Monday, September 26, 2011

to aid or not to aid

An interesting interview on Der Spiegel with Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, author of "Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa," and "How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly -- and the Stark Choices Ahead."

Dambisa Moyo: ... Africa is the only continent on which there continues to be famines again and again. Between 400 and 500 million people don't have enough to eat even though the continent has more fertile arable land than any other. Something's wrong about that.

SPIEGEL: Catastrophes like the one in Somalia are one thing. But don't you think Africa needs long-term aid programs to get its problems under control?

Moyo: I'm opposed to continuing to automatically pump billions into Africa each year in the form of cheap loans and budgetary assistance. This money has bred dependence and inflation; it doesn't allow people to ever really become productive. The West has been reliably supplying aid for 40 years. But, even so, Africa continues to have poor infrastructure, bad education and a lousy health-care system. Poverty has actually increased since development aid started being supplied. In 1970, 10 percent of Africans lived in poverty. Since then, that figure has grown to roughly 50 percent.

SPIEGEL: Why haven't African governments been able to put to good use the roughly $2 trillion (€1.45 trillion) that has flowed into their coffers over the last 50 years?

Moyo: Because this aid has hardly ever been tied to conditions. Donor countries allow African leaders to put this money in Switzerland, only to go shopping with it later on the Champs-Élysée.

SPIEGEL: Why doesn't anybody rebel against the corrupt rulers in Africa?

Moyo: Why should we normal Africans call our elites to account when people keep coming from the West and saying: "Don't worry. We'll keep paying no matter what you do with the money." An African president once said to me: "You can do what you want. You can swindle. You can kill your own countrymen. As long as there is hunger and disease where you are, the West will take care of you." That's why African governments steal and swindle.

Socialist Banner however finds it disappointing that Moyo can only call for more capitalist investment, particularly from China, as a solution. Africans, as she argues, indeed "need to finally take responsibility for themselves."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

gold dust deaths

Former gold miners in South Africa are suing industry giant Anglo American in the London High Court for allegedly damaging their health. The ex-workers contracted lung diseases because of bad ventilation in the UK-based company's South African mines. The 450 ex-miners allegedly suffered from silicosis - an incurable lung disease - because of high dust levels in mines.

"Black miners at South African mines undertook the dustiest jobs, unprotected by respirators or - unlike their white counterparts - with access to on-site showers" the firm said, in a statement. "Dust levels were high and they suffered massive rates of silicosis, a known hazard of gold mining for the last century."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Zambia: The seeking of political alternatives

Zambia goes to the polls on the 20th September and Socialist Banner posts a background article by its regular Zambian contributer

The demise of the second republican president Fredrick Chiluba has robbed the MMD of one of its outstanding founder members.

Chiluba will be remembered for his political charisma other than for his economic policies. He died an innocent man after having been acquitted of money laundering crimes levelled against him by the lat president Levy Mwanawasa. Chiluba was given a full state funeral which lasted for seven days. When the MMD came to power in 1991 Chiluba started to dismantling the state capitalist economy then existing under the UWIP government of Kenneth Kaunda.

The MMD introduced economic liberation characterised by the liquidation of state-owned parastatal firms. Economic liberation led to the privatisation of Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines, United Bus Company of Zambia, Zambia Railways and Zambia Airways. The demise of these prestigious firms led to massive unemployment and social misery. It was only when Mwanawasa came into power in 2001-2008 that Zambia experienced some form of economic revolution.

But after having been in power for twenty years, ordinary Zambian voters are vying for a change in government – it is time for the MMD to retire. But to contemplate political change in conditions where a viable political alternative does not exist is a dangerous option.

Zambian voters are going to vote in a presidential election on 20 September this year. This year’s general election must be reckoned in terms of a political duel between the ruling MMD and the PF. Indeed the Patriotic Front has become the second largest political party in Zambia today. Thus for those who support the PF – it is now or never. In the 2008 presidential election the PF lost on a bare margin of 3690 votes against the ruling MMD.

The PF president Michael Sata is a controversial politician. He was notable when he was appointed Minister of Decentralisation in the UNIP government of Kaunda in 1980. And when the MMD came to power – Sata was able to win the confidence of Chiluba – and was appointed as Minister without Portfolio.

Thus it was a lamentable surprise when Chiluba appointed Levy Mwanawasa to be the successor in 2001. Fearing vengeance Sata resigned from the MMD and formed a new political party, the Patriotic Front. But Sata is a political nuisance – his failure to attend Chiluba’s funeral is a case in point. It completely portrayed his lack of sympathy and political virtues.

There exists a rumour that Zambia – especially Lusaka and the Copper Belt mining towns will be plunged into political uprising when the PF fails to win the election. The move by the MMD to have ballot papers printed in South Africa has been received with suspicion by the political fraternity.

But it was the presence of Kaunda of the first-ever PF political convention that sent shivers among the MMD. Kaunda himself has failed to give a public statement. The presence of Canadian and British ambassadors at the PF convention helped to boost the political profile of the Patriotic Front president Michael Sata.

The MMD president Rupiah Banda is confident of winning the election on the strength of the economic developments taking place in Zambia today. Indeed the MMD government is building roads in and sending mobile hospitals to every corner of Zambia. But the dismissal of high-ranking MMD political stalwarts (Silvia Masebo, Ngandu Magande, George Mpombo and Gabriel Namulambe) does not augur well for Banda. The PF is strongly encouraged by the Catholic clergy through Radio Icengelo and its literary periodicals.

Ethnic considerations apart – the PF has managed to penetrate Western and North-western provinces in terms of parliamentary seats.

The third and only other viable political party comes from the UPWD. Hakainde Hichilema, its president is a corporate accountant – at 44 he is the youngest and least experienced presidential aspirant. He is the adopted leader of the UPWD – he is the nephew of the late UPWD president Anderson Mazoka (disputed winner of the 2001 general election). The upped is a tribal party in the sense that it is mostly comprised of Tonga-speaking politicians. The untimely collapse of the PF-upped political pact has only helped to distance the upped.

There exists deep suspicions concerning the conduct and announcement of elections. The Environmental Council of Zambia is a state-controlled institution and therefore cannot be trusted or expected to be impartial.

We may surmise that Zambia will be plunged into a political and economic nightmare if the PF win the general election. Zambia will forfeit its short-lived economic growth gained under the leadership of Mwanawasa. Given the controversial of Michael Sata, critics of the PF will be detained or dismissed from government. Foremost among those to be intimidated will be the Chinese investors. We in the World Socialist Movement do not seek political alternatives to capitalism – apart from socialism and we urge our fellow workers in Zambia to abstain from voting for capitalism.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

The colonialists paid better!

Uganda was governed by British colonialists for almost a century. Casual wisdom would suppose that the colonialists had more income inequality than Museveni. Sorry; look again: Just before independence in 1962, the office cleaner, the porter – the lowest government employee – was earning Shs150. Excluding the governor, the highest-paid employee got around Shs6,000. Professors, medical consultants, ministers, permanent secretaries, district commissioners, boarding secondary school headmasters; all those senior people (Ugandans or white expatriates) were in the relatively narrow bracket between Shs2,500 and Shs6,000. Full primary (P6) school teachers got about Shs400. University graduates in teaching and most other government jobs started at around Sh1,300. A doctor got Sh1,700. All annual increments were predictable.
Let us compute: The highest official (Shs6,000) got only 40 times as much as the porter (Sh150), and less than five times as much as a fresh university graduate (Sh1,300).

Under Museveni, the lowest office attendant gets about Shs150,000. A primary school teacher gets Shs260,000, and a fresh university graduate in teaching or mainstream civil service gets about Shs450,000. A fresh doctor gets about Shs600,000. Up to that point, the ratios are close to the colonial model. But above Shs2 million, salaries have become wildly arbitrary. With Shs30 or 40 million per month, each of the best-paid government officials hauls away 200 times as much as the lowly officer gets in his slave pay packet. This has far-reaching socio-political implications; because, however packaged or disguised, the wealth being dished out comes from the collective effort of our people. Glancing at the colonial salary ratio of fourty-to-one, the departed British governors must be smiling in their graves.

Allan Tacca
From here

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Palm Oil Fuels Land Grab

By next year palm oil is forecast to be the world's most produced and internationally traded edible oil. India and China are the world's biggest palm oil users. Apart from its use as a cooking oil, it's also found in a of processed foods and cosmetics. One in ten supermarket products contains palm oil. Government targets for the use of agrofuels in Europe, China and North America are making palm oil, which can be used to produce biodiesel, an even hotter commodity.

In Liberia, a country that was ravaged for years by war, an estimated 5.6 per cent of the total land mass has been leased out to foreign investors for palm oil production. Sime Darby has a 63-year lease for 220,000 hectares of land for oil palm plantations in the country. Singapore-listed Golden Agri Resources has another 220,000 hectares for palm oil estates, and Equatorial Palm Oil, a UK-listed palm oil developer has another 170,000 hectares. This, in a country that still has to import 60 percent of its staple rice needs.

In Sierra Leone European and Asian firms are securing long-term (50 year) leases on at least half a million hectares of farmland, almost 10 percent of the country's arable land. Of that amount, close to 300,000 hectares have been acquired for oil palm plantations by corporate investors from Europe and Southeast Asia.

In Cameroon, foreign investors from Asia, the US and Europe are rapidly securing enormous land banks, often in fragile forested areas, for palm oil estates. The same is true in Benin, Nigeria, Gabon, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a Chinese company is reportedly working to secure 2.8 million hectares for oil palm for biodiesel production.

African governments that are endorsing and enabling this wave of large land acquisitions. They are not just allowing but actively encouraging the foreign industrialists and speculators to repeat the same grave injuries committed by colonists and capitalists of yesteryear. Governments and traditional rulers seem indoctrinated by the myth that allocating large tracts of land to foreign investors will lead to 'modernised' agriculture. They and others promoting the land deals as a form of agricultural investment would have us believe that anyone who defends smallholder production is succumbing to 'romanticism'. They appear equally oblivious, wilfully so, to the enormous risks these land deals incurs for their people and their nations. When foreign corporations and nations descend on Africa to get at the continent's oil, they tend to cause massive environmental, social and political disruption, and also conflict. But when they descend on the continent to get hold of massive amounts of arable land to produce palm oil for the world market, they are doing something even more egregious. They are taking control of the land and water on which the local people depend for their food production, livelihoods - their very survival.

Local growers and consumers in Africa do not refine, bleach and deodorise the oil into the commodity that industry produces for the world market.

In West and Central Africa the indigenous oil palm is invaluable in the region. Oil palm is often grown by rural people in 'tree-crop plantations' just one or two hectares in area, in diverse stands of other important trees in and around their farmland and at forest edges. The tree flourishes in natural association with other key food crops such as cassava and yam. It grows well in forest fallows and in agroforestry stands that include kolanut, citrus, indigenous fruit and timber trees, banana and plantains, and cocoa and coffee. The rich red oil that is extracted manually from the palm fruit is a staple in diets, second in importance only to rice or other staple grains or cereals. It is used in soups and sauces, for frying, and in dough made from customary foods such as cassava, rice, plantains, yams and beans. The fruit can even be boiled and roasted with a bit of sugar, tasting very much like a delicious date. It is an excellent source of Vitamins E and K and full of carotenes, which can be converted in the body to Vitamin A. It is also medicinal. Wild and cultivated stands of oil palm in West and Central Africa are also the source of one of the region's great delicacies - palm wine. The clear oil that is extracted, mostly manually, from the palm kernel is used to make soap. The pressed cake left after extraction can be used for fodder. Palm fronds are used for thatch.

Grown and used the way it traditionally has been in Africa, the oil palm also performs environmental services. It can help reclaim degraded lands, as a valuable shade tree in biodiverse cocoa and coffee tree-crop plots, and the residue left in boilers after oil extraction can be used to fertilise soils. But all of this relates to oil palm only as smallholders grow and use it. Once the foreign industrialists got their hands on it and took it away, the oil palm became something very different. In the hands of corporations, palm oil was transformed into a highly profitable commodity for the world market and its industrial production has caused immeasurable environmental damage in Southeast Asia. It appears poised to do the same in Africa. Prevailing economic dogma emphasises economies of scale and increased profitability through sheer size of oil palm estates. It does not take into consideration what is lost from the land when it is transformed into endless rows of oil palm clones, or the environmental damage caused by heavy pesticide and fertiliser use required in monoculture plantations. Massive amounts of productive smallholder farmland and precious woodlands, forest fallows and biodiversity reserves are being taken over by Asian, European and North American investors. They're keen to capitalise on the latest oil boom - one involving the humble African oil palm that is, sadly, threatened by the push to cultivate its 'improved' varieties on millions of hectares of precious African farmland.

The burgeoning demand for palm oil is fuelling a new scramble for land in Africa.

Adapted from here , an article by Joan Baxter

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Union Lessons

More than 200,000 Kenyan teachers went on strike Tuesday to protest the diversion of government funds meant to hire more teachers and ease classroom overcrowding. The money has instead gone to the ministry of defense, whose spending is not publicly scrutinized.

"Children of this country are not enjoying equal opportunities," Wilson Sossion, who heads the Kenya National Union of Teachers said. "This is the struggle. We are not doing it this time around for a salary increment. We are doing it for the poor child of this country and for the poor parent of this country."

The union wants the government to give full-time jobs to 18,000 teachers hired on temporary contracts and hire an additional 9,040 teachers. Some 79,000 teachers are needed to reach the internationally recommended teacher to student ratio of one teacher to 35 students. Kenya's public schools see an average of 50 students for every teacher, though some classes have only one teacher for 100 pupils. The union projects a shortfall of 115,000 teachers in the next couple of years as the population increases.

Nearly 10 percent of 13-year-old Kenyan students cannot complete a math problem meant for 7-year-olds, according to research done earlier this year by Uwezo, a pressure group that aims to improve literacy among children in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Britain suspended payments to the Kenyan government intended to help poor schoolchildren after $45 million in international donor money went missing.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Literacy day

International Literacy Day was celebrated on 8 September.

According to data from UNESCO's Institute for Statistics, 793 million adults – most of them girls and women - are illiterate. A further 67 million children of primary school age are not in primary school and 72 million adolescents of lower secondary school age are also missing out their right to an education.

More than half the adult population of the following 11 countries are illiterate: Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Haiti, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.

Praying for health and death

The newly appointed health minister, Dr Christine Ondoa Dradidi, since her appointment has promoted the claim advanced by Oyet’s Life Line Ministries, that HIV/AIDS can be cured through prayer. She told The Observer that prayer heals HIV/AIDS, and that she knows three people who were once positive but turned negative after prayer for deliverance.

“I am sure and I have evidence that someone who was positive turned negative after prayers,” Ondoa told The Observer , promising to ask colleagues in Arua hospital, where she once worked, to find the relevant documentation. She spoke of her time as a doctor in West Nile when she handled cases of people who claimed to be negative after ARV treatment and prayers “While there [West Nile], we did thorough testing and saw all documentation of three people who were once positive. We tested them in different laboratories and the results were negative,” .

Dr. Christine Ondoa as the new head of Uganda’s Ministry of Health. The position will give Ondoa authority over a significant portion of Uganda’s foreign HIV/AIDS mitigation funding, which in the year 2010 included over $270 million dollars from the United States. Along with her role as a medical professional, Christine Ondoa also serves as pastor in the Life Line Ministries of apostle Julius Peter Oyet, one of the most powerful clerics leading Uganda’s ongoing crusade against gay rights. Apostle Julius Oyet has stated that “even animals are wiser than homosexuals”, forthrightly declared that homosexuality should be a capital crime, and claimed to have co-authored the internationally condemned, so-called “kill the gays” bill–submitted in 2009 by a member of Oyet’s elite “College of Prayer” group in Parliament.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Hope Peddlers

God is Nigeria's religious pastors run multi-million dollar businesses which rival that of oil tycoons. The joint wealth of five pastors was at least $200m (£121m).
Mfonobong Nsehe, who blogs for Forbes business magazine, says pastors own businesses from hotels to fast-food chains. Pastors are no longer solely interested in getting people to Heaven; they’ve devised ways to make good money while reaching out to souls.
"Preaching is big business. It's almost as profitable as the oil business," he said.

The richest pastor, Bishop David Oyedepo of the Living Faith World Outreach Ministry, was worth about $150m. Oyedepo owned a publishing company, university, an elite private school, four jets and homes in London and the United States.

Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of the Believers' Loveworld Ministries was worth between $30 and $50m. Oyakhilome's interests include newspapers, magazines, a local television station, a record label, satellite TV, hotels and extensive real estate. He is the founder and lead pastor of the Christ Embassy, a thriving congregation with branches in Nigeria, South Africa, London, Canada and the United States. His publishing company, Loveworld Publications, publishes ‘Rhapsody of Realities,’ a monthly devotional he co-authors with his wife. It sells over 2 million copies every month at $1 apiece.

Others are Temitope Joshua Matthew of the Synagogue Church Of All Nations worth between $10m and $15m; Matthew Ashimolowo of Kingsway International Christian Centre worth between $6 million and $10 million) and Chris Okotie of the Household of God Church worth between $3 million and $10 million.

"We have Nigerians who are desperate, looking for solutions to their problems. They go to church for salvation, redemption and healing and pastors sometimes take advantage of them,"
Mr Nsehe said.

Millions of Nigerians search for miracles, signs and wonders. They have continued to attend religious crusades to seek miracles to their numerous problems such as barrenness, unemployment, financial difficulties, deliverance from ancestral curses, sickness and more. In Nigeria today, there are more than 50 of such powerful pastors in whose areas of speciality are miracles, prophecy, healing, teaching, preaching, marriage counselling, and are attracting people with such problems.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

From bad to worse

The famine in Somalia has spread to new regions, the UN will announce. Some four million people – more than 50 per cent of the population – are now in crisis, and the famine is expected to spread further in the coming months. In Somalia fewer than one in five in the south are getting help.

After a visit to southern Somalia last week, UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres said that the peak of the crisis had not yet been reached. "From the point of view of the food security of the people, obviously, as time goes by, until the next harvest is possible, the situation will become worse and worse," he said.

The international president of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Dr Unni Karunakara, returned from Somalia last week and said that, even though there was chronic malnutrition and drought across east Africa, hardly any agencies were able to work inside war-torn Somalia, where the picture was "profoundly distressing". He condemned other organisations and the media for "glossing over" the reality in order to convince people that simply giving money for food was the answer. According to Karunakara "We may have to live with the reality that we may never be able to reach the communities most in need of help"

Karunakara said that the use of phrases such as "famine in the Horn of Africa" or "worst drought in 60 years" obscured the man-made factors that had created the crisis and wrongly implied that the solution was simply to find the money to ship enough food to the region. "...glossing over the man-made causes of hunger and starvation in the region and the great difficulties in addressing them will not help resolve the crisis."

He said charities needed to start treating the public "like adults". He went on: "There is a con, there is an unrealistic expectation being peddled that you give your £50 and suddenly those people are going to have food to eat. Well, no. We need that £50, yes; we will spend it with integrity. But people need to understand the reality of the challenges in delivering that aid. We don't have the right to hide it from people; we have a responsibility to engage the public with the truth."

Chronic malnutrition, said Karunakara, is not new in east Africa and needs long-term action. "The Somali people have been living in a country at war, with no government, for 20 years, with several long periods of hardship, of famine and drought. This harvest failure is just what has tipped them over the edge this time, a catastrophe made worse," he said.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Eighty per cent of South African produce still comes from 15 per cent of its farms, most of them large-scale and white-owned. Although whites make up less than 10 per cent of South Africa's population of 50 million, they own about 90 per cent of the country's agricultural land. 40,000 white commercial farmers own 224 million acres of agricultural land. There are about 200,000 small farmers, nearly all black, 2 million to 2.5 million subsistence farmers, and more than half a million farm workers.

Ever since the founding of the African National Congress in 1912, the land question has been at the core of the South African liberation struggle. After the first all-race elections in 1994 to redress the imbalances in land ownership in South Africa the ANC established a target of redistributing 30 per cent of farmland to black farmers by 2014, a total of about 60.79 million acres. Instead, Nkwinti indicated the government has bought only about 14.82 million acres to date, of which nearly 4.94 million have been resold. After several big resettlement failures it then stopped handing out any acquired land in 2008.

Gugile Nkwinti, the minister of land reform, said black farmers have resold nearly 30 percent of the white farmland bought for them by the government, often selling back to the previous white owners.

Advocates for reform argue that the massive inequality in land ownership is a direct result of the colonisation of South Africa by Europeans and the consequent forcing of indigenous people of their land. Activist Andile Mngxitama said "The heart of the issue is that the land was taken by force and must be redistributed. It is a matter of ending apartheid,"