Friday, August 31, 2018

Conflict: the Child Killer

Five million children in Africa have died from preventable diseases over the last 20 years because armed conflict deprived them of access to basic healthcare or clean water, a study published in The Lancet medical journal showed.
Conflict in countries such as Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo had contributed to the deaths of up to 5 million children under five between 1995 and 2015.
The figure includes three million victims aged one or younger, and is much higher than previously estimated, with civilian infant deaths outnumbering armed conflict deaths by more than three to one, said scientists.
"Conflict appears to substantially increase the risk of death and stunting of young children over vast areas and for many years after conflicts have ended," said lead researcher Eran Bendavid from Stanford University in a statement. "The impact of war generates a series of lethal but indirect impacts on communities caused by potentially preventable infectious diseases, malnutrition, and disruption of basic services such as water, sanitation, and maternal healthcare."
The study looked at almost 15,500 conflicts in 34 of Africa's 54 nations over two decades and examined data on conflict-related deaths as well as live births and child mortality rates. It found infants born within 50 km (30 miles) of conflict had a greater risk of dying - about 8 percent - in their first year compared to those born in the same region in years without conflict. The risk of infant death increased to around 30 percent when the violence was more intense, said researchers, adding that infant mortality rates were four times higher in conflicts lasting five years or more, said the study. The higher risk of child death persisted up to distances of 100 km from a conflict, and for children born up to eight years after conflicts subsided.
The data showed conflicts in Africa were having a substantial impact on child mortality. They accounted for around 7 percent of all child deaths - almost 20 times higher than the 0.4 percent previously estimated by the 2015 Global Burden of Disease report.
Aid workers supporting hospitals and clinics in war zones said health workers and medical facilities were protected under international humanitarian law and all armed factions had a duty to abide by this.
"Children are often the most vulnerable to malnutrition and preventable diseases that become greater risks when families are displaced and living with little food and safe drinking water," said Crystal Wells, East Africa spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross. "When the clinics they depend on for care are looted or destroyed, it means they have nowhere to go when they need treatment — with tragic consequences," she added.

Cameroon Crisis

Unlike other autocratic leaders in Africa who take a more "hands-on" leadership approach,  Paul Biya – Cameroon’s the president for 36 years,  is known for his "hands-off" style of rule. Like many Cameroonians, Affana notes that Biya uses public funds in the country with a high poverty rate to sustain a bureaucracy of 65 sycophantic ministers and state secretaries. He mostly governs by decree or with the help of laws rushed through a rubber-stamp parliament. In 2006 and 2009 alone, Biya spent a third of his time outside of the country. Most of his trips have been to Switzerland, where he has made himself at home in Geneva's five-star Intercontinental Hotel. His regular entourage includes his wife and up to 50 aides which estimates the total hotel bill and chartered jet costs at around $182 million (€156 million). By contrast, the average Cameroonian earns $1,400 annually
"When you're a president you have everything and everyone at your disposal and the resources to control," James Arrey, a professor at the University of Bamenda told DW. "Since you have everything, then you gain the loyalty of all that matters in the society. That's how Paul Biya has managed to lead the central African nation for more than three decades."
The Anglophones and Francophones alike complain about Biya’s leadership.
"He has been in power because people around him want to keep him for personal gains," says Jean Paul Brice Affana, a Bonn-based Cameroonian environmental activist.
The UN says 200 civilians have been killed in Anglophone regions since October 2017, while hundreds remain missing
•    3.3 million Cameroonians need urgent humanitarian assistance
•    In the Far North Region, one out of every three people is facing emergency levels of food insecurity
•   The unemployment rate was at 4.20 percent in 2017
•    Cameroon is one of the most corrupt African countries, according to Transparency International
 After World War One, the League of Nations divided Germany's colonial-era regions in Africa between the Allies — most of the land went to France and Britain. Most of Cameroon's went to France. A small portion went to Britain. After Cameroon gained independence in 1960, English speakers were given the choice of remaining part of Cameroon or joining its bigger neighbor, Nigeria — also a former British territory.  They voted to stay with Cameroon but have since felt increasingly marginalized by the French-speaking government in Yaounde hundreds of miles away.
Separatists want
•   At first, Anglophones peacefully raised their grievances - over the use of French in schools and courts
•   A minority wanted an independent state, which they call "Ambazonia"
•   The Yaounde government's violent response to protests in the Anglophone regions in late 2016 prompted many more to call for autonomy
•   In September 2017, the Ambazonia Defense Council declared war on the Yaounde government
•   On October 1, 2017, Anglophone separatists claimed two regions as the self-proclaimed republic of "Ambazonia"
It is hard to predict where Cameroon is headed. One thing is clear, however: Biya is almost sure to win the presidential election in October. "At home, regionally, and indeed internationally, Paul Biya is losing legitimacy on a daily basis, and rightfully so," Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of Vanguard Africa says. 

A war-lord faces justice

A Congolese warlord known as the “Terminator” for his alleged brutality has protested his innocence at the close of his trial at the international criminal court, telling judges: “I am a revolutionary, not a criminal.”
Bosco Ntaganda is charged with 13 counts of war crimes and six of crimes against humanity, all allegedly committed in 2002 and 2003 in Ituri in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 
The ICC issued a warrant for his arrest in 2006, for the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The charges against him include murder, rape and sexual slavery; he ordered his men to rape women to keep “morale high” and to strike terror into the local population, according to prosecutors. The ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said: “The crimes were not random, isolated or spontaneous. They were part of a carefully planned, coordinated and executed campaign of violence, deliberately targeting the Lendu and Ngiti civilian populations and other non-Hema ethnic groups.”
 Ntaganda’s lawyers presented a very different character, complaining that his nickname was “entirely wrong” and that Ntaganda was actually a father figure to his troops.
“The army was a family … The ‘children’ in the family does not mean that they are children,” Ntaganda’s lawyer, Stephane Bourgon, said. “They are the members of the army and military commanders take care of their ‘children’.”
Having lost support in his own rebel group and the patronage of Rwanda, Ntaganda arrived at the US embassy in Kigali on a March morning in 2013 and asked to be handed over to the ICC. The maximum sentence for the crimes he is charged with would be 30 years, but some analysts say the prospect of a jail term served quietly in a European country would be preferable to Ntaganda than the alternative under Congolese or Rwandan authorities, or going on the run.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Looted Continent and its Migrants

From the TruthOut website

 In Africa, specifically, the unchecked exploitation of the continent’s natural resources by corporations from outside countries has forced desperate choices upon its citizens. Migrants looking for their own modicum of economic justice have come to the West. But, once they arrive, they discover the extraordinary extents to which they must prove their “worthiness” and acceptance in the same European nations that benefited from taking their homelands’ natural resources for profit.

Recently, the French Parliament adopted legislation that places new restrictions on migrants seeking asylum. It seems that even being seen as twice as “good” as the rest barely qualifies migrants for acceptance into predominantly white societies.

Intolerance of migrants, especially of African descent, might strike some as a new phenomenon. But historical memories matter. For centuries, Europe sent out millions of its own migrants to settle elsewhere. In the instances of Africa and Asia, guns – not visas – set the movement’s pace.

To understand why the numbers of Africans continue to leave their homelands to work as migrants in the West, one must look to the history of how Africa has been hyper-exploited in the global economy.

The continent’s natural and mineral resources are targets of predatory wealth where no costs are incurred for unfettered exploitation. In many African nations, dictatorial puppets, often handpicked and supported by their Western exploiters, continue this relationship. This occurs at the expense of their own citizens who need and would benefit the most from the resources of their homelands.

Meanwhile, the continent’s deprived migrants are seen as “nuisances” by white citizens in Western nations occasionally, but more often are portrayed as “burdens” that “threaten” the nation’s economic livelihood. Last June, Pope Francis spoke about the topic in advance of a European Union summit on migration. He said:
"When a country grants independence to an African country it is from the ground up – but the subsoil is not independent. And then people [outside Africa] complain about hungry Africans coming here. There are injustices there."

The pope’s remarks are consistent with what scholars have written.

Tom Burgis noted in his 2015 book, The Looting Machine: Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth, Africa is both the world’s richest and poorest continent. A third of the planet’s mineral deposits are in Africa – including 40 percent of the world’s gold and 80 percent of its platinum. The continent holds nearly one-sixth of the crude oil reserves.

Migrants use all means, some perilous, to leave their exploited homelands seeking economic opportunity elsewhere. As gold mines, oil fields and large farms in Africa continue to be owned by Western investors and these vital resources are shipped or airlifted to the West, the stream of African immigrants will flow continuously. African migrants see no hopes in gaining their rightful share of this wealth. Simply, they leave because the risk of staying is the same as abandoning their countries.

 African dictators have doled out in mining concessions to European and US corporations. Businesses from banking to entertainment and sports in Africa are largely European or US-based. African governments have cowed to US pressure to continue taking in their used clothes at the expense of local African garment industries. Global Justice Now and the Jubilee Debt Campaign reported more streams of wealth-building revenue leave Africa every year going to former colonialist countries than revenue streams coming into the continent. African countries received $162 billion in 2015, mainly in loans, aid and personal remittances. But, in the same year, $203 billion in revenue that could have sustained local African economies was taken from the continent.

If European countries and the US insist upon blocking African migrants from entering their borders, then perhaps they also should block African resources from entering their countries as well. Then, maybe African migrants will finally be able to reap their own economic benefits from the resources of their homelands — that is, if corrupt African leaders respect such embargoes and allow their citizens to take part in the wealth.

Monday, August 27, 2018


Out of the 67 coups in 26 African countries in the last 50 years, 61 percent took place in former French colonies.

 Fifty percent of the monetary reserves of 14 African countries are still today under full French control: none of them has any control over its macroeconomic and monetary policy. France makes billions of euros from Africa annually under the form of “reserves”, and lend part of the same money to its owners on market rates. These few numbers hide one major truth: many European countries, France first and foremost, are still today shaping the lives of millions of Africans - three quarters of whom live on less than two dollars a day - determining both their present and future.

 They take the best out of Africa, while largely ignoring, or complaining about, much of the rest (noteworthy: Muslims represent about eight percent of the total French population and yet, between 40 percent and 70 percent of the population of France’s prisons are estimated to be Muslims, mainly originate from African countries).

The European Union tend to focus on the “final rings of the chain” (including NGOs, “hotspots”, or how to “divert irregular migration”), meaning that they focus on “the migration crisis plaguing Europe” without addressing some of the main structural conditions behind these phenomena. Instead of tackling these challenges and acknowledging that 87 percent of world refugees are hosted in low and middle-income countries, a number of European politicians and millions of average citizens have chosen the “easiest path”: they are invoking a Europe-wide alliance against “mass immigration”, or, more precisely, quoting Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, “a League of the Leagues of Europe, bringing together all the free and sovereign movements that want to defend their people and their borders”. “Europe”, in truth, is not defending itself, but “attacking”.

A number of agreements signed in recent years by the EU in different parts of Africa have been largely detrimental for local populations, not least because they have exposed weak economies competition, adopted “divide and conquer” tactics when negotiating with African countries, and reduced trade between African nations. These agreements are often signed by countries that are still heavily dependent on external powers. A case in point is represented by the accord - the covers goods and development cooperation - reached by the EU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on February 24, 2014.  Almost all countries that are part of both ECOWAS and UEMOA (West African Economic and Monetary Union) - including Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, and Senegal - are still today de facto “post-colonial possessions”.

The Central Bank of each of these African countries is in fact compelled to maintain at least 50 percent (it was 65 percent until 2005) of its foreign exchange reserves in an “operations account” controlled by the French Treasury. Moreover, each Central Bank is required to maintain a foreign exchange cover of at least of 20 percent of its liabilities. It should also be mentioned that still today - despite the efforts made by ECOWAS to create a new common currency (ECO) for West African states - the CFA Francs, which are in reality two different currencies both guaranteed by the French Treasury, are the official currencies in 14 West and Central African countries. CFA Francs, contrary to the dollar or euro, cannot be converted into any other currency. This means that all these countries are excluded from the international foreign exchange market (FOREX), the largest and most liquid market for options of any kind in the world. 
The “West Africa leaks” investigation, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) last May 22, through its analysis of 27.5 million leaked documents, shed further light on how government officials, arms merchants and corporations have syphoned off millions of dollars from some of the poorest West African states through offshore tax havens. The latter is, to a large extent, linked to European and American companies and businessmen. The result of the investigation, the largest-ever collaboration of journalists from West Africa, is particularly meaningful if considering that the region (West Africa) accounts for more than one-third of the about $50bn that leave Africa each year illegally.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Freedom of the Internet?

Tanzania’s social commentators have shut down their blogs as many cannot afford the required licence fees to register them. And internet cafes may start closing down too as the new law requires them to install expensive security cameras.
The country’s Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2017 has been condemned as draconian. The law states:
  • All blogs, online forums, content hosts and content producers must register online and pay licence fees of up to USD 900;
  • Internet cafes must install surveillance cameras to monitor people online;
  • Material deemed “offensive, morally improper” or that “causes annoyance,” is prohibited and a minimum fine of USD2,230 or 12 months in jail as a minimum sentence is recommended for anyone found guilty; Social media comments are even subject to the new regulations.
  • In addition, people can be charged for not having passwords on their computers, laptops and smartphones.
The regulation, however, does not state a maximum jail term, meaning a magistrate could send an offender to prison for an indeterminate period of time.

There is also the Cyber Crime Act, which can be used to arrest dissenting journalists and citizens and the Statistics Act, which limits the publication of data to the government’s Bureau of Statistics.

These regulations together with other laws aimed at curtailing freedom of expression and press freedom are one of the reasons for Tanzania’s poor performance in the latest Freedom Index rankings. The country ranks 93 out of 180 countries across the globe.

Rugemeleza Nshala, a prominent Tanzanian lawyer, tells IPS that freedom of expression is facing the biggest challenge in recent times here.
“We have reached a point where former Ugandan president Idi Amin’s famous quote when he said ‘there is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech’ is becoming relevant in Tanzania. Newspapers are shutdown unconstitutionally, and citizens criticising the president are arrested and magistrates, who want to please the president, jail suspects without hesitation.” 
Last year alone, three newspapers were suspended.
Nshala says that enforcement of the online content regulations has scared people from giving their opinion openly according to Article 18 of the Constitution of Tanzania, which grants citizens freedom of expression and opinion without interference.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Food Facts

Each year people in rich countries waste about as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire sub-Saharan Africa produces in a year (230 million).

If we avoid 25% of that wastage, it could feed 870 million hungry people.

The food currently lost in Africa could feed 300 million people.

Regenerating Ghana

Ghana’s natural resources are disappearing at an alarming rate. More than 50 percent of the original forest area has been converted to agricultural land by slash and burn clearing practices. Wildlife populations are in serious decline, with many species facing extinction, according to a World Bank report

In the scorching Upper East Region of Ghana, the dry seasons are long and for kilometres around there is nothing but barren, dry earth. Here, in some areas, it is not uncommon for half the female population to migrate to the country’s south in search of work, often taking their young children with them.

The Garu and Tempane districts, which encompass 1,230 square kilometres or 123,000 hectares, had large portions of barren and degraded land until just three years ago. According to the 2015 Ghana Poverty Mapping report, the rate of poverty in these two districts is 54.5 percent or 70,087 people—accounting for the highest number of impoverished people in the entire region.  Now, there are pockets of lush grass, neem trees, berries and indigenous fruit growing on some 250 hectares of restored land. The dry earth is beginning to flourish, albeit it slowly.

The rate at which trees were cut down surpassed the rate at which new trees grew, if they did at all. And soon there were less and less trees for people to make charcoal with. Sprouts were soon unable to grow also as the land became hard and lacked nutrients. And rainfall patterns changed.
“Previously, we would prepare our farmlands in early February and start planting when the rains begin in late March or early April and ended in late September or mid-October. Now, our planting is pushed to the end of June or early July and ends just around the same period it used to. We are getting low yields,” Atumoce says.
Carl Kojo Fiati, director of Natural Resources at Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency, tells IPS that deforestation and indiscriminate bush burning in the Upper Region has reduced the natural water cycles band, a natural cycle of evaporation, condensation and precipitation, and resulted in the reduced rainfall pattern and unproductive land.
“When the shrubs are allowed to grow it draws water from the ground that evaporates into the atmosphere and becomes moisture. This moisture adds to other forms of evaporation and this is condensed and comes down as rain,” he explains.
The reduced rainfall affected this community significantly. According to the Garu and Tempane districts Annual Report, 2014, large portions of the population migrated south in search of jobs from November 2013 to April 2014. According to the report, 53 percent of women in the Kpikpira and Worinyanga area councils migrated with their children to the southern part of Ghana to engage in menial jobs, exposing their children to various forms of abuse, and depriving them of basic needs such as shelter, education, health care and protection.
But three years ago, World Vision International (WVI) Ghana began implementing the Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) programme. FMNR is a low-cost land restoration technique. The Garu and Tempane districts were the second and third areas in which the project was implemented, run in conjunction with the ministry of food and agriculture, the Ghana National Fire Service and other government agencies. From 2009 to 2012 the pilot was conducted in Talensi, Nabdam District, which is also here in Upper East Region. The projects have been handed over to the communities and another one is now being introduced in Bawku East District, also in Upper East Region.
The restoration in Garu and Tempane began using simple principles. This community of mostly farmers selected a degraded area and were asked to not destroy the shrubs there but to protect and allow them to grow. They were also taught by the ministry of food and agriculture how to periodically prune away weak stems, allowing the shoots to grow into full sized trees rapidly. They were also advised to allow animals to graze on the vegetation so that their droppings could become a source for manure. New bylaws to regulate the harvesting of surplus wood, grasses, and other resources were also passed and enforced to prevent the indiscriminate felling of trees.
“The critical science behind regeneration and improved soil nutrient are that the leaves of the shrubs or vegetation drops and decay. The decayed leaves constitute carbon in the soil and that promotes plant growth,” says Fiati. The FMNR project, Fiati says, is an excellent method of correcting the problem of reduced rainfall by bringing the production cycle in sync with nature.
“We gave the farmers animals to keep as a source of an alternative livelihood so that farmers do not go back to the charcoal burning,” Maxwell Amedi, Food Security and Resilient Technical officer of WVI Ghana tells IPS. Amedi notes that forests are essential to realising the world’s shared vision for its people, and the planet. Forests, he says, are central to future prosperity as well as the stability of the global climate.
Talaata Aburgi, 60, from Susudi community in the Garu and Tempane districts, tells IPS that neem trees have always been used here to cure ailments including diabetes, skin ulcers, birth controls, malaria fever and stomach ache. She is glad that these trees are now repopulating the area. In addition, red and yellow berries and other indigenous fruit have started growing again. Birds, butterflies and wild animals, like monkeys and rabbits, have reappeared.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Polygamy and Poverty

Having multiple wives is common in about a quarter of the world's nations, predominantly conservative male-dominated communities in Africa and Muslim-majority countries where it is part of traditional or religious customs. But men have taken multiple wives for centuries, citing the need to have a large family to help with farm labour and to ensure offspring if children die or one wife is infertile. A larger family was also traditionally seen as a source of pride, wealth and high social status and protective for women in cultures where they cannot own resources like land. The U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women says polygamy should be discouraged and outlawed because such marriages are unequal and have negative emotional and financial impacts on women and children.
Despite growing modernity and awareness of women's rights, polygamy remains legal in most African nations and is prevalent across society, from farmers to senior politicians, such as former South African President Jacob Zuma who has had six wives. But for polygamy to work, wives must buy into the practice and the husband should have enough income to look after all of them and their children. Yet this is not always the case.
But campaigners say most polygamous marriages in Kenya, and other African nations, are fuelling poverty - with husbands neglecting one family over another - leaving thousands of women and children impoverished and easy prey for exploitation.
Almost 1.5 million Kenyans - or 10 percent of the married population - are in a polygamous marriage. In Kenya, a wife's consent is not legally required for husbands to marry again, and men are often unable to adequately provide for them. Almost 43 percent of households where the man is in a polygamous union are poor compared to 27 percent of those in monogamous unions. Poverty reaches 46 percent in households where the woman is married to a polygamous man who does not live with her, it says.
But women's rights groups say this a gross underestimate as most of these marriages are customary and not registered. Worse still, many women are unaware they are even sharing a husband as he may keep them in separate homes without informing them.
"Polygamy is the biggest contributor to poverty as most men who get into it cannot afford it - and it is the women and children who suffer most," said Teresa Omondi-Adeitan, executive director of the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya. "Sometimes they are evicted after the new wife arrives and tensions arise. In other cases, the man has to divide his little resources further between all the families, and there is less money, less food and less everything for everyone."
With most Kenyan women already poorer than men, single mothers often struggle to provide food, schooling, health care and security for their children, say campaigners. As a result, their children are more susceptible to diseases, from malaria to malnutrition, less likely to complete school or find work, and at higher risk of early marriage, sexual exploitation or forced labour.
"There are a lot of factors which contribute to child vulnerability - but from our experience it is clear that poverty is one of the biggest," said Angela Nyamu, country director for child rights charity Terres Des Hommes. "Anecdotal evidence suggests the structure of the family does play a role. Children who are in single-parent households are more vulnerable and it can push them into many forms of exploitation."
From Kenya's slums to its tourist beaches, thousands of children are having "survival sex" for as little as a bag of sugar, a piece of fish or even just a ride home. In many cases there is a link to polygamy.
"My father took another wife and my mother, me and my sisters had to leave," said 19-year-old Monasha who began sex work in the beach resort of Diani when she was 15. "I had to quit school and help at home. I started doing this as there was nothing else for me to do to get some money," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
While campaigners say women and children in polygamous unions need better protection if the relationship falls apart, most are against outlawing a culturally-entrenched practice. They called for the government to enforce a law to register customary polygamous marriages, so that women would have official evidence of the marriage - making it easier for them to claim child maintenance or the husband's assets or property.
"Criminalisation isn't always the answer," said Judy Gitau, a women rights lawyer from the charity Equality Now. "If the law is implemented and women are given their entitlements, things will slowly change and greater social awareness will eventually see polygamy dying out."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Why Xenophobia in South Africa

There is no evidence to support the belief that South Africa’s migrant community is a major cause of crime or unemployment in the country. Indeed, as former president Zuma has acknowledged,
"[many in the migrant community] contribute to the economy of the country positively."
Anti-xenophobia activists need to encourage ordinary people to think like this. Only when South Africans are able to understand the root causes of anti-immigrant violence can the problem be overcome.
A new study by the Human Sciences Research Council canvased the views of ordinary South Africans on what lies behind anti-immigrant sentiments, including violence. Knowing how the public views this important question is vital to understanding which mechanisms would be most acceptable to prevent xenophobic violence.
Overall, 71% of the respondents said that the threat posed by immigrants from outside South Africa was the main reason for the violence. A third of people in the survey attributed violence against immigrants to the fact that foreigners would take jobs away from South Africans and that they were involved in unfair business practices attributed. About a third (30%) of the general public said that the violence was caused by foreigners stealing jobs from hardworking South Africans. 
Almost a third (30%) said that communities were responding to the criminal activities of the migrants. Many people attributed the violence to foreigners’ involvement in drug trafficking.
 The study found that few identified individual prejudice or misinformation about international migrants as primary reasons for the violence.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Niger's Friends in High Places

“They don’t help us. I’ve always been poor, and I’m still poor,” said Sedefiou Abdou, who had never heard of America until the base came to his neighbourhood. References to Obama, Trump and Coca Cola drew a blank. 

800 US defence personnel in Niger are not alone. They are one of four western armies that have installed themselves in the vast desert landscape, variously flying armed drones, hunting militants, building vast bases, controlling migration and collecting intelligence from the region.  France has 500 soldiers on its base in Niamey, and more on its bases in Madama and Aguelal. Germany has 50 soldiers in Niamey to support the UN peacekeeping force in Mali, and is expanding accommodation to cater for more on the airbase it shares with France. Canadian soldiers come and go. Italy has an advance team of 40 soldiers in the country, preparing for the arrival of up to 430 more troops who will “train, advise and assist” local forces to fight illicit trafficking, mostly of migrants. There are three giant white hangars of Airbase 201, the new US base near the centuries-old city of Agadez, which is costing $100m (£78m) to build.

“I don’t like the term ‘foreign forces’ – they’re friendly forces, who will leave as soon as we want them to,” said Mahamadou Issoufou,  the Nigerien president said,  “They’re here at our request, and once the need for them disappears, they’ll leave.” 

Niger is one of the most militarised countries in Africa. The government spends 21% of its small budget on defence, which means there is much less to spend on things like health and education. Hence the need for higher taxes, which the government says do not affect the poor but which have nevertheless sparked fierce opposition.

Sweet Deals

A disaster: that's what Samuel Nyandemo, senior lecturer on economics at Nairobi University, calls the refusal by lawmakers to investigate finance minister Henry Rotich and East African community minister Adan Mohamed, previously minister for trade, for their roles in the importation of contaminated sugar from Brazil last year. "Members of Parliament are supposed to be truth seekers. But they have resorted to rent-seeking," Nyandemo told DW, pointing out that there is ample proof that lawmakers took bribes from the industry to ditch the investigation. "A good number of those members of parliament that didn't want to take bribes have come out openly and they say they saw bribes being received," he said.
To solve an alleged shortage, finance minister Rotich last year gave the sugar barons the authorization to import any amount deemed necessary, leading to an oversupply of 450,000 tons. This had a direct negative impact on sugarcane farmers and the local sugar industry. It also cost the state millions in tax revenues. Moreover, minister Mohamed is accused of failing to supervise the quality of the imported commodity, which turned out to be tainted and a health hazard for consumers. 
According to economist Nyandemo, Kenya itself had no real need for imported sugar. Claims of a shortage were attempts by sugar traders to manipulate prices. "In any case, Kenya is a member of the East African Community (EAC) and COMESA (Common Market for Eastern & Southern Africa)," meaning that any imported sugar should have come from another member state," like Sudan, "which is known to produce sugar at a lesser cost than any other country in the region," he said.
Nyandemo has no doubts that the sugar in question was smuggled to other countries. 

Kenya's "sugargate" has spilled over into neighboring countries. Last week, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President John Magufuli of Tanzania met to solve a dispute over Ugandan sugar exported to Tanzania. They took care to point out that the fault lay with Kenya. Allegedly, the sugar sold by Uganda originated from Kenya and was then repackaged to be sent on to Tanzania. There are fears that it could be the same Brazilian product considered unfit for consumption. Tanzania is also trying to protect its own industry and feels that imports from abroad are unfair competition.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Apartheid: Divide and Rule (1982)

From the May 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

   Apartheid is essentially a pre-capitalist form of oppression; it is an attempt to impose the colour patterns of a frontier community onto a modern industrial economy. It will never work properly because what the government is trying to separate, the economy keeps bringing together. (Socialist Viewpoint, SPNZ, Sept-Oct. 1981.)
A traditional feature of apartheid has been a legally sanctioned colour bar broadly restricting skilled work to whites. The underlying racial prejudice upon which this was erected can be traced back to the days of slavery, when manual labour was held in contempt by Europeans. The prohibition of slavery in 1834 was a significant factor behind the Great Trek, a mass migration of disgruntled Boers beyond the reach of British jurisdiction. According to Freda Troup:
  The assumption that non-whites were the labouring class had spread across the land with the trekkers. Only in the Cape where Malay Slaves had from early days formed an important section of the artisan community had the colour line between skilled and unskilled worker largely been smudged and ignored. [1]
White penetration of the interior dispossessed many of the original occupants of what had been their tribal land, forcing them into various forms of servitude on white farms. The disruption of the tribal subsistence economy through the influence of tax and trade was intensified by the discovery of gold and diamonds in the second half of the nineteenth century. Vast numbers of Africans were sucked into the burgeoning towns to form a pool of unskilled labour while immigrant uitlanders, mainly from Europe, comprised the bulked of skilled labour in the mines. This pattern of employment reflected the prevailing differences between distinctive cultures—one, technologically primitive and agrarian; the other, advanced and urban-based. In time, however, it became fixed by custom and reinforced in legislation.

In the first decades of this century, another stream of rural peasants poured into the towns: the landless Afrikaner. The devastation of the Boer War, periodic depressions and the shortage of land aggravated by the old Roman Dutch law of inheritance which subdivided farms into units too small to be economic, all contributed to the dispossession of thousands of Afrikaners of their traditional means of livelihood.

Lacking the skills of an urban proletariat and resentful of the wage-depressing influence of competition from low paid blacks, this substratum of “poor whites”, numbering 160,000 by 1923 (10 per cent of the white population), became a thorny political issue. In 1910 the two ex-Boer republics and the Cape and Natal provinces became one state under a single parliament, with the franchise largely (later completely) in the hands of the whites—a prerogative they readily exercised to entrench their privileged position. One of the first pieces of legislation introduced by the new union parliament was the 1911 Mines and Works Act which enforced a colour bar on the mines. The ideology of the Afrikaner farmer was thus transplanted into industry, as indeed were many small farmers themselves:
   A new social and economic frontier had taken the place of the old frontier of land and settlement. Where once the natives were excluded from good land and ample water, now they were kept from skilled labour and high wages. [2]
The mining companies did not in general welcome this intrusion of a backward ideology into the market place. But in their efforts to overcome the restrictions of the colour bar they met with the well organised resistance of the white trade union movement and a South African Labour Party which bitterly opposed the replacement of white by cheaper black labour.

In 1922 this issue came to a head when, following a big fall in the price of gold, employers were compelled to contravene the colour bar and employ blacks in semi-skilled work to cut costs. The strike that followed escalated into open revolt. Trade unionists, communists and nationalist Afrikaners combined under the odd-sounding banner “Workers of the world fight and unite for a white South Africa”. The “Rand Revolution”, as this was called, was mercilessly crushed with the loss of 230 lives. The miners were forced to accept a pay cut and the companies were left free to increase the proportion of cheap black labour, though technical advances enabled many of the jobs open to blacks to be fragmented and reclassified as unskilled work.

Two years later, the unpopular Smuts government which had sided with the employers against the white miners was defeated by a Labour-Nationalist coalition led by Hertsog. In a sense, what the pact symbolised was an alliance between the white farmers and the white working class:
   Cresswell (leader of the Labour Party) devoted his whole political life to ousting the blacks from the mines. Hertsog’s party on the other hand wanted cheap and servile Africans on the farms. The exclusion of Africans dovetailed with the farmers' insatiable demand for labour. This compatibility formed the economic basis of the partnership between white landowners and the labour aristocracy. [3] 
The Pact government represented a watershed in South African history in that employers no longer offered serious resistance to the tightening stranglehold of racism on the economy but concentrated instead on making the best possible use of the system to which they had resigned themselves. Job reservation was vigorously reinforced on the mines in 1926, extended into the emerging manufacturing sector and subsequently set concrete hard over the course of several decades. To counter the possibility of unemployed white workers finding common cause with blacks, a “civilised labour” policy was pursued which gave preferential treatment to, and dramatically increased the proportion of, whites in state run services such as the railways. From 1924 onwards, in contrast to the preceding quarter century of almost continuous industrial turmoil, there were virtually no serious disputes in the mines.

In return for their compliance with these policies the government, which relied heavily on the mines for its revenue (vast sums of which went to subsidise white agriculture), assisted the mining companies in their efforts to hold down black wages and obtain labourers. Indeed an adequate supply of skilled labour which had been a vital requirement of the mining industry became even more so under the Pact government. The colour bar tended to perpetuate the labour intensive nature of gold mining and hence the need for plentiful labour; the sheer scale of mining meant that working techniques and the balance between labour and capital intensity were fixed at the beginning of a mine’s life and could not be significantly altered thereafter. But holding down black wages to such low levels threatened the supply of unskilled labour which was attracted by higher wages and better conditions in manufacturing. However, the mining companies could not raise wages without jeopardising the life of marginal mines (which comprised half the industry) and hence the employment of many white miners. Thus influx control was tightened, indirectly compelling blacks to seek work on the mines or white farms. This still did not ensure an adequate supply of labour for the mines, which operated below capacity in the period 1924-30. Consequently, the mines with government backing recruited extensively from abroad so that by 1973 79 per cent of black miners were foreign contract workers. (Political developments since then in countries such as Mozambique have, however, disrupted this source of labour causing black wages to rise.)

By the 1960s a paradoxical development in the South African economy had become glaringly apparent: an acute and growing shortage of skilled labour alongside high black unemployment (even amongst the more educated blacks). An important factor behind this was the shift away from labour intensive farming and mining industries—the traditional pillars of the apartheid economy—towards the more capital intensive manufacturing industry. This, in turn, placed a growing strain on the colour bar. In 1945 the market value of mining companies was R972m while that of non-mining companies was R754m. By 1965 the positions had been reversed, with the former rising to R3664m and the latter R5399m. Ironically, the government played a vital part in this trend by encouraging the growth of a local manufacturing industry during the war by means of protectionist measures and by setting up various state corporations such as ISCOR (iron and steel) VECOR (heavy engineering goods) and SASOL (oil gas and chemicals from coal). Indeed the development of the mining industry itself was a powerful stimulus for manufacturing.

Growing concern over the economic bottleneck which the shortage of skilled labour had created has led the government’s own Manpower Commission to state recently that “South Africa will not be able to realise its full developmental potential if it persists in attempting to secure its high-level manpower requirements mainly from the white population group”. [4] Political reform had become economically imperative.

The government’s response at first was one of greater, if cautious, flexibility: 
   Inevitably non-whites unofficially—job reservation and colour bar regardless—infiltrated traditional white spheres of employment: coloured postmen, Indian railwaymen, African drivers on non-white buses, non-white clerks and typists. Especially were non-whites more and more to be found doing skilled and semi-skilled industrial work, generally at wages well below the white minimum. “There is no doubt”, commented the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce, “that employers in general are keen to develop the skills of Bantu workers”. [1] 
By 1965 the Deputy Minster of Labour reported that 39 per cent of the economically active Africans were operatives or semi-skilled workers.

Yet still the shortage of skilled labour persisted. Accordingly, the government itself has moved from passively condoning breaches of the colour bar to actively lifting restrictions on the employment of black labour. The Muldergate Scandal of 1977 brought to power a new prime minister, and marked a shift in the balance of power from the verkrampte (conservative) to the verligte (liberal) wing of the ruling National Party and prepared the ground for further liberalisation. By late 1980 Fanie Botha, Minister of Labour, proposed new legislation allowing more skilled job training to be opened to blacks. But despite the evidence of job reservation rapidly crumbling round the edges, there remain big obstacles in the path of this trend that arc essentially a heritage of history.

The first of these is the remarkable resilience of the traditional hostility of whites towards black encroachment of what are regarded as white spheres of employment:
    although the statutory colour bar has been formally scrapped, nine out of ten times it is imposed by closed shop and apprenticeship agreements with white unions and these are still in force. The white unions have been staunch defenders of apartheid, using their muscle to preserve white supremacy and to block the advancement of Africans. [5] 
Nowhere can this be seen more vividly than in the mining industry, described by Freda Troup as the “inner sanctuary of the colour bar”. Recently the Mineworkers Union threatened industrial action if the government permitted blasting certificates to be issued to blacks. This, together with the threat of more whites defecting to the ultra-right-wing Herstigte Nationale Party, which made spectacular progress in the 1981 elections, has forced the government to act more cautiously.

Another obstacle to the disintegration of the colour bar is black education. The Bantu Education Act of 1953 which brought all Bantu education under the control of central government, was defended by Verwoerd on the grounds that the mission schools through which many blacks received their education were unsympathetic to the government’s policies and that:
    By blindly producing pupils trained on a European model the vain hope was created among natives that they could occupy posts within the European community. This is what is meant by the creation of unhealthy ‘white collar ideals’ and the causation of frustration among the so called Educated Natives . . . There is no place for the Bantu in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. [1] 
This discriminatory view of black education was reflected in the allocation of funds. In 1969-70 Bantu education received a mere R39m—a tenth of that spent on far fewer white pupils. Illiteracy is still high and the poor quality of education received by blacks in overcrowded schools lacking in facilities leaves many ill-equipped for work. According to a recent estimate, well over 100,000 jobs are unfilled because the necessary trained workers are not available.

In 1979 and 1980 spending on black education and training rose by 30 and 50 per cent respectively. Such large increases were made possible by the rocketing price of gold, which in the period 1970-80 meant a huge inflow of R3.9 billion into the government coffers. Although the price of gold has since slumped, the ending of South Africa’s apparent seclusion from the world recession has not been seen as an entirely unwelcome development:
   Nationalist politicians are looking to a recession to ease the skilled labour shortage, to reduce the differential of black wages (with the politically sensitive erosion of white differentials) and to stem the flow of urbanisation. [4]
Finally, what will be the consequences of a crumbling colour bar? One area where it is having an effect is black trade unionism, which has become a force to be reckoned with since its resurgence in the 1973 Durban strikes. Increasingly, a high proportion of strikes are being won, partly due to more effective organisation but also because of the penetration of black workers into semi-skilled and skilled work:
  In companies whose black workers are more skilled, unions are often in a stronger position. Companies like Ford in Port Elizabeth and Volkswagen in Uitenhague found during strikes that the option of mass dismissal and quick replacement was not open to them because skilled workers are in such short supply and that “we would eventually have had to hire our own people back”, as one company spokesman said. [6]
More fundamentally, the demise of the colour bar will serve to clarify the class structure in South Africa and to undermine the racial bigotry that traditionally divides its workers. Then shall they begin truly to make history and not be imprisoned by it.

[1] South Africa: An Historical Introduction. F. Troup.
[2] A History of South Africa. De Kiewiet.
[3] Class and Colour in South Africa 1850-1950. H.J. & R.F.. Simons.
[4] The Economist. 19 September 1981.
[5] City Limits. 12-18 March.
[6] New Statesman, 15 January 1982.

Robin Cox

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Capitalism in the Tropics (1926) - Review

Pamphlet Review from the July 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Research Department (162, Buckingham Palace Road, S.W.1.) has recently published a sixty-four page pamphlet entitled, “British Imperialism in East Africa,” price 1s. Much of the information contained therein has appeared from time to time in these columns, the principal exception being a variety of statistics concerning capital investments, etc.

The pamphlet deals, necessarily briefly, with the expropriation of the native tribes of Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, and Nyassaland; and their progressive conversion into wage-slaves, producing foodstuffs and raw materials for the European markets such as coffee, sisal, cotton, maize, hides, soda, etc. The authors also show how the developments in these countries open up markets for the products of European industry, particularly of the “heavy” variety.

The countries mentioned comprise (with Northern Rhodesia) an area of over a million square miles, the total population being roughly only twelve millions, over 99 per cent. of whom are natives. They have come under Imperial control in a somewhat similar manner to that by which India became “the brightest jewel in the British Crown.” Invaded in the first place by mercantile companies who maintained their own armed forces, they soon presented problems with which these companies were incompetent to deal. Africa produced in miniature the same revolts of the populace and mutinies among the native soldiery which led, in India, to the replacing of “John Company" by Victoria, Regina et Imperator. In other words, the forces of the State were sent to the rescue of private enterprise.

In the case of Africa, “philanthropy" and missionary effort formed a very convenient cloak for the hungry figure of capital seeking its constant quarry, profit. It had been, to some slight extent, forestalled by the Arab colonies which had existed for centuries on the East Coast, in perpetual conflict with the Portuguese adventurers. The Arab power was founded upon chattel-slavery, and its periodical incursions among the natives of the interior had for their prime object the recruiting of the slave-markets. To supplant the Arabs and establish the European method of exploitation, it was necessary to stamp out the slave trade.

The hypocrisy of the capitalist found full vent. Gunboats and railways drove the dhows and caravans of the votaries of Allah from the field of commerce, and the blessings of Jehovah were invoked upon the process. The conflict of material interests was disguised by the contest between Jesus and Mahomet.

The up-to-date resources of capitalism rapidly transformed the scene. The various isolated tribes of natives (some living by hunting on the plains and in the forests, some by pasturing cattle, and others by rude tillage) were roughly disillusioned as to the intentions of their “deliverers." The Arabs chastised them with whips, but the Europeans introduced economic scorpions in the shape of reserves, to which the natives were confined, coupled with taxation upon the hut or the head.

In order to find the money with which to pay the taxes, the natives slowly but surely find their way from the reserves to the plantations and townships, as these arise, there to labour for the profit of the invaders. The sudden raids of the chattel-hunters gave way to the permanent exploitation of the whole population. The fruits of this new dominion find expression in overcrowding, under-feeding and the consequent spread of epidemic diseases previously unknown in the country, with additional disadvantages in the shape of an occasional war. Of the 150,000 unarmed porters raised in Kenya during the campaign to acquire the neighbouring German Territory, over 40,000 were killed or died of disease (page 33). Habits of life which are relatively harmless under native conditions, naturally become the vehicle of pestilence under the conditions of city life, or those obtaining in the now overcrowded reserves.

Other interesting facts dealt with in the pamphlet are the methods by which the capitalist administrative powers corrupt the institutions of the natives. The chiefs become transformed from guardians of their people into the agents of the oppressors. The compulsory labour ordinances, which are found necessary as a supplement to taxation, are enforced by their aid. The result is the development of native organisations in opposition to the whole machinery of government, which the missionaries strive to bring into constitutional channels. Early in 1922, the arrest of the Secretary of one of these native bodies led to a mass protest in Nairobi, and the slaughter of about thirty natives by the police as a reply. (This occurrence was dealt with in more detail in these columns in the issue of July, 1922). In one detail, the pamphlet under review is, here, inaccurate. No attempt was made by the crowd to rush the “prison” where Thuku was detained. The approach of a detachment of troops created a stampede, during which the armed police in the lines lost their heads and fired without orders!

What relationship does this enslavement bear to that of the workers in Europe? Here the pamphlet is confusing. Apparently the authors consider that the workers pay the taxes by which interest on development loans is guaranteed. It should be obvious however that if the taxes were not raised for that purpose the workers would gain nothing. The “saving'' would simply benefit some other section of their exploiters.

The authors are on firmer ground when they contend that capitalist development abroad is based upon the extended exploitation of the workers at home. The profits on the commodities of all sorts poured into the tropics by European labour go to the employing-class. The workers have thus no interest in extending markets; but that is not all. Sooner or later the point must be reached at which this development will react upon home conditions. The creation of new proletariat in the tropics intensifies the competition between the workers of the world. It renders their standard of life still less secure, and adds to the ranks of the unemployed. Such are the fruits of imperialism for the wage-slaves. Thus they must eventually unite upon the basis of their common interest, emancipation, irrespective of race or colour !
Eric Boden