States, Hershey conjures up innocent childhood pleasures and enjoyable snacks. However, halfway across the globe, there is a dark side to Hershey. In West Africa, where Hershey sources much of its cocoa, the scene is one of child labor, trafficking, and forced labor. Hershey, which claims 42.5 percent of the U.S. chocolate market, has been slow to initiate adequate measures against abuses. The Hershey report notes that "modern slavery exists in diverse areas, including manufacturing, harvesting of raw materials, marketing commercial sexual activity (often aimed at the business traveler) and violent acts against workers."

Hershey's continued refusal to identify cocoa suppliers and "lack of transparency" makes it impossible for outside observers to verify the conditions on the farms. Hershey is also accused of "greenwashing" the problem, as opposed to instituting real reforms. Various charitable donations by the company display social responsibility, but there are no policies in place to combat the systemic issue of human rights within its own supply. Hershey does not have any third-party verification. Unlike its competitors, Hershey has not embraced the strongest system of certification, the Fair Trade label. Only one Hershey chocolate bar has the certification, leaving all the other popular products unaccountable.

"When you look at the amount of money in the cocoa industry and the enormous profits of companies like Hershey, the money dedicated to this issue is clearly inadequate," said Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, fair trade campaign director for Global Exchange.

what type of access?

Once more, from their own lips, capitalism is condemned as a social system that does not deliver.

Ten years after setting the goal of halving the proportion of people suffering from poverty and hunger by 2015, only mixed success can be found for the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the degree of success is dependent not only on what country is examined but which evaluation is used.

"Most hunger is really a function of access rather than availability and with prices too high, access became much more difficult." said Alan Jury, director of U.S. relations at the World Food Programme.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

the contradiction

We read in this newspaper "An estimated 265 million people are said to be chronically hungry when Africa is known to hold 60 per cent of the world’s remaining uncultivated farmland. With one quarter of the world’s arable land on our continent why can’t we adequately feed ourselves? Uganda is an agricultural country; but why are close to 18 million of her people food insecure? The answer must lie in the way we practice agriculture, the tools we use, the techniques we apply, the investment we put into farming, and the determination of our policy makers to turn things round."

The writer correctly pin-points the contradiction yet fails to identify the cause. The problem is capitalist economics - it is the drive for profits and only when there can be a commercial return will farm-land be turned into productive fields. Peoples need for food don't figure in the equation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Biofuel Blues

A new World Bank report (8 September 2010) explicitly identifies biofuels as one of the driving forces of land grabs in Africa and acknowledges its detrimental impact on local livelihoods.

Friends of the Earth's food campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran said:
"This World Bank report confirms that high Western demand for biofuels and grain for animal feed is causing land grabbing in Africa - at the expense of local people, who are left hungry and unable to afford inflated food prices..."

Five million hectares of land - an area the size of Denmark - stretching across 11 African countries, is currently being acquired for biofuels. More land will be required for biofuels if the European Union is to reach its target of obtaining 10 per cent of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020.
The Blair Commission for Africa report “celebrated” a quadrupling of foreign investment in Africa from 2003 to 2008. But it also made an important point: the vote of confidence in Africa that foreign investment represents should not be mistaken for a sign that the lives of most ordinary Africans are getting better.
"...the lives of most Africans remain unaffected by Africa’s growing economic power. Many Africans’ incomes have not improved. Poverty remains widespread, the region’s share of international trade remains tiny, and climate change and the global economic crisis are threatening to undermine progress made."

Bono , U2's front man and self appointed spokes-man for Africa , founded fashion brand Edun with the mission of revitalizing clothing manufacturing in sub-Saharan Africa. African produced-products now account for only 15% of the company's sales. The vast majority of the fashion collection, accounting for about 70% of overall production, is now made in Asia, with the remainder coming from Peru. The new fashion collection will be feature shirts starting at around $60 and jackets topping out at about $800.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Swazi PM threatens torture of union activists

Swaziland prime minister, Barnabas Dlamini, suggests that dissidents should be beaten on their feet with spikes. He also said foreigners who meddled in the affairs of sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch should be subject to the traditional punishment, known as "sipakatane". The punishment involves using a pedal with metal or wooden spikes to beat someone's bare feet repeatedly, causing paralysis.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

oil curse

Sao Tomé and Principe is the smallest countries in Africa, with a population of only 175 000 on its two volcanic islands. With a per capita GDP of $1 700 in 2009 it is not one of the poorest nations in Africa, but the wealth is unevenly distributed: 54% of the population lives below the poverty line and 15% in extreme poverty.

Now the Sao Tome government is getting ready to award the first contracts to exploit seven oil blocks in the waters off the island's shores with estimated reserves of about ten billion barrels. Interested companies include Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Petrobras and Tullow Oil. The oil deals give no cause for optimism. There were irregularities in procedures, political manipulation, insider trading and nepotism. Concerns about irregularities in Sao Tomé have already led to the country's de-listing from the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. The Human Rights Watch report warns that if the new government does not use the oil wealth for social ends, it risks suffering the unenviable fate of its neighbour to the south, Equatorial Guinea, where abundant oil wealth goes to a happy few, and most people still live in poverty.

tanzania child poverty

Following on from the previous post two hundred thousand Tanzanian children have died in the last 10 years simply because they were poor. More than half of the country's population are children and 54 per cent of them are malnourished. Babies account for 30 per cent of child deaths.

Save The Children accused the east African nation's government of ignoring deprived countryside kids and focusing limited efforts to cut child deaths on easy-to-reach youngsters in the better-off towns and cities.

Monday, September 06, 2010

save the children

Millions of children die before their fifth birthday because developing countries skew public health spending to the rich rather than the poor, a leading charity says today.

Save the Children says that 4 million child deaths could be averted over a 10-year period if the 42 developing countries which account for 90% of all under-five mortality took an "egalitarian approach". Although UN nations agreed to reduce child mortality by two-thirds from its 1990 level by 2015, progress has been steady and slow – and exacerbated by the rising inequalities within poor nations. In Kenya, where there was an increase of nearly 150,000 under-fives' deaths between 1993 and 2003, an "egalitarian approach", says the charity, would have actually prevented 214,000 deaths.

Save the Children says that in developing nations it is the children of the wealthiest fifth of the population who have disproportionately benefited from the focus on infant mortality to the extent that in some cases the poorest fifth of the population are no better or even worse off. In Burkina Faso, where a reduction in child mortality rates masks an actual increase in child mortality among the poorest 20% of the population.

Sub-Saharan Africa, where close to one child in seven still dies before their fifth birthday, faces the greatest challenge. Although the mortality rate in the region has fallen, high fertility levels mean the absolute number of child deaths has increased since 1990, from 4.2 to 4.6 million.

Friday, September 03, 2010

xenophobia in South Africa

"Xenophobia is part of life. We do not live easy here. We only survive," says Somali shopkeeper, Abdinasir Shaikh Aden. Aden was threatened with his life during the run-up to the Cup. He was chased away from his small grocery shop and told that foreigners would have no future in South Africa once the tourists and fans had gone home.

A dangerous combination of cramped living conditions and competition for jobs remains. The recession and deepening unemployment in South Africa is exacerbating the pressure on poor communities.Overcrowded and poverty-stricken areas are most at risk of a flare-up of tensions.

Liliane Mukangwa, who settled in South Africa with her husband and five children, moving back to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is not an option."It is hard for us as we have nowhere to go. We do not want to go home. It is too dangerous there." Mukangwa has been living in South Africa for eight years.She travels to her house every day during daylight hours accompanied by family and friends from the DRC. She is scared of travelling alone on public transport: "There is often tension on the trains."

South Africa is to start expelling Zimbabweans again, from 31 December, the government has announced. An estimated two million Zimbabweans are thought to be in South Africa. Human rights groups have condemned the South African government's decision. Zimbabwe exile groups fear that anyone forced to return could still face persecution.

Mozambique news

Protesters staged a second day of strikes and demonstrations Thursday over food price increases in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world. The violence has so far left seven people dead and 288 wounded, the government says. Clashes between police and protesters broke out Wednesday and Thursday, as crowds in impoverished neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Maputo took to the streets.

They were protesting a 17-percent increase in the price of bread, as well as fuel, water and electricity rises. Mozambique has a per capita income of just 794 dollars (620 euros) a year. Prices in the import-dependent country have risen on the back of a South African rand whose value has appreciated 43 percent against the Mozambican metical since this time last year. In January there were 4 meticais to the South African Rand and 29.3 to the US dollar. Today the official rate is 4.9 and 36.3, a 25% devaluation in just eight months.

Domestic worker Mercela Manuel says she still has to go to work so she can feed her three children. "The cost of life is expensive. Very expensive. It’s difficult to live," she says. Her wage of 54 dollars (42 euros) already makes it difficult to afford the 12 dollars (9 euros) she pays for the family’s bread each month.

About half of Mozambique's 20 million people live below the poverty line, despite an average economic growth rate of 8 percent for the past 15 years, but in 2009 this slowed to five percent. Official unemployment is around 21 percent, but in Maputo, a city of about 1.5 million, the poverty level is estimated as high as 60 percent.

The prices of staple foods, such as maize and rice, have come under increasing pressure, despite "satisfactory" cereal production of maize, sorghum, millet and paddy rice - projected at 2.49 million tons, five percent lower than the record 2008/09 harvest

The Editorial Director of O Pais, Jeremias Langa, talks of the “enormous disenchantment with the widening gap between those who have an those who do not have”. It is said that Mozambique is a world example of economic growth but this is not reflected in the quality of live of most citizens. It is said the Mozambique has the most agricultural potential in SADC but agriculture has been left to subsistence production. “Instead of offering solutions of the citizens, we offer magician’s tricks to distract the citizens,” he concludes. Thus, “there is a class that manifestly feels itself excluded from the distribution of income, that feels that the state has broken the social contract, that does not see that state as a source of solutions but of problems – because its promotes accumulation by a few to the detriment of the majority.”

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

ANC - Anti Working Class

"Black economic empowerment has been a disaster because it created this massive economic inequality; it created this class of idle rich who have tons of money but do nothing." Moeletsi Mbeki explained.

South Africa's large working class was under the misguided impression that the ANC was "the party of the people".

"The unions in this country do not understand the political economy of South Africa. They think that the ANC is the party of the people. The ANC is the party of the black middle class. The fact that the masses vote for it does not mean they control it. The policies of the ANC favour the black middle class and the established businesses. They do not favour the working class. You just have to look at the types of houses that the ANC government builds for ordinary South Africans," he said. "If you had a party that was a pro-working-class party, it would not have built these so-called RDP houses that are being built by the ANC government. The unions have all along been under the illusion that the ANC is the government of the working class, and [Zwelinzima] Vavi and them are now beginning to realise that this is not the case." Mbeki said the striking public-sector workers faced a special dilemma. "They think the ANC is their ally but at the same time they feel they are not getting any benefits out of this alliance. Therefore you are beginning to get a very acrimonious environment emerging between the public-sector unions and the government."

His comments came on the same day Vavi delivered his strongest condemnation yet of Zuma's government at a press conference in Johannesburg. The general secretary of Cosatu said that the alliance was "dysfunctional" as the strikes continued, slamming the corruption of the state.

Socialist Banner finds it a shame that Mbeki fails to understand that there is no such thing as a benevolent capitalism to replace the crony capitalism he criticises.

Siyaya eSwaziland, 7th September!

The Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), formed by trade unions, political parties, civil society groups and churches, has called for a global day of action on September 7, 2010. It will include a mass protest and show of “defiance” in Swaziland. Delegates from the international labour movement will join the action in Swaziland.

1.3 million inhabitants of the land-locked southern African kingdom live under the thumb of one of the world’s last absolute monarchies, repressive regime whose plunder of the country is systematic and comprehensive. King Mswati III controls the parliament, appoints cabinet ministers, judges and senior civil servants, and makes and breaks the law at will. Political parties are banned, along with most demonstrations and meetings. Strikes are illegal. Gatherings of any kind are often broken up by police assaults. The media is subject to constant harassment and intimidation. During the latest wave of repression, in May 2010, democracy activist Sipho Jele, who had been arrested and interrogated, was allegedly “found” by police hanging from the rafters in a prison toilet.

Swaziland’s autocracy is based on the “Tinkhundla” system through which royally sponsored traditional leaders dispense patronage and exercise control at local level. But Swazis themselves reap no benefits from it. Swaziland now suffers the world’s highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection – perhaps as much as 40% of the adult population and 42% of all expectant mothers. Swaziland has the highest annual rate of death from AIDS, about 10,000 a year - 1% of the population. Life expectancy has plummeted and is probably now as low as anywhere in the world. Fifteen per cent of households are headed by orphaned children.

While 70% of the population live on less than a dollar a day and 25% rely on food aid, the royal family make do on some $67,000 a day. According to US-based business magazine Forbes, Mswati’s personal net worth is an estimated $200 million.Mswati is also head of a multi-million pound conglomerate, set up in 1968 by royal charter, which owns a significant slice of nearly every major Swazi business and industry – sugar, mobile phones, mines, media, tourism. Theoretically, Mswati holds the conglomerate’s assets in trust for the nation, but the fund, like all royal assets, is shielded from public scrutiny. Six in ten Swazis are engaged in subsistence farming, mostly on communal land owned in trust by the king, whose family also directly own a major share of the remaining “privately owned” land. Forced labour is commonplace. Under Swazi Administration Order No. 6 of 1998, it is a duty of Swazis to obey orders from local chiefs to participate in compulsory works (which may include construction and agricultural labour or even weeding the gardens in Mswati’s palaces). There are severe penalties for those who refuse. The Swazi monarchy has maintained its grip by collaborating with the prevalent regional powers, first with the Boer republics, then the British Empire and in the 1980s with apartheid South Africa. Besides assisting in the arrest and killing of African National Congress members who had fled to Swaziland, the king denounced sanctions against South Africa, the only Commonwealth leader besides British PM Margaret Thatcher to do so. Coca-Cola, whose concentrate plant, exporting to much of Africa, is located in Swaziland because of favourable tax arrangements and access to cheap raw sugar. Coke accounts for up to 40 per cent of Swaziland’s GDP, and an unknown but sizeable chunk of this goes directly into the king’s pocket.

The days of the absolute monarchy are definitely numbered.