Monday, July 31, 2017

Urban Blight

Cities in sub-Saharan Africa are growing fast. Nigeria alone is projected to add 212 million urban dwellers by 2050, equivalent to the current population of Germany, France and the UK.  African cities. Urban economies across the region are markedly different from those of other cities around the world: they are more expensive to live in, more informal and less industrial. African cities are too often developing in ways that perpetuate poverty and marginalisation. 

Environmental risks range from everyday hazards such as waterborne diseases (cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery) to larger, less frequent disasters (tropical storms, flooding, fires).

 African cities are inextricably linked with poverty. It therefore seems counter-intuitive that the cost of living is higher in urban Africa than in other cities in the global South. One estimate suggests that food and drink cost 35% more in real terms in sub-Saharan African cities than in other countries, while housing is 55% more expensive. This means that urban dwellers have to spend more of their income to enjoy the same quality of life. The average urban household in sub-Saharan Africa spends 39% to 59% of its budget on food alone. The high price of basic goods and services means that people living in African cities have little money to spend on reducing risk, such as upgrading their homes, preventative health care or buying insurance.
Urbanisation has historically been closely linked to industrialisation. From Detroit to Manchester to Shenzhen, the rise of a vibrant manufacturing sector fuelled rapid population and economic growth in cities. In sub-Saharan Africa, urbanisation is taking place without industrialisationOne explanation for this unusual trend is that higher living costs mean that the labour force requires higher wages than competing cities in Asia. This makes it difficult for African cities to attract international capital.
The export of commodities such as oil and diamonds have generated high income for a small share of people in countries such as Angola, Nigeria and Libya. The wealthy beneficiaries then create urban employment through demand for non-tradeable services such as retail, transport and construction. The lack of industrialisation also means that there’s little political incentive for governments to invest in risk reducing infrastructure like sewers, drains and all weather roads.
Urbanisation without industrialisation means that jobs and livelihoods too often remain low-skilled and poorly paid. Without the opportunity to develop skills and organise collectively, workers exert little influence over working conditions. When formal jobs in industry or services are scarce, the informal economy absorbs much of the labour force. In many African cities, government policies discriminate against these workers. For example, street vendors and waste collectors are often banned from using public spaces. They may even suffer harassment from government officials. Yet they play a central role in increasing the resilience of the city. Waste pickers recycle large amount of material, reducing pollution and maintain city cleanliness. This helps prevent diseases, particularly those spread by bacteria, insects and vermin that might otherwise feed or breed on garbage. Street vendors play a critical role in providing and producing food, particularly to poor people living in urban areas.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

White Law (1983 book review)

1965 cover.
Book Review from the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

117 Days: An Account of Confinement and Interrogation under the South African 90-Day Detention Law by Ruth First (Penguin. 1982).

Originally published in 1965, 117 Days has been reissued following Ruth First's death last year in Maputo, Mozambique. She was killed by a letter bomb which, according to Ronald Segal in his preface to this new edition, was issued by “those guards of the South African regime . . . not swaggering in their uniforms but in a seemingly safe package which had been treated to blow her apart". Ruth First was well known to the South African authorities before her imprisonment in 1963 because she had published accounts of the use of forced labour on the farms of the Transvaal and exposed the conditions under which migrant labourers worked in the gold mines of South Africa.

First was arrested under the General Law Amendment Act of 1963. A person could be arrested without warrant if they were suspected of having committed or intending to commit any offence under the Suppression of Communism Act (1950), or if suspected of sabotage or in possession of any information relating to such an offence. The person could be detained for a period not in excess of ninety days or until that person, in the opinion of the Commissioner of the South African Police, had satisfactorily answered all questions during interrogation. The act became known as the "90-Day Law".

Ruth First was arrested under suspicion without a warrant and without facing trial. After her initial arrest she was released just within the period of ninety days, only to be immediately rearrested. She spent a total of 117 days in solitary confinement undergoing repeated interrogation. She had already been banned "from writing, from compiling any material for publication, from entering newspaper premises . . . I had worked for five publications and each had, in turn, been banned or driven out of existence by the Nationalist Government". She had in her home, at the time of her arrest, a copy of Fighting Talk, a publication she had edited for nine years and possession of which was punishable by imprisonment for a minimum of one year.

First was originally imprisoned in Marshall Square. The conditions under which she was detained are described in horrific detail and with touches of irony:
   I, a prisoner held under top security conditions, was forbidden books, visitors, contact with any other prisoner; but like any white South African Madam I sat in bed each morning, and Africans did the cleaning for the “missus".
Even the bucket of hot water for washing, a concession for “Ninety-Dayers". was brought to the cell by the African inmates until a shower was finally installed in the prison during her two months at Marshall Square. She was then moved to Pretoria Central Prison for the next twenty-eight days before being returned to Marshall Square.

Although never charged. First was aware that the Security Police knew of the magazine at her home and that she had attended meetings at Rivonia with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and others. The interrogation took a number of forms and ranged from threats such as "this is the first period of ninety days; there can be another after that, and yet another" to cajolements such as “we’re not holding you, you’re holding yourself. You have the key to your release. Answer our questions, tell us what we want to know, and you will turn the key in the door".

Ruth First’s portrait of prison is not limited to her experiences but covers the experiences of many others including Looksmart Solwandle Ngudle, who committed suicide during imprisonment, and Isaac Tlale who revealed evidence concerning his own torture during “90-Days" imprisonment and of the torture of Ngudle:
  Looksmart by his death and Tlale by his courage had lifted the lid for the first time on the systematic resort to torture of Ninety-Day detainees by the Security Branch.
First, focuses attention on the South African prison system’s concern with vengeance. She herself attempted suicide during her second period of detention. Her conclusion is that "these amateurs in political sleuthing who seized books because they had ‘black’ or ‘red’ in the title had developed into sophisticated sadistic mind-breakers in the matter of a few years”. This is a savage indictment of the South African policies of apartheid and the suppression of any ideas conflicting with the status quo in that country.
Philip Bentley

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Damming Cameroon

Cameroon's government is touting the construction of three new dams along the Sanaga River and its tributaries as a way to increase hydro-electric generation as part of the country's ambitious plans to become an emerging economy by 2035. The river is the country's primary water source and already has two dams downstream from the new sites. The forest along the confluence of the Lom and Pangar rivers is being cleared to prepare the second phase of construction of the Lom Pangar dam, a government hydropower project that will produce 30 megawatts (MW) of electricity upon completion. Forest communities complain that their needs are being disregarded as Cameroon's government pushes to bring electricity to more of the country. There is growing anger among forest communities at large-scale development projects that displace villagers and cause hardship.
Farmer Gregore Nvogo vented his anger at the news of the construction of more dams along the Sanaga River. "We will continue to lose our forest, our land, and our fishing opportunities," he said. "The Lom Pangar dam has virtually submerged our forest and land for agriculture, pushing us to cultivate far away." Nvogo said that villagers can no longer find animals to hunt nearby, nor fish close to the village. "Where do we go now?" he asked.
Local community leaders say that it is difficult for them to monitor the projects' impact on the forest and the indigenous population because they are not included in discussions about those issues. "Forest that used to serve as an important safety net for the poor rural community is no longer under our control," said Paul Gbalene, the traditional chief of Djoameodjoh, one of the forest communities in the East affected by the dam projects.
Environmentalists are sounding alarms too. "If all these projects take place, you would have a good chunk of the forest and wildlife in the Congo Basin disappearing," said Manfred Epanda, the African Wildlife Foundation's Cameroon coordinator.
"We have observed a surge in investment activities in forest areas with the increased presence of Chinese and other foreign business operators in Cameroon, and this is disturbing because the rights of these forest communities are constantly violated, leading to clashes," says Bernard Njonga, coordinator of Support Service for Local Development Initiatives (SAILD), a Cameroon-based non-governmental organisation.
 Environmentalists say it is unwise to concentrate a series of dams along the river. Augustine Njamnshi, of the Cameroon chapter of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said that increasing Cameroon's dependence on hydroelectric power will put the country at risk of economic breakdown if drought hits the river basin in the future. "This will be tantamount to an economic suicide leap," Njamnshi said. He said the government would be better advised to pursue a wider range of renewable energy sources. "With an abundance of sunlight, Cameroon just needs the political will to turn its energy deficiency into energy surplus, accessible not only to the remote parts of the country but also to neighbouring countries," he said.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Land Grab for Conservation

Samburu herders in Kenya are fighting for control of 17,000 acres of land that a former president sold to become a national park. Human-wildlife conflicts are intensifying amid climate change and population growth. 

The Samburu, a semi-nomadic people with the same language and culture as the Maasai, claim ownership of the disputed ranch in Kenya's troubled Laikipia County, saying they squatted on it for 25 years before being evicted for wildlife conservation. After an 8-year court battle, judges last month rejected their claim, clearing the way for the land to be turned into Laikipia National Park, managed by government-owned Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The case comes at a time when protected areas around the globe are expanding in a bid to save endangered wildlife and boost tourism revenues, pitting conservationists against marginalised people facing loss of their traditional lands. The Samburu lawyer, Lempaa Suyianka, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, "Here are people with no alternative places to live, people who are born there... They have nowhere else to go."
The Samburu legal case rests on the principle of adverse possession, whereby someone who has lived continuously on a piece of land for 12 years can gain ownership. They also claim ancestral rights, saying the British forced their Maa-speaking ancestors off the land a century earlier to give it to white settlers.he court dismissed the adverse possession claim as Moi only owned the land for 11 years prior to the 2009 evictions, after buying it in late 1997 from Ol Pejeta, a cattle ranch. It did not consider the period from 1981 to 1997, when the Samburu said they also lived there, because Ol Pejeta, which received the title to the land in 1962 from the colonial government, was not named as a respondent in the case.  The judge even asked the Samburu, many of whom are poor and illiterate, to pay for helicopters to take the court to see the disputed land. "How can a court be so toothless?" said Gertrude Angote, executive director of Kituo cha Sheria, a legal aid charity.
The disputed land, Eland Downs, was sold for $4 million by Kenya's longest serving president, Daniel arap Moi, in 2008 to the Washington-based African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). Half of the funding came from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), one of the largest U.S. environmental charities. Violent police evictions in 2010 and 2011 prompted an outcry from rights groups and international media, who said an old man was shot dead, women were raped and huts were burned. A report for TNC by the International Labour Organization said the charities' decision to make a "closed-doors deal" was a "recipe for conflicts". "There does not seem to have been sufficient due diligence and consultations with the community... despite the fact that evictions in Kenya by state security agents are well known to be characterised by violence and high handedness," it said.

Another Congo Crisis

Nearly half of DR Congo’s 26 provinces are affected by inter-communal conflict, armed violence, natural disasters and disease.  2017 has already seen an outbreak of famine in South Sudan, and looming famine in Somalia, northeast Nigeria and Yemen. Kasaï is poised to be the epicentre of the next food crisis.  As the one-year anniversary of the Kasaï conflict nears, over 1.4 million people have been displaced in the turbulent region alone. 
The violence is having a rippling effect on communities. Families are unable to access their land during armed fighting, and as a result are being pushed deeper towards vulnerability. A massive food crisis now threatens. Assessments of Kasaï-Central province found a Food Consumption Index level of 18. This is far below the United Nation’s acceptable level of 42.
International funding is failing to catch up with rising humanitarian needs. Only 11 per cent of the UN’s April flash appeal for Kasaï has been funded, despite rapidly increasing needs. The amount received amounts to less than US$10 per person targeted. Over halfway through the year, less than a quarter of the UN’s DR Congo aid appeal has been funded. This is despite a staggering 7.3 million people estimated to need humanitarian aid.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Upset in Accra (1958)

From the January 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Colonel Pewter is a cartoon-strip Edwardian pukka-sahib who daily amuses readers of the News Chronicle. In his latest adventure, he uses an Injun stick, which magically compels its victims to tell the truth in order to upset the party propaganda in a by-election. The whole joke, of course, is that nobody ever expects a politician to describe himself as other than a selfless, devoted slave to the voters’ interests.

Perhaps that is why so many eyebrows were raised when Mr. Krobo Edusei, Minister of the Interior in the new African State of Ghana, was reported as saying that he loved power. Had the man gone mad? Or was he just telling the truth? Worse, this outburst was only one of several newsworthy actions by the Ghanaian Government. Journalists and political opponents have been deported, opposition leaders have said that they are under threat of imprisonment and death, and it has been reported (and later denied) that ministers would in future carry revolvers. Mr. Fenner Brockway, the Labour M.P., who can usually be relied on to support nationalist movements in ex-colonial territories, has publicly expressed regret and protest at these actions. He put it all down to an evil genius at the ear of Ghana’s Prime Minister, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. But that is too easy; we must look a little more deeply into the history and the background of it.

The Modern Story
The first explorers of Africa named parts of the coast by the wealth they found there. There was the Grain Coast, the Slave Coast and, roughly bordering the area which is now Ghana, the Gold Coast. The modern story begins in the 15th century, when European traders, coming from countries which were desperately short of gold, found the precious stuff in common use among the Gold Coast natives. (Three hundred years later William Bosman, who worked for the Dutch West India Company, could still write of the natives of Dinkira, “They are possessed of vast Treasures of Gold, besides what their own mines supply them with;”). At first, the Portuguese dominated the trade, but soon the Danes. Dutch, French and Germans came, and in 1553 Thomas Windham led the first English party. None of the expeditions tried to penetrate the interior; they only wanted to establish trading forts along the coast. Gold was not the only attraction, for there were plenty of slaves to be branded and shipped to the Americas and to the Middle East. This last journey was terrible indeed, involving a trek across the Sahara desert And there was every incentive to mutilate the slaves, to satisfy the great demand for eunuchs in the Middle Eastern palaces. The slave traders thought that Allah was being kind if ten out of a hundred survived the operation.

The English settlements date from 1651, when the English Trading Company built the first of several ports. In 1672 the Royal African Company commenced operations, building other trading stations, and later the African Company of Merchants carried on trade in gold and slaves until they were crippled by the abolition of slavery in 1807. Life in these settlements was a precarious business— Bosman has described the "excessive tippling and sorry feeding" among the Europeans, which made “most of the Garrison look as if they were hag-ridden.", and the "odious Mixture of noisome Stenches" from the coastal villages.

Inter-Tribal Wars
As the mercantile adventurers of the 16th and 17th centuries grew bolder, sailing out to America and the Far East, European interest in Africa declined and most of the trading settlements along the Gold Coast were left to decay. It was not until the American War of Independence had been won and lost and Great Britain was established in India and Australia, that Africa, lying between England and her Far Eastern possessions, regained its importance. The 18th and 19th centuries were years of inter-tribal wars, mostly between the Fante and the Ashanti. Great Britain kept a traders’ neutrality, which did not preclude the occasional double-cross. After one famous betrayal, which caused some native chiefs to be tortured and killed, the torturing chief remarked that he thenceforth took the English for his friends, ". . .  because I saw their object was trade only, and they did not care for the people." The chaos of these wars almost caused the British Government to withdraw from the territory, but the commercial interests prevailed on them to stay put, to unify the command of the trading forts, stamp out the slave trade and develop the Gold Coast’s mineral and agricultural possibilities. Thus, in 1821 the British Government took over the operations of the African Company of Merchants and in 1844 signed a Bond with several local chiefs, which recognised Queen Victoria’s jurisdiction and laid it down that ". . . the first objects of law are the protection of individuals and property." In 1850 they winkled out the Danes and in 1871 the Dutch. Thus also, any missionary who undertook to spread the word of Christianity and British "law and order" among the natives of the interior was assured of the benevolent protection of English arms. They did not leave it all to the missionaries; right up to 1900 British soldiers were fighting against the natives in the interior in defence of the commercial and strategic interests along the coast

Ghana Arise
The two world wars sharply emphasised the importance of Africa strategically and as a source of vital raw materials—in particular, the last war saw a tremendous development of the Gold Coast's airfields, harbours and internal communications. The need for self-sufficiency caused independent local industries to be built up. This, with the war’s expanded social intercourse, promoted the Gold Coast’s political development and the inevitable demand for independence from British rule. In 1951 the Gold Coast legislature for the first time represented all the territory's inhabitants, voting in a secret ballot. The elections of 1951 and 1954 were won by the Convention People’s Party (CPP), whose leader, Dr. Nkrumah was brought from jail to fill the newly-created post of Prime Minister. The CPP stood on a programme of independence from British rule and when they won a third overwhelming victory in the 1956 elections, Whitehall agreed to the inevitable. At midnight on 5th March 1957, the Gold Coast ceased to exist and the State of Ghana took its place. A new national anthem—Ghana Arise, by Hector Hughes, a British Labour M.P.—was substituted for God Save the Queen.

The country which Dr. Nkrumah took over has a population of 4½ millions, most of them Africans and pagans. The economy is heavily dependent on cocoa farming, which, said Finance Minister Gbedemah, dusting off a cliché, is ". . .  the life-blood of this country." (Ghana turns out 30 per cent. of the world crop.) The Government are uneasy about this dependence on a primary produce industry, so vulnerable to world economic changes. There is a heavy tax on cocoa farming, which is invested in other fields; there is also a tax relief for those who finance "pioneer" industries. So far these measures have not had much effect and Ghana's prosperity still varies with the price which Cadbury and Fry, Ltd., the United Africa Company, and the like, have to pay for cocoa on the world market.

Betrayed Hopes
Ghana also has substantial deposits of gold, diamonds, manganese, and bauxite. Most of the gold and diamonds, mined by companies incorporated in the United Kingdom, are sent to London. The manganese deposits, as an ingredient in steel production, are becoming increasingly important. Bauxite is mined by the British Aluminium Company, who are interested in the prospect of damming the Volta River to generate electricity for smelting the bauxite into aluminium. Although Great Britain takes nearly one-half of her exports, Ghana is anxious to attract any foreign investment. Because of this the Government will take no sides in current Great Power conflicts; Dr. Nkrumah had said,". . .  Ghana . . .  should not be aligned with any group of Powers or political blocs."

The first signs that Ghana was going to betray the hopes of its friends came when Dr. Nkrumah appeared to be fostering his own little personality cult by having his head stamped on the new coinage and going to live in Christiansborg Castle which, as the old residence of Danish and British governors, is heavy with unpleasant memories. Then came the expulsions and a Special Bill to allow Mr. Edusei to deport two men without the right of appeal. The municipal councils of Accra and Kumasi were suspended and so was the chief of the 300,000 Akim Abuakwa tribe. Several members of the opposition were kidnapped and from the other side, a plot to assassinate Dr. Nkrumah was alleged. In this hysterical atmosphere, it seemed, Africa’s immaculate embryo democracy had been born a deformed dictatorship.

The truth of the matter is that last March saw the end of Nkrumah’s days of agitation and faced him with the realities of power over a country which is trying to make its way in the capitalist world. The first reality was a staggering fall in the price of cocoa so that the first budget was chillingly austere and the Ghanaian workers were told that it would be unpatriotic to ask for higher wages. They had expected better than this from Nkrumah; a national transport strike was called and rioting broke out in Accra. Another difficulty is that Nkrumah is struggling to establish government on modern capitalist lines and to stamp out the old system of tribal rule. These stresses have caused quarrelling within the government. To clean the matter up a strong-arm policy has been tried, with Mr. Edusei, known in Ghana as the Minister of Noise, to apply it.

Settling Down
It seems that things are now settling down. The cases against the journalists have been dropped and the Emergency Powers Bill, published at the beginning of November, was much easier than expected. The government was probably getting worried about reactions in the countries which would supply the necessary development loans and of the old-established foreign firms, who have kept their interests in Ghana. The opposition groups, formerly diverse, have united and almost certainly will emerge as an alternative administration. These are all strong checks upon extreme government action. In any case, there is no good reason why Nkrumah’s misdeeds should cause such a fuss in quarters which accepted, among other things, the deportations from Cyprus and Uganda and the deposing of the popularly elected government of British Guiana. Nor does it end in London. America has recently altered the constitution of the occupied island of Okinawa to get rid of a troublesome Mayor. Dr. Nkrumah’s is only one of a number of distasteful policies and should be seen in its perspective. It will be forgotten long before the world stops remembering the French in Algeria and the Russians in Hungary.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Congo Corruption

More than 20% of the Democratic Republic of Congo's mining revenue is being lost due to corruption and mismanagement, a campaign group says, according to a Global Witness. At least $750m (£580m) has gone missing over the past three years, it says. If the money not reaching the state coffers through corruption, mismanagement and an ineffective tax system was collated, from 2013 to 2015, then the amount rises to $1.3bn.
According to the report, much of DR Congo's mining revenue goes missing after being paid to the state-owned mining company, Gécamines. Other alleged culprits identified by the report are the country's tax agencies which are legally allowed to hold back a percentage of the taxes they impose. This creates avenues for corruption through inflating how much of the fines they can keep for themselves, Global Witness says.
DR Congo is Africa's biggest producer of copper and the world's largest supplier of cobalt used in batteries for electric cars. It is also rich in gold, diamonds and coltan, used in mobile phones, but its people remain among the poorest in the world following years of conflict and mismanagement.
"Congo's mining revenues should be helping to lift its people out of poverty," says Pete Jones, a Global Witness senior campaigner.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Who is caring about CAR?

Central African Republic has been plagued by conflict since March 2013, when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power, triggering reprisals by Christian "anti-balaka" militias. The Seleka and other groups have since splintered, prompting further violence despite the election in March 2016 of President Faustin-Archange Touadera, which raised hopes of reconciliation.
Violence between armed factions in Central African Republic could plunge the country back into a large-scale humanitarian crisis four years after conflict first erupted, the United Nations' aid chief and agencies said on Tuesday. Thirteen of the 14 armed groups along with representatives from the government signed a peace deal last month, yet as many as 100 people were killed in the town of Bria, northeast of the capital Bangui, in fighting between factions the very next day. Fighting has since continued and intensified in towns such as Bangassou and Zemio, where militants last week shot and killed a baby in a hospital, forcing aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to temporarily suspend its operations there.
A surge in fighting between militias in several hotspots has uprooted more than 100,000 people since April, in the worst spell of displacement since the peak of the conflict in 2014, say aid groups including the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). Children are being increasingly targeted in the violence - ending up victims of murder, abduction, rape and recruitment into armed groups, said the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF).
More than 1 million people are displaced - about half are living as refugees in neighbouring countries - and nearly one in two people - at least 2.2 million - need aid, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
"It is tragic to see so many people displaced by mindless conflict and brutal atrocities ... the country is experiencing a deteriorating cycle of violence," the U.N. humanitarian chief, Stephen O'Brien, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It has the worst level of humanitarian needs per capita," O'Brien added by phone from Bangui, calling on donors to boost support to avert the risk of a repeat of the "devastating large-scale crisis that gripped the country only four years ago".
The country's humanitarian response plan for 2017 has been less than quarter funded - $118 million of a requested $497 million.
"The peace agreement brought hope, but this hope has been shattered by the increase in violence and new displacement during the last weeks," said Eric Batonon, NRC country head. "We need to wake up to the fact that the Central African Republic is again spiralling towards a devastating crisis."

Hungry Times

 108 million people living in 48 food-crisis countries were at high risk of or already facing severe acute food insecurity in 2016, a dramatic increase compared with 80 million in 2015, according to a new global report on food crises.

“The numbers tell a deeply worrying story with more than 100 million people severely food-insecure, a level of suffering which is driven by conflict and climate change. Hunger exacerbates crisis, creating ever -greater instability and insecurity. What is a food security challenge today becomes tomorrow’s security challenge,” said Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme. “It is a race against time – the world must act now to save the lives and livelihoods of the millions at the brink of starvation. Without robust and sustained action, people struggling with severe food insecurity risk slipping into an even worse situation and eventual starvation.”

Poor rains across East Africa have worsened hunger and left crops scorched, pastures dry and thousands of livestock dead, the United Nations food and agriculture agency has warned. The most affected areas, which received less than half of their normal seasonal rainfall, are central and southern Somalia, South-Eastern Ethiopia, northern and eastern Kenya, northern Tanzania and north-eastern and South-Western Uganda. The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the five aforementioned countries, currently estimated at about 16 million, has increased by about 30 per cent since late 2016. In Somalia, almost half of the total population is food insecure, the UN specialised body reported.

The third consecutive failed rainy season has seriously eroded families’ resilience, and urgent and effective livelihood support is required. Timely humanitarian assistance has averted famine so far but must be sustained. Conditions across the region are expected to further deteriorate in the coming months with the onset of the dry season and an anticipated early start of the lean season, it added.

FAO’s Director of Emergencies Dominique Burgeon said, “Support is needed now before the situation rapidly deteriorates further.” In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where animal mortality rates are high and milk production from the surviving animals has declined sharply with negative consequences on food security and nutrition. “When we know how critical milk is for the healthy development of children aged under five, and the irreversible damage its lack can create, it is evident that supporting pastoralists going through this drought is essential,” said Burgeon.

Fall armyworm, which has caused extensive damage to maize crops in southern Africa, has spread to the east and has worsened the situation. In Kenya, the pest has so far affected about 200 000 hectares of crops, and in Uganda more than half the country’s 111 districts are affected.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said,  “We can prevent people dying from famine but if we do not scale up our efforts to save, protect and invest in rural livelihoods, tens of millions will remain severely food insecure.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Direct Action in South Africa. (1922)

From the April 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent attempts on the part of the Rand miners at Johannesburg to gain their ends by force of arms affords another striking instance of the futility of adopting such methods in the face of the organised, well-disciplined force of the governing class. Into the pros and cons of this particular case we do not propose to go. The broad facts of the case are sufficient for our purpose. In the mining districts of South Africa we find the masters organising for wage reductions; in fact, throughout the Capitalist world the same thing is going on all round. In England we had the coal mine owners making the first grand onslaught towards wage reductions. The Engineering industry at the present moment witnesses another great move on the part of the masters to force a reduction of wages.

In both instances the workers have been locked out. In all these contests we have the advocates of direct action on the industrial field proclaiming that this is the appointed time for the workers to use their “industrial power.” These people do not explain what this industrial power of the workers is. The reason is simple—there is no such thing as this so-called “industrial power” or “economic power,” as some prefer to call it; it is just a phrase, mouthed about by “revolutionary” Labour leaders, to impress their sheep-like followers with their “revolutionary heroism.” “Industrial power,” “ the power of industry,” “economic power,” are meaningless terms so far as advantage to the workers’ cause is concerned.

The fact that has to be solidly grasped is that, a ruling class exists to-day—the owners and controllers of the means of life. It matters not under what national banner or flag these captains of industry — the Capitalist class—are domiciled, whether it be in South Africa, Australia, America, the same force is used—the army, navy, and aerial contingents—to impose the masters’ will over the subject class, the working class. Therefore, while the workers of the world remain politically ignorant—i.e., vote their enemies into the seat of power—then it logically follows that that power, which gives them control of the forces of the State, be used whenever occasion demands, as witness on the Rand in South Africa.

As a writer in the Manchester Guardian, 17/3/22, says, commenting on the matter—
   “There certainly has been no indecision about General Smuts' way of taking up a clear challenge; not, of course, that the challenge from the rioters on the Rand was personal to him. He received it as the chosen head man of the European .Democracy in South Africa. It was no individual will, but the will of the majority—evidently a vast majority—of South African voters."
In this case the "vast majority” in their political ignorance voted for the return to the seat of power—the State Assembly—representatives of the owners of property in land, mines, railways, etc. Therefore, when this property is attacked by bands of rebel workers, it is naturally defended by the forces of the State.

Now listen to the champions of "industrial action"—"Workers' Dreadnought" (18/3/22) —commenting on the South African trouble :—
   “Labour will not be victorious whilst it merely strikes and starves. It must take control of production and distribution before it can achieve anything.”
We agree, but we are not told how the workers are to get control. Also same authority commenting on the Engineers' lock-out: -
  “They must show themselves able and ready to supply their own needs and those of the proletarian community as a whole.”
We agree, but how? And further same authority :—
   “The questions the locked-out workers have to ask themselves are just these :—
1. 'Why should we suffer want in a land of plenty? ’
2. 'How can we avoid doing so? ”
The answer to No. 1 is that the workers will continue to suffer want, so long as the means of life are owned by a few—the ruling Capitalist class.

The question as to how this state of things may be avoided is readily answered by the Socialist, who claims that the means of life must be made the common property of the people—i.e., by the establishment of Socialism, viz., "a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community." The Declaration of Principles on the back page of this issue sets out concisely but clearly how that object may be attained.

Revolutionary wind may be very relieving to people like the writer in the “Workers’ Dreadnought," quoted above; there’s been an epidemic of it since Bolshevism was discovered in Russia. What the workers need is Revolutionary knowledge. Study our position and then act.

B. I.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fact of the Day

The difference between the birth rate of educated and non-educated girls in some African countries is astonishing.
In Ethiopia, for instance, women who manage to finish a secondary-level education have an average of 1.3 children - and 5 if they lack schooling. In Nigeria, the difference is from 3.9 versus 6.7.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Fact of the Day

Less than a fifth of Americans are aware that extreme hunger threatens the lives of 20 million people in Africa and the Middle East, yet the overwhelming majority regard it as the most pressing global issue once they have been told.

Public awareness of the situation is low, with only 15% of Americans apprised of the facts.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Selling Bad Health and Death in Africa

At its annual meeting in March, chairman Richard Burrows toasted a “vintage year” for British American Tobacco (BAT), as profits rose 4% to £5.2bn after investors took their cut – their dividend had increased by 10%. There are an estimated 77 million smokers in Africa and those numbers are predicted to rise by nearly 40% from 2010 levels by 2030, which is the largest projected such increase in the world. “The tobacco industry is now turning its focus toward emerging markets in sub-Saharan Africa, seeking to exploit the continent’s patchwork tobacco control regulations and limited resources to combat industry marketing advances,” said Dr Emmanuela Gakidou and colleagues at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, publishing an analysis of smoking prevalence around the world in the Lancet in April.
BAT, one of the world’s leading cigarette manufacturers, and other multinational tobacco firms have threatened governments in at least eight countries in Africa demanding they axe or dilute the kind of protections that have saved millions of lives in the west. 
BAT is fighting through the courts to try to block the Kenyan and Ugandan governments’ attempts to bring in regulations to limit the harm caused by smoking. The giant tobacco firms hope to boost their markets in Africa, which has a fast-growing young and increasingly prosperous population.
In Kenya BAT’s lawyers demand the country’s high court “quash in its entirety” a package of anti-smoking regulations and rails against what it calls a “capricious” tax plan. The case is now before the supreme court after BAT Kenya lost in the high court and the appeal court. A ruling is expected as early as next month. Professor Peter Odhiambo, a former heart surgeon who is head of the government’s Tobacco Control Board in Kenya, told the Guardian: “BAT has done as much as they can to block us.” In Kenya, BAT has succeeded in delaying regulations to restrict the promotion and sale of cigarettes for 15 years, fighting through every level of the legal system. In February it launched a case in the supreme court that has already halted the imposition of tobacco controls until probably after the country’s general election in August, which is being contested by parliamentarians who have been linked to payments by the multinational company.
BAT whistleblower Paul Hopkins, who worked in Africa for BAT for 13 years, told a British newspaper he paid bribes on the company’s behalf to the Kenya Revenue Authority for access to information BAT could use against its Kenyan competitor, Mastermind. Hopkins has also alleged links between certain prominent opposition Kenyan politicians and two tobacco companies, BAT Kenya and Mastermind. Hopkins, who says he alerted BAT to the documents before the company made him redundant, claimed BAT Kenya paid bribes to government officials in Burundi, Rwanda and the Comoros Islands to undermine tobacco control regulations. Gitali is concerned about the outcome of the election: “If the opposition takes over government we shall be deeply in the hands of the tobacco companies.”
Cloe Franko, senior international organizer at Corporate Accountability International, said: “In Kenya, as in other parts of the world, the industry has resorted to frivolous litigation, aggressive interference ... to thwart, block, and delay lifesaving policies. BAT’s actions are emblematic of a desperate industry grasping to maintain its hold over countries and continue to peddle its deadly product.”
In Uganda, BAT asserts that the government’s Tobacco Control Act is “inconsistent with and in contravention of the constitution”. In Uganda, BAT launched legal action against the government in November, arguing that the Tobacco Control Act, which became law in 2015, contravenes the constitution. It is fighting restrictions that are now commonplace in richer countries, including the expansion of health warnings on packets and point-of-sale displays, arguing that they unfairly restrict its trade.
The Guardian has also seen letters, including three by BAT, sent to the governments of Uganda, Namibia, Togo, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso revealing the intimidatory tactics that tobacco companies are using, accusing governments of breaching their own laws and international trade agreements and warning of damage to the economy.
BAT is expected to become the world’s biggest listed tobacco firm as it completes its acquisition of the large US tobacco company Reynolds in a $49bn deal, and there are fears over the extent to which big tobacco can financially outmuscle health ministries in poorer nations. Experts say Africa and southern Asia are urgent new battlegrounds in the global fight against smoking because of demographics and rising prosperity. Despite declining smoking and more controls in some richer countries, it still kills more than seven million people globally every year, according to the WHO, and there are fears the tactics of big tobacco will effectively succeed in “exporting the death and harm” to poorer nations.
Although most countries in Africa have signed the World Health Organisation (WHO) treaty on tobacco control, none has yet fully implemented the smoking restrictions it endorses.
The WHO predicts that by 2025, smoking rates will go up in 17 of the 30 Africa-region countries from their 2010 level. In some countries a massive hike is expected – in Congo-Brazzaville, from 13.9% to nearly half the population (47.1%) and in Cameroon from 13.7% to 42.7%. In Sierra Leone it will be 41.2% (74% among men) and in Lesotho 36.9%.
Tih Ntiabang, regional coordinator for Africa of the Framework Convention Alliance – NGOs that support the WHO treaty – said the tobacco companies had become bolder. “In the past it used to be invisible interference, but today it is so shameful that it is so visible and they are openly opposing public health treaties like the case in Kenya at the moment … Today they boldly go to court to oppose public health policy. Every single government is highly interested in economic growth. They [the tobacco companies] know they have this economic power. The budget of tobacco companies like BAT could be as much as the whole budget of the Africa region.
“Our health systems are not really well organised. Our policy makers can’t see clearly what are the health costs of inaction on tobacco control because our health system is not very good. It puts the tobacco industry at an advantage on public health.”
Bintou Camara, director of Africa programs at Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said: “British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International and other multinational tobacco companies have set their sights on Africa as a ‘growth market’ for their deadly products”. Throughout Africa, tobacco companies have tried to intimidate countries from taking effective action to reduce tobacco use, the world’s leading cause of preventable death, he added.
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Letter to the president sent in April 2017 by the Fédération des Entreprises du Congo (chamber of commerce) on behalf of the tobacco industry, listing 29 concerns with the proposed tobacco control regulations, which they claim violate the constitution, international agreements and domestic law.
  • Burkina Faso: Letter sent in January 2016 to the minister of health from Imperial Tobacco, warning that restrictions on labeling and packaging cigarettes risks economic and social damage to the country. Previous letter sent to the prime minister from the US Chambers of Commerce in December 2013 warning that large health warnings and plain packaging could put Burkina Faso in breach of its obligations to the World Trade Organisation.
  • Ethiopia: Letter sent in February 2015 to the ministers of health and science and technology by Philip Morris International, claiming that the government’s tobacco directive banning trademarks, brands and added ingredients to tobacco breached existing laws and would penalise all consumer retailers.
  • Togo: Letter to the minister of commerce in June 2012 from Philip Morris International opposing plain packaging, which “risks having damaging consequences on Togo’s economy and business environment”.
  • Gabon: Letter from BAT arguing that there is no evidence that plain packaging reduces smoking, citing the Deloitte report of 2011, alleging its introduction would put Gabon in breach of trade agreements and promote smuggling.
  • Namibia: Letter to the minister of health from BAT, warning that planned tobacco controls will have “a massive impact … on the Namibian economy at large”.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Kenyan churches wealth

The Coptic Orthodox Church, Nairobi Pentecostal Church (NPC) and the Seventh-day Adventist Church are among the organisations in the Kenya Revenue Authority’s (KRA) latest listing of taxpayers in that income bracket. The listing places them in the same income league as Kirinyaga Construction, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and Google Kenya, among others.
Churches are required to file annual returns but are exempt from most taxes as provided for by the Non-Governmental Organisations and Co-ordination Act. These three Kenyan churches are doing business with annual turnovers of between Sh350 million and Sh1 billion, signalling greater involvement of religious institutions in taxable commercial activities to boost their incomes. The religious institutions have increased their investment in education, healthcare, financial services, hospitality and real estate to reduce their reliance on tithes and offerings from members. Despite higher earnings from businesses, the government has maintained the churches’ tax-exempt status. A charitable organisation must provide evidence of its benevolent activities before it can be exempted from taxes.
However, battles for control of the businesses run by churches have raised suspicions that some of the investments are initiated with self-enrichment as the primary objective. The NPC, the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) and the Catholic Church are some of the institutions that have been rocked by major property disputes, with some of their clergy accused in court of fraud and embezzlement. Leaders of the NPC, also known as Christ is The Answer Ministries (CITAM), have, for instance, been sued for breach of trust by church members and a contractor in relation to a controversial housing project in Nairobi’s Karen section.
The Catholic Church, which owns one of the largest real estate portfolios in Kenya, including undeveloped land, is surprisingly not on the list.

Uganda's inequality

Uganda is now ranked 17th among the countries with the highest level of income inequality in Africa, in a report published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

The report titled 'Urbanization and industrialization for Africa’s transformation' points out that Uganda’s gini coefficient for income inequality is at 0.45. 

Uganda’s situation is worse than Tanzania (0.36), and Burundi (0.33), but better than Kenya (0.48) and Rwanda (0.51). 

The report notes that income inequality has risen due to an absence of programs to bolster incomes of the poor and the absolute poor while the rich continue to break further away, amassing more wealth from their investments.

Congo Conflicts

 Conflict has forced more than 1.5 million Congolese to flee their homes this year, far more than in Iraq or Syria. More than 3,000 have died since last October in an insurrection against the government in central Congo's Kasai region. Altogether, 3.8 million Congolese are internally displaced, more than in any other African country, according to OCHA. Some 7.3 million need humanitarian assistance.

About 80,000 people have fled fighting between the Democratic Republic of Congo army and a new rebel coalition, the United Nations said on Tuesday, joining the millions already uprooted in Africa's worst displacement crisis.

Militia violence has intensified across Congo since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down at the end of his constitutional mandate in December, raising fears the country will slide back into the wars at the turn of the century that killed millions. The latest fighting broke out in South Kivu province's Fizi territory, in the eastern part of the country. Government troops clashed with the National Coalition of the People for the Sovereignty of Congo (CNPSC), a new alliance of local self-defence militias, the U.N. Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a new report. The rebels seized several towns last month before being beaten back by government troops, according to the army, which said at least a dozen people were killed in the clashes.  OCHA warned that tit-for-tat attacks between competing communities in South Kivu risked reviving inter-ethnic tensions that have fuelled repeated conflicts.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Fact of the Day

Over the next generation, in the next 35 years, 1 in every 4 people in the world will be African. Right now, and in contrast to China, half of the African population is under 20, and the working-age population will expand by 20-30 million people per year over the next generation, going from 530 million people in 2015 to 920 million in 2035, and on to 1.4 billion by 2055. 

Meanwhile, the UN projects that the working age population of China will shrink from around 920 million in 2015 to 667 million by 2055. By this time, most of the net growth on the world’s labor force will occur in Africa and by 2050, Africa will make up 25 percent over the world’s workforce.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

South Sudan's Atrocities

South Sudan, but it is a very under-reported conflict. Very few people around the world even know that Sudan is the biggest refugee crisis in the world in terms of how fast it grows. Why it is so difficult to solve is because both parties, government and opposition forces, are not being put under the kind of pressure that they should be put under by the international community. There are certainly more measures that the international community should take such as an arms embargo, targeted sanctions on specific individuals. None of that has been done until now. Nobody has been held accountable. So, those who are responsible for these unspeakable atrocities against civilians, until now have been able to enjoy impunity. Impunity is in large part what is fueling this conflict.

According to Amnesty International, South Sudan's ongoing atrocities have turned the country’s breadbasket into a killing field. Both government and opposition forces use food as a weapon of war. 

In South Sudan's Equatoria region, government and opposition forces have committed war crimes and widespread human rights abuses against civilians.  Amnesty International reveals that men, women and children have been shot, hacked to death with machetes and burned alive in their homes. Women and girls have been gang-raped, some after having been abducted. Homes, schools, medical facilities and humanitarian organizations' compounds have been looted, vandalized and burned down. Both government and opposition forces use food as a weapon of war. Such atrocities have already forcibly displaced close to a million people from their homes in a food-rich region which could feed millions but it has become a place where even the small percentage of inhabitants who remain are facing acute hunger and malnutrition. 

 Basically those who are involved in the conflict, especially the government of President Salva Kiir on one hand and the rebel forces led by Riek Machar on the other hand, but also local armed opposition groups which are not necessarily operating exactly under the main SPLA opposition has resulted in a situation where at the moment neither side can win and neither side is losing. And so they are continuing to fight and couldn't care less about the fate of civilians. If men are caught, they are killed; if women are caught they are raped.

The bulk of the abuses are being committed by government forces and their allied militias - the Mathiang Anyor militia. However, the rebel fighters are also committing the same kind of abuses, although on a much smaller scale. Why are they targeting civilians? They are targeting civilians because they can. Because civilians have no way of defending themselves and each side is accusing civilians of being supportive of the other side. That's why men are rounded up, massacred, shot dead, hacked to death, locked up in huts and set on fire and women are very often gang raped, whether in their homes or when they go out to the rural areas trying to look for food.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Inequality in South Africa

South Africa is in a technical recession, unemployment figures are at record highs and the inequality gap is far from closing.

Yet a recent report by Deloitte shows executives of the Top 100 companies listed on the JSE earn on average R69,000 a day. 

It is no secret that South Africa's top executives lead lavish lives, often residing in some of the most pristine neighbourhoods our cities have to offer. At the same time, their employees tend to live in shacks, lacking basic services, hundreds of kilometres from home, often to be closer to work.

Capitalists, those who own the means of production, as Karl Marx would say, have been thriving all over the world. And despite increasing criticism of a system that depends on inequality, the rich continue to get richer while the poor are headed the other way. Populist rhetoric is aimed at convincing the electorate that political decisions will result in equal distribution of wealth when in fact the true goal is to replace the current economic elite with another group, most likely those who have close ties to political leaders.  Throughout history, wars between 'kings' have never been for the well-being of their subjects and the so-called 'noblemen' need to be exposed.  The current notion that the majority should be grateful for the wealth that 'trickles' down – like breadcrumbs and bones from a dinner table to a dog – is nothing short of insulting.

The true remedy requires pro-active steps to achieve socialism.

Restricted Africa

By 2063, according to the African Union’s (AU) long-range prediction, Africa will be “a continent of seamless borders”. People, capital, goods, and services will flow freely from South Africa to Tunisia and from Senegal to Somalia. Last year, with that goal in mind, the AU boldly introduced a single African passport.  So far, the AU has issued its single African passport only to heads of state and senior AU officials. 

For now, however, crossing borders remains a painful experience for most Africans. The World Bank estimates that intra-African trade is more expensive, all things considered, than trade in any other region. 

On average, Africans need a visa to travel to 54% of the continent’s countries; it’s easier for Americans to travel around Africa than it is for Africans themselves.  Less than a quarter of African countries provide “liberal access”—meaning visa-free travel or at least visas on arrival—to all African citizens, and most of the continent’s richest countries tend to be more restrictive. 

According to Anabel Gonzalez, senior director of a World Bank group on trade and competitiveness, one African supermarket chain reports that it spends $20,000 every week to get import permits for meat, milk and other goods in one country alone; every day one of its lorries is held up at a border, costs it $500. 

But in the past year things have improved a little, according to a new report from the African Development Bank. Africans now need visas to travel to slightly fewer countries than they did in 2015, and 13 African countries now offer electronic visas, up from 9 the previous year. 
Ghana made the most progress: in 2016 the government announced that it would provide visas on arrival for citizens of every AU member state, while offering entirely visa-free travel to 17 African countries, including the 14 other members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). 
The Seychelles is still the only country on the continent to offer visa-free access to all Africans.  In the middle of the Indian Ocean, it is a haven for well-heeled tourists but hard to get to if you are poor.