Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Gene-Grab

 "Patents on the sorghum genome are the contemporary biotech equivalent of an 18th Century European explorer planting his flag on an ill-understood foreign land and claiming it for himself or his sovereign, as if by divine right subordinating all other interests in the territory." - African Centre for Biodiversity

Farmers’ needs are not addressed by the current intellectual property framework or by innovation, according to panellists at the World Trade Organization Public Forum. The threat of "land grabbing," is prominent in the media but almost unnoticed, however, is what some critics call the hidden agenda of "biopiracy" or "gene grabbing," namely the privatization of intellectual property in African seeds drawn from the common store of resources developed by African farmers of centuries. Hidden in complex legal language which is far less familiar than the appropriation of land, common genetic resources are used as inputs for products then claimed as the intellectual property of commercial enterprises.

African farmers refer to the patenting of living organisms as biopiracy, for it gives sole ownership to the corporation that inserted one gene, without recognising the innovations of thousands who developed the cultivar in the first place. Patenting, however, has become only a minor expression of the theft of African genetic wealth, for the 'green revolution' approach has come up with several other ways for accessing the genetic treasures, with no recognition or benefit sharing. The methods for access operate at the international, regional, national, and community levels - while benefit sharing occurs at none.

Corporate gene hunters in 'joint collection missions' visit fields of African farmers in search of their newest varieties, already adapted to climate change. The corporations seek to learn about field performance where smallholder farmers are growing as many as 20 different crops on one hectare, each one carefully placed to suit the micro-climate of one corner of the field versus another. Corporate agents also move across open fields in order to collect 'wild' plants, only able to determine what to gather by relying on local indigenous knowledge shared by communities. It is not clear what is 'joint' about these collection missions, for the expertise is entirely African, whereas the benefits accrue only to the corporations, as they co-opt complex knowledge and freely acquire genetic materials absolutely essential for their experiments and projects. Although these collections are frequently being undertaken across the continent, the international community only learns of the one or two cases where local knowledge is acknowledged, such as the hoodia plant gathered by the San people (but only after a law suit exposed the theft by Unilever).

African farmers domesticated sorghum from wild grasses, and they and other farmers worldwide continue to grow the crop, and to develop and nurture its genetic diversity. But African farmers do not stand to benefit from the rush to patent sorghum genes and produce proprietary sorghum hybrids. Instead, the sorghum gene grab will benefit Northern corporations and universities, who care little about Africa's enormous contribution to the crop's genetic diversity or orienting their efforts to African needs. As expectations for the potential future use of sorghum as an agrofuel crop surge, the sorghum seed industry (especially in the US) is in the process of feverish consolidation. Multinational companies are taking over smaller concerns and are forging alliances with universities and other diversified companies to heighten their vertical integration and create larger proprietary portfolios. Sorghum patent claims have recently been lodged by US companies, Ceres and Edenspace, as well as by Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University (Texas A+M) and Rutgers University. Key traits that these and other research programs are seeking to control include sorghum flowering, plant growth (biomass), sugar content, and cold and salt tolerance. In Africa, most sorghum seed is open pollinated and is saved by farmers and replanted, or is shared between farmers or farmers' groups or farming communities. Outside of the African continent and particularly in the North sorghum seed production is more commonly an industry venture and typically, hybrid seed is purchased annually. Sharing and/or saving seed may become illegal if the variety is patented or under plant variety protection or patent claims. If African farmers are drawn into commercial/ agrofuel sorghum projects, traditional sorghum seed saving and sharing will be replaced by dependency on commercial seed.

Full article here

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hunger in Africa

Here are some facts on food security in Africa:

 Hunger in Africa is the highest in the world.

According to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO):One out of three persons in Sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished.

According to the African Human Development Report of 2012   that focuses on improving food security: Over 41% of children, under the age of five in Sub-Saharan Africa, had stunted growth. Their projection for 2020 only went down by 1%.
In the June, 2011 quarterly issue of the African Food Security Brief , they report that Sub-Saharan African countries reported an increase in cereal production in 2010 from 2009, but it failed to result in increased food security in many of the countries studied.

Where there is no freedom, no voice or no justice, the rights and interests of the people are ignored, forgotten or abused. Modern-day dictatorships set the foundation for the second scramble for African resources.

  Africans are among the least free people on earth. According to a 2012 report from Freedom House,   five of the ten countries in the world suffering the greatest aggregate declines in freedom from 2007 to 2011, were in Africa. Topping the list of those countries experiencing the greatest declines in freedom over the past two years were: The Gambia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda and Djibouti. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 82% of the countries studied were only partly free or not free; contrasted with Europe, where 96% of the countries are free, with only 4% being partly free and none being not free. In terms of the population, 88% of Sub-Saharan Africans are only partly free or not free whereas 13% of Europeans are partly free and no country within Europe is considered "not free." Interestingly, two African countries made the list of countries that have seen the greatest net gains in freedom. They are Tunisia and Egypt, both of whom overthrew their authoritarian leaders in the Arab Spring, following decades of repressive rule; hopefully, they will continue in this direction. Freedom House saw the greatest declines in freedom in these countries in respect to the rule of law and freedom of association with other noted declines related to flawed elections, suppression of the political opposition, the media, journalists and civil society; and in my own country, Ethiopia, the use of anti-terrorism laws to target political opponents and journalists.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The other oil grab

The scramble for land is part of a global rush to increase food supply. Palm oil is the cheapest and most widely used vegetable oil, found in about half of all packaged supermarket products, from biscuits to soap and lipstick. Demand has doubled since 2000 and prices have tripled to more than $930 a metric tonne for Malaysian palm oil. Hungry for foreign direct investment, many governments have offered cheap land. Liberia has taken the lead, awarding more than 600,000 hectares of land for palm oil.  Sime Darby is the biggest investor, along with Golden Veroleum, controlled by Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources through its majority investment in the US-based Verdant Fund, which also has a 220,000-hectare concession. Equatorial Palm Oil, listed on the Aim index in London, has 89,000 hectares, and is in talks for a further 80,000 hectares.

Sime Darby is one of the world’s largest palm oil producers. In 2009, the Malaysian company secured 220,000 hectares of land in Liberia on a 63-year lease, marking its first expansion outside south-east Asia. It was not alone. Deals involving big Asian palm oil companies such as Golden Agri-Resource, Wilmar and Olam as well as US funds and European companies, have been signed across west Africa in recent years.

Since 2008, governments from Sierra Leone to the Democratic Republic of Congo have awarded concessions for some 1.5m hectares of land for commercial palm oil plantations, mostly to foreign companies. A further 1.3m hectares of land is reportedly being sought.

87 per cent of the $20bn-a-year production comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. But tighter environmental standards and a shortage of suitable land for expansion has caused planters to look elsewhere. Tropical west Africa is attractive. Oil palms originate there, although most production is small-scale. With domestic economies growing fast and palm oil used extensively for cooking, there is a ready local market. Big customers in Europe and the US are close, compared with Asian plantations.

“There are significant opportunities for the development of commercial oil palm operations in west Africa,”
said Doug Hawkins, head of agribusiness at Hardman and Co. “But there are also very real concerns in some countries over security of title, and in respect of the environmental and social impact that some of the very large-scale concessions may produce.”

Land ownership is complex and controversial in Liberia, with fuzzy lines between government land and communally owned land that has been used for subsistence farming for generations. John Nelson, African regional co-ordinator at the UK-based Forest Peoples Programme explained “If they give up their land for palm oil, the leases are for so long that they are basically giving it up forever.”

When Sime Darby started clearing land to plant, local communities protested that their crops and sacred sites had been destroyed. “The government created the impression that this concession land is unencumbered, and companies chose to believe them,” said Silas Siakor, director of the Sustainable Development Institute, in Monrovia. “Nobody thought to first talk to people on the ground.”
Late last year, the company agreed to stop operations at the disputed site, and enter talks with villagers about remediation. It agreed to hire an extra 600 permanent workers from the community, bringing the workforce to more than 3,000. The lowest-paid staff get $5.51 an hour. “The job is hard,” said Doa Massaley, 45, one of the new hires, as he cleared undergrowth from a field. “But there is no other work here.”

Controversy has also dogged Cameroon’s palm oil sector. Herakles Capital, a New York investment fund, plans to plant oil palms on 60,000 hectares of its 99-year concession, which is surrounded by national parks and protected zones.  The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is a certification body set up to improve the industry’s environment and social standards,  RSPO insists that its members obtain “free, prior and informed consent” from locals. Herakles’s withdrew from the RSPO, saying the body lacked the technical expertise and resources to evaluate its project and said the venture was going ahead

Taken from here

Maize and the market

In a warehouse in the centre of one of Zambia’s farming districts, several kilometres away from Lusaka, thousands of bags of maize are stacked. All maize is rotten and will be destroyed. This destruction of food is a calamity for a country where the UN estimates 64 percent of its people are still incapable of placing two meals on the table. In Zambia, the average rural farmer is estimated to survive on less than US$2 (K10,000) per day.

Across the country, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of maize are rotting away or being destroyed. Zambia simply does not have enough storage facilities nor is there an adequate road network to transport maize.

Vice-President Guy Scott recently said: “We have two million tonnes of maize against storage facilities that are meant for 300,000 tonnes of maize, so with poor storage, it gets rotten.” Even schools have reportedly been converted into makeshift warehouses to deal with the overflow.

A problem are the Government subsidies, a programme which provides cheap fertiliser to maize farmers and a government policy to then buy the crop at above-market rates. Zambia moved to increase its food production back in 2004 following a hugely problematic food crisis in 2002. Further hit by the spike in world food prices in 2008 when the cost of maize increased by more than 100 percent compared to 2006, the government again sought to increase production. The new government has continued to subsidise maize production Government subsidies, introduced by the late President Levy Mwanawasa around 2004 to ensure the country grew enough of its own food, have encouraged farmers to boost their maize production. The policy has been so successful that the country has turned itself from an importer of food to an exporter.

But the subsidies are also aimed at reducing poverty, and by this measurement, many argue they have failed.  The World Bank urged the Zambian government to stop subsidising the maize crop, saying it was unsustainable long-term and not addressing the core problem – feeding the poor.
“Current maize prices encourage mono cropping at the expense of crop diversification. Job creation through economic diversification, which is the goal of this government, is unlikely to be achieved if government pursues the same policy in the agricultural sector as that of the previous government. This old policy has not resulted in significant reduction in rural poverty and job creation...Lower prices will not only reduce the cost of living for the poorer Zambians but will also benefit the livestock industry. Low prices will also contribute to the development of a sustainable maize export business, which will allow Zambia to become the bread basket in the region.” Zambian maize bought above market value at about US$12 for a 50kg bag (US$300 per tonne) meant it off loads onto the local and export market at a loss.

Zambia has nearly 1.5m smallholder farmers. It is this rural population that makes up the majority of the country’s poor. But the study shows that the smallest farmers, those farming less than one hectare, increased their maize the least, by an average of just three 50kg bags. The farmers that benefited the most from subsidised fertilizer were those that farmed over five hectares. It is the same with the government’s policy of buying maize at a premium – as two thirds of smallholder farmers do not sell their maize crop there are few that benefit from this government handout. Money spent subsidising farming would be much better spent on other things targeted at the rural poor. With the same amount of money more than 50 new high schools could be constructed and 10,000 more teachers employed. The number of health workers could be doubled for instance.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

land grab explained

Obang Metho, Executive Director, Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, in an address to the 1st Africa Congress on Effective Cooperation for a Green Africa in Bremerhaven, Germany.

 "One of the greatest threats Africa has ever faced is the impact from this new phenomenon of land-grabbing. In many places, these land grabs are going on without any input from stakeholders and without any compensation for lost lands, homes, crops and livelihoods. Small farmers are ill-prepared for the sudden dispossession of their land and with it, the means to their livelihood. Lacking education or training for other jobs, some have become a source of cheap labor as they are left without alternative means for survival. These foreign investors, countries and regime cronies are often making secretive leasing agreements with authoritarian regimes that give them millions of hectares of land for next to nothing for periods of time as long as 99 years in some cases.

With the current concerns for food security, especially in a changing climate where our soaring world population is expected to reach nine billion inhabitants by 2050—only 38 years from now, unused and underutilized land, with access to water for irrigation, has become the new "precious commodity" sometimes called "green gold." Add to that the ever-increasing global need for resources like minerals, oil, natural gas and commodities in general and where do eyes turn but towards Africa, a continent with great reserves of rich, untapped resources. This is what is driving the second scramble for Africa.

During the first scramble for Africa, foreign slave-traders trafficked African human beings with assistance from partners on the inside, Africans themselves, who were wanting to profit from the betrayal of their fellow African brothers and sisters, especially those from competing tribes. Divide and conquer policies made it easier for outsiders to align with some African opportunists, the powerful among them, who then became complicit with these outsiders in the exploitation of other Africans. Colonialism, while making some genuine contributions to Africa, is still broadly considered one of the darkest of times in the history of humanity, marked by the ruthless, exploitive and dehumanizing pursuit of slave labor, economic profit and power from Africans and Africa.

This pursuit of Africa's people as marketable commodities and of Africa's many resources led to foreign-led minority rule, which was maintained through divide and conquer strategies, later adopted by African strongmen. The continent has not recovered. These African strongmen, with their "tribal-based groups" continue today. Even in Ethiopia, where colonial efforts failed, feudalism succeeded—with similar results. Whether colonialism or feudalism, both systems fed off of the manipulation of tribalism or its weaknesses. Now, "one-tribe-take-all" politics, with its "colonial" or "feudal" strongmen, has infected much of Africa and can be seen in the ethnic-based, one-party regimes typical of most dictatorships on the continent. Conflict never resolves as one group thrives—usually a minority of the population—while everyone else struggles. If another group comes into power; the pattern is oftentimes repeated. Strong institutions for checks and balances do not exist or when they do, they are pseudo-institutions, controlled by those in power. These non-representative governments continue to epitomize what happened at the Berlin conference of 1885, held only a short distance from where we are today, when Europeans met to divvy up the continent of Africa based on their self-interests. No Africans were present.   Now, modern-day African dictators are doing the same.

Thirsty for power, material wealth and privilege, and empowered by foreign and crony partners and heavy-handed militaries, they are divvying up the indigenous land and resources of the African people, without consulting the people or providing compensation for losses, as required under international law and many national constitutions. The people are disempowered, intimidated or "bought off." The environment has never been at greater risk as short-term interests and quick gain trumps the political will to give oversight to ecological concerns surrounding development projects.....

....For a better world, it requires all of us to remember that "none of us will be free until our brother and sister—our fellow human beings in this world—are free." Our humanity does not have boundaries. We have to preserve it, protect it and be part of it. Do not be bystanders. We have to reach out, take action, love our global neighbors and be the ones to do your share from wherever you are."

Full text here

Resource riches not as claimed

The African Union Chief in June 2010 said " Africa is the richest continent in the world, in terms of its natural and mineral resources...Africa supplies up to 31 percent of the world's demand for bauxite, cobalt, gold, manganese, phosphate and uranium. Additionally, it supplies 57 percent of the world's need for chromium and diamonds, and the hydrocarbon deposits are immense" [the continent produces 12 percent of the world's oil and has about 8 percent of reserves].

With the exception of bauxite and petroleum, these minerals are not as widely used in industry (or in the same considerable volumes) as a number other minerals, such as tin, copper, nickel, zinc, iron, coal, and lead, that Africa does not produce in sufficient quantities. Indeed, of the top 5 metallic minerals which constitute 62 percent of the total value of global production, Africa is only a significant producer of one of them: gold. Africa has 8 percent of the world's copper, 4 percent of aluminium, 3 percent of its iron ore, 2 percent of lead, less than 1 percent of zinc, and virtually no tin or nickel. To put these figures into perspective, recall that Africa has about 14.5 percent of the world's population.

There is a near-universal belief that Africa is the richest continent on Earth from a natural resource point of view. This belief is most strongly associated with mineral wealth, which is the form of natural resource endowment easiest to measure.  Africa is poor both because of and in spite of its fabulous mineral wealth. The logical implication of such a view is clearly then that Africa has to do little more than just chuck out "its greedy dictators" and/or "incompetent governments", for its natural endowments to translate into economic and financial wealth. Obvious enough. Or is it?  China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia and the Philippines are indeed amongst the world's most wealthy nations from a natural resource point of view.

Which country is the world's largest producer of gold? Many of them rush to say South Africa, and are puzzled when they learn that it is indeed China. South Africa is fourth down the list of major gold producers and may soon be overtaken by Russia and Peru. Both on a per-square mile and a per capita basis, Africa lags behind the global average in mineral production and reserves. Of a hundred minerals considered highly important to industrial production, Africa features strongly in only about ten. One realises immediately that Africa's low production of the 'hard minerals' minerals most intensely used in industry compared to the less widely used 'soft minerals' reduces its total take from the global mineral trade.

Of those few minerals that Africa is believed to hold globally significant or dominant reserves, nearly all of them are concentrated in 4 countries: South Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea. When one computes the level of inequality of mineral distribution across different continental regions, Africa pulls up strongly, showing a far higher than average level of distribution 'imbalance' per capita or square mile. In very simple terms, it means that mineral wealth is more concentrated in a few countries in Africa compared to other continents. Africa's mineral wealth is not only concentrated in a very few countries but also in a very narrow mineral base. For instance, South Africa has 92 percent of its reserve wealth concentrated in platinum group minerals, while at the same time it has 90 percent of Africa's coal and 95 percent of its chromium. Guinea mines 90 percent of Africa's bauxite. Congo mines 90 percent of the continent's chromium. Ghana and South Africa accounts for 60 percent of Africa's gold. South Africa, Gabon and Ghana produce virtually all the manganese. The state of affairs described is compounded by the fact that Africa is witnessing a decline in the production of most minerals, such as gold, petroleum, and uranium, with new discoveries failing to offset falls in production in key countries.


Friday, September 21, 2012

the South African capitalist state

Extract and adaptation of an article by the anarchist group Zabalaza.

"The ongoing violence of the state at Marikana, therefore, lays bare the true nature of the state; and the role it plays in protecting the ruling class (made up of capitalists and high ranking state officials).  For capitalism to function, and for class rule to be maintained, a state is vital. It is central to protecting and maintaining the very material basis on which the power of the elite is derived. Without a state, which claims a monopoly on violence within a given territory, an elite could not rule nor could it claim or hold onto the ownership of wealth and the means of production. In fact, the state as an entity is the defender of the class system and a centralised body that necessarily concentrates power in the hands of the ruling classes; in both respects, it is the means through which a minority rules a majority. Through its executive, legislative, judiciary, military and policing arms the state always protects the minority ownership of property (whether private or state-owned property), and tries to squash any threat posed to the continuing exploitation and oppression of the working class. As Marikana and other protests and strikes show that includes shooting rubber bullets, tear gassing people, raiding houses, arresting people, threatening people, humiliating people, torturing people, and even killing those that pose a threat.

The post-apartheid state in South Africa has played an instrumental role in maintaining the situation whereby poorly paid black workers remain the basis of the massive profits of the mining companies, including Lonmin. In South Africa, black workers have historically been subjected to national oppression; and this has meant that they were systematically turned into a source of extremely cheap labour and subjected to institutionalised racism. The history of very cheap black labour enabled white capitalists – traditionally centred around the mining houses – to make huge profits, and it is on this basis that they became very wealthy. The post-apartheid state has continued to protect and entrench this situation; it has maintained an entire legal and policing system that is aimed at protecting the wealth and property of companies, like Lonmin, from the black working class in South Africa.

Since 1994 the entire working class has fallen deeper into poverty, including sections of the white working class, as inequality has grown between the ruling class and working class as a whole. It has, however, been the black working class that has been worst affected.  While it is clear that the black working class remains nationally oppressed, the situation for the small black elite, nevertheless, is very different. Some, through their high positions in the state, and hence having control over the means of coercion and administration, have joined the old white capitalists in the ruling class. Others, have also joined the ruling class, but through the route of Black Economic Empowerment. This can be seen in the fact that all of the top ANC linked black families – the Mandelas, Thambos, Ramaposas, Zumas, Moosas etc. – have shares in or sit on the boards of the largest companies in South Africa, including the platinum mining companies. In fact, Ramaphosa not only owns shares in, and is on the board of, Lonmin; but a number of functions at Marikana and other platinum are outsourced to various companies he has interests in, like Minorex. He too has shares in the largest platinum mine in the world, Modikwa, through African Rainbow Minerals. The wealth and power of this black section of the ruling class in South Africa too rests on the exploitation of the working class as a whole, but mostly and specifically on the exploitation and national oppression of the black working class. Hence, this is the reason why the black section of the ruling class and the state its members are part of has been so willing to take action – whether during platinum strikes, Marikana, other strikes in general – against the black working class.

The anarchist Bakunin wrote that due to the centralised nature of states, only a few can rule: a majority of people can never be involved in decision making under a state system. As a result, he stated that if the national liberation struggle was carried out with “ambitious intent to set up a powerful state”, or if “it is carried out without the people and must therefore depend for success on a privileged class” it would become a “retrogressive, disastrous, counter-revolutionary movement”. He also noted that when former liberation heroes enter into the state, because of its top down structure, they become rulers and get used to the privileges their new positions carry, and they come to “no longer represent the people but themselves and their own pretensions to govern the people”.   Former liberation heroes in South Africa rule in their own interests, they wallow in the privileges of their positions, they have joined white capitalists in the ruling class, and they exploit and oppress the vast majority of the people in the country.

The state cannot simply rule by force alone – force is ultimately the last pillar upon which its power rests – but for its own stability and that of capital, it also tries to rule through consent. To do so, it pretends to be a benefactor of all; while in reality facilitating, entrenching and perpetrating exploitation and oppression. Certainly, most states today do have laws protecting basic rights, and some provide welfare – including the South African state. Such laws and welfare, however, have been won through massive struggles by the oppressed, and that should not be forgotten; states simply did not hand out these rights. But even where such laws exist, and sometimes they exist only paper, the state tries to make propaganda mileage out of them.  The anarchist Malatesta argued that the state: “cannot maintain itself for long without hiding its true nature behind a pretence of general usefulness; it cannot impose respect for the lives of the privileged people if it does not appear to demand respect for human life, it cannot impose acceptance of the privileges of the few if it does not pretend to be the guardian of the rights of all”. As struggles go forward it is important that the working class is not duped by the duplicity.

 The state and bosses have stolen from the working class, and it high time the working class got some of this back. A fight must be taken to the state and corporations, and the working class must mobilise to have its demands met. As part of this, we must, however, have no illusions about what the state is; who it is controlled by; who it protects; and what its function is. As such, the working class must mobilise outside of and against the state and force it to give back what has been stolen, but it should not have illusions in doing so that the state protects workers or the unemployed.

It is vital for the future of working class struggles that mineworkers and at Marikana win their demands. If they do, it could rejuvenate workers struggles across the country, which have been on the decline since the late 1980s. In fact, workers need to win better wages and safer working conditions. In the long run though, and if inequality and injustice are to be ended, the working class needs to take power and run society through its own structures. This means confronting the state, which is not theirs. This too means abandoning faith in the state to nationalise companies, which would essentially mean ownership by a state bureaucracy; not the working class. Indeed, calling for nationalisation builds illusions in a higher power: the state; and it does not show faith in, or build the power of, the working class itself. The state is not a lesser evil to capitalists; rather they are part and parcel of the same system."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The poorest countries in the world

1. Haiti

    Poverty rate: 77 percent
    Population: 10,123,787
    GDP: $7.35 billion (66th lowest)
    GDP per capita: $726 (22nd lowest)

The World Bank notes that more than half of Haiti’s population lives on less than $1 a day, while about 80 percent of the country lives on less than $2 a day. The country’s estimated unemployment rate as of 2010 was 40.6 percent. The impoverished nation is in a state of rebuilding since a devastating earthquake hit the country in 2010. According to a USAID report, the death toll from the earthquake was between 46,000 and 85,000, while the official figure by the Haitian government estimated the death toll at 316,000. The World Bank estimates that damages from earthquake totaled $8 billion, or about 120 percent of gross domestic product.

2. Equatorial Guinea

    Poverty rate: 76.8 percent
    Population: 720,213
    GDP: $19.79 billion (99th lowest)
    GDP per capita: $27,478 (40th highest)

Oddly enough, the country with the second-highest poverty rate in the world has a GDP per capita of $27,478, well above the average worldwide figure of $10,034. However, while extraction of oil and gas has led to economic growth, most of Equatorial Guinea’s population still relies on subsistence farming. The government has been criticized for the mismanagement of its revenue from energy resources. The health and well-being of its citizens would support the critique. Despite its oil wealth, the nation is among the worst countries in the world for life expectancy, at just 50.8 years, and for primary education enrollment, at just 56.3 percent of the relevant population.

3. Zimbabwe

    Poverty rate: 72 percent
    Population: 12,754,378
    GDP: $9.9 billion (72nd lowest)
    GDP per capita: $776 (25th lowest)

Zimbabwe has effectively had one leader, Robert Mugabe, since it became a sovereign nation in 1980. Mugabe’s tenure has been marked by a violent land redistribution program that has harmed agriculture -- a sector that has served as a source of exports and jobs for the nation. Until 2009, Zimbabwe also experienced a problem with hyperinflation. One dollar was worth 9,686.9 Zimbabwean dollars in 2007 and a stunning 430,972.7 Zimbabwean dollars in 2008. In 1993, the nation's poverty rate was just under 35 percent of the population. Since then, the poverty rate has more than doubled to 72 percent.

4. Congo (Democratic Republic)

    Poverty rate: 71.3 percent
    Population: 67,757,577
    GDP: $15.64 billion (91st lowest)
    GDP per capita: $231 (the lowest)

The Congo has suffered from corruption and conflict in the past 15 years that have “dramatically reduced national output and government revenue, increased external debt, and resulted in the deaths of more than 5 million people from violence, famine and disease,” according to the CIA World Factbook. The agency notes that while mining growth has helped boost the country’s economy, much of its economic activity still takes place in the informal sector, which is not counted in GDP statistics. Health and education are very poor in the country. Out of 1,000 children born, 111.7 will die before their first birthday, which is the highest rate in the world except for Sierra Leone. Primary school enrollment of just slightly over 33 percent is the second worst in the world.

5. Swaziland

    Poverty rate: 69.2 percent
    Population: 1,067,773
    GDP: $3.98 billion (47th lowest)
    GDP per capita: $3,725 (82nd lowest)

A number of factors combine to limit Swaziland’s economic growth, including an over-reliance on exports to South Africa. In addition, the country’s workforce is largely concentrated in subsistence agriculture, even though the country faces serious concerns about overgrazing and soil depletion. While these factors harm the nation’s economy, health concerns are likely one of the major factors preventing Swaziland’s population from escaping poverty. Few nations have a lower life expectancy at birth than Swaziland, where the average person is expected to live just 48.3 years. One of the reasons for the low life expectancy is the high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among those 15 to 49 -- at 25.9 percent it is the highest in the world.

6. Eritrea

Poverty rate: 69.0%
Population: 5,415,280
GDP: $2.61 billion (40th lowest)
GDP per capita: $482 (8th lowest)

While hopes for economic growth rest on several international mining projects, 80% of Eritrea’s labor force is employed in the agricultural sector. However, agriculture only represents 11% of the nation’s GDP, with industry comprising 34% and services making up 55%. The country’s only political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, has implemented policies that rigidly control the use of foreign currency and favors party-owned businesses in the economy. Making matters more difficult for Eritrea, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on the country in 2009, accusing the government of supporting anti-Ethiopian insurgents in Somalia. Eritrea’s primary school enrollment is only about 33.5%, which is the third-lowest rate in the entire world.

7. Madagascar

Poverty rate: 68.7%
Population: 21,315,135
GDP: $9.95 billion (73rd lowest)
GDP per capita: $467 (7th lowest)

Located in the Indian Ocean east of continental Africa, Madagascar is an island nation of more than a 350,000 square miles in size. Until the mid-1990s, Madagascar called itself a 'socialist' nation. Though it has since embraced World Bank- and IMF-endorsed economic programs for privatization and participated in the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, the nation has had difficulties meeting the standards expected by these organizations and programs. Despite these programs, the nation’s economy remains largely dependent on agriculture for employment, with 80% of all employed persons working in the sector. In 2011, the country’s GDP per capita was just $467, making Madagascar one of 11 nations with a figure below $500.

8. Burundi

Poverty rate: 66.9%
Population: 8,575,172
GDP: $2.33 billion (38th lowest)
GDP per capita: $271 (2nd lowest)

In 1993, political differences between Burundi’s two largest ethnic groups, the Hutu and Tutsi, triggered widespread ethnic violence that lasted almost a dozen years. Although this civil war has ended, ethnic conflicts in the region continue. The prolonged conflict, however, is not the only factor keeping Burundians in poverty. Although the country also has limited natural resources and agriculture accounts for just 31% of GDP, more than 90% of the working population is employed in the sector. According to the World Bank, Burundi remains one of the world’s poorer countries on a per capita basis — only one country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, had a GDP per capita figure lower than Burundi’s $271. Burundi’s infant mortality rate of 87.8 deaths per 1,000 live births is more than double the rate worldwide.

9. Sierra Leone

Poverty rate: 66.4%
Population: 5,997,486
GDP: $2.24 billion (36th lowest)
GDP per capita: $374 (4th lowest)

Sierra Leone has significant mineral, agricultural and fishery resources that could lead the country to economic growth. Political stability is slowly helping to improve the fortunes of the country as it recovers from the civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002. But while the military has been in charge of the country ever since the war, issues such as corruption still exist. The country has to rely on international aid from organizations such as the International Monetary Fund in order to remain financially solvent, and inflation of 18% in Sierra Leone is a serious problem. Sierra Leone has the highest rate of infant mortality in the world, with 113.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births. Sierra Leone’s life expectancy of just 47.4 years old is the second lowest in the world.

10. Sao Tome and Principe

Poverty rate: 66.2%
Population: 168,526
GDP: $248 million (5th lowest)
GDP per capita: $1,473 (48th lowest)

Sao Tome and Principe, a country of fewer than 200,000 people off the western coast of Africa, has relied heavily on cocoa production since it became an independent state in 1975. However, production has declined substantially due to drought and mismanagement. While the country stands to benefit from the recent discovery of oil from the Gulf of Guinea, the World Factbook notes that production is likely several years away. Unlike most of the countries on this list, Sao Tome and Principe has a primary school enrollment of 98.3%, which is substantially above the world rate of 88.8%

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

fact of the day

Africa has 2535 ultra-high net worth individuals with a total net worth of $329-billion.

Monday, September 17, 2012

not a drop to drink

Since 2010, Ghana has produced oil. It’s one of the world’s leading gold and cocoa producers. Ghana is a wealthy country, as is Africa as a whole.

70% of Ghanaian homes don’t have a WC or a pit latrine. Piped water, if you have it at all, is intermittent.

In Accra, you’re unlikely to have a WC plus individual cesspit unless you’re in the elite minority, and pit latrines are largely rural. You therefore have a few options. You can defecate in a bucket or a pan and pay for your 'night soil' to be taken, probably manually and illegally, perhaps twice a week, to a cesspit whose contents are then emptied by sewage tankers. You can walk to and then queue for a public latrine, most likely a subhuman hangover from colonial days where you pay for a bit of newspaper to wipe yourself and where there may be six stalls serving 1,000 people. You can defecate in a plastic bag and deposit it in the storm drains that line your street. You can defecate in a storm drain. You can defecate on the beach. Men often urinate in drains. Women sometimes put a bucket under their skirts. The only area with underground piped sewers is the ex-colonial enclave, round Osu, where the president lives and Ministries are located. At the wittily-named Lavender Hill, near some of the poorest areas in town, sewage tankers squirt raw sewage into the sea.

If you have piped water, it’s not safe to drink, however rich or poor you are. If you can afford it, you buy either sachet water or bottled water to drink. Bottled water is expensive, on average GHc2 (US$1.9) a litre when the minimum wage is GHc4.48 (US$2.66) a day. The media periodically report sachet water scams. In any case, your tap will be dry perhaps 75% of the time, depending on your topological relationship to the local pumping station. If you can afford it, you install a huge polytank (a cylindrical plastic container) on a tower in your garden, plumb it into your domestic system, and fill it up when the taps are running. If you can’t afford it, you store water in jerry cans wherever you have room. You might seek professional help to fix your water meter, illegally. If you don’t have piped water, and you’re not paying bills to the Ghana Water Company, you might employ a professional to plumb you into a mains water pipe, illegally. If you don’t, you must buy from a water tanker, or from a stand pipe, which is more expensive than tap or domestically stored water. Fetching three buckets of water a day can cost you between 10% and 20% of your daily income. Thus, the poorer you are, the more you’re likely to pay for water in absolute terms.

Political independence did not bring economic independence.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A political survey

The New Scramble for Africa

At the end of the 19th century there was a scramble for African resources and land by the capitalist nations of Europe. Over a century later there is now a new scramble for Africa. There is no mystery to why a new scramble for resources in Africa is taking place because all over the world there is a struggle by competing nation states for raw resources, the protection of trade routes and establishment of spheres of strategic and political influence. And there is continuing competition and conflict between China and the US for African oil and access to other raw resources both countries are desperate to secure for themselves

The competition for resources between nation states takes place because we live in a world-wide capitalist social system based on the class ownership of the means of production and distribution in which social wealth is produced as commodities by propertyless wage workers to be sold with a view to profit. Capitalism is a class society with a privileged minority living off the labour of an exploited majority working class. Capitalism exists equally in the US as it does in China and Africa.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain holds a powerful case against capitalism; that it is a “fetter on production”, it is a system of class exploitation, it causes all the social problems faced by the working class and human needs are only met under capitalism to the extent they can be paid for. Workers, the real wealth creators in society, are forced to live off wages and salaries and what workers receive is limited by the rationing imposed by the wages system. For billions of others locked out of markets because they are subsisting on a few dollars a day it means absolute poverty, starvation and often death. This is the lot of millions of men, women and children in Africa.

The problems of the working class are the last thing on the minds of US and Chinese politicians and oil companies as they compete for oil around the continent of Africa. In fact, the scramble for oil and raw resources is not new and it is useful to place China’s involvement in the African continent into a historical perspective; namely the “scramble for Africa” in the 19th century. Capital shapes the world in which we live and it has been doing so for hundreds of years.

For centuries, beginning with the slave trade, Western capitalism has systematically exploited the African continent. In fact Marx had viewed the rape of Africa as one of the principal generators of primitive accumulation by:

"…the turning of Africa into a commercial warren for the hunting of black skins”
that "signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production” (Karl Marx, CAPITAL VOL I (New York: Vintage Books, 1977 p. 915)

But the abduction and enslavement of millions of Africans was only the start. In the late nineteenth century, in what became known as the "scramble for Africa," the continent was arbitrarily carved up into colonies by the leading European powers, which violently subjected tribes and plundered the continent of its rich natural resources.


Here is the 19th century imperialist Cecil Rhodes’ answer to this question:

"We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories…In order to save the forty million inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war; our colonial statesmen must acquire new lands for settling the surplus population of this country, to provide new markets... The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question"
(quoted from R. Dumont and N. Cohen, THE GROWTH OF HUNGER: A NEW POLITICS OF AGRICULTURE. Marion Boyars, London 1980)

British capitalism then and Chinese capitalism now! Plus ca change.

In the post-independence eras, African states became pawns in the world economy, subject to Cold War rivalries, their path to development as autonomous capitalist nation states largely blocked by their debilitating colonial past. Dictatorships replaced dictatorships; corruption and theft enriched the indigenous ruling class while, war, famine and death was a common feature for the rest of society.

Here are the Facts of life for the continent of Africa from an organisation food4africa:

* 315 million people – one in two of people in Sub Saharan Africa survive on less than one dollar per day
* 184 million people – 33% of the African population – suffer from malnutrition
* During the 1990s the average income per capita decreased in 20 African countries
* Less than 50% of Africa’s population has access to hospitals or doctors
* In 2000, 300 million Africans did not have access to safe water
* The average life expectancy in Africa is 41 years
* Only 57% of African children are enrolled in primary education, and only one of three children complete school
* One in six children dies before the age of 5. This number is 25 times higher in sub-Saharan Africa than in the OECD countries
* Children account for half of all civilian casualties in wars in Africa
* The African continent lost more than 5,3 million hectares of forest during the decade of the 1990s
* Less than one person out of five has electricity. Out of 1.000 inhabitants 15 have a telephone line, and 78 out of 1,000 people surf on Internet.

Africa remains a continent abundant in natural resources which could be used to meet the needs of all society, but these resources manage to enrich only a handful of African rulers and foreign capitalists, which now includes capitalists from China and India.

As Marx and Engels noted in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO:

"The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country…it creates a world after its own image"

And that image is exploitation, plunder, death and destruction on a truly global scale. For the population of Africa it means continued civil war, abject poverty, plunder, dictatorship, violence and hardship. However the world’s working class does not need to exist in a world created after capitalism’s own image. The working class needs to retain a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country but without the bourgeoisie and its coercive State.

What needs to replace the new scramble for Africa is the establishment of Socialism; the establishment by a Socialist majority throughout the world of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

Chinese Capitalism and Africa

Following the economic reforms in the late 1980’s China-Africa trade has grown from $6bn (3.75bn) in 1999 to more than $90bn (£56bn) in 2009, roughly split equally between imports and exports: Africa's natural resources – oil, iron, platinum, copper, and timber – flowing east to feed China's factories, and finished goods, from flip-flops to trucks, travelling the other way. Each year Beijing provides billions of pounds in grants and loans to African governments to secure raw material deals or to finance infrastructure projects that could benefit its companies.

Western anxieties over the relationship between China and African countries were highlighted by WikiLeaks's recent release of a US embassy cable in which Johnnie Carson, the US assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, said:

"China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals. China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons. China is in Africa for China primarily."

He could, of course, be describing the US or any other capitalist nation. The memo warned of: "tripwires", asking:

Is China developing blue water navy? Have they signed military base agreements? Are they training armies? Have they developed intelligence operations? Once these areas start developing then the United States will start worrying.

But are the Chinese Colonists behaving in the same way that the European Nation States were in the 19th century? When you look at the numbers of Chinese companies operating in Africa, you could say yes. Chinese capitalism is colonising parts of Africa and setting-up businesses in a similar manner to the European powers of the nineteenth century.

African governments have defended the ties between African States and China. On a recent state visit to Beijing, Jacob Zuma, the South Africa president, said:

"China is there discussing with the brothers and sisters in Africa to create a mutually beneficial kind of relationship … different from former Western colonialists [who simply took] things by force"
(GUARDIAN 24th 2010).

Of course, the “mutually beneficial kind of relationship” Jacob Zuma has in mind is the enrichment of himself and his class. The working class in South Africa will continue to live in exploitation, squalor and poverty.

The scramble for Africa now includes Indian capitalism.

In 2010, India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh accompanied by dozens of business leaders held trade talks in Ethiopia as India tried to catch up with China. The Prime Minister led a trade delegation to an economic summit in Addis Ababa to increase Indian capitalism’s presence on the African continent.

Bilateral India-Africa trade has grown from about £620m ($996) in 2001 to £28.5bn ($46bn) in 2010. India's aim is to reach £43bn ($69bn) by 2012. Some 250 Indian companies have invested in African countries, mainly in telecommunications and chemical and mining businesses.

But India remains about a decade behind Chinese capitalism in investing in Africa. China says its two-way trade stands at £75bn ($129bn), a 43.5% increase on the previous year, and up from just £620m ($996) in 1992. Chinese companies have built roads, bridges, railways and power stations in return for access to cheap labour power, markets and resources.

The fierce competition between Chinese and Indian capitalism for resources, minerals and food to meet the demands of their respective economies is not so dissimilar to the first scramble for Africa in the late 19th century.

According to a report in the GUARDIAN:

"India is especially focused on energy. The country imports 70% of its oil and has turned to new suppliers such as Nigeria, Sudan and Angola to reduce its dependence on the Middle East. It also needs uranium for its ambitious civil nuclear programme"
(23rd May 2011)

Capitalism, Chinese style

Chinese capitalists treat the continent of Africa as through it was the Wild West –a Wild West Capitalism as it were. Sinopec, an oil firm, has explored in a Gabonese national park and another state oil company has created lakes of spilled crude oil in Sudan.

Workers employed by Chinese companies at times fare little better than the environment.

At Chinese-run mines in Zambia’s copper belt workers must work for two years before they get safety helmets. Ventilation below ground is poor and deadly accidents occur almost daily. To avoid censure, Chinese managers bribe union officials while difficult shop stewards are sacked and workers who assemble in groups are violently dispersed – the beating of workers is common.

Tensions came to a head in 2010 when miners in Sinazongwe, a town in southern Zambia, protested against poor conditions. Two Chinese managers –who were most probably workers themselves - fired shotguns at a crowd, injuring at least a dozen.

This has not stopped the workers striking for higher pay and better working conditions. About 2,000 Zambian workers at NFC Africa Mining, majority-owned by China Nonferrous Metals Mining Corporation, went on strike in October 2011 for better pay and working conditions.

In the South African town of Newcastle, Chinese-run textile factories pay salaries of about $200 per month, much more than they would pay in China but less than the local minimum wage. Unions have tried unsuccessfully to shut the factories down but the Chinese employers point out that many South African firms also undercut the minimum wage, which is too high to make production pay. Without the Chinese, unemployment in Newcastle would be even higher than the current 60%. Workers say a poorly paid job is better than none; highlighting the Socialist argument that minimum wage legislation rarely works.

Tens of thousands of “frontiersmen” from China have moved out across the continent. Sanou Mbaye, a former senior official at the African Development Bank, claims more Chinese have come to Africa in the past ten years than Europeans in the past 400 –there is supposed to be 1 million Chinese workers in the continent of Africa. First came Chinese workers from state-owned companies, but more and more arrive individually or stay behind after finishing contract work. A recent Chinese government survey of 1,600 companies shows the growing use of Africa as an industrial base. Manufacturing’s share of total Chinese investment (22%) is catching up fast with mining (29%).

Governments in Africa have courted Chinese investment to secure lucrative deals with the indigenous ruling class. Some countries made industrial investments a precondition for resource deals. In Ethiopia two out of three resident Chinese firms are manufacturers. Yet the Chinese did not need much encouraging. The continent—soon to be ringed with Chinese free-trade ports—is a stepping stone to a commercial presence around the globe.

To this end, the government in Beijing is encouraging all sorts of activity in Africa. Construction is a favourite, accounting for three-quarters of recent private Chinese investment in Africa. The commerce ministry recently said that Chinese companies are signing infrastructure deals worth more than $50 billion a year. For investment in African farming, China has earmarked $5 billion of investment.

Perhaps the most significant growth in Chinese activity has been in finance. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has bought 20% of Standard Bank, a South African lender and the continent’s biggest bank by assets, and now offers renminbi accounts to expatriate traders. Other mainland banks have opened offices too, and from their sleek towers they make collateral-free loans to Chinese companies.

In just a few years China has become the most aggressive investor-nations in Africa. This commercial invasion is without question the most important development in the sub-Sahara since the end of the Cold War that is redrawing the global economic map. One former U.S. assistant secretary of state has called it a "tsunami." Some, like THE ECONOMIST, are even calling the region "ChinAfrica."

There is already more Chinese living in Nigeria than there were Britons during the height of the empire. From state-owned and state-linked corporations to small cockroach capitalists, the Chinese are investing across the continent bringing with them as many as 1 million Chinese workers to build and run the facilities.

Whether it is indigenous African workers or workers from China the social wealth being created is coming from workers’ exploitation; the generation of surplus value realised as profit when the commodities are sold on the market.
The Politics of Oil

In a recent paper China’s Oil Rush in Africa (2006) published by the Institute for Global Security (IAGS), a Washington based think tank, the US has become increasingly alarmed at the impact of China’s investment in Africa to meet its own oil demands.

The Institute offers advice to US Government agencies on energy security. Many of its authors have military backgrounds. The author of the report on the threat of Chinese capitalism to US oil interests was Cindy Hurst a political-military research analyst with the Foreign Military Studies Office and an officer in the US navy reserve (

The United States, at present the largest world economic and military power, consumes a quarter of the world's oil but possesses only 3 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves. West Africa alone has 15 per cent of the world's oil, and by 2015 is projected to supply up to a quarter of U.S. domestic consumption.

U.S. oil imports from Africa-which come mostly from Nigeria and Angola, but also from Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon - surpassed those from the Middle East for the first time in 2007.

China, meanwhile, is also heavily involved in the new scramble for Africa, driven to seek reliable sources for oil by its own growing domestic needs. China's oil consumption has doubled in a single decade, and oil imports now comprise more than 40 per cent of its total oil consumption. By acquiring the Canadian company Addax Petroleum in August 2009, China Petrochemical Corporation SINOPEC acquired a number of petroleum exploration and production licenses in Nigeria. A few months later, the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) offered Nigeria $50 billion to acquire the state shares in twenty-three licenses that are operated by European and US companies (Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Eni/Agip, ExxonMobil and Chevron). The Chinese goal is to tap into the African market and compete with the Western firms as any capitalist country does (

There is intensifying global competition for control of oil and gas production and supply. Worldwide, a new generation of mainly state-owned companies, such as China's CNPC, Saudi Arabia's Aramco, Russia's Gazprom, Venezuela's PDVSA, and Iran's NIOC now control one-third of the world's oil and gas reserves and production, while the major Western companies; ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell control just one-tenth of production, and only 3 per cent of reserves. This intense competition for resources was spelt out in a recent paper by the academic, David Goldwyn:

Africa plays a strategic role in U.S. and global energy security. It is a critical supplier of new source production to global and U.S. oil supply. It is a natural gas supplier, with enormous potential to meet increased future demand in a carbon constrained world. Africa remains open to foreign investment and is one of the few continents that have not dramatically reduced access to investment in recent years. If the continent meets its potential, it may increase its production dramatically over the next two decades, serving as a pillar of global energy security by providing a major source of diverse oil and gas supply. The risk of instability in many of Africa’s key energy producers is high and rising, posing a threat to the stability of these nations and their neighbours, as well as U.S. investment and the global economy (Pursuing US Energy Interests.

The dependence of the United States and other developed nations on oil from developing countries is only going to increase during the 21st century creating tensions and conflict. 90 per cent of new supplies will come from developing countries in the next 40 years. That marks a big shift from the past 30 years, when 40 per cent of new production came from industrialized nations.

Thus the new scramble for Africa is a struggle between major competing national powers for control of potential and actual energy sources and profits at a time when they control fewer resources themselves. The race is all the more important given that conflicts and tensions in other energy-rich areas such as Iran and Venezuela. In the coming decades the US directly or indirectly through its proxy states, like Israel, will engage in conflict with Iran and are no doubt working on “regime change” in Venezuela.

The interest in African oil on one level is nothing new. As Exxon states in its publicity hand-outs, the company has been in Africa for a century while Nigeria has been an exploration hub for the continent for decades.

The Horn of Africa has also been the site of Western corporate investment for a number of years where Western companies including Conoco-Phillips, Chevron, and Total held Somali exploration concessions before the country slid into civil war in 1991. But interest in East African oil has become more pronounced over the past twenty years or so. To date, Tanzania has licensed at least 17 international companies exploring for both offshore and onshore energy sources in the country. Firms that hold exploration blocks in Tanzania are Oslo-listed Artumas Group Inc (AGI), France's Maurel & Prom, Norway's Statoil, Royal Dutch Shell, Petrobras of Brazil and UK’s Aminex.

Petrobras alone has invested $11 million in Tanzania, and plans to spend another $14 million to develop Mtwara port. Tanzania's government puts the east African country's proven natural gas reserves at 7.5 trillion cubic feet. "Oil remains the prize in off-shore East Africa. Gas has been found but no commercial oil has been found yet despite increasing evidence for its potential presence," said Mr Mike Rego, exploration director for Aminex, which is active in the area (

Despite its continued instability, Somalia is now seen as a likely country for investment for oil exploration as the rush is on to get there first; the US and Britain or China. The Somali Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, speaking to the Observer after meeting Hillary Clinton and David Cameron at the London Somalia Conference recently, said that in the future a share of natural resources would be offered in return for help with reconstruction (GUARDIAN 25th February 2012).

Increasing oil and raw material prices have produced a boom in some African countries, as well as a marked jump in foreign investment, especially by Western and Chinese capital. By 2005, foreign direct investment had almost tripled over the previous five years. ExxonMobil has recently developed the Chad-Cameroon pipeline that runs through war-torn areas in Central Africa, the largest single investment in Africa. ExxonMobil, the world's biggest oil company, invests 22 per cent of its capital expenditures in Africa, and gets 30 per cent of its oil from Africa. Nigeria has been identified as one of the key destinations in West Africa, Exxon Mobil Corporation has recently set out a $185billion investment plan over the next five years in Nigeria alone (PREMIUM TIMES April 5th 2012).

Angola, received a $902 million tender in 2007 from Eni, the Italian oil company, to secure the rights to drill offshore, one of the highest fees ever paid by an oil company and its current equity production is approximately 130,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (ZACS INVESTMENT 23rd November 2011). And the US oil company Chevron recently announced a $1.9 billion investment for the exploration of 70 million barrels from the shared Angola-Congo cross-border Lianzi field in north-western Cabinda province and south of Brazzaville (ANGOLA PRESS 1st March 2012).

In an interesting article, "Africa: Next U.S. oil war venue” published in BLACK STAR NEWS (April 17, 2007), the journalist Bruce Dixon wrote:

"The Pentagon does not admit that a ring of permanent US military bases is operating or under construction throughout Africa. But nobody doubts the American military build-up on the African continent is well underway. From oil rich northern Angola up to Nigeria, from the Gulf of Guinea to Morocco and Algeria, from the Horn of Africa down to Kenya and Uganda, and over the pipeline routes from Chad to Cameroon in the west, and from Sudan to the Red Sea in the east, US admirals and generals have been landing and taking off, meeting with local officials."

And he went on to say:

"They've (the military) conducted feasibility studies, concluded secret agreements, and spent billions from their secret budgets. Their new bases are not bases at all, according to US military officials. They are instead "forward staging depots", and "seaborne truck stops" for the equipment which American land forces need to operate on the African continent. They are "protected anchorages" and offshore "lily pads" from which they intend to fight the next round of oil and resource wars, and lock down Africa's oil and mineral wealth for decades to come."

The 21st century scramble for Oil in Africa may not necessary end in armed conflict between the leading capitalist powers like the US and China although client states continually collapse into civil war. Conflict exists throughout Africa due to either competition between one ruling group being beneficiaries of investment money from client States to the exclusion of the other or struggles to hold land rich with mineral reserves and oil in order to sign deals with China or western Capitalism.

The world’s resources should not be the preserve of a minority. Africa has the potential to provide sufficient food, housing and general welfare for its inhabitants. The impediment preventing the needs of Africa from being met is capitalism, national capitalist rivalry over the world’s resources and the profit motive overriding human need. The problems of the people of Africa are bound up with the problems facing the world’s working class. And the cause of these social problems comes from the private ownership of the means of production by the capitalist class. To replace the anti-social objective of profit-making with the Socialist objective of production for use requires, first, conscious political action not only in Western Europe and the US but in China and Africa too.

From the journal Socialist Studies.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Uganda's 50 years of independence

 In Uganda's pre-colonial era, land was communally owned and everyone worked together to produce a good harvest for the family and community; however, the colonial state, which was inherited at independence, was designed to serve the interest of its owners. The establishment of British rule in Uganda came with a typical colonial economic exploitation strategy to make money for the British empire. It grabbed the best land without any consultation. Many young men ran away from forced labour in the north only to end up as forced labourers in plantations in central Uganda. To reinforce the efficiency of an exploitative economic system, the colonial government imported Indian workers to build the Uganda Railway. With the railway done, these coolies, as they were known, took to farming, growing cotton, tea, coffee and sugar, supported by cheap labour from Rwanda, Burundi and northern and north western Uganda.

In 1986, Yoweri Museveni took over power with young, energetic, ambitious graduates, who had left college to join the guerillas and found themselves ministers only within five years. The new team, driven mainly by liberation war slogans and ideals, soon had to grapple with tough political and economic challenges, including a collapsed economy, empty shops, food shortages and silent industries following many years of conflict and the economic war of Idi Amin.

The new leaders attempted to introduce medieval-times trade regimes such as barter trade into a modern international trade arena largely controlled by institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. But while this registered a few successes, such as importing government vehicles in exchange for coffee, it was simply too complicated a system in the context of contemporary international finance and trade regimes.

Within three years, the "revolutionaries" started waking up to the realities of global geopolitics and international trade and finance which had set up shop in Uganda with their true might. Trying to appease these forces would result in the return of confiscated property to the Asians who left in 1972; liberalization and privatization of government parastatals; a tight fiscal and monetary policy discipline and deregulation of investment processes to make them more attractive to foreign direct investments, amongst others.

The "revolutionaries" stooped to accept these rules of the game – urgently liberalising and privatising the Uganda economy. This policy was also exciting for the new team which also saw in privatization the opportunity to acquire personal wealth.

Among the results of the policy included major privatization of social services such as education, health and electricity supply, which simply increased their costs to unacceptable levels for the average citizen; liberalising the economy through the deregulation policy that made it easier for foreign direct investments to flow into Uganda with tax exemptions; closing the ministry of cooperatives, selling off all disposable property of the cooperative unions without consulting shareholders; adopting a new land policy that makes it very difficult for landlords to evict squatters, weakening their ability to create investments using their land, yet at the same time encouraging the commercialization of land ownership.

The beneficiaries of these policies remain small but very powerful groups – the politically connected elite.

Taken from here

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Africa's Forgotten Despot

The Gambia is one of Africa's smallest countries. One third of the Gambia's 1.8 million population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. As a result, the country has increasingly depended on foreign aid, while vanity projects continue. According to 2010 World Bank figures, the nation's gross national income per capita was $450. Much of the soil is unsuitable for farming, and only about a sixth of the land is arable. Farming relies heavily on peanuts, which are grown mainly for export, and farmers are therefore vulnerable to price variations on international markets.

The Gambia's president, Yahya Jammeh, announced last month that all 47 death row inmates would be put to death by mid-September – the nation's first executions since 1985 but you won't hear the West protesting. On 23 August, the killings began. Three days later, nine prisoners had been shot by firing squad. None of those killed were allowed to say goodbye to their families.

The army lieutenant illegally seized power in 1994 and has never considered giving it back. Critics say his iron-fisted regime's mismanagement of the economy has wasted millions, much of it thrown away on a search for oil that has so far proved fruitless. The Gambia has held three elections in the last 18 years under conditions that ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, said were not conducive for the conduct of "free, fair and transparent polls". In the 2006 election Jammeh said: "I will develop the areas that vote for me, but if you don't vote for me, don't expect anything." In a country where many villages do not have clean running water, electricity, or easy access to health care – and where a good monthly wage is less than £15 – this statement could have been a matter of life and death to some. Jammeh's made a messianic claim in 2007, that he could cure AIDS with the mere touch of his hand and has called for the beheading of all homosexuals

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Little change

Three weeks after South African police shot dead 34 miners at the Marikana mine in the worst case of police violence since the end of apartheid, there is still no sign of a breakthrough in the pay dispute. It has highlighted one of the world’s biggest wealth gaps.

South Africa's wealth is spread more unevenly than in any other country in the world. Nearly 20 years after apartheid, a tiny minority, mostly white, holds most of the wealth, and a huge majority, overwhelmingly black, still lives in poverty. In South Africa today, by far the most important class struggle is between labour and capital. Leaders of both workers and employers come and go, but the same basic struggles between these two classes continue. Citigroup estimated in 2010 that South Africa had the world’s richest mineral deposits, worth $3.5 trillion. In the mining industry a handful of huge multinational mining monopolies make billions of rand of profits, extracted from the labour of workers who toil in the most wretched, unhealthy and dangerous conditions underground, for wages that come nowhere close to the value that their labour creates for their employers. The rock drill operatives (RDOs) at the centre of the dispute perform a more dangerous, unhealthy and difficult job than anyone else in the world. They face death every time they go down the shafts. Yet their monthly earnings are just R5600. Lonmin's financial officer, Alan Ferguson, who earns R10,25m a year, or R854581 a month, 152 times higher than an RDO.

Cleaners in Metros earn R13,51 and R10,07 an hour in KZN. Domestic workers earn a meagre R1639,82 in metro areas. Farm workers who toil under all conditions of weather and seasons earn R1503,90. Hospitality workers earn R2240,60. The security guards on duty for 12 hours earn R1828.

Today the top 10% of the rich accounted for 33 times the income earned by the bottom 10% in 2000. This gap is likely to have worsened when you consider that we lost 1,17 million jobs due to the global economic crisis of 2008. In 2008 the top 20 directors of JSE-listed companies, who are still overwhelmingly white males, each earned an average of R59m a year, while on average an employee earned R34000 in 2009. The richest decile earns about 94 times more than the poorest decile. Africans, who constitute 79,4% of the population, account for 41.2% of the household income from work and social grants, whereas whites, who account for 9.2% of the population, receive 45.3% of income. The poorest 10% of the population share R1.1bn, while the richest 10% share R381bn. Since the African National Congress took power 18 years ago to end whites- only rule, 60 percent, or about 23 million, still live in poverty and 28 percent are jobless, according to government data. The gap between rich and poor in South Africa is worse than Honduras and the Central African Republic, according to the World Bank. The Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, was 0.63 in South Africa in 2009, the highest of 25 developing nations surveyed by the World Bank. The index was 0.59 in 1993. ( zero means society is totally equal, while a reading of 1 means the society is completely unequal.) “Black income really hasn’t changed,” Peter Attard Montalto, an economist at Nomura said “That shows that the amount of progress made by the ANC is clearly limited.”

 Poverty and inequality are named routinely among the key challenges facing South Africa today. Four out of every 10 South Africans have no job or adequate social security. Black people will tell us of their continuing humiliation by poverty.

The bulk of South Africans who do not have medical aid and therefore use the crisis-ridden health institutions. A white person born in 2009 expects to live for 71 years, whereas an African born in the same year expects to live for 48 years. The health and well-being of South Africans is worsening rather than improving, according to a key indicator. Globally, tuberculosis (TB) rates are declining, but in South Africa rates are up. TB is four times as common in South African adults as among Zambians. "TB is the child of poverty, but also its parent and provider," said Nulda Beyers from the Desmond Tutu TB Centre at the University of Stellenbosch. "The factors promoting the development of this disease are largely social and environmental," said Beyers.

This negative trend is mirrored in the country's maternal mortality rates - the number of women who die during or after childbirth. While neighbouring African states are seeing a decline in maternal deaths, South African rates are rising.

Capitalism creates inequality. When the the word ''freedom'' was used surely it did not mean 'freedom to exploit others.