Monday, October 28, 2019

African Nutrition

More than 237 million people are suffering from chronic under nutrition in Africa of which 32.6 million are in sub-Saharan Africa, says the FAO. With more people either over eating or not eating food with the necessary nutrients to be healthy and productive.
Sonja Vermeulen, Director of Programmes for the CGIAR System Organisation, told IPS that only four African countries; Benin, Namibia, Nigeria and South Africa so far are known to have national dietary guidelines.

“Most governments focus on quantity of food available (national breadbasket, maize, rice), not quality; and there is little pro-active sustained public policy work to raise nutritional standards, outside of aid programmes,” said Vermeulen. She lamented that despite studies showing that most diets of central African countries are among the healthiest in the world, many people in low-paid urban jobs are consuming poor quality, low diversity foods such fizzy drinks and white sweetened buns for lunch. 
Jan Low, Principal Scientist at the International Potato Center and 2016 World Food Prize Laureate, told IPS, “Most poor people still get over 60 percent of their calories from staple foods. Two ways in which the quality of the foods can be improved is through fortifying them by breeding in key micronutrients into the crops themselves (biofortification) and adding micronutrients to the staple when it is being transformed industrially (fortification).”
Derek Headey, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, said poor diets, largely defined in terms of excess consumption of unhealthy foods (like red meat and foods rich in sugar, sodium or fat) as well under-consumption of protective foods (like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts), are now the leading risk factor in the global burden of disease. 
“That’s not yet true in Africa, but it is coming because consumption of unhealthy foods is rising rapidly in the continent, especially in urban areas,” Headey told IPS. “Obesity rates are already high in many West African countries, and are now rising rapidly elsewhere, even in places where incomes are still relatively low, like Tanzania. Part of that is related to reduced energy expenditure, but of course it is also driven by poor diets.”
Heady said the consequences of neglecting nutrition are dangerous because poor diets and obesity impose significant economic costs on healthcare systems and on the productivity of the workforce.
The Global Panel on agriculture and food systems for nutrition says malnutrition is costly to African economies, accounting for between 3 and 16 percent of GDP annually. Globally, the impact of malnutrition on the economy is estimated to be as high as $3, 5 billion a year or $500 per individual as a result of lost economic growth and lost investment in human capital, according to the Global Panel.
Reducing food loss and waste could positively impact on global food security and nutrition, said the U.N., arguing that reducing on farm losses can help farmer improve their diets through increased food availability and gain more income from selling part of their produce.
“Achieving Zero Hunger is not only about addressing hunger, but also nourishing people while nurturing the planet,” the FAO said.
World Food Prize Laureate Lawrence Haddad,  the Executive Director of Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), a Swiss-based foundation launched by the U.N. in 2002 to tackle malnutrition, explained, “Unlike many places, Africa can build new food systems, you do not have to try to reform entrenched food systems that are very difficult to change and have vested interests and that have been vesting for hundreds of years. It is not easy but there is a chance to build new food systems.”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

South Sudan - the endless misery

Nearly one million people in South Sudan have been affected by heavy flooding, according to the United Nations.

Severe floods have devastated large areas of the country since July, submerging entire communities and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement on Friday.
It added that an estimated 908,000 people were affected, including internally displaced people, refugees and their host communities in a country already hit by years of ruinous civil war that caused mass displacement and wrecked its economy.
The situation was "extremely concerning", as rains are likely to continue for another four to six weeks and put more people at risk, said Alain Noudeho, OCHA humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan. The floods have limited access to health facilities, nutrition centres, basic services and markets, according to OCHA. Across the 32 flooded counties in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Warrap, Eastern Equatoria, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity and Lakes, more than three million people were in need of assistance even before the rains, it said.

Many affected areas were already facing high humanitarian needs before the flooding started, with more than 60 percent of them classified as having extreme levels of acute malnutrition. In addition, the crisis will not be over when the water levels recede because considerable damage to crops, arable land and livestock is anticipated, the UN warned. This will obstruct the ability of families to support themselves for months to come, it added.
Despite its richness in oil, South Sudan is among the world's poorest nations.

Monday, October 21, 2019

What Next for South Africa? (1990)

From the April 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

We may never know what discussions took place between President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela before the famous prisoner’s release, but it is evident they did a deal. It is possible they agreed on a detailed programme of reform. Economic forces have been pressing in on the deadlocked conflict for decades but movement has been slow. It has been thirty years since Harold Macmillan spoke of “a wind of change blowing through Africa”, but in South Africa this has been a gentle breeze which disturbed little, leaving the white monopoly of power intact. Delayed change results in greater pressure and now it seems the deadlock is about to be broken. What will this mean for our fellow workers in South Africa, both black and white?

An ideal model of capitalism would rest on a simple division between capitalists and workers with the latter voting in governments to administer their own exploitation in a “liberal democracy”. Capital would be free to invest most profitably and train workers to achieve maximum output without skin colour or ethnic background being an issue. This would tend to secure the most efficient use of labour resources, with political stability and without excessive expenditure on forces of repression.

Tortured history
In practice capitalism rarely confirms to this model. In South Africa the legal classifications of “European”, “Bantu”, “Coloureds” and “Asians” complicate the economic and political structure in ways which inhibit efficiency. They result from the tortured history through which these groups took root in the country.

Even within these groups there was never a common identity. For over two centuries the Europeans were bitterly divided between British and Dutch. Cape Town was established as a supply station by the Dutch East India Company. During the Napoleonic Wars the British pre-empted a French take-over by seizing it themselves after which it was kept as a British colony. In the 1830s a large number of the Dutch trekked north to found the Transvaal and Orange Free State but again they came into conflict with the British when gold, diamonds, coal and other materials were discovered in the Boer republics. To gain control of these materials colonial adventurers like Cecil Rhodes conspired with the British government to instigate the Boer War. Following the defeat of the Boers, and the sufferings of their families in concentration camps in which thousands died from disease and starvation, British imperialism gained control over the entire land area of what is now South Africa.

But it was not only the people of European origin who were in conflict. Tribal differences also divided the African peoples who in the seventeenth century had migrated south from East Africa. These divisions are still a potent force, further complicating the politics of South Africa. The Zulus are mainly concentrated in Natal under Chief Buthelezi and it is interesting that he controls his power base, Inkatha, as its unelected leader. Despite their demand for it, there is no “one person, one vote” amongst the Zulus. Nelson Mandela is a Chieftain of the Xhosa people and is acclaimed as being more representative of black South Africans through the African National Congress.

During the past seven years more than 2,500 people have died in violence between different black groups and Mandela has appealed passionately for an end to the fratricidal strife. “Throw your arms into the sea”, he recently implored a vast crowd of Zulus. The response of Inkatha was positive but also tempered with a warning:

  Only the enemies of peace and black unity would wish otherwise. However, we shall not succeed to achieve this by protracted attempts to demonise, vilify and marginalise Dr. Buthelezi. To do this is tantamount to planting the seeds of future civil war in our country.
This threat of possible civil war, presumably in circumstances in which the Afrikaner Nationalist government may have collapsed, is indeed ominous.

Those called the “Cape Coloureds” were originally descended from the offspring of early Dutch male settlers and their female servants brought to the Cape Province from the Dutch East Indies. The temptations of sexual relations between the “races” were more than the Calvinist citizens could resist and, in any case, pre-dated the ideology of “apartness”.

The indigenous inhabitants of South Africa were the defenceless Hottentots who suffered genocide at the hands of every invader, Dutch, British and Bantu. These three groups, very different in their origins and outlook, were pitched into the same land area and now form the main elements in today’s political strife.

Capitalists’ political frustration
One of the ironies of this history is that Rhodes instigated war with the Boer Republics under the slogan of “democratic rights for all white citizens” with the object of gaining control of diamonds, precious metals and vital raw materials. In this he succeeded but as the mining industry developed under mainly British investment together with manufacturing, the white working class of the urban areas eventually formed a political alliance with the rural Afrikaners to elect an Afrikaner Nationalist government in 1948 which has held power ever since. The various National Party governments under Malan, Strijdom, Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha (the names alone speak of the return of the Afrikaners to power) have never been the “natural” or direct representatives of capitalist class interests. The more liberal-minded United Party disappeared and its current replacement, the Democratic Party, has little chance of gaining majority white support.

Capitalist interests would have best been served by a reform programme aimed at integrating the black population within a non-racial system of exploitation. This could have been introduced through a gradually-widening franchise based, for example, on property or education qualifications, arriving eventually at “one person, one vote”. This was not to be. It is to the eternal discredit of white workers in South Africa that in the majority they have pursued what they saw as their interests through racist trade unions and by voting for the National Party.

But if all this has been frustrating for capitalist class interests neither has it advanced the hopes of the Afrikaner nationalists. Their ideal of apartheid, or separate development, was always an illusion. Whether we see it as, at best, a nostalgic yearning for an independent “volk” or, at worst, a cynical euphemism for racial oppression does not matter. Either way, apartheid was against the tide of history.

When the more fanatical Conservative Party accuses de Klerk of “betrayal” and “sell-out” the greater truth is that the National Party has been overwhelmed by the economic forces of capitalism. The seeds of this were planted when the Afrikaners won political control. As a government they had no choice but to depend on taxes from mining, industry and manufacture to run their state machine. From this moment on, they were tied to capitalism. It costs a lot of money to pay for the repression of 20 million black people and, inevitably, the bills increase. Where once the Afrikaners eschewed the idolatry of gold, diamonds and profit, their heirs speak the universal language of trade and commerce. De Klerk is a capitalist politician.

In his recent important speech to the South African Parliament on 2 February he said:

  A new South Africa is possible only if it is bolstered by a sound and growing economy, with particular emphasis on the creation of employment.
At times he sounded like a Thatcherite:
  By means of restricting capital expenditure in state institutions, privatisation, deregulation and curtailing government expenditure, substantial progress has been made already towards reducing the role of the authorities in the economy.
At other times he also sounds like Gorbachev:
  The government’s policy is to reduce the role of the public sector in the economy and to give the private sector maximum opportunity for optimal performance. In this process, preference has to be given to allowing the market forces and a sound competitive structure to bring about the necessary adjustments.
We might ask how it comes about that politicians as different in their backgrounds as de Klerk, Thatcher and Gorbachev are committed to the same policies. They each share a common role as functionaries of capital; the economies of South Africa, Britain and Russia are locked into the same system – world capitalism. As a result their respective governments are compelled to react to the same economic pressures to achieve efficiency and profitability and to pursue strategies which best protect their long-term interests. These are the same forces which are driving politicians in South Africa, despite their own very different origins into a common outlook.

An added reason why de Klerk can sometimes sound like Gorbachev is that both face problems of restructuring, or perestroika. According to the Independent (27 February):

 British businessmen and bankers are unlikely to return to South Africa in droves as a result of the lifting of the ban on new business investment . . . They left because of rising commercial and political risks, poor investment returns, difficulties in repatriating profits and higher returns available in other countries.
In his speech to the South African Parliament de Klerk complained of “a serious weakening in the productivity of capital and stagnation in the economy’s ability to generate income and employment opportunities”.

It is evident that de Klerk, through his negotiations with Mandela and the ANC, hopes that he will be the man to restructure the South African economy on the basis of political stability achieved through extended democratic rights, but it is likely that the National Party has left it too late. Surely the party and the man for the task is the ANC under Nelson Mandela? Is it not more likely that it will be they who emerge as the new functionaries of capital best suited to achieving a more efficient exploitation of workers in South Africa without distinction of “race”, as capital demands?

Not afraid of black government
Certainly a number of leading capitalists assume that the future lies with a black government. For some years, Gavin Relly, the chairman of Anglo-American, South Africa’s largest business corporation which controls gold, platinum and coal production, has been in close contact with the ANC. In 1985, together with the chairman of the South African Foundation, which represents general business interests, he met with Oliver Tambo and a negotiating team from the ANC. He said then:

  What we are concerned with is not so much whether the following generation will be governed by black or white people, but that it will be a viable country and that it will not be destroyed by violence and strife.
He added that he and the ANC “shared a common interest in maintaining the profitability of the South African State”.

Since Mandela’s release there has been some concern in capitalist circles over the ANC’s apparent commitment to nationalisation, including the mines. However, on 26 February Gavin Relly, continuing his personal contacts with the ANC, met Mandela and afterwards urged investors to calm their fears. He said it was premature now to get agitated about the ANC’s economic programmes:

  The community and international community should not get into a flurry over nationalisation. These are issues for sensible men to discuss. Issues of nationalisation will have to be subjected to the tests of debate and the tests of what is practical to make the modern economy work.
In his own comments on the meeting, Mandela said nationalisation remained, in certain areas, a basic policy of the ANC, but the economy at large would still be based on private enterprise. “The entire economy will remain intact” (Independent, 27 February). Again, we shall never know the details of their discussions but it is clear that Gavin Relly, a leading representative of capitalist interests, emerged a happy man from his meeting with Mandela.

Where does all this leave our fellow workers in South Africa? Our interests are directly linked with theirs and if democratic freedoms are now to be extended to that country it is in all our interests. Perhaps now the Directorate of Publications in Cape Town will release our pamphlets and the copies of the Socialist Standard which have been kept under lock and key in the cell where banned literature is stored.

In the short-term it appears that workers in South Africa may well continue to support those reformist organisations which they see as representing their interests in a “racially” divided society. However, it is also likely that the increasing pressure of the economic forces of capitalism and the reforms which are in prospect will simplify the issue into a straightforward confrontation between capitalist and working class interests. This will leave the fundamental problems of the workers still to be solved. Even now the vital work must be to ensure that a growing world socialist movement is extended to South Africa.

Pieter Lawrence

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Sahel and Drought

In 2012, various groups of Tuareg rebels grouped together to form and administer a new northern state called Azawad. The civil strife that resulted drove many from their homes, with communities often fleeing with their livestock, only to compete for scarce natural resources in vulnerable host communities, according to the United Nations.
  • In Mali, three-quarters of the population rely on agriculture for their food and income, and most are subsistence farmers, growing rainfed crops on small plots of land, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the U.N.
After the security situation began to improve in 2013, many returned home to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
But soon it was the turn of the expanding Sahara Desert, drought and land degradation that became the next driver of their displacement.
“Drought across the Sahel region, followed by conflict in northern Mali, caused a major slump in the country’s agricultural production, reducing household assets and leaving many of Mali’s poor even more vulnerable,” FAO says.

The U.N. says nearly 98 percent of Mali is threatened with creeping desertification, as a result of nature and human activity. Besides, the Sahara Desert keeps expanding southward at a rate of 48 km a year, further degrading the land and eradicating the already scarce livelihoods of populations, Reuters reported.
The Sahara, an area of 3.5 million square miles, is the largest ‘hot’ desert in the world and home to some 70 species of mammals, 90 species of resident birds and 100 species of reptiles, according to DesertUSA. And it is expanding, its size is registered at 10 percent larger than a century ago, LiveScience reported.
The Sahel, the area between The Sahara in the north and the Sudanian Savanna in the south, is the region where temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth
The cost of land degradation is currently estimated at about $490bn per year, much higher than the cost of action to prevent it, according to UNCCD recent studies on the economics of land desertification, land degradation and drought.
Roughly 40 percent of the world’s degraded land is found in areas with the highest incidence of poverty and directly impacts the health and livelihoods of an estimated 1.5 billion people, according to the U.N.
In a country where six million tonnes of wood is used per year, reports say Malians are mercilessly smashing their already-fragile landscape, bringing down 4,000 square kilometres of tree cover each year in search for timber and fuel.
Lack of rain has also been making matters worse, especially for the cotton industry, of which the country remains the continent ’s largest producer, with 750,000 tonnes produced in the 2018 to 2019 agriculture season. Environmentalists believe Mali’s average rainfall has dropped by 30 percent since 1998 with droughts becoming longer and more frequent.
Paul Melly, Chatham House Africa consultant, tells IPS that desertification reduces the scope for agriculture and pastoralism to remain viable.
“And of course, that may lead a few disenchanted members of the population, particularly young men, to be attracted by alternative livelihood options, including the money that can be offered by trafficking gangs or terrorist groups,” he says.
 Melly explains: “There is no doubt that the overall context, of increasing pressure on fragile and sometimes degrading natural resources, is a contributory factor to the overall pressures in the region and, thus, potentially, to tension.”
 Like elsewhere on the continent, severe environmental degradation appears to be among the root causes of inter-ethnic conflicts.
Using the Darfur region as a case study, the Worldwatch Institute says: “To a considerable extent, the conflict is the result of a slow-onset disaster—creeping desertification and severe droughts that have led to food insecurity and sporadic famine, as well as growing competition for land and water.”
Community leader Hassan Badarou ells IPS Mali has a very complex situation.
“It is not easy to live in these areas. People there face double threats. It is double stress to flee from both armed conflict and desertification. And such people need to be welcomed and assisted, and not be seen as a threat to locals livelihoods.
“That is why we used to preach tolerance and solidarity wherever we went, to avoid a situation whereby local communities would feel that their meagre resources are under threat from newcomers. There should be a dialogue, an honest and frank dialogue when communities take on each other over land and water resources,” he advises.
Against the expanding Sahara, all are equal. Fadimata, an internally displaced person from northern Mali, tells IPS that climate change is affecting everyone in the Sahel, including terrorists.
“I saw with my own eyes how a group of heavily-armed young men came to a village, looking for food.
“They said they wanted to do no harm, but wanted something to eat. Of course we were very scared, but the villagers ended up putting something together for these poor young men. They sat down and ate, and drank plenty of water and left afterwards. I think it is better that way than to kill villagers and steal their food, livestock and water.
Projects such as the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification’s Land Degradation Neutrality project aimed at preventing and/or reversing land degradation are some of the interventions to stop the growing desert. 
  • Another large that aims to wrestle back the land swallowed by The Sahara is the Great Green Wall (GGW), an eight-billion-dollar project launched by the African Union (AU) with the blessing of the UNCCD, and the backing of organisations such as the World Bank, the European Union and FAO.
  • Since its launch in 2007, major progress has been made in restoring the fertility of Sahelian lands.
  • Nearly 120 communities in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have been involved in a green belt project that resulted in the restoration more than 2,500 hectares of degraded and drylands, according to the UNCCD.
  • More than two million seeds and seedings have also been planted from 50 native species of trees.

Kenyan Railways

Kenya's government trumpets the opening of its new, Chinese-built train line to the Rift Valley, critics say the railway serves little purpose and is plunging Kenya into massive debt. 

It's been lampooned as the railroad to nowhere – 120 km (75 miles) of gleaming new railway tracks that snake from the capital Nairobi, climb the trenches and escarpments of the Central Rift Valley to stop dead at a remote village.  The end of the new Nairobi-Naivasha line is Suswa in Maai Mahiu county, a region dominated by nomadic Maasai herders, who bring their cattle and sheep to graze here on the valley's fertile floor. The second phase extends the first 385 km of track from Mombasa to Nairobi, which was completed in 2017 for a cost of $3.2 billion.  Originally, a phase three was also planned. This would continue the SGR line from Naivasha through Kisumu, a port on Lake Victoria, onto the Ugandan border town of Malaba. This phase three section of the track is seen as critical because it would link Mombasa, East Africa's biggest port, with the landlocked countries of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan – giving them a faster and more reliable route to Mombasa's port than the overburdened roads. But in a blow to Kenyatta, China announced in April that they wouldn't bankroll the $3.7 billion railway extension from Naivasha to Uganda. 
"China shied away from the extension because they had questions about its commercial viability," said John Mutua, an economist at the Nairobi-based Institute of Economic Affairs. 
Critics of the Nairobi-Naivasha line though say it is unlikely to attract many travelers because it fails to connect any significant population centers with Nairobi.  The line was originally intended to haul freight – but it will only open up to cargo in a few months. Critics also worry that there won't be much cargo to carry. The government planned to build a special economic zone nearby offering tax breaks and cheap power as a way of encouraging cargo transport along the new line. But fights over compensation for the land have resulted in massive delays. With construction on the industrial park yet to start, there is expected to be little demand for cargo services in the near future.

The $1.5 billion (€1.35 billion) stretch of track, built and funded by the Chinese, is the second phase of a flagship railway project intended to link Kenya's port city of Mombasa with the Ugandan border. Commonly referred to as SGR from the abbreviation of Standard Gauge Railway, the railroad is a pet project of President Uhuru Kenyatta, who sees it as central to Kenya's Vision 2030 to transform Kenya into a middle-income country. The SGR is supposed to slash freight haulage costs, cut travel times and boost Kenya's rural economy. Kenyatta inaugurated the SGR railway's second phase on Wednesday with the line officially opening to passengers on Thursday. 
The railway has had difficulty attracting cargo because it is more expensive hauling freight by road. Reuters puts the cost of trucking a container from Mombasa to Nairobi at about $800, whereas the railway costs $1,100 – mainly due to extra charges for moving goods from the inland depot in Nairobi.

As a result, the SGR is moving less than half of the freight it needs to carry per year to make it profitable. In its first full year of cargo operations (to May 2019), it generated $57 million in sales, far below the annual operating costs of $120 million and much lower than original projections, according Kenya's Business Daily news site. 

There is one bright spot: the Mombasa-Nairobi line has proved a hit with travelers because of its speed and comfort. The smooth train journey takes around 4.5 hours compared what can be a 12-hour, bone-rattling trip by road.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

When People Come Second

A new and devastating investigation by Buzzfeed News has revealed that WWF’s director & board had detailed evidence of “widespread” atrocities being committed by rangers it funds and equips, but kept the information secret.

It’s the latest finding from a Buzzfeed investigation that has brought to light a series of secret WWF reports, proving the organization has known for years that the rangers it funds in central Africa commit gross human rights abuses among the local population.

Survival International has been highlighting these abuses, among the Baka and Bayaka people, for more than three decades, but WWF has always claimed ignorance.
It’s now proven that the highest levels of management in WWF have known about the abuses, but continued funding and equipping the rangers, and pushing for the creation of yet more protected areas on Baka and Bayaka land.Congolese officials hand the top official (and WWF employee) of Salonga National Park an assault rifle. Some of the park’s guards have been accused of gang rape, torture and murder. 

Buzzfeed has revealed a series of reports:

– April 2015: WWF commissioned an indigenous expert to prepare a report on the charity’s work in Cameroon. He found WWF “shared responsibility” for ranger violence.

– July 2017: WWF sent a consultant to a proposed new park, Messok Dja, in the Rep. of Congo. He found villagers were afraid of “repression from eco-guards.”

– January 2018: WWF asked UK-based human rights lawyer Paul Chiy to follow up on the 2015 Cameroon report. He finds “valid” and “grossly understated” evidence of human rights abuses.

– December 2018: WWF asked Chiy to conduct another assessment into parks it funds in Dem. Rep. of Congo, Rep. of Congo and Central African Republic. Its contents are unknown.

– March 2019: A confidential report commissioned by WWF and the Congolese government finds evidence that WWF-backed rangers raped pregnant women and tortured villagers.
Survival is campaigning for the organization to scrap its plans for a new protected area, Messok Dja, in the Congo, which does not have the Baka’s consent.