Friday, March 22, 2013

one world - one people - workers united

Over two million families solely depend on Lake Malawi for their livlihoods. The 29,000-square-kilometre tranquil lake is a tourist spot, source of revenue and food for local populations. But since July 2012, it was discovered that the lake could potentially be a lucrative oil and gas source, and it rekindled a border dispute between the southern African neighbours over who owns the lake. Malawi claims sovereignty over the entirety of the lake that straddles the borders of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. Meanwhile, Tanzania says 50 percent is part of its territory. In October 2011 Malawi’s late President Bingu wa Mutharika, awarded a contract to British Surestream Petroleum to start gas and oil exploration on the eastern part of the lake, and then a second exploration licence in December 2012 to a subsidiary of South African firm SacOil.

Richard Kilumbo, a resident from Kyela district, which borders Lake Nyasa, told IPS that he could not understand the reasons for the dispute explained “We have relatives from Mzuzu, Malawi and were going to attend a wedding (there last year). We are shocked and panicked to find we are making preparations of war against our neighbours. We do not know why this is such big thing amongst our leaders. We heard people were talking, we thought we were free to walk and enjoy life...There really is no trouble on the ground, none at all. Fishermen from Tanzania are carrying on as usual, and although we know it’s in the news, we’ve no idea why,”

“There’s no border dispute among the local community, it is a dispute among politicians, a political performance at higher levels, eying elections in Malawi in 2014 and Tanzania in 2015. Unfortunately, the local communities are pawns. They lack access to information and education to understand the implications and seriousness of this,” local environmental journalist who has followed the story for many years, and writes regularly on it for Swahili newspapers Felix Mwakyembe, told IPS. “This lake should be used to improve the lot and livelihoods of local people, on both sides. The lake is a resource – instead it’s being used as part of a political game to further political careers,”

Saturday, March 16, 2013

We can feed ourselves

Ton Dietz, the director of the Afrika Studie Centrum, based in Leiden, Netherlands, one of Europe's leading think tanks on Africa, questions the image of Africa so commonly seen as a hungry continent. His research showed that total basic food production in Africa has actually not only kept pace with population growth, but has increased proportionally faster than has the population. Overall Africa produces more than enough food to feed itself.

Research has shown that the amount of calories consumed per person had actually increased in all of west Africa, but had decreased in all east African countries between 1961 to 2009 despite the region having some of the most fertile agricultural land available on the continent.
In 1961 every nation in Africa produced domestically more than 100 percent of its domestic food supply. Now most African countries produce less than its domestic supply and therefore are becoming more dependent on food imports, even though they grow enough food to feed themselves.
In Benin, Mozambique and the two Sudans all show large drops in the portion domestically produced, and large increases in imported food and stock variations. Sudan and Mozambique can be partly explained by the wars that plagued both, but during the first part of this century Mozambique has had a domestic peace in a nation with extraordinary agriculture potential. The research showed that post-harvest loss is the major problem in the Sudans and not weather conditions. The same is true for Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Mozambique. Africa lacks infrastructures for adequate storage and refrigeration.

Somalia's drought was man-made

 Global warming may have contributed to low rain levels in Somalia in 2011 where tens of thousands died in a famine, research by British climate scientists suggests.  Between 50,000 and 100,000 people died from the famine.

 Peter Stott of Britain's Met Office said that the evidence is "very strong" that the planet is warming due to an increase in greenhouse gases. He noted that the study indicates that both natural causes -- La Nina and the short rains -- and man-made causes contributed to Somalia's drought. Between 24 percent and 99 percent of the cause of the failure of the 2011 rains can be attributed to the presence of man-made greenhouse gases, Stott said.

Global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels -- coal, oil and natural gas -- which sends heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, into the air, changing the climate, of which the contribution of Somalian people is negligible yet they bore the brunt of the consequences.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Kenyan Election

The majority of Kenyans live in misery. Two thirds of the population of the capital lives in slums. People want change. All of them are talking about change. "Change" is on the lips of the people forming those endless queues. But what kind of change?

In a state where the majority of people live on less than US$1 a day, the local MPs enjoy some of the highest take-home salaries paid to politicians anywhere on earth –more than US$123,000 a year. For comparison, British MPs earn the equivalent of US$99,000. Why would the rich want to change anything?

The elections have been described, in advance, as ‘democratic’, by both the local and Western mainstream media. In the case of Kenya, elections are also ‘democratic’, because there are eight Presidential candidates, and countless candidates running for MP, Senators and governors. It does not matter that not a single Kenyan Presidential candidate has been truly ready to represent the interests of the people. In the language of Western propaganda, democracy is measured only by the number of political parties and candidates; and not by their agenda. Change is definitely not on any candidate’s list. Their allegiances are to their tribes and to their business interests, to their deep pockets, neither to ideals nor to the nation.

 The two main Presidential candidates, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, belong to the two most powerful political dynasties. Uhuru Kenyatta, is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president. Raila Odinga is the second son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, one of Kenya’s Independence heroes, and the nation’s first vice-president. No real changes to the system have been proposed by either candidate.  None of the essential issues have been discussed in the pre-election campaign such as the brutal capitalist system that is destroying the lives of millions.

While the Kenyan elites are harvesting millions of dollars from their collaboration with former and present-day colonizers, In many parts of Kenya, people are dying from hunger and disease.  If Uhuru wins or if it is Raila who wins, what difference does it really make? There is no change. The war against the poor goes on.

Monday, March 04, 2013

poverty amidst plenty

Despite food production increasing by over 35% between 2011 and 2012, due to good rains, improved cultivation practices and expanded area under cultivation in addition to the 40% population of South Sudan already at risk of food insecurity, the report anticipates more than one million people are likely to be severely affected.

At least 4.1 million people in South Sudan are likely to be food insecure this year, a new report released by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) reveals.

The Wabenzi Election

According to the World Bank, almost half of Kenya's 41.6 million people live below the poverty line of $1.25 a day. 20 percent of Kenyans suffered from food poverty, such that their entire income is not even enough for purchasing food. Between independence in the 1960s and the 2007 election, Kenya's constitution was amended around 30 times, each time bolstering the power of the presidency at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches of government, and, ultimately, at the expense of the Kenyan people.

"Wabenzi" is Swahili  slang for those who own a Mercedes Benz. Fifty years after independence, the Wabenzis in Kenya are still in a class of their own. They can afford a decent meal in the upmarket restaurants in Nairobi's leafy suburbs; take their kids to schools abroad or in the local exclusive £20,000 term academies. When sick, they can jet out to Europe and the US for treatment and skip the crowded Kenyatta National Hospital. Although it is Kenya's largest referral hospital, it is under-funded and sees queues for hours on end of patients seeking medical attention. For the last three months, nurses in public hospitals have been on strike, and nobody seems to care. Shortly after independence in a swift and seamless transformation, the new public servants became flashy tycoons. They had the money and political power. Some of them had just arrived from the world's top universities or had managed to enter into the boards of blue-chip companies as a thank-you note for being loyal to the colonial regime. The Wabenzi and their children are party animals. In their parking yards, one can spot a wide assortmant of vehicles, such as Jaguars, Range Rover Sport, Land Rovers, Escalades, Mercedes Benz, BMWs and Hummers. These are the signature status symbols of Kenya's nouvelle generation. Some even own private helicopters, vintage vehicles, and real estate. And that is besides the thousands of acres of plantations that are cultivating either tea, coffee - or even simply lying fallow. Some are into the stock market and own major shares in leading companies.

They use taxpayers' money to live large. They love the thrill that accompanies this power status - motorcycle outriders, menacing soldiers, and ministerial Mercedes hurtling at speed. Kenya's political elite cling to their pay and to their allowances. For the lesser Kenyans it is austerity, but not the Wabenzi. Kibera is one of Africa's poorest slums. And yet last year, the country could afford to refurbish parliament with 350 seats, each costing about $3,000. That is the kind of opulence that the Wabenzi love. Only 10 percent of Kenyans lived in opulence, 33 percent barely eked a living while 57 percent live below the poverty line and in squalid conditions. It is the poor that  become pawns in a political chess match when the 10 percent return every five years in search of political power and might in the general elections. The country's leaders line their pockets while Nairobi's slums swell with the desperately impoverished.

 Kenya's capital streets are awash with red and orange. Red: The colour of TNA candidates Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. Orange: The CORD coalition of Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his allies. A small fortune is being spent to buy votes. "We have never seen a campaign like this," a taxi driver said. "There is so much money being wasted."

After the 2007 electtion as many as 1,400 people died in the span of 59 days, while 600,000 people were displaced from their homes. Kenya slipped dangerously close to outright civil war. Gangs of youths roamed through many of Kenya's slums, torching homes, as riots spread across the country. Adding fuel to the fire of unrest, news reports emerged showing police officers shooting unarmed protesters amid the chaos. a church in the northern Eldoret district was burned to the ground. It was packed with women and children. 17 were burned alive.

 "By this time, there was a great resentment and dissatisfaction among the people about having a leadership underwritten by corruption and corrupt networks," Kiama Kaara, a political analyst with Kenya's Debt Relief Network, told Al Jazeera. "There was a realisation among people that the leaders were not any different [from one another] and wanted to control, and to benefit from controlling the nation's resources for their personal benefit and their personal gratification. This built frustration for Kenyans across the board."


Saturday, March 02, 2013

Land grabbing - Ethiopian style

Despite the defence of land-grab by the Ethiopian embassy in a recent issue of the Indian newspaper, The Hindu, the  prime focus of the policy of the government of Ethiopia is NOT ensuring food security of its citizens but faciliating the export of food to accrue profit. Nor is the land being leased unused and mostly inaccessible. Nor is the re-location of people peaceful.

Over 80% of the 85 million population of Ethiopia live in rural areas, in settlements and villages, and work in agriculture. Many are small-scale farmers who, according to government figures, farm “eight percent (about 10,000,000 hectares) of the national land area”, and traditional pastoralists who have, for generations, lived simple lives. Huge tracts of agricultural land with water supplies are being leased to foreign companies for food export. The Oakland Institute, a US- based policy think-tank and leader in the field, have produced in-depth reports on worldwide land sales stating that, between 2008 and 2011, “3,619,509 hectares were transferred to domestic investors, state-owned enterprises and foreign companies”. Amounting to a third, if government figures are correct, of the land farmed by Ethiopians themselves, an area the size of a small country, e.g. Holland. The government proclaims land sales are part of a strategic, long-term approach to agriculture reforms and economic development, that foreign investment will fund infrastructure projects, create employment opportunities, help to eradicate hunger and poverty and benefit the community, local and national. What growth there will be will benefit onl the rich, privileged minority, mainly members of the ruling party.

With the coming of industrial-size farms in Ethiopia, local people, villagers and pastoralists deemed superfluous to the government’s, economically-driven development plans are being threatened, and intimidated by the military; forcibly displaced  their homes destroyed and herded into camps. Along with vast agricultural complexes, dams are planned and constructed, water supplies re-directed to irrigate crops, forests burnt, natural habitats destroyed. Dissenting voices are brutally silenced.

In Ethiopia, land sales are occurring in six key areas. Oromia and Gambella in the south, Amhara, Beneshangul, Gumuz, the Sidaama zone, or SNNP and the Lower Omo Valley – an area of outstanding natural beauty with acclaimed UNESCO World heritage status. Genocide Watch considers the Ethiopian government’s conduct in Omo and Oromia “to have already reached stage 7 [of 8], genocidal massacres” It is a regime whose loyalties rest firmly with investors, corporations, multi-nationals and the like, and who cares little for the people living upon the land, or indeed in the cities.

Conditional within land lease agreements is the requirement that the government will clear the area of ‘encumbrances’, meaning indigenous people. The national Villagisation program aims to move people from their ancestral homes, over four states, into large settlements is well under way, as these 2010 figures from Cultural Survival show, “by February 1987, 5.7 million people (15 percent of the rural population) had been moved into 11,000 new villages. By the end of this year, 10 million rural inhabitants (25 percent of the population) are expected to be villagized in 12 of Ethiopia's 13 provinces.” This mass movement is being carried out without consultation or compensation, contrary to federal and international law, which requires the free, informed and prior consent of the people, no matter the official claims to the contrary.

“Fear and intimidation” is endemic, not just in areas associated with land sales, but throughout the country; suppression is common and freedom of expression greatly restricted. The media – TV, radio, press as well as print companies, are state-owned, so too the sole telecommunication company, restricting access to the internet, which is monitored. The judiciary is simply an extension of government, lacking credible independence, the political opposition marginalised and completely ineffective. International media are frowned upon and, in some areas (e.g. Ogaden) completely banned.

What about the bumper benefits promised, particularly the numerous employment opportunities? The Oakland Institutes states, “the basic facts and evidence showing growing impoverishment experienced on the ground”. It turns out industrialised farming is highly mechanised and offers few jobs; overseas companies are not concerned with providing employment for local people and care little for their well-being, making good bedmates for the ruling party. They bring the workers they need, and are allowed to do so by the Ethiopian government, which places no constraints on their operations.

Full story here