Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Africa's wealth gap

Oxfam’s new report, The West Africa inequality crisis, recommends “scrapping unnecessary tax incentives” and increasing overall tax progressivity by expanding taxes “typically paid by the rich,” among a host of other policy moves that aim to “redistribute from the rich to the poor.” 

Tackling inequality, the new Oxfam analysis stresses, will always be “critical to the fight against extreme poverty.”

“Indeed, unless countries significantly close the gap between the richest and the rest,” Oxfam concludes, “ending extreme poverty will remain just a dream.”

In West Africa, the African continent’s most unequal region, the richest 1 percent hold more net worth than the entire bottom 99 percent. The West African governments these top 1 percenters dominate do less than any other governments in Africa to advance social well-being. They spend the continent’s least on the "most essential elements of a dignified life"—quality schools, health care, and decent jobs.

In Africa overall, wealth jumped 13 percent in the decade ending in 2017, the most recent year with good numbers available. Wealth in Nigeria increased 19 percent.

These increases, Oxfam notes, should have created “an enormous opportunity to improve the lives of the many.” Nigeria, adds Oxfam, "has the worst score on social spending, not only in Africa but in the world."

Instead, the increases have essentially “benefited only a select few.”

Nigeria’s richest elites now enjoy world-class status. The five wealthiest Nigerians currently hold a combined fortune worth $29.9 billion, for just about a $6 billion average, a big-league bundle in anybody’s ballpark.

Nigeria’s single richest individual, Oxfam calculates, annually earns enough income off his wealth to take 2 million poor Nigerians out of poverty every year. Think about that for a moment. Nigeria’s richest man could significantly improve the well-being of 2 million desperately poor souls in 2019 and still end the year every bit as rich as when the year started.  He already, Oxfam helpfully points out, “earns about 150,000 times more from his wealth than the poorest 10 percent of Nigerians spend on average on their basic consumption in a year.” Nigeria’s wealthiest individual could spend $1 million a day and still not run out of money for 46 years.

West African governments choose to steer their resources to be quite generous with tax incentives for multinational corporate giants. The amount they dedicate annually to these corporate subsidies, Oxfam researchers point out, “would be enough to build about 100 modern and well-equipped hospitals each year in the region.”

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

South Africa's Jobless

South Africa faces an unemployment rate of 29% and well over half of its youth are unemployed, the country's statistics office said on Tuesday. If people who have given up looking for work were included in the figures, unemployment would have been recorded at 38.5%.

The number of unemployed people rose by 573,000 last year, to the worst figure since 2008. South Africa boasts a population of nearly 57 million and is considered an economic powerhouse on the continent. According to the figures, of the 38.4 million people of working age, 16.3 million are in work, while 6.7 million are not.

Planting Trees and Saving the Planet

About 350m trees have been planted in a single day in Ethiopia. The previous world record for the most trees planted in one day stood at 50m, held by India since 2016. The planting is part of a national “green legacy” initiative to grow 4bn trees in the country this summer by encouraging every citizen to plant at least 40 seedlings.
The project aims to tackle the effects of deforestation and climate change in the drought-prone country. According to the UN, Ethiopia’s forest coverage was just 4% in the 2000s, down from 35% a century earlier.
Dr Dan Ridley-Ellis, the head of the centre for wood science and technology at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “Trees not only help mitigate climate change by absorbing the carbon dioxide in the air, but they also have huge benefits in combating desertification and land degradation, particularly in arid countries. They also provide food, shelter, fuel, fodder, medicine, materials and protection of the water supply.
“This truly impressive feat is not just the simple planting of trees, but part of a huge and complicated challenge to take account of the short- and long-term needs of both the trees and the people. The forester’s mantra ‘the right tree in the right place’ increasingly needs to consider the effects of climate change, as well as the ecological, social, cultural and economic dimension.”

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The bitter sweet chocolate trade

Global demand for cocoa beans is surging because consumers in China and India - the two most populous countries on the planet - have taken a liking to chocolate, reports the World Bank. West Africa is where two-thirds of cocoa beans are produced. Respectively, Ghana and the Ivory Coast
 account for roughly 19 and 45 percent of this production. 

"That provides both countries significant market strength against powerful buyers," says Casper Burgering, senior economist at ABN AMRO. 

Yet when the two nations recently demanded higher compensation for their prized crop from global buyers, the chocolate industry called their bluff and on July 16, Ghana and the Ivory Coast gave in to pressure from the global chocolate industry and lifted a month-long ban on cocoa sales that was meant to push international buyers to accept a new minimum pricing agreement.

Cocoa farmers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast will get $400 premium per every tonne of cocoa beans they sell during the 2020-21 harvest season. The move may slightly boost earnings for West African cocoa farmers. But it is so far from the $2,600-a-tonne minimum price for which Ghana and the Ivory Coast were pushing for. The negotiations are largely considered a defeat in both these nations. setbacks like the recent fixed-pricing defeat are becoming all too common as forces outside Africa set the rules - and profit. Economists are also concerned that guaranteed compensation will entice other competing countries - such as Indonesia and Nigeria- to produce more cocoa, thereby increasing global supply and triggering a fall in cocoa bean prices.

This is especially painful in the Ivory Coast because the country has destroyed massive portions of its forests trying to satisfy the global demand for chocolate. In 1960, the West African nation had roughly 12 million hectares of forests. Today, nearly three-quarters of that forest is gone. In the 1960s, Ivory Coast encouraged locals and migrants to take up cocoa farming. Since then, annual production in the West African nation has quadrupled from half a million tonnes of cocoa to over two million tonnes in 2018. IMF data shows cocoa exports account for nearly 15 percent of the Ivory Coast's gross domestic product. 30 percent of Ivory Coast's cocoa production is conducted illegally - and spread across at least 220 protected forests and national parks. Ivory Coast is running out of farmland, it has to fight to increase farmers' earnings so they are not tempted to illegally grow cocoa in protected forests. 

Compounding the pain, many cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast still don't make a living wage, even though their country is the world's top producer and exporter of cocoa beans that are the main ingredient in the $100bn global chocolate industry. Currently, North America and Western Europe are the principal markets for the consumption of all chocolate products. And because cocoa prices are set in auctions at exchanges in the West - and not in West Africa - the cost of Ivory Coast farm labour is not a determining factor in what is ultimately paid for chocolate. This means that though many people in the cocoa supply chain may earn more because of increased demand, many farmers must continue struggling to make ends meet. Only an estimated 12 percent of the Ivory Coast's small farmers of cocoa make what Fairtrade International considers a living wage, or $2.50 a day. More than a million of these small-scale growers live in poverty.

"We really have no say on the price against these international buyers of cocoa," Lezou told Al Jazeera. "They decide the price." 

The lion's share of money earned from cocoa is claimed by big-name international manufacturers and retailers. Producers receive only a mere six percent of the final product's value. Desperate to cash in on the guaranteed price - and without farmland to expand cocoa production - Ivory Coast growers could start tilling even more of their crops in protected forests just as their government is ramping up its efforts to stamp this practice out.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Gun Deaths In Africa

Hunger in the Horn of Africa Again

Humanitarian groups and the United Nations are warning of another drought in the Horn of Africa, threatening a repeat of the deadly dry spell and famine that claimed lives in Somalia and its neighbours eight years ago. The 2011 dry spell that left more than 260,000 dead, and many more hungry and sick.

15 million people across drought-stricken parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia now needed handouts and Oxfam warned of a high death toll unless donors stumped up cash fast.

“We cannot wait until images of malnourished people and dead animals fill our television screens. We need to act now to avert disaster,” said Lydia Zigomo, Oxfam’s regional director for the Horn of Africa.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has also sounded the alarm. Somalia’s recent April-June and October-December rainy seasons were drier than expected, worsening an arid spell that was already hitting farmers and herders across the turbulent country. Some 5.4 million Somalis were expected to be facing food shortages by September, and 2.2 million of them would need “immediate emergency assistance” UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch warned last month. 
“The latest drought comes just as the country was starting to recover from a drought in 2016 to 2017 that led to the displacement inside Somalia of over a million people,” Baloch told reporters. “Many remain in a protracted state of displacement.” 
“Water and land are critical resources for the Somali economy and people’s livelihoods but are also extremely vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change,” said EU diplomat Hjordis D’Agostino Ogendo. “While access to water needs to increase, needed infrastructures are to be designed and managed in a sustainable way.”
Somalia has seen little but drought, famine and conflict since dictator Siad Barre was toppled in 1991. The country’s weak, U.N.-backed government struggles to assert control over poor, rural areas under the Islamist militant group al Shabaab.
Droughts are getting worse globally, according to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). By 2025, some 1.8 billion people will experience serious water shortages, and two thirds of the world will be “water-stressed”.
Though droughts are complex and develop slowly, they cause more deaths than cyclones, earthquakes and other types of natural disaster, the UNCCD warns. By 2045, droughts will have forced as many as 135 million people from their homes.
“With climate change amplifying the frequency and intensity of sudden disasters … and contributing to more gradual environmental phenomena, such as drought and rising sea levels, it is expected to drive even more displacement in the future,” added Baloch.
Yet all this is not inevitable with rational planning.
By managing water sources, forests, livestock and farming, soil erosion can be reduced and degraded land can be revived, a process that could also help tackle climate change.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Israel and Africa

There is never shortage of nations who seek to interfere in African politics. The United States, the EU, China and now the new boy on the block, Israel.

For years, Kenya has served as Israel's gateway to Africa. Israel has been using the strong political, economic and security relations between the two states as a way to expand its influence on the continent and distance other African nations from Palestinians Israel's strategy seems to be succeeding with Africa's support for the Palestinian struggle dwindling. Many African governments, including those of Muslim-majority nations, are now giving Israel exactly what it wants - a way to break out of its isolation and legitimize its neo-apartheid policies.

According to Israeli political analyst Pinhas Anbari, Israel's "charm offensive in Africa" started after Israel failed to convince European states to support its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

"When Europe openly expressed its support for the establishment of a Palestinian state," Anbara said, "Israel made a strategic decision to focus on Africa."
As a result, winning back Africa became a modus operandi in Israeli international affairs - "winning back" because Africa has not always been hostile to Israel and Zionism.

On July 5, 2016, Benjamin Netanyahu kick-started Israel's scramble for Africa with an historic visit to Kenya, which made him the first Israeli prime minister to visit Africa in the last 50 years. After spending some time in Nairobi, where he attended the Israel-Kenya Economic Forum alongside hundreds of Israeli and Kenyan business leaders, he moved on to Uganda, where he met leaders from other African countries including South Sudan, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Within the same month, Israel announced the renewal of diplomatic ties between Israel and Guinea. In June 2017, Netanyahu took part in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), held in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. 

"Africa and Israel share a natural affinity," Netanyahu claimed in his speech. "We have, in many ways, similar histories. Your nations toiled under foreign rule. You experienced horrific wars and slaughters. This is very much our history."
"Israel is making inroads into the Islamic world," said Netanyahu during the first visit by an Israeli leader to Chad's capital, Ndjamena, on January 20, 2019. "We are making history and we are turning Israel into a rising global power."
Israel did make some contributions that benefited Africans, such as delivering solar, water and agricultural technologies to regions in need.  However, in December 2016, Senegal co-sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned the construction of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Netanyahu recalled Israel's ambassador to Dakar and swiftly cancelled the Mashav drip-irrigation projects - The projects had previously been "widely promoted as a major part of Israel's contribution to the 'fight against poverty in Africa'.

Israel also used this new relationship to turn Africa into a new market for its arms sales. African countries such as Chad, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, and Cameroon, among others, became clients of Israel's "counterterrorism" technologies. 
Nor should it be ignored, Israeli punitive policies against the arrival of African migrants

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Ghana's Gold Doesn't Glitter

Early colonists called this region the Gold Coast. The Ashanti people of southern Ghana have long made fortunes from what Ghanaians call “galamsay” (gather-and-sell) mining. Since 2008, gold prices have risen, digging equipment from China has become cheap and easy to get, and informal mining has mushroomed.

Vast amounts of gold from Africa's informal mines go to the United Arab Emirates, much of it smuggled. Since 2003, the UAE has reported importing about $10.6 billion (8.5 billion pounds) worth of Ghanaian gold. No industrial miners send gold to the UAE, the companies have told Reuters

A 2016 report by researchers for the International Institute for Environment and Development estimated a million people in Ghana make a living in what some call artisanal mining, and 4.5 million more depend on it. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to almost 10 million such miners, according to a World Bank estimate: At least 60 million more are reliant on the sector. 

As miners go for gold, they are poisoning rivers, farmland - and themselves. 

Miners inhale fumes from explosives used to loosen rocks, and dust coming off crushing machines, which contains heavy metals such as lead. This weakens the lungs.

They use mercury and nitric acid, which also cause breathing problems, to leach precious ore out of sediment. Then they toss the chemicals to the ground or into rivers. 

Mercury is an especially dangerous poison. After long exposure to the vapour, cases of pulmonary fibrosis, restrictive lung disease, and chronic respiratory insufficiency have been reported in the United States. In Ghana, too, researchers have published dozens of papers documenting evidence of mercury-linked toxicity in the blood and urine of residents, as well as mercury contamination in soil, food, water and fish. Around Bawdie, in 2016, Ghanaian researchers in a University of Michigan-funded study found average mercury levels in the water were at least 10 times higher than international safety levels, or up to 86 times higher in one area. A United Nations report published this year said artisanal and small-scale gold mining accounts for up to 80% of emissions of mercury in Sub-Saharan Africa. One study, published by the Lancet in 2018, estimated that more than 10 million people in Africa are exposed to mercury by artisanal mining, cutting short by almost two years their expectations for a healthy life. Mercury poisons every tissue it touches.
Besides lung damage, it can lead to memory loss, irritability or depression, kidney failure, tremors or numbness, and discoloured, peeling or scaly skin. Extreme mercury poisoning can cause paralysis, coma, or insanity. 

Even people who are not directly exposed absorb it through water or, for those near the coast, seafood. In a developing foetus, it can cause difficulties with mobility and learning. But the poison works slowly, making it hard to diagnose. And informal miners rarely take precautions. In Ghana, Ngoha and other miners said they would rip open sachets of mercury with their teeth, sometimes sucking it out and spitting it into bowls. They got it on their hands and didn’t wash before eating. They inhaled the fumes. Mining dust and mercury fumes make people more vulnerable to lung diseases, including TB. Half the adult population in rural Ghana have the TB bacteria in their throats, although most are resistant. A government study in 2013 had put the TB mortality rate nationwide at 7.5 per 1,000 cases. The numbers who failed to respond to treatment meant there must be more to this than TB, Dr. Frederick Sarpong, concluded. 

They will come to the hospital ... coughing up blood,” he said. “You might think it’s tuberculosis, but actually this is mercury poisoning.”
Samuel Essien-Baidoo, a researcher at Ghana’s University of Cape Coast, studied the impact of mercury on miners in the Western Region. “Their kidneys were damaged, some extensively,” he said. A number had skin rashes and most suffered from itchy eyes, hair loss and persistent headaches. Mercury was a problem, he concluded: Two-thirds of patients on dialysis at the Cape Coast teaching hospital were from the gold mining region. 

Ghana’s entire health budget for the next three years totals $850 million, so hospitals can’t offer dialysis for free. The ones who can’t pay “simply die,” Essien-Baidoo said. Treatments to remove heavy metals are out of reach of Ghanaian wildcat miners. Officially in Ghana, as in many other countries, mercury is a controlled substance. Ghana’s 1989 Mercury Act allows miners to keep “reasonable quantities” for mining, but they can buy it only from licensed dealers. Ghana has also pledged to join a global pact named after the Minamata disaster to phase out mercury use in mining. Safer mining methods that have been proposed include burning off the mercury under glass to capture the fumes and condense them back into liquid. But the glass is fragile and tricky to handle. Another method requires a furnace and a source of energy, so it too hasn’t been widely used. In Ghana as elsewhere, mercury is smuggled in. Globally, the U.N. estimates informal miners spilled about 1,220 tonnes of mercury into soil and water in 2015 – 252 tonnes of it in Africa, and even more in South America. 

Even so, efforts by health and environmental experts to stop or clean up informal mining almost always hit the same snag: For people with few other options, there’s too much money to be made in gold. “Illegal mining has had a devastating effect on our environment,” Environment Minister Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng told Reuters in the capital, Accra. 

He said 80% of Ghana’s waterways were polluted by miners stirring up sediment and dumping waste. The World Bank gives a similar figure. It says many of Ghana’s waterways have been effectively blocked, causing flooding upstream, which destroys farmland or cocoa fields. Last year, the state-run Ghana Water Company temporarily shut down four treatment plants, citing pollution caused by mining

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Sudan's Mercenaries

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been accused of widespread abuses in Sudan, including the 3 June massacre in which more than 120 people were reportedly killed, with many of the dead dumped in the River Nile.
The RSF are now the real ruling power in Sudan. The RSF was formally established by decree of then-President Omar al-Bashir in 2013. But their core of 5,000 militiamen had been armed and active long before then. They are a new kind of regime: a hybrid of ethnic militia and business enterprise, a transnational mercenary force that has captured a state. Their commander is General Mohamed Hamdan "Hemeti" Dagolo, and he and his fighters have come a long way since their early days as a rag-tag Arab militia widely denigrated as the "Janjaweed"
The core of the Janjaweed were camel-herding nomads from the Mahamid and Mahariya branches of the Rizeigat ethnic group of northern Darfur and adjoining areas of Chad - they ranged across the desert edge long before the border was drawn. During the 2003-2005 Darfur war and massacres, the most infamous Janjaweed leader was Musa Hilal, chief of the Mahamid. Bashir formalised them into a paramilitary force called the Border Intelligence Units. 

Hemeti was offered a sweet deal: back pay for his troops, ranks for his officers (he became a brigadier general), and a handsome cash payment. His troops were put under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), at that time organising a proxy war with Chad. Hemeti's fighters, serving under the banner of the Chadian opposition, fought their way as far as the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, in 2008.
In 2013, a new paramilitary force was formed under Hemeti and called the RSF,  made answerable to Mr Bashir himself - the president gave Hemeti the nickname "Himayti", meaning "My Protector". Training camps were set up near the capital, Khartoum. Hundreds of Land Cruiser pick-up trucks were imported and fitted out with machine guns.
By 2017, gold sales accounted for 40% of Sudan's exports. And Hemeti was keen to control them.  He already owned some mines and had set up a trading company known as al-Junaid. In November 2017. Run by his relatives, the Al-Junaid company had become a vast conglomerate covering investment, mining, transport, car rental, and iron and steel. The RSF took over Sudan's most lucrative gold mines.
Hemeti became the country's biggest gold trader and Dubai is the destination for almost all of Sudan's gold, official or smuggled. But Hemeti's contacts with the UAE soon became more than just commercial. In 2015, the Sudanese government agreed to send a battalion of regular forces to serve with the Saudi-Emirati coalition forces in Yemen - its commander was Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, now chair of the ruling Transitional Military Council. But a few months later, the UAE struck a parallel deal with Hemeti to send a much larger force of RSF fighters, for combat in south Yemen and along the Tahama plain - which includes the port city of Hudaydah, the scene of fierce fighting last year. Hemeti also provided units to help guard the Saudi Arabian border with Yemen. 
The RSF's strength had grown tenfold. Its command structure didn't change: all are Darfurian Arabs, its generals sharing the Dagolo name. With 70,000 men and more than 10,000 armed pick-up trucks, the RSF became Sudan's de facto infantry, the one force capable of controlling the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and other cities.
 By controlling the border with Chad and Libya the RSF is also the biggest border guard.  Under the Khartoum Process, the European Union funded the Sudanese government to control migration across the Sahara to Libya. Although the EU consistently denies it, many Sudanese believe that this gave license to the RSF to police the border, extracting bribes, levies and ransoms - and doing its share of trafficking too.
Through gold and officially sanctioned mercenary activity, Hemeti came to control Sudan's largest "political budget" - money that can be spent on private security, or any activity,without needing to give an account. 
Hemeti is one of the richest men in Sudan - probably with more ready cash than any other politician - and was at the centre of a web of patronage, secret security deals, and political payoffs. It is no surprise that he moved swiftly to take the place of his fallen patron. Hemeti has moved fast, politically and commercially. Every week he is seen in the news, handing cash to the police to get them back on the streets, to electric workers to restore services, or to teachers to have them return to the classrooms. He handed out cars to tribal chiefs.
As the UN-African Union peacekeeping force drew down in Darfur, the RSF took over their camps - until the UN put a halt to the withdrawal. Hemeti says he has increased his RSF contingent in Yemen and has despatched a brigade to Libya to fight alongside the rogue general Khalifa Haftar, presumably on the UAE payroll, but also thereby currying favour with Egypt which also backs Gen Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army. Hemeti has also signed a deal with a Canadian public relations firm to polish his image and gain him political access in Russia and the US.
Hemeti is a wholly 21st Century phenomenon: a military-political entrepreneur, whose paramilitary business empire transgresses territorial and legal boundaries.