Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fact And Fiction About South Africa's Social Spending

A World Bank report makes the incredible claim that the South African Treasury has been exceedingly generous in social spending. With that, neoliberals can now justify social spending caps or even cuts. In reality, though, South Africa has the fourth lowest public social spending amongst the world’s largest 40 countries.

“South Africa is achieving a sizable reduction in poverty and inequality through its fiscal tools.” This was the main claim by the World Bank’s Pretoria-based country director Asad Alam recently, in the foreword to the November 2014 report, “Fiscal Policy and Redistribution in an Unequal Society.”

The timing is vital: just two weeks earlier, in his first budget speech, South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene warned of coming austerity, ‘tough times’ and ‘a new age of pain.’ The Bank’s statistical findings were immediately spun into life, as commentators and politicians drew what they thought were the obvious implications, including back-slapping from within the ruling African National Congress (ANC):

• Jonathan Katzenellenbogen at PoliticsWeb: “a World Bank report warned last week that government no longer has the cash to expand the grant system... the ‘fiscal space for more redistribution is limited due to the high fiscal deficit and debt.’ According to the Bank report, transfers have caused the poverty rate to fall from 46.2 percent to 39 percent... This reduction in inequality through tax and spending is larger than in any other country.

• Hilary Joffe of Business Day: “Add in the social spending side of the fiscal equation, which the World Bank study finds is very well targeted to the poor, and SA comes out spectacularly well against its peers.

• From inside the Bank, Mahmound Moheildin and Maria Beatriz Orlandon in Project Syndicate’s ‘Visionary Voices’ series: “South Africa has made considerable progress from institutionalized segregation toward an ideal of a ‘rainbow nation’ in just two decades.”

• Rothschilds banker (and former finance and planning minister) Trevor Manuel: “The World Bank study released last week confirms that fiscal policy is significantly redistributive, on both the tax and spending sides...

• ANC Treasurer Zweli Mkhize: “in the midst of the gloom and pessimism that abounds, we must never lose sight of our strength as a people and our achievements as a country. Last week World Bank economist Catriona Purfield told reporters in Pretoria that in South Africa, large reductions have been made in poverty and inequality.”

The subtext soon comes into focus: neoliberals can justify social spending caps or even cuts, in one of the world’s most unequal countries, if the South African Treasury is now seen to have been exceedingly generous. But to reach their conclusion, Alam, Purfield and their followers simply ignored data they cannot process: numbers inconsistent with Bank dogma. (A ‘fiscal tool’ is, in straight talk, what Treasury uses when collecting taxes and making payments.)

In reality, South Africa has the fourth lowest public social spending (as a share of national income) amongst the world’s largest 40 countries, just half Brazil’s. The ratio of social grant spending was already projected to decline from a tokenistic 3.0 to just 2.3 percent of GDP by 2040, even before Nene’s recent speech. Yet the SA corporate profit rate is the world’s third highest, according to the International Monetary Fund.



Sources: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2011), SA Treasury (2014) and IMF (2013).

In this context, the Bank’s optimism about redistributiom is not unusual, for it suffers a seriously bad statistical habit: poverty denialism. As Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics pointed out recently, in 2000 rising numbers of poor people represented “a PR nightmare for the World Bank”, so after massaging the International Poverty Line, “their story changed dramatically and they announced the exact opposite news: the introduction of free-market policies had actually reduced the number of impoverished people by 400 million between 1981 and 2001.” This has been largely based on picking an extremely low and arbitrary number for poverty ($1.25/day) and employed many other numerical tricks and creative accounting techniques.

by Patrick Bond - full article here

Buying Influence

Alastair Campbell raised eyebrows when he popped up in South Africa and got onto the TV and radio talk show circuits as a know-it-all "ANC adviser" in last election. Turns out that's just the tip of the iceberg. Lobbyists fan out across Africa.

Nigeria is, just ahead of Egypt and Morocco, Africa's biggest spender on image-making. Each year it spends tens of millions of dollars on registered lobbyists, law firms and public relations companies to get its case across to foreign governments and media. Egypt and Morocco hire lobbyists in Washington DC with specific goals: Cairo wants to protect its billions of dollars of US military aid, and Rabat wants to build US support for its claims on Western Sahara. In the past seven years, Morocco has discreetly spent some $20m lobbying Congress and the State Department, and trying to influence the media through two related entities, The Gabriel Company and the Moroccan American Center for Policy. That translates into policy and access. In 2013 when the US proposed adding a human rights mandate to the UN peacekeeping force based in Western Sahara, the sovereignty of which is disputed between Morocco and the Polisario Front, Rabat mobilised support and opposed the plan. The US quickly dropped it. In November 2013, President Obama welcomed King Mohammed VI to the White House for a convivial meeting. In South Africa, like so many other African countries, political parties bring in foreign advisers while state and private companies are spending millions on promotion overseas. Those businesses are booming more than ever and changing Africa's image in the process.

Beyond state spending, Africa's political parties and companies are fuelling a massive expansion in the communications business, in and about the continent. Foreign campaign advisers are a feature of almost every African election, from Angola to Zimbabwe. African companies are raising capital and their profiles across the world, and hiring image-makers to help them. This is by far the biggest growth sector.

Foreigners have a clearly defined role "on polling, strategy and messaging", according to Lehrle, who has worked in Zambia, Kenya and Madagascar. He added that independent and professional polling is critical: "One company produced a poll in Zambia which claimed to be accurate within a range of plus or minus 10%. That means it could be 20% off the mark, so effectively useless."

Tony Blair Associates, which has earned more than $70m since he left power in 2007. This work finances all his pro bono activities, such as the African Governance Initiative, which operates in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Rwanda, Liberia, Malawi. Other pro bono work includes a religious faith foundation and a sports charity. But there are grey areas. Does his pro bono work in Guinea, for example, give him influence to push through deals in the interests of his commercial associates, such as the bank JPMorgan Chase or Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska?

"The action is on the continent, it's a move away from traditional advocacy. It's about business, the dynamic of the conversation has changed," Levinson explains to The Africa Report. K. Riva Levinson is a long-standing lobbyist the steely lobbyist for Jonas Savimbi's União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola rebels in the 1980s, or more recently as the corporate hitwoman backing US oil company Kosmos in its dispute with the Ghana government.

That is a message that Aubrey Hruby, a visiting fellow at the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, amplifies: "It's the commercial mandate, working with African and foreign companies, finding out what they need." Hruby is setting up a new outfit called the Africa Experts Network, which will aim to use its extensive commercial contacts across Africa to respond to demands for detailed information about market size and conditions.

Marcus Courage, the chief executive of Africa Practice – which has six offices on the continent – says the traffic is now two-way and mostly in Africa: "Big foundations and institutions want to know how to communicate with Africa. Its business leaders are promoting their companies, sometimes themselves. African markets have gone global, they are no longer just dependent on investment from the US and Europe."

Check-up time

Visit Nigeria and the chances are you will come across numerous privately owned health clinics, doctor's surgeries and hospitals. They are so widespread because Nigeria's state-run health system – ranked at 197th out of 200 by the World Health Organisation – is chronically underfunded and so overstretched that it simply cannot meet all the demands made on it. Private medicine fills the gap for those who can afford it.

But while there are many legitimate private health providers, there are many more that are completely bogus; unaccredited, unregulated 'quack' doctors - con artists and criminal scammers for the most part - who ruthlessly exploit the credulity, ignorance and desperation of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. Indeed they are so prolific that a survey carried out in Nigeria earlier this year found that more than 50 percent of the population had received 'treatment' from the quacks at one time or another – even people with very serious diseases such as typhoid and malaria.
Professor Alex Dodoo, who monitors patient safety for the World Health Organisation in West Africa and has dealt with quacks for years points out the obvious dangers of dealing with fake doctors:
"If one is not licensed by the state, anything that one does is illegal. Going to see them is dangerous. Period. Would you sit in an aeroplane where the pilot says 'OK hello, I'm the pilot, but I've not been licensed!' No way! You put your health at risk and you can die."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Aid, Ebola and the White Saviour Industrial Complex

Have we learned nothing? Thirty years ago, the Band-Aid video showed pop stars with 1980s hair raising funds for “Africa”. But it wasn’t for Africa, even though the resulting record featured a guitar in the shape of a continent. It was Ethiopia, and the resulting “documentary” began with BBC clips of starving people lined up for food in a camp, with the usual flies swarming, hollowed eyes, and white doctors being interviewed regarding their plight. The songs, the recordings, the video – all identified all of Africa with these images of helplessness, sounding the call of the “white savior industrial complex” for a new generation. Despite the feel-good super sales of the song, controversy continues around the question of whether the effort did more material harm than good.

Fast forward to today: The just-released remix of the principal song of the 1984 Band-Aid concerts — “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” — plays to the same sentiments with many of the same stars (and some new ones, like One Direction) — and has all of the same problems. Again, have we really learned nothing? The video opens with what was known in the 1990s as “aid pornography” (a term and debate which unfortunately has dropped from the radar screen) – shots of dying people – shots that these stars would never allow of themselves. Then we see them filing into the studio one-by-one in the requisite shades, every move (but looking good, not in the throes of death) captured by paparazzi, then emotionally singing, then holding each other, giggling and smiling after they have done their good deed.

Yes, funds are needed to fight Ebola; yes, people are suffering; yes, it can be good to “do good”. But it is never good to show others’ suffering without their consent, especially when showing them stripped of dignity. And as many of the CIHA Blog’s posts and those of others insist, over and over again, what we need is to target the neoliberal austerity policies that have led to the breakdown of health systems in West Africa as well as other areas of the world (including many parts of the U.S.) Representing Africans – yet again – as helpless and without dignity while representing ourselves as knowledgeable problem-solvers (who give up nothing in our attempts to do good) IS part of the problem and NOT part of the solution. We Westerners really should have learned something by now.

by Cecelia Lynch, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for International, Global and Regional Studies at the University of California, Irvine.

from here with links

The Rape of Africa

Despite decades of public fundraising and aid, the end to Africa’s poverty is nowhere in sight. This “aid” is actually a smokescreen used to hide from public view the fact the it is the donors themselves who are perpetuating this cycle of dependence. Africa is essentially not poor. A combination of inequitable policies, massive disparities in power and criminal activities perpetrated and sustained by wealthy elites both inside and outside the continent are keeping its people in poverty. The UK and other wealthy governments are at the heart of this theft.

A coalition of UK and African researchers has released findings that illustrate how the continent actually loses over six times the amount it receives in aid. 

As we often watch wealthy countries heap on themselves and each other generous portions of praise for helping ‘needy’ countries and using their donations to accelerate development in impoverished regions so as to end poverty, another scenario is playing itself out. This scenario is rarely reported. Africa, the receiver of $30 billion in annual monetary handouts, is not only making nothing from the aid it receives but it actually loses $192 billion to the rest of the world within the same time frame.

Research published recently indicates that current practices within the continent tend to favour wealthy countries. These practices include tax dodging, the repatriation of multinational companies’ profits with their unjust trade policies, the costs incurred from climate change and the exodus of skilled workers. This means, basically, that if you take into account the money coming in through aid, investment and remittances ($134 billion), Africa is left with a $58 billion annual loss. To put this into perspective, the money that Africa loses each year is over one and half times the amount of additional money needed to deliver affordable health care to everyone in the whole world!

$35.3 billion annually through the tax evasion and other dodgy financial flows enabled by tax havens. These tax havens are jurisdictionally linked to the G8 and the European Union and account for 70% of global tax haven investment. The UK has 11 tax havens under its jurisdiction!

It is time to stop misrepresenting the real nature of the relationship between aid and poverty in Africa.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Africa Conference on Land Grab 2014

The Africa Conference on Land Grab 2014 was held from  27 – 30 October 2014, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The report from the conference is available here:

The conference issued a declaration, the Midrand Declaration, which is available here:

Participants resolved to form an Africa Coalition Against Land Grabs (ACALG).

However It's Framed The Losers Are The Workers

One of Africa’s largest palm oil investors has announced plans to improve social infrastructure for its workers, a week after a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation found that poorly paid plantation employees in the Democratic Republic of Congo were living in dilapidated homes with poor social services.

Feronia, a Canadian-listed company registered in the Cayman Islands, operates three major plantations in the DRC employing more than 3,500 workers on a 107,000 hectare concession.
The firm initiated a new partnership with MASS Design Group on Thursday to "assess and redesign the social infrastructure underpinning Feronia's operations” following the Thomson Reuters Foundations’ revelations.
Feronia spokesperson Paul Dulieu said he couldn’t say exactly how much the company plans to spend on the new infrastructure.
“The purpose of this (new assessment) is to create a definitive plan and establish what that figure is,” Dulieu said in an email.

Workers at the plantations in the conflict-afflicted country complained of housing in severe disrepair, wages just over a dollar a day for intense field labour and a lack of proper medical care in the rural region.
It remains unclear how, when or if the new initiative will ameliorate those concerns.
“Feronia has been operating outside of public attention for far too long,” Devlin Kuyek,  a researcher with GRAIN, a land rights group that has been following the situation of plantation workers, said in an email. “Since the Thomson Reuters (Foundation) article, it seems they are now scrambling to deal with years of neglect of the local communities and workers that is now in public view.”

Feronia is partially owned by European taxpayers through the CDC in the UK, which receives government development aid funds, and Phatisa, a private equity firm partially financed by the French and Spanish development agencies.
Feronia is still losing money, so it remains unclear who will pay for the new facilities.
Dulieu said he is optimistic Feronia can “facilitate third-party funding” for the new infrastructure. It plans to use local contractors to make the improvements, once an assessment has been finished, in order to stimulate “local enterprise”, he said. 

Who Cares About C.A.R.

The bitter internal crisis which has rocked the Central African Republic (CAR) since December 2012 has moved from the pages of the newspapers but is the displacement of thousands of ordinary citizens is continuing. Those who fled have been forced to abandon their houses and home areas, often moving into rapidly-established camps, living in dismal conditions. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns of household food and income sources remaining significantly disrupted in CAR, “leaving affected households, particularly IDPs, with food consumption gaps equivalent to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or higher”. FAO notes that ongoing harvests offer some relief, but “approximately 1 million people may require assistance by the 2015 lean season (May to September).” Very high levels of acute malnutrition and mortality persist at CAR refugee camps in Cameroon. Refugees and IDPs both need urgent assistance to help households meet minimal food requirements and treat acute malnutrition. The conflict is not over. October and November were marked by new waves of violence in the capital, Bangui. Witnesses said political battles were still being fought out on the streets, with the anti-Balaka militia particularly prominent. French military sources warned of growing delinquency, armed gangs taking part in looting sprees and robbing civilians at gunpoint.

There are still 31 refugee camps in the capital. The biggest is still at M’Poko, near the airport. The airport became a critical refuge for thousands of Bangui city-dwellers, mostly from the 3rd, 5th and 6th districts of the city, fleeing renewed outbreaks of violence in which fighters from both the former Séléka coalition and the anti-Balaka militias were implicated. At the peak of the crisis, the airport camp played host to 60,000-70,000 people. According to Dana Mcleod, director of communications for US-based NGO Refugees International, "aid agencies deliberately scaled back their services in order to discourage people from settling here." Numbers at M’poko are now down to around 20,000, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). But despite the collective efforts of NGOs, residents still describe conditions as “catastrophic”.

"I have been here since December 2013", Ndouga told IRIN. "I was attacked by a group of armed men. My house was looted and burned, so I fled here. If I go back home I would not know where to sleep." Ndouga spoke with bitterness about his daily life. "We have been abandoned here. We have been given water and latrines, but to have anything to live on you have to go back to your home area and find a bit of work and ask friends and family to get you something to eat."

"There is no security on this site, no doors for the tents," explained Ruthe, a widow and mother of seven. "Thieves come at night to rob us. The airport landing strip is a 'red zone' where you come across criminals ready to rob people who go there." "We are seriously suffering here," Ruthe told IRIN. "We have had no food aid for the past eight months."

Martin Boua, a teacher, expressed concern about the role of anti-Balaka militias, originally presented as popular self-defence units, but later accused of serious human rights violations.

"When there is some kind of justice to be administered it is often the anti-Balaka who fill the gap," Boua noted. "But some of them engage in extortion, taking money and property, engaging in group rape and armed robbery."

As visitors approach M’Poko, they see what looks like a village, dotted with thousands of tents and other forms of shelter. The site is divided into 11 zones, like city districts, which then divide into 80 sections. Each zone is run by a president backed by a five-strong committee, handling special issues for women and youth, working on conflict resolution and trying to improve water and sanitation conditions. International NGOs, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Save the Children and Mercy Corps, run individual programmes. IRIN recently witnessed Mercy Corps leading an awareness-raising campaign on hygiene, activists going door to door from Monday to Friday, then holding a mass meeting on the Saturday where messages were relayed on basic health precautions, like using good water, washing with soap, maintaining toilets properly and sleeping under mosquito nets. The NGO Première Urgence takes care of administration and coordination. While the NGOs get a lot of thanks for their efforts, some residents have strong reservations about their role. For Martin Boua, "some NGOs are doing great work, but others lead activities which have no impact, are late and ephemeral." Boua suggested some NGOs disappeared from view, only coming back into the picture when donors came visiting. "It is a whitewash," Boua complained.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Corporate transparency??

A Belgian mining firm has "consistently lied" about the bulldozing of hundreds of homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Amnesty International says. New evidence showed a Groupe Forrest International (GFI) subsidiary supplied bulldozers to destroy homes near a copper and cobalt mine, it said. GFI, which has denied responsibility for the illegal demolitions in 2009, should pay compensation, Amnesty said. "There is now overwhelming and irrefutable evidence showing that the forced evictions that Groupe Forrest International has denied for years in fact took place," said Amnesty International's Audrey Gaughran in a statement.

A government prosecutor investigated the demolitions and tried to bring criminal charges against those responsible, but was instructed by government officials not to do so, Amnesty said in its report. "This is a cover-up by the Congolese authorities. The state has failed its own people by not bringing anyone to justice for these forced evictions and by not ensuring that compensation was paid," it added.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When subsidising the wealthy is charity

Millions of pounds of British aid money to tackle poverty overseas has been invested in builders of gated communities, shopping centres and luxury property in poor countries, the Guardian can reveal. Wholly owned by the Department for International Development (DfID), CDC invests in private companies with the stated aim of reducing poverty in developing countries. Its investments count as aid and DfID is its sole shareholder. CDC has investments in construction and property across sub-Saharan Africa from Ghana to Zambia as well as in India. Many projects appear to cater to the elite.

In Kenya, $25m has been put into a 13-hectare (32-acre) mega-development in Nairobi called Garden City with hundreds of upmarket flats, a business hotel and what will be east Africa's largest shopping centre.  A glossy brochure for Garden City in Nairobi, which includes 400-plus flats and townhouses, boasts: "From the aquamarine water of the heated swimming pool to the ultra-modern fitted kitchen, solid bamboo flooring and glass balcony balustrades, quality is the defining characteristic of the Garden City Village."

In Mauritius, more than $24m has gone to a developer whose portfolio includes a 170-hectare "aspirational ocean lifestyle village", with luxury beachfront homes from $500,000 and an elite boarding school managed by the Berkshire-based Wellington College. A brochure for Azuri, a development for the CDC-backed Indian Ocean Real Estate Company, invites would-be residents to "Close your eyes and imagine yourself breathing in the warm Indian ocean breeze, absorbing all that the Mauritian lifestyle has to offer." Azuri offers "exquisite, high-quality living" with an expansive oceanfront resort, five-star hotel, yacht club and spa – "the ideal living environment to promote both bodily and spiritual happiness".

In addition to upscale residential developments, CDC has millions invested in shopping centres across sub-Saharan Africa, including the huge Jabi Lake mall in Abuja, Nigeria,which aims to "meet the desires of sophisticated Nigerians wanting a compelling retail experience with leisure facilities and high-quality brands". In Nigeria investments also include two Protea hotels – part of a chain recently bought by Marriott International – including one in Lagos at which rooms booked online start at $400 a night.

Nick Dearden, director of the World Development Movement, accused the government of exporting a "highly financialised, highly unequal, highly ideological form of 'development' which helps big business, not ordinary people. If you live in a slum in Nairobi, seeing development money pouring into a luxury block of flats is an insult."

In Kenya, Dereje Alemayehu, Christian Aid's east Africa country manager, said hotels and shopping centres could not be considered neglected economic sectors. "There are already more than enough such facilities for tourists, expats and the relatively large national middle class."

Does anyone seriously believe this Government is interested helping the poor in Africa for example when it is so dismissive of the fact that so many UK families rely on food banks?

The environment and ebola

It is clear that the spread of Ebola in West Africa is directly linked to the region's deep poverty: Out of 187 countries on the United Nations' Human Development Index, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone rank 175th, 179th and 183rd, respectively. But, while it is easy to recognize the links between poverty and the spread of the virus, there has been little focus on the root causes of the region's impoverishment itself. West Africa is in the running for the region with the highest deforestation rate in the world. Some researchers have drawn clear links between the outbreak of the disease and the resource exploitation that plagues the region. “Those who are knowledgeable about the relation between the increasing human contact with wildlife, some of which have been noted as carriers of the Ebola virus, attribute that to the increasing deforestation in the region. Deforestation in West Africa is continuing in an alarming way. Most of the forest cover in the entire upper Guinean forest ecosystem has been lost. Liberia is the only country in the region that retains a significant cover of rainforest. So, it is understandable that scientists are pointing out that there may be a link between declining forest cover, increasing human contact with wildlife and the Ebola outbreak.”

Across West Africa we are seeing lots of agribusinesses coming into the region. It's not new, but it is now being taken to a very severe scale, and they are decimating the last remaining plots of forest. So there is increasing loss of habitat for bats, for chimpanzees - and as a result, increasing contact with human communities. That's where our leadership needs to look at the Ebola crisis as a wake-up call: to begin to think, "Well, if diminishing forests and ecosystems are a problem, if increasing human-wildlife contact is a problem, than we need to take additional steps to avoid the situation getting worse."

“Palm oil companies like Golden Veroleum and Sime Darby grow the palm, and then process and export crude palm oil. But this is not for the Liberian market; it is not intended to contribute to the food needs of the country. This is intended to sell to Europe and to other parts of the world to be turned into biofuels. But this is land that we need to grow food. Rather than doing that, we are devoting all of this land to grow oil palm and other commodities for the West. This applies to all the raw materials we have.” explains Silas Siakor, director of Sustainable Development Institute/Friends of the Earth Liberia.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Guns for Africa

The Sahel and parts of east Africa face a range of jihadists. Coastal states have seen piracy, most recently in the west. Offshore discoveries of oil and gas have increased the need for maritime security. More traditional threats, internal as well as external, persist in countries such as South Sudan

The Nigerian army, one of the biggest in Africa and the government has just decided to spend $1 billion on new aircraft and training, among other things. Across Africa military spending grew by 8.3%, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), faster than in other parts of the world (see chart). Two out of three African countries have substantially increased military spending over the past decade; the continent as a whole raised military expenditure by 65%.

Angola's defence budget increased by more than one-third in 2013, to $6 billion, overtaking South Africa as the biggest spender in sub-Saharan Africa. Other countries with rocketing defence budgets include Burkina Faso, Ghana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The continent's biggest spender by far is Algeria, at $10 billion.

Ethiopia last year took delivery of the first of about 200 Ukrainian T-72 tanks. Neighbouring South Sudan has bought about half as many. Coastal states such as Cameroon, Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania are sprucing up their navies. Angola has even looked at buying a used aircraft-carrier from Spain or Italy. Chad and Uganda are buying MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets. Cameroon and Ghana are importing transport planes to boost their ability to move troops around and deploy them abroad, which they have been ill-equipped to do. For peacekeeping duties they generally ask friendly Western governments for help in airlifting troops, or charter civilian planes. Chad makes good use of its Sukhoi SU-25 jets--with the help of mercenaries. On the other hand, Congo-Brazzaville only manages to get its Mirage fighter jets into the air for national-day celebrations. South Africa bought 26 Gripen combat aircraft from Sweden but has mothballed half of them because of budget cuts. Uganda spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Sukhoi SU-30 combat aircraft but little on the precision weapons to go with them. Sophisticated arms have also fall into the wrong hands; witness the array of Libyan weapons that have fuelled conflicts across Africa, from Mali to the Central African Republic, since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi.

Many African nations are participating in a growing number of African Union and UN peacekeeping missions. Once rarely seen in blue helmets, sub-Saharan soldiers are increasingly replacing troops from Europe and Asia, benefiting from training as well as from reimbursements for purchases of weapons. A new "business model" for African defence ministries is taking shape.

"Even small countries like Benin and Djibouti now field respectable forces," says Alex Vines of Chatham House, a think-tank in London.

A number of countries hope to foster defence manufacturing at home. A huge South African purchase of arms from, among others, Germany and Britain, agreed to more than a decade ago, included promises of "offsets" whereby local firms would help assemble jets and ships. Angola plans to build its own warships. Nigeria and Sudan make ammunition. Four European arms manufacturers set up African subsidiaries this year: Antonov is going into Sudan; Eurocopter is in Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Fincantieri, an Italian shipbuilder, is in the country's main port, Mombasa; and Saab is setting up a plant for its military aircraft in Botswana.

Since the anti-colonial guerrilla wars of the past century, most African conflicts have been internal. Few countries previously had the ability, let alone the inclination, to fight their neighbours. In the late 1990s, several countries, including Angola and Zimbabwe, sent forces to take part in Congo's civil war--to little avail. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought each other in 1998-2000. Tanzania sent its army into Uganda, along with guerrillas returning from exile, to overthrow Idi Amin in 1978. In general, however, few disputes between African countries have been liable to spark wars. But the build-up of beefier armies is bound to carry a risk.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Band Aid is indeed a bandaid

Sir Bob Geldof’s reissued Band Aid 30 charity single, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, has reignited the debate on what is patronising and what is empowering.

Africa is the birthplace of humanity and the home of some of the earliest civilisations such as Ancient Egypt. It is the world’s second-largest continent of 54 countries speaking more than 2,000 languages, and boasts some of the largest quantities of crucial minerals such as copper, diamond, platinum, gold and bauxite, or aluminium ore. Then, of course, is its oil supplies in Nigeria, Libya and Angola. Yet its international image is one of poverty, a continent in constant need of charity from philanthropists.

An open letter from Race Equality: In Music Industry – signed by academic Dr Robbie Shilliam and Hugh Francis, chair of UK Black Music, among others said of Band Aid “…what many within the African British and black music communities see from the published lineup is another form of Eurocentrism – the European off to help the African, without engagement with African musicians in Britain, let alone on the African continent.”  

 It is a flawed idea that Western nations are constantly aiding Africa when in fact it is Africa that is aiding the rest of the world. Health Poverty Action director Martin Drewry said of a recent report entitled Honest Accounts “This report – looking at the amount Africa loses to the rest of the world, in comparison with what it receives in aid and other inflows – is a response to a growing unease we have at Health Poverty Action that the UK public is not hearing the truth about our financial relationship with Africa. The truth is that rich nations take much more from Africa than they give in aid – including through tax dodging, debt repayments, brain drain, and the unfair costs of climate change – all of which rich nations benefit from.”

It estimated that while $134 billion flows into the continent predominantly in the form of loans, foreign investment and aid, $192 billion is generated through Africa’s natural resources, but lines the pockets of foreign companies or goes to pay off global debt.

The report noted: “For years the British public have been asked to donate money to Africa, yet the end to poverty is nowhere in sight….It is time for the British government, politicians, the media, and NGOs ourselves to stop misrepresenting our ‘generosity’ and take action to tackle the real causes of poverty. This includes urgent government action to close down the UK’s network of tax havens; an end to the plundering of African resources by multinational companies; an end to ‘aid’ as loans and greater transparency and accountability in all other loan agreements; and ambitious and far-reaching climate change targets.”

Socialist Banner can add that Band Aid activist Bono is an expert on tax evasion.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The African wealthy

Two of East Africa's telecom industry investors have made it to Forbes' 'Africa's 50 Richest' list which was released this week.
The two are Kenya's Naushad Meralli (who's interests include a minority stake in Airtel Kenya and also also sold his 49 per cent stake in Swift Global to Liquid Telecom) and Tanzania's Rostam Azizi (who's cited as Tanzania's first billionaire and sold a 17.2 per cent stake in Vodacom Tanzania to South Africa's Vodacom Group for US $250 million but still retains 17.8 per cent of Vodacom Tanzania).
Rostam Azizi, apart from making the list as one of only two East Africans from the telecom sector, is the only dollar billionaire from the region with a recorded worth of US $1 billion.
"His other assets include Caspian Mining, the largest contract-mining firm in Tanzania, which performs work for mining giants like BHP Billiton and Barrick Gold. He also owns residential and commercial real estate in Dubai and Oman. He got his start in his family's trading business, then broke out on his own to cut deals with international companies looking for partners in Tanzania," reads the Forbes' citation on Azizi It concluded.
Rostam Azizi currently occupies the number 26 spot on the list, at the age of 50 while 63-year-old Naushad Merali, the founder of Sameer Group, sits at position 46.
Forbes' citation on Meralli states: "In May he stepped down as chairman of Bharti Airtel Kenya, a position he had occupied for the last 15 years. He still keeps a 5% shareholding in the mobile phone network. Merali has been selling off assets. In January 2013, he sold a 49% stake in Kenyan Internet service provider Swift Global to UK-based Liquid Telecom."
Aliko Dangote, who sits at the top of the list with a net worth of US $21.6 billion, heads the list. Other telecom sector investors in the list are Mike Adenuga (Nigeria), Naguib Sawiris (Egypt), Tunde Folawiyo (Nigeria), Hakeem Belo-Osagie (Nigeria) and Strive Masiyiwa (Zimbabwe).
  1. Aliko Dangote
  2. Johann Rupert & family
  3. Nicky Oppenheimer & family
  4. Nassef Sawiris
  5. Christoffel Wiese
  6. Mike Adenuga
  7. Mohamed Mansour
  8. Isabel dos Santos
  9. Issad Rebrab & family
  10. Naguib Sawiris

Friday, November 21, 2014

Chad - the proxy army of the US

The U.S. military are busy  building something in Chad. Not a huge facility, not a mini-American town, but a small camp. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) still insists that there is no Chadian base, that the camp serves only as temporary lodgings to support a Special Operations training exercise to be held next year. It also refused to comment about another troop deployment to Chad. It is an U.S. alliance with a regime whose “most significant human rights problems,” according to the most recent country report by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “were security force abuse, including torture; harsh prison conditions; and discrimination and violence against women and children,” not to mention the restriction of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and movement, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trial, executive influence on the judiciary, property seizures, child labor and forced labor (that also includes children), among other abuses. Amnesty International further found that human rights violations “are committed with almost total impunity by members of the Chadian military, the Presidential Guard, and the state intelligence bureau, the Agence Nationale de Securité.” Chad’s peacekeeping forces were accused of stoking sectarian strife by supporting Muslim militias against Christian fighters. Then, on March 29th, a Chadian military convoy arrived in a crowded marketplace in the capital, Bangui. There, according to a United Nations report, the troops “reportedly opened fire on the population without any provocation. At the time, the market was full of people, including many girls and women buying and selling produce. As panic-stricken people fled in all directions, the soldiers allegedly continued firing indiscriminately.”

In all, 30 civilians were reportedly killed and more than 300 were wounded.

The new American compound is to be located near the capital, N’Djamena. The U.S. has previously employed N’Djamena as a hub for its air operations. What’s striking is the terminology used in the official documents. After years of adamant claims that the U.S. military has just one lonely base in all of Africa -- Camp Lemonnier in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti -- Army commercial contracts documents state that it will now have “base camp facilities” in Chad. An Army solicitation from September sought “building materials for use in Chad,” while supporting documents specifically mention an “operations center/multi-use facility.” That same month, the Army awarded a contract for the transport of equipment from Niamey, Niger, the home of another of the growing network of U.S. outposts in Africa, to N’Djamena. The Army also began seeking out contractors capable of supplying close to 600 bunk beds that could support an American-sized weight of 200 to 225 pounds for a facility “in and around the N'Djamena region.” And just last month, the military put out a call for a contractor to supply construction equipment -- a bulldozer, dump truck, excavator, and the like -- for a project in N'Djamena.

Even without a base, the United States has for more than a decade poured copious amounts of money, time, and effort into making Chad a stable regional counterterrorism partner, sending troops there, training and equipping its army, counseling its military leaders, providing tens of millions of dollars in aid, funding its military expeditions, supplying its army with equipment ranging from tents to trucks, donating additional equipment for its domestic security forces, providing a surveillance and security system for its border security agents, and looking the other way when its military employed child soldiers.

This increased U.S. interest in Chad follows on the heels of a push by France, the nation’s former colonial overlord and America’s current premier proxy in Africa, to beef up its military footprint on the continent. In July, following U.S.-backed French military interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic, French President François Hollande announced a new mission, Operation Barkhane (a term for a crescent-shaped sand dune found in the Sahara). Its purpose: a long-term counterterrorism operation involving 3,000 French troops deployed to a special forces outpost in Burkina Faso and forward operating bases in Mali, Niger, and not surprisingly, Chad. In recent years, the U.S. military has been involved in a continual process of expanding its presence in Africa. Out of public earshot, officials have talked about setting up a string of small bases across the northern tier of the continent. Indeed, over the last years, U.S. staging areas, mini-bases, and outposts have popped up in the contiguous nations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and, skipping Chad, in the Central African Republic, followed by South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. A staunch American ally with a frequent and perhaps enduring American troop presence, Chad seems like the natural spot for still another military compound -- the only missing link in a long chain of countries stretching from west to east, from one edge of the continent to the other -- even if AFRICOM continues to insist that there’s no American “base” in the works.

In June, according to the State Department, the deputy commander of U.S. Army Africa (USARAF), Brigadier General Kenneth H. Moore, Jr., visited Chad to “celebrate the successful conclusion of a partnership between USARAF and the Chadian Armed Forces.” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus arrived in that landlocked country at the same time to meet with “top Chadian officials.” His visit, according to an embassy press release, “underscored the importance of bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as military cooperation.” And that cooperation has been ample.

Earlier this year, Chadian troops joined those of the United States, Burkina Faso, Canada, France, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, the United Kingdom, and host nation Niger for three weeks of military drills as part of Flintlock 2014, an annual Special Ops counterterrorism exercise. Then soldiers from Chad, Cameroon, Burundi, Gabon, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, the Netherlands, and the United States took part in another annual training exercise, Central Accord 2014. The Army also sent medical personnel to mentor Chadian counterparts in “tactical combat casualty care,” while Marines and Navy personnel traveled to Chad to train that country’s militarized anti-poaching park rangers in small unit tactics and patrolling. A separate contingent of Marines conducted military intelligence training with Chadian officers and non-commissioned officers. The scenario for the final exercise, also involving personnel from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Senegal, and Tunisia, had a ripped-from-the-headlines quality: “preparing for an unconventional war against an insurgent threat in Mali.”

As for U.S. Army Africa, it sent trainers as part of a separate effort to provide Chadian troops with instruction on patrolling and fixed-site defense as well as live-fire training. “We are ready to begin training in Chad for about 1,300 soldiers -- an 850 man battalion, plus another 450 man battalion,” said Colonel John Ruffing, the Security Cooperation director of U.S. Army Africa, noting that the U.S. was working in tandem with a French private security firm.

In September, AFRICOM reaffirmed its close ties with Chad by renewing an Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement, which allows both militaries to purchase from each other or trade for basic supplies. The open-ended pact, said Brigadier General James Vechery, AFRICOM’s director for logistics, “will continue to strengthen our bilateral cooperation on international security issues... as well as the interoperability of the armed forces of both nations.”

With Chad, the United States finds itself more deeply involved with yet another authoritarian government and another atrocity-prone proxy force. In this, it continues a long series of mistakes, missteps, and mishaps across Africa. These include an intervention in Libya that transformed the country from an autocracy into a near-failed state, training efforts that produced coup leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso, American nation-building that led to a failed state in South Sudan, anti-piracy measures that flopped in the Gulf of Guinea, the many fiascos of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, the training of an elite Congolese unit that committed mass rapes and other atrocities, problem-plagued humanitarian efforts in Djibouti and Ethiopia, and the steady rise of terror groups in U.S.-backed countries like Nigeria and Tunisia.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The effects is more than a disease

Nearly half of all Liberians who were employed when the Ebola outbreak began are no longer working, a survey by the World Bank hasfound. It said many workers have been told to stay at home or have lost their jobs, while markets have been forced to shut. Those living areas of Liberia that have not been hit by Ebola "are suffering the economic side effects of this terrible disease".

Ebola outbreak was expected to cost the region about $3-4bn (£1.9-2.5bn). The World Bank said its survey found that 70% of respondents said they do not have enough money to afford food.

Ebola had ravaged the tourist industry across Africa. A survey showed that travel bookings were down by as much as 70%, even for destinations far away from the affected areas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Shell's Oil Spills In Niger Delta - Update

The oil company Shell lied to a Dutch court about steps taken to minimize the risk of oil spills during a court case brought against the multinational oil and gas company by four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth, lawyers acting for the claimants alleged today.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) Netherlands and a group of four farmers from villages in the Niger Delta were aiming to claim compensation from Shell for damages caused when a major oil pipeline burst, causing devastation to local communities.

During the case, which went to court in 2012 in The Hague, Shell’s lawyer said that the oil company had taken precautionary steps to avoid oil spills in the Niger Delta, including the installation of a leak detection system, instead blaming the spills on criminal tampering in the area. Due in part to this evidence, say FoE Netherlands, the court ruled that Shell was responsible for one out of the four oil spills.
However, according to lawyers representing the farmers, documents revealed in the UK’s High Court this year have shown that there was in fact no leak detection system in place and the Dutch oil company had consistently ignored calls from its own staff to replace the pipeline, despite being told their lifespan was “non-existent or short”.

The new evidence available to the farmers may lead to much wider compensation for the communities affected by the spills.
Because of the way in which Dutch courts operate, the farmers who brought the case in 2008 and their legal teams were prohibited from seeing any of the documents submitted by Shell in relation to the claim they were making.
It wasn’t until a new lawsuit was filed against Shell in the UK by 15,000 Nigerians in relation to oil spills from the same pipeline in another nearby village, that documents submitted to the High Court by the oil company as part of its defence could be obtained.

Channa Samkalden, the lawyer for FoE Netherlands and the Nigerian farmers who requested Shell’s documents from the British court, said: “On the basis of these documents, I can conclude that the testimony on the leak detection system which Shell gave to the court in The Hague in our case is in fact not true.”

The documents will be submitted to the Dutch court in The Hague by FoE Netherlands lawyers, with the first hearing of the appeal against the 2013 verdict to be held in March 2015.

Irrational Ebola Theories

The Liberian Council of Churches has blamed Ebola on homosexuality. It’s tragic enough that 10,000 people have contracted Ebola in the region, and that half of them have died. Now, according to a report in Reuters, gay people are literally afraid to walk the streets after religious leaders have blamed the plague on them and newspapers have splashed their photos on the front page.

"Since church ministers declared Ebola was a plague sent by God to punish sodomy in Liberia, the violence toward gays has escalated. They're even asking for the death penalty. We're living in fear," LGBT activist Leroy Ponpon told Reuters over the phone from Monrovia. 

The Liberian Council of Churches released a statement saying "God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague."  It went on:
 “Liberians have to pray and seek God's forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God's forgiveness.”

"Voluntary sodomy" is a crime in Liberia and can lead to a year in jail.

President Ellen Sirleaf called for a three-day period of fasting and prayer back in August, “to seek God’s face to have mercy on us and forgive our sins and heal our land.” Notably, Sirleaf’s call blamed witchcraft, rather than homosexuality, for the spread of the disease.

Oh, those backward Liberians. Oh, those backward Christians. Oh, those backward homophobes. But didn’t Ronald Reagan say that the AIDS epidemic took place because “illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments”?

In early August, Oklahoma conservative Christian radio host Rick Miles appeared to echo the anti-gay Liberian clergymen, pinning the advent of the epidemic on things loathed by American right-wing.
 "This Ebola epidemic can become a global pandemic, and that’s another name for plague," he said. "It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming. Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion."

Rational explanations for epidemics such as poor basic health-care and lack of medical dethrones their God from the position of Controller-in-Chief. And if God isn’t the one calling the shots in the universe, why bother with religion? So, better a vengeful God, who punishes a nation because some in it are having sex, than no God at all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Miners Shot Down: Blood On Whose Hands?

Marinovich is a photojournalist who closely covered the so-called Marikana massacre of August 2012 in which 34 striking mine workers were shot dead by police. According to him, the police’s story of acting in innocent self-defence is a lie. “They went and carried on hunting down people, for twenty minutes.”

Interviewed by Rehad Desai in his new documentary, Miners Shot Down, Marinovich’s words form part of a forensic case built up over the course of the film that forcefully indicts the police, the government and the Lonmin mining company for their respective roles in the most deadly display of state violence witnessed in post-apartheid South Africa. It may have been rank-and-file police officers pulling the triggers, but, Desai’s film concludes, it is those at the top – “those who pulled the strings” – who bear greatest responsibility.
“Heads need to roll at a very high level,” argues Ronnie Kasrils, a former minister for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and outspoken critic of President Jacob Zuma’s government. To date, not one policeman has been charged for what took place at Marikana, victims have been both blamed and put on trial, and suspicions of a cover-up stubbornly linger.

 Miners Shot Down – drawing upon evidence presented to the Commission of Inquiry, which is still ongoing, and some original material – interrogates the lines of communication descending from the government down to the foot soldiers, suggesting professional failings of incompetence and corruption. Who ordered the use of live ammunition? What was the nature of the relationship between the police and Lonmin, and between Lonmin and the ANC? Why has no police office or government minister been held accountable, whereas 270 of the miners faced common purpose murder charges (until they were belatedly dropped last month)?
These are the questions that ought to detain the official inquiry, though Desai is sceptical of the integrity of the process and doubtful it will produce satisfactory results. But the film goes further, situating the events of Marikina within a context wider than that of police or government corruption.

As Desai reflects in the film’s opening scenes, Marikana can be placed along a historical road leading from Sharpesville in 1960 via Soweto in 1976: a mass killing uncomfortably redolent of the massacres of apartheid, reminding citizens of the new South Africa that the arrival of formal democracy has not brought about the full dismantling of the apartheid state. Rather, Marikana was a thoroughly familiar event: as Charlayne Hunter-Gault wrote in the New Yorker at the time: “The bloody episode in this eighteen-year-old black-majority democracy takes many back to the days of white-minority rule, when policemen routinely fired on and killed thousands of South Africans fighting for their freedom.”

The real meaning of Marikana, Jerome Roos argued, is that it showed how “the violence of the state simply reasserted itself anew under the ANC.”

read more and view trailer here

Monday, November 17, 2014

Masai eviction to go ahead

Tanzania has been accused of reneging on its promise to 40,000 Masai pastoralists by going ahead with plans to evict them and turn their ancestral land into a reserve for the royal family of Dubai to hunt big game. Last year the government said it had backed down over a proposed 1,500 sq km “wildlife corridor” bordering the Serengeti national park that would serve a commercial hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates. . The Ortelo Business Corporation (OBC), is a luxury safari company set up by a UAE official close to the royal family with clients reportedly including Prince Andrew. Now the deal appears to be back on and the Masai have been ordered to quit their traditional lands by the end of the year. Unlike last year, the government is offering compensation of 1 billion shillings (£369,350), not to be paid directly but to be channelled into socio-economic development projects. The Masai have dismissed the offer.

The Masai insist the sale of the land would rob them of their heritage and directly or indirectly affect the livelihoods of 80,000 people. The area is crucial for grazing livestock on which the nomadic Masai depend

“I feel betrayed,” said Samwel Nangiria, co-ordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group. “One billion is very little and you cannot compare that with land. It’s inherited. Their mothers and grandmothers are buried in that land. There’s nothing you can compare with it.” Nangiria said he believes the government never truly intended to abandon the scheme in the Loliondo district but was wary of global attention. “They had to pretend they were dropping the agenda to fool the international press.”

Last year saw the online campaign Stop the Serengeti Sell-off petition attracted more than 1.7 million signatures and led to coordinated email and Twitter protests.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mozambique's health problems

Ebola has focused attention on the inability of local health systems to contain a major disease outbreak. But even in African nations untouched by the epidemic, health systems are struggling with insufficient financing and poor organization. That holds back progress against malaria, HIV/AIDS and basic health problems such as infant mortality.

Children in Mozambique are 15 times more likely to die before turning 5 than an American child.

Despite rapid economic growth, countries including Mozambique are spending on things other than health care, leaving much of Africa with too few clinics, hospital beds, doctors and health workers, and with inadequate systems for linking them together.

“It seems like health care is always at the end of the queue,” said Dr. Inacio Chichango, 31, director of the Chokwe hospital.

“We don’t have any politicians talking about health. There are no champions,” said Jorge Martin, an activist for CIP, a local advocacy group that has highlighted Mozambique’s underinvestment in health and its reluctance to sufficiently tax foreign companies.

Over the past decade, more than half of sub-Saharan countries have either cut the share of government spending devoted to health care, or barely increased it, according to World Health Organization data. In Mozambique, health care dropped from 15 percent of the government budget in 2001 to 9 percent in 2012. Many industrialized nations, including the United States, are under pressure to scale back foreign assistance during their own economic struggles. After nearly tripling between 2000 and 2010, global health aid has hit a plateau over the past four years, according to data compiled by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

“The need here is still huge,” said Jean-Luc Anglade, chief of mission in Mozambique for Doctors Without Borders.

Where one doctor can have responsibility for tens of thousands of patients, the health workers are a first line of defense against malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea, three of the deadliest threats to young children. Many global health experts believe that such programs can make a huge difference if implemented correctly. There are about 3,000 such health workers in Mozambique, eventually to expand to 12,000. Each worker is given basic medical training and outfitted with a green bag with basic diagnostic kits, antibiotics and other drugs to treat the three illnesses. Ethiopia has deployed nearly 40,000 community health workers in the past decade.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bailing out the capitalists

Development funds from European governments have helped to rescue a Canadian company that pays workers as little as $1 per day to toil on some of Africa's largest palm oil plantations in the impoverished Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Government-backed investment funds from Britain, France and Spain, designed to help poor countries develop, stepped in to buy 60 percent of Toronto-listed Feronia Inc for about $35 million in two separate investments in 2012 and 2013. The investments came after shareholders fled the Cayman Islands-registered company as its share price fell about 95 percent.  Feronia was set up by Canadian hedge fund TriNorth Capital Inc and venture capitalist Ravi Sood in 2008 to buy three plantations in the DRC and is now one of the country's largest employers with more than 3,500 workers.

When Feronia and Sood initially promoted the purchase of the three DRC plantations to investors, they sold it as a potentially high-yield deal in a country emerging from five years of civil war, which ended in 2003. Memories of record-high food prices were still fresh in investors' minds and the future initially looked bright for Feronia, a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands to avoid "double taxation" in Canada and the DRC.

But rights groups question whether the investment in the DRC is a suitable use of public funds, with the cash propping up a loss-making company shunned by private investors that has done little to help workers, paying them about half the minimum wage. "Workers are living in crumbling homes, in severe disrepair. There is malnutrition in the communities near the plantations," said Jean Francois Mombia, a campaigner with RIAO-RDC, a non-governmental organisation that works with labourers at Feronia's operations.

Devlin Kuyek, a researcher with GRAIN, a Spain-based land rights organisation following the DRC, raised similar concerns. "Feronia has not brought improved working conditions on the plantations or improved living conditions for the local communities, or even decent returns for the people whose money was used for the investment," Kuyek said.

Scrutiny of Feronia follows a wave of foreign investment in African farmland that has raised ethical questions about "land grabs" and led to unrest on some projects. Badly devised investments can harm or displace local people, according to US-based non-profit Landesa that works to secure land rights for the world's poorest farmers, but development agencies have in some cases backed hedge funds with projects considered ethically dubious by some activists.

Activists resent that Feronia's purchase of the plantations, partly with public funds, has not led to improved conditions for workers beyond maintaining their jobs. Most are poorly paid, often earning just more than $1 a day.

Sood, Feronia's CEO, agreed that wages are "too low" but stressed it was challenging to get the company into the black.

Mombia said unions are currently negotiating with the company over wages and benefits. "They are not taking care of the workers ... None of the schools [for the children of employees in the remote area] are functioning," he said.

Africa's Rich List.

Nigeria has more billionaires than any other country in Africa, including the continent’s wealthiest man and the world’s richest black woman, according to a rich list compiled by Ventures Africa, a business magazine that “champions African capitalism”. The list was compiled by sourcing financial reports, tracking equity holdings around stock markets and identifying shareholding structures in big privately held companies.

The collective wealth of Nigerians on the rich list stands at $77.7bn (£49bn), more than double that of South Africans and almost as much as the rest of the continent’s billionaires combined.

Of 55 billionaires in Africa, Nigeria boasts 23 while South Africa and Egypt each have eight. Their net worth totals $161.7bn, up 12.4% from $143.8bn on Ventures Africa’s first list in 2013. Of five new billionaires added this year, four are Nigerian.

Aliko Dangote, founder of Africa’s biggest industrial conglomerate, Dangote Group, remains the continent’s richest man. His net worth has grown to $25.7bn in 2014, a 21% rise from his $20.2bn valuation in 2013.
Second is his compatriot Mike Adenuga, worth $8bn, owner of the Globacom telecommunications company, which has about 30 million subscribers across west Africa.
 The highest ranking South African and third overall, is Johann Rupert, chairman and biggest shareholder of the Swiss-based luxury goods company Compagnie Financière Richemont SA.

Number four on the list is Folorunsho Alakija of Nigeria, whose $7.3bn, generated from oil andgas, puts her ahead of America’s Oprah Winfrey as the richest black woman in the world. It is widely believed that Alakija’s friendship with Maryam Babangida, the late wife of former Nigerian military dictator general Ibrahim Babangida, played a huge role in her relatively inexpensive acquisition of the oil block back in 1993.

Africa’s second wealthiest woman is Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angola’s long-time president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, on $3.5bn.

Most African  ultra-high-net-worth individuals are reluctant to discuss their wealth. There are several reasons for this, it suggests. “The number of underprivileged people is so large that it almost seems insensitive to celebrate wealth in absolute terms. Another reason may be to ensure that ‘enemies’ are kept at bay. On a continent where systems and structures are not entirely defined, flaunting wealth may attract the wrong kind of attention from people in government, particularly the tax-man.

Renewables for a new Africa

Of the world's 7 billion people, more than 1.2 billion (250-300 million households) currently lack access to electricity; hundreds of millions more contend with power supplies that are low-quality or very unreliable. Power outages cause businesses to lose, on average, 13% in Africa. Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest publicly traded coal company, unsurprisingly declares that coal is “essential to meet the scale of Africa’s desperate need for electricity.”

There are a couple of inescapable flaws in the “coal for Africa” argument.

84% of those living without energy access throughout Africa and India live in rural and remote areas — areas without an existing energy grid. Without an energy grid, the energy generated by coal would have no way of reaching its intended recipients, requiring a massive outlay to build the necessary infrastructure to reach the very people renewables apparently “can’t.”

Furthermore, coal is not distributed well to serve Africa’s energy poor. Only 7% of the people in sub-Saharan Africa who currently lack access to energy actually living in coal-rich countries. On top of that, the transport links necessary to remedy this problem — between north and south — are poor, and would once again require massive infrastructure costs to solve the problem.

It is clear that solar power is the future. Solar can be decentralized, and a simple solar panel, can provide enough electricity for one small home in the developing world. In Mongolia, one solar panel provides enough electricity for one hut, without the need for ugly transmission lines crisscrossing the country. Clearly solar, and small wind are better options than large dirty coal plants, which require miles of ugly transmission lines. Instead of trying to build massive coal plants which pollute and are expensive and transmission lines (where the copper is often stolen), at this point it is much better to do small local solar PV which is used to charge up LED lanterns, cellphones, radios, laptops, etc. Solving energy poverty also requires producing large quantities of electricity needed to power services, government buildings and of course the ever expanding cities that dot the continent. Oh, and let's not forget about powering the mines, factories and other forms of industry. Many African countries are beginning to experiment with utility scale wind and solar farms. And let's not forget about hydro-power: the vast rivers of equatorial Africa could almost single-handedly power the entire continent (Grand Inga alone could power the whole of equatorial Africa).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ethiopia's Conference On Land Policy Makes A Farce Out Of a Tragedy

A statement from the Oakland Institute on the Conference on Land Policy in Africa

The Conference on Land Policy in Africa starts today, November 12, 2014, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Government officials, representatives from international institutions, aid agencies, and civil society organizations have gathered around the theme “ensuring agricultural development and inclusive growth.”

Given the recent explosion of land grabs across the African continent, this international conference seems pertinent and timely, especially for the millions of smallholder farmers and citizens across the continent. But let’s not allow some key facts to be drowned by the enthusiasm expressed from those attending.

We need to consider the venue and the host country, Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government is not only offering a facility for the conference, but has also played a key role as a member of the Steering Committee for the gathering. The same country is arguably one of the worst offenders when it comes to forced displacement resulting from land grabs.

In recent years, the Ethiopian government has leased over 3 million hectares to corporations for the development of large-scale agricultural plantations and is making available a total of 11.5 million hectares to investors. As widely documented by the Oakland Institute, the land offered to investors is inhabited and used by millions of indigenous peoples in different regions of the country. The Ethiopian government has embarked on a villagization program aiming to resettle some 1.5 million people from this land in order to make room for these agricultural investments. This program is being implemented through forced displacement and massive human right violations.

On November 10, 2014, the Oakland Institute released the latest of its investigative reports on agricultural investment in Ethiopia. Engineering Ethnic Conflict: The Toll of Ethiopia’s Plantation Development on the Suri People documents the dire impact of the current land policy on local people, including the destruction of lives and livelihoods, as well as massacres and violent conflict between local communities.

Last week, Amnesty International published an equally troubling report, 'Because I am Oromo', detailing rape, unlawful killings, torture, and arbitrary arrest of Oromo people for supposed opposition to the government.

The Ethiopian government has systematically silenced all those who oppose and report on these issues within the country, curtailing free speech and creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Independent civil society organizations have been decimated by the 2009 Civil Society Law as well as by the arrests and repression of independent voices and critics of the government’s actions and policies.

For a land conference to take place in Ethiopia, where millions of hectares of land are being forcibly taken away from local communities, this event makes a farce out of a tragedy – especially given the theme “ensuring agricultural development and inclusive growth.”

The conference includes a session on the issue of pastoralist land-use rights in Ethiopia. The possibility of a constructive dialogue at a conference coordinated and hosted by the Ethiopian government, is impossible given the well evidenced horrific abuses carried out against the pastoralist communities in Ethiopia, the primary targets of land grabbing.

There is no doubt that a critical dialogue on the issue needs to take place. But holding such a meeting under the guidance of and in the backyard of one of the world’s worst offenders of land-based human rights abuses, seriously jeopardizes any well intentioned plan for designing land policies that will ensure true development, recognizing rights of smallholder farmers, the indigenous, and the pastoralists in Africa. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

After Ebola, then what?

Crises, no matter how urgent they are, eventually fade. Too often, when the crisis disappears, so too do the armies of aid workers and buckets of money deployed by the developed world to address them. That has been the history of developmental assistance in Africa, where shameful economic and health conditions have festered for decades, relieved now and then by a panic response to an emergency that catches the developed world's eye.

 Africa's long-term health crisis can only be met with sustained efforts. Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have been calling for such assistance for decades.

A large number of chronic diseases and other health conditions beset sub-Saharan Africa, causing much higher death tolls than Ebola. Death rates from parasitic diseases (often a reflection of poor water sanitary conditions), infant and maternal injuries, and malnutrition are all an order of magnitude or higher than Ebola. Cultural practices, poor transport and communications infrastructure, and poverty all contribute to the intractable nature of health problems on the continent.  But global indifference has played its part.

HIV took nearly 122 lives per 100,000 population in Africa in 2012, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, the figure was 2.6 (in 2010).

Malaria is an endemic killer in Africa, accounting for 62 deaths per 100,000 population. Malaria kills one African child every 30 seconds.

Polio, now eradicated from many parts of the world, is still endemic in Nigeria and outbreaks also occur in other African countries. Once contracted, it is incurable and can cause permanent paralysis.

Other common diseases include:
elephantiasis, which causes an accumulation of fluid, usually in a limb,
leprosy, which causes disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage,
helminthiasis, an infestation of parasitic worms in the intestines, and
trachoma, a bacterial eye infection which can lead to blindness.

Half of Africans do not have access to essential drugs. With the provision of the right drugs to treat respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases and malaria, around 10 million lives could be saved by 2015.

Sub-Saharan Africa averages 1.15 health workers for every 1,000 of its citzens. A severe shortage of nurses and midwives means that over two-thirds of women in Africa have no contact with health personnel following childbirth. Therefore, Africa accounts for more than half of the world's maternal and child deaths. 

For every Liberian doctor working in Liberia,  two work abroad.

From here 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Engineering Ethnic Conflict In Ethiopia

Today, the Oakland Institute (OI), in collaboration with the Anywaa Survival Organisation (ASO), released Engineering Ethnic Conflict: The Toll of Ethiopia’s Plantation Development on the Suri People, the latest in its series of comprehensive investigative reports about land grabs and forced evictions in Ethiopia. The report uncovers the truth behind a reported massacre of 30 to 50 Suri people in May 2012 near the 30,000-hectare Malaysian-owned Koka plantation. Based on extensive fieldwork, Engineering Ethnic Conflict reveals the destabilizing effects of foreign investment in Southwestern Ethiopia and examines the role of international aid programs in supporting forced evictions in the country.

“The tragic experiences of the Suri people outlined in this report are just one of many examples of the human rights abuses experienced by pastoralist communities in regions across Ethiopia,” said OI’s Executive Director, Anuradha Mittal. “These incidents are intimately tied to the Ethiopian government’s priorities of leasing land to foreign entities,” she continued.

“Some donor countries and development institutions have heralded Ethiopia for its unprecedented economic growth in recent years, which has in turn led to large-scale land acquisitions by foreign interests,” said Nyikaw Ochalla, Executive Director of the Anywaa Survival Organisation. “What has gone underreported is the tragic on-the-ground impact of this growth on indigenous populations. Engineering Ethnic Conflict exposes this harsh reality,” Ochalla continued.

“Unfortunately the Suri and other marginalized groups have no ability to voice their concerns over these developments on their land. There is little in the way of an independent media in Ethiopia that is permitted to cover this story, civil society that could advocate on these issues have been decimated by repressive laws, any criticism of government is met with harassment and detention. So what options are left for the Suri?” said Felix Horne of the Human Rights Watch.

The Suri pastoralist communities have lived in Southwestern Ethiopia for up to 200 to 300 years. The introduction of the large-scale plantations, including the Koka plantation in 2010, has not only made important grazing lands unavailable to the Suri and devastated their livelihoods–but also disturbed political order between the Suri and other local ethnic groups, escalating violent conflicts.

From coerced displacement of the Suri people to the exacerbation of pre-existing ethnic tensions between local groups in the region, Engineering Ethnic Conflict highlights the unreported nightmare experienced by Ethiopia’s traditionally pastoralist communities.

The report comes at a significant time in US politics. The US Senate included provisions in the 2014 Appropriations Bill that effectively diverts development aid funds for Ethiopia away from projects associated with forced evictions. Engineering Ethnic Conflict raises important questions about whether and how this language is being implemented, and the problematic connections between aid from the World Bank Group and other international donors, including the International Fund for Agricultural Development, for programs that support forced displacement and perpetrate violence against pastoralist communities.

“The stance taken by the US government in 2014 was encouraging, but it remains unclear whether action has been taken to implement the provisions of the bill and monitor the situation on the ground in Ethiopia,” said Mittal. “In light of this opacity and the continued violence and human rights abuses, it is time for the US government, other donors, and international institutions to stop turning a blind eye and take a strong stand to ensure aid in the name of development is not contributing to the ongoing atrocities nor supporting the forced displacement of people,” she continued.

Read the report here