Sunday, September 30, 2018

Kenya's Inequality

In Kenya 95 percent of its citizens say the gap between the rich and the poor is “too large".

The global charity organisation Oxfam in 2017 said 8,300 (less than 0.1 percent) own more wealth than the bottom 99.9 percent numbering more than 45 million.

The richest 10 percent earn an average 23 times more than the poorest 10 percent.
In Kenya, Oxfam says, more and more corporates are evading taxes, estimated at more than Sh100 billion a year — further compounding an already bad problem.
Since 2005, the number of Kenyans living on less than Sh190 (US$1.90 per day), has declined from 48.6 percent to 36.1 percent in 2015. In absolute numbers, however, this still is a marginal, almost negligible, improvement — from 16.6 million in 2006 to 16.4 million two years ago. 
In March, a review of data by the Kenya Land Alliance showed women were allocated only 1.6 percent of about 10 million hectares of land that was registered between 2013 and 2017. This is despite the World Bank saying women run more than three-quarters of Kenya’s farms.
The report defines living in poverty as households earning below Sh5,995 a month in major urban centres, and Sh3,252 a month in rural areas. This is happening in a country where top executives of leading firms earn more than Sh1 million a day.
Co-operative Bank chief executive Gideon Muriuki last year walked home with Sh370 million, Sh99.8 million in salary and allowances and a Sh270.7 million bonus, with mobile telephone services giant Safaricom paying Bob Collymore Sh196.5 million, up from Sh168.5 million he earned in the year ending March 2017. In the same year, ARM Cement chief executive Pradeep Paunrana was paid a total of Sh114.7 million, with former Kenya Airways chief executive Mbuvi Ngunze walking away with Sh104.8 million.
A Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) survey of the richest counties showed Nairobi County has the lowest share of poor people. Only 17 of every 100 people in Nairobi live in poverty, followed by Nyeri and Meru with 19 each. Even then, the 2016 statistics report showed 40 percent of Nairobians at the bottom control a depressing 0.4 percent of the total expenditure. The agricultural county of Kirinyaga comes fourth, with Narok, blessed with the expansive Maasai Mara Game Reserve and good weather for wheat and barley growing, closing the tally of the five richest counties with 22 and 23 of its 100 people living in poverty, respectively. Kiambu, Machakos, Tharaka-Nithi, Murang’a and Mombasa close the top 10 rich list with averages of between 23 to 27 of 100 people struggling to put food on the table. Turkana, Kenya’s largest county, and which often receives the second highest amount of shareable revenue, at Sh10.7 billion this year, is classified as the poorest county in the 2016 survey with more than 79 in every 100 of its population living in poverty. The other devolved units in the bottom 10 are Mandera (78), Samburu (76), Busia (69) and Garissa (66), as well as Marsabit, Wajir, Tana River, West Pokot and Isiolo where 63.7, 62.6, 62.2, 57.4 and 51.9 percent of its residents, respectively, struggle to meet basic needs.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

South Africa's Inequality

The income inequality in South Africa is growing at a pace that is much more rapid than has been reported in the past, according to a study. UCT researcher and academic Ihsaan Bassier co-authored the study.

Bassier says the study shows that the top 1% of incomes is increasing rapidly even with low economic growth.

The richest 5% (which is about 1.5 million adults) earn more than R25 800 a month and earned in total close to 30% of South Africa's national income in 2016.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The unsung heroes

A South Sudanese surgeon, Evan Atar Adaha - a 52-year-old doctor who runs the only hospital in northeastern Maban county - was given the 2018 Nansen Refugee Award for his "humanity and selflessness" where he often risked his safety to serve others, the U.N. said.
"  I hope this award can help draw attention to the plight of refugees especially here in Africa where they are often forgotten about," Adaha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation . "You may hear and read about them, but it's only when you are face-to-face with people who have left everything and are sick with malaria, or are malnourished, or have a bullet wound that you realise how desperate the need for help is." 
At least 50,000 people have been killed and one in three South Sudanese have been uprooted from their homes. The country also hosts around 300,000 refugees fleeing violence in neighbouring Sudan, according to the U.N.
Dr Atar, has been running Maban hospital - which was once an abandoned health clinic - in the northeastern town of Bunj since 2011. When he first arrived, he said there was no operating theatre and he had to stack tables to create a work area. Over the years, he has transformed the hospital and created a maternity ward and nutrition centre, as well as training young people as nurses and midwives.The 120-bed hospital now serves around 200,000 people living in Maban county - 70 percent of whom are refugees from Sudan - and conducts about 60 operations weekly but under very difficult circumstances. Adaha said the only x-ray machine is broken, the operating theatre has only one light, and electricity is provided by generators that often break down. Although the hospital receives support from UNHCR, Adaha said a lack of funds remains his biggest challenge to treating everyone who needs help.
"In the hospital, we will treat anyone. It doesn't matter if you are a rebel, government soldier, refugee or a local person. We have pregnant women, malnourished children and even people who are wounded by bullets," Adaha said. "The one rule we have is that no weapons are allowed in the hospital. If you bring a weapon, then we will not treat you. Sometimes it is difficult, but most people now agree."

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Snouts in Angola's Trough

Jose Filomeno dos Santos, the former head of Angola's sovereign fund, is accused of misappropriating millions of public funds. His detention is part of an anti-corruption campaign by Angola's new leader. State prosecutors in Angola ordered Jose Filomeno dos Santos to be remanded in custody on Monday over a corruption case involving $1.5 billion (€1.28 billion) in fraudulent transactions.

"The evidence assembled in the case constitutes sufficient evidence that the accused were involved in acts of corruption," prosecutor-general Alvaro Da Silva Joao said in a statement.

Dos Santos, nicknamed Zenu, headed Angola's $5 billion sovereign wealth fund after being appointed to the post in 2013 by his father, former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

The younger dos Santos was charged in March with misappropriating public funds over a $500 million (€426 million) transaction from the National Bank of Angola. He and another former fund manager, Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, are both accused in the graft case. 

Ex-President Jose Eduardo dos Santos stepped down last year after ruling the country for 38 years. Prior to leaving, he appointed close allies to head key sectors of the country's economy — including making his son the head of the sovereign wealth fund and giving his daughter Isabel dos Santos control over the country's state oil giant. 

Isabel dos Santos is the richest woman in Africa, with an estimated net worth of $2.7 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

South Sudan's Atrocities

South Sudan’s military forces systematically raped women, murdered civilians and carried out large-scale looting, Amnesty International has alleged.
Civilians were burnt alive, hanged in trees and run over with armoured vehicles in opposition-held areas in Unity State, the group said, while children were swung into tree trunks to kill them.
South Sudanese authorities have failed to respond to the warnings and recent UN reports suggest some of those identified by Amnesty may have also been involved in atrocities committed during the offensive this year. 
Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, said: “A key factor in this brutal offensive was the failure to bring to justice those responsible for previous waves of violence targeting civilians in the region. Leer and Mayendit counties have been hard hit in the past, and yet the South Sudanese government continues to give suspected perpetrators free rein to commit fresh atrocities. The result has been catastrophic for civilians.”
 Unity State has been the site of the most ruthless violence since South Sudan’s civil war erupted five years ago. At least 50,000 people have been killed during the conflict, many of them civilians, according to UN figures, and an estimated quarter of South Sudan’s population has been displaced. Amnesty’s report also detailed how government and allied forces abducted primarily women and girls and held them for up to several weeks, with many women and girls gang-raped. Those who attempted to resist were killed.

Religion - Bin It

Pentecostal churches are wildly popular in Nigeria — and increasingly rich, as they run thriving businesses empires on the side.  There are at least 500 in Nigeria, some of them with branches worldwide. Nigerians turn to faith as their trust in the government wanes. Critics say they exploit people's faith.

The prosperity gospel pastor David Oyedepo has a net worth is estimated to be $150 million (€128 million).

An estimated 80 million people are Christian and about half of them are members of a Pentecostal church. Each Pentecostal churches promises economic salvation, promises solutions. "That comes with a price tag. Francis Falako explains. "People's faith is being exploited," the professor of religious studies at the University of Lagos adds. "Most of these pastors are not there to serve, they are there to enrich themselves, if you question some of their practices, they quote the Bible to support themselves and say Jesus was not poor," Falako says.

There are plenty of ways to make money. How about olive oil for $5 per bottle? In a country with a minimum wage of $50 per month, that is a small fortune. The vendor explains to me that this is very special oil because it is blessed. "And once you believe and use the oil, it cures sickness, it cures anything, people have been cured from HIV by using just this oil," he says.

Churches are not required to pay taxes. 

The Living Faith Church plans to expand and build a new church in Nigeria, with a rotating altar and capacity to seat 100,000 people.

Denouncing God can be a dangerous thing in NigeriaAtheism, considered blasphemy by many, is a largely underground movement. As an atheist in Nigeria, you will be ostracised. Most keep their beliefs secret. However, in recent months, Nigerian atheists have registered three pro-secular organisations: Atheist Society of Nigeria, the Northern Nigerian Humanist Association and the Nigerian Secular Society.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Cobalt Torture

To anyone who uses a smartphone, drives an electric car, or flies on a plane, Here are the facts:

FIRST – The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the source of more than 60% of the supply of cobalt used around the world, and at least 20% of this output derives from mining by peasants, called creseurs.  These creseurs dig, wash, and sort cobalt-containing heterogenite stones at so-called artisinal mining sites located across the “copper belt” of the southeastern provinces of the DRC.   The remaining cobalt from the Congo is mined at industrial sites largely operated by foreign companies.
SECOND – At least 35,000 children toil in the southeastern provinces in cobalt mining.  At two mining sites one in Kipushi and another in Kambove - a total of 4,900 adults and 1,100 children slog in rancid and dehumanizing conditions.  The children, as young as six, are caked in filth as they hack, sort, shovel, and scrounge for cobalt, earning between $0.50 and $0.80 per day of grueling labor.  They endure lacerations and broken bones, and they suffer permanent damage to their health by handling cobalt with their bare hands and by breathing toxic mineral dust all day.  None of these children attend school.  Teenage mothers toil under the blazing sun with delirious infants strapped to their backs, breaking only for a moment to breastfeed their doomed babies.  Young children and orphans can also be found in heavy numbers at sites near lakes and rivers.  Near Lake Malo and Lake Golf, more than 5,100 adults and 1,200 children dig for cobalt across the contaminated landscape, which they wash in the lakes to sort out the precious stones.  It takes a full day to fill one sack, for which they receive a scant $0.65 to $0.70.
THIRD – More than 220,000 adults toil in similarly harsh and harmful conditions.  In the Kasulo neighborhood of Kolwezi, 14,000 males as young as fourteen engage in the most perilous activity I encountered.  Even though this neighborhood has been walled off by one of the largest suppliers of cobalt in the DRC to prevent people from documenting the dangerous conditions, Young men dig tunnels along heterogenite veins as deep as thirty meters underground.  They descend into darkness, crawling along narrow tunnels without room to stand, spending more than twenty-four hours at a time hacking at the walls for cobalt.  Every moment is suffused with dread because tunnels in Kasulo collapse regularly, crushing those inside.  A nearby village called Biwaya has also been walled off by the same cobalt supplier, but this area is guarded more militantly.  No one is allowed in or out, and it is well known locally that most of the 60,000 inhabitants of the village – women, men, and children – are compelled to dig for cobalt.  The same is true at scores of artisinal mining sites in remote mountains and forests close to the Zambian border.  At Kimpese, more than 11,000 creseurs, including 2,000 children, mine cobalt and gold in deplorable conditions under military guard.  By all accounts, many of these people are slaves.
FOURTH – The cobalt mined by creseurs in the southeastern provinces invariably enters global supply chains.  The creseurs are forced to sell their cobalt to traders (negotiants) at whatever pathetic prices they are offered.  The negotiants then sell the cobalt to hundreds of “buying houses” (maisons d’achat) across the region.  Crucially, none of the buying houses  documented enquired as to whether children were involved in the excavation of the cobalt they purchased, let alone the other oppressive conditions under which the creseurs toil.  The buying houses sell the cobalt to refiners in the DRC that process the stone into crude cobalt hydroxide.  Here again, cobalt from numerous sources can be mixed.  The refined cobalt is then loaded onto trucks and driven across the Zambian border for export to China from ports in Dar es Salaam and Durban.  In China, cobalt from a plethora of sources is mixed and refined further.  Finally, the fully processed cobalt is sold to component manufacturers and consumer electronic companies.  Since tainted cobalt is invariably mixed with cobalt from industrial mines, there is no way any company can assure us that the products we purchase do not contain tainted cobalt.
 Men, women and children are suffering, anguishing, and dying for cobalt which is transformed into the flashy new products sold at profits that mock decency. Companies that buy cobalt from the DRC cannot jettison their responsibility for the vicious and unjust treatment of their Congolese employees simply because they are separated from them by a few thousand miles, and a few thin layers in their supply chains.

Equatorial Guinea's Corruption

Authorities in Brazil have seized more than $16m (£12m) worth of cash and luxury watches from a delegation accompanying Teodorin Nguema Obiang, vice-president of Equatorial Guinea and son of the oil-rich Central African country's president.
Police found $1.5m in cash and watches worth an estimated $15m in two bags, the other 17 bags had clothes.
About 76% of Equatorial Guinea's 1.2m population live in poverty.
In 2017, a French court handed him a three-year suspended jail term for corruption. The court ruled his assets in France be seized, including a mansion on Avenue Foch in Paris. He also got a suspended fine of 30m euro (£27m; $35m).
In the same year Swiss prosecutors seized 11 luxury cars belonging to Obiang. They said he had plundered his country's oil wealth to buy luxuries, including a private jet and Michael Jackson memorabilia.
In 2015,  Obiang reportedly paid a samba dance group some $3.5m to adopt an Equatorial Guinea theme during Brazil's annual carnival.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Why did the US invade Somalia? (1993)

From the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The current crisis in Somalia is, in the first instance, a cold war hangover—a headache caused by the old conflict between Western market capitalism and Russian state capitalism. That the United States should see itself as the remedy to the problem is little more than the hair-of-the-dog philosophy. For it was the United States and, to a lesser extent, the old Soviet Union that created the crisis in the first place.

For well on 30 years superpower aid was essential to the existence of the dictatorships in the Horn of Africa which had few means of keeping control other than by military coercion, made possible by US and Soviet aid.

For over 30 years the US and the Soviet Union poured weaponry into the Horn— Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan. In the ten years before Ethiopia declared itself a “Marxist” state, the US gave Haile Selassie more military assistance than the rest of Africa combined (Africa consists of over 40 countries). The cache included 1,400 tanks, 1,000 heavy guns and 140 fighter bombers. In all, Ethiopia received $8bn worth of aid.

In Somalia, where 10 percent of the- GNP went on weapons, the statistics were not much different. During Said Barre’s reign, of all international assistance received, 93 percent of it came from the US. Almost 50 percent of this aid was in arms imports. In the decade 1979-89, the US gave Barre S500m in arms.

Said Barre, who took power following a military coup in Somalia in October 1969, soon realized the advantage of his country’s geographical position and the possibility of attracting superpower aid.

Barre, who claimed to have embarked on the path to “Scientific Socialism”, saw his country stricken with famine by 1972. Because of the links he had forged with Moscow, he was able to secure the use of Soviet planes to airlift 140,000 starving Somalis to more stable areas. This is arguably the sole redeeming act he will be remembered for, in spite of the fact that it set a precedent for large-scale superpower assistance.

The assistance Barre had received from the Soviet Union heralded his regime’s increased reliance on Moscow. Development of the northern port of Berbera as a Soviet naval base, the import of thousands of tons of weapons and the arrival of 6,000 military advisers were soon to follow.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam was seizing power in neighbouring Ethiopia. Soviet influence became prevalent here when Mengistu announced plans to initiate strict “Marxist” ideology and expelled Ethiopia's previous backer, the US.

The Ogaden region of Ethiopia, which had been kindly ceded to Ethiopia when Britain had an influence in Somalia in 1954, and in which many Somalis continue to live today, became one of Barre’s chief goals.

In July 1977, Barres forces took advantage of internal disorder in Ethiopia and invaded the Ogaden, with the full co-operation of Soviet military advisers. Without warning, in an extraordinary act of tergiversation, the Soviets began airlifting $2bn worth of arms to Ethiopia. Military advisers who had co-ordinated the Somali assault on the Ogaden were flown overnight from Mogadishu to Addis Ababa to direct the counter-offensive.

Securing Saudi promises of financial assistance with which to continue the Ogaden campaign, and accepting a condition where Somalia would rekindle its friendship with the West, Barre kicked out the remaining Soviet personnel in the hope of receiving aid from the United States.

Barre was offering his country on a plate and the US almost snatched his hand off. Somalia was even prepared to forget its territorial claim to Northern Kenya for admission into the Western bloc. Barre was, however, disappointed that his new backer would not support Somalia over its Ogaden campaign, the US not wishing to contemplate the dilemma of being on the losing side. A more harmonious relationship between Kenya and Somalia meant that the region could be more readily incorporated into the Pentagon’s Persian Gulf strategy—a useful base for the Rapid Deployment Force that would balance out the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

By late 1980, the US had secured a defence pact with Somalia which gave US forces access to air and naval bases including the Soviet-built port of Berbera. US aid was pouring in by now and by 1987 Somalia was stockpiling weapons. Barre, though, felt that US aid was not coming fast enough and struck up loyalties with the Soviet Union again in 1988, the same year he clinched a deal for massive arms supplies from Colonel Gadaffi.

Strategic position
“Scientific Socialism” this certainly was not. When Barre took power Somalia was self-sufficient in food. By the mid-eighties Somalia was amongst the most food-dependent nations in Africa. Somalia was a state capitalist dictatorship under Barre, when it was easier to arm a man than to feed him. It mattered little to the superpowers that the Horn countries lived under constant threat of drought and famine, the well-being of the peoples of the Horn was of secondary importance to the actual geographical location of the region.

Peace was never going to be a long-term luxury here. Regional conflict and internal strife were made all the more likely because any gain by one side was soon going to be cancelled out by increased superpower aid to the other—a similar situation had existed during Iraq’s war with Iran.

Somalia under Barre slipped into chaos, with the US doing their all to assist, supporting him all the way and making little or no attempt to think that things could be otherwise. As the cold war came to an end and the threat of “communism" evaporated, the US pulled out, dropping Somalia in the proverbial shit.

When the US abandoned Barre for good in January 1991, Somalia was already in the early stages of turmoil. Clan leaders and warlords began their struggle for power and the crisis in Somalia deepened when famine hit. Barre soon realized he could not hold power much longer and fled the country.

The deployment of 30,000 US marines in Somalia is the second time in as many years the US has invaded a Moslem country— “invaded” because this time the US were not invited. All that was missing from the beaches of Mogadishu when US troops came ashore on the morning of 8 December was Audie Murphy and a clapperboard. The whole operation looked carefully prepared for the worlds media—an advertisement for a failing capitalist superpower that can only assert itself on the international stage by ostentatious militarism.

As one UN observer noted:
The operation stinks of arrogance. All this bullshit about 80 percent of food being looted and all that—it's all very well stage-managed by the US. The whole operation is a test case for future conflict resolution. It's as if the US had a new vaccine they wanted to test. Now they have found an animal to test it on. (Guardian, 9 December 1992).
It is probable that US forces have been shipped to Somalia under the cover of a humanitarian mission to be ready again as a Rapid Deployment Force. Possibly the biggest threat to US interests, now that the former Soviet Union is out of the scene, is Islamic fundamentalism, which sees the US as the “Great Satan". North African states are already viewing the US operation as something of a check on Khartoum for its backing of Islamic fundamentalist groups in North Africa and the Arab world. 

Recent IMF austerity programmes initiated in the Horn have not helped the current crisis. During the great famine of 1985, Eastern Sudan was producing 800,000 tons of grain—not for home consumption, but for export to pay off IMF loans. At the same time. “Marxist" Ethiopia was exporting thousands of tons of green beans to Britain.

The New Internationalist (December 1992) was right to speak of starvation as being the "result of unequal power in the market”. In the modern world, profit is the name of the game and all players must abide by the rules. There is nothing altruistic about the IMF or the World Bank:
The World Bank and the IMF have pressured Horn governments to adopt market-oriented strategies based on agriculture exports. Their main priority is to get the regional economy in a good enough state to meet its debt obligation and compete on the international market.
Capitalists could easily add a footnote to this: the sooner the US troops stabilize Somalia, the sooner Somalia can finish paying these debts.

John Bissett

Friday, September 14, 2018

Independence for Eritrea? (1991)

What is socialism without a country? People should have their national home before they become socialists.
Socialists stand for a united world society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the resources of the Earth by all the people who live in it.

But the aim of the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front [EPLF] is to liberate Eritrea from the colonial power of the Ethiopian government and to set up a free independent state.
Eritrea is an artificial creation of the imperialist powers—even the name “Eritrea" was given by the Italians— and is a by-product of world capitalism. Once world socialism is established the Eritreans will be free to live together.

Why aren't you in favour of Eritrean independence and separation from Ethiopian rule?
Socialists aim to create a united world free from all national divisions. As a socialist I’d like to end nations, not to create new ones.

If you oppose Eritrea as a separate nation-state, you must be on the side of the Ethiopian ruling body.
No, I oppose all imperial or colonial aims by all capitalists including the Ethiopian government.

As an ex-member of the EPLF in London, what's your attitude towards the Eritrean freedom lighters?
I think it's the same old story. It is an illusion to think you can get freedom and liberate people by “the barrel of the gun". My attitude towards the EPLF and the Ethiopian rulers is the same and simple—stop the unnecessary killing between the two sides and do something about the millions dying of starvation. There can be no relief for the oppressed Eritreans in changing an Ethiopian dictator to an Eritrean dictator. National divisions are a hindrance to working class unity. National differences are fostered by the capitalists for their own ends. The military conflict between the EPLF and the Ethiopian government forces has made the situation for the population there even worse, and is a product of the international power struggles of the capitalist world order, based ultimately on the pursuit of profit and power by the minority capitalist class.

(Our discussion ended without any agreement).

Michael Ghebre

Thursday, September 13, 2018

CIA Drones in Niger

The New York Times reports that the CIA is expanding its presence at a recently established drone base at Dirkou, Niger, an oasis town in the Sahara that has a small airport. Over the past two years, the U.S. military has been building another drone base in Agadez, central Niger, to conduct reconnaissance. It will have an expected ten-year price tag of over a quarter-billion dollars, is run by the U.S. air force, and will host armed Reaper drones. The CIA has already used the expanded base in Dirkou for surveillance missions, but now the drones are likely to be used on lethal ones. For now, the targets are militants in southern Libya.
The U.S. Army’s Africa Command has also carried out lethal drone strikes against al-Qaeda and Islamic State operatives in Libya from bases in Sicily and Niamey, the capital of Niger. Dirkou is hundreds of miles closer than either to southern Libya. The Nigerien government, according to the Times, is supportive of the U.S. use of drones

Africa's Urbanisation

Sub-Saharan Africa is urbanizing at the fastest rate in the world. Africa is now 40 percent urban with a per capita GDP of $1,100. By the time Asia reached that level of urbanization, its per capita GDP was $3,500. 

The Financial Times recently focused on Bamako, Mali, as an example of the continent-wide phenomenon. Bamako’s population today, at 3.5 million, is 10 times larger than it was at independence in 1960. A professor at the University of Bamako comments that the city’s growth is a “catastrophe foretold,” that “Bamako is a time-bomb.” Among other shortcomings, the professor notes that the city lacks a land registry even as real estate booms. The exploding population growth translates into high land prices that encourage corruption. 

In Africa, the explosion of the urban population is obvious. So, too, are the slums, the lack of schools, water shortages, and unpaved roads. Unemployed male youth are ubiquitous and do, indeed, constitute a potential time bomb with respect to political instability. Experience shows that urbanization cannot be reversed, as few residents are willing to return to the countryside unless compelled to do so, as occurred in Chairman Mao’s China or Pol Pot’s Cambodia. 

African urbanization will continue and public authorities having few tools with which to manage it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The limits of charity cash

new paper from development economists Chris Blattman, Nathan Fiala, and Sebastian Martinez complicates our picture of cash transfer programs, and suggests that the best way to think of cash is as a way to speed up poor people’s escape from poverty, rather than as the key to helping them escape poverty in the first place.

The paper is about a program in northern Uganda, which with a GDP per capita of $2,352(compared to $59,495 in the US) is among the poorest countries on earth; the north has endured years of violence driven by a Christian terrorist organization called the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The cash-transfer intervention, called the Youth Opportunities Program, was offered in 2008 to small groups of young people. Each person in every group was given about $382 to learn a skilled trade, with the goal of becoming craftsmen — which craft exactly varied from group to group — with higher earning potential. Twists like this are pretty common with cash programs. Recipients didn’t get the cash just to, say, make it easier for them and their families to eat. The goal was to become more productive and get into higher-paying jobs that could lift them out of poverty permanently.
 In 2012, Blattman, Fiala, and Martinez checked in on the young adults in the Ugandan program four years after the intervention, and the results were incredibly encouraging. “Relative to the control group, the program increases business assets by 57 percent, work hours by 17 percent, and earnings by 38 percent,” they wrote. “Many also formalize their enterprises and hire labor.” The implication was that giving ambitious young people in poor countries a little bit of cash could transform their lives, propelling them into more profitable careers and even encouraging them to build businesses with other employees. At the time, Blattman argued that the results suggested an answer to “one of the big questions in development: how to create jobs and speed up the shift from agriculture to industry in developing countries?” Their findings suggested that helping countries in Africa go through the rapid development process of China or India could be as simple as handing out cash. 
Now he and his co-authors have checked back in again nine years after the intervention, and the results are a great deal less promising than after four. While the people who got cash were earning 38 percent more money than the control group in year four, the control group caught up to the cash recipients by year nine. Overall income was no higher in the treatment group, and earnings were higher by a small (4.6 percent), statistically insignificant amount. The recipients did have more assets on average than people not getting the money, which makes sense; they had a sudden influx of money, some of which was sure to go toward buying durable assets like metal roofs, fruit-bearing trees, or work tools. Blattman and his co-authors didn’t find that assets like livestock and trees were leading to a lot more income nine years out
“The right way to look at these results is that people were richer for a while and then they have nicer houses,” Blattman said. “Consuming that stuff makes you less poor. But I think what a lift out of poverty means is not just that you have some extra savings and a buffer, but actually that you have some real, sustained earnings potential, and that’s not what we’ve seen.” 
Women who got the money also reported that their kids were healthier than women who didn’t. But overall, the study strongly suggests that the cash grant wasn’t a catapult out of poverty. It just helped people who were already going to escape dire poverty do it a little bit faster.
Berk Özler, the lead economist for the poverty cluster of the World Bank’s Development Research Group, is a bit more circumspect. Özler has been sharply critical of GiveDirectlyfor being unduly boosterish and insufficiently evidence-based in its arguments for cash. He’s not anti-cash, per se — “nobody’s disagreeing that cash is good,” he explained.  Looking at the people who got the cash, Özler said: “You have a third that never really start a business, a third that are disinvesting, and a third that are happy to be small businesses not really growing. That’s kind of disappointing, but it’s surprising to me. I don’t really understand why this is happening.” 
The point of the program was to get more people into skilled trades, like tailoring. But that doesn’t just affect the people getting the skills; it affects the other tailors already working in the area. “Creating 10 to 15 tailors at once in a parish of 10,000 people, it’s got to affect existing tailors,” he said. “Maybe some went out of business.” It’s hard to know whether the program is cost-effective without knowing what happened to those other tailors. If the program just made some people successful tailors at the expense of others, that’s not really a huge gain. 
“We’re not arguing ‘cash good versus cash not good.’ Cash is good!” he said. “But the only way to give it isn’t, ‘I’ll drop 1,000 bucks on you and go away.’”
The hope was that the Ugandan program had found one that would set up a durable, sustained escape from poverty for beneficiaries. That doesn’t really seem to be the case. But the cash certainly helped the recipients. And it’s possible an even better-designed cash program could help more.
“We don’t want to sound too disappointed,” Blattman told me, summarizing his takeaway. “It’s still better than anything else we’d seen.

A Warning for East Africa

 Drastic cuts in foreign aid are putting millions of refugees fleeing war and drought in East Africa at risk of malnutrition and diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery and cholera, aid agencies warned. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said donor funding to Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania - which host over 2 million refugees from neighbouring nations - has dropped by over 60 percent compared to the previous year. The lack of funds has meant that conditions in many refugee camps across the three nations are deteriorating - with less food, clean water, and sanitation available for refugees.
"Fast and furious budget cuts are hitting the East Africa aid sector hard. If more funding isn't found, malnutrition will rise, schools will close, and water-borne diseases will break out," the NRC's Regional Director Nigel Tricks said in a statement. "Rich nations should step up to support countries that are still accepting refugees. We have a window to avoid a refugee catastrophe in East Africa if we act now."
There are at least 22 million refugees around the world, says the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR), mostly fleeing conflict, persecution or rights abuses in their countries. About 85 percent of refugees are hosted in developing countries in Africa and the Middle East - most of which do not have the resources to support the hundreds of thousands fleeing wars in nations such as South Sudan, Somalia, and Syria.
But funding from western donors to support these refugees has dramatically decreased. In Kenya, for example, the U.N. has only raised $97 million to support about 500,000 refugees this year - down 70 percent from the $340 million received in 2017.
Dana Hughes, UNHCR's East Africa spokesperson, said the "chronic levels of underfunding" were resulting in overcrowded classrooms, families going without food and risks of disease outbreaks due to a lack of water and poor sanitation. Projects to help refugees become self-reliant and earn an income are either being cut or are in jeopardy, she added. "Despite the outcry on refugee arrivals in Europe and other wealthier parts of the world, the reality is most live in developing countries," Hughes told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are at the frontline of the global refugee crises and ensuring programmes to help refugees and bolster services in the countries receiving them is a global responsibility."

Sunday, September 09, 2018

The Sahara, a World Power

Installing huge numbers of solar panels and wind turbines in the Sahara desert would have a major impact on rainfall, vegetation, and temperatures, researchers say.
They found that the actions of wind turbines would double the amount of rain that would fall in the region. In the Sahel, the semi-arid region that lies to the south of the Sahara, average rainfall increased 1.12mm per day where wind farms were present, according to the study. Solar panels have a similar impact although they act in a different way. Previous studies have shown that installing wind and solar can have an impact on temperatures - but the key difference with this research is the impact on vegetation.
The scientists modelled what would happen if 9 million sq km of the Sahara desert was covered in renewable energy sources. They focussed on this area because it is sparsely populated, and it is also exposed to significant amounts of sun and wind and is close to large energy markets in Europe and the Middle East. According to authors' calculations, a massive installation in the desert would generate more than four times the amount of energy that the world currently uses every year.
"Our model results show that large-scale solar and wind farms in the Sahara would more than double the precipitation, especially in the Sahel, where the magnitude of rainfall increase is between 20mm and 500mm per year," said Dr. Yan Li, the lead author of the paper from the University of Illinois, US. "As a result, vegetation cover fraction increases by about 20%."
"Precipitation increases predicted by our model would lead to substantial improvements of rain-fed agriculture in the region, and vegetation increases would lead to the growth in production of livestock," said Dr. Safa Motesharrei, from the University of Maryland, another author of the paper. "The Sahara, the Sahel, and the Middle East include some of the driest regions in the world while experiencing high growth of population and poverty, and our study has major implications for addressing the intertwined sustainability challenges of the energy-water-food nexus in this region."
With wind turbines, it's all about the mixing of air caused by the rotation of the blades. Wind farms mix warmer air from above, which creates a feedback loop whereby more evaporation, precipitation and plant growth occurs. 
"Wind farms increase surface roughness and therefore increase wind converging into low-pressure areas," said Dr Li. "The converging air has to rise, making it cool off and moisture condense, which will lead to increased rainfall."
Solar panels actually reduce the reflection of sunlight from the surface known as the albedo effect. This triggers a positive albedo-precipitation-vegetation feedback that leads to precipitation increases of about 50%, the authors report.
"The panels directly reduce the surface albedo which leads to more solar energy absorption and surface warming, which in turn strengthens the Saharan heat low, leading to more rising air and precipitation," Dr Li explained.
The authors say that the heating impact of all those turbines and panels would not make an important difference.
"The local warming by wind and solar farms is much smaller compared with the reduced future warming from greenhouse gases that renewable power at this scale would imply," said Dr. Li.
"We hope that, in the light of our findings, and because of the primary climate effect of these farms is the reduction of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting mitigation of climate change, we could transform our energy sources. That can lead in turn to sustaining freshwater, food, and life on our planet." Dr. Li concluded.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Burundi Repression - Crimes Against Humanity

 More crimes against humanity were committed in Burundi in 2017 and 2018, whipped up by rhetoric from top officials including President Pierre Nkurunziza, a U.N. human rights report said on Wednesday.

Burundi has tried and failed to stop the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, set up by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2016, and refuses to cooperate with it. The commission said last year that officials at the highest level were responsible for crimes against humanity. The Commission's latest report said there were reasonable grounds to believe crimes against humanity were continuing, including murder, torture and rape. Burundi departed from the International Criminal Court last year.

Nkurunziza's spokesman Jean Claude Karerwa said it was sad to see human rights bodies becoming the political instruments of Western powers. He called commission chairman Doudou Diène a liar who should apologise to Nkurunziza and Burundi's people. Burundi's Human Rights Minister Martin Nivyabandi said the report was misleading and insulting.

Burundi has been seized by violence since early 2015 when Nkurunziza said he would seek a third term, widely seen as a breach of the constitution. Clashes between security forces and rebels left hundreds dead and forced about half a million to flee -- rattling a region still haunted by the memories of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, which has a similar ethnic mix to Burundi. In May a referendum changed the constitution in a way that could allow him to remain president until 2034.

Burundi's security was directed by a "committee of generals" around Nkurunziza, said the UN commission, which has drafted a secret list of human rights violators. Members of the National Intelligence Service and the police, including high-ranking officials, committed a large number of human rights violations, and the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party, was playing a growing role, the report said. Opponents of the government had been detained and tortured, often by the Imbonerakure, the commission said.

The number of summary executions appeared to have diminished since 2015, when they took place on a large scale, but the perpetrators took care to cover their tracks by weighing down the bodies and throwing them into rivers, it said.
"There are more people who are disappearing than were disappearing before. We don't know if they are ending up dead. There's every reason to believe that in a large number of cases they are," Commissioner Françoise Hampson said.

Recession hits South Africa

South Africa has gone into recession after its economy shrank by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of the year. A recession is technically defined as when an economy contracts over two consecutive quarters.
The main reasons behind the contraction in the second quarter were slowing agriculture, transport and trade sectors, according to Statistics South Africa. In particular, the agriculture market fell back by 29.2 per cent, taking 0.8 per cent off GDP.
The rand was down 1.5 per cent against the dollar on Wednesday, with $1 buying 15.6 rand, and the South African currency was also down 1.2 per cent against sterling, with £1 buying almost 20 rand. The weakened rand pulled South African stocks down on Tuesday.
Jeffrey Schultz, senior economist at BNP Paribas, added: “There is no way to sugar-coat the numbers, the growth picture in the first half of 2018 is ugly and it shows in this economy that there is broad-based weakness across the primary and tertiary sectors of the economy.”
“The economy remains lacklustre, partially driven by policy uncertainty. Investment in manufacturing and development has been hampered by uncertainty regarding the mining charter and land redistribution,” said Bianca Botes, an analyst at Peregrine Solutions.
George Glynos, head of research at ETM Analytics, said the recession was a result of years of poor administration, and added: “Clearly this is not what President Ramaphosa would like running into the elections next year.”

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Lest we forget

The News in Review column from the May 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recent events in South Africa, which began with the shootings at Sharpeville, have brought the condemnation of Dr. Verwoerd and the Nationalist Government’s policy of apartheid from the press all over the world. The absenteeism of Africans from their work for many days afterward caused great inconvenience to the Europeans, but, more important, it has cost South African capitalists millions of pounds in lost output. Even the Chairman of the Wool Board, representing an industry dominated by Afrikaans-speaking pro-Nationalist farmers, said the Government must change its policies ". . . or else.”

The opposition (United Party) want to see a complete review of the Governments’ policy towards the Afrikans as soon as the situation simmers down, and 12 “Elders” of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa have spoken out against apartheid, saying there is no justification for it in the Scriptures, as Dr. Verwoerd claims. It seems that even sections of this Church are awakening to the fact that changes are taking place, and that apartheid is an anachronism in a developing capitalist country. But the Nationalists’ desire to keep their cheap supply of labour mainly in the country districts is, at the moment, still dominant.

Verwoerd has been for years a leading exponent of Apartheid. He is (or was) an anti-semite, and was instrumental in preventing the entry of Jewish refugees from Germany before the war. He was a staunch supporter of Nazism, was minister for Native Affairs for eight years before succeeding Strijdom as Prime Minister. He has played, a leading part in creating the nightmare that is South African politics today. He has now become a victim of this nightmare, a savage irony indeed.

Military observers in South Africa were puzzled at the purchase of the “Saracens” at a reported cost of £15,000 each. They could not at that time see the usefulness of such a heavy weapon. They have now found out.