Monday, March 30, 2015

Geldof - The Saviour of Africa

Ethiopia—A generation ago, this African nation was a magnet for Western charity. Today, some of America’s richest deal makers are delivering something new: investment. KKR & Co., the New York-based private-equity firm, last summer bought control of a rose farm, Afriflora, for about $200 million, its first investment in Africa. Blackstone Group plans to build a $1.35 billion pipeline to bring gasoline to the capital, Addis Ababa. Hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones is backing a $2 billion geothermal power project.

Bob Geldof chairs 8 Miles LLP, a London-based private-equity firm that invests in Ethiopia. 8 Miles website states it “focuses on consumer-driven businesses and service providers with strong growth prospects. Typical sectors supported by the Fund include agribusiness, business and financial services, consumer goods and retail, energy and utilities, healthcare and pharmaceutical services, hospitality and real estate, telecom, media and technology, transport and logistics.”

“They don’t have to die in vast numbers before we pay attention,” Geldof recently said in an interview with the Wall St Journal. “The potential rewards in Africa are far greater than anywhere else.”
In 2013 he stated “Africa is now a continent of extraordinary business and investment opportunity. Private equity is one way to support the enterprise and dynamism of the people of the continent and help provide the jobs and skills that are needed.”  

In February 8 Miles acquired a 42 percent stake in Orient Bank, a medium-sized Ugandan commercial bank. Last year it bought a stake in Ugandan agribusiness Biyinzika Poultry International Ltd. (BPIL) for an undisclosed amount. Other recent investments from Bob Geldof-backed 8 Miles include buying a 25 per cent stake in Egypt’s Eagle Chemicals Group.
Geldof with the Wicked Witch

Gone are the days where philanthropic capitalism aka Bill Gates will save Africa. Today it is capitalism’s, tooth and claw, greed for profit which is the solution. And humanitarianism’s success will be measured in a nation’s GDP growth and its companies stock-market prices. Capitalism is now the only route out of poverty for Africa, not any system changes. Capitalism can only do good, it seems, according to Geldof. The global ruling class are only too correct in acclaiming Geldof to be worth of a sainthood, much less the knighthood he holds. Geldof is said to be a director of 12 companies. Geldof and his partners have taken £21 million in dividends in the past ten years from  Castaway Holdings which made the TV reality shows Survivor and  Celebrity Survivor. In 2001, he sold another firm, online travel site, in a  deal that was said to be worth up to £9.2 million. He also charges as  much as £75,000 a time to give speeches on the international lecture circuit. His Kent mansion, Davington Priory, which  was bought in 1983, is said to be worth more than £4 million. Despite living in the UK since the Seventies, his non-dom status enables him  legitimately to avoid paying large sums of tax on overseas earnings  although he still has to pay tax in the usual way on his UK earnings.  Meanwhile, it was revealed that he has exploited off-shore companies  based in the British Virgin Islands to ensure his two homes here — the  mansion flat in Battersea, South London, and  his rambling country home in Faversham, Kent — are both exempt from stamp duty and inheritance tax. Richard  Murphy, founder of the Tax Justice Network, said: ‘As a non-dom, Bob  Geldof has lived in Britain for many years and is enjoying all the  benefits of living here.  ‘He says he wants to solve the problems of poverty, but you simply can’t  solve poverty in this world without the rich paying their taxes.’

 ‘Money is not an evil thing . . . it depends what you do with it. I’m  rich, I did well. I’m the chair of several companies. I like business.’ - Geldof

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Resource Curse

The resource curse is, essentially, the idea that countries with lots of mineral wealth tend to have lousy economic development. A wee few in a resource-rich country will become very affluent themselves, while the masses live in crushing destitution.
It's not unique to Africa, but the resource curse seems to apply especially well to the sprawling land mass that's the cradle of our species and home to about 15 per cent of humans but only two per cent of global GDP.
The continent has 40 per cent of the world's gold reserves, 15 per cent of petroleum reserves, 80 per cent of platinum reserves, and much of the planet's diamonds and copper, yet the economic reality for the masses living in African countries flush with those sought-after commodities is rather bleak.
Consider Angola as an example. The former Portuguese colony has an abundance of oil, sizable diamond mines and impressive economic growth that has outpaced China's in some of the 13 years since a protracted civil war ended there. Yet three in four residents of Angola's capital city, Luanda, live in crime-ridden slums without reliable supplies of electricity, and 40 per cent of Angolans live in what the World Bank defines as "extreme poverty."
It's a similar story in oil-endowed Nigeria, where two-thirds live in extreme poverty, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) with its vast wealth of gold, cobalt, copper, diamonds and tantalum. Extreme poverty is reality for about nine out of 10 people in Congo.
In these and other sub-Saharan countries, having great volumes of minerals and gems in the ground has not at all meant economic security for the average citizen.
Africa is being looted by indigenous elites in concert with powerful multinational corporations.
And the big foreign companies aren't just European and North American anymore. China has wedged its way into the racket in a modern colonial-type system that revolves around unholy alliances between "unaccountable African rulers" and rapacious foreign capitalists and India now wants its share of the spoils 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The New Colonialism

This week the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID hosted a meeting in London with big agribusinesses to discuss strategies to increase corporate control over seeds in Africa. The location of the meeting was secret. So was the agenda. Attendance was strictly invite-only and nobody who even came close to representing African small farmers was invited. Meanwhile, farmers and food sovereignty activists met at the World Social Forum in Tunis to discuss their solutions to the problems of our food system. These two meetings represent not just two different types of meeting – a closed, secretive meeting of the powerful versus an open, democratic meeting of grassroots activists – but also two radically different paths for the future of our food. One is based on corporate control and would generate vast profits for a small elite; the second is centred on sustainable, democratic, local food production.

As often was the case in colonial times, the corporate agenda in Africa is today often disguised as paternalistic benevolence. Friendly sounding projects such as the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa, backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the DfID (Britain’s Department for International Development)-supported New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition promise to eliminate hunger by creating the conditions that will bring new corporate technologies and more big business investment to African agriculture.  On the face of it, that all sounds very good. So why this level of secrecy for the meetings about the projects? Samwel Messiak, a Tanzanian food campaigner, tells a very different story of the corporate agenda for Africa’s food. He told me that in Tanzania the New Alliance has helped corporations ‘buy’ land off local communities without their consent and without paying them compensation. This is because the corporate agenda of AGRA and the New Alliance threatens to move control of land and seeds into corporate hands. The push for corporate engagement in Africa’s agriculture also has a strong focus on producing cash crops for consumption in richer parts of the world (a practice started in colonial times) which, if anything, provides less food for people living locally. It seems strange that a supposedly charitable organization such as the Gates Foundation is involved in this agenda; it seems they have swallowed the idea that only the market can provide for our needs.

Some 600 million pounds in UK aid money is helping big business increase its profits in Africa via the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. In return for receiving aid money and corporate investment, African countries have to change their laws, making it easier for corporations to acquire farmland, control seed supplies and export produce. Last year, Director of the Global Justice Now Nick Dearden said:
“It’s scandalous that UK aid money is being used to carve up Africa in the interests of big business. This is the exact opposite of what is needed, which is support to small-scale farmers and fairer distribution of land and resources to give African countries more control over their food systems. Africa can produce enough food to feed its people. The problem is that our food system is geared to the luxury tastes of the richest, not the needs of ordinary people. Here the British government is using aid money to make the problem even worse.”

Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Nigeria, Benin, Malawi and Senegal are all involved in the New Alliance.

Agribusinesses are putting small-scale farmers under pressure everywhere. In 2015 it shouldn’t be a radical notion to want to move beyond colonialism and make sure farmers can keep control of the resources needed to grow food to feed their communities. So it is more important than ever that we stand with small farmers across the world to defend their right to control their own land and their own seeds and our right to healthy local food.

The Real Drug Pushers

Kenya is facing A great threat from alcohol abuse. A 2012 national survey by NACADA showed that alcohol is now the most abused substance in the country and of the different types of alcoholic drink, traditional liquor is the most easily accessible, followed by wines and spirits and last but not least Chang’aa (which literally means ‘kill me quick’). Calamities associated with excessive intoxication – dementia, seizures, liver disease and early death – have done little to deter users.

Illicit brewers have been turning to lethal embalming fluid used in mortuaries have cut the rate of abuse.
“Patrons want to spend as little as possible but drink as much as they can, so they opt for cheap illicit brews, especially spirits,” says Nduta Kamau, who brews home-made alcohol in the sprawling Mathare slums in Nairobi. According to Kamau, those who brew illicit alcohol also spend as little as possible “in time and money but produce as much alcohol as they can”, while chemicals used in the mortuary speed up the production process, “so we are able to produce a lot of alcohol in a very short time.” Kamau adds that illicit brews from dens in the slums are bottled, labelled and sold in pubs across the country.

Government statistics also show that alcohol and drug abuse is highest among young adults aged 15 to 29 years and lowest among adults of 65 years and older. Under-age and rural children have not been spared. According to NACADA, rural children are more likely to have consumed traditional liquor and Chang’aa than urban children.

Many of those fighting alcohol abuse in Kenya point an accusing finger at the global alcohol industry which has a big foothold in Kenya and has undermined proper implementation of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act with aggressive advertising and promotion through musical and artsy events. Increased drinking has meant higher profits for commercial brewers. A report last month by the East African Breweries Limited (EABL) noted an average 11 percent increase in profit from beer sales. According to EABL, the highest growth in sales – at 67 percent – was in spirits, mainly targeting the lower income earners, who are also the target for the many brands from informal sources. A press release from financial advisors KPMG, titled “Incredible Growth of Kenya’s Beer Market“ noted: “Driven by strong population growth, a growing middle class and a dynamic private sector, the beer industry in Kenya has taken off in impressive ways, and is promising of even further developments in the coming decade.” Only inflation and tax increases could diminish this rise, it said. “To expand its customer base, “the company has accordingly invested in marketing and sales capabilities in this area.”

Keeping it in the family

Angola has the third largest economy in Africa, with a GDP of $121bn in 2013. According to the auditors Ernst and Young, it was the world's fastest growing economy from 2000-10.  Yet it was  still classed as a "Low Human Development" country, coming 149/187 in the UN's Human Development Index for 2014. Angola’s wealth and power have stayed in the hands of a very few families. The Angolan elite lives in a world almost entirely disconnected from the rest of the country's population of 20 million. Its playground is the Ilha, a stretch of sand that curves out from Luanda, dotted with luxury villas, beachside restaurants and glitzy nightclubs. The rich and the beautiful sip $60 cocktails, as gleaming Porsches purr past, the wrists of their drivers heavy with Rolex watches. Prices are astronomical. It is as if they have been set deliberately high to enable people to show off just how wealthy they are. Why else would a supermarket charge $100 for a watermelon, $200 for a chicken? Shiny white super-yachts luxuriate in the blue of the sea. A swarm of new skyscrapers lines the horizon. One of the multi-million-dollar penthouse apartments has a helicopter landing pad. 

Isabel is the eldest daughter of President Dos Santos. Worth an estimated $3.4bn, she has been described by Forbes magazine as Africa's richest woman. Why do the media disguise the truth? She is Africa's biggest female thief and the world should treat her as such. 

Meanwhile, an estimated 70% of Angola's population survives on less than $2 a day - 90% of Luanda's population lives in slums. Child and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world - about one child in five doesn't surviving to the age of five, maternal mortality is 610 per 100,000 live births (UNICEF). The government makes sure local beer stays cheap - it costs less than $1 a bottle. It sponsors football clubs and pop concerts, and encourages churches; anything to distract the poor. Free drinks and T-shirts were enough to make sure that, on the eve of an opposition protest, a huge "pro-government" march was held. Rafael Marques in his book Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, alleges the army and private security companies have been involved in burying miners alive, executing them en masse, and forcing them to leap to their deaths from speeding vehicles.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Contract Farming, Market-Oriented African Agriculture

NGO accuses EU company of illegal African land grabs

European food companies are illegally grabbing land from smallhold farmers in Africa as part of the G8 New Alliance project, says an Action Aid report published this month.
Funded by the EU, European and US governments, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition promotes public-private agricultural partnerships with the aim of improving food security. An estimated €7.57bn will be invested in 10 African partner countries as part of the project.
Yet Action Aid conducted an investigation into one of New Alliance flagship projects - Swedish company EcoEnergy’s plans to develop a sugarcane plantation in Tanzania – and has condemned it as an illegal land grab.
The NGO said  that similar land grabs have also happened in Nigeria and Mozambique to make way for rice and sugarcane plantations.

EcoEnergy has secured a 99-year lease of more than 20,000 hectares of land for a sugar cane plantation in the Bagamoyo area of Tanzania. In the first phase of the project around 1,300 people will lose all or some of their land, while some will also lose their homes.
Although the company conducted consultations with affected villagers, Action Aid claims that the majority of people were not offered a choice of whether to be resettled or not.
The NGO also claims that during the consultations EcoEnergy withheld crucial information about how the project will change farmers’ livelihoods.

By failing to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of the communities in the area affected by the project, EcoEnergy is grabbing the land of these communities,” said the report.

The report also condemned the risky outgrowers scheme that farmers are expected to buy into, requiring them to borrow around €15,000, roughly 30 times their annual salary.
In a response to Action Aid, EcoEnergy said that locals were given the chance to negotiate terms but confirmed that they had no choice but to accept resettlement.
“This is involuntary resettlement and choices provided are not ‘whether they should stay or go’, but through a consultative process and a negotiated agreement of how they resettle.”

The company also claimed that the project will inject US$45 to $50 million a year into the local economy, although Action Aid said this estimate is inflated and that the company has on previous occasions given “misleading information” about the project’s finances.
While a 2009 OECD report stated that “contract farming appears to be the main road towards making African agriculture more market-oriented”, for Action Aid director Yaekob Matena it means discrimination and less food security.
Metena called for governments to stop supporting the initiative.

“Despite the positive noises from Brussels, the early indications suggest that [New Alliance is] on course for an EU development policy mismatch that pits the interests of large multinational agribusinesses against those of the small regional farmer they aim to help,” he said.
“EU governments and other donor agencies must practice what they preach when it comes to joined-up, coherent development. This means taking a far more hands-on approach to ensuring projects involving the private sector are genuinely fair and inclusive. It also means attaching stringent conditions to funding, including criteria for safeguards, accountability and transparency.”
Action Aid’s report echoes concerns voiced in an Oxfam review last September which also condemned   agricultural public–private partnerships (PPPs).
“PPPs are by and large unproven and risky, and are likely to skew the benefits of investments towards the privileged and more powerful, while the risks fall on the most vulnerable,” it said.

from here

That Elusive African Middle-Class

“Middle class” is such a vague term, and socialists tend to say “middle-income working class” but it is such a chore of having to correct and amend so many sources that use the phrase “middle class” we often let it pass.

Everyone wants to know if the continent is better off, but proclaiming that it is without solid proof. The “middle class” in Africa is growing. That much we know. But depending on who you speak to you and how you measure it, you can get a very different picture of its size. It makes a huge difference, for example, if you decide that people with incomes above $2 or $4 a day are part of the middle class.

Some 791 million Africans live in homes with at least one mobile phone, and 495 million in homes with a television. About 311 million have a refrigerator and 114 million live in homes with a car. It is estimated 38 million Nigerians have incomes above $2 a day. Almost 90 million Nigerians live in homes with a television. In Tanzania and Mozambique, the number of households with electricity has more than doubled in the past five years. So things are changing.

The African Development Bank defined the middle class as those with a daily consumption of US$2-$20.within its middle class. On that basis, 34% of Africa’s 1.1 billion people are middle class. But are they really middle class? Many commentators have, however, conveniently ignored the fact that the AfDB divided this group into a further three sub-categories. At the bottom end is what the AfDB calls the “floating class”. These people spend just $2-$4 a day, and account for 60% of the “middle class”. Many Africans seen as “middle class” are in fact highly vulnerable to various economic shocks and can easily lose their middle-income status.

A report authored by Standard Bank economist Simon Freemantle suggests the region’s middle class is smaller than formerly believed. His report looks at 11 sub-Saharan African countries which, combined, account for half of Africa’s GDP: Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The report found that in these 11 markets, there are 15m middle-class households, up from 4.6m in 2000. Some 86% of households in the 11 countries remain in the low-income band, although this figure is expected to improve, falling to 75% by 2030. The vast majority of Africans continue to live on or below the poverty line (measured as those with daily income of $2 or less. There is however differences between countries. In Ethiopia, for example, some 88% of the country’s 90m population live on $2 or less per day; while in Angola ‘only’ 54% fall within this category. In 1990, 90% of Nigerians lived on or below the poverty line. This figure has since dropped to 65%. Nigeria’s middle class currently stands at just over 8m households, and by 2030 Africa’s largest economy is anticipated to have 21m middle-class households.

“Though there has been a meaningful individual lift in income, it is clear that a substantial majority of individuals in most countries we looked at still live on, or below, the poverty line (measured as those with a daily income of $2 or less),” explains Freemantle.

The size of Africa’s middle class stretches from as few as 15.7m households, as estimated by McKinsey, to the 327m people the AfDB assessed in 2010. Completely different monetary definitions of the middle class drive these differences. The AfDB’s bottom threshold of $2 per day is much lower than McKinsey’s $55, Standard Bank’s $23 or the $10 per day used by the OECD, a Paris-based intergovernmental think-tank. In addition, the OECD and AfDB report their statistics in total number of people, while McKinsey and Standard Bank report on households without specifying their size.
It may appear puzzling that Standard Bank defines the middle class as households that spend between $8,500 and $42,000, while McKinsey’s 2010 Lions on the move report defines this group as households that spend above $20,000 a year. This can be reconciled: McKinsey includes all households above $20,000 in disposable income. This means that they also count very rich households, which explains why their estimate is higher.
In its other report, The rise of the African consumer, McKinsey contends that 40% of spending-power growth will come from households that earn above $20,000 annually. They note that “this group currently accounts for just 1-2% of total households” but that this income cluster is “growing faster than the overall average, both in numbers and in average income”.
So what are we left with? We went from a middle class that represents 34% of Africa’s population to one that represents 1-2%. But this tiny group is not middle class: they are very rich households that have the fastest-growing incomes. Ultimately, what we are seeing is not a pyramid bulging in the middle as in the picture drawn by the AfDB. The numbers from McKinsey and Standard Bank describe a society where the top spenders are getting richer. This may be good news for some banks and investors, but it does not carry the same connotations for social scientists. A fact-based outlook, however, is the best path. Does Africa’s population really have more spending power? Are fewer Africans hungry?

Give Africans A Voice

Journalist and author Howard W. French and more than 150 other writers and professors sent a letter to "60 Minutes" faulting the prestigious CBS News program for its "frequent and recurring misrepresentation of the African continent."

"In a series of recent segments from the continent, 60 Minutes has managed, quite extraordinarily, to render people of black African ancestry voiceless and all but invisible," French, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, wrote in the letter, which was signed by college professors and writers from across America.

French's primary example was Lara Logan's reporting on the Ebola crisis. "In that broadcast, Africans were reduced to the role of silent victims," he wrote. "They constituted what might be called a scenery of misery: people whose thoughts, experiences and actions were treated as if totally without interest.  Liberians were shown within easy speaking range of Logan, including some Liberians whom she spoke about, and yet not a single Liberian was quoted in any capacity." He said he centered on 60 Minutes, specifically, because he found Logan's segment on Ebola "deeply shocking in the way that it eliminated Liberians themselves from the story about the Ebola crisis sweeping that country…"This story came after a fairly extensive debate in the US about the disproportionate attention given to the relatively tiny exposure to Ebola faced in this country, compared to the toll that the disease had generated in a swath of West Africa," he wrote. "Logan proceed nonetheless to outdo the very worst of that kind of unbalanced coverage by going to Liberia and avoiding, or at least failing to broadcast the voices of Liberians -- not even as simple victims, which would have been the easy and stereotypical thing to do."

French also cited two segments "featuring white people who have made it their mission to rescue African wildlife." People of black African descent "make no substantial appearance in either of these reports, and no sense whatsoever is given of the countries visited, South Africa and Gabon," he wrote. French characterized 60 Minutes' coverage of Africa as "narrow, blinkered and anachronistic, like that, unfortunately, of a lot of coverage elsewhere in the press on TV, and indeed in Hollywood, for that matter. Very little interest is accorded to the actual lives of Africans."

Who Owns The Nile

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Fight Against Disease

The world focused on Ebola but what about malaria and measles? Sierra Leone had some of the highest rates of death from tuberculosis, malaria and measles in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres says the Ebola outbreak has affected the attitudes of people towards modern healthcare.

A study published in the journal, Science, earlier this month warns that measles could cause as many deaths as Ebola after vaccinations were disrupted.
"We project that after six to 18 months of disruptions, a large connected cluster of children unvaccinated for measles will accumulate across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone," the study says. It finds that the number of children susceptible to measles in the three countries is expected to double, resulting in between 2,000 and 16,000 additional deaths.

Nearly 500 health workers - most of them local - have died as a result of Ebola

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Seed Privatisation - Control Seeds, Contol Food

Food sovereignty activists are shining a light on a closed-door meeting between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which are meeting in London on Monday with representatives of the biotechnology industry to discuss how to privatize the seed and agricultural markets of Africa.

Early Monday, protesters picketed outside the Gates Foundation's London offices holding signs that called on the foundation to "free the seeds." Some demonstrators handed out packets of open-pollinated seeds, which served as symbol of the "alternative to the corporate model promoted by USAID and BMGF." Others smashed a piñata, which they said represented the "commercial control of seed systems;" thousands of the seeds which filled the pinata spilled across the office steps. A similar protest is expected later Monday in Seattle, Washington, where BMGF is headquartered.

The meeting was convened to discuss a report put forth by Monitor-Deloitte, which was commissioned by BMGF and USAID to develop models for the commercialization of seed production in Africa, especially "early generation seed," and to identify ways in which the African governmental sectors could facilitate private involvement in African seed systems. The study was conducted in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia on maize, rice, sorghum, cowpea, common beans, cassava and sweet potato.
However, food sovereignty activists are sounding the alarm over the secret meeting. Heidi Chow, food sovereignty campaigner with Global Justice Now, which organized Monday's protest, warned that the agenda being promoted by these stakeholders will only increase corporate control over seeds.
"This is not 'aid' - it's another form of colonialism," said Chow. "We need to ensure that the control of seeds and other agricultural resources stay firmly in the hands of small farmers who feed the majority of the population in Africa, rather than allowing big agribusiness to dominate even more aspects of the food system."

In a blog post, Chow further explained:
For generations, small farmers have been able to save and swap seeds. This vital practice enables farmers to keep a wide range of seeds which helps maintain biodiversity and helps them to adapt to climate change and protect from plant disease. However, this system of seed saving is under threat by corporations who want to take more control over seeds. Big seed companies are keen to grow their market share of commercial seeds in Africa and alongside philanthropic organizations like the Gates Foundation and aid donors, they are discussing new ways to increase their market penetration of commercial seeds and displacing farmers own seed systems. 
Corporate-produced hybrid seeds often produce higher yields when first planted, but the second generation seeds will produce low yields and unpredictable crop traits, making them unsuitable for saving and storing. This means that instead of saving seeds from their own crops, farmers who use hybrid seeds become completely dependent on the seed companies that sell them.
Further, many of the seeds produced by these biotechnology giants are sold alongside chemical fertilizer and pesticides, manufactured by the very same companies, the use of which often leads to widespread environmental destruction and other health problems.

As others noted, while the meeting attendees included representatives from the World Bank and Syngenta, the world’s third biggest seed and biotechnology company, no farmers or farming organizations were represented at the talks.
"Seeds are vital for our food system and our small farmers have always been able to save and swap seeds freely," Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah, chair of Food Sovereignty Ghana, said in a press statement. "Now our seed systems are increasingly under threat by corporations who are looking to take more control over seeds in their pursuit of profit. This meeting will push this corporate agenda to hand more control away from our small farmers and into the hands of big seed companies."

Reporting on the Monitor-Deloitte study, Ian Fitzpatrick, a food sovereignty researcher for Global Justice Now, said that documents circulated ahead of the meeting revealed a neo-liberal agenda "laid bare."
Fitzpatrick writes:
The report recommends that in countries where demand for patented seeds is weaker (i.e. where farmers are using their own seed saving networks), public-private partnerships should be developed so that private companies are protected from ‘investment risk’. It also recommends that that NGOs and aid donors should encourage governments to introduce intellectual property rights for seed breeders and help to persuade farmers to buy commercial, patented seeds rather than relying on their own traditional varieties. 
Finally, in line with the broader neoliberal agenda of agribusiness companies across the world, the report suggests that governments should remove regulations (like export restrictions) so that the seed sector is opened up to the global market. 
"This neoliberal agenda of deregulation and privatization, currently promoted in almost every sphere of human activity—from food production to health and education—poses a serious threat to food sovereignty and the ability of food producers and consumers to define their own food systems and policies," Fitzpatrick adds.

AGRA Watch, a program of the grassroots group Community Alliance for Social Justice, notes that the BMGF-USAID commercial seed agenda further "extends U.S. foreign policy into Africa on behalf of corporate interests."
Phil Bereano, food sovereignty campaigner with AGRA Watch and an Emeritus Professor at the University of Washington added: "This is an extension of what the Gates Foundation has been doing for several years—working with the US government and agribusiness giants like Monsanto to corporatize Africa’s genetic riches for the benefit of outsiders. Don’t Bill and Melinda realize that such colonialism is no longer in fashion? It’s time to support African farmers’ self-determination."

from here

Monday, March 23, 2015

Natural Resources – Who Are The Rightful Owners?

As the world lurches from crisis to crisis, the value of land, water, forests, minerals and other natural resources as sources of wealth creation continues to rise. For those with long-standing ties to land,water and territories, nature’s greatest wealth and value is life itself, and these crises simply confirm the necessity for humans to live symbiotically with nature. However for many, natural resources are things that can be parceled, packaged, changed, bought, sold and traded in markets far away from the original location of the resource.
The attribution of rights to natural resources reflects these differences. 

Corporations, financial institutions and many governments promote marketable rights through land titles, water trading rights, emis- sions trading, etc. Most governments recognize those who can pay most as rights holders to land, water, minerals and forests. For peasants, fisherfolk, workers, indigenous peoples and rural and urban poor, their rights to resources are legitimate claims to lands and eco-systems that are rooted in respect for nature, as well as their rights to self determination. The realization of these rights is a necessary precondition for building democratic and just governance systems, and ensuring peace and harmony with nature.

One particular example: Dominion Farm’s land grab in Nigeria

Farmers in Nigeria’s Taraba State are being forced off lands that they have farmed for generations to make way for U.S. company Dominion Farms to establish a 30,000 ha rice plantation. The project is backed by the Nigerian government and the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa.
The lands being given to Dominion Farms are part of a public irrigation scheme that thousands of families depend on for their food needs and livelihoods. The local people were not consulted about the deal with Dominion Farms and, although the company has already started to occupy the lands, they are still completely in the dark about any plans for compensation or resettlement. Local people oppose the Dominion Farms project. They want their lands back so that they can continue to produce food for their families and the people of Nigeria (...).

Quotes from local farmers speaking during meetings with ERA and CEED at Gassol community:

“We were happy when we heard of the coming of the Dominion Farms not knowing it was for the selfish interest of some few members of the State, Federal Government and the foreigner in charge of the Dominion Farms. Our land is very rich and good. (..) But since Dominion Farms people arrived
with their machine and some of their working equipment we were asked to stop our farm work and even leave our lands as the land is completely given to the Dominion Farms project. (...)”
- Mallam Danladi K Jallo 

“We are speaking in one voice against Dominion Farms because we are opposing their activities. We have fish ponds that we inherited from our forefathers on that land, but Dominion Farm has said that they will sand fill all of them to give them more space to plant their crops. When they commenced
work on the land they came with security personnel whom Dominion Farms mandated to evict all farmers who were working on their lands.”
- Alhaji Mairiga Musa 

“We do not subscribe to a foreign agricultural and farming system that we do not have knowledge. They came here to farm. The only story we hear is that our land is taken away and will be given out.
We were not involved at any level. For the sake of the future and our children, we are requesting governmental authorities to ask Dominion Farms to stay away from our land”
– Rebecca Sule (Mama Tina)

Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Friends of the Earth Nigeria, CEED,

Sunday, March 22, 2015

More on Leopold the Slaughterer

During the carnival in Brussels the Belgian minister of foreign affairs, Didier Reynders, decided to paint his face black and join the parade of “Noirauds” —literally, “the swarthy ones”. The Noirauds are supposed to represent African nobleman or “kings,” So the white men are dressed up like oddly archaic high-hatted blackamoors, with silk pants, black tights and flashy shoes. The original intent, back in 1876, was to collect money festively and anonymously for an orphanage.

 It was in 1876 that Belgian King Leopold II called together a meeting of 35 explorers, geographers and businessmen to talk about the so-called dark continent. The pretext was charitable or, as we’d say these days, “humanitarian.” The ostensible purpose was to stop the slave trade and bring “civilization” to the people. In fact, Leopold implemented a policy hard to describe as anything but genocidal.

“It didn’t start as a national enterprise, but was presented by the king as a international philanthropic endeavor, a personal project of Leopold II,” says David van Reybrouck, author of the acclaimed history Congo: The Epic History of a People. “It was the plan of a European head of state who wanted to rule African territory, but it was very costly to finance the colonization. He was trying to warm up the Belgian people for the project,” Van Reybrouck explained “but that only worked for the gentry and the upper middle classes.” Of course the African population’s opinion on the matter was not part of the picture.

From 1885 to 1908 the megalomaniacal Leopold ended up confiscating and brutally ruling what was called Congo-Free-State, making it his personal pet project, and the country that has since been called Zaire and the Democratic Republic of Congo is still paying the price of his misrule, with grave human rights abuses, including the use of rape as a weapon of war. Leopold exerted his power through his “Force Publique,” an army of African soldiers and white officers to whom slavery, torture, rape, beheadings and amputations were part of a daily routine, as documented in Adam Hochshild’s memorable King Leopold’s Ghost. The monarch ruled with an iron fist, pillaging the Free State’s rubber and other resources, and slaughtering or starving its people. When the full scale of the massacre became known, it was estimated that of 20 million Africans in Congo when Belgium took it, only eight million survived. 

Maybe the average Belgian of the time was blissfully unaware of this holocaust in faraway lands. But there’s no excuse today, especially for Foreign Minister Reynders. King Leopold’s ghost lives on—in blackface.

Freedom to be free

No studies have yet been conducted on the number of child marriages in Zimbabwe, but the UN estimates that 31 percent of the country's girls tie the knot at an early age.

"Most girls who are being married early are doing so because their parents are poor and are looking for money," Dapson Muza, 66, told the Anadolu Agency.

Tandiwe Kaseke, a 49-year-old widow from Chamboko village in Seke, agreed. "In my village, a 14-year-old girl was forced into marriage by her parents due to poverty," she told AA. "Now she is in hospital due to pregnancy complications," Kaseke lamented.

The Customary Marriages Act, however, does not set a minimum marriage age for girls. Girls under 16 can marry with the consent of their parents or guardians, while boys cannot marry before reaching 18. The customary law allows polygamy. Tradition allows Zimbabwean men to enter into polygamous marriages – sometimes with women as young as 15 years old.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Know your enemy

Aliko Dangote lives as you might expect, given he’s the richest person in Africa and resides in the same country being bullied by the insidious Boko Haram terrorist group, which finds something noble in kidnapping village girls. Located on Victoria Island, a wealthy Lagos enclave that has a moat in the form of a lagoon and the far eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean, his mansion comes with all the trimmings: massive black gate, bulletproof windows, Big Brother video surveillance, guards and a secret entryway. Dangote is rsanked No. 67 rank on the World’s Billionaires List and his $14.7 billion fortune is mostly from three majority stakes cement, sugar and flour companies.

THE ROOTS OF DANGOTE’S rise lie 150 miles south of the Sahara in his hometown of Kano, Nigeria’s second-largest city. A dusty metropolis, Kano has been a trade center and commercial hub since its establishment in the 10th century, thanks to its strategic location on the edge of the vast desert. Egyptian perfumes, incense, inks and mirrors dominated at first, then leather goods. The camel caravans became lucrative enough to fight over; wars broke out with neighboring kingdoms. When the British arrived in the late 1800s, Kano was West Africa’s most important business center.

Under British rule, Sanusi Dantata, Dangote’s grandfather, grew rich trading commodities like grain oats and rice, and ranked as one of Kano’s wealthiest citizens. Dantata insisted on personally raising his grandson–not an unusual arrangement in northern Nigerian culture–and instilled a businessman’s mind-set in Dangote at a young age. At 8, he turned allowance into startup capital. “I would use it to buy sweets, and I would give them to some people to sell, and they would bring me the profit,” Dangote says. “When you are raised by an entrepreneurial parent or grandparent you pick that aspiration. It makes you be much more aggressive–to think anything is possible.”

Dangote, a Muslim, attended AlAzhar University in Cairo and studied business. After graduation, he asked his grandfather for permission to move to Lagos. A $500,000 loan from his uncle set up 21-year-old Dangote as a trader of rice, sugar and cement. He was well capitalized. He imported sugar from Brazil and rice from Thailand and sold them locally at a huge markup. At his height, he says, he was pocketing $10,000 in profit a day. “Things were quite good,” he says. “It allowed us to create an awful lot of cash.”

A 1994 US diplomatic cable singled him out as a businessman to know in Nigeria and drew attention to his clan’s homes in Kano, Lagos, London and Atlanta. The State Department report also highlighted the annual family vacation to the States. A 1995 trip to Brazil convinced him to shift from trading to manufacturing. Why continue to play middleman when he could make the stuff in Nigeria instead and pocket even more profit? Dangote Sugar started in 2000 and quickly expanded the annual production capacity of its refinery at Lagos’ Apapa Port to 1.44 million tons, enough to satisfy 90% of national demand. By the time Dangote Sugar debuted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in 2007, sales had quadrupled to $450 million. The flour firm, which began in 1999 and also produces pasta and noodles, followed a similar trajectory. It began with a single mill, tripled revenue to $270 million, increased capacity eightfold to 1.5 million tons–then joined Dangote Sugar on the NSE in 2008, the same year Dangote became the first Nigerian on FORBES’ World’s Billionaires list, at No. 334. In 2005 Dangote secured a $479 million loan led by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation–Nigerian banks didn’t have the ability, or the stomach, to put up the cash alone–and agreed to plunk down $319 million of his own money to build a cement factory. Dangote Cement listed on the NSE in 2010 as a $1.3 billion-in-sales company. The three companies today do a combined $3 billion in revenue; while Dangote Flour operates at a loss and Dangote Sugar’s net margin falls in line with Brazilian peer Cosan, the cement company is wildly profitable, with a margin of 52%–about double that of close competitor LaFarge Africa. The companies retain a vice-like grip on their industries today, controlling at least half of the cement and sugar markets and about 25% of flour.

Oil now represents another big play for him, and he’s busy building a refinery some 40 minutes by car outside central Lagos. Dangote explains with uncharacteristic glee that the recent drop in prices will actually make construction easier. His suppliers will be desperate … and easy pickings. “We will be the only ones around,” he says. “We will carry a big knife and cut them on prices.”

The refinery, Dangote says, can be profitable even at $50 to $70 a barrel. Raw crude for the refinery will come from multiple suppliers. If all goes according to plan, it’ll produce 650,000 barrels a day–a variety of gas, diesel and jet fuel–and Dangote would basically walk away with a monopoly on refined oil in the country. The four Nigerian National Petroleum refineries are viewed as corrupt to the point of nonfunctioning.

To make it happen, Dangote plans to invest some $10 billion to $11 billion in the project and an adjacent petrochemical plant, with at least $6.75 billion in debt financing.

He’s a Davos regular, and appeared with Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s current president, on a panel about investment potential in Africa at the 2014 World Economic Forum. Even four years ago, he was there making a familiar pitch: “Don’t give any more aid to Africa,” he said. Invest with local partners instead. “You will make money, and we’ll make money, and it’s better for everyone.”

Food waste

I recently on December wrote concerning food gone to waste at Sagana depot of the National Cereals and Produce Board[NCPB].

  The driver of the lorry which was transporting the cargo wondered how on earth a country where people are going hungry and donations have to be organised can throw such kind of food[ 13 tonnes].

  But this is no no surprise because other forms of wastage is experienced almostly on a daily basis. Wastage of public funds, factory wastage, time wastage etc.

  This need not be the case since all this wastage is affecting and impacting on the lives of many people.

  In a developing country, wastage should be avoided at all costs.

  Yours comrade,

Friday, March 20, 2015

The French Connection

The uncomfortable reality for the 154-million citizens of Francophone Africa is that five decades after independence, France still calls the economic shots. Eager to formalise its ties with its former colonies, France left behind something tangible when it vacated Africa during the wave of independence in the 1950s and 1960s: the CFA franc. Algeria, Guinea, Morocco and Tunisia exited the CFA zone shortly after independence.

In 1994 France devalued the CFA franc 50%, a hugely unpopular decision that led to a sharp increase in the cost of living and widespread unrest in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. The consequences of such a move was soaring inflation, a liquidity crisis and a dramatic rise in the cost of imports.

The CFA franc was created in 1945, ostensibly as a noble gesture to protect France’s African colonies from a devaluation of the French franc. Participating countries were required to deposit most of their foreign currency reserves with the French Treasury, which in turn dictated monetary policy and mandated when and how governments could access the money. The currency was pegged to the French franc, with France alone able to determine the exchange rate. The arrangement remains much the same 70 years later. Technically, two separate CFA francs are in circulation, each with its own central bank, in central and West Africa.

The CFA zone members must "pool together a minimum of 65% of their international reserves, corresponding to 20% of the monetary base of each central bank, into an operations account at the French Treasury". By depositing such a hefty chunk of their foreign reserves into a French-managed account, participating countries effectively lose control over their monetary policy. CFA members cannot use these funds as collateral to obtain credit because the reserves are held in the name of France. With French representatives on the boards of both CFA central banks, they are almost entirely dependent on French approval to set their own interest rates, or to control the amount of money within their economies — a basic policy tool for governments.

"The CFA franc arrangements keep the western African countries involved in the same economic shape as in colonial times. They provide raw materials to France and import all their manufactured goods. The convertibility of the CFA franc and its free transferability, combined with high interest and exchange rates, keep the franc zone countries in a state of structural deficits that render any development policies irrelevant," says Sanou Mbaye, a Senegalese development consultant and a former senior official at the African Development Bank.

Some argue that the CFA zone offers low inflation and a stable exchange rate, which in theory should encourage trade and foreign investment, says Canac.

"Unfortunately, those benefits seem to be more illusory than real. The CFA francs are overvalued and thus hinder exports while making imports cheaper (benefiting the African elite).... Although this does not necessarily prove that membership in the CFA is responsible for holding those countries back, it suggests at best that it does not help," explained Pierre Canac, an expert. "This dependence of the CFA countries ensures that France remains influential in this part of Africa. The African countries are more likely to support France, allow it to maintain a military presence, and confer some prestige to France. For France the political gains are worth the small economic costs."

Supporters of the CFA franc arrangement contend that it safeguards member countries against irresponsible governments that juggle interest rates or print money. With French backing and management, the CFA franc is unlikely to follow the Zimbabwean dollar whose value eroded after political turmoil and intense hyperinflation.

But France reaps untold economic benefits, says political analyst Gary Busch: the CFA arrangement is "the biggest Ponzi scheme you’ve ever seen". He claims the operations accounts have never been properly reckoned. In addition, these reserves have been invested in the Paris bourse with the French Treasury pocketing any profits.  Busch alleges that during the 2008-09 financial crisis, the funds in the operations accounts were pledged against the huge loans made to failing eurozone countries, such as Greece and Italy. The foreign reserves of some of the world’s poorest countries were risked to protect European states from bankruptcy.

Division Vs Unity

Researchers say that there are over 1000 indigenous languages in Africa. According to Gordon Raymond G. (Ethnologue; the Languages of the World, 1995) there is a total of 2,092 languages spoken in the African continent - this only compares with Asia's 2,269 dialects. However, Asia's languages are spoken by 61 per cent of the world's population as compared to Africa's which is spoken by only 12 per cent. Europe has 239 languages spoken by 26.3 per cent of the world's population.

Language is not just a carrier of communication. It also carries the culture, values, dreams and aspirations of a people. It is a huge uniting factor in society. To say that it is difficult to unite people who cannot even comprehend one another is an understatement. How else can one explain the incessant tribal conflicts that bedevil the continent? Communities who do not share a language do not interact much. Lack of interaction gives room to all manner of negativity in thought with regard to neighbours until at some point the neighbouring community is actually seen as horned devils and any small spark, whether it's due to political or resources competition, is enough to lead to a flare up.

Africa has the lowest contribution to world trade - at 2 per cent. The devil in all this is that intra-African trade is very negligible. We would rather trade with our colonial masters than trade with our neighbours. It is undeniable that one of the factors that fuels all this is the language barrier between neighbours. Uganda might want to trade with the Congo but then the only trade languages they use is English and French, respectively; so it is much easier to trade with Britain and France, respectively.

More people speaking fewer languages are - other factors kept constant - likely to be more powerful than fewer people speaking a myriad of languages. A look at the United Nations official languages will show one where power lies. When we talk of the language factor in most African countries we tend to go ethnocentric and emotional and start talking defensively about cultural erosion and all that. If African unity is to be achieved, Africans must build their own way of comprehending one another. If prosperity is to be attained, then regional trade languages must be encouraged and developed; and if we are to have a say on the world stage we must speak with one voice; quite literally!

Africa's Geo-Politics

For centuries, beginning with the slave trade, the West has ruthlessly exploited the African continent, plundered and pillaged its resources. In the late nineteenth century, in what became known as the “scramble for Africa,” the continent was arbitrarily carved up into colonies by the leading European powers, which violently subjected its people and plundered the continent of its rich natural resources. In the post-independence eras, African states became weak pawns in the world economy, subject to Cold War rivalries, their path to development largely blocked by their debilitating colonial past. The legacy of Western domination has left Africa devastated with crippling rates of poverty, hunger, and disease. The continent today has a gross national per-capita yearly below that of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in most African countries, and an average life expectancy of only fifty years. Africa throughout the Cold War until the mid-2000s, played only an insignificant role on the world’s stage in the context of international relations and diplomacy most often pulled by the nose as surrogate force and launching path as appeasement to the will and pleasure of self-styled global policemen. During the Cold War period, most of Africa remained within the spheres of influence of the former colonial powers, which made use of the relative freedom they were given by the Great Powers to materialize their interests in Africa, but with the end of the Cold War, things somehow turns the other way in the interest of the continent.

More recently, the West has choked Africa with an onerous debt regime, forcing many nations to pay more in interest on debts to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) than on health care, education, infrastructure, and other vital services combined. Today the geopolitics of Africa makes oil a core causes for conflict around the African continent and the US–Chinese race for Africa’s rich natural resources is especially focused on oil.   

 This new scramble for Africa’s resources is already engendering conflicts across the region. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where copper and diamonds have inspired wars and mayhem, there is currently intense competition and militia rivalries over the mining and sale, a critical raw material used in mobile phones and electronic devices. The battle over oil and uranium, used in feeding nuclear reactors, according to French diplomat, Mathieu de Lesseps, continues to be at the root of conflicts in Niger and Nigeria. The connection between conflict and foreign exploitation of mineral resources can be drawn with respect to other countries, including Nigeria where Boko Haram is committing gross human rights violations. It has become clear that the discovery of significant oil and gas reserves in Nigeria’s northeastern Lake Chad Basin, the zone of the Boko Haram insurgency, is a major factor contributing to instability in the region according to Nicolas Matthieu. The recent discovery has attracted the interest of neighboring countries, such as Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and international powers, including the United States, Britain and France. This also includes Sudan, Libya and Angola, while political crisis over lack of proper accountability over the use of natural resources especially oil is creating serious tension several other countries including Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Zimbabwe.

Both the American and the Chinese Governments were important in paving the way for American and Chinese oil interests in expanding in Africa. The US government used diplomatic instruments such economic incentives and military aid (Lionel de Moustier). China has proven more supportive and has provided loans, debt relief, scholarships, training, and provision of military hardware without political or economic conditionalities, in exchange for a foothold in the oil business. In turn, incumbent African leaders have identified Chinese unconditional financial resources, cheap products, and know-how as an important tool to fend off pressure for political and economic reform from international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Western governments. China is the new ‘superstar’ and newest sensation on the African continent when it comes to new diplomatic ties, trade expansion and investments in large-scale development projects. Widely believed to become the world's largest economy, China is successfully seeking its place under the African sun. Starting out with pariah nations such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, excellent relations are now held with almost all of Africa's 53 states.

China's new interest mostly has been a blessing, partly a tipping point and now gradually becoming a game changer in the geo-political landscape. Diplomatically, their dependence on Western countries is eased, allowing new diplomatic competition as in the Cold War era, and giving pariah leaders an alternative backing. Chinese aid be it funds are also popular, because Beijing asks no questions on good governance and is fond of prestigious grand projects. However, the Chinese advance has been a mixed-blessing for Africa. With China's admittance to the World Trade Organization (WTO), it has boomed into an economic superpower of cheap mass produced exports, giving no room for African competition. But Beijing is not only interested in gaining African export markets. Studies shows that the growing and soon to be economic superpower is not endowed with many natural resources, making Beijing dependent on mass imports of crude materials.

There is evidence that greater involvement of the United States and China in Africa, in terms of both commercial interests and political engagement replays the colonialist divide and conquer tactics." Conflicts need money. From Sudan to Congo and Libya to Nigeria, natural resources such as timber, oil, diamonds and other most needed precious minerals have helped fund armies and militias who murdered, raped and committed other horrendous human rights abuses against civilians. Currently, there is an amazing infrastructure race taking place within East and West Africa, while on the other hand, the West especially powerful nations look on as Boko Haram continue to  perpetrate gross human rights violations in Nigeria.

China is taking a very broad approach and accessing the region whole heartily, erecting infrastructural, building roads in Southern Sudan, Ghana, Liberia, and Ethiopia, just to name few. We are also seeing the French role in Mali, Ivory Coast and Congo while Japan’s involvement in Liberia and the British involvement in Sierra Leone. In recent time the US has strengthened its relations across the continent especially in Southern and West Africa including the north. The recent outbreak of Ebola disease gives the U.S. the advantage to enforce its relations in West Africa; the Britain and the French also enforced their presence in Sierra Leone and Guinea, while Beijing has also been active in combating the deadly disease from Liberia.

The continent in recent time has been repositioning in the international system as far as international relations and politics are concerned. Owing to the continent’s recent advancement on the world’s stage to occupy some major positions in the international system, there have been calls for the continent to occupy a seat on the Security Council with an equal veto, but the  politically suppressed lingering question that arises is which of the three African countries to occupy the dedicated seat ? Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco are all vying. But greed for power and wealth, and undermined by bad governance, are some of the major problems that are affecting growth and development of the continent on the stage of transparency and accountability. In the words of a French diplomat, Paul Claudel, most African diplomats lack a true representation of their countries, arguing that their presence bring no benefits to the sending state. Russian diplomat, Gustavic Édupukiv writes that most African diplomats are politically strangers to the international system.

According to latest UN report, seventy-six percent of Africans have no access to standard pipe borne water, good healthcare delivery system, constant electricity, social security benefits, sanitation facilities and good meals a day. The report further indicates that 25.8 million people of the two-thirds of the total world population suffering from HIV/AIDS live in Africa. Africa remains a continent abundant in human and natural resources, but are managed to enrich only a handful of African leaders, corrupt bureaucrats, certain individuals and  foreign capitalists who continue to exploit the continent.

The Congo crisis, the secessions of Katanga and Kasai were symptoms of the malady of the continent. At the beginning of the 1960s it was fashionable then to look upon the Congo tragedy as the unique example of Belgian colonial ineptitude. Now with years of bitter experience behind us, we can say that the Congo’s situation pointed to all the issues which would afflict Africa from the ‘60s to 2000s. Since the Congo-Brazzaville war in the 1960s, the continent experienced dozen of brutal wars in several countries including the Nigeria’s Biafra war, the rebels’ war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formally Zaire), Angola, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopian-Eritrea war, Rwanda war between the Hutu and the Tutsi, Senegal-Casamance Region, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Northern and Southern Sudan’s wars, Kenya post-election violence, Libyan, and now Mali, just to name few. All these wars were direct results of abused of state resources and national wealth, bad governance, corruption, class system and abused of state power and authority by handful of African leaders and foreign capitalists.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Poverty in the Midst of Plenty

Hunger and malnutrition in a world of plenty is an unacceptable and shameful reality of the 21st century.

Following the end of fighting in Liberia in 2003, several investors arrived in the country, promising to invest millions of dollars in a war ravaged country much to the delight of Liberians struggling to get jobs to make a living but the benefits are meager or in some cases, nonexistent. The 52nd National Legislature wasted no time in ratifying dozens of concession agreements granting these foreign companies the right to mine Liberia’s iron ore deposits and also engage in other activities.

Many of the companies made big promises of creating a large number of jobs, building roads and other infrastructure for the local communities, but ten years on, all the companies granted concession contracts in the mining sector have been unable to jointly provide up to 10,000 jobs for Liberians. The Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), a civil society organization, has revealed that Liberia earns too little from its iron ore exports, which has severely strained state--citizen relations and relations between local communities and foreign multi--nationals operating in the mining sector.

“We only hear that China Union is paying money for community development, but we don’t know where the money goes,” said Hawa Kerkula, women’s leader of the Yarbaryon Clan in Bong County, Liberia. She continued: “We who live near the mountain have not seen any benefit since China Union came here. Our roads are bad. There are no health facilities in our communities. How does the government expect us to live?”, the Bong resident is further quoted

The report reveals that Liberia gives overly generous tax breaks to iron ore investors, which grossly violates the country’s revised Revenue Code. SDI states that, for example, while the Revenue Code requires multinationals to pay 30 percent income tax on all corporate profits, ArcelorMittal, China Union, and Putu only pay 25 percent.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bloody Africa - 2015 more of the same

The first two months of 2015 saw about 8 300 people die as a result of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, with just five countries – Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan, Somalia and Niger – accounting for roughly 90% of these deaths. The figures are extrapolated from the Armed Conflict Location and EventData (ACLED) project, which has tracked political violence in Africa since 1997. The 8 300 deaths in the first two months of 2015 compare with 6 300 deaths during the same period last year – a year in which 35 000 people died in conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. So far 40% (or 3 400) of conflict deaths in the region have been those of civilians targeted by armed groups.

Most violence was concentrated in West Africa, where conflict between armed forces and Islamist group Boko Haram, and Boko Haram attacks on civilians, accounted for the majority of conflict deaths. Boko Haram, which is said to have at least 15 000 members, largely draws its support from uneducated, unemployed and socio-economically disadvantaged Nigerian Northerners who are fed up with corruption, heavy-handed state security forces and neglect of the North. Conflict centred on Boko Haram activity which claimed roughly 5 700 lives in the country and that of its neighbours, Cameroon and Niger. (During the same period in 2014, 770 people were killed in Boko Haram-related violence.) The group is also reported to have gone on the offensive in neighbouring Cameroon and Niger, where a total of 930 and 500 deaths occurred in the first two months of this year.

In Sudan, the government is embroiled in war on two fronts: against rebels in Darfur, and against the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. These conflicts claimed 700 lives so far this year. The issues underlying the conflicts are similar to Nigeria’s: local grievance as a result of political and socio-economic marginalisation and the inequitable distribution of resources in the country. Persistent conflict between the Sudanese government and rebel movements in Darfur first flared up in 2003, when the Justice and Equality Movement and Sudan Liberation Army took up arms in protest at the region’s marginalisation. The government responded by unleashing Arab militias, called the Janjaweed, which targeted non-Arab Darfuris in a campaign of genocide, as it was referred to. Since then 400 000 people are thought to have died, and nearly 3-million displaced. Government attacks against rebels are said to have escalated: by early January, an estimated 115 villages had been evacuated or razed, with about 88 000 people displaced. About 277 people have been killed in battles between government forces, their allied militia and rebels since the beginning of 2015.

Conflict in Blue Nile and South Kordofan broke out soon after the secession of South Sudan in 2011. The SPLM-N in the two states had fought in the country’s independence war, but were separated from their southern neighbours in the final settlement. They soon began agitating for political autonomy, political reform and a more equitable distribution of Sudan’s oil riches. The rebel movement subsequently banded together with the armed opposition in Darfur under the banner of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), formed with the aim of unseating Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. 255 were killed in battles between rebel forces and government so far this year.

In Somalia, 627 people have died in political conflict in the first two months of this year. The country has been fractured by violence since 1991, when then-president Siad Barre was pushed out of office. Clan warlords stepped up to fill the power vacuum left in his wake, leading to violent competition that effectively destroyed the state. While clan conflict continues to contribute to the country’s death toll, it is Islamist group al-Shabaab that constitutes the primary source of conflict in the country. Violence related to the group claimed 380 of the 627 lives lost through conflict in the Horn of Africa country in the first two months of 2015. These were largely battle-related, setting the group against national security forces and troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).