Saturday, June 30, 2012

Uganda's class education

Children from well-to-do families take up 75% of all scholarships in public universities, while those from poorer families are left to fend for themselves. A study conducted a few years ago by A. B Kasozi, the executive director of the National Council for Higher Education, shows that 93% of slots in public universities go to the children of rich commercial farmers, businessmen and civil servants.

According to records at the public universities, 36.6% of the students’ parents are rich farmers, 33.1% are salary earners and 23.2% are business people.

The remaining 25% of the scholarships, which are 1,000 slots, are distributed three ways. That is quota system (896 slots), talented sports persons (40 places) and students with special needs (64 slots).

 One’s background determines their access to higher education and scholarships in public universities.

“Children of the wealthy attend the best nursery, primary and secondary schools,”
the executive director of the National Council for Higher Education, A. B Kasozi. He explains that these institutions have facilities needed to enable students obtain the good grades required for tertiary institutions, thereby earning them a government scholarships. At the end, it is those children from rich families that can compete to join public universities, or even get the state to pay their fees. 

These findings are corroborated by another study on social backgrounds of Makerere students. The study conducted by K. M. Mayanja found that higher education was dominated by students from wealthy backgrounds. The Gordon McGregor visitation committee of 2007, to public universities also made the same observations.

 In recent years, out of the 12,000 schools in the country, about 300 take up all the slots for government sponsorship at state universities. Nearly 100 schools of the 300 take up about to 80% of all the government sponsorship slots annually. In such upscale schools, parents pay about sh1.2m per term or sh3.6m annually in school fees. 

“How then do they fail to pay just sh2m at university?” asks Patrick Magezi, a secondary school teacher in Kiboga district.

 This year the highest number of students admitted on government sponsorship came from schools like St. Mary’s S S Kitende, Uganda Martyr’s High School, Namugongo, Ntare School, St Mary’s College, Kisubi and Mount St Mary’s College, Namagunga had the highest number of students sent to university on government sponsorship. The other top schools include Namilyango College, Mbarara High School, St. Mary’s Rushoroza, Buddo SS, Trinity College, Nabbingo, Gayaza High School, King’s College Budo, Turkish Light College, Naalya SS (Namugongo) and Nabisunsa Girls School. The schools that topped the admissions are Bweranyangi Girls, Kawempe Muslims, Crested SS and Kitabi Seminary. In 2011, Kitende, Namugongo and Mengo still had the highest number of students, who were admitted on government sponsorship to the five public universities. Others are Gombe SS, Masaka SS, Kawempe Muslims, St. Mary’s College Kisubi and Naalya SS. About 64 upscale schools had more than 10 students admitted on government scholarships to public universities this year. A total of 113 schools countrywide had only one student admitted on government Sponsorship. In 2010, still Kitende, Kawempe, Budo and Namagunga had some of the highest number of students admitted on government sponsorship. Other schools that performed were Uganda Martyrs’ Namugongo, Mulusa Academy, Ntare School, St. Mary’s College Kisubi, Naalya SS (Bweyogerere), BP Cyprian Kihangire SS.

Some senior educationists like Makerere University’s chancellor Prof. Mondo Kagonyera have argued that the government sponsorship scheme in public universities be scrapped and replaced with one which caters for poor students only. This, he observes, is because the scheme benefits children from well-to-do families, who attend top schools, while the under-privileged counterparts, who go to rural schools, cannot compete for the limited slots. In a 2004 paper, Government Student Sponsorship at Makerere University: a Fivefold Paradox, it was found that 80% of the 39 schools from which over 70% of the students admitted to Makerere came from, charged a lot more tuition fees than some of the most populous university faculties and schools.

come fly with me

Just days after his ruling African National Congress party discussed ways to alleviate the growing gap between rich and poor people in South Africa, President Jacob Zuma is on the verge of purchasing a $230-million presidential jet. The Boeing 777 aircraft, seating about 300 people, will cost $150 million to purchase and another $80 million to customize.

South Africa’s Defense Department, which supervises the transport of senior government officials, may also purchase a second private plane -- a Global Express 600 -- for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe at a cost of $28 million.

Opposition politicians are outraged over the proposed lavish expenditures in a country where at least one-quarter of the population is unemployed and 40 percent live on less than $49 per month.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

India and China in Africa

According to the World Bank, Indian and Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa has grown dramatically. To date, China has been the largest single investor, aid-giver and trade partner on the continent, with 127 billion dollars in resource extraction and infrastructure deals in 2010. Only a very small component of Chinese investment in Africa creates jobs. India has much less financial muscle than China, but its influence in Africa is on a rapid rise. It currently accounts for 46 billion dollars in trade deals on the continent and has announced it will invest 70 billion dollars by 2015. India has invested in buying off agricultural land to fight food price inflation in its own country. India doesn't have better labour standards than China. Exploitation, corruption and bribery are rife in IndiaExports from Africa to Asia tripled in the last five years, to 27 percent of total Asian imports, according to 2010 World Bank data.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Refugees on half-rations

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has halved food rations to refugees living in camps in at least four African countries citing a funding shortfall.

The cuts have already affected 16,000 refugees in Malawi’s Dzaleka camp who have been on half rations since March, while a further 120,000 refugees in Uganda began receiving half rations of cereals in May.

According to WFP, another 100,000 refugees in Tanzania saw their maize rations cut by 50 percent starting from last week, and rations for some 54,000 refugees living in Rwanda are expected to be cut in August unless donors come forward with more funding.

“Even the full ration wasn’t enough,”
said Sanky Kabeya, a 24-year-old resident of Dzaleka  “I haven’t taken breakfast this morning and many are in the same situation.” 

 Michelle Carter, country director for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Malawi, which runs a number of educational and other programmes in the camp, said the cuts were “clearly leading to a fair amount of hunger… I know children are coming to school hungry,” she told IRIN.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sudan's Spring Arrives

Protesters blocked roads in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital,  on Saturday, the eighth day of widening unrest sparked by rising prices. Inflation has risen each month, hitting 30.4 percent in May, before Finance Minister Ali Mahmud al-Rasul on Wednesday announced the scrapping of fuel subsidies, causing an immediate jump in the price of petrol. Bankrupt Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan gained independence last July leaving the north struggling for revenue, plagued by inflation, and with a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports. The country's poverty rate is 46.5 percent, the United Nations says

Witnesses reported five separate demonstrations across the city after nightfall despite a police order to stamp out the unrest. Throughout the city, shouts against high food prices mixed with calls for freedom and an end to the 33-year regime of President Omar al-Bashir. The people are "fed up," said a taxi driver coping with a government-imposed fuel price increase of about 50 percent which took effect this week. Police and plain-clothed state intelligence agents have adopted a zero-tolerance policy, using tear gas, batons and whips against protesters.

The demonstrations symbolise "mass rejection of the regime's oppressive policies and its failure in governing this country," said Sudan Change Now, an activist youth movement. "The government must immediately retract the austerity measures it has adopted which reflect the distortion in its expenditure which continues to prioritise defence and security at the expense of social services,"

In Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman, an AFP reporter saw separate groups of about 100 protesters scattering when police arrived firing tear gas or wielding batons. Witnesses in the eastern city of Gedaref said that about 200 people gathered in the main market where they denounced the high cost of food before police dispersed them with batons. "We will not be governed by a dictatorship!" they shouted, the witnesses said. Poverty is endemic in Gedaref and the two other eastern states of Kassala and Red Sea.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

ANC Nationalism

....While there were times, throughout the 20th century struggle against the apartheid system (and state), when the movements of African nationalism imbibed certain progressive elements and ideas (e.g. common struggles of all oppressed peoples against colonialism/imperialism), it remained what it was (nationalism) and within what gave it any meaning (the nation state). Given also that such (black) ‘African nationalism’ was in constant ideological and practical ‘competition’ with (white) ‘Afrikaner nationalism’ (in control of the state), South African nationalism was further constructed by the realities of that competition/struggle. This created an even deeper sense of national ‘uniqueness’ and thrust towards a reclaiming of a differentially applied, ‘true’ nationalism.

When the dominant African nationalist force, the ANC, won the 1994 elections, it took political control of an existent national state that had been built to secure the dominant interests of a (white) national bourgeoisie. There was a changing of the nationalist ‘guard’. The only difference was that now, the state was in the hands of a movement whose main aim was to build, and secure, the interests of a black nationalist (as opposed to white nationalist) bourgeoisie, notwithstanding the ANC’s constant claims of the leading role of the working class. In this sense then, the democratic victory of 1994 represented, above all else, the triumph of a majority (black) nationalism over a minority (white) nationalism.

This politically, state-centred ‘changing of the nationalist guard’ was overlaid by the ANC’s acceptance (indeed, embracement) of South Africa’s capitalist political economy, within the context of a dominant, global capitalist neo-liberalism. The two went hand-in-hand. What was thus demanded was the creation of a dominant discourse of ‘nation-building’ as a means to politically legitimise the role and character of the ‘new’ state and the ‘place’ of those under its command. The majority black population who had, historically, been denied any meaningful national or international ‘belonging’, were told that they could achieve both because they were now the ‘real’ owners of a nation state dedicated to securing their national identity, interests as well as their (nationally-located) international status and position.

Over the last several years, what has been consciously, politically constructed then is a ‘new’ kind of nationalist popular hegemony (ideology), congruent with a ‘new’ national identity and politics but within the same historical framework of capitalist development. This macro-design creates the illusion (and the accompanying politics) that the struggle for political and socio-economic liberation by the black majority was, and remains, defined by the active and loyal participation of an ‘authentic national subject’ bounded by the ‘new’ nation state and a ‘new’ nationalism. 

To a large extent, this South Africa specific example of the ‘naturalising’ of nationalism, alongside its capitalist twin, has worked.  Despite regular and even increasing shows of dissatisfaction with the performance of the state and the maldistribution of socio-economic benefit, there is no sign that the majority has jettisoned the ‘national popular project’. Nor is there any sustained sign of the same at the global level.

 The reality is that the capitalist system, at a global political and institutional level, fundamentally remains a constellation of various nationalisms. While such nationalisms might be differentially ‘practiced’ in tandem with the changing nature of the capitalist system of production, accumulation and distribution, they are fundamentally grounded in a common ideology, which, over time, always ‘returns’ to the source. Even the presence of "socialists/communists" in the management and leadership of the nation state and/or the nationalist movement has proven time and again to make little difference in this regard, although it might make a difference in relation to how the national cake is cut.

As can be so plainly seen as a result of the latest capitalist crisis, the role of the nation and nationalism has done anything but engage in a disappearing act. Indeed, that role has taken on greater importance/centrality. This is the case not only in reproducing the conceptual/spiritual power of the ‘nation’ and the politics of nationalism which allows varying degrees of popular support/impetus (whether as applied to ‘opposition’ and/or acquiescence) but in resurrecting the specific role of the national state in ‘rescuing’ and/or managing the key component parts of the capitalist system itself – and thus temporarily ‘addressing’ the crisis.

Not surprisingly, it is the billions of poor and working class people that have borne, and will continue to bear, the dominant burden of these acts of systemic reproduction. It is when this majority of humanity, of whatever national ‘identity’ or place, no longer accepts and embraces the janus-faced ideology of nationalism that there will emerge the real possibility for breaking the back of a capitalist system whose trump card always has been, and always will be, the cul-de-sac of nationalism.

extract from Dr. McKinley article

Friday, June 22, 2012

Too Many Africans? No, Too Much Wealth

Africa is often said to be overpopulated. But it is quite easy to debunk this myth. The continent is a spacious and rich land-mass that can support its population well into the foreseeable future.

Africa’s population is currently 1 billion covering a vast landmass of 11,668,599 sq miles. Ethiopia’s landmass is 471,775 sq miles, five times the size of Britain’s 94,226 sq miles. Yet Britain’s population of 62 million is three-quarters that of Ethiopia’s at 83 million. As for Somalia, it is 2.6 times the size of Britain but has a population of only 9 million. Sudan and South Sudan provide an even more fascinating comparison. Whilst both countries are 10 times the size of Britain, they support a population of 45 million – about 70 per cent the size of Britain. In fact the Sudans have a landmass equal to that of India which is populated by 1.22 billion people i.e. more than the population of all of Africa! Britain is one-tenth the size of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which has a landmass of 905,562 sq miles. In other words, the DRC is about ten times the size of Britain but with a population of 71 million, just nine million more than the population of the latter. Uganda’s landmass at 91,135 sq miles is comparable to Britain’s, yet with a population of only 33 million. Similarly, Ghana’s landmass of 92,099 sq miles makes it approximately equal to the size of Britain. Ghana is however populated by only 25 million people, far less than one-half Britain’s population. Angola and South Africa are about 4-5 times the size of Britain but with one-fifth and four-fifths respectively of the latter’s population.

On the question of resource, its availability or lack of it, and therefore its ability or inability to support the African population - another component of Africa’s ‘over-population’ fallacy -  well over 50 per cent of Uganda’s arable land, some of the richest in Africa, remains uncultivated. Were Uganda to expand its current food production significantly, not only would it be completely self-sufficient, but it would be able to feed all the countries contiguous to its territory without difficulty. Just about a quarter of the potential arable land of Africa is being cultivated presently. Even here, an increasingly high proportion of the cultivated area is assigned to so-called cash-crops (cocoa, coffee, tea, groundnut, sisal, cut flowers, etc.) for export. As for the remaining 75 per cent of Africa’s uncultivated land, this represents 66 per cent of the entire world’s potential. This vast acreage of rich farmlands with capacity to optimally support the food needs of generations of African peoples indefinitely. In addition, the famous fish industry in Senegal, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana for instance, Botswana’s rich cattle farms, West Africa’s yam and plantain belts extending from southern Cameroon to the Casamance province of Senegal, the continent’s rich rice production fields, etc. The current economic situation demonstrates that if the  acreage devoted to cultivation is expanded and expressly targeted to address Africa’s own internal consumption needs rather than land use directed to the calamitous waste of cash-crop production for export there need be no food shortages. It is an inexcusable tragedy that any African child, woman, or man could go without food in the light of the staggering endowment of resources in Africa. Africa constitutes a spacious, rich and arable landmass that can support its population, which is still one of the world’s least densely populated and distributed, into the indefinite future.

Despite the ravages of history of foreign conquest and occupation and the virulence of locally-brewed tyranny of genocidal regimes and fellow-travellers, Africa remains one of the world’s most wealthy and potentially one of the world’s wealthiest continents. The world is only too aware of the array of strategic minerals such as cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, industrial diamonds, iron ore, manganese, phosphates, titanium, uranium, and of course petroleum oil found in virtually all regions across the continent.

Africa must utilise its immense resources and must abandon the system of  nation-states. We require no reminders that the primary existence of these states is to destroy or disable as many enterprisingly resourceful and resource-based constituent peoples. The state is an instrument of capital interests is providing cheap and disposable labour, land, and legal privileges to land grabbers. It is abundantly clear that the factors which have contributed to determining the very poor quality of life of Africa’s population presently have to do with the non-use, partial use, or the gross misuse of the continent’s resources year in, year out has been thanks to those nation-states whose strategic resources are mostly used to support foreign capitalists and advance the interests of the groupings of  the local overseers - the national government and its capitalists - that exist solely to police the dire lot of the average African.

Adapted from here

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Zambia's watered down election promise

United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that about 4.8 million of Zambia's 13 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. 6.6 million people are without access to proper sanitation. Drinking river water is not a safe practice and is fraught with danger and disease and is infested with black flies, which harbour a parasite known as nematode or roundworm. When these parasites are transmitted to a human they cause River Blindness and then there is bilharzia, a tropical disease that causes one’s skin to itch. Other symptoms include diarrhoea, fever, vomiting and blood in the urine.

The Patriotic Front was elected to government in September 2011 and in the election campaign, President Michael Sata’s PF promised to provide hand pumps and community latrines to those who lacked them. The party also promised that within 90 days of the new government’s taking office, people in rural areas would have access to safe drinking water. But now, almost nine months later but many wonder if the commitment to change the lives of those living in rural Zambia will ever materialise.

Sudan - look the other way

This week will mark a year since Sudan began its brutal counterinsurgency campaign in the Nuba Mountains, intended to crush a rebel force. Sudan bars outsiders. Sudan has expelled aid workers, blocked food shipments and humanitarian aid, and dropped bombs haphazardly — and almost daily — on its own citizens. Hundreds of thousands of people here have no food and are reduced to eating leaves and insects, as Sudan’s government starves and bombs its own people. Many Nuba will starve to death in the coming months.

Unlike Syria world leaders are mostly turning a blind eye.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ghana's inequality widens

Booming construction, gleaming shopping malls. The economic boom, especially in Ghana is obvious. The economy grew by 14 percent in 2011, one of the fastest rates in Africa. Since 2000, the economy has recorded an average growth of five percent per annum, but it shot up in 2010 when oil production began. Per capita income has more than tripled in from $400 in 2000 and is likely to reach $1,400 in 2012.

 However, a similar rate of growth has eluded the northern provinces, where there are fewer roads and less infrastructure, poorer housing and not nearly as many modern businesses as in the south. The World Bank noted in a 2011 report that while 2.5 million people in the south shook off poverty between 1992 and 2006, in the same period almost a million people in the north slipped into poverty. Inequality is also widening in Accra, where many people from the countryside, especially the youth, come in search of jobs, but development in the capital has pushed up the cost of living and many fall further into poverty, said Eugenie Maiga, an economist at the African Centre for Economic Transformation, a policy think-tank.

 Inflation, currently around nine percent, has been climbing for 14 months, weakening the currency and eroding purchasing power. The cost of food and rent has gone up across the country. "This is negatively affecting access to food in the north, where the proportion of food-insecure people is the highest in the country," the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a March 2012 report. Many in the northern countryside can no longer afford basic foods. Rental prices in Accra are becoming prohibitive, with civil servants and other middle-income workers compelled to a take loan to secure a rented house. Most landlords are now asking tenants to pay their rent for one or even two years in advance

" far as I am concerned, life is still as tough as it was before," said Augustine, a taxi driver.

 Sanitation services in the capital and rural areas are equally poor. Just 13 percent of Ghanaians have access to clean sanitation, according to the UN Children's Fund, while 80 percent of all childhood diseases are caused by unsafe water, says NGO Water Aid. Service provision has lagged behind growth

Monday, June 18, 2012

stealing land for sugar

The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing tens of thousands from their land to make way for state-run sugar plantations, Human Rights Watch has said.

HRW says that in order to make space for the plantations, government security forces are compelling communities to relocate from their traditional lands, using violence and intimidation. "Military units regularly visited villages to intimidate residents and suppress dissent related to the sugar plantation development". It added that "soldiers regularly stole or killed cattle".
Unpublished Ethiopian government maps show plans for sugar plantations covering nearly a quarter of a million hectares. The maps also show processing factories, irrigation channels and large tracts of land reserved for other forms of commercial agriculture.

If the plans go ahead they could affect at least 200,000 people in the Omo Valley and another 300,000 Kenyans living across the border around Lake Turkana, which derives up to 90% of its water from the Omo River.

"Ethiopia's ambitious plans for the Omo Valley appear to ignore the rights of the people who live there,"
said Ben Rawlence, of Human Rights Watch.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Water Grab

Few countries in Africa have received more foreign interest in their farmland than those served by the Nile River. The Nile, Africa's longest river, is a lifeline especially for Egypt, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda. This economically, ecologically and politically fragile Nile basin is now the target of a new wave of large-scale agriculture projects. Three of the main countries in the basin, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan have, together, already leased out millions of hectares in the basin and are offering more. To bring this land into production, all of it will need to be irrigated. Ethiopia is the source of some 80% of the Nile water.

Those who have been buying up vast stretches of farmland in recent years, whether based in Dubai or City of London, understand that it's the access to water that they get from the land deals, which they often get for free and without restriction, that may well be worth the most over the long-term. "The value is not in the land," says Neil Crowder, whose UK-based company, Chayton Capital, has been acquiring farmland in Zambia. "The real value is in water.” And water is abundant in Africa, according to those behind the hundreds of large farmland deals that have been signed across Africa. They say the continent's water resources are vastly under-utilised, and they want to harness them for their agriculture projects. A closer look at where these deals are taking place and how much water they plan to consume shows that the projects will rob millions of people of their access to water and risk to deplete the continent's most precious fresh water sources.

The Nile
In its Gambela region on the border with South Sudan, corporations such as Karuturi from India and Saudi Star from Saudi Arabia are already building big irrigation channels that will massively increase Ethiopia's withdrawal of water from the Nile. And these are just two of the actors involved. One calculation suggests that if all the land that the country has leased out is brought under production and irrigation it will increase the country's use of freshwater resources for agriculture by a factor of nine. Further downstream, in South Sudan and Sudan, some 4.9 million hectares of land has been leased out to foreign corporations since 2006. That is more than the size of the whole of the Netherlands. And further up north, Egypt is also leasing out land and implementing its own new irrigation projects. Of course, it remains to be seen how much of all this will actually be brought into production and under irrigation, but it is difficult to imagine that the Nile can handle this onslaught. Reliable figures on how much irrigation is actually possible and sustainable are difficult to find. The FAO, in various publications and in its Aquastat database, gives figures on 'irrigation potential' and actual irrigation by country and river basin. FAO establishes 8 million hectares as the total 'maximum value' available for total irrigation in all 10 countries of the Nile basin. But the 4 countries mentioned above already have irrigation infrastructure established for 5.4 million hectares and have now leased out a further 8.6 million hectares of land where irrigation will be developed.

The Niger
Another part of Africa targeted by agribusiness is the lands along the Niger River, West Africa's biggest river. Mali, Niger and Nigeria are the countries most dependent on the river, but seven other countries in the Niger basin share its water. It is also extremely fragile as it has suffered from man-made interventions such as dams, irrigation and pollution. Water experts estimate that the volume of the Niger has shrunk by one-third during the last three decades alone. In Mali, the river spreads out into a vast inland delta which constitutes Mali's main agricultural zone and one of the region's most important wetlands. It is here where many of the land grabbing projects are concentrated. The Office du Niger presides over the irrigation of over 70,000 ha, mainly for the production of rice. It is the largest irrigation scheme in West Africa, and it uses a substantial part of all the river's water, especially during the dry season. Back in the 1990s, the FAO put Mali's potential to irrigate from the Niger at a bit over half a million ha. But now, due to increased water scarcity, independent experts conclude that the whole of Mali has the water capacity to irrigate only 250,000 ha. Yet the Malian government has already signed away 470,000 ha to foreign companies from Libya, China, the UK, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the past few years, and is offering much more.

The Nile and the Niger basins are just two of the areas where land and water rights are massively being given away. The Ethiopian government is constructing a dam in the Omo River to generate electricity and irrigate a huge sugar-cane plantation – a project that threatens hundreds of thousands of indigenous people that depend on the river further downstream. It also threatens to empty the world’s biggest desert lake, fed by the Omo River, Lake Turkana. In Kenya, a tremendous controversy has arisen from the government's plans to hand out huge areas of land in the delta of the Tana River with disastrous implications for the local communities depending on the delta's water.The already degraded Senegal River basin and its delta have been subject to hundreds of thousands of hectares in land deals, putting foreign agribusiness in direct competition for the water with local farmers. The list goes on and is growing by the day.

The areas where land grabbing is concentrated in Africa coincide almost completely with the continent's largest river and lake systems, and in most of these areas irrigation is a prerequisite of commercial production. If this land and water grab is not put to an end, millions of Africans are going to lose access to water sources which they need for their livelihoods, as they are moved out of the areas where land/water deals have been agreed to, or simply see the access to their traditional water sources blocked by newly built fences, canals and dikes that are owned by someone else. There is simply not enough water in Africa's rivers and water tables to provide irrigation for all of the large-scale agriculture projects that foreign companies are pursuing. If and when they are put under production, these 21st century industrial plantations will rapidly destroy, deplete and pollute water sources across the continent. Such models of agricultural production have generated enormous problems of soil degradation, salinisation and water logging wherever they have been applied. Africa is in no shape for such an imposition. Over one in three Africans live with water scarcity, and the continent's food production is set to suffer more than any other from climate change.

If the goal is to increase food production, then there is ample evidence that this can be most effectively done by building on the traditional water management and soil conservation systems of local communities, and by strengthening collective and customary rights over land and water sources

Friday, June 15, 2012

Spying on Africa

 Following on from Socialist Banners earlier posts on AFRICOM and the growing American military presence in the continent we read that the United States military is expanding a secret network of air bases across Africa in order to spy on al-Qaeda and other such groups, a US newspaper said.

The surveillance is carried out by small, unmarked turboprop planes with hidden state-of-the-art sensors that fly thousands of kilometres between air bases and bush landing strips across the vast continent, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

 Bases in Burkina Faso and Mauritania are used to spy on al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), while bases in Uganda are used in the hunt for the Lord's Resistance Army. In East Africa, US aircraft operating out of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Seychelles archipelago spy on Somalia's Qaeda-inspired Al-Shebab militia and have reportedly launched attacks on wanted fighters. There are plans to open another base in South Sudan

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A lesser evil is still evil

A year ago, waves of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa swept away western-backed tyrants one after the other - first Tunisia’s Ben Ali, then Egypt’s Mubarak. Occupiers from London to Wall Street were proud to “Walk like an Egyptian”. These revolts had echoes in other countries because they shared the same detonators of the explosion: authoritarianism, inegalitarian development, high unemployment, poverty, endemic corruption and nepotism, a suffocated political life, repression, human rights abuses, a frustrated educated youth without horizons and parasitic bourgeoisies who continue their protected robbery, exploitation and self-enrichment. It put to rest the lie the racist stereotype and contemptuous cliché that Arabs and Muslims are not fit for democracy. The Arab Spring debunked these myths.

From the beginning of the Egyptian protests, the powers that be have launched a counter-revolution to contain the struggle in a process of meaningless, piecemeal political reforms, aimed at deflecting people from a revolutionary path. The political elites has been of dismissing and appointing ministers in cabinet and committee reshuffles, conducting referendums parliamentary and now presidential elections. None of which represents any substantial, real democracy. Some people say that democratic change will come from above. But as long as the masses do not exercise pressure from beneath, struggle to radically change the status quo will be unfulfilled and the interests of the profiteering cast will be maintained.

Egyptians find themselves with a choice between ‘two evils’. These are: Ahmed Shafiq, who representing the interests of the previous regime guarantees ‘security’ and ‘stability’ ; and Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood who we are expected to believe will  ‘save’ us from the ‘old regime’ through a cultural and religious renaissance - all the while consolidating the financial and capitalist hegemony which depends on the rampant exploitation of Egypt’s people and their resources.

Most voters (75 per cent) have chosen neither Shafiq nor Morsi in the first round of elections. There is another choice - the immediate and uncompromising rejection of the status quo: of exploitation and class division, of militarized power and police repression. Egyptians must protest against the narrow perspective that says democracy is merely choosing the lesser of ‘two evils'.

The struggle in the workplace and factories, in the schools and universities and popular committees in the neighbourhoods must continue, an ongoing revolution, a revolution that will only be realized by the strength, community and persistence of the people. It is time to renew the struggle for a true liberation and meaningful democratic change, and to build a strong mass-movement against authoritarianism and any form of oppression and injustice.

The World Socialist Movement and the blog Socialist Banner are striving to build a platform for debate and an exchange of ideas regarding the challenges that face the people of Africa, from Cairo to Capetown.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Africom expands

A brigade will deploy to Africa next year in a pilot program that assigns brigades on a rotational basis to regions around the globe, the Army announced in May. Roughly 3,000 soldiers — and likely more — are expected to serve tours across the continent in 2013, training foreign militaries and aiding locals. As part of a “regionally aligned force concept,” soldiers will live and work among Africans in safe communities approved by the U.S. government, said Maj. Gen. David R. Hogg, head of U.S. Army Africa.


the Arab land-grab

Dr Fahd bin Abdulrahman Balghunaim, minister for agriculture for Saudi Arabia explains Saudi  oil keeps the world turning, but the Kingdom is thirsty for water. For years, the government subsidised domestic food production to feed its 25 million population - supporting the production of around 3 million tonnes of wheat per year, along with barley and other crops - but the costs of irrigation are spiralling and the Saudi natural water supply dwindling. The sweltering, sandy expanse of Saudi Arabia does not boast a comparative advantage in agriculture.

The food price spikes of 2007-8 hit the government coffers hard. To quash its impact on welfare, the state increased government salaries, subsidised a basket of basic products including rice and baby milk, and cut import tariffs on 180 basic commodities. But these were shock absorbers. A longer term strategy was also launched, known as the King Abdullah Initiative, which supports Saudi investment in foreign land, especially for the production of rice, wheat, barley, corn, sugar, green fodders, and animal resources.

He says : "Food you can import, but water is very different.... We decided to lower our reliance on locally produced wheat [to be phased out by 2016]. The government said it will phase out buying wheat from local producers and go towards importing wheat from abroad".

Saudi investors identified around 30 destination countries worldwide - from Kazakhstan and Turkey to the Philippines and Vietnam. But Africa - a short ride over the Gulf of Aden - is arguably the most attractive. Africa also has the highest potential for increasing food production globally  In May 2009, the Saudi king headed a ceremony to receive the first batch of rice grown in Ethiopia, where Saudi investors spent $100 million to grow wheat, barley and rice on land leased to them by the Ethiopian government.

When asked whether Saudi land investment is causing dispossession, food insecurity or conflict in Africa, Dr Balghunaim responded in no uncertain terms. "I honestly didn't hear any complaint coming out of Africa...I never heard of even a single displacement. Never, from reliable sources...I assure you there are none whatsoever"


Also see here for more on the Arab land-grab

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Congo Gold

The profits and riches to be gained from exploitation of Eastern Congo's natural resources continue to be the cause of  the suffering of the Congolese people. The wars in the Eastern Congo have been responsible for the deaths of millions of Congolese who paid the price of living in a very rich with failing or non-existent civil institutions. These wars have involved nine African nations and directly affected the lives of 50 million Congolese. Between August 1998 and April 2004 some 3.8 million people died violent deaths in the DRC. Since 2004 this number has almost doubled. Many of these deaths were due to starvation or disease that resulted from the war, as well as from summary executions and capture by one or more of a group of irregular marauding bands. Millions more had become internally displaced or had sought asylum in neighbouring countries. Rape has been  endemic.

Eastern Congo was left mainly in the hands of Uganda and Rwanda. This created a situation where the occupying forces could engage in the massive looting of eastern DRC's riches. Theft of livestock, coffee beans and other resources began to be reported with frequency. By the time the August 1998 war broke out, Rwandans and Ugandans (top officers and their associates) had a strong sense of the potential of the natural resources, especially coltan, and their locations in eastern DRC.

The Ugandan forces were eager to move in and occupy areas where gold and diamond mines were located. In September 1998 this looting was put in the hands of General General Salim Saleh (born Caleb Afande Akandwanaho, 14 January 1960), Museveni's brother, a proven money-launderer, drug dealer, resource thief and plunderer. Salim Saleh formed a company which would supply the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo with merchandise, and would return with natural resources. The project never materialised in this form, but took the form of pure looting and pillage under the protection of the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. Despite their claims of a security concern, some top army officials clearly had a hidden agenda: economic and financial objectives. A few months before the 1998 war broke out, General Salim Saleh and the elder son of President Museveni reportedly visited the eastern DRC. One month after the beginning of the conflict, General James Kazini was already involved in commercial activities. He already knew the most profitable sectors and immediately organised the local commanders to serve their economic and financial objectives.

This was mirrored in the activities of the Rwandans. At the heart of the financial setting was the Banque de commerce, du développement et d'industrie (BCDI) located in Kigali. This was the initial vehicle through which all revenues were passed at the initial stages of Rwandan and Ugandan engagement in the DRC. Then, when the war broke out the Rwandans retained the BCDI as their conduit and the Ugandans set up their own. The extraction of minerals rose to a fever pitch as hostilities began with no attention to safe or rational methods of extraction. The Rwandans have been backing 'rebel' military warlords like Laurent Nkunda or Bosco Ntanganda. These provide the fig leaf for Rwanda's continuing rape of the Congo.

Eastern Congo became controlled by warlords and militia groups whose exploitation took the form of pillage, rape and murder. Most of these groups have alliances with either the Rwandan or Ugandan governments which handle the physical trade in the wealth which is exported.They operate with impunity. The people most responsible for the continuing atrocities are protected. These include Yoweri Museveni, Salim Saleh, Paul Kagame, James Kazini, Moses Ali, James Kabarebe, Taban Amin, Jean-Pierre Bemba, Laurent Nkunda, Bosco Ntanganda, Meles Zenawi and a long list of people whose culpability is without question; many of whom have been named for atrocities again and again. Bemba was finally brought to the ICC to stand trial. This was more to do with his political opposition to Kabila Junior and the Central African Republic than his depredations in the Eastern Congo.

Theoretically, the United Nations has teams of peacekeepers in the DRC, MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo renamed the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). In fact many peacekeepers of the MONUC were engaged in rape, murder and pillage for their own account. Their presence in the DRC adds to the fears of the population.

The illegal exploitation of natural resources went beyond mineral and agricultural resources. It occurred in respect of financial transactions, taxes and the use of cheap labour. Local banks and insurance companies operating in Goma, Bukavu, Kisangani, Bunia and Gbadolite dealt directly with Kigali or Kampala. In areas controlled by Bemba, peasants carrying palm oil on bicycles had to pay taxes on the bicycles. In the mining sector, direct extraction was carried out in three ways, namely (a) by individual soldiers for their own benefit; (b) by locals organised by Rwandan and Ugandan commanders; and (c) by foreign nationals for the army or commanders' benefit.


Who is going to protect us from our protectors

The world has turned its attention to  the fight against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA is a Ugandan organisation with a bloody history. The Ugandan reaction to the LRA has been equally brutal. Joseph Kony is the head of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) He has declared that the LRA will conduct a political, military and spiritual campaign to establish theocratic government based on the Ten Commandments in Uganda. The LRA say that God sent spirits to communicate this mission directly to Kony. The LRA has earned a reputation for its untrammelled violence against the people of several countries, including northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan. The LRA has derived most of its support from the displaced and dominated Acholi people who have been driven from their homes and whose families remain in displacement camps. The LRA has abducted and forced an estimated 66,000 children to fight for them, and has also forced the internal displacement of over 2 million people since its rebellion began in 1986. There were many international attempts at peace and an end to the abduction of children by the LRA between 1996 and 2001. All of them failed to end the abductions, rape, child soldiers, and civilian casualties including attacks on refugee camps. After the September 11th attacks, the United States declared the Lord's Resistance Army a terrorist group and Joseph Kony a terrorist.

Following the breakdown of peace talks in late 2008, the National Security Council authorised AFRICOM to support a military operation (one of the first publicly-acknowledged AFRICOM operations) against the LRA, which was believed to be in the Congo at the time. AFRICOM provided training and US$1 million in financial support for 'Operation Lightning Thunder' - a joint endeavour of the Ugandan, Congolese and South Sudan forces in Congolese territory launched in December 2008 to 'eliminate the threat posed by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)'. According to the United Nations, the offensive 'never consulted with partners on the ground on the requirements of civilian protection. Stretching over a three-month period, it failed in its mission and the LRA scattered and retaliated against the Congolese population; over 1,000 people were killed and up to 200,000 displaced. In October 2011, US President Obama authorised the deployment of approximately 100 combat-equipped U.S. troops to central Africa. They will help regional forces 'remove from the battlefield' Joseph Kony and senior LRA leaders. 'Although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defence', Obama said to Congress.

There is no doubt that the LRA is a vicious, sociopathic organisation which engages in brutal behaviour. However, the people who are leading the fight against the LRA (Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame) have committed and continue to commit equally outrageous crimes and attacks of a similar nature, especially among the displaced wanderers of the Eastern Congo, but are feted and rewarded by the US Government for their willingness to provide mercenaries for the US 'War on Terror' and the protection of the newly emerging oil industry in their countries and region. Unfortunately, the area in which the LRA conduct their atrocities is exactly where major new finds of oil have been discovered. Underpinning the Western interest in the region is the discovery of oil in Kenya, Uganda and along the shores of Lake Albert. The war between Sudan and South Sudan has made it imperative to find a route for the oil to reach the ports of the Indian Ocean as the Sudan pipeline is closed to them. The routes out all go through the territory of the rump of the remaining LRA (there are less than 600 fighters left). This struggle against the LRA has allowed the US to continue its policy of building African mercenary armies to fight its battles against 'Global Terror' in the Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Kenya. It supplies weapons, instructors and communication facilities to the Ugandan and Rwandan armies to combat the LRA and to fight against the US' enemies in Somalia. Unfortunately this has also empowered the Ugandans and Rwandans in the rape of the Eastern Congo in the name of fighting the LRA.

The US does not have the public support for the sending of combat troops to East and Central Africa. It does have the equipment, cash and trainers to create surrogate forces in the area. In this, having a common enemy, like the LRA, is a convenient hook on which to hang a commercial policy. The LRA doesn't have to be strong; it just has to be considered vicious and beyond the pale. It matches those criteria. The US interests and the Ugandan and Rwandan military ambitions overlap and the two armies are being paid vast sums to act as US surrogates. Museveni and Kagame are feted by the West as valuable allies, despite their activities in the DRC. This policy is likely to continue the unrestrained pillage of the Eastern Congo and the continued misery, poverty, fear and violence of and to the Congolese people. The Congolese echo the question posed originally by the Tribune of the People, Tiberius Gracchus, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" (Who is going to protect us from our protectors?).


Friday, June 08, 2012

Mauritanian Arab Spring

Many people have never heard of Mauritania, and most would probably be unable to pinpoint it on a map even though its land mass is larger than France and Germany combined. Many Arabs are unaware that it is a member of the Arab League. Since January 2011, when Yacoub Ould Dahoud fatally set himself alight in front of the presidential palace, the country has been ungoing an Arab Spring. Protests have taken place across Mauritania ever since, spurred by the same factors as in other Arab states: economic, political and social disenfranchisement. But unlike those in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere in the region, Mauritania's have been barely a blip on the news radar. Very low internet usage in the country – reportedly less than 2% of households – has made it difficult for Mauritanians to get their views, eyewitness accounts and images out to the rest of the world. It is the overlooked uprising.

 Few have taken little interest in Mauritania since its independence from France in 1960, because until recently it was seen as a poor expanse of desert with little strategic value (it has one of the lowest GDPs in Africa, making it among the poorest countries in the world). However, its importance is likely to increase, and with it the world's attention. Mauritania's extensive iron ore deposits, which account for almost half of its exports, have increased in value due to rising metal prices, leading to more mines being opened, and increased revenues. Furthermore, oil was discovered in 2001, although Mauritanians have yet to benefit because the country lacks the necessary infrastructure to fully exploit its reserves. However, with production on the rise, several oil exploration deals inked in the last year, the potential windfall is huge.

 There is also the possibility, or perhaps even the probability, that the protests in Mauritania will intensify, mainly because the government seems not to have learned from the mistakes of other Arab regimes that are under threat. It has used a combination of repression and pledges of reform that have left Mauritanians unconvinced and more frustrated. Demonstrations have thus far been peaceful and centred around reforms. However, as in other Arab states, if protesters feel they are being indefinitely ignored or oppressed, not only might calls for reform become demands for regime change, but violence may become a means to advance those demands – a particularly dangerous development given Mauritania's ethnic fault lines.

 Mauritanians are no less deserving of their rights, rather than the self-serving interests of  the world powers.

Taken from here

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Kenya - the oil curse arrives

Although just a few hundred kilometres from Nairobi, the county of Turkana feels more like a million miles away from the gleaming skyscrapers and concentrations of power and money found in Kenya’s capital. Locals speak of “Kenya” as if it were an entirely different country and of “Kenyans” - or “the people with long trousers” - as if they were foreigners.

Turkana’s socioeconomic indicators do indeed set it apart. More than 96 percent of its predominantly pastoralist population are categorized as poor, the highest proportion in the country. Turkana also trails near the bottom of national leagues in terms of employment, literacy and healthcare spending.  Only 39 percent of the youth aged 15-18 in Turkana attend school, compared to the national average of 70.9 percent. With climate change, cattle-raiding and agricultural development the viability of the pastoralist livelihood is eroded.

Newly-confirmed oil reserves are set to go on stream in the next few years. “Until recently many people did not know what oil as a resource means. Most of them were asking if water could instead be drilled for them,” said Lokichar resident Robert Kamaro.

“Oil is being seen as a ladder to help the people go up,”
said Christopher Ekaru Loskipat, coordinator of the Catholic Peace and Justice Commission (CPJC) in Lodwa “When the companies come here, the local people expect employment. If this is not done, we are anticipating conflict. What will the government trickle down as the benefit to the community?”

But according to oil industry analyst Antony Goldman, no major jobs bonanza is on the horizon. "Typically oil is capital- rather than labour-intensive: unlike mining, it does not yield many unskilled or semi-skilled jobs,”

“The government needs to build schools for our children, drill boreholes. We believe that we will benefit, especially the vulnerable,”
Simon Esekwen, who lives close to Lokichar.

Rather, the real impact of the oil find will be on land prices and government revenue.

Joseph Elim, coordinator of Riam Riam, a local NGO said, “I heard some people ask, `What will happen to pastoralists?’ or `Will they deport us to Sudan?’ There is a need for information to counter the alarmists. The people are saying: `We do not want people with long trousers coming here because they have colluded with those who have sold the land’." People in Turkana are also worried about being left out of any appreciation of land prices that are likely to arise from development of the oil field. Land in the county is communally owned, and managed by the county council. “When the oil was found, people started saying, `Now we are in Kenya, good things are coming out of this place’. But coming from a pastoral community that did not attach monetary value to land, now they wonder: `What about this whole mass of land that investors are going to be interested in’?”

“Here we do not have title deeds, people live without documents,”
said the CPJC’s Loskipat. “The situation will be threatening for those without land documents and some people may capitalize on this. There is a possibility that at the end of the day the vulnerable will easily give away their land or sell it at throwaway prices,” he said.

 For many, the very concept of individual land ownership is as alien as the “men in long trousers”. “How can you sell soil?” asked one young man in Lokichar.


Africom - America's army in Africa

 "The committee believes that activities that utilize U.S. Special Operations Forces and an 'indirect approach' that leverages local and indigenous forces should be used more aggressively and surgically in Africa..." Report of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.

On May 16, General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, announced that AFRICOM, the American military mission in AFRICOM, would expand its activities, sending soldiers throughout the continent in a new plan of training, and it would involve a new combat detachment.

Africom was set up four years ago to pioneer a new form of defence, encompassing diplomacy and development. To avoid future high-profile wars, commanders were told to focus on “smart power”: training national armies to neutralise threats before they reach the headlines. To do this, the Americans needed good relations with African leaders. Many who were initially suspicious of the Pentagon, Nigeria and South Africa, the continent’s military giants, have warmed to Africom in the past year. More than three-quarters of Senegalese officers have been to American war colleges. AFRICOM has trained thousands of officers on the continent, including the young captain that overthrew his own government in Mali. The US announced it was sending troops to no less than four more African countries – the Central African Republic, Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. AFRICOM have now announced an fourteen major joint military exercises in African countries for 2012.

But the Libyan campaign has reignited fears of American domination, suspicions which are understandable. When Africans raise concerns about Africom they are said to suffer "misconceptions, misapprehensions, rumours, and fiction." The US Congress happily pays for weapons but despises development aid. Acquisition and control of Africa’s resources is the chief purpose of Africom, not the development of Africa. Africom serves the interests of the United States of America. Since African and American interests never gel, it would mean that AFRICOM would pursue American interests, on African soil, at the expense of African interest. And as a result of this military alignment, the United States is able to secure access to natural resources. Capital is not withdrawing from Africa, but instead, the extraction of its natural wealth is becoming more obvious and open.This is the context in which the US is devoting more resources to its AFRICOM division.

 America and NATO have the worst records in their dealings with the African people. In Libya, they bombed the country into submission to impose regime change. Gadhafi’s sins weren’t crimes against humanity but that he was a problematic partner for international oil companies, frequently raising fees and taxes and making other demands.

WikiLeaks revealed how AFRICOM planned the assassination of President Mugabe and the fall of his government through the so-called Operation Shumba.

Despite America's language about a multilateral, interagency approach against the Lords Resistance Army, it is apparent that, in practice, the military far outweighs diplomacy and development in U.S. foreign policy today.“Given their budgetary and political superiority to State and USAID, AFRICOM will likely take the lead in developing and executing this strategy,” says Daniel Volman, Director of the Africa Security Research Project. The 100 American military advisers working  with army troops from Uganda and the Central African Republic to catch Kony has not stopped the LRA’s violence, so far this year there have been 50 attacks, nine deaths and 90 abductions

Would the United States of America government be prepared to allow Russia or China to establish their own  "Americom" in pursuit of their national interests in America?

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Going beyond the unions

Who is the labour candidate in the Egyptian presidential election? The answer is no one.

Despite the presence of the left wing candidate, labour lawyer Khaled Ali, who repeatedly denies the accusation of being a ‘socialist’, and advocates a ‘strong private sector’ working hand in hand with a state-run public sector, neither Ali nor any other candidates can claim to speak for Egypt’s working class, simply because the working class does not have yet formal entities, organisations, parties, and unions that can claim their representation.

In the West and elsewhere, there exist labour unions and parties that have a grassroots presence in the workplace and include millions of workers and civil servants in their membership. The rank and file members are engaged in daily struggles over improving work conditions via negotiations, agreements, or strikes against the management. The extent of grassroots support can always be measured by the degree of response to strike calls issued by those unions’ leadership. If you are in the United Kingdom for example, and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) issues a call for a general strike on any given day, you can safely expect industrial actions to take place that day. This is not to praise the politics of the TUC but to highlight the existence of a structure that can mobilise the working class, articulate their demands, and claim their representation.

There is nothing of that sort here in Egypt yet. While we have witnessed millions of Egyptian workers going on strikes or staging protests since 2006, it still lacks a national organisation that can coordinate the strikes, claim class representation, and raise political demands on behalf of the workers in the current political arena. Socialists are non-existent and those on the Left do not have enough of a presence among the working class. 

The Federation of Independent Trade Unions, announced in Tahrir Square in the midst of the 18-day uprising, has grown to include more than 200 independent unions, with two million workers. Yet, the federation is still green, with uneven support. The federation has been active in ‘intervening’ in and ‘extending solidarity’ to strikes, but it would be a farce to give the federation credit for ‘instigating’ the industrial actions in the first place. Though the federation lent its support for the November 2011 mini uprising, its presence in Tahrir was largely symbolic, and included one tent and a banner. The 11 February 2012 general strike call was another test for the federation’s strength, yet it once again exposed its weakness. Though the federation endorsed the anti-SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) general strike call, not a single strike took place. Strikes which occurred on that day were already scheduled in advance by the strike leaders, and we cannot credit the federation with this action.

The increased friction between strikers and the military police, which include crackdowns and military tribunals for strikers, means an increasing number of workers are turning against the army, even when they started their struggles over bread and butter issues. In cases like the harbours and airports, the strikers had clear demands about the demilitarisation of the management and the sacking of military generals and advisors who ran the business. Strikers in Suez also marched, calling for the execution of the National Democratic Party (NDP) tycoon who owns a ceramics factory and stands accused of involvement in the ‘Battle of the Camel’. Gas workers smashed NDP billboards in downtown Cairo, demanding the return of the NDP local office building back to their company, since the NDP had taken it over illegally under Mubarak. Among the demands of the public transport strikers was the purging of the management of police officers. These are some  examples of a ‘political’ dimension that is taking shape in the strike wave, but the Federation still fails to relate to it.

The Federation is roughly one year old, and the unions under its umbrella are still incapable of providing representation and a unified political voice in the current revolution. This is not a pessimistic look at the future of the federation. It takes years for unions to build their support and cement the channels of coordination between the different sectors, but there will always be limitations on the extent of the revolutionary potential those unions have. Unions, at the end of the day, are built to "improve" the conditions of exploitation, not  "abolish" exploitation once and for all - here is the task of a mass socialist party. As long as the most militant sections of the current strike - those who are leading the mass strikes in sectors in direct confrontation with the military - are not organised into a socialist party, you can expect the workers’ voice to continue to be absent in the current political process.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

importing food instead of growing it

Rising food prices have been found to be the top-most household worry for most Ghanaians who spend more than half of their earnings on food.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its latest study has found that Ghanaians spend about 62 percent of their incomes on sourcing food, and the situation has been exacerbated in some areas of the country where the cost of such things as rent, and commuting are higher. Ghanaian household expenses on food is 30 times more than what pertains in developed and other western countries.

Ironically, people living in rural Ghana where almost all of the country’s food crops are produced spend more on food than their urban counterparts. Smallholder farmers devoted most of their resources to growing food but their farm productivity is too low to meet all their food needs -- so much of their cash income goes more toward food rather than to other goods.

According to the UNDP, the erosion of the purchasing power of the poor can be severe during spikes in food prices since poor people devote a larger share of their total consumption to food than do wealthier people.

Ghana imports about 500,000 tonnes of tomato-paste a year yet one of the best places to produce tomatoes.

power to the farmer

In 1894, fourteen European and other countries including the U.S. (the “G-14” of the era) held a land grab conference in Berlin to "save" the Dark Continent. the real agenda was to carve up Africa between the European powers peacefully and without the need for internecine imperialistic wars. The Scramble for Africa gave Britain a nice slice of Africa stretching from Cape-to-Cairo. France took much of western Africa. King Leopold II of Belgium took personal possession of the Congo. Portugal grabbed Mozambique and Angola. Italy got Somalia and laid claim to parts of Ethiopia. The G-8’s “New Alliance for Food Security ” smacks of the old Scramble for Africa. The G-8 wants to liberate Africa from hunger, famine and starvation by facilitating the handover of millions of hectares of Africa's best land to the worlds' multinationals. They want to use multinational food conglomerates to “save” Africa from starvation by 1) subsidizing these giant agribusinesses to dump their agricultural surpluses in famine-stricken African countries, and 2) by greasing the hands of Africa’s corrupt dictators so that these multinationals could “lease” hundreds of millions of acres of Africa’s most arable land to cultivate export crops that command high prices on the global commodities markets, without contributing much to the domestic African market to alleviate endemic hunger.

With a steady growth in global population, the prospect of transforming Africa into vast commercialized farms is mouthwatering for global agribusinesses. In 2011, Africa imported $50 billion worth of food from the U.S. and Europe. Food prices in Africa are 200-300 percent higher than global prices, which means higher profit margins for multinationals that produce and distribute food. The “New Alliance” will accelerate the “transfer” of hundreds of millions of hectares of arable African land to Cargill, Dupont, Monsanto, Kraft, Unilever and the dozens of other signatory multinationals. Working jointly with Africa’s corrupt dictators, these multinationals will “liberate” the land from Africans just like the 19th Century scramble for Africa; but will they liberate Africa from the scourge of hunger, famine, starvation and poverty?

The standard response by the ruling regime and its international donors is to deny and evade the whole thing in clever euphemisms , calling it “severe malnutrition, “food insecurity”, etc, or they blame droughts and natural forces or use the  endlessly supply food handouts of foreign aid as an excuse. Bad governance, dictatorships and corruption are rarely blamed for the predictable and recurrent famines and starvation in Ethiopia. Africans suffer from hunger and thirst because they are victims of ruthless dictatorships! Eight out of every ten Ethiopians live in rural areas with average land holdings of 0.93 hectare. The Zenawi’s regime has transferred at least 3,619,509 ha of land to investors, although the actual number may be higher.”These “lease” transfers (for 99 years) are handed out to companies from India, China, Saudi Arabia and others for cents per hectare. Further reported it has led to displacement from farmland with  the vast majority of locals receiving little or no compensation. The UN World Food Programme in Ethiopia recently announced that 3.2 million people are food insecure in Ethiopia and that it needs an additional US$183 million to provide emergency assistance. At the same time, Mitiku Kassa, Zenawi’s official responsible for agriculture, blamed the “food insecurity” on drought and the irregular rains. The international beggary proficiently practiced by Zenawi’s regime has been transformed into a high art form. It is to stretch out cupped palms for handouts of crumbs left over from exports by Karuturi Global, Saudi Star, Cargill, Monsanto. The “New Alliance” is a brilliant strategy that will sustain the decades long vicious cycle of dependence and food aid addiction in Africa while displacing and severely undercutting the productive capacity of the African smallholder farmers to deal with famine on their own.

Rajiv Khan, the USAID Administrator and Zenawi can talk about “public investment” and the “smallholder farmer” until the cows come home, but the fact of the matter is that neither Ethiopia nor the rest of Africa can achieve food sufficiency by tethering predatory multinational corporations with corrupt African dictators in a new “alliance for food security” and and strapping them around the necks of Africa’s smallholder farmers. A joint venture between jackals and hyenas will never benefit the gazelles. Does the smallholder Ethiopian farmer scratching out a living on 0.93 hectare stand a snowball’s chance in hell competing against Cargill and Dupont? Is the future of the smallholder African farmer going to be as a consumer of food produced by global agricultural multinationals instead of being a local producer and harvester of his/her own food? Does it make sense to hand out the country’s most arable land to “foreign investors” to produce food for export and ensure food security in other countries when Ethiopians are dying from starvation? There can be no smallholder farmer when there is no land to have and to hold. When the smallholder farmer is arbitrarily evicted from his land he becomes a landless, hopeless, helpless, restless, hapless, rootless, voiceless and powerless beggar of international food aid.

Hunger is not an inescapable destiny and it can be eliminated. This requires first and foremost the democratic participation by the people.

Adapted from here

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Zambia: tribalism versus class

In 1994, in one hundred days only, about one million people were killed in Rwanda by members of another tribe in what appeared to be a well-calculated and planned genocide. More or less, the genocide in Rwanda was instigated by men of the collar – men who prior to the genocide were preaching against such conduct.

When one human being or group views another as the reason for their poverty the persons in the other group become a target for elimination or intimidation as the case may be. In the midst of squalor and poverty people start to agitate for a change of government. The workers start to agitate for an improvement in their living conditions and often with surprising fervour, as if possessed. During such times they exhibit an urgency for change – that can easily take a violent form.

It is during such times that some populist and charismatic politicians emerge and take advantage of the situation – telling one group of workers that their lack of prosperity is the result of selfishness of another group or tribe. What follows then is not class action – but genocide.

In Zambia today there is real and perceived class discontent among the urbanised populations. Due to widespread unemployment and shoddy working conditions many workers tend to look at Chinese and Indian investors (employers) with suspicion. There is a growing perception or feeling among the urbanised workers that the Chinese investors are the cause of their poverty. It has been alleged before by Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata that the Chinese are prospering at the expense of Zambian workers. Before he became President he had even threatened to expel them.

Sadly in Zambia today there is a growing feeling among the opposition that the PF government is being tribalistic in the sense that PF leader Michael Sata has appointed Bemba-speaking politicians to ministerial positions regardless of their political affiliations. It is alleged that the Ministry of Finance is now controlled by members of Sata’s family. The finance minister Alexander Chikwanda (Sata’s uncle), his deputy Miles Sampa (Sata’s nephew) and secretary to the treasury Fredson Yamba (Sata’s brother in marriage) all belong to one family – that of President Michael Sata. Accusations of nepotism are difficult to dispel when such instances are cited.

Thus we can conclude that in Zambia too working class economic and political grievances are  being hijacked by politicians who take advantage of social inequalities to instigate tribal and racial identities. The Chinese and Indian communities are walking a tight rope in Zambia today. These communities clearly keep themselves apart from indigenous Zambians. This can easily be inflamed into racial hatred and antagonism.

One other incident that exemplifies tribalism in Zambia today was the recently inaugurated Barotse Kingdom by some fanatical members of the Barotse Royal Establishment. This was a fatuous proclamation of an independent Barotse political state with Zambia – but to which the ruling PF government has lent a deaf ear.

The first republican president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, had a better understanding of ethnic and tribal political loyalties that exist in Zambia. Kaunda was not in error to openly practice tribal balancing when appointing politicians to high offices of the one-party UNIP. His actions were well inspired and the peace that Zambians enjoyed under his 36 years in power did not come about by chance but was sustained under the political ideology of humanism.

We can conclude that in many poor and less developed nations, working class political consciousness as a precondition for social change does not exist and that politicians can easily take advantage of working class social grievances to lure them into ethnic and tribal animosities.

This remains to be the case in Zambia today. Log on to Socialism to understand how we live and how we can change the way we live.

prostituting their land

It was a colonial phenomenon — take land for the needs of the colonists and to hell with those who were living there. Might, military or economic, was right. People too poor and too weak in a world built and run on power were displaced. 

 Africa has long been the object of western domination and usury under the British, French, and Portuguese of old. Now the New rulers of the World — large corporations from America, China, Japan, Middle Eastern States, India, and Europe — are engaged in extensive land acquisitions in developing countries. The vast majority of available land is in Sub-Saharan Africa. Indigenous people, subsistence farmers and pastoralists are forced off the land, the natural environment is leveled, purging the land of wildlife and destroying small rural communities that have lived, worked and cared for the land for centuries.

This contemporary “land grab” has come about as a result of food shortages, the financial meltdown in 2008, and a world population forecast of 9.2 billion people by 2050. Food insecure nations – particularly Middle Eastern and Asian countries, seek to stabilise their food supply. Corporations want to meet the growing worldwide demand for agro-fuels. Finance house and hedge funds seek profits in the rise of investment in land and soft commodities, such as coffee, cocoa, sugar, corn, wheat, soya and fruit.

Investors are often simply speculators seeking to make a fast or indeed slow buck, by ‘land banking,’ sitting on the asset waiting and watching for the price to inflate, then selling. everything has its price. Governments desperate in a world propelled by growth to maximize the value of every so called asset, even if it means prostituting the land, sacrificing the native people and destroying the natural environment.

The poorest place on Earth

If you search on a map for the world's 10 poorest countries, you'll find most of them in just one region, West Africa. Seven nations on that list are clustered to the south and south-west of the Sahara Desert - an area plagued by political turmoil and hit hard by climate change. And the poorest country in that region is th landlocked nation of Niger.

Niger ranks among the world's neediest places. Oxford University's Multidimensional Poverty Index shows 92 per cent of Niger's population is trapped in "multi-dimensional" poverty, the highest proportion of 109 countries investigated.
 It ranks 186 out of 187 countries on the UN's Human Development Index.
6 million of Niger's 16 million people don't have enough to eat.The price of some staple grains has risen by 75 per cent since last year. 
Research by Save the Children shows Niger has replaced Afghanistan as the worst place in the world to be a mother and about one in every seven children die before their first birthday.
Niger's literacy rate is just 29 per cent (about 10 per cent for women), adults have spent an average of only 1.4 years at school. 

Friday, June 01, 2012

The Industrial Workers of Africa

An interesting  history of the early socialist movement in South Africa.

The International Socialist League was a revolutionary syndicalist organization, and not a Marxist group. As such, the International Socialist League held that racially integrated revolutionary industrial unions should overthrow capitalism and the State, replacing both with workers’ self-management of the economy . Hence, the organization must be situated within the context of the international revolutionary syndicalist movement of the early 20th century, a movement exemplified by the Industrial Workers of the World ( or I.W.W.) in the United States of America. It is for this reason that the International Socialist League sought to organize revolutionary industrial unions in South Africa, the most notable of which was the Industrial Workers of Africa. Founded in September 1917, the Industrial Workers of Africa was the first trade union for African workers in South African history...the organization developed a coherent analysis of racial oppression in South Africa, and advocated the removal of racially oppressive laws through industrial action. Although both the International Socialist League,  the organization probably never had more than a few hundred members, and the Industrial Workers of Africa were very small organizations, it is when we understand them within their international context — as part of a far larger revolutionary socialist current — that we best grasp their full significance.

...There is a strong tendency in the literature to present the International Socialist League as simply a chapter in the history of the Communist Party, a sort of Communist Party in embryo...Despite the common presentation of the organization as a mainstream Marxist organization, the ideological orientation of the International Socialist League was not based on classical Marxism, but, instead, on revolutionary syndicalism...In 1910, there were at least two revolutionary syndicalist organizations operating in South Africa. The first, as mentioned above, was a South African section of the I.W.W., which was active between 1910-1912. The second organization was the Socialist Labour Party. Also founded in 1910, the Socialist Labour Party was linked with the American party of the same name. The Socialist Labor Party in the United States advocated an interesting variant of revolutionary syndicalism, which was lucidly articulated by its key theorist, Daniel De Leon...both the South African I.W.W. and Socialist Labour Party had ceased operating by 1914. That same year, however, the nucleus of a new revolutionary syndicalist body, the International Socialist League, began to emerge...a minority of internationalist and socialist South African Labour Party members, previously grouped around a dissident War on War League and the War on War Gazette, resigned from the South African Labour Party, and helped found the International Socialist League in September 1915....The International Socialist League was also joined by former members and supporters of the South African I.W.W. and Socialist Labour Party...

...At its founding, the membership of the International Socialist League was largely based amongst immigrants from Britain, and to a lesser extent, the United States and Eastern Europe (notably, Jewish immigrants). Many of the founders of the International Socialist League were skilled workers...

...“All segregation schemes are doomed to failure. We must either lift the Native up to the White standard [of living], or sink down to his.” Equal wages and equal rights for all workers were the surest safeguard of decent conditions for all workers, as well as a just policy for the working-class as a whole. Given that workers all had the same interests, and given the inability of racist practices such as color bars on the job and in the unions to protect workers, the only realistic way forward for all workers was unification into industrial unions, and the lifting of African workers to the “political and industrial status” of the white; equal rights for all would help remove divisions between workers and lay the basis for socialism and freedom. Thus, socialism required a united struggle against capitalism and racism. Through such a policy the working-class could be united and mobilised for the struggle against capitalism and the State. At the same time, the International Socialist League argued that the pressures of industry were removing ethnic divisions between African workers: “capitalism was killing that more effectively than anything else.”...

...the International Socialist League condemned racial discrimination as unjust and as opposed to the interests of all workers — African, Coloured, Indian and white. The International Socialist League’s opposition to racism did not only, however, revolve around the limitations of racially exc lusive trade unionism and segregation. The International also ran articles critiquing the pseudo-science of “scientific racism” which held that the different races had  inherently different (and highly unequal) abilities...It also condemned a range of racially discriminatory legislation, including the pass laws. This approach was informed by the view outlined in The International in October 1915 that:"…an internationalism which does not concede the fullest rights which the native working-class is capable of claiming will be a sham …"

There is also no doubt that the International Socialist League’s anti-racism — a central part of its revolutionary industrial unionist creed — alienated many white workers and the organization faced increasing levels of violence and harassment....

...Indian Workers’ Industrial Union “on the lines of the I.W.W.” in Durban. The Industrial Union organized in a number of industries, including printing, tobacco, laundry and the docks. It also reportedly attracted waiters, mineworkers and the “sugar slaves” of the plantations...

The new union — the first trade union for African workers in South African history — was initially named the I.W.W., or the “Industrial Workers of the World,” ...The union’s name was slightly modified on October 11, 1917, to the “Industrial Workers of Africa,”

A leaflet prepared by a committee of two International Socialist League and two Industrial Workers of Africa members in October 1917, and issued in Zulu and Sesotho in a print run of 10,000 copies:


Workers of the Bantu race: Why do you live in slavery? Why are you not free as other men are free? Why are you kicked and spat upon by your masters? Why must you carry a pass before you can move anywhere? And if you are found without one, why are you thrown into prison? Why do you toil hard for little money? And again thrown into prison if you refuse to work? Why do they herd you like cattle into compounds? WHY? Because you are the toilers of the earth. Because the masters want you to labor for their profit. Because they pay the Government and Police to keep you as slaves to toil for them. If it were not for the money they make from your labour, you would not be oppressed. But mark: you are the mainstay of the country. You do all the work, you are the means of their living. That is why you are robbed of the fruits of your labour and robbed of your liberty as well. There is only one way of deliverance for you Bantu workers. Unite as workers. Unite: forget the things which divide you. Let there be no longer any talk of Basuto, Zulu, or Shangaan. You are all labourers; let Labour be your common bond....Workers of all lands unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win.

See link for the full article

The nicotine murderers

Despite the danger tobacco poses, the federal government of Nigeria is  yet to sign into law a wide-ranging act which will regulate the sale and advertising of tobacco products and restrict where people are allowed to smoke People under the age of 18 won't be allowed to buy cigarettes, and health warnings will have to cover at least 50 percent of the packaging. All forms of tobacco advertisements, sponsorships, promotions and endorsements will be banned. The bill, once enacted, could dramatically reduce the number of tobacco-related deaths in Nigeria, he said.

In July 2009, over 40 civil society groups, lawyers and public health advocates stormed the National Assembly in the capital, Abuja, to demand that the Nigerian legislature to sign the National Tobacco Control Bill into law. The bill had been brought before the Assembly five months earlier, but it took more than two years before lawmakers finally approved it. Since March 2011, the bill has been awaiting ratification by the federal government. The bill hasn't been enacted because of pressure from tobacco lobbying groups. One assemblyman, who only agreed to speak if his name was withheld, confirmed that the tobacco lobby has weakened the government’s resolve to introduce effective legislation.

Tola Oyebode, a doctor and a member of one of the protest groups said  "I see people die every day from tobacco addiction"

Nigeria is one of the largest markets for tobacco products in Africa. About 13 million Nigerians are smokers, and about 17 billion cigarettes are produced in the country each year. Over the past decade, there has been a steady increase in the number of smokers, he said. About 7 million cigarettes are smoked each day.

Joseph Bulus, a doctor, said tobacco kills about half of its lifetime users. About 70 million people died worldwide as a result of smoking between 1950 and 2000, and it’s estimated that over the next 50 years, 450 million may die because of tobacco use. Most of those deaths will be in developing countries. Stringent anti-tobacco laws in the west have turned those companies' attention to sub-Saharan Africa and Nigeria is considered the "jewel" in the tobacco business. Tobacco-related health problems are worse in Nigeria because the tobacco content of the cigarettes sold in the country is higher than in those sold in western nations.

Growing economy - growing poverty

Africa's growth has remained above 5 percent in the last eight years, and the  IMF growth forecasts for Africa in 2012 at 5.4 percent but poverty is not falling anywhere near as fast.

Marcelo Giugale, World Bank Director of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programmes for Africa, was asked if the continent was growing fast enough to fight dire poverty. "The short answer is 'No'. It's not enough to reduce poverty, not by enough," he said.The World Bank estimated on its website in March that the percentage of poor Africans fell from 58 percent in 1999 to 47.5 percent in 2008, a decline of about one percentage point a year. He added that when high inflation accompanied growth - as it has in much of Africa - the impact on poverty was severe. While growth was not enough by itself for poverty to fall, high inflation was enough to guarantee it would rise because price rises hit the poor the hardest.