Sunday, March 31, 2019

African Austerity

Trapped in binding agreements for loans they can ill afford with international investors, most African countries have kept their heads down and trimmed their spending. These days there are plenty of examples of sub-Saharan African countries – with the IMF’s endorsement – passing austerity budgets that discreetly tighten the screw on households and businesses with a mix of higher taxation and lower state spending to keep debt interest payments in check.

Namibia’s overarching aim is to stay off the IMF’s list. If last week’s budget – when the finance ministry forecast that its debt-to-GDP level of around 40% in 2017 would rise to almost 50% by 2021 – is anything to go by, it will struggle to achieve this. The IMF is worried because while 50% might not seem so high, given that countries like the UK have already exceeded 80%, Namibia pays 10% interest on its debt and the UK pays 1.8%. The multiplier effect pushes the African country into dangerous territory.

There are calls for Mozambique to be supported with a debt write-off following the devastation left by cyclone Idai. 
According to the IMF, Mozambique is among six out of 35 low-income countries in the region that are in “debt distress” – in default and unable to service outstanding loans. A further nine are classified as at “high risk of debt distress” after their debt-to-GDP ratios exceeded 50%.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Plight of Urban Blight

In sub-Saharan Africa nearly half the urban population still lives in slums, according to a major new study.

Nature magazine found the proportion of homes that met United Nations criteria for building standards, living space per person, water and sanitation had more than doubled between 2000 and 2015 to 23 percent.

But it estimated that 53 million urban Africans still lived in slum conditions in 2015, putting them at greater risk of mental health problems, respiratory and diarrhoeal disease and vector-borne diseases such as malaria.
The study found 47 percent of people in urban sub-Saharan Africa still lived in slum-like housing, meaning it was overcrowded, lacked good water or good sanitation, or was badly constructed.
It found poor sanitation - a key contributor to disease - accounted for much of the substandard housing in the region, where 90 percent of the world's malaria cases occur according to the U.N. children's agency.
Senior author Samir Bhatt from the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London said the findings showed that poor sanitation remained commonplace across much of sub-Saharan Africa, hampering progress.
Africa's urban population is expected to triple in the next 50 years.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said rural communities were in "a state of crisis", with high poverty rates and poor services driving hunger and malnutrition. One in five people, or more than 256 million, are hungry in Africa. Nearly half the world's population live in rural areas but represent 70 percent of the extremely poor, according to IFPRI.
The rise of an urban "middle class" across much of Africa is stoking demand for food that could curb hunger and cut poverty in rural outposts. I
n Africa, a growing middle class with higher purchasing power is fuelling a spike in demand for food - and with an interesting twist.  "They are not just asking for imported food, wine and cheese but to have traditional staple on the tables. But they don't want to eat them the traditional way," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. This has given birth to a large number of small agribusinesses that process, package and distribute such foods, creating jobs and opportunities for small farmers

In Senegal, new processing technologies led to a growth in ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat millet products and reversed years of low and declining consumption of the healthy, gluten-free grain, said the report. Similarly, domestic brands of processed local dairy and grain products now have a significant presence in Ghana, Mali and Tanzani

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A longing to stay

Perhaps related to the earlier post.

Nearly one in three people living in West and Central Africa fear losing their homes and land in the next five years, making it the region where people feel most insecure about their property.

In West Africa, "a history of governments and investors seizing land for large projects has made people more insecure," said Malcolm Childress, executive director of the Global Land Alliance.

A longing to leave

More than one in three Africans have considered emigrating.

For those who do leave, it is not to Europe or North America that most go to, but another African country.People who say they are considering emigrating mostly want to stay within their region (29%) or go elsewhere in Africa (7%). For those saying they want to leave the continent, Europe (27%) and North America (22%) were the next biggest destinations.

But citizens of African countries still need a visa to travel to more than half of the continent's 54 countries, protecting borders drawn up by European colonisers more than a century ago.

"Looking for work" and "escaping poverty and economic hardship" were the biggest factors for wanting to emigrate in almost all of the 34 countries surveyed, accounting for 44% and 29% respectively.

One in five depend at least "a little bit" on cash payments sent to them from another country. A quarter of those surveyed say someone in their family has lived in another country during the past three years.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Western Sahara Stalemate

Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara in 1975 and bloody civil war ensued. A ceasefire has been in place since 1991 but the conflict remains unresolved
The refugee camp of Awserd is one of five camps in Algeria where Western Sahara's refugees and their descendants live. All around there is only desert, no water, and farming is impossible. Awserd alone houses some 50,000 people – in tents, mud shacks and brick houses.  The Algerian provincial capital of Tindouf is 40 kilometers (25 miles) away. Also nearby is the headquarters of the Polisario Front, which has for decades been fighting for the independence of Western Sahara. The camp has been in existence since the outbreak of the civil war. Now, after more than four decades of conflict, hopelessness is spreading, Awserd governor Mariem Salek Hamda told DW. The food aid supply has declined, infant mortality is double that of Europe, and water is limited to 10 liters (2.6 gallons) per day. 
"It's not easy to live here," says Omar. "There is no future here." Omar lives with his parents and five siblings somewhere between the camp's areas two and three. He attended school until he turned 18 and went on to an Algerian university. But that did not last long. "I had problems because I'm the eldest in the family and the family needs me to earn money and much more. So I had to give up my studies. There is no hope. There is no hope."
"The youth is in despair because in this situation, in which we are for more than 43 years, they see no light at the end of the tunnel," Hamda says. She points to the ceasefire of 1991. A United Nations mission has since been monitoring the zone adjacent to Morocco. It should actually be overseeing a referendum on independence for Western Sahara.
"But since1991 the young people born here see no solution on the horizon. With this standby situation of 27 years – with no peace or war and doubt and mistrust of the UN – this situation arises in the occupied areas. One hears daily about a mother, sister or brother being kidnapped and abused. All this breeds dissatisfaction that can lead to anything," Hamda says.
Some people in the camps make no secret of where the dissatisfaction can lead. Among them is Addou al-Hadj who leads tours at the Museum of Resistance in the nearby Smara camp. "We are tired of waiting," he says. "We are fed up with the status quo. No one has made a move in 43 years; we have waited for more than 27 years for a resolution via the UN. We are peace-loving people, but when nothing is resolved, we are prepared to take up arms."

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Fish catches from Lake Victoria have plummeted by more than half over the past two decades, due to overfishing and pollution. Over the same period Kenya's population has doubled.
Vast stretches of water hyacinths, an invasive weed, along the shorelines, have also caused severe problems for the country's fishermen. The thick, interwoven carpet of the plants means that smaller boats can struggle to get out to clear water.
Kenya's Lake Victoria fishermen now bring in an estimated 140,000 tonnes of fish per year, little more than a quarter of the 500,000 required. 
Chinese companies and their Kenyan partners seized the opportunity, and are now said to be exporting more than $17m (£13m) of fish to Kenya annually, more than double the amount three years ago.
It was an easy gap for the Chinese to fill, because the freshwater fish that they farm on a vast scale - tilapia - is from the same broad species that Kenyans mostly catch in Lake Victoria. So for Kenyan consumers the fish look and taste very similar.
The Chinese fish is just considerably cheaper, selling for as little as $1.70 per kg, compared with about $5 per kg for the local catch.
For Kenyan fisherman Frederike Otieno, it is a hopeless situation.
"While we spend many nights on the lake and lose a lot of money on fuel, we have to compete with this cheap Chinese farmed fish that floods the market," says the 36-year-old.
The biggest importer of Chinese fish in Kenya is a company called East African Sea Food. Its director, John Musafari, says that while the farmed Chinese tilapia is high quality, the low prices are possible because the fish is fed on rice bran, which is cheap and plentiful. This bran is the hard outer layer of each rice grain, which is removed in China before the rice is sold to consumers. Thanks to this Chinese tilapia, poor people can now eat nutritious protein-rich fish 

For Edward Oremo, a Kenyan fisheries official, it will ultimately mean the end of commercial fishing on Lake Victoria.
"As long as Chinese imports continue... fishermen will be driven to despair, and Lake Victoria will be empty [of fishing boats] in less than 50 years."

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Somalian Killings

The U.S. has been covertly engaging in conflicts in Somalia for decades. Amnesty International is accusing the United States of waging a shadow air war in Somalia that is killing civilians with abandon.

The human rights advocacy group studied five of more than 100 strikes on Somalia over the past two years and found that 14 civilians were killed in the attacks. “These five incidents were carried out with Reaper drones and manned aircraft in Lower Shabelle,” Amnesty said in a press release, “a region largely under Al-Shabaab control outside the Somali capital Mogadishu. The attacks appear to have violated international humanitarian law,” the organization said, “and some may amount to war crimes.”

Brian Castner, the group's senior crisis advisor on arms and military operations, claimed, "The civilian death toll we've uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia's war is actually a smokescreen for impunity." 
Amnesty International issued its findings on the African war Tuesday evening in a report titled The Hidden US War in Somalia (pdf).

Monday, March 18, 2019

Media Misrepresentation in Ghana

On March 1, CNN aired a video report titled, Freeing the child slaves of Lake Volta, alleging the existence of pervasive child trafficking and child slavery in fishing communities along the Lake Volta in GhanaWe challenge CNN, the International Justice Mission (IJM), Free the Slaves and any other actor alleging "widespread" or "pervasive" child trafficking and child slavery in communities along the Lake Volta to provide independent evidence to corroborate these claims. The fact is, cases that should be described or defined at best as "child labour" are deliberately being distorted to tell fantastic stories of "child slavery" and "child trafficking", feeding into stereotypes of supposed primitiveness and backwardness of African communities. The media and journalists have a responsibility to provide a balanced account to their audience. It is, therefore, unfortunate that the views of community residents and leaders are often excluded from these reports. As a result, their efforts to address the problem are ignored or undermined.

International funding is usually awarded to (mostly Western-based) NGOs and actors who mispresent the issue to the media and make sensationalist claims about "widespread slavery". 

The allegations of child trafficking and child slavery, which are mostly made by Western-based or funded journalists and NGOs with the help of local affiliates, reflect a limited understanding of the lived realities on islands and communities along the lake. Fishing is one of the few guaranteed avenues of subsistence for islanders and residents of riverine communities along the Lake Volta, and children are rightly taught fishing skills by their parents. The lake also serves many important functions for these communities. Virtually all economic and social activities take place on or around it. It is not only the main source of employment, but it is also the highway which connects islands, a playground for children, a marketplace, etc. It is, therefore, not unusual to find children fishing, commuting by boat to other islands or simply playing with their peers and siblings on the Lake Volta. Outsiders or those unfamiliar with this fundamental social set-up can wrongly translate the sight of a child in a boat with an adult as a child being exploited or forced to work.

Not all children on the islands and riverine live or work with their biological parents. However, this is not because of rampant sale or trafficking of children, as CNN and others have suggested.

The extended family system is still highly valued in Ghana as it remains integral to the social welfare system. It is, therefore, entirely normal to find children living with non-biological parents or guardians who can offer them educational, apprenticeship and other developmental opportunities. Additionally, due to expertise and knowledge in fishing on the islands and riverine areas of the Lake Volta, it is similarly not unusual to find children from coastal and other fishing areas of the country (such as Winneba) in apprenticeships and tutelage agreements with fishermen who are not their blood relatives. A largely ignored aspect of this practice in the CNN and other reportage of this issue is that many children and youth become self-sufficient fishermen in adulthood through these arrangements and, in turn, also train other children and youth. 
For sure, this form of fosterage and tutelage can be fraught with complications, particularly surrounding the mode of remuneration for child apprentices. Some fishermen give the agreed wages for the child upfront to their parents, in cases where the child's family is in dire need of money. That children do not get direct access to the income generated from their labour is problematic, but the transfer of money from fishermen to child apprentices' parents does not constitute "sale" of the child.
The cases of child abuse and exploitation in apprenticeship and fosterage arrangements in areas on and around the Lake Volta are the exception rather than the norm. Also, such unfortunate outcomes from well-intentioned child upbringing practices are not unique to this part of the world.
In 2017, for example, 674,000 children in state care in the United States were abused. We cite this number not to point the finger to other countries, but to challenge the tendency by journalists, NGOs and other commentators to resort to pejorative portrayals and characterisations when reporting on such issues in the Global South. The language employed by NGOs and journalists when reporting on child rights problems in rich powerful nations is usually more tempered or considerate. They do not describe as "child enslavement", for example, the blatant curtailment of the freedoms of children who are cruelly caged in immigration detention as a matter of state policy in the US, the UK, Australia and other countries.
The only semi-independent large scale study of children's involvement in work on the Volta Lake, which was conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2013, is emphatic that the claims of child enslavement are exaggerated. The ILO study confirms, as we also acknowledge, that aspects of children's work on the lake take place under dangerous and exploitative conditions. This is clearly a problem that has to be addressed. However, the study did not find any evidence of children involved in servitude or enslavement, contrary to the persistent claims by some NGOs and journalists.
How would CNN react if a Ghanaian journalist were to travel across remote and impoverished communities in the US filming children and families who may not fully understand the purpose for the film and may not even get to see how they are portrayed? The CNN video and other portrayals add insult to injury by promoting poorly informed, uncritical and sensational accounts which feed into threats of sanctions and other punitive measures against the entire country and, by extension, the already impoverished islanders and communities along the Volta Lake and elsewhere in Ghana.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Imagine no countries

"Nigeria is an entirely artificial, colonial construct created by the British Empire (and bounded by the French Empire). Its boundaries bear no relation to internal national entities, and it is huge. The strange thing is that these totally artificial colonial constructs of states generate a genuine and fierce patriotism among their citizens…." 

Socialists can agree with former Ambassador Craig Murray here, adding that workers have no country. There will be none in a socialist world.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Fellow African, Why Do You Believe This Hogwash? (2015)


The Halo Halo! column from the August 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Although whoever wrote the Bible wrote it all by rote, they did not write it right. At best it is a history of the Jews, their neighbours and their beliefs, tragically misunderstood, misinterpreted by psychologically defeated, timid, brainwashed and gullible Africans.

The story of Eden, Adam and ensuing events depicts an area and a primitive tribe, like all primitive (ancient) peoples, and primitive geography, who were not aware of the existence of other people and remote regions, and in other cases completely detached from them. Note that the Bible map is confined to the far north Africa (Egypt, Ethiopia and Libya), Middle East and a few neighbouring areas. That is why (I stand to be corrected) I have yet to come across in the Bible the fate of London, Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, Maputo, Harare, Gaborone, Cape Town, unlike the fate of Jerusalem.

Sadly, religion in Africa is mistaken for morals and yet it is the epitome of arrogance and selfishness, e.g. read the silly talk ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ No, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead’ (Matthew 8:21-22). To admire such in this era calls for the suspension of logic. Why would anyone now and 10,000 km away despise my relatives and friends and emulate/adore an arrogant, primitive egoist who is said to have died more than 2,000 years ago? But to the majority African the ‘second coming’ is real, and hell is real. Despite endless strife in Jerusalem, my ill-learned black apostles sing daily that they will soon join mighty Jesus in Jerusalem (I could send you tons of discs of ‘circus’ like events, mainly being prayers and spiritual healing sessions).

The so-called ‘second coming’ is based on false primitive dreams and hallucinations. The prophecies are mere prognostications based on previous events. Since the events leading to the condemnation of Galileo by Christians the majority of Westerners have come to realise that all phenomena considered mysterious and transcendental, are mathematically, scientifically proved (or disproved) and predictable. Unlike ‘waffling’ prophets (generalising/prognosticating on previous events) scientists can accurately forecast some natural events to the exact minute and place. I recall, e.g. in June 2001 and on 9 December 2002 (here in Zimbabwe a total eclipse of the sun at the exact place and time). Nothing mystical as per the religionists.

And what then happened to the very communicative ‘God of Israel’, always forewarning on events to come? It is strange that after ‘sacrificing his only son’ to end sin and strife, there is worse sin and strife; Jerusalem is most certainly not a quiet habitation (Isaiah 9) (Gaborone is, but never known by the Lord). Is he the same kind Lord now sitting quietly in eternal peace in Jerusalem (on Mount Zion) dispensing without forewarning storms, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, landslides, causing great suffering/deaths, which he could prevent (if he wanted as suggested by religion), just to prove his might? As much as he sacrificed his only son to save the world – which was never saved – and to make Israel the greatest nation, which was almost wiped out by Hitler instead. So much for propagating and adhering to primitive dogma based on archaic dreamers submissive to illusions and hallucinations.

Brethren, and some religious zealots elsewhere, do not realise that the unending strife in the Middle East (current changes of leaders aside) now spreading to north Africa, is sustained by adherence to such primitive bigotry, dogma and propagating mythical tribal superiority. . Brothers and sisters, all religion is rubbish. A prayer is a wish! For sure, we cannot live without wishes. However fervent our wishes and prayers, they can never erect an imaginary thing into something tangible. Heaven and Hell never exist.

The socio-political systems adopted by all so-called independent African leaders and governments are based on capitalism as learned in many cases from former colonial masters. Counties have been ‘won back’ soon after hoisting their ‘own flag’ and for decades the masses will celebrate this flapping piece of cloth, realising too late that they have entrenched the same old oppressive robbery. Only the complexion, the individual politicians or the religious diversions will have changed.

Godwin Hatitye