Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Armies are no solution

Over the past year, Africa has seen the decomposition of states from coast to coast. A belt of war, coups and large-scale spontaneous demonstrations has emerged across the Sahel, from Guinea-Bissau to Somalia. These political processes have a variety of localised causes, yet they have some commonalities. All of them emerge in a context of failed agricultural markets and a boom in mineral and oil extraction. Fundamentalist Islam is merely a complicating factor: not a cause.

Frantz Fanon
wrote in 1959 that:
"Colonialism hardly ever exploits the whole of a country. It contents itself with bringing to light the natural resources, which it extracts, and exports to meet the needs of the mother country's industries, thereby allowing certain sectors of the colony to become relatively rich. But the rest of the colony follows its path of underdevelopment and poverty, or at all events, sinks more deeply into it."

This is the basis of "combined and uneven" development: a state in which most of the continent still finds itself.

Current policies have resulted in growing inequalities and increasing poverty throughout Africa. Elections have therefore only offered the electorate a chance to choose politicians who continue to impose increasing poverty upon them. As a result, in some places, people are actually nostalgic about the years they were living under dictatorships - because they remember them as times when they had more food. Neoliberals like the World Bank had thought movements for democracy would chop away the burdensome state, freeing natural propensities to trade, allowing capitalism to flourish. The reality is that neoliberal policies destroyed existing local markets while leyying highly sinister elements flourished.

African states contain a wide variety of variables. They have diverse geographies, cultural histories and economic foundations. peasant-based economies have integrative tendencies. In contrast extractive industries around valuable commodities have greater tendency toward disintegration. There are few places in Africa where mineral industries have had a positive impact.

One does not need to look far to see that agriculture across the region is in crisis. Famine has already been declared in Somalia. The Sudans are at war, while refugees have fled their herds and any crops they could scrape from the ground after years of drought. UN FAO notes that last year the Horn of Africa experienced a food crisis that left an estimated 13 million people dependent on humanitarian assistance. Currently there are 15 million people facing food insecurity in the countries of the Sahel. These famines are compounded by refugee crises. Altogether some 284,000 Malians have fled Northern Mali, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: 107,000 of them are thought to be displaced within Mali; 177,000 in neighbouring countries. New arrivals have pushed refugee numbers to 56,664 in Burkina Faso, to 61,000 in Mauritania, and to 39,388 in Niger, according to UNHCR. Around 810,000 Senegalese are facing hunger, according to a joint study in February 2012 by the Senegalese government and the World Food Programme (WFP). In the 2011 harvest season, cereal production fell by 36 per cent compared with 2010, and the production of peanuts, Senegal's main cash crop, fell by 59 per cent. One figure shows the latest harvest was 120,000 tons, down from a previous yearly average of 800,000.

Guinea Bissau's coup has disrupted the marketing of cashews - an important plantation crop in that country - but the story not being told is that the indigenous rice economy has already been seriously battered. This is the case with all the rice-growing economies in West Africa, as shown by USDA figures. Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana and Senegal all show declines in production. In the past year, imports have soared to meet local consumption. Mali's importation has risen 50 per cent. The Ivory Coast is importing a massive 80 per cent of their consumption. As Bryceson noted in 2009, sudden market shocks, gradually worsening terms of trade, market disincentives, "continue to undermine personal welfare, leading to social upheavals and political destabilisation". This has led to a process of de-agrarianisation, or more specifically, "de-peasantisation", whereby "peasant households and communities have lost their coherence as social and economic units". These patterns fuel burgeoning global unemployment rates. A recent report of the International Labour Organisation shows that youth are particularly badly hit. Between 2007 and 2010, youth unemployment increased by 5.1 million.

Armies are not signs of hope for those who have recently lost their land in mining concessions and land grabs, because in the experiences of the disposed, militaries have tended to come in to support those who are taking from them.

As much as those of us on the Left would like to believe otherwise,  poverty rarely produces pleasant political responses.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Changing Africans health

The international community has done little to help Africa to help itself, and not keep it alive on a drip feed of pennies from collection tins.

Most people in developed countries think of the biggest health challenges confronting the developing world, they envision a small child in a rural, dusty village beset by an exotic parasite or bacterial blight. But increasingly, that image is wrong. Instead, it is the working-age woman living in an urban slum, suffering from diabetes, cervical cancer, or stroke – non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that once confronted wealthy nations alone.

Charities know that raising money for exotic disease eradication in the West is a good deal easier than asking for funding to upgrade sub-standard cardiac facilities. But by ignoring the far greater, non-communicable problems Africans are doomed to low life expectancies. NCDs in developing countries are occurring more rapidly, arising in younger people, and leading to far worse health outcomes than ever seen in developed countries. This epidemic results from persistent poverty and unprecedented urbanization. According to the World Economic Forum's 2010 Global Risks report, these diseases pose a greater threat to global economic development than fiscal crises, natural disasters, corruption, or infectious disease.

Heart disease, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory illnesses are the biggest killers globally, according to the United Nations agency. They account for 36 million deaths a year, or 63% of all mortality, and one-quarter of premature deaths under the age of 60. Deaths from noncommunicable diseases are rising in Africa where they are projected to be the biggest killer by 2030.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Aid - the negative industry

The financial figures are trotted out so often they are becoming almost boring: seven of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies, 13 countries with a higher per capita GDP than China, a fast-emerging middle-class with higher household spending than India.

Unfortunately, such truths have been obscured by the Live Aid legacy. For all their fine intentions, the mega-concerts proved a disaster for Africa. The tone was set by the absence of African artists from the line-ups of bands playing at concerts designed to save their continent. The message was clear: it was western voices that counted.

Two decades ago there were thought to be 70 charities operating in Ethiopia; today, the figure is close to 5,000. In Kenya, there is a slum with an estimated one charity for every 32 people living there. After any major disaster, where once 40 groups operated, there will now be in excess of 1,000, causing chaos and confusion rather than helping the afflicted, as seen following the Haitian earthquake two years ago. Western politicians of all hues, desperate to look sensitive and caring, cravenly pandered to this aid lobby led by Bob and Bono, while journalists put on kid gloves when engaging with it, ignoring practices that would provoke outrage elsewhere. As a result, global aid spending soared from £50bn a year to £83bn over the first decade of this century.

 Today 595,000 people work in a fiercely-competitive industry.

A study last year found even among these aid workers only about one-third thought their projects worked. In private, many will admit to grave doubts. You could fill this entire newspaper with examples of how the flood of money washes down the drain: a report by two health economists, for example, found nearly two-thirds of health aid in Africa is diverted. The waste, the ineptitude, the tolerance of corruption, the support for repression, the furthering of inequality, the boosting of arms spending is utterly scandalous.

First, all those new colonialists riding around in their big white jeeps telling the locals what is good for them. "They don't consult with us," complained a minister in Somalia, latest recipient of massive British aid. "It's like a doctor trying to prescribe medicine for a patient you haven't seen yet." This distorts priorities of recipient nations. It leads to the creation of pointless bureaucracy – one study found a typical African country must churn out 10,000 aid reports each year. Additionally, while Western government attacks welfare dependency at home, it encourages it abroad with unquestioning support for politicians who have no need to bother responding to the needs of their own citizens.

Imagine how you would feel if armies of Africans came and told you how to run your schools and hospitals (while living in some of the smartest homes)? Or funded politicians who steal and murder? But this is the West's approach abroad: we know best, our voices count. This is how Britain ended up funding a regime that sent a hit squad to this country to kill people. And how it spent £1bn supporting education in just three east African countries but failed to check whether the teachers turned up or the children were learning; sadly, they were not.

Second, there is strong competition from all those charities for your money. They produce adverts and leaflets to tug your conscience, making it seem like the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse – war, poverty, starvation, disease – gallop constantly across Africa. "If you are not negative enough, you won't get the funding," confessed one charity boss. A study suggested the dominant image remains "malnutrition and pot-bellied young children desperate for help with flies on their faces". The result of all this poverty porn – especially combined with a similar and lazy media narrative – is that Westerners see the continent as one benighted and dangerous country, not a vibrant, inventive and increasingly-successful collection of 54 diverse nations. This constant negative imagery puts them off travelling or trading there.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Zambia: President Sata in power

The Patriotic Front, under its president Michael Sata, won the Zambia general election that took place on 20 September last year. There was heightened jubilation in all areas that had voted for the PF. The MMD only managed to salvage votes in Central and Eastern provinces. The PF performed badly in only three provinces. It was a massive victory for PF leader Sata, who said he was going to transform the economy in 90 days.

At exactly 2100hrs the Chief Justice Ernest Sakala announced that PF leader Sata had won the presidential elections. There were mass celebrations in Lusaka and the Copperbelt mining townships. During his swearing-in ceremony President-elect Michael Sata went on to thank the people of Zambia for electing him president and assured foreign investors that he was not going to chase them from Zambia. Outgoing MMD president Rupiah Banda conceded defeat.

What was significant in the election was the voting patterns that emerged afterwards. It is a fact that ethnic and tribal allegiances still remain unchanged – people voted in political leader to whom they had direct ethnic and tribal patronage. The Bembaland voted for the PF, whilst the Nyanya, Ngoni and Tumbuka voted for the MMD. The Tonga voted for UPND. Ethnic and tribal allegiances still remain as the major factor that determines the strength and popularity of political parties in Zambia today. The PF won last year’s elections by increasing votes in Western and Eastern Provinces. It is frightening to note that the PF did not win any parliamentary seats in Southern Province (political base of UPND).

The death knell of the MMD is ringing. The has virtually been swept out of Lusaka, the Copperbelt, Luapula and Northern Provinces.

Large numbers of votes were received in Lusaka and the Copperbelt Province. It seems that more young people had registered to vote. Policemen, teachers, students, nurses and the unemployed youth voted for the Patriotic Front. The elections were pronounced free and fair. Sporadic bouts of violence only began when the Electoral Commission of Zambia stopped announcing election results on 21 September, when it appeared the PF leader Sata was still in the lead. Mobs went and started to attack private property – mostly shops and cars. Things only returned to normal when the Chief Justice announced that PF leader Sata had won the presidential election with 52 percent of the vote.

During the swearing-in ceremony, President Sata summoned the Chinese ambassador and cautioned him about the low salaries and poor conditions of service existing in Chinese-owned mines and companies. The President went on and announced the following economic reforms: The sale of Zamtel was to be investigated and salaries and wages to be revised upwards

But is will that the PF government enact a people-driven constitution the people of Zambia have been demanding? Will the PF government increase salaries of civil servants by 100 percent and revise the labour laws to favour indigenous Zambian investors and workers? Shall we see free elections and building of new hospitals, roads and bridges – the opening of rural areas into tourist resorts, and the re-investigation of the fertiliser support programmes? Shall we see more jobs – to fill people’s pockets? All as was promised in the PF political manifesto. Because the previous MMD government was characterised by corruption, it may be that in the short term some of the PF economic reforms will succeed.

But what many workers and unemployed youth don’t appreciate is the fact that capitalism as it exists in Zambia today cannot be reformed to accommodate the aspirations of the workers, peasants and unemployed youth. The late MMD president toyed with these ideas but failed. The mainstay of Zambian economy is copper, whose price is determined on the London Metal Exchange. The success of the economic growth policies pursued by the PF depends on the tax revenues received from copper and related mining activities. Introducing a minimum wage will have dire effects on the informal job sector – labour retrenchments will become the thing of the day.

The World Socialist Movement understands that the PF cannot make capitalism work in the interests of Zambian workers – it is only socialism based upon a classless, moneyless and stateless society that can resolve the problems facing the workers in every part of the world.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

trust in the $

"More than one in four Africans—close to 218 million people—is undernourished" the UN Development Progam declared in a recent report.

What's the answer?

According to  Obama and  the G-8 the solution is the private sector. Cargill, Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Yara; and junk-food behemoths Unilever, Kraft, Hershey’s, and Mars. $2 billion of the total $3 billion in pledged investments will come in the form of a single "world-class fertilizer production facility" planned by the Norwegian company Yara, the globe's largest nitrogen-fertilizer company.

 Corporations are accountable to their shareholders, They are obliged and bound by law to make a profit. They are not charities. To be recipients of this aid African governments had to agree to "refine policies in order to improve investment opportunities," an echo of the old IMF agreements that forced countries to open their food markets to foreign competition in order to qualify for loans.

Some of the major partners in this "alliance" are dubious and have proven track records of self-interest.

 Monsanto has aggressively marketed its premium-priced, patented Bt cotton seeds to small scale farmers, to the point where in swaths of the country, no other cotton seeds are available, according to a report from New York University Law School's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Results have been disastrous: at least 17,775 farmers committed suicide between 2002 and 2009. There, Bt cotton crops generated  much lower yields than non-Bt cotton crops for smallholder farmers during years with drought. The use of Bt cottonseed, contrary to advertising, also failed to reduce pesticide usage for many farmers.  Moreover, high seed prices raised the farmers’ input costs, while sale prices remained low. In the state of Maharashtra, more than 2,500 farmers committed suicide each year between 2002 and 2009.

Two senior executives at Yara , have been recently charged  in relation to an ongoing corruption probe and has faced several police probes over the past two years in relation to its ventures or operations in Switzerland, Libya and India .

profit system - it is insane

  GRAIN researcher, Devlin Kuyek, co-author of "The Great Food Robbery"

"...with climate change, we also have to change the way food is distributed. More drought, dry weather, and water crises are going to mean a substantial loss of food production. You have to question the global system of food distribution; it's set up around profit right now. Who gets to eat and who doesn't is decided in a few rooms by boards of directors composed mainly of rich men. Who gets to eat and who doesn't is decided in a few rooms by boards of directors composed mainly of rich men. A handful of people in Northern countries deciding whether Africa is going to eat or not is insane."

"Africa is increasingly being targeted as a centre of production for global markets. The talk now is that Africa is one of the last frontiers because much of Africa is not under the model of export production. Land and water are still in the hands of local communities. So there's a big push to industrialize agriculture for export. Unfortunately, African governments are colluding with corporations who want to pursue agribusiness in their countries, with the help of the World Bank and bilateral and multilateral donors."

"...programmes like AGRA [Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa], are openly talking about small scale farmers as obstacles to development that need to be replaced by a new generation of commercial, modern farmers. This is code language for big farms, often owned by foreign capital, that use the machines, seeds, pesticides and others inputs sold by multinational corporations like AGCO and Monsanto, and that supply the global trade networks of corporations like Cargill and Olam."

 "In Ethiopia, you have a government that has stated its policy is to go from 80 percent rural population to 20 percent rural population. Who can imagine what all those people are going to do? What's the plan there? What jobs are they going to have? You can't say that this is about people in Africa choosing to move to cities. People are being forced out of their lands through mining projects, land acquisitions, and overall bad policies."

Full interview at

cries for help - little hope

The people in the village of Goubeyday in Niger usually spend the vast majority of their meager incomes on food, so they don’t have enough money to compensate for the drastic increase in food prices at the market.

World Food Programme Niger Country Director Denise Brown said the World Food Programme has not yet been able to provide aid to the people of Goubeyday because of a lack of funding.

According to the United Nations, at least 15 million people in the Sahel region just south of the Sahara desert are affected.  Eight million are at serious risk of running out of food before the next harvest, and a million children’s lives could be threatened by severe malnutrition. Disaster declarations have been declared in seven of the eight affected countries.  Niger is the hardest-hit country, home to about half of the more than 8 million people WFP would like to help. The world’s largest aid agencies– including WFP, Oxfam, UNICEF, Save the Children, and World Vision– have seen this crisis coming for months.  By appealing for help early, they hoped to apply lessons learned from last year’s late response to the famine in the Horn of Africa to keep this crisis from becoming another catastrophe.  But few donors have responded, and most aid groups have raised less than half of the funds needed for their planned response.

Many in West Africa are pastoralists.  Many of them are nomads who roam to find pasture and water for their cattle.  Both are getting harder to find. “This is big, difficult situation.  Pastoralists must now sell many animals just to be able to buy a little cereal to survive,” said Hassane Baka of the AREN cattle breeders association based in the city of Maradi. “We are working too hard, walking too far,” said Amadou Damana as he worked with his family to draw water from a well in the district of Bermo. Damana said his cattle need water every day to stay healthy, but now he is barely able to give them water every other day because he has to walk them so far from the well to find land where they can graze.

At a nearby livestock market, extremely thin bulls and sheep are waiting to be sold. Trader Jodi Makau says the price for grain is so high, an animal sold this year can buy only half as much as last year.  He tells us it is a bad time for breeders to sell, but many are so desperate to buy food and animal feed they have no choice.

"I think we have to keep in mind these women, these mothers, they’re like you, they’re like me. There’s no difference. They have a child. They love that child. They will do what they can to protect that child,”
said Brown. “These women, these children, they deserve our attention.”

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sharing the wealth

“At this rate, we may have to rely on relief food. There’s virtually nothing to harvest. All my maize crop is now only fodder for my livestock,” Jared Mwakina says, wiping sweat from his temple.

Mwakina’s woes are shared by hundreds of other villagers.

 “Sometimes when we get enough rains to sustain our crops, elephants from the neighbouring Tsavo West National Park move into our farms and destroy all our crops. It’s a vicious cycle of poverty and suffering,”
says Daftone Mwang’ombe, another resident.

To add to the locals’ misery, the roads are in a pathetic state. Water shortage is the order of the day. Women and children suffer endlessly searching for the precious commodity, which they ferry home on their heads and also using donkeys. But these beasts of burden in Kishushe hardly get a chance to browse or even bray as they are gagged tight most of the time,  to stop them from feeding on the little crops left in the farms.

Yet this is a rich community, blessed with vast resources including huge iron ore and copper deposits. The village holds one of the largest deposits of iron ore and copper in the country. The iron ore in Kishushe is called magnetite type, which is the best ore for industrial use. The whole iron ore deposit is estimated to be worth more than Sh1 trillion. Wanjala Mining Company, which is extracting the iron ore is projected to mine and export more than 100m tonnes of the ore this year estimated to be worth more than Sh20 billion. Most residents accusing the mining firm of short-changing them.

 According to an agreement, Wanjala Mining Company had undertaken to construct four rooms at Kishushe Dispensary, equip the labs, pipe water to Kishushe from Kishenyi Dam in Werugha location, pay Sh70 per tonne of iron ore extracted to KDTF as well as upgrading of local roads to a modern standard.

“Most of our youths were rendered jobless after the mining company mechanised most of their mining activities. At this rate, the idle youths may be forced to go into unlawful acts such as poaching for bush meat to earn a living,”
says Julius Mwasaru. There is abundant wildlife resources that are a major tourist attraction.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Amnesty International Report

Many of the underlying factors which led to the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East also exist in other parts of Africa. They include authoritarian rulers who have been in power for decades and rely on a security apparatus to clamp down on dissent. Poverty and corruption are widespread, there is a lack of basic freedoms, and large groups are often marginalized from mainstream society. The brutal suppression of demonstrations during 2011 illustrated how the region's political leaders learned little from what happened in the North Africa. Inspired

The popular movements across North Africa resonated with people in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in countries with repressive governments. Trade unionists, students and opposition politicians were inspired to organize demonstrations. People took to the streets because of their political aspirations, the quest for more freedom, and a deep frustration with a life in poverty. They protested against their desperate social and economic situation and the rise in living costs. Rapid urbanization means that many Africans live without adequate housing, often in slums, where they lack the most basic facilities and are at constant risk of forced eviction by the authorities. People who are forcibly evicted often lose their belongings when their homes are destroyed. Many also lose their livelihood, which pushes them further into poverty. Thousands of people were affected when mass forced evictions took place in at least five informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya. Hundreds of people were forcibly evicted from a settlement in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria. Forced evictions also continued in N'Djamena, Chad, and in different parts of Angola.

by events in North Africa, anti-government protesters took to the streets in Khartoum and other towns across Sudan. In Uganda, opposition politicians called on people to imitate the Egyptian protests and take to the streets, but violence marred the demonstrations. The Ugandan government banned all public protests. In Zimbabwe, a group of about 45 activists were arrested in February, merely for discussing events in North Africa. Six of them were initially charged with treason. In April, the Swaziland authorities repressed similar protests with excessive force. Security forces used live ammunition against anti-government protesters in Angola, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Sudan, resulting in many casualties. The authorities usually failed to investigate the excessive use of force and nobody was held to account for the deaths caused. Human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents in most African countries continued to be arbitrarily arrested and detained, beaten, threatened and intimidated. Some were killed by armed groups or government security forces. Governments tried to control publicly available information in Burundi, the DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. They placed restrictions on reporting certain events, closed down or temporarily suspended radio stations, blocked specific websites or banned the publication of certain newspapers.

Many human rights violations committed by security and law enforcement forces remained unaddressed. The authorities hardly ever initiated independent and impartial investigations in reported cases of arbitrary arrests and detention; torture or other ill-treatment; unlawful killings, including extrajudicial executions; and enforced disappearances. Only very rarely were individuals held to account for committing human rights violations. As a result, people have lost confidence in law enforcement agencies and the judiciary in many countries in the region. Impunity for human rights violations by law enforcement officers was pervasive in Burundi, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, DRC, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The number of people in pre-trial detention remained very high, as most countries' justice systems could not guarantee a fair trial without undue delay. Many people arrested had no access to legal representation. Detention conditions remained appalling in many countries, with overcrowding, a lack of access to basic sanitation facilities, health care, water or food, and a lack of prison staff. Detention conditions often fell below minimum international standards and constituted inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment or punishment.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hollow Promises

"Today we commit to launch a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture...This New Alliance will lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next decade," the G-8 said in a statement.

Oxfam warned the announcement focuses too heavily on the role of the private sector to tackle the complex challenges of food insecurity in the developing world. The organization called instead for G8 leaders to keep the promises they have already made to help developing countries. Remember the 2005 G-8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland? The USA, Canada, Italy, France, the UK, Germany, Japan and Russia promised Africans to provide an extra $25bn a year for Africa as part of a $50bn increase in financial assistance by 2010. Well, unsurprisingly, the extra $25 billion hasn't been realised and neither has the additional $50 billion. Remember three years ago, at the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italythe leaders of the world's richest countries pledged $22 billion to poor countries that had goods plans to tackle hunger. Seven months away from the end of the L'Aquila initiative but the G8 countries are still fulfil their pledges.

"The New Alliance is neither new nor a true alliance," said Oxfam's Lamine Ndiaye.

The G-8 is promising to simply point their private companies towards Africa's shores.  As if  private companies haven't already jumped on the Africa bandwagon  to make profits for themselves. If they can't make a healthy return, then why should they invest? Altruism? Private-sector entities "don't answer to other G8 leaders, they answer to their shareholders," noted Oxfam's Porter McConnell in a blog post.

 Nor is it the lack of Western agricultural investment is the reason that our children either die of hunger or suffer stunted growth. Quite, the contrary when many countries are confronted by the inward investment of international land-grab and the consequent displacement of local people to make way for the creation of commercial cash-crop agriculture. With global food demand expected to grow by at least 70 percent by 2050 and with sub-Saharan Africa home to up to 60 percent of the world's unused arable land. A half century ago, Africa was a food exporter. Many wish for it to be again but without feedng its own people first.

Agribusiness giants such as DuPont, Monsanto and Cargill , along with smaller companies will commit some billions of dollars for projects to help farmers in the developing world build local markets and improve productivity.The New Alliance is a top down plan that does not reflect what many people in poor countries say they want or need. The solutions for problems must come from within, not without. One doesn't need a huge surge of dollars to feed the mouths of our children.

Neil Watkins, policy director at the U.S. aid group ActionAid voiced concern it may be difficult to link up the world's giant agribusiness companies with some of its poorest farm laborers. "These marginal farmers aren't likely to be targets for corporate investment," Watkins said. "Corporate investment is not a silver bullet for food security in Africa."

Africa's salvation won't come from Camp David but from African farmers and small-scale producers, particularly women. Smallholder farmers need the freedom to pursue their own growing strategies.

Di's dying legacy

An elderly home opened by Britain's Princess Diana in a Zimbabwe township during her African charity crusades has run out of money. The Society for the Aged Destitute has had to reduce the number of elderly given shelter with only a few months of funding left. After years of economic meltdown in this southern African country, those turned away from the home resort to the surrounding litter-strewn streets where homeless elderly dressed in rags beg for money and scavenge for food scraps and anything of value. The home's grounds are overgrown and a bedroom wing has been shut down. The residents stream into a bare eating room holding battered tin plates.

 Administrator Louise Allaart said met Princess Diana at the home in 1993 and said she touched the hearts of everyone she met. "I was so impressed with her. She had contact with people. It was absolutely amazing. She had that gift. I want her children to know she touched many people's hearts in Zimbabwe," 

Her children have an income of about half a million punds a year.

The British charity HelpAge cut its funding in 2008. The plight of the home is seen as a reflection of Diana's legacy in Zimbabwe.

Sevias Mujere, a trustee at the home, said Zimbabwe's approaching winter months pose health risks to the men and women, some aged into their 90s. During frequent power outages after years of political and economic turmoil, the vulnerable "sit in the dark, cold and shivering," he said. He said they were susceptible to sometimes fatal infections and respiratory disease and the home lacked money for medicines, treatment and hospital care. "We are struggling to pay salaries for our six workers" who made personal sacrifices in their dedication to the home, he said.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Unequal Africa

The greater portion of wealth in Africa remains in the hands of a few elites is the conclusion of the 2012 Africa Progress Report, titled “Jobs, Justice and Equity”

386 million people on the continent survive on less than US$1.25 a day and the continent accounts for a rising share of global poverty despite its commendable economic growth in recent years, reads the report. In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, as well as in Mozambique and Burundi, more than 60 percent of young people are said to work in jobs, which pay less than US$1.25 a day.

When Africa’s growth started to pick up in 1999, the continent accounted for 21 percent of the world’s poverty but by 2008 that share had risen to 29 percent.

This is contrary to conventional economic wisdom that economic growth is the answer to poverty and inequality.

“The main reason for the high poverty rate is not slow economic growth but high inequality,” the report says. "Governments are failing to convert the rising tide of wealth into opportunities for their more marginalised citizens. Unequal access to health, education, water and sanitation is reinforcing wider inequalities.

Using the Gini index, the globally accepted measure of inequality which captures concentration of household income or expenditure (the higher the index, the greater the inequality), there are 24 African countries where the index is higher than 42. The Gini indices for Mozambique, Kenya and Zambia are between 45 and 55, while in Botswana and South Africa the figures are over 60. South Africa is often referred to as the “most unequal society” in the world.

south africa's shame

More than half of South Africa's children live in poverty and one in four has HIV.  South Africa is now judged to be one of the most unequal societies in the world and its 19 million children bear the brunt of the disconnect.

The Unicef report found that 1.4 million children live in homes that rely on often dirty streams for drinking water, 1.5 million have no flushing lavatories and 1.7 million live in shacks, with no proper bedding, cooking or washing facilities.

Four in 10 live in homes where no one is employed and, in cases of dire poverty, the figure rises to seven in 10.

Contrary to the rest of Africa, where pneumonia and diarrhoea are the biggest child killers, South African children are most likely to die from HIV/Aids. More than five million are currently infected with HIV, and 40 per cent die from the pandemic annually.

Aida Girma, Unicef's South African representative, said that two thirds of child deaths were preventable with simple improvements in primary care for children.

Rhoda Kadalie, executive director of Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre which seeks out novel ways to tackle poverty, said the problem could be traced back to 1994, when the post-apartheid, ANC government focused on "the economy, black economic empowerment and the consolidation of power" rather than education and health care.These subjects are not sexy and those ministries are given to the weaker ministers who have little political power," she said. "As a result, we are awash with policies but there's no political will or competence at a local level to implement them. The facts speak for themselves: if we don't invest in our children now, we might as well give up on our future."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Where are the books?

Most South Africans still face to quality education, 18 years after apartheid. A court last week found two government schools that went for five months without books in the northern Limpopo province in breach of the country's constitutional right to basic education.

"The issue of shortage of textbooks ... is not isolated in Limpopo,"
said Lukhanyo Mangona, spokesman for an NGO Equal Education. "We cannot quantify the number of (affected) schools, but everywhere you go you hear about these things."

Education was one of the main areas where blacks fought the racist apartheid regime, which sacrificed entire generations of blacks to the desks of a second-class "Bantu" education.

"Education was the foundation upon which inequality was fashioned during the years of apartheid, but unequal educational opportunities still remain amongst the greatest obstacles to equality, dignity and freedom in today's South Africa,"
said Equal Education.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Ghana, like many countries in Africa, has been endowed with everything which should make nations rich, yet poverty is our lot. Each time the world’s attention is drawn to disasters, it is hunger and disease in Africa, draught or wars.

Ghana has always survived on one crop, cocoa, ever since it found its way into this country. What has been done with this crop apart from exporting it in its raw form? Not much.

Oil palm was taken out of this country to Malaysia. While the Malaysians are making industrial use of oil palm, even in the automobile industry, Ghana's  excellence in the use of oil palm is soap making and margarine. All other aspects of oil palm are virtually thrown away. 

For almost 200 years, some towns in this country have produced one of the finest gold in the world, namely Obuasi and Tarkwa, to name just a few. Just go to these towns, there is nothing golden about these towns. Basic social amenities are denied them.  Everything about the gold-producing areas of this country is poverty. Today it has been proven that much of the land is rich in gold deposits, not just limited to a few towns and communities. Once again the stupidity of the leadership is not planning how to exploit this resource in a manner which will ensure that our generation benefits out of it without depriving the next generation the opportunity of also exploiting it or even benefiting from its exploitation today.The government have allowed everybody to scoop out the gold from the bowel of the earth anywhere, without any guidance and regulations. As for the Minerals Commission, their uselessness has been exposed by their corruption in the management of gold resources and their silence over the criminal exploitation of the resource. River bodies are filled with mercury, a harmful substance to the body, and nobody seems to care, knowing very well that to the majority of our people, rivers and streams are the primary sources of water. Recent medical reports indicate that many more people are suffering from kidney problems as a result of high concentration of mercury in their blood system. It is criminal for any nation to stand and stare while its innocent citizens are subjected to such deadly conditions by greedy individuals and groups of individuals. What is needed to be done is to determine which areas of the country the gold should be mined from, for say a period of 50 years. In this case, all other areas of gold would not be touched. This will make for a very efficient and sustainable exploitation of the resource. After the 50 years, when we are sure that the gold has been exhausted, we reclaim the area for another economic activity and move on to another area of gold concentration for mining. Sadly we are destroying everything in the way of gold just to satisfy the greed and affluence of the few in our society, without the slightest consideration for the unborn.

Some 40 years back, timber used to be one of the major exports of this country; today, local timber-based industries have collapsed and wood for domestic consumption has become a serious problem  for a hitherto timber exporting country. In its stead, we are importing everything furniture from China. Ghana did not plan the exploitation of our timber resources in a manner that would meet the needs of the generation then and the future generation. Ghana allowed all manner of people, particularly Syrians and Lebanese to exploit our timber resources from all corners of this country, with their local greedy collaborators. They did that with total disregard for the future. Stupid as the leaders were and perhaps still are, they established the Ghana Timber Marketing Company, without taking into account the fact that timber has to be produced before they are marketed. Ghana succeeded in marketing all the timber from all the corners of the country, but foolish enough not to establish a timber-producing company. 

Any nation with people with right thinking caps would plan how its resources should be exploited for the overall benefit of all generations. The collective resources are expropriated without due regards for the next generation. We should protect certain parts of our natural resources, and even when it becomes very necessary for us to exploit any available resources, common sense should tell us that we cannot destroy everything nature has been kind enough to bestow on us. We owe nature that respect and appreciation for giving us so much for our survival. The earlier we sit down and properly plan our lives, the better it will be for us and the future.

Insecure - not in the middle class

According to the African Development Bank benchmark adapted by the ministry of finance, people spending more than $2 per day in purchasing power parity (approximately equivalent to two times Uganda's poverty line) are considered middle class. Using this benchmark, about one million Ugandans (or 6.6%) have moved out of the absolute poverty bracket (and are living on more than $1 a day) between 2006 and 2010, a new report indicates. The "Poverty Status Report" produced by the ministry of finance indicates that Ugandans living below the poverty line fell to 24.5% (7.5 million) in 2009/2010 from 31.1% (8.5 million) 2005/06. The report says the number of middle class Ugandans has risen from 7.8 million (28.7%) to 10 million (32.6 %.) and from 1.8 million in 1992 to over 10 million today.

James Ogule, who lives in Namugongo, a Kampala surburb, thinks the vendors selling matooke (plantains) by the road to his house should not be considered middle class. The vendors spend more than $2 (sh5,200) a day and Ogule who works with a government regulatory body thinks equating a middle class to sh5,200 a day is a pity.
"Look, we are setting very low standards, we should ask whether these people have access to all the services like health and are they secure?,"
asked Ogule.

Uncertainties exist. These include unpredictable weather, crop and livestock diseases, ill health, price fluctuations and insecure access to land. This vulnerability is reflected among school going children from poor families who most times fail to complete school.

Despite the impressive jump in livelihood quality, the number of people still vulnerable and insecure with the possibility of sliding back to poverty has risen from 11% to 13.2%.

"Many Ugandans have moved out of poverty but have not moved to middle class, the size of this insecure group has more than doubled since the early 1990s,"
read the report.

is war justice?

Since April, more than 40,000 people have fled their homes, trudging through mud and rains to a point of safety - either in Congo or across the border into Rwanda or Uganda, or indeed, anywhere. Tutsi refugees arriving in Rwanda have reported widespread physical and verbal assault, often carried out by soldiers.

ICC-indicted Bosco "The Terminator" Ntaganda was one of the most powerful generals in eastern Congo - but now is a man on the run, leaving an area the size of Greece destabilising in his wake. An ethnic Tutsi warlord believed to be of Rwandan origin, Ntaganda began his career fighting against the 1994 genocide alongside Rwandan president Paul Kagame. In 2002, he became second-in-command of Thomas Lubanga's clan-based militia in Ituri district, north-east Congo. It was here that he earned his Hollywood sobriquet "The Terminator", which is referred to by the ICC. In 2002 and 2003, he allegedly commanded men to murder at least 800 civilians in and around Mongbwalu, a strategic mining town which holds some 2.5 million ounces of gold. After that war ebbed, Ntaganda joined the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) under the leadership of another zealot, Laurent Nkunda, with whom he fought against the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. In 2008, he is believed to have led CNDP troops in a frenzied 24-hour massacre of 150 people at Kiwanja village in North Kivu. More recently, he is understood by UN experts to be taking some $15,000 a week in taxes from smuggling operations between DRC and Rwanda. Yet, despite his brutal history, for some Congolese Tutsis, Ntaganda symbolises the prospect of peace in their homelands, where there is still widespread persecution by Hutus.

Michael Deibert, author of Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair, describes Ntaganda as the "king-maker" in mineral-rich North Kivu, since his 2009 betrayal of Nkunda, which led to a secret peace deal and the integration of the CNDP into the state army. "Ntaganda is the lynchpin of what they have called peace in eastern Congo - peace linked with impunity because that's been the nature of the peace," he said. President Kabila has chosen, until this year, not to act on the 2006 warrant for Ntaganda's arrest. It seems that "The Terminator" had little choice but to defect. A number of former CNDP officers and soldiers followed him, and, within weeks, around 600 men had joined him in Masisi, the traditional CNDP heartland. According to Human Rights Watch, he has since recruited at least 149 boy-soldierss and young men aged between 12 and 20 years old - the very crime for which he was originally indicted. Colonel Makenga - an ethnic Tutsi who, after fighting alongside Ntaganda in Rwanda,fell out with "The Terminator" over Nkunda's overthrow - as leader of the M23 movement. As the CNDP army defectors left their positions in April, militia moved in. Across the region, armed groups have been exploiting the security vacuum to feather their nests, attacking civilians and peacekeepers alike

Colonel Makenga - an ethnic Tutsi who, after fighting alongside Ntaganda in Rwanda,fell out with "The Terminator" over Nkunda's overthrow - as leader of the M23 movement, a reference to March 23, the date of the peace deal signed three years ago. With "The Terminator" in hiding , it is Makenga's M23 rebels - believed to number between 500-600 - who are fighting government troops close to the borders of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.

In a region such as this, where ethnic and political lines dissect official borders, few conflicts are strictly domestic. On May 14, the Congolese defence minister was sent to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi to investigate claims that foreign influence was fuelling the clashes - reasoning that M23 arms must come from somewhere. Defending the rights of Rwandan Tutsis, stabilising the refugee situation, and maintaining control of an illicit trade in metals and minerals are among the reasons why it could be in Rwanda's interest to support the rebels. Rwanda does not want Ntganda tried at the Hague, and some believe President Kagame will use Makenga and M23 as his proxy power, allowing him to find his own solution to Ntaganda's sub-poena - just as Nkunda now lives in Rwanda, despite his international arrest warrant.

In presenting Ntaganda as the sole cause of the conflict transforms complex clashes into a handy dichotomy: the rules of international justice versus the image of impunity for African warlords. If justice cannot be achieved without massive and indiscriminate blood loss, is some degree of impunity for one man - or at least consideration of it - too great a price to pay? If the international community persists in a blinkered pursuit of justice manifested in the arrest of Bosco "The Terminator" Ntaganda  it does so at the risk of taking its eye off the broader crisis unfolding in eastern Congo.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Food warnings again go unheeded

Charities warn that more than one million children are at risk of severe malnutrition across West Africa, and are urging G8 leaders to step in to save them.

Save the Children announced that it was shifting its work in Niger to "crisis response" level after world leaders had ignored months of warnings about the deteriorating situation there. 80 per cent of harvests have failed. Locusts have destroyed crops. Food prices have tripled. The poorest families have been reduced to eating leaves to survive.

Save the Children's chief executive Justin Forsyth said "The crisis there is reaching a new level of seriousness – children are dying because of hunger, and that is not just shocking but totally unacceptable. We must work immediately to stave off the worst."

It is not just the quantity of food but also the quality that matters. Millions of children are not getting the required vitamins, minerals and nutrients within the first few years of their life, restricting their mental and physical growth. A quarter of the world's children suffer from the stunting produced by chronic malnutrition.

"Children need not just enough to eat, but the right sort of food and nutrition,"
said Mr Forsyth. "A food security package from the G8 must have nutrition at its core."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

wooden chips for dinner

"I am hungry. Everyone is hungry. I am hungry all the time"

Globally, malnutrition is the key cause of the deaths of 2.6 million children each year. On present trends, the bodies and brains of an additional 450 million worldwide will fail to develop properly because of inadequate diet over the next 15 years, according to a report published by Save the Children.

Olinda Novela and her children will dine on tree root soup. This is what they ate for breakfast, and what they will likely eat tomorrow. The soup, made from mashed wood shavings boiled in salty water, has zero nutritional value. It is a thin, brown, evil-looking gruel. But in remote, drought-stricken Mahache village, about five hours' drive north from Mozambique's capital, Maputo, there is simply no other choice.

They are not actually starving – not yet, anyway – but they are chronically malnourished, according to visiting community health workers. They have much in common with many other Mozambican children, with an estimated 44% of under-fives physically or mentally impaired – the technical term is stunted – because of severe malnutrition. Their weakened immune systems increase their susceptibility to malaria, HIV, and other fatal diseases.

Experts predict that in the next decade there will be 4 million chronically malnourished children in Mozambique, which despite recent, rapid economic growth and the discovery of large natural gas deposits remains one of the world's poorest countries.

"Malnutrition is a hidden problem, a hidden killer,"
said Carina Hassane Ismael of the independent Food Security and Nutrition Association in Maputo. "It's not like a famine. It can be hard to spot because the children are not actually starving."

At the Camp David G-8 meeting beginning Obama will unveil a "new alliance" initiative involving selected African countries and private sector companies. The plan entails a $1bn, 10-year effort to lift 50 million people out of food poverty through increased investment in agricultural development.

"The G8 is always making plans but they don't implement them,"
said Rafael Uaiene, assistant professor of international development with Michigan State University, who is based in Maputo, and is a former director of Mozambique's National Agricultural Research Institute. "The trouble is, millions of dollars are committed but they never reach the ground in most cases."

G8's L'Aquila summit in 2009, which saw $6bn in new money pledged for food security and agricultural initiatives over three years. By last July, only 22% of the money had been spent.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

traditional oppression in South Africa

The Traditional Courts Bill is meant to replace the Black Administration Act of 1927 with a law that is constitutional. As is stands, the bill creates a separate legal system for rural folk, geographically recreating the old Bantustans with no irony. If passed, it will in effect strip between 17 million and 21 million people living in rural South Africa of many of the rights we enjoy in the rest of the country.

The bill partly recognises what is already operational in many of these spaces. This includes royal patriarchs who explicitly endorse the kidnapping of girls into marriage – ukuthwala – as Chief Mandla Mandela does, to those who silently endorse it, such as Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana. Many rural communities organise against repressive patriarchal practices, resisting forced unpaid labour, refusing to pay tribal levies, and in countless ways refusing to be docile subjects of chiefs who are given absolute power by this bill. The bill will bestow the final say on the chief presiding over a dispute.

Legal researcher Dr Simiso Mnisi reminds us that ordinary rural Africans shape and reshape custom, culture and practice all the time. She calls this living custom. Living custom enables culture and custom to continue to work in the interest of those who own it.

Mamphela Ramphele challenged this false opposition often held up in conservative culturalist arguments between “foreign” legal systems at work in the rest of the country and “indigenous” legal systems that will be protected in the proposed bill. She points out that our specific legal framework is home-grown. We created our Constitution and legal framework. We did not import it from anywhere else. This is why it is the most progressive Constitution in the world and is globally recognised as such.

The Bill lists criminal offences that can be heard by a traditional court. The Bill allows for the minister to appoint a traditional leader as the presiding officer of the court—without community input. The Bill does not allow a defendant to have an attorney, nor does it give a defendant the option of being tried in a mainstream court.

Dr Sindiso Mnisi Weeks, senior researcher at the law, race and gender research unit of the University of Cape Town, said "It centralises power to a single individual who may have conflicts of interest.”
Mazibuko K Jara, of the Democratic Left Front, said that for the past month he had “listened to harrowing stories from many women and other rural dwellers about the conditions they face living under unaccountable and undemocratic chiefs. The struggle for democracy has only just begun again in rural areas.”
Nomonde Mbelekane
, president of the Rural People’s Movement, testified in 2010 about injustices at the hands of traditional leaders. “Some of the chiefs in Peddie have said that women are impure, dirty and involved in witchcraft. In Prudhoe village, an eight-month pregnant woman was called to the Dabi tribal court. She had tried to claim damages from the man who made her pregnant. The court decided that she was just accusing the man and dirtying his name. The court said the man’s father is rich and important; he cannot just have his family name pulled through the mud. She was then sentenced to corporal punishment.”

Other activist groups such as the Association for Rural Advancement, The Rural Women’s Movement  and the Landless People’s Movement also expressed concern about the proposed law.

The situation gets even worse for women. In many traditional courts, women are not allowed to represent themselves or even speak during proceedings. This bill reinforces this by allowing for women to be represented by their husbands or family members (the bill prohibits legal representation in traditional courts) – entrenching existing discriminatory practices. Women’s groups and particularly rural women’s groups are justifiably outraged. 18 years into democracy, women in rural areas are about to be declared second-class citizens by their own government. In practice, many rural women already struggle with decisions by traditional authorities that regularly attempt to strip them of things like land access and inheritance rights. This will only get worse when women find themselves stuck in a system that refuses to recognise their right to speak for themselves or provide legal protections from the very people now making legal decisions. Other gaps include the fact that there is no explicit recognition of crimes such as physical and sexual abuse which are currently considered private or ‘domestic’ matters not fit to be brought before a public court.

There also appears to be no opt-out clause. Anyone whose civil or criminal matter arises in the jurisdiction of the traditional court (i.e. Chief) can be summoned to the court and failure to show up carries whatever penalties the chief sees fit, up to and including those he (and it will almost inevitably be ‘he’) could hand down in sentence. People living in areas control by chiefs won’t have the option of choosing to have their cases heard in a magistrate’s court, like other citizens, without first going through the traditional court process, and even then can only appeal on limited grounds. While everyone else in South Africa has one legal system, these people have another.

Those who support the bill vehemently argue that this is a necessary part of respecting traditional culture and that it is important because constitutional authority has undermined the power and authority of the chiefs. Those opposing it point out that the bill takes us right back to the era of a separate legal system for black people – an era that was problematic precisely because those living in the homelands, those who were deemed (through no will of their own) to fall under the authority of traditional leaders, were not equal before the law. South Africa is a complicated country and the careful balancing of the rights of different groups is inevitably necessary. For this democracy to work, however, the rights of an individual to have a say in his or her future, to be treated equally before the law and to be recognised as part of the same system as everyone else, rather than being regarded as a subject with no say in the matter, have to be secure.

10 problems with the Bill

1. It creates a second-class justice system for over 17 million South Africans.
2. It gives even more power to those chiefs recognized by the state law and nothing to all other legitimate traditional leaders.
3. It allows these chiefs to decide what custom means.
4. All other members of the community, including women and young men, are not included in decision making.
5. It removes checks and balances on power, creating room for corruption, including the power to demand illegal levies.
6. It confirms apartheid “Bantustan” boundaries.
7. It negatively affects women, especially by supporting rules that prevent women from representing themselves.
8. It allows for forced labour and removal of customary benefits as punishments.
9. It applies to everyone; you cannot opt out even if you have valid reason.
10.Regardless of what charge you are facing, you can never ask for legal representation

Last year the Malawi government was widely condemned over local courts bill that gave legal authority to ‘lay courts’. Part of the reason for the criticism was the bizarre crimes that were recognised, such as “writing or uttering words with intent to wound religious feelings” and “fouling the air”, but the more important problem was that it created a parallel, largely unregulated local legal system.

South Africa's real drug problem

Lifesaving drugs under disputed patents could become more easily available in future depending on the outcome of a case before the South African Supreme Court of Appeal. The case revolves around a Sanofi-Aventis cancer drug docetaxel, an important drug used to treat many forms of cancer. It has the potential to save lives or improve the quality of life of cancer patients, but remains expensive as it is under patent.

More often than not, patented medicines are more expensive than generic versions of drugs, with most cancer medicines being extremely expensive. It is not unusual for cancer patients on medical aid to exhaust their oncology benefits, facing crippling bills at the end of their treatment regimen. It is known that once a generic enters the market it encourages competition driving prices down even further.

The Treatment Action Campaign is arguing that it is in the interests of cancer patients that the generic drugs be available, and that the harm to patients will be greater than the harm to Sanofi-Aventis. If the Court accepts TAC's argument it will be an important advance for the rights of access to affordable medicines. It will mean that in future in any dispute over patents in respect of medicines, the courts will have to consider the public interest and the Constitutional right of access to health care services.

Unlike many other countries where patents can only be registered following substantive examinations, in South Africa it is relatively easy to register patents. South Africa currently provides patent protection beyond what is required by the TRIPS agreement. Unlike South Africa, India, Brazil and Thailand, among others, have used flexibilities allowed under TRIPS to curb excessive patenting of pharmaceuticals and promote public health. South Africa granted 2,442 pharmaceutical patents in 2008 alone, Brazil only granted 278 pharmaceutical patents between 2003 and 2008. Generic versions of the disputed drug are now available in the United States - a country that upholds strict patent protection.

The consequences of South Africa's strict patent protection are high medicine costs and the delayed availability of affordable generic medicines. Medicine expenditure increased 25.2% between 2008 and 2010, while actual medicine use only increased 5.8%.

Access to life-saving medicine is a human right, not to be dictated by a bank balance or company profits.

Monday, May 14, 2012

No Money - No Food

 Just 15 per cent of its land is good enough to produce food or raise animals and now, for the third time in the past decade, drought has returned to Niger.

Aid agencies earlier this year revealed that tens of thousands of people died needlessly last year in the Horn of Africa because aid donors waited until people started dying to respond. Now agencies hoping to prevent a similar famine in the landlocked West African nation of Niger are having trouble getting aid donors to take notice. More than 5 million people in the Sahel region are facing famine and aid agencies want to move early before the dire situation becomes a crisis. Signs of the looming famine in the Sahel were first detected late last year - that is when aid organisations started issuing pleas for help.But selling the prevention message is never easy when there are not corpses to go with it.

 Denise Gibson, the World Food Program's country director in Niger, says the situation is urgent.
"What we've seen in over the past couple of months is a steady deterioration in the food security situation. The poorest people ... their situation is not getting any better, it's getting worse. People are still eating, they are eating wild leaves, they are eating wild berries, we don't want them to be eating that, but they are still eating," Ms Gibson said.

And when they run out of wild leaves and berries?

 Once again it is reported that there here is food in the markets in Niger, but people do not have the money to buy it.

In the predominantly rural economy, where 80 per cent of people rely on subsistence agriculture to survive, a succession of droughts has sapped the funds of most people. Oil has recently been discovered in the Niger and it is set to become the world's second-largest uranium exporter, but for the moment many of its people are struggling to survive.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Is this really the future for Africa farming?

“Basically this is disaster capitalism. The disaster of hunger and drought, climate change and policy-related, is now a profit opportunity for Monsanto and Syngenta..."
Joan Baxter, a journalist who has spent years reporting on climate change and agriculture in Africa. Baxter sees a problem in how GM technology is being marketed, and slowly introduced, into African countries, under the guise of ending famine. With climate change becoming an increasingly influential factor in the GM debate, Baxter said companies claiming to help are only looking for profit. "The farmers [in Africa] may lose their own seeds, perhaps be given GM seeds for a year or two, then have to purchase them and be stuck in the trap and in debt,” she said.

In recent years, donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have invested millions of dollars into researching, developing and promoting genetically modified (GM) technology, including drought-resistant maize, within the country — and have found a great deal of success in doing so through partnerships with local NGOs and government bodies. Researchers and lobbyists argue that in a country so frequently stricken by food shortages, scientific advancements can put food into hungry bellies. Drought-resistant seeds and vitamin-enriched crops could be agricultural game changers, they say.

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), a semi-autonomous government research institution, recently announced that after years of trials, genetically modified drought-resistant maize seeds will be available to Kenyan farmers within the next five years. Trial GM drought-resistant cotton crops are already growing in Kidoko, 240 miles southeast of Nairobi. African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), a massive NGO working on GM research and development in partnership with KARI, Regulatory Affairs Manager Dr. Francis Nang’ayo says GM crops are “substantially equivalent” to non-genetically modified foods and should be embraced as a solution to persistent drought and hunger. AATF received a $47 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This partnership involved the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and American seed giant Monsanto. Gates Foundation claim that biotechnology and GM crops would help end poverty and food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Gates Foundation had invested $27.6 million in Monsanto shares. Until 2008, South Africa had been the only country using GM technology. Now Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mali, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana are researching GM seeds and growing trial crops of cotton, maize and sorghum.

Monsanto-patented seeds are usually costly, which has led to numerous accusations of exploitation and contemporary colonialism. But how long will these particular strains of seeds last? What are the guarantees? Critics fear dependence on corporate fertilizers and pesticides, the emergence of super-weeds and pests that can no longer repel GM varieties, and terminator seeds that only last for one planting season.

AGRA Watch, a project of the Community Alliance for Global Justice, director Heather Day said  “Genetically modified crops actually haven’t been that successful,” Day added. “We’ve seen massive crop failure in South Africa, and farmers there couldn’t get financial remedies or compensation for their losses. There’s genetic resistance and super-pests, these things are happening now, and it’s not surprising. It’s what you would expect from an ecological standpoint."

In India, for example, farmers who purchased Bollgard I cotton seeds from 2007 to 2009 wound up spending four times the price of regular seeds, and paying dearly for it. It was believed that Monsanto’s patented GM seeds would be resistant to pink bollworms, which were destroying cotton crops across swaths of India, but by 2010 Monsanto officials were forced to admit that the seed had failed and a newer breed of far more aggressive pests had emerged. The solution? Bollgard II, an even stronger GM cotton seed. As of December 2011, Monsanto was actively promoting the latest Bollgard III cotton seed, stronger than ever before. Pesticide spending in India skyrocketed between 2007 and 2009, forcing thousands of farmers into crushing debt, and hundreds more into giving up their land. Some media outlets later drew a connection between the Bollgard debacle and a rash of suicides across farms that had purchased the seeds.

Agriculture dominates Kenya’s economy, although more than 80 percent of its land is too dry and infertile for efficient cultivation. Kenya is the second largest seed consumer in sub-Saharan Africa, and Nairobi is a well-known hub for agricultural research. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, farming is the largest contributor to Kenya’s gross domestic product, and 75 percent of Kenyans made their living by farming in 2006. Half of the country’s total agricultural output is non-marketed subsistence production — meaning farms where nothing (or very little) is sold and everything is consumed.

Kenya is a country where land-grabbing is all too common, be it on the coast to make way for new tourist resorts, or in Nairobi, where slum demolitions left hundreds homeless when the government bulldozed several apartment buildings to reclaim an area near the Moi Air Base.

Farmers here are skeptical of risking everything for a few seasons of higher yields.

Anne Maina, advocacy coordinator for the African Biodiversity Network (ABN), a coalition of 65 Kenyan farming organizations, said “Our public research institutions must shift their focus back to farmers’ needs,” she told The Indypendent, “rather than support the agenda of agribusiness, which is to colonize our food and seed chain. We believe that the patenting of seed is deeply unethical and dangerous.” Added to the potential problems with GM technology are health risks—the strains of maize that were illegally imported in 2010 had been deemed unsafe for children and the elderly. Maina also worries about animal feeding trials that showed damage to liver, kidney and pancreas, effects on fertility, and stomach bleeding in livestock that has consumed GM feed. A more recent study carried out on pregnant women in Canada found genetically modified insecticidal proteins in their blood streams and in that of their unborn children, despite assurances from scientists that it wasn’t possible. “Our key concern is that the development of insecticides and pesticides is primarily the emergence of companies getting farmers to buy highly toxic chemicals, which they will become totally dependent on. We don’t yet know the extent of the health risks posed, nor how we are expected to trust companies that have a record of putting small farmers out of business. It is time for sober second thought,” she said.

At the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health in Toronto, researchers recently released a report titled “Factors in the adoption and development of agro-biotechnology in sub-Saharan Africa.”  and came to the conclusion that “poor communication is affecting agbiotech adoption,” and that “widespread dissemination of information at the grassroots level and can spread misinformation and create extensive public concern and distrust for agbiotech initiatives.” The report was financed by a grant by the Gates Foundation.

Angola: food is available - people cannot afford it

Millions of Angola's poorest families are facing critical food insecurity as a prolonged dry spell across large parts of the country has destroyed harvests and killed off livestock. Up to 500,000 children are now thought to be suffering from severe malnutrition triggered by the collapse in food production after a lengthy dry season in the first three months of this year. Crop yields are down by as much as 70 percent in some places.

 There are reports of subsistence farmers abandoning their fields altogether in a bid to find other paid work in towns and cities so that they can feed their families, and large commercial farms are laying off workers because there is no harvest to gather.

  Koen Vanormelingen, the United Nations Children's Fund representative in Angola, explained
"This is not a famine, it is an issue of food insecurity. There is food available; the issue is that because people are not producing as much food, they must buy more. And because their production has gone down, their income has also gone down so they cannot afford to buy food, and as supply falls and demand increases, prices are going up - in some cases doubling."

 Despite Angola's enormous oil wealth and the International Monetary Fund's forecast that GDP will swell by 9.7 percent in 2012, nearly two thirds of rural households live on less than 1.75 dollars a day and one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, with 20 percent of youngsters dying before they reach their fifth birthday.

Poor diet is a major factor in the high death rates and according to the latest National Nutrition Survey, carried out in 2007, nearly 30 percent of children under five are stunted, more than eight percent are wasted, and close to 16 percent are underweight.

Vanormelingen explained that this year's weak harvest was already taken its toll on the most vulnerable children, who were showing elevated rates of malnutrition."These people were already living on the border line and were scraping by at the best of times," he said."But where they were once eating a varied diet three times a day, now they are having just one meal a day, maybe two, and they are restricted to a very poor selection of cassava and bananas. It is a very serious situation and we are very concerned because we are seeing a significant increase in malnutrition and malnutrition-related mortality in children," 

Friday, May 11, 2012

More land-grab in Malawi

The construction of an inland port at Nsanje meant linking land-locked Malawi with the Indian Ocean port of Chinde, 238 kilometres away in neighbouring Mozambique, through the Shire-Zambezi Waterway project. The aim was to reduce the high costs of importing and exporting goods by road via Malawi’s commercial capital, Blantyre and the Mozambican port city of Beria - a round trip of about 1,200 kilometres.

“There’s no evidence that Nsanje will ever be a big port city,”
said Nsanje resident Rose Samuel  . “We’ve heard that down the river it’s so narrow that a ship can’t pass, so we don’t think [the port] will be in use anytime soon.” Samuel has more reason to be bitter than most. Her family was among about 300 that used to farm land now occupied by the port. “Those families affected had to uproot maize that was already planted,” said Samuel. “Some were old people who left crying - that was their only source of income.” Samuel’s family received a mere 5,000 kwacha (US$20) for one hectare of ancestral land, for which they had no title deeds. Her family now survive by doing piece-work and renting a small plot of land to grow food. Many others have yet to receive anything. “People are worried that if they can grab land without paying, what will stop them removing more people from the area.”

Townspeople have been told by the Traditional Authority not to build any new houses because the land has been earmarked for development, and Nsanje’s District Commissioner, Rodney Simwaka, told IRIN that his office has received 4,000 applications for land from developers who are banking on the port eventually becoming operational. Village headman Black Richman Khembo told IRIN, “Lots of land has been bought by rich people hoping to make money. So far they are letting people remain on the land, but someday they will probably kick them off.”

Booming Africa 2

Following on from the earlier blog Booming Africa we read that the Africa Progress Panel found that African countries were growing consistently faster than almost any other region, with booming exports and more foreign investment. Ghana was the fastest growing economy in the world in 2011 and Ethiopia expanded more quickly than China in the five years to 2009.

 But it warned that there was a contrast between a growing yet still relatively small middle class and the Africans left behind. Although seven out of 10 people in the region live in countries that have averaged growth of more than 4% a year for the past decade, Annan's study found that almost half of Africans were still living on incomes below the internationally accepted poverty benchmark of $1.25 a day. The "trickle-down" pattern of economic growth was leaving too many people in destitution.

 "The deep, persistent and enduring inequalities in evidence across Africa have consequences," the report said. "They weaken the bonds of trust and solidarity that hold societies together. Over the long run, they will undermine economic growth, productivity and the development of markets."

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan added: "It cannot be said often enough, that overall progress remains too slow and too uneven; that too many Africans remain caught in downward spirals of poverty, insecurity and marginalisation; that too few people benefit from the continent's growth trend and rising geo-strategic importance; that too much of Africa's enormous resource wealth remains in the hands of narrow elites and, increasingly, foreign investors without being turned into tangible benefits for its people."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Look out for ourselves

Africa is the only region in the world where agricultural production per inhabitant has fallen in the past 20 years, with productivity per hectare two times lower than the average for developing countries. Fertiliser use is only 13kg/ha, compared to 190kg/ha in East Asia, according to the FAO. Despite Africa's huge rivers and water resources, only 3% of the land is irrigated, compared to more than 20% in the rest of the world. Both the quality and quantity of food are wanting, with sub-Saharan Africa home to 239 million of the world's 925 million undernourished people in 2010.  Zimbabwe's agriculture minister Joseph Made announced in early March that 500,000ha of this season's maize crop – about one-third of the total area planted – has been written off because of erratic rainfall.

African governments have failed to keep to a pledge made in 2003 in Maputo to spend 10% of their budgets on agriculture. Spending hovers around 4%, compared to 11-14% in Asia.

International aid has also failed to materialise. In  2009, the G8 meeting at L'Aquila in Italy launched a three-year food security initiative with a $21.5bn pledge. Amid the sovereign debt crisis that followed, the money has not all materialised and the pledge will soon expire. Indian scientist M. S. Swaminathan – known as the father of Asia's green revolution – has lost faith in these global initiatives. "They've gone on making and making declarations. None of them really fulfil their promise. Countries, if they are going to depend upon assurances of this kind, will never make any progress. They must look out for themselves."

At the next G8 summit at Camp David on 19-20 May, aid agencies are mounting another campaign to prevent a looming crisis in the Sahel where 13 million people are at severe risk of malnutrition. Farmers are also sounding early warnings about failed harvests in the breadbasket of southern Africa.

According to the FAO's food price index of 55 commodities, the price of foodstuffs rose 127% between 2001 and 2011. For the urban and peri-urban poor living near the poverty line, price volatility in local markets injects a harsh uncertainly about where the next meal will come from. Urban families can spend 60-80% of their income on food, according to the FAO. Attempts to fix this problem have brought their own contradictions and imbalances. "The powers that be have deliberately privileged urban populations, and so imports, to the detriment of rural populations," says Mamadou Cissoko, honorary president of the Network of West African Farmer and Producer Organisations.

Booming Africa?

Africa is well known for its wealth of natural resources, which includes oil and gas, a variety of metals and minerals as well as huge tracts of agricultural land. These riches have attracted global investors, most notably from emerging market countries such as China, India and Brazil. Many of these investors have been seeking raw materials for their own economic development and markets for their industries.

More than a billion strong and with a median age of just twenty, the population of Africa is now viewd as a burgeoning market in itelf. Consumer spending in Africa rose at a faster pace than India and Brazil in the past decade as surging commodity prices, debt relief and a move to freer economies helped to boost economic growth. Household spending is set to expand 63 percent to $1.4 trillion in Africa by 2020, home to the world’s youngest and fastest-growing population, according to a 2010 report by McKinsey & Co.

Teddy Muthusi goes to Kentucky Fried Chicken in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, for more than just fried food: it’s a status symbol. Muthusi gladly spends 1,870 shillings ($22), a quarter of the national monthly minimum wage, to treat his girlfriend at the country’s first U.S.-based fast-food company’s outlet that opened in August. He can afford what many can’t. About 45 percent of Kenya’s population live on less than $1.25 a day, according to the World Bank. “I’m willing to fork out more because it’s cool, it’s trendy, it’s a great place to be seen, and the food is good,” Muthusi, a 36-year-old creative manager at Easy FM radio station said in an interview , raising his voice above the pop music blaring through speakers. “Kenyans have that feeling if you can eat at KFC, you’ve made it. You want to be part of that KFC conversation with friends, on Facebook, in the office,” he said.

About 200 million to 300 million people in Africa earn $730 to $3,650 a year, according to Shantayanan Devarajan, chief economist for Africa at the Washington-based World Bank. “That’s a healthy market for consumer-goods producers,”

According to Devarajan, the potential for growth in consumer spending is greatest in Ghana, where an oil boom fueled economic growth of 14.4 percent in 2011. Nigeria, Africa’s most- populous nation of more than 160 million people and Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy that expanded an average 5.6 percent a year since 2007, will probably also see an increase in retail demand. Sub- Saharan Africa’s economy will expand 5.4 percent this year, the fastest-growing region after developing Asian nations, the International Monetary Fund said

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A Done Deal?

Kipawa, a district of Tanzania's Dar es Salaam, used to be a lively neighbourhood, home to about 1,300 families. Many residents had lived there for most of their lives. More than 480 families protested against a proposed compensation package that, they said, undervalued their homes by 50% and was based on an obsolete land acquisition act dating from 1967. Nevertheless, in February 2010, the eviction was carried out suddenly. Teargas was used and more than 300 buildings were demolished within two days. Many people became homeless overnight, according to the Legal and Human Rights Centre, a Tanzania-based NGO.

Now, the area has been completely demolished and fenced in. A sign on the fence says a Chinese company, China International Fund, is to construct a terminal building here as part of a project to extend the country’s main airport. It is almost two years since the community was evicted to make way for the development, and yet there are no signs of construction in Kipawa. The displacement may turn out to be pointless, since the Tanzanian government has admitted the investment for its airport projects is not yet in place. The area has become a deserted field. Most former residents were relocated 36km to the west; they no longer have access to electricity, clean water, roads or schools, and they face long journeys.

 In March 2007 Chinese businessman Sam Po flew his private jet into Tanzania. Po represents the 88 Queensway Group, a body of companies – including the China International Fund (CIF) and China Sonangol International Holding. He offered to upgrade Julius Nyerere international airport and revive Air Tanzania, the national flag-carrier. Po promised six other projects.  A few months later  China Sonangol was granted licences to explore two oilfields in the Lake Rukwa basin in south-west Tanzania. It is clear the two deals were linked. Sonangol has been granted oil concessions outside normal procedure in 2009. A year later, the parliament forced the authorities to withdraw the oil licences granted to the Chinese company.

Meanwhile, the 1,300 families evicted from Kipawa are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


"If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire." - George Monbiot

Growth goes up - so does hunger

You wouldn't know there's a food crisis in this country, one of Africa's wealthiest and most stable countries, because it's a silent one. This is not the doom and gloom Africa that we often hear sensationalised in the media as a place of coups, famines and corruption. No, Botswana is a model African state which has lived carefully within its means, had democratically elected governments since independence, and is the world's leading exporter of precious diamonds. Africa's resource rich economies continue to grow. In some regards, Botswana is a shining example of successful resource-financed development. It has carefully husbanded a valuable natural resource, diamonds, and invested the proceeds in infrastructure development and education. Botswana's literacy rate of 86 per cent is one of the highest in the world, and its road and hospital infrastructure is admirable. Its government is ranked as one of the least corrupt by Transparency International, it exports high quality, grass-fed beef and its high-end eco-tourism business is booming.

Yet food prices are up here dramatically since 2011, and the rural and urban poor are hurting badly. "Growth with hunger" could be the rest of continent's conundrum in 25 years time. Botswana imports 90 per cent of its food, which has made it particularly vulnerable to rising global food prices. In 2011, global food prices were the highest on average at any time since they began to be systematically recorded in 1990.

Despite consistent growth, the problem is that Botswana also has one of the most inequitable income distributions in the world, second only to Namibia. Resource-based economies are often undiversified and produce deep inequalities. As such, while Botswana is a prosperous middle income country, the median per capita household income in the capital city, Gaborone, is only $2 per day. With two-thirds of the city's population spending nearly half its income on food, rising food prices present a particular problem. Recent surveys suggest that 63 per cent of households in the capital are severely food insecure, and 21 per cent of households in rural areas sometimes go for a day without eating. Botswana does have ample amounts of food, it's just increasingly expensive.

Botswana, while largely rural at independence in 1966, has been urbanising at a phenomenal rate and now has 60 per cent of its population residing in cities and towns. Although Botswana is ahead of its neighbours on this front, the continent as a whole is the most rapidly urbanising region in the world. The poor are disproportionately dependent on agricultural activity. Even the urban poor often depend on food shared with them by relatives in the rural areas. Climate change, the changing macroeconomic structure of the country and liberalised food markets are killing subsistence, dryland agriculture, the long time safety net of the poor. No amount of good governance and welfare payments to the poor can seem to solve the resulting hunger if the price of imported food continues to rise.

The combination of expensive food and deepening inequality means that hunger will persist even if Africa's leaders do everything "right".

Niger's shame

Niger is the worst country in the world in which to be a mother, according to a report by Save the Children. Save the Children has highlighted the vast differences between women's experience in Niger and the UK, with those in the former expecting having a one in 16 chance of dying from a pregnancy-related cause, against almost one in 5,000 in the UK.