Tuesday, April 30, 2019

West Africa's Over-Fishing Crisis

Sierra Leone's April ban on industrial fishing is drawing to an end. But faced with rampant illegal fishing and poor policing, the moratorium will do little to replenish the country's dwindling fishing stocks. The big issues that the ban fails to address, however, is illegal and unregulated fishing and the inability of Sierra Leonean authorities to police it.

Up and down Sierra Leone's 400-kilometer stretch of coastline, entire villages depend on the sea. Some 8,000 small boats manned by local fishermen go out every day to cast their nets – their catch a vital source of income in what is one of the world's poorest countries. Without the fishermen, Sierra Leoneans would also go hungry – more than four fifths of the population depend on fish as a source of animal protein. But the country's traditional fishing communities have long complained that their catch is drastically shrinking due to overfishing by foreign trawlers.
In an attempt to counter this, Sierra Leone's government temporarily banned fishing by industrial boats for a month from 1 April. Traditional fishermen were still allowed to ply their trade during the moratorium. And to ensure local markets still had a regular supply of fish, the government also banned fish exports during this period.
"We consulted with many experts and environmentalists and believe one month without them should be enough time to help replenish our stocks," Ibrahim Turay, the country's Deputy Minister of Fisheries, said earlier this month.
While Ibrahim Michael Kabia from Sierra Leone's Consumer Protection Agency welcomed the ban, he says it wasn't long enough. To have any chance of helping fish stocks rebound, it needed to last at least 90 days, he told DW.
"When the fish come to the shore to lay their eggs, it takes about one month or six weeks or eight weeks before they are hatched so that they get more fish. And the season for fishing, especially for you not to disturb the process of reproduction, is between April, May and June," Kabia explained. "So if you only consider April, by the time you lift the ban and people continue to fish, they'll be disturbing the young fish also." Kabia believes the public would have been more supportive if the fisheries ministry had taken the time to explain the need for the fishing moratorium instead of announcing it at short notice. After all, he said, it's a necessary "sacrifice for your future."
Some trawling firms tried to circumvent the ban by offering local fishermen loans in exchange for the rights to their entire catch. Although this was common before the April moratorium, according to Reuters, companies upped the practice after the announcement of the ban. The loan contracts require the fishermen to give the company exclusive rights to anything they catch until they pay the money back.
When it comes to assigning blame, many point their fingers firmly in the direction of China. China's distant water fleet (boats fishing in areas outside of the country's domestic waters) is the largest in the world. A 2013 study estimated that 3,400 Chinese vessels trawled the waters of nearly 100 countries. It's estimated that half of China's total catch from the distant water fleet is from West Africa. While trawlers from all of the world have licenses to fish in Sierra Leone's waters, three quarters of the foreign trawlers are Chinese. Chinese vessels, in particular, have been accused of using illegal methods in Sierra Leone waters such as pair trawling. This is when two boats string a net between them and trawl in parallel. Pair trawling is highly effective because it allows boats to cast a wider net. At the same time, it's incredibly destructive because it rakes in all marine life it encounters. Only a fraction of this catch has a commercial value, with the rest being discarded as bycatch.  BBC News reported widespread use of pair trawling by Chinese fishing boats along Sierra Leone's coast – despite the practice being illegal and relatively easy to spot using freely available online satellite maps. A fishing officer told BBC he hadn't seen a pair trawler arrested in the seven years employed at his job. In Sierra Leone, all foreign trawlers must carry a fisheries officer on board who is supposed to report illegal activity. Poorly paid, however, they are unlikely to stop vessels breaking the law.

The scourge of overfishing isn't just restricted to Sierra Leone. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is rife along West Africa's coast, one of the most diverse and economically important fishing areas in the world.

A 17-month satellite analysis of fishing trawlers operating off Ghana's coast found that a staggering 75 percent of them had no match in a database of legally operating vessels. This suggests "significant unregulated marine activity," the 2019 study found. Unregulated fishing is losing West African countries – who are among the least developed in the world – significant amounts of money.  Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Guinea miss out on revenue of $2.3 billion (€2.06 billion) a year due to illegal trawling.

Oil corruption

Shell’s controversial $1.1bn deal for a Nigerian oil licence included “unprecedented” terms which may have helped fund an alleged bribery scheme, according to new analysis.

The Anglo-Dutch company, along with Italian oil giant Eni, are on trial in Italy over allegations that almost all of the money they paid for the licence funded bribes for Nigerian officials including a former president and various middlemen. Oil consultancy firm Resources for Development found that the terms of the contract meant that Nigeria effectively gave up its share of future revenues from the block.
The type of contract, known in the industry as “sole risk”, is particularly favourable to oil firms and has not been used in Nigeria since the end of military rule 20 years ago. Research last year by Resources for Development estimated that the terms of the contract could reduce the Nigerian government’s revenue from the fields by $5.9bn when compared to a standard oil industry contract which shares revenues between oil companies and the state. Nigeria’s most senior civil servant in the Department of Petroleum Resources objected strongly to the terms of the deal at the time, calling it “highly prejudicial to the interests of the Federal Government”. 

Analysis of documents including Shell and Eni’s assessments of the licence shows that the contract terms boosted the value that the oil companies could extract from the block, allowing them to justify paying $1.1bn up front for it. That money then allegedly went to former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete and was “intended for payment to President Goodluck Jonathan, members of the government, and other Nigerian public officials”, Italian prosecutors say

“We’ve known of allegations of vast bribery in this deal for years,” said Barnaby Pace, a campaigner at Global Witness. “Now we’ve learned that Shell and Eni profited unfairly through military-era contract terms meaning that it was Nigeria’s share of oil that was used to fuel profiteering and payoffs."
Olanrewaju Suraju of HEDA said: “These companies and Nigerian officials agreed a sweetheart deal that deprives Nigeria of money it badly needs to build schools and pay doctors. President Buhari should reject any deal that leaves the OPL 245 oil license with these companies.” 
Nick Hildyard of The Corner House said: “Shell and Eni represented their OPL 245 contract as a production sharing system yet it includes no sharing of production for Nigeria. This shockingly poor deal must be cancelled.” 
Antonio Tricarico of Re:Common said: “The Italian government is discouraging Nigerian migrants trying to reach Italy by claiming that it will help them at home, but Italy’s biggest multinational, part owned by the state, is accused of depriving the Nigerian people of billions. The OPL 245 scandal appears to show that Italians are not helping the poorest, but profiting from them."

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Cameroon Conflict Ignored

Long-running tensions in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon erupted into conflict in late 2016, prompting crackdowns by security forces and leaving 1.3 million people in need of aid, according to the United Nations. Cameroon's English speakers have felt increasingly marginalized by the French-speaking government in the capital Yaounde and in 2017 thousands took to the streets to demand a breakaway state. The military stepped in and thousands of Anglophones fled the ensuing crackdown, which Cameroon authorities described as an anti-terrorist operation. A U.N. human rights committee in February criticised the "heavy-handed approach" of the security forces to the crisis, which saw medical facilities, schools and entire villages destroyed.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), said the world had underestimated the impact on civilians of the violence that has gripped Cameroon, where entire villages had been burned to the ground.

"I've been all over the world, dealing with humanitarian work for many years and I was really shocked by the unbelievable extent of this emergency that is underestimated, underreported and neglected by the international community," said Egeland. "There are atrocities every single day against civilians ... and the world doesn't seem to know or want to know about it," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during a visit to Cameroon. Egeland said the violence had pushed tens of thousands into hiding in the bush without access to food or medical help, and meant nearly a million children could no longer go to school.

He said there was a danger the situation could worsen.
"I really, really hope there will be mediation efforts, that there will be an outreach and an interest in dialogue on both sides that will lead to talks which can end this before it is too late. I've seen too many places which started with a smaller conflict...and ended up in a war that no one could stop." Egeland said there had been little pressure on the parties to stop attacking civilians. "The international silence surrounding atrocities is as shocking as the untold stories are heart-breaking," he said.
Allegra Baiocchi, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Cameroon, said the violence was hampering relief efforts, and also blamed a lack of funding from other countries.
"The violence has been characterised by massive human rights violations. Attacks against schools and health providers have reached an alarming scale," she said. "Negotiating safe humanitarian access is extremely complicated and it is slowing us down."

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Spoils of War

Boko Haram enters the 10th year of its insurgency and  it remains formidable enough to abduct women and children at will, continuing “to prey on women and girls as spoils of war,” Anietie Ewang, Nigeria country researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
The violation of the rights of women and children paints a larger picture of human trafficking, forced marriages and enslavement in Nigeria which has the highest incidence of Africans being trafficked through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The north and north eastern parts of the country, where Boko Haram is active, have high incidences of forced marriages, while across the country there are frequent cases of young girls being ‘traded’ as modern day slaves. According to UNICEF, 43 percent of girls in Nigeria are married off before they turn 18. Some of the lawmakers who voted against the bill cited such grounds as their religion which permitted underaged marriage.
Boko Haram is also involved in the kidnapping, trafficking and enslavement of children and women. Hundreds of women and children have been abducted since the group’s insurgency started. But Boko Haram’s most well-known abduction occurred in April 2014, when 276 female students were taken away from their dormitory at the Government Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno State.
A few months after the Chibok girls were abducted, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, said he would sell them. “I am the one who captured all those girls and I will sell all of them,” he said in an online video in which he justified human slavery. “Slavery is allowed in my religion and I shall capture people and make them slaves.”
Consequently there have been other mass abductions of children in the region since the Chibok incident. In March 2015, Boko Haram fighters abducted more than 300 children from Zanna Mobarti Primary School in Damasak; while 116 female students from the Government Girls Science and Technical College, in Dapchi, Yobe State, were abducted in February 2018 during an attack on the school.
“The way Boko Haram hold women and children against their will is by itself a form of slavery,” Rotimi Olawale of the group Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) tells IPS. Olawale says Boko Haram is also using captives, like the Chibok girls, as “valuable bargaining chips” to collect ransoms and secure the release of their members held in Nigerian prisons. While many of the Chibok girls are still missing five years after their abduction, others escaped or were released by Boko Haram in deals made with the Nigerian government. But 112 girls are reportedly still missing.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that since 2012, non-state armed groups in north east Nigeria have recruited and used children as combatants and non-combatants, raped and forced girls to marry and committed other grave violations against children. Accounts by others who escaped from Boko Haram’s captivity confirm this. Boko Haram members using captive girls as sex slaves. They freely go to where the girls are kept to pick them for sex. 
 Male children born through sexual slavery are being breed to be the new generation of Boko Haram fighters. Boko Haram’s abduction of young persons are in part aimed at turning them into fighters. UNICEF says between 2013 and 2017 more than 3,500 children, most of whom were aged 13 to 17, were recruited by non-state armed groups who used them in the armed conflict in north east Nigeria. UNICEF says the true figures are likely to be higher because its figures are only of those cases that have been verified. Boko Haram is also known to train children to become suicide bombers. A UNICEF report in 2017, says between January and August of that year, 83 children, mainly girls, were used by Boko Haram as suicide bombers. The UN’s children agency said this figure was four times higher than it was for 2016.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Africa's Untaxed Gold Rush

Billions of dollars’ worth of gold is being smuggled out of Africa every year through the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East – a gateway to markets in Europe, the United States and beyond.

Customs data shows that the UAE imported $15.1 billion worth of gold from Africa in 2016, more than any other country and up from $1.3 billion in 2006. The total weight was 446 tonnes, in varying degrees of purity – up from 67 tonnes in 2006. Much of the gold was not recorded in the exports of African states. 

African governments such as Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia complain that gold is now being illegally produced and smuggled out of their countries on a vast scale, sometimes by criminal operations, and often at a high human and environmental cost.

Five trade economists interviewed by Reuters said this indicates large amounts of gold are leaving Africa with no taxes being paid to the states that produce them. No-one can put an exact figure on the total value that is leaving Africa.

Miners, some of them working legally, typically sell the gold to middlemen. The middlemen either fly the gold out directly or trade it across Africa’s porous borders, obscuring its origins before couriers carry it out of the continent, often in hand luggage. For example, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a major gold producer but one whose official exports amount to a fraction of its estimated production: Most is smuggled into neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda. 
“It is of course worrisome for us but we have very little leverage to stop it,” said Thierry Boliki, director of the CEEC, the Congolese government body that is meant to register, value and tax high-value minerals like gold. 

 In 2015, China – the world’s biggest gold consumer – imported more gold from Africa than the UAE. But during 2016, the latest year for which data is available, the UAE imported almost double the value taken by China. With African gold imports worth $8.5 billion that year, China came a distant second. Switzerland, the world’s gold refining hub, came third with $7.5 billion worth.  Most of the gold is traded in Dubai, home to the UAE's gold industry.  In all, it said it imported gold worth $3.9 billion – about 67 tonnes – more than those countries said they sent out.  

“There is a lot of gold leaving Africa without being captured in our records,” said Frank Mugyenyi, a senior adviser on industrial development at the African Union who set up the organisation’s minerals unit. “UAE is cashing in on the unregulated environment in Africa.” 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Boom economy in Ghana

Ghana's economy is skyrocketing. That is what the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predict for this year. The IMF talks of a growth rate of 8.8% in its World Economic Outlook, which would make Ghana the fastest growing economy in the world in 2019.
 Last year, the country's economy only grew by 5.6%, putting it in sixth position.

Adu Owusu Sarkodie from the University of Ghana believes the main source of growth is the oil sector. "We have discovered new oil fields [.....] companies have started operating, they have intensified their operations," he said in an interview with DW. In the list of top African countries growing economically, Ghana is closely followed by its neighbor Ivory Coast with 7.5%, and Ethiopia with 7.7%.  It is interesting that the growth rate from 2018 to 2020 of those two countries appears to be consistent, while Ghana's growth is predicted to decline again in 2020. For Africa's number one growth state, Ghana, oil is not the only factor driving the economy. "The non-oil sectors, agriculture, manufacturing and services, they are also picking up. Now they are all growing positively," Sarkodie said. 

Ghana is the world's second biggest producer of cocoa, which is probably also a reason why the West African country is the continent's and the world's leader when it comes to increased economic strength. But unlike the agricultural sector, where a lot of Ghanaians are playing a role, investments in the mining and oil sectors have been largely foreign led. According to Sarkodie, this is a problem, even though these investments have a long term effect.
"My major concern has to do with the source of growth," he told DW. "The GDP is a domestic product, it doesn't matter what is produced by foreigners or Ghanaians. But we know that in Ghana most of our companies are foreign owned." This means, Sarkodie says, that "the impact on Ghanaian lives will be minimal."

The agriculture sector has received a major boost over the past two years, thanks to a strong focus by policy-makers on food and jobs. For example, 200,000 farmers received improved seeds and fertilizers. The sector remains a major backbone of Ghana's economy. According to Agriculture Minister Owusu Afriyie Akoto, the program has led to a good harvest across the country. "We are expecting a bumper crop because of the impact that this great program has had on agriculture, even in its infancy," he said.

"I think this is more a one-off,", Papa Ndiaye, Head of the Regional Studies Devision at the IMF's African Department, told DW. "We don't expect this growth rate (of 8.8%) to be sustained over the medium term. And when you look at it per capita, that is still smaller than what countries like China have experienced in the past." Ndiaye confirmed that Ghana's economic growth is expected to slow to a level of around 4.5% to 5%. 
Angola comes in last on the list of African countries, with a predicted economic growth of just 0.4%. Last year it suffered a decline of 1.7%. South Africa is also far behind, with an expected growth rate of only 1.2%, an increase of 0.4% on 2018. Third from last is oil giant Nigeria, with a growth rate of 2.1%.
"These countries have been hit very hard by the decline in commodity prices," Ndiaye said. "You have to go back to the 1970s to find something of similar magnitude. These countries are now slowly  recovering but it will take some time. It also requires countries to implement reforms to diversify the economy and to boost private sector activity by removing some of the constraints that are the biggest impediments to growth, as well as restoring a better business environment."
The IMF divides the 46 listed countries into three groups: oil exporters, middle-income countries and low-income countries. The group of oil exporters, with a growth rate of 2.0%, is doing less well than middle-income countries with 3.4% and low-income countries with 5.3%, a trend that could already be seen in 2018. In total, sub-Saharan African can register GDP  growth of 3.5%. What makes this year's prediction so interesting for Africa is that it is an African nation that seems to be the economic front-runner, ahead of international heavyweights like China or India.

Monday, April 15, 2019

South Africa's Forgotten Townships

The governing African National Congress (ANC), which faces mounting public anger over its failure to improve the lives of millions of the poorest citizens, 25 years after the end of white minority rule.

Johannesburg township, Alexandra, has seen protests against overcrowding and poor public services in the run-up to a general election on May 8. 

Alexandra residents say a government project to develop the township, launched to much fanfare in 2001, has barely scratched the surface of what needs to be done. A model of how Alexandra was meant to look once the project was completed - with parks interspersed between neat rows of houses - now gathers dust in a children's library. High-profile politicians stop by Alexandra before elections, but residents say that, when the votes are counted, the visits dry up. Neither the DA nor the ANC could tell Reuters how much money provincial and local government had spent on the Alexandra Renewal Project.
Johanna Ditsela explained, "I normally vote, but the ANC is not doing anything for me, honestly. I need a job, and I need a house for my kids so that I can raise them in a dignified way."

The ANC is expected to win another parliamentary majority next month, but analysts say its share of the vote will probably fall from the 62 percent it received in 2014. if turnout is low, it could lose control of Johannesburg's Gauteng province.