Tuesday, April 30, 2013

BP Profits

Angola is one of BP’s four most lucrative “high-margin” regions that contribute a disproportionately high share of its profits. Generous contracts give BP an operating cashflow margin in Angola of almost $60 a barrel, according to Deutsche Bank – more than double BP’s global average. After costs, BP can expect about $40 profit for each barrel it produces in Angola, compared with as little as $1 elsewhere.

Angola is Africa’s second biggest oil producer, with oil accounting for about three-quarters of government revenues. But, as the US Energy Information Administration notes, “much of the oil wealth in the country does not find its way to the average citizen”.

36% of the population live below the poverty line and a short distance from BP’s offices in Luanda, barefooted children pick through mountains of rubbish in the slums. Angola consistently ranks as one of the world’s most corrupt countries

Monday, April 29, 2013

Nigeria's champagne class

It is alright for some.

 Nigeria is one of the fastest-growing consumers of champagne. Nigeria spent N9.4billion ($59 million) on consumption of champagne last year.

Prices at clubs can vary widely here, with a standard bottle of Moet & Chandon running around N19,200 ($120), while bottles of Cristal can come in at 144,000 ($900) or more. Store prices tend to be much lower.

World Bank calculations from 2009-2010 showing some 63 per cent of Nigerians live on less than N160 ($1 dollar) per day. 46 percent of the country’s population living in poverty.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

we can feed ourselves

The number of people who go hungry in Africa’s poorest countries is growing despite advances in food production, say Oxfam researchers . A new report by the global anti-poverty group says more than 230 million people – or one-in-four Africans living south of the Sahara – are undernourished, up 38% from 20 years ago. In the same time, it contends that Africa can produce the food it needs to reduce hunger and improve nutrition.
  The EU alone imports 40% of sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural exports.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Cameroon's Land Grab

As part of the land-grab trend that is accelerating across Africa, thousands of Cameroonians have been displaced from their homelands to make way for large-scale agribusiness projects.

Inhabitants of Adjap, deep in the heart of the tropical rainforests of southern Cameroon are living life on the margins. Over the years, its people have watched their ancestral forest lands continually annexed by the government and ceded to foreign agribusinesses and logging companies.

“Our ancestors settled here in 1903. We considered the land ours until 1947 when the colonial government suddenly seized it as private state property, arresting anyone cutting down trees for firewood or to build”, explains Adjap tribal chief, Marcellin Biang.

The Adjap natives have eventually been squeezed into a 14,000-hectare strip of land – less than a third of the near 50,000-hectare expanse they controlled under pre-colonial customary jurisprudence.

In Akom I, chieftain Luther Abessolo says his subjects are increasingly lazy as a result of the prevailing tenure insecurity. “We live in utter uncertainty because the government can decide to seize our land at short notice anytime. Our people lack motivation to cultivate the land”

14,000 villagers in Cameroon’s southwest whose existence – as well as that of numerous endangered floral and faunal species – is under threat. US-owned agribusiness, Herakles Farms, is razing some 73,000 hectares of dense natural forests for a $600 million oil palm plantation despite local objections. Some locals have been arrested for protesting. Herakles officials say that the company has legitimately leased the land for 99 years, but Greenpeace insisted in February that the meagre 50 cents per acre per year rent to the government, the absence of a presidential decree authenticating the concession, pending lawsuits, and flawed environmental impact assessments, among other things, call the investment into question.

Research released in March by Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) indicate that over 10 million of Cameroon’s estimated 22 million hectares of forest lands have already been committed to various concessions, and that some $18 billion has been pipelined for investment in the agribusiness, forestry, mining and infrastructure sectors in Cameroon. The organisation has been pressing for government forest land policy reforms that recognise and restore land ownership rights of local communities. RRI warns the tenure crisis is worst in Africa, where only 0.4% of forest land is formally owned by local people, as opposed to around 24% in Asia and Latin America.

Across West and Central Africa, an escalating number of poverty-stricken men, women and children in rural areas are being chased off ancestral lands they have relied on for generations for farming, grazing and hunting. They are increasingly squatters and low-paid labourers for the incoming foreign investors and local elites.
“When the government takes this land and gives it out in a lease for 40, 50 or up to 99 years, the people often lose access to these commons resources”, Michael Richards, Natural Resources Economist with the UK-based Forest Trends, notes. “In some cases, they do allow access for the extraction of certain products. But in other cases, they put great fences which stop communities having access.” Land grabbers also usually obtain unlimited rights to water use, Richards adds, implying curtailed availability for downstream users.

From here

Understanding nature

Misperceptions of the drylands as barren and empty are leading to their mismanagement. When most government planners look at Kenya’s Isiolo County, they see barren, dusty land. But pastoralists who live there see something else entirely.

Local government holds land in trust for the communities. But because the government rarely sees the land’s true economic value, "if an investor comes in there is a risk it will be given away," said Ced Hesse, a principal researcher in Institute for Environment and Development’s climate change group.

In neighbouring Tanzania, the Ministry of Tourism said it would set aside 1,500 square kilometres bordering the Serengeti national park as a corridor for wildlife, blocking local Maasai communities from accessing their pasture land but granting access to a Dubai-based luxury hunting and safari company.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Zimbabweans - $1.16 a day

An average person in Zimbabwe survives on US$1.16 per day, according to figures released by the Zimbabwe Statistical Office (ZimStats) under the Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey.

The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.25 per day, and moderate poverty as less than $2 a day.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Africa's capitalist boom - No silver lining

Sub-Saharan Africa is set to grow by 5.6 percent this year, according to latest figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with 18 countries hitting at least six percent. Yet the continent’s boom has failed in recent years to significantly dent poverty levels, economists say.

Africa’s oil and mining, telecommunications, banking and retail are all flourishing, construction is booming and private investment inflows surging. But the continent’s poor are still not riding the wave.
“More than a decade of strong economic growth has reduced poverty in sub-Saharan Africa – but not by enough,” said the World Bank last week. Growth has been less poverty-reducing than elsewhere in the world; and despite the faster growth in resource-rich countries, levels of poverty are falling at a slower rate , it said. More than a third of the world’s extreme poor still live in sub-Saharan Africa. And it is still the only region in the world where the number of poor people rose “steadily and dramatically” between 1981 and 2010. “Higher economic growth does not automatically translate into higher poverty reduction,” states the report.

“The poverty rate is not going down at the same rate that the growth rate is going up,” said Soren Ambrose, economist of anti-poverty group ActionAid in Nairobi. “The mining companies were given attractive deals: those companies come in and do their business and as a result the growth rates are up.” But, he added: “Not much remains, the amount that is left in the country is not so much.”

Planet Earth Day

Farmland investment company Agcapita's website touts land for sale: "Agcapita believes farmland is a safe investment, that supply is shrinking and that unprecedented demand for 'food, feed and fuel' will continue to move crop prices higher over the long-term.”

Scarcity begets a good speculative market -- too bad that scarcity in this case means hunger.

Whether it is development, speculation on food prices land for food is under attack. In places like Ethiopia, land was nationalized during a socialist past cash-strapped governments are selling the “people's land” to the highest bidder. The goal is ostensibly industrial farming, often for biofuels to take advantage of the new European mandate for alternative fuels. However, actual farming efforts often seem half-hearted. Often in speculation, land is held by the elites to await future prices. Whether or not it is used during that wait is immaterial.

Villages have been burned and resisters brutally murdered. In Tanzania, the removals were not for farming but for giant safari parks for wealthy tourists. The result is starvation for people who have been on the land as long as anyone can remember. "Poaching" is sometimes a matter of traditional users trying to maintain their sustainable way of life on land where wealthy hunters pay thousands to shoot for sport.

Going, Going, Gone! Land grabs makes every day Earth Day.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A lucrative business

In the remote Congo region of the Uvira highlands many people still believe that sickness, death or accidents do not “just happen” – they are caused by individuals, that must be identified and neutralized. This is done through a tribal justice system based on traditional customs and superstition.

Witchcraft trials are not free, and are an important source of revenue for the tribal chief. Before the dispute can be brought to the court, each party has to pay a mandatory fee of $200 – the price of a cow – whether they can afford it or not. The tribal judges are bribed to hand out false verdicts.

Vincent Lindalo, a local human rights activist, wants to encourage locals to denounce the trials.

"Because they are ignorant of the judicial system and are poor, they believe it is impossible to win a trial against a tribal chief,” says Lindalo. “Many people believe the chief is untouchable, because of his position, or that their ancestors’ wrath will fall on them if they accuse the chief of wrongdoing.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Corrupt capitalism

Simandou, a mountain in the remote interior of the impoverished west African country of Guinea that is so laden with iron ore that its exploitation rights are valued at around $10bn.

Beny Steinmetz, an Israeli tycoon was estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of $4bn, acquired the rights to extract half the ore at Simandou by pledging to invest just $165m to develop a mine at the mountain. Shortly afterwards, he sold half of his stake for £2.5bn. The rights to extract iron ore from Simandou had been held by Rio Tinto until late 2008 when Conté stripped the Anglo-Australian mining giant of half its stake. Apparently, the president signed the necessary paperwork while on his deathbed, one of the final acts of his dictatorial government. BSG Resources then acquired those rights, agreeing in return to invest $165m to develop what it described as "a world-class integrated mining project".

In April 2010, Steinmetz negotiated to sell half his company's stake – a quarter of the mountain's ore – to Vale of Brazil, the world's biggest iron ore miner. BSG Resources and Vale formed a joint venture company called VBG which would produce around 2m tons of iron ore a year.

When Vale agreed to pay $2.5bn, one veteran of African mining was quoted in the financial press as saying that Steinmetz had hit "the jackpot".

The US justice department decided to mount an investigation into circumstances. Unknown to either Steinmetz the FBI launched an investigation in January into whether payments allegedly made on behalf of Beny Steinmetz Group Resources, the Guernsey-registered mining arm of the tycoon's business empire that acquired the rights, were in breach of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Frederic Cilins, an agent for Steinmetz's company, was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida, after federal agents had covertly recorded a series of meetings. The recording shows, it is alleged, that Cilins plotted the destruction of documents which it is claimed could have shown the Simandou exploitation rights were acquired after millions of dollars were paid in bribes to Guinea government officials. Cilins had in the past offered to pay $12m in bribes in order to influence the award of mining concessions. He had also paid out several million dollars, and had called the meetings in order to arrange for the destruction of documents concerning bribe payments and mining concessions.

Steinmetz has been embarking on litigation at the high court in London, accusing Mark Malloch-Brown, the former Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister and deputy secretary general of the United Nations, of being involved in a smear campaign against BSG Resources.

Guinea, a former French colony, has almost half of the world's bauxite reserves and significant reserves of iron ore, gold and diamond reserves, but the majority of its 11 million people live in poverty as a result of years of corruption.

African telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim, for example, asked publicly: "Are the Guineans who did that deal idiots, or criminals, or both?"

Monday, April 08, 2013

The struggle doesn't continue

In Mozambique the Frelimo Fourth Congress in 1983, the call went out to "Defend the Fatherland, Overcome Underdevelopment, Build Socialism". The national anthem of the time promised to make Mozambique "the grave of capitalism and exploitation". Frelimo's own anthem described party members as "soldiers of the people, marching forward in the struggle against the bourgeoisie".

It was not to be. Mozambique joined the World Bank and the IMF in 1985. Western donors, even friendly ones in Scandinavia, made it clear that a programme with the IMF was a condition for continuing assistance. Some may have viewed it as a temporary diversion, assuming that the march towards a classless society would resume in the near future. But it was not to be.

In 1989, Frelimo quietly dropped Marxism-Leninism from its statutes. The following year it was no longer a "People's Republic", but just "the Republic of Mozambique".

Frelimo's slogan "A Luta Continua!" ("The Struggle Continues!") is rarely heard nowadays.

The benefits of economic growth are not being spread throughout society, and poverty reduction has faltered. The household surveys by Mozambique's National Statistics Institute showed that the number living below the poverty line fell from 69% in 1997 to 54.1% in 2003. But the next survey, in 2009, suggested that the government's efforts to alleviate poverty had stagnated, and that the poverty rate was now 54.7%.
A growing gap between rich and poor is evident from the boom in luxury housing built in the fashionable parts of Maputo, and the explosion in car ownership. Traffic jams, unheard of 20 years ago, are now a regular feature of Maputo life. But the majority of Mozambicans still live in huts or shacks, and depend on buses for their transport. 64% still have no electricity.
Frelimo policy has somersaulted in the past three decades, but the party's grip on power remains strong

Woo-woo cures

Gambian dictator, Yahya Jammeh, continues to insist that he has a cure for HIV/AIDS. While people might think he is a lunatic and that his claims are bizzare and should be ignored, many sick people in Gambia take him seriously. They go to the state house to receive “free treatment"with no proof of efficacy or effectiveness from his ‘Excellency’.

Jammeh, who came to power in 1996 through a military coup, has repeatedly declared that he could cure HIV/AIDS and asthma using natural herbs with some banana and peanuts and by reciting prayers and some verses from the Koran. He has refused to reveal the ingredients he used in preparing some of the concoction. Jammeh had no medical training. He claimed to have inherited the “healing power” from his father. There is no evidence that Jammeh has inherited any form of healing power from anybody. He is a quack taking advantage of the situation of poverty, disease and poor medical care in his country. During his ‘healing session’, he carries a copy of the Koran and his muslim beads to attempt to give the process some legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the majority muslim population in the country.

Jammeh’s cure claims have been dismissed by medical experts globally. And many people are particularly concerned that Jammeh’s reckless and irresponsible cure claims could undermine efforts to combat the AIDS pandemic in Gambia and in other parts of the region. It is difficult to know the number of people who must have died since Jammeh came out and started administering his unsubstantiated and quack cure claims.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Famine - it need not happen

Up to two million people are estimated to have died in drought-related emergencies since 1970.

“Where there are normally successive failed rains; then you have a process whereby you have subsequent harvest failures then people adopt coping strategies," explained report author Rob Bailey. "They start selling off assets, running down food reserves, taking on credit - they get themselves into an increasingly desperate situation." After a period of time the coping strategies become exhausted, triggering a famine. The whole process can take 11 months from start to finish, and that is why there is an opportunity to intervene early. "Yet despite this very significant opportunity and despite analysis showing that when you do intervene early it costs less and you save more lives, it does not happen. Ultimately, early action requires government action."

"It requires donor governments - like the UK and US - to write a cheque early on before the crisis is at its worse phase, and that is a big ask for governments to do because governments are primarily concerned with managing the political risks to themselves.
The 2011 famine in Somalia was probably the single most documented and monitored evolution of famine in history. But still no early action happened. Early warning systems were first introduced in the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions in the early 1980s when it was first realised that it was possible to track the "chronology of famine". Things have got a lot more sophisticated so now there are early warning systems that use satellite to estimate harvests more effectively, how much pasture is available. We have more much more sophisticated weather forecasting models.They also use a lot more household-gathered data, where infants are weighed and malnutrition is quantified. Also, it is monitored whether certain coping strategies, that are recognised as pre-famine indicators, are becoming established. It is very rare that you can have a risk that can be so well understood and predicted, and give us such an opportunity to intervene and mitigate it.
Drought-related emergencies, particularly in the Horn of Africa and Sahel regions, are unlikely to go away in the future, projected scenarios show.

Taken from here

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Zambia: Politics of Poverty

When President Michael Sata came into power in September 2011 he promised the people of Zambia that the Patriotic Front government was going to create new jobs and put money in people’s pockets in just 90 days. The ‘Don’t Kubeba’ political taboo still lives in people’s minds—the political and economic injustices committed upon the Zambian people by the MMD. President Sata has no ideology of any kind. I have never heard him define his political and economic programmes as socialism.

It is a foregone conclusion that in Africa politics is haunted by ethnic and tribal loyalties. Every political party that is elected to power starts to defend its position through suppressing and intimidating the political opposition. The so-called fight against corruption is doctored by revenge and tribalism. This was very evident during the reign of Levy Mwanawasa—we saw how Mwanawasa hunted and victimised members of the Chiluba administration. It was only when Rupiali Banda came in power that Fredrick Chiluba was rescued from corruption allegations. The fight against corruption brought into question the relevance of the judiciary in Zambian domestic politics. The Director of Public Prosecutions is the only person who can override the decisions of the High and Supreme Court judges. The schism between parliament and the judiciary exists. The President does interfere in the workings of the judiciary (he has constitutional power to do so). The suspension of two High Court judges and one Supreme Court judge by the President in May 2012 did not raise eyebrows in political circles because Sata was merely invoking chapter 58 of the Zambian Constitution that provides for the Head of State to remove or suspend a judge.

President Sata suspended the three judges because on the grounds that they interfered or behaved inappropriately in a court case between the Bank of Zambia vs Post News paper and Mutembo Nchito. This is a matter in which the Bank of Zambia was restrained from formalising the purchase of Zambia Airways by Post News Paper. But the suspension of the judges was foreshadowed by the appointment of Mutembo Nchito as Director of Public Prosecutions by President Sata in 2012. What is called corruption in Zambia is mostly stage-managed by politicians. Calls for the lifting of former president Rupiali Banda’s political immunity is a case in point,. Banda was recently approached by the Anti-corruption Commission to answer corruption allegations—Banda refused, citing his political immunity. The former MMD president seemingly enjoys political sympathy from overseas ??? community. In 2012 Banda was ceremoniously invited by the Boston University Senate to give a series of political lectures in the USA. Again (20 February), he was invited by the Carter Election Monitoring Team to preside in the monitoring of presidential elections in Kenya. We can easily see how the fight against corruption is being used to decimate the MMD.

The most controversial and outspoken political figure in the PF today is the party secretary General MV Wynter Kabimba. This is the man who, together with Michael Sata helped to fund the Patriotic Front in 2003. When Mr Kabimba was recently summoned by the Anti-corruption Commission to answer for certain corrupt allegations, he openly refused to do so. He was quickly rescued by Sata, who went on toe restrain the Task Force on Corruption from investigating Kabimba. But his compatriotcolleague, the former Foreign Minister Given Lubinda did not survive. He has been suspended from the PF for six months. It was alleged that Lubinda had revealed some Cabinet secure information to the UPND MPs. It is more than a coincidence that Lubinda is a Tonga from Southern Province, whereas Kabimba is a Bemba (like Sata). The PF government is wholly staffed by Bemba-speaking politicians. It is a fact that were Given Lubinda dismissed from the PF—he would have joined the UPND.

The UPND, led by Hakainde Hichilema is a complete political disappointment in the sense that it remains an ethnic party—it is mostly composed of Tonga-speaking political cadres. It has a mass following in Southern Province. The much-lampooned about Mapatizya Formula is a cold-blooded recipe for political violence carried out by the UPND to murder and terrorise members of the Patriotic Front.

It is appalling to see how a well-educated person like UPND president Hichilema succumbed to ethnic and tribal politics. Indeed, the UPND are being quickly decimated from parliament and beyond—the PF keeps on to win every parliamentary constituency that is contested.

The PF does not want to be seen making the same mistakes made by the MMD for twenty years, viz. by creating a huge public service that was not answerable to the needs of ordinary Zambians. The PF government has started to regulate the private sector, and henceforth introduced a minimum wage pegged at K1250 for general workers—both the church and the labour movement has praised the PF for the gesture. The Ministry of Lands [?], together with the Ministry of Works and Supply have been re-organised to curb corruption. Though President Sata may seem too be sincere at heart, yet capitalism as a system will disappoint his political and economic ambitions.


The slave wars

In Mali Tuareg rebels are capitalising on fighting in Mali to reacquire former captives whom they regard as their property from birth.

Anti-slavery groups say the conflict and ensuing political chaos in Mali has worsened the situation facing the 250,000 people who live in conditions of slavery in the west African state. The MNLA leadership and parts of the Ansar Dine Islamist group, which fought for control of the north last year, come from Tuareg noble families, some of whom are responsible for continuing the practice of slavery in Mali. The Malian anti-slavery organisation Temedt has reported cases of slave masters profiting from the chaos of the past year to recapture former slaves, including at least 18 children seized from one village last September.
Although slavery is a crime against humanity in Mali's constitution, it remains deeply ingrained in the culture. For centuries, descent-based slavery – where slavery is passed down through the bloodline – has resulted in "black Tamasheq" (the Tuareg's language) families in Mali's north being used as slaves by nomadic Tuareg communities. Generations of children have been considered the property of the Tuaregs from birth. Despite the constitution, slavery is still not illegal in Mali, making it difficult for anti-slavery groups to launch criminal prosecutions.

In 2008, Raichatou escaped slavery in the northern desert town of Menaka, heading for the relative safety of Gao. Raichatou became a slave at the age of seven when her mother, also a slave, died. "My father could only watch on helplessly as my mother's master came to claim me and my brothers," she says. She worked as a servant for the family without pay for nearly 20 years, and was forced into a marriage with another slave whom she didn't know.My master only wanted me to have children so that he would have more slaves in the future. My opinion did not count. I had to live with a man I had not chosen for three years. They told me that the only way I would get to heaven was to obey my master. My instinct for liberty was telling me to grab every opportunity to be free, but my slave mentality was telling me the opposite" she says.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

No Choice

In Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya the opposition had either been totally smashed or is rotting in jail. Alternatively, it has ceased to exist. Elections are fights between corrupt politician A and corrupt politician B, both campaigning along ethnic lines and on behalf of their vested mercantile interests who ‘compete’ over who will be the one to get his snout into the trough at the end of the ‘democratic electoral process’. Politicians do not use the rhetoric ‘Socialism or death!’ (whatever they take to mean socialism to be.) Nor do they campaign on the promise of ‘Let’s liberate our people from misery!’ The accepted political agenda is the more modest: ‘It’s our time to eat!’

In the recent Kenyan elections, not one single Presidential candidate dared to raise the essential issues exposing the neo-colonialism of the muli-nationals. Nor did any candidate protest being a military proxy for other powers.
In Rwanda, where the regime is co-responsible for the loss of millions of human lives in DR Congo, there is, at least, no charade about democracy. It is courted by ‘world leaders’ like Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Bill Gates. The most prominent opposition leader in Rwanda, Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, is in prison. Her name much lesser known than Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi when she was in detention. Ingabire considers herself relatively lucky because many other Rwandan opposition figures have already been murdered.
Museveni, the President of Uganda, has held the reigns of power since 1986. He wears a cowboy hat which is indicative of his personality - a cowboy. Brutal civil war is raging in the north of Uganda. There, according to countless reports, the military are ordered, periodically, to rape but that is not preventing the West using Ugandan troops as ‘peacekeepers’ all over Africa, particularly where their interests lie. He is another loyal mercenary of the West in the region, Uganda is deeply involved in Somalia, Sudan and above all, in DR Congo. For the West, Museveni has been a very effective ‘buffer’ against Sudan. He is, of course, very useful for US interests in DR Congo. US gives Uganda money and they give them the bodies that they want removed.
Museveni hates gays, and he occasionally threatens them with capital punishment. To give the credit where it is due, there actually is, at least, some opposition in Uganda. Its members periodically protest; they write books and articles, arrange demonstrations, and even end up in prisons. But they too are also very careful not to alienate the West.

In these African countries, as elsewhere, there is very little talk about alternative political and economic systems.