Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Disasters in Africa

As normal, Africa is being hurt by natural disasters, all of which could well be mitigated and the damage minimised if such policies were a priority.

Since October 2019, heavy rains have affected at least 170,000 people in the three most affected departments alone, including 30,000 Central African and Congolese refugees.

• Flooding caused by the overflow of the Oubangui and Congo rivers has damaged infrastructure and impeded access to food, water, education and health care.

• Homes, schools and health centres in affected areas are flooded and only accessible by boat.

• Priority needs are water, sanitation, shelter, food and essential non-food items.

• The government declared a state of natural disaster and humanitarian emergency in Likouala, Cuvette and Plateaux departments on 19 November 2019.
The toll could increase in the coming days.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator for Angola, Paolo Balladelli, today called on the international community and humanitarian organizations to scale-up their support for people living on the frontlines of the climate crisis in southern Angola. “Southern Angola is experiencing the devastating consequences of climate change. Temperatures in 2019 were the highest in 45 years and drought is driving increasing hunger and malnutrition, especially in Cunene, Huíla, Bié and Namibe provinces,” said Mr. Balladelli, during a mission to Cunene Province.

The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Angola reached 2.3 million at the height of the drought this year. In Cunene alone, at least 80 per cent of the population, some 860,000 people, needed urgent support. “This is three times more than at the beginning of the year,” explained Mr. Balladelli. “Thanks to CERF’s generous funding, we have been able to reach more than 640,000 people with vital food, health, nutrition, water and hygiene interventions in the four provinces hardest-hit by the drought. The project complements the Government’s own efforts to respond to this dire situation and save lives. However, more must urgently be done,” he added.

Rising needs are forcing families to take desperate measures to survive, with girls and women bearing the brunt of the crisis. “In Caculuvale, I heard heart-breaking stories from families who are struggling to survive and met with children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. I was told by doctors that these are the highest rates of admission they have seen in many years,” said Ms. Connell, from OCHA, the UN humanitarian arm. “In rural areas, women are having to walk longer distances to bring home food and water, exposing them to the risk of violence, while an increasing number of children are dropping-out of school: the girls to support their mothers, and the boys to go with their fathers to find pasture.”
Nearly one million people have been drastically affected by flash floods following unprecedented rainfall in South Sudan. Thousands have been displaced from their homes and seen their livelihoods destroyed; many towns are completely submerged.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and partners are ramping up their humanitarian response to affected communities in counties declared to be in a “state of emergency” by the Government of South Sudan.

“The level of destruction caused by the floods is unfathomable. People have nowhere to sleep, children are sick, there is no food to eat,” said IOM South Sudan Chief of Mission, Jean-Philippe Chauzy.

Many people in affected areas are unable to access to health care facilities, nutrition centres and other basic services. While impassible roads and waterlogged airstrips have put some interventions on hold, IOM has made significant progress to provide lifesaving assistance.
“We cannot forget that in crises, vulnerable populations, especially women and children, are more likely to face gender-based-violence and other kinds of abuse,” said Chauzy.

“Protection and safeguarding are at the cornerstone of all of our activities and it is important that as we provide immediate emergency relief we also tackle protection issues,” he continued.

Even when the rains stop, the need for continued assistance will remain. Inevitable outbreaks of waterborne diseases, destruction of homes and lost livelihoods will require sustained support so that families can live in dignity as they rebuild.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Rhodesian colour bar (1960)

The News in Review column from the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

The business interests of the Rhodesian Federation are making slow but steady progress in their attempt to build up a system free from colour bars, and from the inconveniences these cause in trade and industry. In the Northern Rhodesian copper mines, for example, the owners have long wanted to be able to call on the great reserve of local African labour for all the jobs in the mines, instead of having many of them reserved for Europeans. The resistance of the white miners to these proposals led to a long strike by the Europeans in 1958. But after a year's negotiation between the European miners’ union and six of the mining companies, the latter have at last persuaded the whites to allow at least all the unskilled jobs to be done by Africans. It is significant that the African mineworkers' union, although it gave a modified welcome to the agreement, took no part in the discussions: it was the owners who argued the case against the colour bar.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Africa's Alternative Energy

There are 600 million people without access to electricity in Africa, 71 million of them in Nigeria. However, from off-grid solar home systems to utility-scale solar and wind, the potential for major advances in the use of renewable energy is also growing rapidly on the African continent.

With stepped-up adoption of these technologies, African countries could contribute significantly to mitigating the global climate crisis. This would also reduce the ongoing damage to the health of their citizens, whether from kerosene lamps in rural areas, gasoline generators to backup unreliable power grids, or massive coal pollution in South Africa.

East African countries have pioneered off-grid solar, laying out a model that other African countries could follow. While rural areas are still the primary markets for solar home systems, power grids in most African countries are so prone to power outages that many homes and businesses on the grid must rely on gasoline or diesel generators for backup. Solar systems can already begin to replace smaller generators, and further technological progress could make even larger systems cost-effective.

South Africa is still overwhelmingly dependent on expensive and unreliable coal-fired power plants, which supply 77 percent of the country’s electricity. Recent studies show that for new energy installations, renewable energy is already the cheapest.

 “There is no reasonable basis for building new coal plants when the technology and costs are clearly in favour of renewables and flexible generation,” says Makoma Lekalakala of Earthlife Africa. Coal plants built in the 2020s are likely to be abandoned long before they are paid off, the coalition of environmental groups noted.

The South African Parliament has approved a $4 billion bailout for Eskom’s debt, much of it due to cost overruns of $20 billion on the giant Medupi and Kusile coal plants.
And a devastating report by an outside corporate consulting firm concluded that Eskom has become ”an operationally dysfunctional, financially insolvent, unreliable, and corrupt entity,” arguing that urgent attention to fixing these basic problems must take priority over renewable energy. Renewable energy advocates agree that implementation of any plans, including integration of renewables into the grid, requires fundamental reform in Eskom’s management. But, they say, doubling down on coal will worsen rather than improve the situation.
Unless South Africa’s policies change, therefore, the potential for advance in renewable energy is likely to be realized more rapidly by hundreds of thousands of off-grid consumers around the continent than by entrenched power companies such as South Africa’s Eskom.

In September 2019, the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA) reported on research in Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda with customers of seven off-grid solar companies. Researchers tracked 1,419 customers who bought solar home systems, with interviews at 3 months and 15 months after purchase. Ninety-five percent of respondents reported significant improvement in quality of life, with 95 percent saying they would recommend their product to a friend or relative.

“At this point, we are barely scraping the surface” of potential demand, said Alistair Gordon, chief executive of Lumos, the largest provider of off-grid solar in Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire. The company currently has 100,000 customers and expects to provide solar power to 100 million people in the next 5-7 years.

There is also the potential to replace backup generators, notes the International Finance Corporation.

“With rapid improvement in efficiency, performance, and economies over recent years, distributed solar and storage technologies now offer a superior and effective alternative to the backup generators that are proliferating across much of the developing world.” In Nigeria alone, an estimated 22 million small gasoline generators (excluding larger diesel generators) are reported to have a collective capacity as much as 8 times the capacity of the electric grid. They are essential to many small businesses as well as to households.

Africa's IDP

Although forced displacement is a global phenomenon, it is more pronounced in Africa. 

Africa hosts over one-third of the global forced displacement population.

 As at 31 December 2018, the continent hosted some 17.8 million internally displaced persons.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Being Gay In Africa

Gay rights in  Africa has become a decisive issue. Of the 72 countries worldwide that criminalize homosexuality, 32 of them are in Africa, where punishments range from imprisonment to the death penalty in countries such as Mauritania and Sudan.

Zambia sentenced two men to 15 years in prison last week for having consensual sex in the privacy of their hotel room.

In late November, Ugandan police rounded up 125 people in a gay-friendly bar in the capital, Kampala, dozens of whom now face charges.

In Nigeria last week, 47 men pleaded innocent to charges of public displays of affection with the same-sex. They had been detained during a police raid on a Lagos hotel in 2018.
So why is Africa such a difficult place for the LGBTQ+ community?
There are many reasons, but colonial laws where colonial administrators introduced laws prohibiting "unnatural acts", religious morality, 93% of sub-Saharan Africans are either Christian (63%) or Muslim (30%), making the continent one of the most religious in the world. These beliefs influence many facets of people's lives, including their attitudes to LGBTQ+ communities. 
"Most religious texts say that homosexuality is problematic," writesAmy Adamczyk, an American sociologist, "More religious people are more likely to take these religious precepts seriously. When a large proportion of people are highly dedicated to their religion, everyone within the country tends to develop more conservative views." Muslim and Christian leaders are often vocally opposed to gay sex, and studies show that African media often quote a religious official when discussing homosexuality — much more so than in countries such as the United States. Some researchers also believe thatAmerican evangelical Christians are playing a significant role in shaping negative attitudes to homosexuality in countries such as Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe by deliberately promoting conservative religious agendas.
And also the idea that homosexuality is imported by the West are among the most influential, scholars say. Africa's elites, which include political, religious and community leaders, often claim that homosexual practices are an imported Western evil. The late  Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe called homosexuality "un-African" and a "white disease". Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said it's a "western import." In the aftermath of the recent sentencing of the two Zambian gay men (which saw the US Ambassador to Zambia saying he was "horrified" by 15-year jail term ), a Zambian bishop called for fellow citizens to protect their own values and culture from outside influence
Uganda has seen a flurry of recent anti-gay arrests while The Gambia hasn't prosecuted anyone under its anti-sodomy laws since the change of government in 2017
Even when not enforced, such laws prolong the stigma attached to homosexuality and provide a "justification" for homophobic behavior, Alan Msosa, a Malawian researcher for the University of Bergen in Norway, told DW.
"They give people the chance to say: 'We don't like homosexuals because they are criminals."
But homosexuality existed in Africa long before the continent was colonized.  Before colonization, traditional African societies didn't seem to stigmatize homosexual practices.
"There are no examples of traditional African belief systems that singled out same-sex relations as sinful or linked them to concepts of disease or mental health — except where Christianity and Islam have been adopted," according to Boy-Wives and Female Husbands.
Extensive evidence collected by anthropologists and other scholars shows that same-sex practices and diverse sexualities can be found all over the continent and predate colonization. Ancient San rock paintings near Guruve in Zimbabwe dating back 2,000 years show explicit scenes between copulating males.
"It was an open secret" that Mwanga II, the 19th century King of Buganda in what is now Uganda, was gay, writes Ugandan scholar Sylvia Tamale in an article entitled Homosexuality is not un-African.
He wasn't alone. In northern Uganda, effeminate males among the Langi people were treated as women and could marry men during pre-colonial times whereas in Zambia, records show youths and adult men had sexual contact during the circumcision rites of the Ndembu. 
It also wasn't just men that were involved in homosexual relationships.
"Women to women marriage in which one woman pays brideprice to acquire a husband's rights to another woman has been documented in more than thirty African populations," finds the seminal book on homosexuality in Africa, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands
Homophobia has become a rallying cry that serves to mobilize and unite the masses.
"Political and religious leaders have exploited the issue to generate support," Alan Msosa told DW. He sees homophobia as "an elite project" that doesn't always reflect the reality of how people are engaging with LGBTQ+ communities on the ground.
In a just-released study on attitudes to homosexuality in Malawi, Msosa found 80% of respondents believed homosexual sex is wrong, but 33% still believe God loves people in same-sex relationships. "when we unpacked certain words using local languages, such as using 'justice, fairness and inclusion' over 'human rights' we found that Malawians were more tolerant in their views," Msosa said.
It's telling that those politicians who are often most vocal in their anti-gay sentiments, such as in Zambia and Uganda, lead countries where democracy is on the decline.
"The mobilization of latent homophobia is a strategy ... to divert attention when a regime's fate is at stake — in elections, due to public opposition, or internal power struggles," find Norwegian academics Siri Gloppen and Lise Rakner in a paper on backlashes against sexual minorities.
With the expansion of LGBTQ+ rights often tied to international development aid, African leaders can also gain points with voters by appearing to defy the West with a strong stance against homosexuality, points out Malawian researcher Msosa. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Zambia's Draconian Gay Laws

Same-sex relationships are outlawed in Zambia, where British colonial-era laws on homosexuality still apply.

In the case of Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba, a judge quashed an appeal against their conviction last week, sentencing them both to 15 years in prison.

The US ambassador to Zambia implored the Zambian government to review the case and its homosexuality laws, but has since faced a backlash for doing so. The career diplomat said he had cancelled scheduled appearances at World Aids Day events on Tuesday "because of threats made against me" on social media.

"I was shocked at the venom and hate directed at me and my country, largely in the name of 'Christian' values, by a small minority of Zambians," Mr Foote said.
President Lungu in an interview with Sky News, Mr Lungu mounted a combative defence of Zambia's homosexuality laws.
"Even animals don't do it, so why should we be forced to do it?...because we want to be seen to be smart, civilised and advanced and so on."

Apartheid lives (1983)

From the December 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The term “apartheid” was not coined when the National Party, after it came to power in 1948, presented its policies in the form of a comprehensive doctrine. As that wily old opportunist. General Smuts, declared during the 1948 General Election: “Room must be found for them (Non-Whites) on the principle of apartheid. It is neither a new word nor a new thing" (South Africa: An Historical Introduction, F. Troup, 1972, p.285).

Indeed, much of what constitutes the bloated corpus of apartheid legislation today can be traced back to the early part of this century after the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910. For instance, the present-day allocation on paper of 13 per cent of the land to the African majority is based on the 1936 Native Land and Trust Act. This, in turn, built on the crucially important 1913 Native Land Act prohibiting Africans from purchasing land outside the reserves designated for them as part of the strategy to force them into the migrant labour system on which the mines depended — and still depend. Then there are the stringent conditions under which Africans today are allowed to reside in the urban areas of so-called “White” South Africa, conditions laid down in the Urban Areas Act first promulgated in 1923 and amended since. (The 1922 Stallard Commission recommended that “Natives should only be allowed to enter the urban areas to minister to the needs of the white man and should depart therefrom when he ceases so to minister." This is strikingly similar to the view expressed by M. C. Botha, later Minister of Manpower Utilisation, in 1976, that “The basis on which the Bantu is present in the white areas is to sell their labour here and for nothing else".) Such examples, and there are many more, illustrate the historical continuity of Nationalist rule and what one author has described as the "Age of the Generals" preceding it, presided over by the bitter old rivals. Smuts and Hertzog.

Nevertheless, 1948 was a significant watershed in the history of South Africa. The somewhat haphazard racist legislation inherited by the Nationalists was systematically reworked and extended into the rigid and comprehensive structure with which the term “apartheid" is commonly associated. More recently, however, some shifts in policy have occurred which have been interpreted (as, indeed, the "reformist" Botha government would wish to have them interpreted) as suggesting a somewhat more flexible, pragmatic approach on the part of government to apartheid.

But “neo-apartheid" (as some have called it) has clearly disturbed a growing proportion of the all-white electorate. Several developments have fuelled this white reaction. There is the much talked about but rather limited relaxation of "petty apartheid" (which applies to the mixing of races in public places like hotels, restaurants, beaches and parks). There is, too, the erosion of the traditional colour bar restricting skilled work mainly to whites. While most of the legislation that entrenched this colour bar has been scrapped (due to the tremendous shortage of skilled labour that developed with the growth in manufacturing industry after the Second World War) traditional practices are sometimes maintained by closed shop and apprentice agreements with white unions. Finally, there is the constitutional proposal to co-opt the Coloureds (mixed race) and Asians into an expanded (but segregated) electorate which would vote for representatives for a three chamber parliament in which the white chamber would be dominant. The African majority would remain totally excluded on the grounds that they must seek their political emancipation in the ten "ethnic” homelands, four of which have already achieved "independence".

In particular, this proposed change to the constitution has been the subject of intense political debate over the past few years (and a national referendum held last month). In 1982 it precipitated the formation of the ultra-right Conservative Party, led by Dr Andries Treurnicht, as a result of a split within the National Party. Together with the smaller but similarly inclined Herstigte National Party — which likewise broke away from the NP in 1969 — the Conservatives have recently been gaining ground. This will obviously influence how far the government is likely to proceed down the road of "neo-apartheid" as it anxiously surveys its (once massive) support draining away. There is, after all, the precedent of the National Party itself to make the government wary of a political opponent eager to assert its claim to be the true heir to Afrikaner nationalism. In 1934 the “Purified Nationalists" under Malan split from the old Nationalist Party led by Hertzog on account of the latter's fusion with Smuts’ South African Party to form a huge party of the “centre” — the United Party. Yet it took just 14 years for the comparatively small and reorganised National Party to become, with the aid of the sinister Afrikaner Broederbond, the government of South Africa in 1948.

Thus the so called monolith of Afrikaner nationalism is, once again, visibly cracking under the strain of conflicting views. At issue is not whether the apartheid system ought to continue but the form it should take in the circumstances prevailing today. According to the Johannesburg Financial Mail, the difference between Botha and Treurnicht is that “The first is seeking an accommodation with certain blacks — but only on white terms; the second is contemptuous of such an accommodation — it is seen as weak” (Apartheid: The Facts, p.51).

This attempt on the part of the Botha government to accommodate a black elite is a key component of what it has called its “total strategy”. This strategy — a hint of the close links that have been forged under Botha between the military top brass and their political counterparts — is based on the realisation that it will take more than the military might of the state to counter the threats to the apartheid regime. In the words of the 1977 White Paper on Defence and Armaments Production, "The resolution of a conflict in the times in which we live demands inter-dependent and co-ordinated action in all fields — military, psychological, political, sociological." (Apartheid: The Facts p.68). What prompted this new approach was, partly, the events in Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe which swept away the cordon sanitaire of Portuguese colonialism and Ian Smith's Rhodesia, making South Africa more vulnerable to guerrilla insurgency; partly, the rising resistance to apartheid within South Africa itself which culminated in the riots on the streets of Soweto in 1976; and partly the growing international pressure against apartheid during the seventies.

It is against this background, therefore, that the Government has sought to woo the urbanised black elite by modifying certain aspects of apartheid. The aim of this, according to Patrick Laurence (Guardian 22 November 1978) is to build "a buffer between the white elite and the relatively impoverished black masses, and thereby transfer a racial struggle between white and black into an ideological one between capitalism and marxism". For the majority of blacks, however, there has been little change and indeed in some respects there has been a deterioration. The number of arrests for passbook violations in 1982, for example, exceeded 200,000 — a 90 per cent increase since 1981. For all the talk of reform, the traditional pattern of apartheid — its draconian pass laws and the deportation of "superfluous" people to the desperate poverty of the Homelands — is still remarkably resilient.

With hindsight it is easy to see how wildly over-optimistic was Lord Milner's observation in the last century that “Two wholly antagonistic systems, a medieval race oligarchy and a modern industrial state" could not exist permanently side by side. The emergence of capitalism in South Africa did not, in some mechanistic fashion, erode the racist outlook of a hitherto pastoral Boer community. On the contrary, the latter was successfully and insidiously grafted onto this emerging capitalism — above all in the mining industry whose white union is still today a bastion of staunch conservatism and racist bigotry.

On the other hand, it does not follow at all that apartheid and capitalism are inextricably intertwined and that the struggle against apartheid is thus intrinsically "anti-capitalist". Yet clearly it would suit the government very well if this was widely accepted. It could then better mobilise the support of the comparatively privileged section of the black population (as Laurence suggests) against the supposed “marxist" threat to the South African "way of life”. It could also more easily tar its liberal critics with the "communist" brush as it has long tried to do.

But the plain fact is that the overwhelming majority of apartheid’s opponents are not opposed to capitalism as such. While some elements within the black nationalist camp (in particular within the banned African National Congress) adopt the terminology of socialist revolution, their goal is the discredited leninist one of state capitalism. Yet even this misrepresentation of the socialist objective seems to attract little support: a recent report of the Buthelezi Commission estimated that a resounding majority of more than five to one blacks preferred private enterprise to state ownership (New Society, 13 May 1982). The paradoxically strong support the "socialistic” ANC enjoys, particularly amongst urban blacks, is not because of any leanings it may have towards “socialism” but rather the result of its militant opposition to apartheid.

The workers of South Africa must look beneath the skin deep changes that apartheid’s demise can at best offer. It is towards their own emancipation as a class that they must turn their eyes. The impressive growth of independent non-racial trade unionism since the early seventies is a tribute to the courage of many thousands of black and white workers but also a hopeful indication of what can be done even in a climate as repressive as South Africa’s.

Robin Cox

Disenfranchised in Somaliland

Somaliland, home to over 4.5 million people, declared independence from Somalia in 1991. The region's fight to be recognized as an independent state has been hindered by diplomatic issues between the international community and Somalia. Somaliland, meanwhile, functions as a sovereign entity, with its own constitution, institutions and permanent population. Somaliland is ruled by three national parties, a number limited by the constitution in order to discourage clan-based and sub-clan parties and competition, which have led to tensions in the past. Such alliances, however, still play an important part in the region's politics. Disagreements between sub-clans have led to tensions within the ruling party itself.

The relative stability Somaliland has seen for years is now at risk of coming undone. What ought to have been the first parliamentary elections in this autonomous region of Somalia since 2005 have been put off once more. The postponement of a vote set for mid-December to 2022 and increasing crackdowns on free speech pose a risk to Somaliland, an internationally endorsed autonomous region of Somalia that straddles the borders of Ethiopia and Djibouti.

The most recent postponement of the parliamentary vote to 2022 has triggered discontent on the part of the opposition and among young people who say they feel excluded. 

"We are having a whole generation unable to elect their own representatives, because everyone who is under the age of 30 was not eligible to vote in 2005 when our parliament was elected," says Guleid Ahmed Jama, a lawyer and political analyst. "There is a detachment between the elected officials and the majority of the people in the city, who are suffering because of unemployment and other social issues."

While presidential elections have been held on a regular basis, the upper and lower houses of parliament have been in place for 14 and 22 years respectively. The elections for the lower house scheduled for this year were put off until 2022, officially because parties disagreed on who should run the new National Election Commission. However, many people argue that the unwillingness of Somaliland parliamentarians to relinquish power is behind the repeated deferral of the vote. Local councils have also been operating without a mandate since April. 
Despite the political squabbles, Somaliland is still considered as a model of internal stability and peace in the Horn of Africa, and one with strong institutions. But human rights organizations say democracy might be threatened by an increase in arrests and arbitrary detention of journalists and opposition figures. Only a few weeks ago, the chief editor of privately owned Horn Cable TV was arrested by the police, and the station was forcibly closed.

"We have seen that media outlets and other individuals who are critical of the government, particularly those who talk about corruption cases, have been targeted, arrested and had their media outlets closed down. It is a violation of freedom of expression," says Abdullahi Hassan, Amnesty International's Somalia researcher. "I'm really afraid  that the country might descend into worrying kinds of chaos if this current pattern continues."