Saturday, August 31, 2019

Fact of the Day

According to the World Bank, where the richest 10% of South Africans own about 71% of the country's wealth, and the bottom 60% control only 7%.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Somalia's Pain

Somalia faces a new humanitarian crisis with more than 2 million people now threatened by severe hunger, aid agencies say.

A further 3 million people are uncertain of their next meal, latest assessments suggest.
More than half a million displaced people are now estimated to be in Mogadishu, according to Somalia’s National Commission for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (NCRI).
“We are worried the situation will be much worse if the coordination between the local governments and the aid organisations is not scaled up in the coming few months,” said Nuro Ismail, aid coordination officer at NCRI.
Experts describe the crisis as a “climate emergency” and say communities are still struggling to recover from the lengthy drought that ended in 2017. The crisis has been aggravated by continuing conflict between al-Shabaab, the Islamic extremist movement that has been fighting for more than a decade to impose strict religious rule on Somalia, and government troops, which are backed by regional forces and US air assets.

The April to June period, initially forecast as an average rainy season, is now thought to be one of the driest on record in more than 35 years.
In recent years, the frequency and duration of these dry spells has increased.
The failed rainy season followed abnormally hot and dry conditions since October last year and was partly caused by cyclones in the southern Indian Ocean.
Two-thirds of the country’s population live in rural areas and are completely dependent on the rains for their crops and livestock.

So far donors have promised less than half of the $1bn (£0.8bn) the UN and other agencies say is required.
Richard Crothers, Somalia Country Director at the International Rescue Committee, said, “The international community must scale up its response … now, or many in Somalia, especially children under five, will die from starvation.”
Sharifo Ali Mohamud, 30, fled her home town in Middle Shabelle, one of the agricultural regions in Somalia worst hit by the drought, in February.
“The drought hit our village. We used to grow maize in the farm but it became dry. We did not have anything to eat. Then the fighting started,” said Mohamud, who travelled for three days with her seven children to reach Mogadishu, the capital.
“Life is very difficult here. We don’t get enough water and food and [if] I return to my village, I am afraid the harsh drought condition will be bitter.”
Nur Ali Ibrahim, a 53-year-old farmer and a father of 11 from the Middle Shabelle region, said he had travelled to a displaced camp in Mogadishu’s Abdiaziz neighbourhood because his family could no longer survive when his farm “went dry and no crops grew”. Ibrahim said food aid did not reach his village because al-Shabaab demanded money from the organisations who wanted to deliver it.

Muhubo Aden, 41, left Wanlaweyn, 90km from the capital, when all her livestock died.
“After all our animals perished, we had nothing to eat and we ran out of money. Then our neighbour told us [to] go to Mogadishu to get food aid. My sister was very sick and weak due to malnutrition. We left Wanlaweyn in the morning but her ailment worsened and she died,” Aden said.

Why Africa is Poor

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. Gold can be imported to Dubai with little documentation.

“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.”

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. Trade economists said this indicates large amounts of gold are leaving Africa with no taxes being paid to the states that produce them. 

Reuters assessed the volume of the illicit trade by comparing total imports into the UAE with the exports declared by African states. Industrial mining firms in Africa told Reuters they did not send their gold to the UAE – indicating that its gold imports from Africa come from other, informal sources.Informal methods of gold production, known in the industry as “artisanal” or small-scale mining, are growing globally. They have provided a livelihood to millions of Africans and help some make more money than they could dream of from traditional trades. But the methods leak chemicals into rocks, soil and rivers. And 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. Artisanal mining began as small-time ventures. But the “romantic” era of individual mining has given way to “large-scale and dangerous” operations run by foreign-controlled criminal syndicates, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo told a mining conference in February. Ghana is Africa’s second-largest gold producer.

 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. 

The customs data provided by governments to Comtrade, a United Nations database, shows the UAE has been a prime destination for gold from many African states for some years. 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. The UAE reported gold imports from 46 African countries for 2016. Of those countries, 25 did not provide Comtrade with data on their gold exports to the UAE. But the UAE said it had imported a total of $7.4 billion worth of gold from them. In addition, the UAE imported much more gold from most of the other 21 countries than those countries said they had exported. In all, it said it imported gold worth $3.9 billion – about 67 tonnes – more than those countries said they sent out.  

Over the past decade, high demand for gold has made it attractive for informal miners to use digging equipment and toxic chemicals to boost the yield. Contaminated water is returned to rivers, slowly poisoning the people who need the water to live. Small-scale miners have long used mercury – easy to buy at around $10 for a thumb-sized vial – to extract flecks of gold from ore, before sluicing it away. Mercury’s toxic effects include damage to kidneys, heart, liver, spleen and lungs, and neurological disorders, such as tremors and muscle weakness. Cyanide and nitric acid are also being used in the process, according to researchers and miners in Ghana. Industrial mining companies have also been responsible for pollution, ranging from cyanide spills to respiratory problems linked to dust produced by mining operations. But almost a dozen states including DRC, Uganda, Chad, Niger, Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Mali and Sudan have complained in the past year about the harms of unauthorised mining. Burkina Faso has banned small-scale mining in some areas where al Qaeda-linked Islamists are active, and earlier this month Nigeria’s government suspended mining in the restive northwestern state of Zamfara, saying intelligence reports established what it called “a strong and glaring nexus” between the activities of armed bandits and illicit miners. Strong prices have fuelled the boom. Today, gold trades at over $40,000 per kilo, which is below a peak from 2012 but still four times the level of two decades ago. Western investors want gold so they can diversify their portfolios; India and China want it for jewellery. But most Western companies – and the banks that finance them – avoid handling non-industrial African gold directly. They are unwilling to risk using metal that may have been mined to fund conflict or that may have involved human rights abuses in, for instance, DRC or Sudan. Various Uganda-based traders have been sanctioned for handling gold smuggled out of DRC.

Often, miners must surrender a cut of their output, as commission, to the people who control a pit, let out the equipment, or buy and sell the gold. NGOs such as Global Witness and Human Rights Watch have documented child labour, corruption and links to conflict at some of these mines. At one mine in Zimbabwe visited by Reuters, people said they had to hand over some of their find before they would even be allowed out of the pit.  

A Tanzanian parliamentary report estimated that 90 percent of annual production of informally mined gold is smuggled out of the country: The government wants the central bank to buy this up. In March, President John Magufuli launched a plan to establish hubs where the trade would be formalised by offering access to financing and regulated markets.

In Burkina Faso, Oumarou Idani, minister of mines, believes his country is leaking gold to UAE on a massive scale. Of the 9.5 tonnes of gold the government estimates informal miners dig up each year, just 200 to 400 kg are declared to the authorities, he said. Much of the gold is smuggled from landlocked Burkina Faso to its Atlantic coast neighbour Togo, according to the minister. In Togo, virtually no taxes are imposed on gold.

Burning Africa

While the media focus is upon the forest fires in the Amazon it has emerged an even greater number of fires are currently burning in central Africa.
Data from Nasa’s Fire Information for Resource Management System, showed at least 6,902 fires in Angola and 3,395 burning in the Congo. The same data put Brazil’s fires at 2,127. Thousands of fires are also burning across Indonesia.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Excluded from Education

According to new report  by the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF), nearly two million children in West and Central Africa are being robbed of an education due to violence and insecurity in and around their schools.

“Ideological opposition to what is seen as Western-style education, especially for girls, is central to many of the disputes that ravage the region. As a result, schoolchildren, teachers, administrators and the education infrastructure are being deliberately targeted. And region-wide, such attacks are on the rise,” UNICEF noted.
Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, are experiencing a surge in threats and attacks against students, teachers and schools.

The report also noted:

  • Nearly half of the schools closed across the region are located in northwest and southwest Cameroon; 4,437 schools there closed as of June 2019, pushing more than 609,000 children out of school.

  • More than one quarter of the 742 verified attacks on schools globally in 2019 took place in five countries across West and Central Africa.

  • Between April 2017 and June 2019, the countries of the central Sahel – Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – witnessed a six-fold increase in school closures due to violence, from 512 to 3,005.

  • And CAR saw a 21 percent increase in verified attacks on schools between 2017 and 2019.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, said:

“Deliberate attacks and unabating threats against education – the very foundation of peace and prosperity have cast a dark shadow on children, families, and communities across the region. I visited a displacement camp in Mopti, central Mali, where I met young children at a UNICEF-supported safe learning space. It was evident to me how vital education is for them and for their families.”

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), a coalition of international human rights and education organisations from across the world, noted
that in the past five years the coalition had documented more than 14,000 attacks in 34 countries and that there was a systematic pattern of attacks on education. “Armed forces and armed groups were also reportedly responsible for sexual violence in educational settings, or along school routes, in at least 17 countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during the same period.”  In May, GCPEA released a 76-page report on the effects that the 2016-2017 attacks by armed groups on hundreds of schools in the Kasai region of central Democratic Republic of Congo had on children.
Based on over 55 interviews with female students, as well as principals, and teachers from schools that were attacked in the region, the report described how members of armed groups raped female students and school staff during the attacks or when girls were fleeing such attacks. Girls were also abducted from schools to “purportedly to join the militia, but instead raped or forced them to “marry” militia members”.
“Being out of school, even for relatively short periods, increases the risk of early marriage for girls,” GCPEA had said.
UNICEF raised this also as a concern for children affected by the conflict in West and Central Africa.
“Out-of-school children also face a present filled with dangers. Compared to their peers who are in school, they are at a much higher risk of recruitment by armed groups. Girls face an elevated risk of gender-based violence and are forced into child marriage more often, with ensuing early pregnancies and childbirth that threaten their lives and health,” the UNICEF Child Alert titled Education Under Threat in West and Central Africa, noted.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Mozambique and Climate Change

The U.S. Export-Import Bank's board of directors on Thursday approved $5 billion in funding for a liquefied natural gas plant in Mozambique that could pump an estimated 5.2 million tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross applauded the project as a "win for American companies and workers" as well as "the people of Mozambique."

Doug Norlen, director of the economic policy program at Friends of the Earth, called EXIM's decision "irresponsible" and said it "proves the agency can't be trusted to manage billions of dollars in public funds...By approving $5 billion in fossil fuel financing, EXIM is accelerating the climate crisis while causing local environmental damage and propelling human rights violations in Mozambique," Norlen said in a statement. "Either EXIM financing for fossil fuels must be stopped or the agency should not be reauthorized by Congress."

Daniel Ribeiro of Friends of the Earth Mozambique warned in a statement that—in addition to its significant climate impact—the project will "fuel the numerous local land conflicts, the human rights abuses, and infrastructure bottlenecks" in the African nation, which was devastated by two powerful cyclones earlier this year.

 "If there is a project with serious alarm bells, it's this one," said Ribeiro. "This dirty project is located in a sensitive world biosphere, embroiled in an emerging extremist armed conflict. It is being pushed by a government that has recently faced one of the biggest corruption cases in Africa. It makes one worry about Mozambique's future," Ribeiro added. "Investment from the U.S. will only amplify all of the troubles and conflicts in Mozambique caused by this project and push them out of control."

Thursday, August 22, 2019

China's Gold Deals

When the Chinese gold miners came to Masumbiri town in northern Sierra Leone, everyone lined up for jobs. Dayu, a private company that started working in Sierra Leone last year, was just the latest in a line of Chinese firms drawn to the mineral-rich ground of the West African state's Tonkolili district in search of gold. Like many African countries, Sierra Leone has courted foreign companies which pay governments big fees for mining rights, while locals often feel they have no say nor benefit. 

China is by far the biggest importer of minerals from sub-Saharan Africa; it invested about $30 billion in metals mining on the continent in the last decade, nearly 15% of it in Sierra Leone. Gold mining has been a relatively small industry in Sierra Leone compared to diamonds or iron ore, but is growing with companies such as Dayu, which says it has the biggest underground gold mine in the country - its only project. Sierra Leone is "open for business" according to President Julius Maada Bio, who has touted the message to investors in China, Britain and the United Arab Emirates since taking office last year with a pledge to ensure mining benefits the country.

People feel like the land and minerals are theirs but they have no licence, said the company's community manager Mohamed Daffae.
Dayu's agreement with the government gives it access to 9.6 square km (3.7 square miles) for 25 years.BRecently, Daffae faced pushback from locals who were mining in an area where the company wanted to dig.
"I had to go there and tell them you cannot stop this type of operation, this is for all of us," he said.

"The people were happy at first because of the employment," said Hassan Tholley, Masumbiri's chief. Hundreds of young men in hard hats were soon bringing home pay checks and the town of 5,000 people had a cell signal and water pumps for the first time - all courtesy of Dayu.
But 18 months into the multi-million dollar project, locals said the income they earned did not make up for their loss of land and that poverty was worsening. When workers are paid - each one earns between $50-$150 a month - they distribute it to family and neighbours and use it to pay off debts, Thulleh said.
"At the end of the month, there is no money left," said 29-year-old miner Abdulai Kargbo, who has one of the higher-paying jobs: blasting and drilling into the mountain for gold.
Looking at the mining, there should have been a lot of development in these communities," said Mohamed Smooth Bangura, a Tonkolili district councilman.
Dayu pay half a million dollars a year to the government for a large-scale mining licence and are required to put 0.01% of their revenues into community development, according to the mining code. But the policies on community development are unclear and this law has not always been applied, the government said last year in a new mining policy intended to kickstart reforms. Dayu has decided to raise its contribution to 1%.
Three towns in the area have different demands. One wants a school, another a health centre, and the third needs drinking water, said councillor Bangura. Only the water pumps have been installed so far, but the water comes straight from the river, unfiltered.

Polio Free - A Vaccination Success Story

Africa is on the verge of being declared polio free, after three years without any recorded cases of the disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Nigeria marked three years without a wild polio case on Wednesday, a “major milestone”. If no more incidences emerge in the next few months, Africa could officially be declared polio free in 2020.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said: 
“We are confident that soon we will be trumpeting the certification that countries have, once and for all, kicked polio out of Africa.” She added that stopping the disease has not been easy and praised the “monumental effort” of health workers “on an unprecedented scale”. She said exhaustive surveillance of people on the move was a significant factor in the progress.
The virus is still endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and will need to be eradicated there before the world can be declared polio free.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Climate Change and Africans

Despite the fact that Africa will bear the brunt when it comes to erratic global weather patterns, many people are still unfamiliar with climate change. The recent havoc caused by tropical cyclone Idai which struck the southern African countries of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi is a grim reminder that Africa remains the most vulnerable continent as far as climate change mitigation is concerned.

Agriculture conditions are worsening due to delayed rainfall, decreasing quality of life and little or no knowledge at all about the impact of climate change. 
Research covering 34 African countries surveyed, respondents in 30 countries said agricultural production had greatly declined as a result of drought over the past decade.

"Farmers in Uganda have been waiting endlessly for rain, and  South Africa has experienced excessive flooding," Gugu Nonjinge, Afrobarometer Communications Coordinator for Southern Africa, told DW. "These unusual weather patterns shows long term changes in temperatures that ultimately affect rainfall patterns and the ability for Africa as a whole to produce food. Afrobarometer identified those working in agricultural sector in the rural areas, the poor, women and the less educated as those unaware about climate change," Nonjinge said.
In the survey, 'climate change literacy' was described as the perception that the respondent knows about climate change, he or she links it to negative changing weather patterns and recognizes that human activity plays a huge role in climate change due to greenhouse emission. Whereas 58% of Africans said they had heard about climate change, four in ten admitted that they had never heard of the term before.
The majority who knew and understood what climate change is said changing weather patters had made life worse in their respective countries. "Climate change is defining the development challenge of our time in Africa," Afrobarometer's spokesperson Nonjinge said. "Our continent is the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change."   The survey found out that key issues such as water scarcity, food security and agriculture which were raised by those being interviewed are directly connected to climate change.